Kingdom of Sennar

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A king of Sennar, 1821

Kingdom of Sennar was a former sultanate in the north of Sudan, which ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa between 1504 and 1821.

In the fifteenth century the part of Nubia formerly controlled by Makuria was home to a number of small states and subject to frequent incursions by desert nomads. The situation in Alodia is less well known, but it also seems as though that state had collapsed. The area was reunified under Abdallah Jamma, the gatherer, who came from the eastern regions that had grown wealthy and powerful from the trade on the Red Sea. Abdallah's empire was short lived as in the early sixteenth century the Funj people under Amara Dunkas arrived from the south, having been driven north by the Shullik. The Funj defeated Abdallah and set up their own kingdom based at Sennar.

The Funj religion had originally been a mix of Animism and Christianity. Islam also had an important influence, and in 1523 the Sennar monarchy officially converted to that religion, though many elements of the previous beliefs continued. Sennar expanded rapidly at the expense of neighboring states. Its power was extended over the Gezira, the Butana, the Bayuda, and southern Kordofan. This caused immediate tensions with its neighbours. Ethiopia felt much threatened but its internal problems prevented intervention. Newly Ottoman Egypt also saw the new state as a threat and invaded in force, but failed to conquer the area. Instead the Ottoman forces fortified the border and consolidated their hold on northern Nubia. This border would hold until 1821.

Relations with Ethiopia were more strained as both states competed over highlands between their two states. Eventually the Ethiopian moved their capital to nearby Gondar and secured their influence over these areas. Conflicts with the Shilluk to the south continued, but later the two were forced into an uneasy alliance to combat the growing might of the Dinka. Under the leadership of Badi II, Sennar defeated the Kingdom of Taqali to the west and made that state its vassal.

The armies of Sennar were centred on heavy cavalry. The riders were armoured with chain mail while the horses were covered in thick quilts and copper headgear. These riders were armed with long broadswords as the toe stirrups they used did not permit the use of lances. These horsemen were drawn from the nobility. A greater mass of troops were infantry who were composed of slaves. These infantry would also carry swords and be armoured. The armies were a permanent standing force garrisoned in castles and forts throughout the kingdom. Reliance on a standing army meant that the armies fielded by Sennar were usually quite small, but they were highly effective against their less organized rivals.

Sennar was heavily divided along geographic and racial/ethnic lines. The society was divided into six racial groups. The blue, the green, the yellow, the red, the green mixed with yellow, and the slaves who were brought from further south. The capital, its prosperity based on trade, had representatives from all over the Middle East and Africa.

There was a sharp division between those who were the heirs of the ancient kingdom of Alodia and the rest of Sennar. The Alodians adopted the mantle of the defeated Abdallah Jamma and came to be known as the Abdallab. In the late sixteenth century they rose in revolt under Ajib the Great. Ajib routed the Kings of Sennar, first making them his vassals and then seizing almost the entire kingdom in 1606. The Sennar monarchy regrouped under Adlan I, defeating Ajib in a pair of decisive battles. Eventually a compromise was reached whereby Ajib and his successors would rule the Sennar province of Dongola with a great deal of autonomy.

Sennar was at its peak at the end of the sixteenth century, but over the seventeenth it began to decline as the power of the monarchy was eroded. The wealth and power of the king had long rested on the control of the economy. All caravans were controlled by the monarch, as was the gold supply that functioned as the state's main currency. In time this power was eroded. Foreign currencies became widely used by merchants breaking the power of the monarch to closely control the economy. The thriving trade created a wealthy class of merchants. These merchants were educated and literate and read widely about Islam and became much concerned about the lack of orthodoxy in the kingdom. The king of Sennar had long been regarded as semi-divine, in keeping with ancient traditions, but this idea ran strongly counter to Islam. Many festivals and rituals also persisted from earlier days, a number of which involved consumption of great deals of alcohol and these traditions were also abandoned. The greatest challenge to the authority of the king was the merchant funded ulema who insisted it was rightfully their duty to mete out justice.

In 1762 Badi IV was overthrown in a coup launched by Abu Likayik of the red Hamaj from the northeast of the country. Abu Likayik installed another member of the royal family as his puppet sultan and ruled as regent. This began long conflict between the Funj sultans attempting to reassert their independence and authority and the Hamaj regents attempting to maintain control of the true power of the state.

These internal divisions greatly weakened the state and in 1821 the Ottoman khedive of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, led an army into Sennar; he encountered no resistance from the last king, whose realm was promptly absorbed into Ottoman Egypt. The region was subsequently absorbed into the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and the independent Republic of Sudan on that country's independence in 1956.

Rulers of Sennar

Hamaj regents


  • R.S. O'Fahey and J.L Spaulding Kingdoms of the Sudan

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