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Funj Sultanate

Jay Spaulding
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Funj Sultanate

At the dawn of the sixteenth century the Funj reunited the northern Nile-valley Sudan under an Islamic Nubian government. An ethnically diverse class of subject peoples supported the hereditary ruling elite through an ingeniously structured system of payments in labor and in kind. The monarch ruled from an elaborate court through a hierarchy of subordinate governors over the eight central provinces and tributary princedoms such as Fāzūghlī and Taqalī, and through these lords the numerous lesser leaders of districts and tribes. Although the Funj government was Islamic from its inception it drew heavily upon older Sudanic traditions of statecraft, notably the institutions of matrilineal kinship and dynastic discipline inherited from the rulers of medieval Christian Nubia.

During the later seventeenth century a series of strong sultans brought their hitherto mobile court to rest on the Blue Nile at Sinnār. They opened the country to unprecedented commercial relations with neighboring lands via royally-sponsored caravans; by 1700 Sinnār had become a large, cosmopolitan city with an estimated population of 100,000. During the course of the eighteenth century, exposure to commercial capitalist usages abroad stimulated the rise of a money economy and an indigenous middle class within the Funj sultanate itself. About twenty new towns arose, each a node for new forms of wealth, power, and culture. Slave agriculture began to challenge the tenure of free-subject cultivators, and slave soldiers the military pre-eminence of the hereditary nobility. Increasing Sudanese familiarity with the Islamic heartlands challenged the Funj sultan's corporate vision of Islam according to which all loyal subjects were Muslims by definition. Middle-class legal sophisticates challenged traditional Funj toleration for heterodox folkways among the subjects. They began to identify themselves as “Arabs” and undertook to seize power under the aegis of the sharīʿah.

The old matrilineal dynasty was overthrown in 1718, and in 1762 a clique of middle-class warlords known as the Hamaj imposed one of their own as ruling regent (wazīr). Yet no new order was achieved; rather, the collapse of Funj kinship discipline precipitated civil war at all levels of government. The sale of offices and titles to the highest bidder replaced disciplined noblemen with self-interested entrepreneurs. In 1236 AH/1820–1821 CE the remnants of the kingdom fell to Muḥammad ʿAlī, Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, with little resistance.

