Islamic Period

© 2004 Photographer Rocco Ricci copyright The British Museum

Sudanese bronze helmet

The people of Sudan first had contact with Islam when the Baqt Treaty was signed with Egyptian Muslims in AD 652. Objects from the Islamic world such as pottery, textiles and glass were subsequently imported into the area. The Christian king of Makuria was deposed in AD 1323 and was replaced by a Muslim. Arab migration immediately increased and scholars set up Koranic schools and mosques. The southern kingdom of Alwa was taken over by Arab people in AD 1504.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century AD a powerful Islamic state called the Funj Sultanate rose in the middle Nile valley. It gained power without violence, indicating that there was already a large Muslim community in the area. The Funj capital until AD 1821 was Sennar, about 250 km south of Khartoum. It was a large, unfortified town notable for its palace, mosque, marketplaces and cemeteries. From the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries the region of Darfur, to the west, also saw the rise of an Islamic state. The power of the Funj declined from the late eighteenth century and the Turco-Egyptian government conquered its territory in 1821.

Illustration: Helmet worn during the nineteenth century AD. Conservation of the helmet began at the Sudan National Museum, where the gilded decoration was revealed under the rust. At the British Museum the textile components were cleaned using low powered vacuum suction, the outer blue fabric was stitched to the quilted wadding and the frayed edging was covered with nylon net dyed in a sympathetic colour.