People of a Neolithic civilization had established into a sedentary mode of life there by the ninth millennium BC, supplementing hunting and fishing on the Nile with grain harvesting and cattleherding in fortified mudbrick settlements. Migrations from the drying Sahara brought neolithic people and agriculture to the Nile Valley around the fifth millennium BC. Over the following decades, the people that emerged from this cultural and genetic mixing established social hierarchy, eventually becoming the Kingdom of Kush (with its capital at Kerma) around 1700 BC.
According to anthropological and archaeological evidence, Nubia and Nagadan Upper Egypt were ethnically and culturally virtually similar throughout the predynastic era, and therefore developed pharaonic royal systems at the same time around 3300 BC.
Kingdom of Kush (1070 BC–AD 350)
The ancient Nubian state of Kush was based on the confluences of the Blue and White Niles, as well as the Atbarah and Nile rivers. It was founded when the Bronze Age collapsed and the New Kingdom of Egypt disintegrated, and it was initially headquartered at Napata.
The Kushite monarchs reigned as pharaohs of Egypt’s Twenty-fifth Dynasty for a century when King Kashta (“the Kushite”) conquered Egypt in the ninth century BC, until being defeated and forced out by the Assyrians. The Kushites conquered an empire that extended from what is today known as South Kordofan all the way to Sinai at its peak. The Assyrian monarch Sargon II stopped Pharaoh Piye’s effort to extend the empire into the Near East. Although illness among the besiegers was the primary cause for the city’s inability to be taken, the Bible mentions the Kingdom of Kush as having rescued the Israelites from the Assyrians’ wrath.
The battle between Pharaoh Taharqa and Assyrian monarch Sennacherib was a watershed moment in western history, with Assyria defeating the Nubians in their efforts to establish a foothold in the Near East. Sennacherib’s successor, Esarhaddon, went much farther, invading Egypt and deposing Taharqa and forcing the Nubians out completely. Taharqa returned to his country and died there two years later. Egypt became an Assyrian colony, but after replacing Taharqa, king Tantamani launched a last desperate effort to reclaim Egypt. Esarhaddon died as he was about to depart Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to be ejected. His successor, Ashurbanipal (668–c. 627 BC), led a huge force into southern Egypt and defeated Tantamani, thus putting an end to any prospects of the Nubian Empire resurrecting.
Mero was the Nubian capital during Classical Antiquity. Ethiopia was the name given to the Meroitic kingdom in ancient Greek geography (a term also used earlier by the Assyrians when encountering the Nubians). Kush was one of the world’s earliest civilizations to utilize iron smelting technologies. Mero’s Nubian empire lasted until the fourth century AD. Following the fall of the Kushite empire, numerous kingdoms arose in its former lands, including Nubia.
Christianity and Islam
By the 6th century, fifty kingdoms had arisen as the Meroitic Kingdom’s political and cultural successors. The northern kingdom of Nobatia, also known as Ballanah, had its capital at Faras; the central kingdom of Muqurra (Makuria), which had its capital at Tungul (Old Dongola), about 13 kilometers (8 miles) south of modern Dongola; and Alawa (Alodia), which had its capital at Soba, in the heartland of old Mero (now a suburb of modern-day Khartoum).
Warriors aristocracies governed Meroitic people from royal courts whose officials wore Greek titles in imitation of the Byzantine court in all three countries. Around 540 AD, a missionary sent by Byzantine queen Theodora came in Nobatia and began preaching Christianity. The Nubian monarchs converted to Christianity and became Monophysite Christians. Unlike Nobatia and Alodia, Makuria was a Melkite Christian.
After many unsuccessful military conquering efforts, the Arab commander in Egypt signed the first of a series of al-baq (pactum) treaties with the Nubians, which controlled relations between the two peoples for more than 678 years. Through marriages and interactions with Arab merchants, Sufi ascetics, and settlers, Islam developed in the region over a lengthy period of time. Exemption from taxes in Muslim-ruled areas was also a strong inducement for conversion. Dunqulah’s kingdom was succeeded in 1093 by a Muslim prince of Nubian royal lineage. The Ja’alin and the Juhaynah were the two most significant Arab tribes to develop in Nubia. Northern Sudanese culture now often incorporates Nubian and Arabic influences.
