The Kingdom of Alwa


124 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919813-94-1
DDC 962.6'4




Reviewed by Matthew H. Hill

Matthew H. Hill is an associate professor of anthropology at the
University of Waterloo.


This book is a slightly edited version of the author’s thesis for a
master’s degree in Archaeology, which he received from the University
of Calgary. It brings together historical documentation and
archaeological information concerning the kingdom of Alwa, which
comprised much of the modern Republic of Sudan from about 300 to 1600
A.D. The result is a well-written book that will likely be a standard
secondary source on medieval Nubia for many years.

Alwa was a Christian state that stretched from the Red Sea, across the
Nile valley, where it was centred, to the southern fringes of the
Sahara. It was the inheritor of the romanized state of Meroe and was
itself succeeded by a series of Islamic polities, which, the author
believes, retained much of Alwa’s cultural pattern.

Zarroug presents (virtually in toto) the scanty contemporary
references, summarizes most modern interpretations, and describes the
relevant archaeological research up to 1981. (More recent excavations at
Soba, the putative royal capital, were published too late to be
considered.) His interpretations are based less on the available data
than on the retrodiction of models drawn from more recent successor
states. These provide, as the author acknowledges, less a solid history
than a plausible set of hypotheses for further investigation.

Zarroug sees Alwa as a complex multiethnic polity, integrating both
irrigation- and rainfall-dependent farmers, pastoralists, and a variety
of resource-based communities. He views the development and extension of
the kingdom as stimulated by the advantages resulting from control of an
export trade, east to the Red Sea and north to Egypt.


Zarroug, Mohi el-Din Abdalla., “The Kingdom of Alwa,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,