Database of Medieval
Nubian Texts

 
 

Welcome to the Database of Medieval Nubian Texts (DBMNT)

For newcomers

I am happy and proud to present to you the Database of Medieval Nubian Texts (DBMNT), which is the outcome of roughly ten years of my work on different aspects of literary culture of Christian Nubia. The DBMNT was officially inaugurated in 2011 as an integral part of my book entitled Chronological Systems of Christian Nubia, where different aspects of counting time in the Nubian kingdoms of Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa between the mid-sixth and fifteenth centuries are treated in detail. At the beginning, the database consisted of 733 records, gathering all Nubian texts in which various chronological phenomena are recorded. However, since the beginning of work, the DBMNT was constructed to include different kinds of written sources from Christian Nubia, not only those containing dates and/or other chronological indicators. For the past four years, I have focused on collecting and entering those sources to produce a major update to the DBMNT. As a result, at present the database contains 2942 records, which cover all possible forms of written expression left by the inhabitants of the Middle Nile Valley in the Middle Ages. Hence, the user will find here written sources of various forms and functions (from important administrative inscriptions and documents, through literary and liturgical manuscripts, private correspondence, elaborate epitaphs and modest tombstones, graffiti left by pious pilgrims on walls of churches, to various symbols scratched on ceramic vessels), executed on all possible kinds of media (stone, papyrus, paper, parchment, leather, pottery, wood, metal, textiles, glass, rocks, and walls of buildings).

The task of gathering all these sources and processing them was not easy and required browsing through an enormous quantity of publications, not infrequently extremely hard to access. As a result, along with texts that were published lege artis (i.e. with a full descriptiom, transcription, translation, commentary, and – most ideally – photo and/or tracing), the DBMNT includes also those that were quasi-published (i.e. they have more or less decent transcriptions but no translations and commentaries or vice versa) and those that are classified as unpublished (i.e. they are only mentioned in passing, their content is described without giving a transcription, or they are available only in the form of photographs or tracings/drawings). Of course, the last two cases are the most problematic in terms of metadata (findspot, material, technique of execution, dimensions, colour) and the user will frequently come across empty fields and fields with the note 'not recorded'. These voids will hopefully be filled in, when access to particular objects and/or their documentation is obtained and new publications come out.

For patrons – changes in the DBMNT

Many things have changed since the DBMNT was launched in 2011. First of all, for the past four years the database has grown four times to include 2942 records, which represent all kinds of Christian Nubian written sources, not only those preserving dates.

The second change in the DBMNT concerns the structure of the database and the information gathered in it. Most importantly, the former field 'Object', which was ambiguous and often doubled the content of the field 'Material', has been replaced by the field 'Medium', from where all 'material' designations were removed. Also, the content of the field 'Type of text' has been modified, making the labels more adequate in terms of typology and more accurate in terms of identification of texts (for details, see 'Guidelines' below). Last but not least, a new field has been added, the one labelled 'Region': taking into account the large number of sites included in the DBMNT (for a more or less up-to-date list, see G. Ochała, 'Multilingualism in Christian Nubia: Qualitative and quantitative approaches', Dotawo 1 [2014], pp. 1–50), many of which are hard to identify at first sight, this field should help the users to place a given record in a geographical context and facilitate the work on sources from certain localities.

The third major modification in the DBMNT is its integration with Trismegistos.org (TM). In the 'Main card' the user will notice the field 'TM' containing a number assigned to the object in the Trismegistos database. Clicking on it will direct the user to a respective record in this important and highly useful collection of metadata of nearly 400,000 ancient and medieval texts. (We are currently trying to make it work in the opposite direction too.)

Finally, the fourth change. In contrast to the former three, this one is not connected with introducing a new functionality but with abandoning an initial idea. When launching the DBMNT in 2011, I announced that it will at some point become integrated with another project, the so-called Nubian SoSOL, an on-line corpus of Christian Nubian texts, modelled on the papyrological website papyri.info and initiated by Giovanni Ruffini (Fairfield University) with my cooperation (see the older post). Regrettably, due to insurmountable technical difficulties we had to give this project up. We did not, however, resign the idea completely, and the users of the DBMNT will certainly be notified about any development in this direction.

Future work

Putting this major update of the DBMNT online closes an important chapter in the work on the database. The work, however, is by no means finished. Many tasks lie ahead before the DBMNT reaches its desired form and functionality. A provisional to-do list includes both short- and long-term plans, such as:

  • changing the general layout of the DBMNT,
  • improving the search engine,
  • supplementing the missing metadata,
  • adding photographs and tracings/drawings of texts,
  • typing in transcriptions and translations of sources.

