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Medieval NubiaA Social and Economic History$
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Giovanni R. Ruffini

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199891634

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199891634.001.0001

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The Historiography of Nubian Land Tenure

The Historiography of Nubian Land Tenure

(p.61) 3 The Historiography of Nubian Land Tenure
Medieval Nubia

Giovanni R. Ruffini

Oxford University Press

Modern scholars have often argued that private property did not exist in medieval Nubia, and that all land was essentially the property of the king and its tenants his serfs or slaves. This chapter explores the origins of these modern arguments, and tries to refute them. Some scholars cite Karl Polanyi’s study of early modern Dahomey in West Africa as a comparandum for a demonetized African society without private property. But this comparison is inappropriate given differences between Dahomey and Nubia and may be colored by Polanyi’s socialist biases. Some scholars cite the evidence of al-Masudi, a medieval Arab author who describes Nubian society. But al-Masudi provides testimony tainted by Arab racial biases against Africans and by an inappropriate tendency to create comparisons between any Christian society and the Roman or Byzantine Empire. We would do better to create a model of Nubian society based on local comparisons and local continuities between medieval Nubia and, e.g. modern Nubia or other Sudanese societies.

Keywords:   private property, al-Masudi, Romans, Arabs, Dahomey, Karl Polanyi

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