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Article

Peter Grossmann

[Abū Mīnā]

Site of a Christian city and pilgrimage centre in the Maryūt Desert, c. 45 km south-west of Alexandria, Egypt. It grew up around the shrine of St Menas, who was martyred during the persecution of the Christians instigated by Diocletian (reg 285–305). The ancient name of the site is not known, and the position of the saint’s grave had been long forgotten until, according to legend, several miracle cures led to its rediscovery. The place then quickly developed into an increasingly major centre of pilgrimage where, among other things, the so-called Menas ampules were manufactured as pilgrim flasks and achieved particular renown. The first excavations of the site were undertaken by Kaufmann in 1905–7. Further excavations have been directed successively by the Coptic Museum in Cairo (1951), Schläger (1963 and 1964), Wolfgang Müller-Wiener (1965–7) and Peter Grossmann (since 1969).

The earliest archaeological remains date to the late 4th century, although the grave itself was in an older hypogeum. The first martyrium basilica erected over the grave dates to the first half of the 5th century and was rapidly enlarged by various reconstructions and extensions. Around the turn of the 5th and 6th centuries, the Great Basilica was added to the east in the form of a transept-basilica, making it the largest church in Egypt (...

Article

Arabic School, 10th century, male.

Died 997.

Painter.

None of the works of this artist are known.

Article

Lucien Golvin

Islamic dynasty that governed Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily from ad 800 to 909. The province of Ifriqiya, roughly corresponding to modern Tunisia, had been administered from Kairouan since the Islamic conquest in the 7th century by governors named by the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The caliph authorized one of these governors, Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab (reg 800–12), to appoint his own successor, thereby engendering a dynasty that maintained its position by paying the caliph an annual tribute. Ibrahim immediately built a satellite city, which he named al-‛Abbasiyya, with a palace, known as the Qasr al-Abyad, and a congregational mosque. His sons ‛Abdallah I (reg 812–17) and Ziyadat Allah I (reg 817–38) continued to put down insurrections, and Tunis was temporarily outside the authority of the Aghlabid amir in Kairouan. The conquest of Sicily (827) was conducted like a holy war against the Byzantines, and the troops, encouraged by indoctrination in fortified convents (Arab. ...

Article

Aksum  

Francis Anfray

[Axoum; Axum]

Capital of the ancient kingdom of Aksum, in the modern Tigray Province of Ethiopia, c. 600 km north of Addis Ababa. It flourished between the 1st and 8th centuries ad. The modern town occupies part of the site, which faces south over a fertile plain at the foot of a flat-topped hill, Mt Beta Giyorgis. The ancient city’s importance is attested by the many monuments scattered throughout the modern town, including huge stelae and throne bases, broken pillars, inscriptions and royal hypogea. The first extensive investigations were undertaken in 1906 by a German team under E. Littmann. During the 1960s and 1970s French, British and Italian teams carried out further excavations, led by Francis Anfray, Neville Chittick and Lanfranco Ricci, respectively.

From the 5th century bc the surrounding region was ruled by a local monarchy with a major centre of Yeha, less than 50 km north-east of Aksum, with close ties to the kingdom of Saba in southern Arabia. Elements of this strong southern Arabic influence survived in the culture of Aksum and its kingdom, which was founded in the 1st century ...

Article

Egyptian, 10th century, male.

Painter. Historical subjects, landscapes.

Al-Kutami was a member of the Kutama tribe and was brought up by Banu-el-Muallim, who painted the mosque situated high up in the Karafa mountains, near Cairo in 976 AD. He painted a work entitled Joseph at the Fountain...

Article

Judith McKenzie, Gordon Campbell, R. R. R. Smith, Wiktor A. Daszewski, A. H. Enklaar, Dominic Montserrat, C. Walters, Wladyslaw B. Kubiak, Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Egyptian city situated on the Mediterranean coast west of the delta of the River Nile, capital of Egypt from c. 320 bc to ad 642, seaport and centre of ancient Greek culture.

