- A largely desert country to the south of Egypt, extending along the Nile from the second cataract in the north to Uganda in the south, and encompassing large tracts of desert on either side. It is inhabited by Islamic and ethnically Arab peoples in the north, but by black Africans in the south. Originally animist, many of the latter were converted to Christianity by Western missionaries in the nineteenth century. Slavery, largely practiced by the Islamic population at the expense of the equatorial Africans, was a consistent feature of Sudanese life and also provided both a motivation and a pretext for imperial intervention.Although the Nile - its source uncertain for much of the nineteenth century -does not begin in the Sudan, it ensured that those with interests in Egypt thought of the Sudan as a strategic territory, providing a further motive for imperial interest. Long claimed by the rulers of Egypt, the nineteenth century saw a succession of largely unsuccessful Egyptian expeditions into the Sudan, and these drew in European opportunists and evangelists, many in the Egyptian service. General Charles Gordon was made governor-general of the Sudan, under claimed Egyptian suzerainty, in 1873, where he conscientiously tried to abolish slavery. The British occupation of Egypt in 1882 caused Britain to inherit Egypt’s troubles to the south. An uprising by a self-proclaimed Mahdi led to bloody defeats for the British- officered Egyptian army, and to a call in London to do something. In response, Gordon was sent back to arrange a withdrawal. Gordon decided on his own initiative to stay instead, and his 1885 death at the hands of the Mahdi’s forces made him a martyr in the eyes of much British opinion.The subject remained dormant until the Italian defeat at Adowa in 1896 raised the specter of an Islamic empire in east Africa. The government of Lord Salisbury resolved to send an expedition to avenge Gordon. It proceeded deliberately up the Nile under the leadership of General Herbert Kitchener, capturing Khartoum after the battle of Omdurman in 1898. Notwithstanding plans to develop a cotton industry, the Sudan remained henceforth a backwater of empire. Formally under the joint rule of Egypt and Britain, a fiction that was increasingly a source of anger to Egyptian nationalists, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan became independent in 1956.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Holt, P. M. The Mahdist State in Sudan, 1881–1898. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958;Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa. New York: Random House, 1991.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.