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Sennar (sultanate)

The Blue Sultanate / Funj Sultanate
السلطنة الزرقاء (Arabic)
As-Saltana az-Zarqa
Confederation of sultanates and dependent tribal chieftaincies under Sennar's suzerainty[1]

Sultanate of Sennar (in pink) and surrounding states in 1750
Capital Sennar
Languages Arabic[2]
Religion African Traditional Religion, Islam[3]
Government Monarchy
 •  1504–1533/4 Amara Dunqas (first)
 •  1805–1821 Badi VII (last)
Legislature Great Council[4]
Historical era Early modern period
 •  Established 1504
 •  Conquered by Muhammad Ali's army 14 June 1821
 •  Annexed to Egypt[a] 13 February 1841
 •  1820 est. 5,156,000[b] 
Currency None (barter)[c]
^ a. Muhammad Ali was granted the non-hereditary governorship of Sudan by an 1841 Ottoman firman.[5]

^ b. Estimate for entire area covered by modern Sudan.[6]

^ c. The Funj Sultanate did not mint coins and the markets did not use coinage as a form of exchange.[7] French surgeon J. C. Poncet, who visited Sennar in 1699, mentions the use of foreign coins such as Spanish reals.[8]

The Funj Sultanate of Sennar (sometimes spelled Sinnar), known in Sudanese traditions as the Blue Sultanate (Arabic: السلطنة الزرقاء; As-Saltana az-Zarqa‎),[9] was a sultanate in the north of Sudan, named Funj after the ethnic group of its dynasty or Sinnar (or Sennar) after its capital, which ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa between 1504 and 1821.


  • Origin 1
  • Religion 2
  • Expansion and conflicts 3
  • Military culture 4
  • Trade 5
  • Decline 6
  • Rulers 7
  • Hamaj regents 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11


In the 15th century the part of Nubia previously 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. To him is ascribed the capture of Soba, which sank into unimportance: according to Reubeni, in the time of ‘Amara Dunqas it was in ruins. ‘Abdallah’s status as Muslim hero is confirmed by traditions representing him marrying the daughter of a Hijazi holy man called Alshikh Hamd Abou Dunana who was burned in Abu Delaig, and as the eponymous ancestor of the ruling clan, the ‘Abdallab. [10]

Abdallah's empire was short lived as in the early 16th century the Funj people under Amara Dunqas arrived from the south, having been driven north by the Shilluk. The Funj defeated Abdallah and set up their own kingdom based at Sennar.[11]


Islam had an important influence, and in 1523 the Sennar monarchy officially converted to Islam, though many elements of the previous beliefs continued.

Expansion and conflicts

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 it was much threatened but its internal problems prevented intervention. Newly Ottoman Egypt also saw the new state as a threat and invaded in force, but then failed to conquer the area, so 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 lowlands between their two states. Eventually the Ethiopians 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 Sultan Badi II, Sennar defeated the Kingdom of Taqali to the west and made its ruler (styled Woster or Makk) his vassal.

Military culture

The armies of Sennar relied most on heavy cavalry: horsemen drawn from the nobility, armed with long broadswords as the toe stirrups they used did not permit the use of lances. These riders were armoured with chain mail while the horses were covered in thick quilts and copper headgear. A greater mass of troops were infantry carrying swords and armoured. This permanent standing army, the largest in East Africa until the 1810s, was garrisoned in castles and forts throughout the sultanate. Reliance on a standing army meant that the professional armies fielded by Sennar were usually smaller, but highly effective against their less organized rivals.

The sultanate was heavily divided along geographic and racial/ethnic lines. The society was divided into six racial groups. 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 16th century they rose in revolt under Ajib the Great. Ajib alkafuta routed the Kings of Sennar, first making them his vassals and then seizing almost the entire kingdom in 1606 and they fled until they reached Abyssinia in the eastern region. 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. One of the famous Abdallab leaders in 1798 is Alamin Musmar Wad Agib who defeated Hamaj in different battles, besides his victory against Abyssinia, Alamin Musmar killed both Badi Abuelkilk and his cousin Rajab in different battles. [12]


The capital Sennar, prosperous through trade, hosted representatives from all over the Middle East and Africa. The wealth and power of the sultans 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 educated and literate merchants, who read widely about Islam and became much concerned about the lack of orthodoxy in the kingdom. The monarchy 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, and a number them involved massive consumption of alcohol. These traditions were also abandoned.


Sennar was at its peak at the end of the 16th century, but over the seventeenth it began to decline as the power of the monarchy was eroded. 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 the late 18th century Mek Adlan II, son of Mek Taifara, took power during a turbulent time at which a Turkish presence was being established in the Funj kingdom. The Turkish ruler, Al-Tahir Agha, married Khadeeja, daughter of Mek Adlan II. This paved the way for the assimilation of the Funj into the Ottoman Empire.

In 1821, Ismail bin Muhammad Ali the general and son of the nominally 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.


A king of Sennar, 1821

The rulers of Sennar held the title of Mek (sultan). Their regnal numbers vary from source to source.[13][14]

Hamaj regents

See also


  1. ^ Ofcansky, Thomas. "The Funj". Sudan: A country study (Helen Chapin Metz, editor). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (Research completed June 1991).
  2. ^ McHugh, Neil (1994). Holymen of the Blue Nile: The Making of an Arab-Islamic Community in the Nilotic Sudan, 1500–1850. Series in Islam and Society in Africa. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. p. 9.  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ Welch, Galbraith (1949). North African Prelude: The First Seven Thousand Years (snippet view). New York: W. Morrow. p. 463.  
  5. ^ to Muhammad Ali Appointing Him Ruler of the Sudan Without Hereditary Rights]Firmanفرمان سلطاني إلى محمد علي بتقليده حكم السودان بغير حق التوارث [Sultanic (in Arabic). Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Memory of Modern Egypt Digital Archive. Retrieved 12 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Avakov, Alexander V. (2010). Two Thousand Years of Economic Statistics: World Population, GDP, and PPP. New York: Algora Publishing. p. 18.  
  7. ^ Anderson, Julie R. (2008). "A Mamluk Coin from Kulubnarti, Sudan" ( 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Ogot 1999, p. 91
  10. ^
  11. ^ Holt 1975, pp. 40–42
  12. ^
  13. ^ MacMichael, H. A. (1922). "Appendix I: The Chronology of the Fung Kings". A History of the Arabs in the Sudan and Some Account of the People Who Preceded Them and of the Tribes Inhabiting Dárfūr. Volume II. Cambridge University Press. p. 431.  
  14. ^ Holt, Peter Malcolm (1999). "Genealogical Tables and King-Lists". The Sudan of the Three Niles: The Funj Chronicle 910–1288 / 1504–1871. Islamic History and Civilization, 26. Leiden: BRILL. pp. 182–186.  


  • Holt, Peter Malcolm (1975). "Chapter 1: Egypt, the Funj and Darfur". In  
  • R.S. O'Fahey and J.L Spaulding: Kingdoms of the Sudan Studies of African History Vol. 9, Methuen, London 1974, ISBN 0-416-77450-4
  • Arthur E. Robinson, "Some Notes on the Regalia of the Fung Sultans of Sennar", Journal of the Royal African Society, 30 (1931), pp. 361–376

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