Judith McKenzie

Alexandria was founded in 331 bc by Alexander, on the site of the small Egyptian settlement of Rhakotis. Its location, with access by canal to the River Nile, enabled it to become an important and highly prosperous trading centre, and by c. 320 bc Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. During Ptolemaic times (304–30 bc) it became a major centre of learning, with famous scholars of literature, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and geography, and it played a major role in the transmission of Greek culture to the East.

With the defeat of the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII (51–30 bc), by Octavian (later called Augustus) at the Battle of Actium in 30...

Article

Bawit  

C. Walters

Site on the west bank of the River Nile, c. 16 km west of Daryūt in the province of Asyūt, Egypt. A large monastery with rich sculptural and painted decoration originally lay in the desert 1 km to the west. According to tradition it was founded by the monk Apollo in the late 4th century ad and was inhabited until the late 12th century. The site was excavated intermittently between 1901 and 1913 by the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo; most of the structural finds were removed to the Coptic Museum in Cairo and the Louvre in Paris. The monastery consisted of an enclosed nucleus with other buildings outside the walls, although it is not known how much of the site was occupied at any given time. Within the enclosed area were two churches. A number of two-storey structures were excavated, of which the ground floors were probably chapels and the upper floors served as living quarters, as in the monastery of Apa Jeremiah at Saqqara (...

Article

Simon P. Ellis

Ruined city on the North African coast at the end of a narrow peninsula pointing into the Bay of Tunis. Now an archaeological site at the edge of Tunis itself, Carthage was founded, according to legend, by the Phoenician queen Elyssa in 814 bc. It became a major Mediterranean power until its destruction by the Romans in 146 bc. Carthage flourished as a Roman city, Christianity reaching it by the 2nd century ad. The city was revived by Emperor Justinian, but it was finally destroyed by the Arabs in ad 698.

For later history see Tunis.

In the 6th and 5th centuries bc the city’s interventions in disputes between the Greek and Phoenician city states of Sicily made Carthage the leading western Phoenician colony, and it formed a close alliance with the Etruscans. From the 5th century bc the Carthaginians spread into the African hinterland, eventually controlling the area that is today the northern half of Tunisia. They also concluded three alliances with the newly emergent power of Rome. Further conflict in Sicily, however, precipitated (...

Article

Faras  

R. G. Morkot

[Egyp. Sehetepneterw; Copt. Pachoras.]

Site in Egypt on the west bank of the Nile, 35 km north of Wadi Halfa. Since the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970, Faras has been submerged beneath Lake Nasser. There were three important phases in the history of Faras: the later New Kingdom (c. 1540–c. 1075 bc), when it was rebuilt by Tutankhamun (reg c. 1332–c. 1323 bc) as the administrative capital of Lower Nubia; during the Meroitic period (c. 300 bcad 360), when it was again a regional capital; and Christian times (8th–15th centuries ad) when it was the seat of a bishop.

In terms of Nubian art the Meroitic and Christian phases at Faras are the most important. The large Meroitic cemetery has produced a great quantity of pottery vessels in fine painted wares, and painted pottery has long been recognized as one of the most important aspects of Meroitic art, revealing influences from Pharaonic, Hellenistic and Roman Egypt in its forms and the decorative motifs employed (...

Article

Fatimid  

Jonathan M. Bloom

Islamic dynasty that ruled in Ifriqiya (now Tunisia) from ad 909 to 972 and in Egypt from ad 969 to 1171. The Fatimids were Isma‛ili Shi‛ites who traced their ancestry back to Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, via Isma‛il, the seventh Shi‛ite Imam. They believed that their rightful position as leaders of the Muslim community had been usurped by the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The first Fatimid success was the toppling of the Aghlabid rulers of Ifriqiya in 909. The Fatimid leader ‛Ubayd Allah assumed the title of caliph and the regnal name al-Mahdi (reg 909–34). He soon moved his capital from the hostile religious environment of Kairouan to Mahdia on the Mediterranean coast, a base more appropriate for the expected Fatimid conquest of the rest of the Islamic world. The port soon became a centre for Mediterranean commerce, whose revival was one of the cornerstones of Fatimid prosperity. The indigenous Berber population of North Africa rose in repeated rebellions, often fomented by the Fatimids’ Umayyad rivals in Spain. In 947 the caliph ...