The Funj people, headed by Amara Dunqus, arrived in southern Nubia during the 16th century, displacing the remains of the ancient Christian kingdom of Alodia and established as-Saltana az-Zarqa (the Blue Sultanate), also known as Sennar. The Funj Empire’s cornerstone was ultimately the Blue Sultanate. Sennar ruled Al Jazirah by the mid-16th century, commanding the loyalty of vassal kingdoms and tribal areas north of the Third Cataract and south of the rainforests. A series of succession disputes and coups within the royal family severely undermined the administration. Egypt’s Muhammad Ali sent 4000 soldiers to Sudan in 1820. Sennar’s surrender to the last Funj sultan, Badi VII, was accepted by his troops.
Turkiyah and Mahdist Sudan
Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman ruler of Egypt, attacked and captured northern Sudan in 1821. Muhammad Ali proclaimed himself as Khedive of a practically autonomous Egypt, despite the fact that he was officially the Vali of Egypt within the Ottoman Empire. In order to expand his dominion, he sent his third son, Ismail (not to be confused with Isma’il Pasham, who was mentioned later), to conquer Sudan and integrate it into Egypt. Ibrahim Pasha’s son, Isma’il, continued and strengthened this strategy, conquering the majority of modern-day Sudan during his rule.
Egyptian authorities made substantial infrastructural upgrades in Sudan (mostly in the north), particularly in irrigation and cotton cultivation. Ismail was deposed by the Great Powers in 1879, and his son Tewfik Pasha was installed in his stead. The ‘Urabi Revolt, which endangered the Khedive’s existence, was sparked by Tewfik’s corruption and incompetence. Tewfik appealed to the British for assistance, and the British invaded Egypt in 1882. Sudan was left in the hands of the Khedivial administration, which was known for its incompetence and corruption.
Due to the severe taxes placed on most activities throughout the Khedivial era, there was widespread discontent. Farmers abandoned their fields and livestock due to hefty taxes on irrigation wells and agricultural areas. During the 1870s, European anti-slavery efforts had a negative effect on northern Sudan’s economy, triggering the emergence of Mahdist troops. The Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah, gave his ansars (followers) and those who surrendered to him the option of embracing Islam or being murdered. Traditional Sharia Islamic rules were established by the Mahdiyah (Mahdist government).
Muhammad Ahmad conducted a successful military campaign against the Turco-Egyptian government of Sudan, known as the Turkiyah, from the declaration of the Mahdiyya in June 1881 to the surrender of Khartoum in January 1885. Muhammad Ahmad died on June 22, 1885, only six months after Khartoum was conquered. Following a power struggle among his deputies, Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, with the assistance of the Baggara of western Sudan, defeated the opposition and emerged as the Mahdiyah’s undisputed leader. Abdallahi ibn Muhammad took the title of Khalifa (successor) of the Mahdi, established a government, and placed Ansar (typically Baqqara) as emirs over each of the provinces after establishing his authority.
Throughout most of the Mahdiyah era, regional relations remained strained, owing to the Khalifa’s harsh tactics for extending his authority throughout the nation. A 60,000-strong Ansar army invaded Ethiopia in 1887, reaching Gondar. Ethiopian monarch Yohannes IV marched on Metemma in March 1889, but the Ethiopian troops retreated when Yohannes was killed in combat. The Khalifa’s commander, Abd ar Rahman a Nujumi, launched an invasion of Egypt in 1889, but the Ansar were destroyed at Tushkah by British-led Egyptian forces. The Ansar’s invincibility was broken when the Egyptian assault failed. The Mahdi’s troops were stopped from capturing Equatoria by the Belgians, while the Italians repulsed an Ansar assault at Agordat (Eritrea) in 1893, forcing the Ansar to retreat from Ethiopia.
