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The Ancient Empires

The Christian Era

After the Muslim Conquest

Modern Sudan

The Mahdi

Lord Kitchener


Southern Sudan






THE NORTH OF SUDAN HAS A VERY LONG HISTORY.  FROM 1500 UNTIL 1100 B.C it was a Vice-kingdom of the Egyptian monarchy. In the 9th century B.C. the Kingdom of Kush was founded which lasted until ca. 350 B.C.. This kingdom was very succesful and the  25thD. which ruled Egypt from 767 until 656 was of Nubian descend. In the 6th century A.D three kingdoms arose in the former Nubian provinces of which the population was converted to Christianity, amongst others by envoys of Empress Theodora of Byzantium in 543. These kingdoms were Nobatia in the north with its capital Qustu, Makuria in the centre with Dongola as its capital, and Alodia or Alwa in the south with as its capital Soba. Nobatia and Makuria were united even before 710. These kingdoms could counter the Muslim invasions and a treaty concluded with the them immediately after the conquest of Egypt in 641 and by which a tribute or baqt was agreed, guaranteed the independence of Nubia until 1275 when the Burji Mameluks established their authority in Nobatia. In the 15th century the kingsdoms fell apart in small principalities fighting each other constantly until the invasions of Arab nomads put an end to the quarrels. The southernmost kingdom of Alodia was overthrown in 1504 by the Muslim sultans of Sennar.[1]

In the years 1820-’22 Sudan was conquered by Egypt, then a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. In the seventies of the 19th century when Great Britain conquered Egypt, the British also threatened the Sudan. In 1881 Mohammed Achmed, calling himself Mahdi (Leader), rebelled and founded an independent state. This state became the victim of the British expansion policy in Africa. In 1885 the Mahdi succeeded in conquering General Charles Gordon, appointed Governor of Sudan. Khartoum, occupied by Gordon fell after a siege of ten months on 26 January 1885. In 1896 however, Dongola was captured by the British and in 1898 Khartoum as a result of the battles of Omdurman and Fashoda, won by Lord Kitchener. This was also the end of the Empire of the Mahdi.

On 19 January 1899 an Anglo-Egyption condominium was proclaimed over Sudan. This lasted until it was abolished unilaterally by Egypt on 18 October 1951. The Republic of Sudan (Djamhuriyat as-Sudan) became independent on 1 January 1956 and after a revolution on 25 May 1969 a Democratic Republic (Djamhuriyat as-Sudan Ad-Dimuqratiya) was installed. In 1985 the Democratic Republic became a common republic again.





1881 - 1898


Mohammed Achmed Mahdi

1881 - †1885




The Red Flag of the Mahdi [2]


In the Empire of the Mahdi, founded in 1881 flags were used on which in accordance with Mulsim tradition, religious forrmulae were written. The Mahdi ordered five flags, one for himself and others for his lieutenants. The inscriptions on the flags were identical but for the last line:


....the flags bore the colours traditionally connected with the founders of four of the great religious tariqas. Shoucair links green with Shaikh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, black with Ahmad al-Rifa'i, yellow with Ibrahim al-Dasuqi and red with Ahmad al-Badawi.

            Since the Mahdia superseded the existing religious orders, it is rather surprising to find this traditional colour-symbolism explicitly affirmed, with one variation, in an official document of the reign of the Khalifa 'Abdallahi. This document  (Sudan Government Archives; Mahdia 1/42, 13, 1) is a letter dated (probably Muharram) 1304 (? October, 1886) from Muhammad al-Iskandarani,  “Tailor of the Flags", to Hamdan Abu 'Anja. It is preceded by a schedule entitled, "A copy of what was issued by the Khalifa of the Mahdi concerning the writing of the flags”. The schedule lists five inscriptions: -


1. The Black Flag: "O God, O Merciful One, O Compassionate One, O Living One, O Subsisting One, O Lord of Majesty and Honour. There is no god but God. Muhammad is the Apostle of God. Muhammad al-Mahdi is the successor (khalifa) of the Apostle of God. Ahmad al-Rifa'i is the Saint (wali) of God."

2. The White Flag: Final sentence: "Al-Dasuqi is the Saint of God".

3. The Red Flag: Final sentence: "Al-Badawi is the Saint of God".

4. The Green Flag: Final sentence: "Al-Jilani is the Saint of God".

5. The Yellow Flag: The inscription terminates with the mention of the Mahdi.


With the exception of Al-Jilani these saints do not play much part in the religious life of the Sudan. The prominence given to them on the flags may have been a propaganda move connected with the Khalifa's intended invasion of Egypt, where their tariqas have many adherents.

            Muhammad al-Iskandarani's letter indicated that the colours of the flags had not previously been strictly adhered to and this may explain the variant accounts of Muhammad Sharif's flag. The letter runs: -

"My lord,

            The Khalifa of the Mahdi (peace be on him) has ordered that the flags shall be on this manner and that there shall be no change of any flag whatsoever from its original colour, i.e. whosoever was given a flag in the first place, whether green or white, shall not change it for another colour.