Article

Egyptian, 10th century, male.

Active at the end of the 10th century.

Painter. Local scenes.

Ibn El Azîz was a painter at the court of the Fatimids in Cairo. He was mainly in the service of Vizir Bazuri, for whom he painted among other works a ...

Article

Idrisid  

Marianne Barrucand

[Arab. Idrīsī]

Islamic dynasty that ruled in Morocco between ad 789 and 985. It was the first Islamic dynasty to establish an independent state in Morocco and played an important role in the Islamicization of the country. The founder, Idris I (reg 789–91), was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and was thus regarded by Shi‛ites as a rightful successor. Having taken part in a Shi‛ite revolt against the Abbasid caliph in 786, Idris fled from Arabia to north-east Morocco, settling in the region of Volubilis, near Meknès, where the local Berber population accepted him as the imam, the temporal and spiritual leader of the Islamic community. His son, Idris II (reg 791–828), moved the capital to Fez, a city founded by his father but subsequently neglected. During Idris II’s reign Fez became a flourishing trading, religious and intellectual centre, attracting settlers from the two great metropolises of the western Islamic world, Kairouan and Córdoba. Physical remains from the period are scarce. The Idrisids were responsible for the layout of the old centre of Fez and the division of the city into two distinct quarters (those of the Kairouanis and the Andalusians) separated by the River Fas. In the former was built what is now the ...

Article

Thurstan Shaw

Town in Nigeria (pop. c. 15,000 in the 1990s), situated 40 km south-east of Onitsha, which is on the River Niger. The name means ‘Great Igbo’ in the Igbo language. It is also the name given to the ancient culture that produced the elaborate metalwork and ceramics, dated to the 10th century ad, that were found at three sites on the outskirts of the town.

The first site came to light some time before the outbreak of World War II in 1939 while a man, Isaiah Anozie, was digging a cistern. Not far below ground-level he unearthed a highly decorated bronze bowl, and further digging led to the discovery of other bronzes, some of which were given to his neighbours who thought they would make good ‘medicine’. The remaining objects were bought by John Field, the area’s Assistant District Officer, who published an account of the discovery and presented the collection to the Nigerian Federal Department of Antiquities. At the invitation of the Department, the archaeologist ...

Article

Nubia  

William Y. Adams, R. G. Morkot, Timothy Kendall, L. Török and Khalid J. Deemer

Region in the Nile Valley, immediately to the south of Egypt, in which several cultures flourished, from the Khartoum Mesolithic period (c. 10,000–c. 5000 bc) to the establishment of the Islamic Funj sultanate c. ad 1505. Ancient Nubia corresponds essentially to the ‘Aethiopia’ of Herodotus and other Classical writers and the ‘Kush’ of the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews. It extends approximately from Aswan in southern Egypt to Khartoum in Sudan (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). The most northerly part, Lower Nubia, has always been regarded as an Egyptian sphere of influence, and it is included within the borders of the modern Arab Republic of Egypt. Egyptian control of the larger, southerly region, ‘Upper Nubia’, was much more sporadic.

Article

Saqqara  

Christiane Zivie-Coche and Dominic Montserrat

Egyptian site on a desert plateau c. 20 km south of Cairo and just west of the ancient city of Memphis, which flourished as a necropolis and religious centre in the Dynastic, Late and Greco-Roman periods. In the Coptic period it continued in use as a monastic centre. The necropolis of Saqqara, which stretches for almost 8 km, forms the centre of the Memphite necropolis; its site is dominated by the Step Pyramid of the 3rd Dynasty king Djoser (see fig.). The monuments are divided into two groups, those of North Saqqara (see fig.) and those of South Saqqara.

Article

Sedrata  

Margaret Graves

Site of a settlement in the Sahara in the early Islamic period, near the modern-day Algerian city of Ouargla. Sedrata was briefly the capital of the Khariji sect in North Africa until it was destroyed in the 11th century.