Rulers of the Funj Sultanate

Funj Sultans
The Old Matrilineal Dynasty as Reconstructed in Arabic after 1175/1762
ʿAmara I, “Dunqas” 910/1504 to 940/1533–1534 died
Nayil b. ʿAmara I 940/1533–1534 to 957/1550–1551 died
ʿAbd al-Qādir I b. ʿAmara I 957/1550–1551 to 965/1557–1558 died
ʿAmara II b. Nayil, “Abu Sakakin” 965/1557–1558 to 976/1568–1569 died
Dakin b. Nayil 976/1568–1569 to 994/1585–1586 died
Dawra b. Dakin 994/1585–1586 to 996/1587–1588 deposed
Tabl I b. ʿAbd al-Qādir I 996/1587–1588 to 1000/1591 died
Unsa I b. Tabl I 1000/1591 to 1012/1603–1604 deposed
ʿAbd al-Qādir II b. Unsa I 1012/1603–1604 to Rajab 1015/December 1606 deposed
ʿAdlan I b. Unsa I 1015/1606 to 1020/1611–1612 deposed
Badi I b. ʿAbd al-Qādir II, “Sid al-Qum” 1020/1611–1612 to 1025/1616–1617 died
Rubat I 1025/1616–1617 to 1054/1644–1645 died
Badi II, “Abu Diqn” 1054/1644–1645 to 1092/1681 died
Unsa II b. Nāṣir b. Rubat I 1092/1681 to 1103/1692 died
Badi III, “al-Ahmar” 1103/1692 to 1128/1716 died
Unsa III 1128/1716 to 1132/1719 deposed
Nul 1132/1718 to 1136/1724 died
The Patrilineal Dynasties as Recorded in Arabic by Contemporaries
Ruling Sultan
Badi IV b. Nul 1136/1724 to 175/1762 deposed
Puppet Sultans
Nāṣir b. Badi IV 1175/1762 to 1182/1768–1769 killed
Ismāʿīl b. Badi IV 1182/1768–1769 to 1190/1775–1776 deposed
ʿAdlan II b. Ismāʿīl 1190/1775–1776 to 1200/1786 died
First Interregnum: 1200/1786 to 1202/1787–1788
Idrīs 1202/1787–1788 vanished
Awkal 1202/1787–1788 killed
Tabl II 1203/1788–1789 died
Rubat II 1203/1788–1789 died
Badi V b. Dakin 1204/1789–1790 died
Hasab Rabbihi 1205/1790–1791 died
Nuwwar 1206/1791–1792 killed
Badi VI b. Tabl II (first reign) 1207/1792–1793 to 1213/1798–1799 deposed
Ranfa 1213/1798–1799 to 1220/1805–1806 killed
Second Interregnum: 1220/1805–1806 to 1221/1806–1807
Ajban 1221/1806–1807 deposed
Badi VI (second reign) 1221/1806–1807 to 1236/1820–1821 deposed
Hamaj Regents and Strongmen: 1175/1762 to 1236/1820–1821
Ruling Regents
Muḥammad b. Badi, “Abu Likaylik” 1175/1762 to 1189/1774–1775 regent (wazīr)
Badi b. Rajab b. Badi 1189/1774–1775 to 1194/1780 regent
Rajab b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1194/1780 to 1200/1786 regent
Nāṣir b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1202/1787–1788 to 1213/1798 regent
Idrīs b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1213/1798 to 1217/1803 regent
ʿAdlan b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1217/1803 to 1218/1804 regent
Muḥammad b. Rajab b. Abu Likaylik 1218/1803–1804 to 1220/1806 regent
Puppet Regent
Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1220/1806 to 1236/1820–1821 regent
Ruling Strongman
Muḥammad b. ʿAdlan b. Muḥammad Abu Likaylik 1223/1808 to 1236/1820 greatmanjil



  • Holt, P. M., trans. The Sudan of the Three Niles: The Funj Chronicle 910–1288/1504–1871. Leiden, Netherlands, 1999. An English translation of a key Arabic primary source.
  • James, Wendy. “The Funj Mystique: Approaches to a Problem of Sudan History.” In Text and Context: The Social Anthropology of Tradition, edited by R. K. Jain, pp. 95–133. Philadelphia, 1977. Perceptive critique of the diverse and sometimes misleading uses of the term “Funj” by scholars.
  • McHugh, Neil. 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, 1994.
  • O’Fahey, R. S., and Jay Spaulding. Kingdoms of the Sudan. London, 1974. Survey of the history of the kingdom.
  • Spaulding, Jay. “The Chronology of Sudanese Arabic Genealogical Tradition.”History in Africa27 (2000): 325–332. Sudanese Arabic genealogies first arose in the eighteenth century with the disintegration of Sinnār into tribal communities of erstwhile subjects.
  • Spaulding, Jay. “Classical Medieval Nubian and the Mahas Diaspora.”Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara17–18 (2004): 81–84. Role of Mahas-speakers in religious life indicates that subjects of the Sinnār heartland spoke Nubian well into early Funj times.
  • Spaulding, Jay. The Heroic Age in Sinnār. 2d ed.Asmara, Eritrea, and Trenton, N.J., 2007. Examines the decline and fall of the kingdom during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  • Spaulding, Jay. “An Incident of Dynastic Succession in Sixteenth-Century Sinnār.”Northeast African StudiesIV, 3 (1997): 23–28. The date of Dakin's death and Dawra's succession is confirmed by a contemporary Turkish source.
  • Spaulding, Jay, and Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Abū Salīm, eds.Public Documents from Sinnār. East Lansing, Mich., 1989. Surviving government records of the kingdom, in Arabic with an English translation and notes.
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