Ballana Kingdom And Culture


The breakup of the Sudanese empire of in the fourth century was the signal for major population movements in the Nile Valley. Both Nubian-speaking tribes (see NUBIANS) and TRIBES took possession of different territories that had formerly been under the rule of Kush. In the far north of NUBIA there appeared a kind of hybrid culture that combined some of the old traditions of Kush with new influences from Greco-Roman Egypt. The Meroitic written language of Kush disappeared, to be replaced on a very limited scale by Greek.

When the post-Kushite culture of lower Nubia was first discovered by early in the twentieth century, it was given the designation “X-Group” because of uncertainty as to who the newcomers were. Some scholars identified them with the people, today known as Beja, who are often mentioned in classical texts, while others preferred an identification with the Nubian-speaking Nobatae (see NOBATIA) mentioned by Procopius. More recent investigation has suggested that the X-Group culture was not unique to either group but was common to the two of them. From this altered viewpoint, the term X-Group is seen to be inappropriate, and there has been a tendency to replace it with the designation “Ballana culture.”

The discovery in the 1930s of spectacular royal tombs at Ballana and Qustul, near the Egyptian-Sudanese border, revealed that the Ballana people had been subject to a very powerful monarchy. The kings and queens were buried in chamber tombs under great earthen tumuli, together with an astonishing array of their accumulated wealth as well as sacrificial animals and human retainers. The mortuary ritual was generally, though not absolutely, similar to that followed by the earlier rulers of Kush, and in particular, the Ballana royal retained the familiar Kushite emblems of authority.

The Ballana monarchy, as reflected in the royal tombs, is believed to have endured from about 350 to 550. The kings and their subjects evidently kept up the worship of the old Egyptian deities, especially Isis, even though by this time was officially Christian and the cult of the earlier deities had been suppressed. Christian ideas were also beginning to make some headway among the Nubians, to judge from the votive lamps and other Christian paraphernalia found in the Ballana tombs.

Very few textual records from the Ballana period have survived. There are, however, two complete royal texts, both in highly eccentric Greek, found at Kalabsha and at QASR IBRIM. One is the victory proclamation of King Silko of the Nobatae and the other is a letter that makes reference to the same king. Since Silko appears to have been a strong ruler and to have extended his rule over a considerable territory, there is reason to suppose that he may be one of the kings buried at Ballana. If so, the Ballana rulers are to be identified specifically with the Nobatae rather than with the Blemmye, and the Ballana kingdom is none other than the historical kingdom of Nobatia, whose conversion to Christianity in the sixth century was recorded by John of Ephesus (see NUBIA, EVANGELIZATION OF). The Ballana culture was in any case the immediate forerunner of the Christian civilization of medieval Nubia.


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