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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423

In the Coptic scrolls the Beja are called the Blemmyes, a desert people who for many centuries had been a thorn in the side of successive governments in Egypt. They were known in Ptolemaic times under the name of Blemmyes.

They proved a constant threat to the Romans.

During the fourth and fifth centuries they were in control of a stretch of Nubia from Qasr Ibrim in the south to within a short distance from Aswan. Towards the end of the fifth century they were defeated and expelled from the Nile Valley by the Nobadian king, Silko. They continued, however, to be a serious nuisance for many years afterwards, raiding both Nubia and Southern Egypt. The Coptic scrolls mention several instances of their raids upon various localities and their persistent interference with travellers. At the time of the writing of the scrolls it would seem that the scale of their raiding was on the increase.

Eventually the rulers of Egypt were forced to take strong measures against them, for in A.D. 83I the Caliph Mamuin sent an expedition against them under 'Abdullah Ibn Jiham. A treaty signed by the defeated Beja remained in being for less than twenty years, for in A.D. 854 they slaughtered the Arabs working in the mines in the Eastern Desert, refused the payment of the tribute, and raided as far as Qena in Southern Egypt, inflicting great destruction as they went. A carefully prepared expedition under the command of Muhammed 'Abdullah Ibn Gami' was sent against them by the Governor of Egypt, Ansaba Ibn Ishak. Brought to battle near Gebel Zabara in the Eastern Desert, the Beja were completely defeated. From that time onwards the Beja ceased to present a serious threat to Egypt, though it is probable that they continued smaller raids into Nubia and thereby contributed to the eventual downfall of the Christian Kingdom.

(Adapted from Plumley, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 61 (1975))- Kathryn H

Posted at Nov 30/2010 02:58PM:
ian: Wow... this is a thorough discussion. Don't worry too much about all of the historical details. The notion that they served as a threat to imperial ambitions and that Egypt's frontiers were a constant zone of consternation is the key point. Similarly this demonstrates the different diplomatic and military strategies employed to engage with those outside of sovereign control.