The Medjay

The Medjay are widely mentioned in ancient sources. In Roman sources they were known as the Blemmyes; in the Meroitic language they were referred to as Meded; and in Arabic they are known as the Beja. Medjay is the name used in the early Kushite and Egyptian sources.

The homeland of the Medjay is eastern Sudan. Archeological and historical evidence suggest that they shared common ethnic origins with the Kushites. Their dominant lifestyle as pastoralists has mostly been determined by the harsh and semi-arid environment of eastern Sudan.

Photo by John Freed, Near Eastern Archaeology
Pan-Grave Animal Cranium with Painted Decoration,The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Photo by John Freed, Near Eastern Archaeology
Material from a Pan Grave Burial, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Medjay were reputed in the ancient world for their military competency. They were commonly hired as soldiers and guards by Kush, ancient Egypt, and Roman Egypt. Given their exceptional skill in warfare, they constituted a constant threat for the supremacy, and sometimes even the survival, of the Kushite kingdom.

Throughout history, they hindered the expansion of the Kushites in northeastern Sudan. They controlled the rich mining areas of eastern Sudan and profited from regulating the traffic of the major trade routes connecting the Red Sea to the Nile valley.

Essentially, the Medjay were a major reason for Egypt's exhaustive attempts at fortifying its southern border during the Middle Kingdom. One fort at Serra East, occupied by the Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom, was dedicated to "repelling the Medjay".2

During the Old Kingdom, they supported the Kushite kingdom against Egypt. During the Middle Kingdom, the Medjay formed two powerful states, Aushek and Webetsepet. The might of the Medjay states is reflected in the respect and honor the envoys of Aushek received at the Theban royal court of Egypt's 13th Dynasty.1

During the Second Intermediate Period, when the Kushites controlled much of Upper Egypt, Medjay settlements were established in Lower Nubia. Their burial archeology there is well known and is labeled Pan Grave. In sixteenth century BC, some Medjay allied with king Ahmose and played a major role in expelling the Hyksos out of Egypt.

The Medjay continued to resurface in the history of Kush and were frequently depicted as defeated enemies in Meroitic representations. During the late Roman period, they set up a sophisticated kingdom that replicated the Roman court system. Records mention sporadic Medjay raids in Upper Egypt and clashes with the Romans. In the fourth century CE, Medjay troops swept as far north as the Sinai Peninsula.3

  • 1 D. O'Connor, and A. Reid, eds., Ancient Egypt in Africa, (Cavendish Publishing, 2003) 43.
  • 2 N. Reshetnikova, A. Tsakos, and B. Williams, "Serra East," Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition (Oine), 2011-2012 Annual Report <https://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/ar/11-20/11-12/11_12_Nubian.pdf>.
  • 3 K. A. Bard, ed. Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. (Routledge, 1999).
Authored: Jan. 2014.

The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.