The British attempted to re-establish authority over Sudan in the 1890s, ostensibly in the name of the Egyptian Khedive but in reality treating the nation as a British colony. British, French, and Belgian claims had collided at the Nileheadwaters by the early 1890s. Other countries, Britain worried, would take advantage of Sudan’s instability to gain land that had previously been seized by Egypt. Aside from political reasons, Britain desired control of the Nile in order to protect a proposed irrigation project at Aswan.
From 1896 through 1898, Herbert Kitchener commanded military operations against the Mahdist Sudan. On September 2, 1898, Kitchener’s operations culminated in a resounding victory at the Battle of Omdurman.
Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899–1956)
In 1899, Britain and Egypt negotiated an agreement under which Sudan would be administered by an Egyptian governor-general with British approval. Sudan was essentially governed as a Crown colony in actuality. The British were eager to reverse the trend of unifying the Nile Valley under Egyptian authority, which had begun under Muhammad Ali Pasha, and attempted to sabotage any attempts to further unite the two nations.
Sudan was actively engaged militarily in the East African Campaign during World War II. The Sudan Defence Force (SDF), which was founded in 1925, was instrumental in reacting to the early incursions (occupation of Kassala and other border regions by Italian soldiers) into Sudan from Italian East Africa in 1940. The SDF also took part in the British and Commonwealth troops’ assault of the Italian territory in 1942. The British had a strategy of administering Sudan as two basically distinct territories, the north and south, from 1924 until independence in 1956. Robert George Howe was the last British governor-general.
The United Kingdom’s continuing governance of Sudan fuelled a growing nationalist reaction in Egypt, with Egyptian nationalist leaders aiming to compel Britain to recognize a single independent Egypt-Sudan union. With the official end of Ottoman control in 1914, Hussein Kamel and his brother and successor, Fuad I, were proclaimed Sultans of Egypt and Sudan. Even when the Sultanate of Egypt was renamed the Kingdom of Egypt and Sudan, they insisted on a united Egyptian-Sudanese state, but the British continued to thwart such attempts at independence.
The Egyptian revolution of 1952 signaled the start of Sudan’s journey towards independence. After the monarchy was dissolved in Egypt in 1953, the country’s new leaders, Muhammad Naguib, whose mother was Sudanese, and subsequently Gamal Abdel Nasser, felt that the only way to end British dominance in Sudan was for Egypt to formally relinquish its claims to the country. Furthermore, Nasser recognized that governing the impoverished Sudan after independence would be difficult for Egypt.
The British, on the other hand, continued to provide political and financial backing to Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, the Mahdist successor, believing that he would be able to withstand Egyptian demands for Sudanese independence. Although Rahman was able to withstand the challenges, his government was plagued by political incompetence, which cost him support in northern and central Sudan. Egypt and the United Kingdom both saw a great deal of political instability brewing and decided to give Sudanese in the north and south a free vote on independence to determine whether they wanted the British to go.
Ismail al-Azhari was the first Prime Minister and headed the first modern Sudanese government after a voting process resulted in the formation of a democratic parliament. The Egyptian and British flags were lowered and the new Sudanese flag, consisting of green, blue, and yellow stripes, was hoisted in their place by Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari in a special ceremony conducted at the People’s Palace on January 1, 1956.
On May 25, 1969, discontent resulted in a second coup d’état. Col. Gaafar Nimeiry, the coup leader, was appointed Prime Minister, and the new government dissolved parliament and banned all political parties.
Dissensions within the governing military alliance between Marxist and non-Marxist factions culminated in a short but successful coup staged by the Sudanese Communist Party in July 1971. Nimeiry was returned to power a few days later by anti-communist military forces.
The Addis Ababa Agreement, signed in 1972, brought an end to the north-south civil war and a measure of self-rule. The civil war was put on hold for 10 years as a result of this.
