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Sudan in the "Book of All Kingdoms"

Historical flags

Last modified: 2016-11-04 by bruce berry
Keywords: sudan | book of all kingdoms | graciona | dongola | abdeselib | dobaha | sohan |
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Dobaha

   image by Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016

The flag of Dobaha is very similar to that of Sohan, but the disc is smaller and the bottom arm of the cross does not reach the disc edge.  Also, the side arms' length is increasing from the top to the bottom, resulting in a shape very similar to the papal cross. For all these reasons, the flag is presented here separately.
Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016


Dongola

[Flag of Dongola] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 05 Dec 2007

The 74th flag mentioned and illustrated in the Book of All Kingdoms is attributed to Dongola, a state near the current Sudan, said to be founded and peopled by Nubians. This as depicted in the 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription, a white flag with a black cross patty with two horizontal bars, and the vertical bar throughout, the flag in the ogival default shape of this source. The anonymous author of Book of All Kingdoms describes the flag thus: "E el rey d’ella á por se&ntilda;ales un pendón blanco con una cruz fecha así." ( meaning "The King of Dongola has for his device a white flag with a cross like this", as translated in the Halkyut Society edition.)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 05 Dec 2007

Dongola was the capital of the Christian Nubian kingdom of Makuria, and was often used as the name of the whole kingdom. The core of the kingdom lay between the 3rd and 5th cataracts in the Nile valley of northern Sudan. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muqurra , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Sudan#Christian_Nubia and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Dongola for more info on Makuria and Dongola.
Ned Smith, 05 Dec 2007


Graciona/Granciona

image by Eugene Ipavec, 07 Dec 2007

The 78th flag mentioned and illustrated in the Book of All Kingdoms is attributed to Graciona / Granciona, the capital of Empiror Abdeselib, supposedly located somewhere in the current Sudan. This as depicted in the 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription, this is a white flag with a black cross patty throughout (actually, stretched to top, bottom and hoist, but not extending to the fly tip), the flag in the oval default shape of this source. According to the Halkyut Society edition (#70 on plate 15 between p.34-35), the manuscript "S" (the [f0fXXs]) shows this flag. The anonymous author of Book of All Kingdoms describes the flag thus: "E este emperador Abdeselib á por senales un pendón de plata con una cruz prieta d'esta manera." (meaning "The Emperor Abdeselib has for his device a white flag with a black cross like this", as translated in the Halkyut Society edition.)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 06 Dec 2007


Sohan

  image by Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016

The flags of Soban and Dobaha represent Christian states in Nubia, still quite powerful at the time when the "Book of All Kingdoms" was completed, although the geographic information presented in the map is somewhat confused. The design of these flags resembles somewhat the flag of Dongola from the "Book" and the city of Dongola itself is shown in the map, but with no flag and placed much farther to the south from its actual location near the supposed Blue Nile, far upstream from its confluence with the White Nile. Its actual location was on the Nile, far downstream from the confluence, and the present-day city is placed even farther downstream. The first of these flags is hoisted over a city named Sohan, placed at the very confluence, where the present-day city of Khartoum is. The other flag is hoisted over a city named Dobaha, placed to the south-west from Sohan and to the south from the supposed White Nile. Since another Christian city named Sobaha is shown (without the flag) not far from Dobaha in the west, it is possible that all of these names, resembling each other, are somehow derived from the name of Soba, the historical capital of Christian kingdom of Alodia, which was placed on the Blue Nile, not far from the present-day Khartoum.

The flag of Sohan has an engrailed fly and displays a large white disc, charged with a red eight-armed cross, on golden field. All six side arms of the cross have approximately the same length, the top arm is very short, and the bottom arm is issuing from the disc edge. The endings of the top and side arms are not all the same: some look like botonny and others like formy, but such asymmetrical cross shapes, while their blazons are technically feasible, seem not to have ever been used. When zoomed in to the maximum, the map photo seems to reveal that there are more arms bottony than formy, so the cross is shown here with all arms formy.
Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016


Tremecin

[Flag of Tremecin] image by Eugene Ipavec, 6 December 2007

The 73rd flag mentioned and illustrated in the Book of All Kingdoms is attributed to Tremecin, an oasis state probably somewhere in modern day Mali or Niger. This is, as depicted in the 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription, a grey (standing for purple) flag with a white crescent (with visible black lining) facing the hoist, the flag in the ogival default shape of this source. The anonymous author of Book of All Kingdoms describes the flag thus: "E el rey d’este reinado á por señales un pendón cárdeno con una luna blanca atal." ("The King has for his device a purple flag with a white moon", as translated in the Halkyut edition.)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 4 December 2007

According to the "Book", this state might be somewhere in present-day Sudan:
"Partí de Tauser e andude muy gran camino por la Zaara en camellos, e llegué a otro reinado que dizen Tremisin, e confina con el flumen Nilus e siempre bive en guerra con los cristianos de Nubia e de Etiopía."

The same source claims that the original inhabitants of the city of Tlemcen, Algeria had arrived from this area:
"E sabet que las gentes d'este reinado poblaron a Tremecen la de Berbería."

For this reason, the state and its capital, whose name is spelled Trimisin in the "Book", might both be also called Tlemcen.

The portolanos indeed often show a blue (sometimes black) flag charged with a white crescent, in the area bordered with the Nile to the east and the White Nile to the south (if we accept that the two rivers shown to form the Nile on the maps are indeed meant to be the Blue Nile and the White Nile). A gallery of the portolanos is found at the Histocat website:
http://www.histocat.cat/index.html?msgOrigen=7&Familia=FA008&Subfamilia=SF061

Most of these show the flag above a city named simply Nubia, but map of Gabriel Vallseca, created on Majorca in 1439 and nowadays kept at Naval Museum, Barcelona, explicitly names the city "Tirimse de Nubia", i.e. "Tlemcen of Nubia":
http://www.histocat.cat/index.html?msgOrigen=6&CODART=ART00166
(Image: http://www.histocat.cat/resource/)
Enlarged detail of the map is shown here: http://www.hubert-herald.nl/SudanI.htm#MN1323 (Image: http://www.hubert-herald.nl/SudanI_bestanden/image016.jpg) and the flag is blue with a white crescent.

For a discussion on how purple from the "Book" was changed to blue on most of the portolanos, see here.
Tomislav Todorovic, 22 October 2012

In the Catalan Atlas, Sudan is called Nubia and this name is inscribed in the map twice: the first inscription is actually placed approximately in present-day Chad, while the other one does seem to be placed in the present-day Sudan, in the area bordered with the White Nile to the west and the Blue Nile to the east (if we accept that the two rivers shown to form the Nile on the map are indeed meant to be the white Nile and the Blue Nile) and extending down to the map edge.  There is also a city named Nubia (see below), placed between these two inscriptions, near the third one which says "Africha" (i.e. Africa).  There are three flags in the area, with the designs which are derived
from the "Book of All Kingdoms".

image by Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016

The blue flag charged with a silver crescent (nowadays nearly blackened by age) is hoisted over the said city of Nubia ("Ciuta de Nubia"), which is placed not very far from the supposed White Nile and much farther from the Nile, somewhere in the western part of present-day Sudan, not far from the border with Chad and Libya. This is clearly based on the flag of Tremecin from the "Book of All Kingdoms" with the field color changed from blue to purple, typically for the portolanos, as shown above.

The flag reflects Muslim conquest of Sudan, which had already been under way when the "Book of All Kingdoms" was completed, although still far from the end.
Tomislav Todorovic, 04 Sept 2016