The name given in modern times to a small island situated at the foot of the Second Cataract of the Nile, a few miles south of the town of Wadi Halfa. The name in Nubian means “island of Mei,” but some scholars believe this may be a corruption of Mikhailnarti (island of Michael). Near the southern tip of the island was a fairly large village that in medieval times was apparently an important administrative center as well as the home of a monastic community.
Geographical evidence suggests that the village at Menarti may be the Takoa or Bakwa mentioned in the no longer extant, but oft- quoted tenth-century travel account of IBN SALIM AL-ASWANI, entitled Reports on Nubia, Makouria, ‘Alwa, Beja, and the Nile. According to Ibn Salim, this was the limit of upriver navigation for boats coming from Egypt, and was a customs post on the frontier between Lower and Upper Nubia. At this point all cargoes were delivered into the hands of the eparch of NOBATIA, and no merchant was allowed to pass beyond Takoa except with his permission (Burckhardt, 1819, p. 494). It is possible also that Menarti was the site of the Monastery of Michael and Cosmas, which is described but not located in ABU SALIH’s Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and Some Neighbouring Countries. Archaeological excavations in 1963-1964 revealed unmistakable evidence of a monastery.
There is good evidence for identifying Menarti with the Island of Michael that is mentioned in a number of late medieval Arabic histories. According to AL-NUWAYRI (d. 1332), the Island of Michael was “at the head of the cataract of Nubia, a place full of rock outcrops in the middle of the river.” This perfectly describes the situation of Menarti prior to its flooding by Lake Nasser. Al- Nuwayri further recounts that the Island of Michael was three times captured by Mamluk armies between 1276 and 1366.
The eparch of Nobatia, or Lord of the Mountain, as he is usually called in Arabic texts, is described as having jurisdiction over the island, with the implication that he had a residence there. Other Arab historians list the Island of Michael among the territories in Nubia that were ceded by the king of MAKOURIA to the Mamluk sultan Baybars, but it is evident from both historical and archaeological evidence that Mamluk control was never more than nominal.
A large part of the archaeological site at Menarti was excavated by the Sudan Antiquities Service between 1963 and 1965. The excavations revealed that the settlement was first established in late Meroitic times, around A.D. 300, and thereafter was occupied until sometime around 1500. Most of the excavated remains proved to be those of ordinary houses, but there was also a church and, in the later medieval period, a small monastery. This latter showed evidence of deliberate vandalism (probably in the course of one of the Mamluk incursions), and subsequently most of it was dismantled and replaced by a sturdy castlelike structure. This building was probably the occasional residence of the eparch. The final abandonment of Menarti apparently coincided with the end of the Christian Nubian period, between 1500 and 1550.
[See also: Nubian Medieval Archaeology; Nubian Monasteries.]
- Adams, W. Y. “Sudan Antiquities Service Excavations in Nubia: Fourth Season, 1962-63.” Kush 12 (1964):222-41.
- . “Sudan Antiquities Service Excavations at Meinarti, 1963-64.” Kush 13 (1965):148-76.
- . “Settlement Pattern in Microcosm: The Changing Aspect of a Nubian Village During Twelve Centuries.” In Settlement Archaeology, ed. K. C. Chang. Palo Alto, Calif., 1968.
- . Nubia, Corridor to Africa, pp. 488-93. Princeton, N.J., 1977.
- Burckhardt, J. L. Travels in Nubia, p. 494. London, 1819.
WILLIAM Y. ADAMS