            I am to write this for your information and action as the Sovereign orders. Farewell." [3]


British Occupation



Lord Kitchener

* 1850 - † 1916


The coat of arms of the general who conquered the Mahdi was of the common British design:


“His [Lord Kitchener's] family arms were: "Azure, a chevron cottised between three bustards,” and in the centre chief point a bezant; with a stag's head for a crest; but for “smashing the Khalifa” he has been given the Union Jack and the Egyptian flag with the staves encircled by a coronet bearing the word “Khartoum”, all on a pile superimposed over his family arms. He also received a second crest of an elephant's head holding a sword in its trunk issuing from a mural crown.” [4]



horatio herbert kitchener, earl kitchener of khartoum

Born 1850, died 1916


Gules a chevron argent surmounted by another azure between three bustards* proper in the centre chief point a bezant;

surmounted by the first Augmentation,

A pile or thereon two flag staves saltirewise flowing to the dexter the Union Flag of Great Britain and Ireland and to the sinister a representation of the Egyptian Flag all proper enfiled by a Mural Crown Gules the rim inscribed khartoum in letters of gold;

and for the second Augmentation,

A chief argent thereon a pale gules charged with a lion passant guardant or between on the dexter side an eagle displayed sable and on the sinister on a mount vert  an orange tree fructed proper.


Substantive Coat granted 28 Jan. 1899 by Sir Albert William Woods, Garter, and George Edward Cockayne, Clarenceux, to Francis Elliot Kitchener (first cousin of Lord Kitchener) for himself and the other descendants of his father and uncles. First Augmentation exemplified  7 April 1900 by Sir A. W. Woods, Garter, in virtue of a Royal Warrant dated 26 May 1899, to Horatio Herbert, Baron Kitchener of Khartoum, 'as a lasting memorial of the conspicious talent and ability displayed by him on divers important occasions during recent expedition to Omdurman, which terminated in the capture of Khartoum', for himself and his descendants. Second Augmentation granted and exemplified 8 July 1904 by Alfred Scott Scott-Gatty, Garter, in virtue of a Royal Warrant dated 15 Sept. 1903, to Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum and of the Vaal, 'lately Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in South Africa', for himself and his descendants. [5]


* Bustard: Otis tarda - Gruiformes


18.X.1956 - 25.V.1969


In the time of Egyptian rule the flag of Egypt flew over Sudan. This was continued in the time of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. Of course this flag was abandoned by the indepedent Republic.

The new flag was adopted on 1 January 1956, together with the national emblem.


The flag consisted of three stripes blue, yellow and green. It is said that these are the colors of the tartan of General Charles Gordon, in the time of the Condominium worshipped as a national hero. Officially the colors are explained as the colors of the Nile, the desert and the fertility of the country.



The first national emblem is not of the usual British design but of Soviet fashion. It consists of a brown rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis - Rhinocerotidæ) surrounded by two palm trees and a garland of laurel. Below is the name of the country Djamhuriyat as-Sudan on a white ribbon with brown ends.


The rhinoceros is a symbol of strength and power.





After the coup of 25 May 1969 a pact of 13 March 1970 with Libya and Egypt placed the armed forces of the three nations under one single command. The reorientation of Sudan on the Arab world was expressed by a new flag in the pan-arabic colors. The new flag, hoisted for the first time on 20 May 1970 was of three stripes red, white and black an had a green triangle at the mast end. It had the proportions of 1 : 2.



A new national symbol appeared in 1971. It consists of a Sudanese shield charged with a red ball. It is supported by a black and white secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius Miller -Sagittaridæ), wings upright like the eagles of the mediaeval christian kings.


The secretary bird is the only representative of the Sagittaridae family. It has long legs and feet for walking but with only slightly hooked claws. The wings are long and the tail feathers can be as long as 50 cm. Six pairs of feathers in the neck are about 15 cm long and can be turned up. They remind the long pen-feathers secretaries put behind their ears. The secretary bird  lives in the savannahs south of the Sahara. It flees walking even when it can fly quite well. Its food consists of small vertebrates and big insects but its main food is snakes. It catches them with its beak and tramples them to death


Above the head of the bird the war-cry Al nasr nilâ (Victory is Ours) is written. Below is the title  Djamhuriyat as-Sudan Ad-Dimuqratiya (Democratic Republic of Sudan) on a ribbon.





1985 - present


When the name of the republic was changed in 1985 the name on the ribbon was changed accordingly.  From this time a colored version of the arms is known, the lettering green, the rim of the shield and the ball red.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay



© Hubert de Vries 2009-04-13

Updated 2011-06-14

[1]  On the early christian era much light was thrown by the excavations in Faras by K. Michalowski from 1962-'64.: Faras: Wall Paintings in the Collection of  the National Museum in Warsaw. Warsaw, 1974.

[2]  Smith, Whitney: Spectrum Vlaggenboek. Amsterdam, 1975. p. 76, afb. After:  Holt, P.M.: Correspondence. In:  Sudan Notes and Records. 1955.

[3]   Holt, P.M.: Correspondence. In:  Sudan Notes and Records. 1955.

[4]  Fox-Davies, A.: The Art of Heraldry. p. 397. After a campaign in South Africa the arms were augmented again. Wagner, A.: Historic Heraldry of Britain. 141 Pl. xxviii But he does not give the crests.

[5]  Wagner A.: Historic Heraldry of Britain. Shopwyke Hall, 1972. Pl. xxviii.141, p. 102

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