Old Nubian language

Old Nubian Language

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Old Nubian language

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Old Nubian is an ancient variety of Nubian, spoken until about the 15th century. It is ancestral to modern-day Nobiin and related to other Nubian languages such as Dongolawi. It was used throughout the medieval Christian kingdom of Makuria and its satellite Nobadia. The language is preserved in at least a hundred pages of documents, mostly of a religious nature, written using a modified form of the Coptic script; the best known is The Martyrdom of Saint Menas.


Old Nubian had its source in the languages of the Noba nomads who occupied the Nile between the First and Third Cataract and the Makorae nomads who occupied the land between the Third and Fourth Cataracts following the collapse of Meroƫ sometime in the 4th century. The Makorae were a separate tribe who eventually conquered or inherited the lands of the Noba: they established a Byzantine-influenced state called Makuria which administered the Noba lands separately as the eparchy of Nobadia. Nobadia was converted to Monophysite Christianity by the priests Julian and Longinus, and thereafter received its bishops from the Pope of Alexandria.

Old Nubian is one of the oldest written African languages but was used only sporadically. The civil administration and legal records tended to employ Greek, while the church leadership (originally all Egyptians) were fluent in Coptic. Over time, more and more Old Nubian began to appear in both secular and religious documents, and the language also influenced the use of Greek...
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