Fianlly, I realise that many mistakes, typos, and misinterpretations are hidden in the nearly 3000 DBMNT records, inevitable when trying to manage such an undertaking on one's own. Therefore, I would like to ask the users to let me know about spotted errors and/or inaccuracies.

Guidelines to the Users of the DBMNT

I tried to make the using of the DBMNT as intuitive as possible and I hope that it will be easy to move around, browse and search the records, not only for regular users of papyrological and epigraphical databases. Nevertheless, below I give a description of how the database works along with some search tips, information that ought to facilitate the effective use of this tool.

From the starting site of the DBMNT, and in fact from anywhere within the database, the user can either go directly to a particular record (by entering its DBMNT number in the field 'DBMNT no.' and clicking the 'Go' button) or browse all records (by clicking the 'Browse all' button) or launch a search (by entering specific values in one or more search fields and clicking the 'Apply' button). While the first action takes the user directly to the text card, the two remaining ones result in a list of records (all of them or only those fulfilling search criteria), with basic information about objects, including the type of medium, type of text, its language, provenance, date, and contents, as well as the principal bibliographic reference. By clicking the square button with a number on the left-hand side (this numbers represent the results of queries and are not to be mistaken with DBMNT numbers) the user is brought to the object card. The button 'Return to the search results' takes the user back to the list of records.

The text cards are arranged in six tabs:

  • 'Main card' – this includes basic information about the circumstances of discovery and present whereabouts of the text, its typological classification according to the medium on which it was executed, technique of execution, type of text, its language, contents, and date. For the time being this tab also contains detailed information on chronological systems used in particular texts, but this will ultimately move to a separate tab;
  • 'Bibliography' – this tab is divided into four fields: 'Editio princeps', 'Latest edition', 'Other editions', and 'Other publications'. All references are given according to the system employed in G. Ochała & G. R. Ruffini, A Guide to the Texts of Medieval Nubia, available at http://www.MedievalNubia.info/;
  • 'Technical data' – here all 'material' aspects of texts are described, such as dimensions and colours of both objects and texts executed on them, number of lines, height of letters, descriptions of decorative elements and state of preservation;
  • 'Photograph & tracing' – this tab will ultimately include photos and/or drawings of particular objects/texts (after obtaining permissions from respective bodies); for the time being the user can find here only references to the best illustrations published so far;
  • 'Other' – here the user will find lists of personal names, toponyms/ethnonyms, and offices/titles occurring in a given text;
  • 'Concordances' – this tab contains a list of simplified references to different publications of a particular text.

The database is (almost) fully searchable. In order to conduct a query the user needs to choose a field from a drop-down menu (e.g. 'Provenance'), type in a searched word/phrase (e.g. Faras), and click the 'Apply' button. Additionally, in order to search records that do not contain specific words/phrases in a given field, the user needs to tick the 'Not' field (in our example this will result in finding all texts that are not from Faras). The queries can contain multiple (up to ten) conditions, connected with the quantifiers 'and' or 'or'. For example, while searching for all texts from Faras and Qasr Ibrim one must use 'or' ('Provenance' > 'Faras' + 'or' +'Provenance' > 'Qasr Ibrim'; using 'and' would mean that the search is for texts that are from Faras and Qasr Ibrim at the same time) and while looking for epitaphs from Faras 'and' must be employed ('Provenance' > 'Faras' + 'and' + 'Type of text' > 'epitaph'; using 'or' would result in a list of all epitaphs and all texts from Faras).

A certain difficulty concerns searches involving dates. Users will notice that the dating of texts is recorded in two separate fields ('Date' and 'Century'). This is only a temporary and – indeed – not very professional solution, but before the search engine is improved it must remain as such so as to allow users to conduct searches for sources dated within particular periods. Thus, in order to search for Old Nubian documents from Qasr Ibrim dated to the twelfth century, the user must:

  1. choose 'Language' and type in 'Old Nubian',
  2. choose 'Type of text' and type in 'document',
  3. choose 'Provenance' and type in 'Qasr Ibrim',
  4. choose 'Century' and type in '12',
  5. choose 'Century' again, type in '11', and tick the 'Not' field,
  6. choose 'Century' for the third time, type in '13', and again tick the 'Not' field.

Steps 5) and 6) are necessary due to the system of noting down the dates in the 'Century' field. When the engine is updated, they will be no longer required.