In the 7th century, the Kharijites, a highly conservative opposition party that rejected both the succession of ‛Ali b. Abu Talib as well as that of his rivals, fled from persecution to the Maghrib. The Rustamid dynasty of Kharijites established their capital at Tahart (now in western Algeria), but fled from there to Sedrata in 909 when the Fatimids invaded. The Kharijites remained at Sedrata until it was destroyed in 1077; leaving Sedrata they took refuge in the oasis towns of the Mzab Valley in Central Algeria, where the Kharijite tradition has survived to the present day. The austere architectural tradition of these towns is rather hard to reconcile with the sophisticated and intricate stucco decoration found at Sedrata....

Article

Sinai  

Raphael Ventura, A. Dean McKenzie and Susan Pinto Madigan

Desert peninsula in Egypt, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Red Sea to the south, the Nile Delta to the west, and modern Israel to the east. Throughout the Dynastic period (c. 2925–30 bc) the ancient Egyptians built various settlements and shrines in Sinai, mainly in the vicinity of turquoise or copper mines. From later periods dates the important site of the fortified monastery of St Catherine (see §2 below), founded in the 6th century ad, which contains outstanding collections of Early Christian icons and manuscripts.

Raphael Ventura

Remains from the Dynastic period are concentrated at the northern coast and in the south-western (turquoise-bearing) region of Sinai (see fig.). The northern sites include settlements of the 1st Dynasty (c. 2925–c. 2775 bc), wayside camps and installations of the New Kingdom (c. 1540–c. 1075 bc), as well as larger settlements of the Late Period (...

Article

In its most general sense, spolia (pl., from Lat. spolium: ‘plunder’) denotes all artifacts re-employed in secondary contexts, from building blocks reused in a wall to pagan gems mounted on a Christian reliquary. It is a matter of debate whether this broad application of the term is justified, or whether it should be restricted to the relatively small subset of reused objects that were taken or ‘stripped’ (like spoils) from their original context, rather than found, purchased, inherited or otherwise acquired by non-violent means. It is likewise debated when the use of spolia should be considered meaningful, if at all. Arnold Esch defined five possible motives for using spolia: convenience, profanation, Christianization, political legitimation and aesthetic attraction. Michael Greenhalgh has argued for reducing the motives to three (at least with regard to marble): pragmatism, aesthetics and ideology; while Finbarr Barry Flood cautioned against reductive interpretations generated by any taxonomy, insisting that reused objects are mutable in meaning and capable of multiple interpretations during their life cycle....

Article

Tulunid  

Jonathan M. Bloom

Islamic dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria from ad 868 to 905. It was founded by Ahmad ibn Tulun (b Iraq, 835; d Egypt, 10 May 884), son of a high-ranking Turkish slave at the Abbasid court at Samarra’, Iraq. Ahmad received military training there and theological instruction at Tarsus (now in Turkey). He came to the notice of the caliphs, and when his step-father was appointed governor of Egypt in 868 Ahmad went with him as his deputy. He gained control of the financial administration of the country and set up an independent military force, which he used to subdue Syria. In 878 he was formally recognized as governor of both Egypt and Syria. He was the first ruler to secure Egypt’s de facto independence from the Abbasid caliphs. The country prospered under his rule: for the first time in centuries the surplus funds derived from its rich agricultural base were not sent abroad as tribute, but were used to stimulate commerce and industry. In ...

Article

S. J. Vernoit

Muslim dynasty that ruled in parts of North Africa and Spain between ad 972 and 1152. The founder of the dynasty, Ziri ibn Manad (d 972), was a Sanhaja Berber in the service of the Fatimid caliphs, who ruled from Tunisia. In 936 Ziri founded Ashir, the family seat, in the Titeri Mountains 170 km south of Algiers. His son Buluggin (reg 972–84) was appointed governor of North Africa when the Fatimids left Kairouan for Cairo. Under Buluggin, his son al-Mansur (reg 984–96), and his grandson Badis (reg 996–1016), the Zirids greatly enlarged their territory, expanding into northern Morocco, where they came in conflict with the Umayyads of Spain. By 1015 the Zirid domain had become too large to be governed from Kairouan alone: the Zirids retained control of the eastern half, while the western portion was granted to Buluggin’s son Hammad (reg 1015–28), who established his capital at the Qal‛at Bani Hammad to the east of Ashir. In ...