Sudan’s agricultural production was mainly used for domestic consumption until the early 1970s. Sudan’s leadership grew more pro-Western in 1972, and plans to export grain and cash crops were developed. However, commodities prices fell in the 1970s, putting Sudan’s economy in jeopardy. At the same time, loan service expenses increased as a result of the money spent on agricultural mechanization. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the government agreed to a Structural Adjustment Program in 1978. This boosted the mechanized export agricultural industry even more. Sudanese pastoralists faced severe economic difficulties as a result of this (See Nuba Peoples).
The Ansars attempted a violent but failed coup in 1976. President Nimeiry met with Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the Ansar, in July 1977, paving the path for peace. Hundreds of political prisoners were freed, and in August, all opponents of Nimeiry’s administration were granted amnesty.
Colonel Omar al-Bashir conducted a bloodless military coup on June 30, 1989. On a national level, the new military administration suspended political parties and implemented an Islamic legal code. Later, al-Bashir carried out purges and killings in the army’s top levels, banned organizations, political parties, and independent publications, and imprisoned prominent political leaders and journalists. Al-Bashir declared himself “President” and dissolved the Revolutionary Command Council on October 16, 1993. Al-Bashir assumed the council’s executive and legislative responsibilities.
By law, he was the sole candidate eligible to run in the 1996 general election. Under the National Congress Party, Sudan became a one-party state (NCP). Hassan al-Turabi, the then-Speaker of the National Assembly, sought out to Islamic extremist organizations in the 1990s and encouraged Osama bin Laden to visit the nation. Sudan was later designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States. In 1998, the United States attacked Sudan, specifically the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant. Later, al-power Turabi’s faded in favor of more pragmatic leaders who concentrated on breaking the country’s isolation from the rest of the world. Sudan tried to satisfy its critics by removing Egyptian Islamic Jihad militants and encouraged bin Laden to go.
Al-Turabi proposed a measure to limit the President’s powers before the 2000 presidential election, leading al-Bashir to dismiss parliament and proclaim a state of emergency. Al-Bashir accused al-Turabi of conspiring to topple him and the government after al-Turabi called for a boycott of the President’s re-election campaign and signed an agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. As a consequence, Hassan al-Turabi was imprisoned the same year.
The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur took up weapons in February 2003, alleging the Sudanese government of discriminating non-Arab Sudanese in favor of Sudanese Arabs, sparking the Darfur War. The conflict has subsequently been labeled a genocide, and two arrest warrants have been issued for al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Janjaweed, an Arabic-speaking nomad force, has been accused of many crimes.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government signed the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement on January 9, 2005, with the goal of ending the Second Sudanese Civil War. The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was created to assist the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1590. The peace accord paved the way for the 2011 referendum that culminated in South Sudan’s independence; the Abyei area will have its own vote in the future.
The Eastern Front, a coalition of rebel organizations fighting in eastern Sudan, was led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Their position was taken following the peace accord in February 2004, when the bigger Hausa and Beja Congress merged with the smaller Rashaida Free Lions. On October 14, 2006, in Asmara, the Sudanese government and the Eastern Front signed a peace accord.
The Darfur Peace Agreement was signed on May 5, 2006, with the goal of ending the three-year war. The Chad–Sudan Conflict (2005–2007) occurred when Chad declared war on Sudan after the Battle of Adré. On May 3, 2007, the presidents of Sudan and Chad reached an agreement in Saudi Arabia to end combat in the Darfur war along their 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) border.
Flooding struck the nation in July 2007, affecting approximately 400,000 people directly. Since 2009, a series of continuing wars in Sudan and South Sudan between competing nomadic tribes have resulted in a significant number of fatalities. In the months leading up to South Sudanese independence, the Sudan internal conflict between the Army of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front began as a disagreement over the oil-rich area of Abyei, but it is also linked to the supposedly ended Darfur war.