Sudan History Facts and Timeline

(Sudan, SD, North-East Africa)

An ancient nation with a truly ancient past, Sudan has seen some of its biggest changes in recent decades. However, when it comes to its history, it is possible to trace its earliest civilisations all the way back to roughly 8000 BC. However, many historians believe that this country once served as the ancient location of 'God's Land' mentioned by Egyptians as long ago as the 25th century BC.

The earliest settlers in this part of Africa date from the Neolithic era and led a simple existence, being hunter-gatherers who lived in small fortified villages comprising groups of huts built from nothing more than mud and sticks, with basic waterproof roofs constructed from dried grass and 'makuti' thatching (palm leaves).

As the settlements in Sudan began to grow, the tribes started to develop more of an organisational structure, supplementing their diet by fishing on the River Nile and herding cattle.

Ancient History

A few thousand years later and Sudan witnessed a sizeable influx of tribes, with people choosing to relocate here from the arid Sahara. Communities grew around the Nile Valley and a thriving agricultural scene was soon in place.

The various different cultures began to mix, trade and socialise, with natural hierarchies developing. By the beginning of the 17th century BC, the country had become named the Kingdom of Kush, an important Nubian state presided over by its capital city at Meroe, which appeared all the more powerful thanks to its wealth of stone pyramids. The Kingdom of Kush grew up around the meeting point of three prominent rivers, namely the Atbara, the Blue Nile and the White Nile rivers.

The Kingdom of Kush

Over the centuries that followed, Kush grew at an alarming rate to become an enormous empire, successfully defending its expanding territory from numerous attacks. A number of technological advancements and breakthroughs, such as iron smelting, allowed the kingdom to improve its infrastructure and comfortably support its growing population. The fortunes of the Kushites eventually started to decline and several separate states developed, with Nubia being amongst the most important.

Today, over 200 ancient pyramids still stand at Meroe and these important archaeological remains now appear on the World Heritage List of notable landmarks.

History of Islam and Christianity

Sudan's history had greatly changed by the 6th century, when in excess of 50 individual states had emerged, each with their own political beliefs and rulers. The kingdoms of Alawa, Muqurra and Nobatia ruled over these states and continued to fight with the Egyptians over the subsequent centuries.

Muslim beliefs began to spread around Sudan, arriving with migrating settlers and Arab traders. Towards the end of the 11th century, the king of Dunqulah was of Muslim descent and enforced his religious beliefs. It was not until the 16th century that Christianity began to make a name for itself, thanks to the Funj peoples.

The 19th Century Onwards

Wars with its neighbours continued to plague the country and in 1821, the northern part of Sudan was under the control of Egyptian ruler, Muhammad Ali. The Egyptians were able to bring with them a wealth of practical knowledge and set about improving the lives of the Sudanese, implementing advanced irrigation systems on the farm land and planting cotton fields.

Changes of power and an intervention by the British resulted in something of an economic crisis in northern Sudan, with European protests against the slave trade further adding to this unsettled period in history. Islamic laws were imposed and a dictatorship saw many wars break out. These included the Siege of Khartoum (1884 and 1885), where literally thousands lost their lives.

Keen to take control of Sudan, the British arrived again in the 1890s and various successful claims to land were made, particularly around the River Nile. The British were keen to oversee the completion of a dam at nearby Aswan (Egypt), to improve irrigation of the land, and Lord Kitchener organised a series of military campaigns. By the end of the 19th century, Britain had agreed a truce with Egypt and Sudan was led by an Egyptian governor general, with input from the British.

Recent History

The World Wars came along and during the Second World War, Sudan was an integral player within the East African Campaign, where battles took place around the Horn of Africa in 1940 and 1941. Tensions erupted in 1952, with the Egyptian Revolution heralding the early fight for Sudan's independence, which was finally achieved in 1956. History remembers the particularly visual display of independence where the flags of both Britain and Egypt were lowered, and the new Sudanese flag raised in their place.

Sudan was the biggest country in the whole of Africa until July 2011, when South Sudan chose to operate as an independent country, following a referendum. Today, the country still sees periods of political instability and is far from being an ideal place for an African holiday, although Khartoum (the capital city) and Omdurman, as well as the Northern State, are generally considered to be safe for travel and sightseeing.