The following fields contain information in one of three languages used in Christian Nubia, namely Greek, Sahidic Coptic, and Old Nubian (for technical reasons Arabic is not included here): ‘Transcription of dating formula’, ‘Months’, ‘Weekdays’, ‘Feasts’, ‘Names’, ‘Offices & titles’, and ‘Toponyms & ethnonyms’. For all three languages I have decided to use the same font based on the Sahidic (Southern Egyptian) uncials (for the font employed in the database, see below), as the majority of Nubian written sources, regardless of their language (apart from Arabic, of course), were executed in the same (or very similar) kind of script, strongly resembling the Coptic uncials. Therefore, all transcriptions in the database should be understood as diplomatic, reflecting the original shape of words in a given source, including diacritical marks, interpunction, non-standard orthography, superscribed letters etc. Transcriptions employ a set of brackets and underdots, used according to the rules of the so-called Leiden system. For the time being it is impossible to search for particular words or phrases without all these additional signs, be they diacritics, brackets, or underdots. In order to facilitate searching, the fields ‘Names’, ‘Offices & titles’, and ‘Toponyms & ethnonyms’ contain, along words in original form, more or less standardised transliterations or translations in the Latin script. Therefore, in order to search for the texts mentioning, for instance, the office of the ‘eparch of Nobadia’ (which could have been noted down in many different forms, see G. Ochała, Offices and titles occurring in Nubian texts), one needs to type in ‘eparch of Nobadia’ in the field ‘Offices & titles’, without the necessity of giving its original form. If one is interested in a specific original form of the term, one must then pick it out from the found records.

Finally, in order to facilitate the searching for different texts, I give a list of specific terms and phrases used in particular fields:

  • 'Region': Alwa, Butana, Egypt, Kordofan, Makuria, Nobadia, unknown;
  • 'Medium': architectural element, brick, cross, coin weight, figurine, jewellery, lamp, manuscript, manuscript: leaf, manuscript: codex, metal object, mudstopper, ostrakon, other, pottery, rock, sepulchral cross, stela, stamp, stone block, tablet, textile, unidentified, wall;
  • 'Material': bronze, ceramic, clay, glass, granite, iron, leather, limestone, linen, marble, metal, mud, paper, papyrus, parchment, plaster, sandstone, silver, stone, terracotta, unidentified, wood;
  • 'Technique': casting, incised, incised (graffito), incised (inscription), incised & painted, incised & painted (inscription), incised or painted, incised or painted (graffito or dipinto), impressed, painted, painted (dipinto), relief, relief & incised & painted, repoussé, unidentified
  • 'Type of text': alphabet, commemorative inscription, catalogue, date, dedicatory inscription, document, document: legal, document: economic, document: letter, document: list, document: official, epitaph, foundation inscription, invocation, legend, literary, literary: apocryphal, literary: biblical, literary: hagiographic, literary: homiletic, literary: patristic, liturgical, liturgical: lectionary, liturgical: hymn, liturgical: prayer, name, name of divine entity/saint, official inscription, other, owner's inscription, private prayer, subliterary, subliterary: horoscope, subliterary: magical, school exercise, tag, unidentified, visitor's inscription;
  • 'Language': Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Greek/Coptic, Greek/Old Nubian, Greek/Coptic/Old Nubian, Old Nubian/Coptic, Arabic, Old Nubian & Arabic, unidentified;
  • 'Chronological system used': indiction, indiction (Egyptian), indiction (Constantinopolitan), Era of the Diocletian, Era of the Martyrs, Era of the World Creation, Era of the Incarnation, Alexandrian cycle of 532 years, Era of the Saracens, lunar calendar, liturgical calendar, Egyptian calendar, day of the week, king's occurrence, regnal years.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express here my sincere and utmost gratitude to the following persons and institutions, without whose help and support I would not be able to get this far:

  • Faculty of History, University of Warsaw,
  • Raphael Taubenschlag Foundation, Warsaw,
  • Scientific Exchange Programme between the New Member States of the EU and Switzerland (Sciex-NMSch), project code: 11.239, project title: 'LangNub: Languages and literacy in Christian Nubia',
  • Philippe Collombert and Nathalie Bosson at the Unité d'Égyptologie et de Copte, Université de Génève,
  • Robert Mahler, University of Warsaw,
  • Andrzej Mirończuk, University of Warsaw,
  • Mark Depauw and Hebert Verreth, KU Leuven and Trismegistos.org.

Grzegorz Ochała
Department of Papyrology
Institute of Archaeology
University of Warsaw


In order to fully benefit from the information collected in our database you should have Coptic fonts installed. We strongly encourage you to utilize Antinoou Coptic fonts set which is available for free form the site of its developer.

If you have Antinoou fonts properly installed both texts shown below should look the same:

Coptic font's sample

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DBMNT is run under the auspices of

Department of Papyrology,
University of Warsaw

Department of Papyrology, University of Warsaw

The work was financed by

Raphael Taubenschlag
Foundation

Raphael Taubenschlag Foundation

and

Faculty of History, University of Warsaw
© 2011-2015 Grzegorz Ochała
© 2011-2015 Robert Mahler (web version)