Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia. By Richard A. Lobban, Jr. Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras 10. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow.Press, 2004. Pp. Ix, 511; 20 illustrations, 7 maps. $110.00.
Richard Lobban provides an impressively wide-ranging and comprehensive overview of Nubian history and archaeology that spans the Paleolithic through the medieval Christian era, including the beginnings of Islam. He also incorporates a large number of relevant Egyptian topics, very appropriate given the long history of interaction between the two regions. Other cultures of significance to Nubia have a place, including those of Ethiopia, Assyria, Greece, and Rome. He finishes with a topical bibliography that provides a valuable starting place for more indepth study. Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia embodies both the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of sweeping format. Any single-authored historical dictionary of this breadth will inevitably be strong in some areas and weak in others. While Lobban's scholarship is sound overall, he sometimes relies on out-of-date sources or misses nuances outside his particular expertise. I will discuss the three examples here.
Lobban attributes the conquest relief at Gebel Sheikh Suleiman to First Dynasty king Djer, citing it as evidence for the Egyptian conquest of northern Nubia at this time (c. 2995 BC). It is clear to anyone who has seen the inscription itself, which now resides in the National Museum in Khartoum, that no specific king is mentioned. The supposed "Djer" glyph is clearly actually a palimpsest quadruped, incised crudely into the rock as opposed to the delicate raised relief of the original. There is in fact no royal name present on the stela, just a generic Horus (= king). This is not really Lobban's fault, since conventional wisdom continues to rely upon the original publication of the inscription, which omits the animal's head, making it resemble the "djer" glyph.1 This issue is important because it makes plausible Bruce Williams' assertion that the inscription actually commemorates a Nubian campaign into Egypt, if still open to debate.2
Lobban is simply a bit out of date in his failure to cite my own research on the excavations of Alexander Badawy at the fortress of Askut,3 which he relegates to a minor status as a relay station. Instead, Badawy revealed a major fortress occupied from the Middle Kingdom through the end of the New Kingdom (c. 1850-1050 BC) that served initially as a rearward grain store for Egyptian military operations at the southern border. Lobban is not entirely to blame here, since Badawy produced only very superficial treatments of the site. Even the British Museum left the fortress off of the map in its Nubian gallery. Based on the archaeological record at this important site, I have suggested a revision of the usual historical narrative of abandonment or violent conquest of the northern Nubian forts by Kermans at the end of the Middle Kingdom (c. …