Between the Nile and the Red Sea
Medjay Desert Polities in the Third to First Millennium bce
The Medjay were a group of desert nomads inhabiting the region between the Nile and the Red Sea contemporaneous to the Bronze Age of Ancient Egypt (c. 3100-1050 bce). Well-known from textual sources from Pharaonic Egypt and Kushite Nubia, it has proven difficult to produce basic societal descriptions of the Medjay and their political status, especially in their desert heartland. Most studies dedicated to the Medjay evaluate their presence as a nomadic diaspora and emigres on the Nile or focus on their interaction with the Ancient Egyptian state. These approaches place little emphasis on their indigenous geography and nomadic heritage in the Red Sea Hills. This study takes a very different tact and attempts to reconstruct some basic information on their political geography in their indigenous homeland. Although the sources, both textual and archaeological, are currently scarce regarding a Second Millennium bce desert occupation, they do demonstrate complex arrangements between Medjay political actors and nearby states. Particularly notable was the ability of individual tribes to enact varying policies of entente, détente, and aggression towards their Nile neighbours as well as exercise de facto sovereignty over a wealthy desert consistently threatened by Egyptian and Kushite imperialism.