The name given in medieval times to the most northerly part of Nubia, immediately south of Egypt. Its territory is believed to have extended from about the First to the Third Cataract of the Nile, though there is some doubt about the location of the southern frontier. The region took its name from the Nubian-speaking Nobatae (Nobadae, Noubade) tribe. According to Procopius, they were formerly dwellers in the oases but were invited by Diocletian to settle in Lower Nubia when he withdrew the Roman legions, near the end of the third century. However, some scholars believe that the Nobatae settlement began at a considerably earlier date.
It is assumed that the Nobatae were originally subject to the empire of KUSH (Meroë). After the collapse of Kushite power in the fourth century, they became politically independent and were ruled by their own king. One of the early Nobatae kings, Silko, left an inscription in Greek in the temple of Kalabsha. Another, Aburnai, is mentioned in a letter found at QASR IBRIM. Most scholars believe that the royal tombs at BALLANA and Qustul, excavated in the 1930s, are those of the Nobatae kings, although there is no textual evidence to provide a certain identification. In pagan times the capital or principal royal residence was apparently at Qasr Ibrim. Later, with the coming of Christianity, it may have shifted to FARAS.
The conversion of Nobatia to Christianity in the sixth century is recorded by John of Ephesus. According to him, the work of evangelization was begun by a Monophysite priest named JULIAN in 543 and was completed by LONGINUS, also a Monophysite, in 569-575. Ecclesiastical historians suggest that there was rival missionary activity in NUBIA by the Melchites, but the efforts of the Monophysites triumphed, at least in Nobatia. That the work of conversion was very rapid and complete is suggested by the archaeological evidence from Nubian cemeteries, where we find an abrupt and complete disappearance of pagan burial practices in the later sixth century.
Shortly after the coming of Christianity, Nobatia ceased to be an independent kingdom and became a dependency of the larger medieval kingdom of MAKOURIA, which bordered Nobatia on the south. The circumstances that led to this conquest or merger are not historically recorded. Thereafter Nobatia was ruled not by a king but by an eparch appointed by the king of Makouria. However, the northern region continued to carry the toponym Nobatia, and its ruler was designated as the eparch of Nobatia or the eparch of the Nobatians. In later medieval Coptic and Arabic sources the region is also sometimes designated as the province of al-Maris.
In the fourteenth century the kingdom of Makouria disintegrated, and Lower Nubia once again became politically independent. However, it came to be known at this time as the kingdom of DOTAWO, and the toponym Nobatia was no longer used.
- Adams, W. Y. Nubia, Corridor to Africa, pp. 438-71. Princeton, N.J., 1977.
- Kirwan, L. P. “Notes on the Topography of the Christian Nubian Kingdoms.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935):58-61.
- Monneret de Villard, U. Storia della Nubia cristiana, pp. 36-95. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 118. Rome, 1938.
- Vantini, G. Christianity in the Sudan, pp. 36-82. Bologna, 1981.
WILLIAM Y. ADAMS