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NUBAE (Νοῦβαι, Strab. xxvii. pp. 786, 819; Ptol. 4.7.30; Steph. B. sub voce also Νουβαῖοι and Νουβάδες; Nubei, Plin. Nat. 6.30. s. 34), were a negro race, situated S. of Meroe on the western side of the Nile, and when they first appear in history were composed of independent clans governed by their several chieftains. From the Nubae is derived the modern appellation of Nubia, a region which properly does not belong to ancient geography; yet the ancient Nubae differed in many respects, both in the extent of their country and their national character, from the modern Nubians.

Their name is Aegyptian, and came from the Nile-valley to Europe. From remote periods Aegypt and Aethiopia imported from the regions S. of Meroe ivory, ebony, and gold; and gold, in the language of Aegypt, was Noub; and thus the gold-producing districts S. of Sennaar (Meroe), and in Kordofan, were designated by the merchants trading with them as the land of Noub. Even in the present day the Copts who live on the lower Nile call the inhabitants of the country above Assouan (Syene) Nubah,--a name indeed disowned by those to whom it is given, and of which the origin and import are unknown to those who give it. Kordofan, separated from Aegypt by a desert which can be easily crossed, and containing no obstructing population of settled and warlike tribes, lay almost within view of Aethiopia and the country N. of it; and the Nubae, though of a different race, were familiarly known by all who drank of the waters of the Lower Nile. The occupations of the Nubae brought them into immediate contact with the mercantile classes of their more civilised neighbours. They were the water-carriers and caravan-guides. They were employed also in the trade of Libya Interior, and, until the Arabian conquest of Eastern Africa, were generally known to the ancients as a nomade people, who roamed over the wastes between the S. of Meroe and the shores of the Red Sea. Nor, indeed, were they without settled habitations: the country immediately N. of Kordofan is not entirely barren but lies within the limit of the periodical rains, and the hamlets of the Nubae were scattered over the meadow tracts that divide, the upper branches of the Nile. The independence of the tribes was probably owing to their dispersed habitations. In the third century A.D. they seem to have become, more compact and civilised: for when the Romans, in the reign of Diocletian, A.D. 285--305, withdrew from the Nile-valley above Philae, they placed in it and in the stations up the river colonies of Nobatae (Nubae, Νουβάδες) from the western desert. These settlements may be regarded as the germ of the present Nubia. Supported by the Romans who needed them as a barrier against [p. 2.451]the Blemmyes, and reinforced by their kindred from SW., civilised also in some measure by the introduction of Christianity among them, these wandering negroes became an agricultural race, maintained themselves, against the ruder tribes of the eastern deserts, and in the sixth century A.D. were firmly established as far S. perhaps as the Second Cataract. (Procop. Bell. Persic. 1.100.15.) In the following century the Nubae were for a time overwhelmed by the Arabs, and their growing civilisation was checked. Their employment as caravan-guides was diminished by the introduction of the camel, and their numbers were thinned by the increased activity of the slave-trade: since the Arabian invaders found these sturdy and docile negroes a marketable commodity on the opposite shore of the Red Sea. But within a century and a half the Nubae again appear as the predominant race. on the Upper Nile and its tributaries. The entire valley of the Nile, from Dongola inclusive down to the frontier of Aegypt, is in their hands, and the name Nubia appears for the first time in geography.

The more ancient Nubae were settled in the hills of Kordofan, SW. of Meroe. (Rüppell, Reisen in Nubien, p. 32.) The language of the Nubians of the Nile at this day is radically the same with that of northern Kordofan; and their numbers were possibly underrated by the Greeks, who were acquainted with such tribes only as wandered northward in quest of service with the caravans from Coptos and Philae to the harbours of the Red Sea. The ancient geographers, indeed, mention the Nubae as a scattered race. Pliny, Strabo, and Ptolemy each assign to them a different position. Ptolemy (4.6.16) dissevers them from the Nile, doubtless erroneously, and places them W. of the Abyssinian mountains, near the river Gir and in close contact with the Garamantes. Strabo (xvii. p.819) speaks of them as a great nation of Lybia, dwelling in numerous independent communities between the: latitude of Meroe and the great bends of the Nile,--i. e. in Dongola. Lastly, Pliny (6.30. s. 34) sets them 8 days W. of the island of the Semberritae (Sennaar). All these accounts, however, may be reconciled by assuming Kordofan to have been the original home of the Nubae, whence they stretched themselves N. and W. accordingly as they found room for tillage, caravan routes, or weaker tribes of nomades.

The Pharaohs made many settlements in Nubia, and a considerable Aegyptian population was introduced among the native Aethiopian tribes as far S. as the island of Gagaudes (Argo), or even Gebelel-Birkel. (Lat. 18° 25′ N.) It is not certain whether any of the present races of Nubia can be regarded as descendants of these colonists. Their presence, however, is attested by a series of monuments embracing nearly the whole period of Aegyptian architecture. These monuments represent three eras in architectural history. (1) The first comprehends the temples cut in the sides of the mountains; (2) the second, the temples which are detached from the rocks, but emulate in their massive proportions their original types; (3) the third embraces those smaller and more graceful edifices, such as are those of Gartaas and Dandour, in which the solid masses of the first style are wholly laid aside. Of these structures, however, though seated in their land, the Nubae were not the authors; and they must be regarded either as the works of a race cognate with the Aegyptians, who spread their civilisation northward through, the Nile-valley, or of colonists from the Thebaid, who. carved upon the walls of Ipsambul, Semneh, and Soleh the titles and victories of Rameses the Great.


hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.30
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.6
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.7
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