The Baqt was a negotiated agreement between ‘Abdallah ibn Sa’id ibn Abi Sarh, the Umayyad governor of Egypt, and the Nubian king of MAKOURIA. It was concluded at DONGOLA in A.D. 632 following an unsuccessful Muslim attempt to subjugate the Nubian kingdom. The name Baqt is presumed to be derivative from Greek pakton (agreement), and is unique to this one document; no other covenant made by the medieval Arabs was given the same designation. This reflects the fact that the agreement itself was in many ways unique in the annals of Arab foreign relations, since it exempted the Nubians from the dar al-harb (the community of nations at war with Islam) without including them in the dar al-Islam (the community of Islam).
Several different versions of the Baqt have been recorded by different authors. Most of them wrote at a time when the agreement was still nominally in force but long after the original date of its execution. The earliest written account of the Baqt appears to be that of Al-Baladhuri (d. 892), who merely states that the Nubians were exempted from paying JIZYAH (poll tax) but agreed to furnish annually a gift of 300 slaves in exchange for the equivalent value in food. Later writers mention various other conditions, such as provision of horses by the Nubians and of wine and various kinds of cloth by the Egyptians. The fullest recorded version of the agreement is that in al-MAQRIZI’s al-Khitat (Plans), written more than 700 years after the actual date of the treaty.
According to al-Maqrizi, the Egyptians and the Nubians promised not to make war on one another, and each agreed to guarantee safe conduct of the other’s citizens when traveling. In addition, the Nubians were to return any runaway slaves or Muslim outlaws who fell into their hands, to look after a mosque that the Muslims had built at Dongola, and to furnish an annual tribute of 360 slaves. In al-Maqrizi’s text there is no mention of any quid pro quo on the part of the Egyptians. Doubts have been cast on the authenticity of al-Maqrizi’s and other late versions of the Baqt, written as they were several centuries after the fact.
However, a letter found at QASR IBRÎM in 1972 confirms the accuracy of many of the treaty provisions reported by al-Maqrizi. In the letter, which bears the date A.H. 141/A.D. 758, the Abbasid governor Musa ibn Ka‘b complains to the king of Makouria about various Nubian transgressions of the Baqt. Among his specific complaints were that the Nubians were not making the annual payment of slaves, were harboring runaway slaves, were protecting Egyptian fugitives, and were mistreating Egyptian merchants and diplomats.
The one provision of the Baqt, as reported by al-Maqrizi, that appears to be clearly anachronistic relates to a mosque at Dongola. There was certainly no mosque at Dongola in 632, or even 300 years later, when IBN SALIM AL-ASWANI visited the place. He and his followers were obliged to retire to the desert to perform the sacrifice of ‘Id al-Adhah, as he reported in his Kitab Akhbar al-Nubah (Reports on Nubia).
Because of its unusual provisions, the status of the Baqt was disputed by Muslim jurists themselves. The annual payment of slaves was regarded by some as a kind of tribute, but most commentators characterized it as a gift (hadiyyah). The agreement itself was sometimes designated as a sulh, or imposed settlement, but in fact the Nubians had not been militarily defeated or subjugated. Consequently, other writers rejected the term sulh, and referred to the Baqt as a truce (hudnah) or neutralization (muwada‘ah).
The Baqt remained at least nominally in force for more than 600 years, and it largely shaped the course of Egyptian-Nubian relations in the Middle Ages. After its signing, the Egyptians never again attempted the conquest of Makouria, although they often complained of the Nubians’ failure to abide by the terms of the treaty. In 835 the annual payment of slaves had apparently not been met for fourteen years, and the newly installed Caliph al-Mu‘tasim sent an urgent demand that the full arrears be made up. Such a demand was far beyond the resources of the Nubian king Zacharias, and consequently his son George went as an envoy to Baghdad to negotiate with the caliph. According to historians the royal envoy was received with honor and was sent home loaded with gifts. The fourteen-year arrears were forgiven and the Nubian quota of slaves was made payable every three years instead of every year. Some minor changes were made in the provisions of exchange; among other things, wine was excluded from the Egyptian payment.
The advent of Fatimid rule in Egypt in 969 was accompanied by a renewed demand for payment of the Baqt, which was evidently once again in arrears. This was the occasion for the famous diplomatic mission of Ibn Salim al-Aswani, who went to Dongola to present the Fatimid demand directly to the king of Makouria. His mission resulted in the establishment of exceptionally cordial relations between the Nubians and the Fatimids, even though the Baqt payment seems to have lapsed. There is no further mention of it either in Fatimid or in Ayyubid times.
The coming of Mamluk rule in 1260 was accompanied by an immediate demand for a resumption of the Baqt. The Mamluks, unlike their predecessors, evidently looked upon the agreement as a sulh, and upon the Nubians as vassals. Consequently, they were quite ready to back up their demands by military force. Mamluk armies invaded Nubia eight times between 1276 and 1323, usually for the purpose of installing a puppet king who would acknowledge Mamluk suzerainty and would resume the Baqt payment. Nevertheless, they were outmaneuvered by the Muslim BANU AL- KANZ, who eventually obtained the throne of Makouria for themselves. With the accession of a Muslim ruler at Dongola in 1323, the requirement of the Baqt payment was formally declared to be at an end.
- Adams, W. Y. Nubia, Corridor to Africa, pp. 451-58. Princeton, N.J., 1977.
- Burckhardt, J. L. Travels in Nubia, pp. 511-16. London, 1819.
- Forand, P. “Early Muslim Relations with Nubia.” Der Islam 48 (1971):111-21.
- Hinds, M., and H. Sakkout. “A Letter from the Governor of Egypt to the King of Nubia and Muqurra Concerning Egyptian-Nubian Relations in 141/758.” In Studia Arabica et Islamica, ed. Wadad al-Qadi. Beirut, 1981.
- Vantini, G. Christianity in the Sudan, pp. 65-70. Bologna, 1981.
WILLIAM Y. ADAMS