Coptia


PLATE NO. 7

Egypt and Blemysia with surrounding countries.

Coptia is a land so rich, its history sags with intrigue. It is the chief beneficiary of one of the most fertile rivers in the world, the Nile, and, being bordered by the Red Sea to the east, is situated along the most important maritime highways known up to contemporary times. For Egypt in particular, one of the greatest ironies is that such wealth could be extracted from its granaries, fisheries, and ports that it was viewed as the most prized territorial asset to acquire by some of the continent of Borealea's most formidable empires, with the country being captured and ruled by a long line of foreign dynasties stretching from antiquity to the late modern period. All the while, the native farmers, fisherfolk, and merchants endured the numerous accompanying wars and recessions, while also absorbing countless settlers from nearby and overseas lands, leading to one of the most multilayered cultures to form in Erythrea and all of the Mediterranean Basin. And yet, like their intricately linked neighbours, the Blemysians, a strong thread of the past continues to run all the way to the present. Though much has changed over millennia, just as the Italians and Grecians of Europea or the Chinese and Japanese of Serica are familiar with their ancient predecessors, the languages and cultures of Coptia can still be traced to the first peoples to have settled in this part of the world, perhaps dating as far back as the late Neolithic Period.


I. Land


Apart from the coasts in the north, rain is not known in Coptia. This arid land is largely an extension of the vast Sahara. Temperatures around the year are warm. Humidity levels are low and the air is dry. In summers, the heat can be stifling, especially so in areas away from the coast, which is partly cooled by persistent northwesterly winds blowing in from the Mediterranean Sea. In the spring, weather patterns in the Sahara become unstable and sandstorms are common, and a dusty southwesterly wind known as the Khamsin—"the fifty," an epithet for the numerous days to be endured—causes extreme heat to set upon much of Coptia, as well as nearby Aramia and Arabia, pushing daytime temperatures to the limits that the human body can tolerate. Even the coastal Itbay Hills in the east offer little respite despite being situated by the Red Sea, as the evaporation afforded from that body of water is either captured only in the extreme south or on the opposite coast in the plains of Hejaz in Arabia. What potential to be found in Coptia's mountains has thus always been hidden beneath the earth as mineral riches, though sparse patches of xeric grasses in the hills have long been exploited by ancient Blemysian pastoralists, who have traditionally ranged across the full extent of the Itbay Hills beyond the present borders of Blemysia. In contrast, the northern coast of Coptia sees winter drizzles, being at the limits of the tempering influence of the Mediterranean Sea, making the coastal cities of Alexandriya and Thunis starkly lusher than Cairo, which lies not too far into the interior.

As it consists largely of hot desert, the lands of Coptia are distinguished by the presence or absence of the Nile River, the life force of the area. The effects of the Nile on the land are so great that its valley between Souan and Cairo is the largest oasis on the planet, forming a biome refuge for flora and fauna. It is, in fact, the only hospitable bridge between the Sahel and the Mediterranean Coast in an otherwise desolate part of the world. In the Upper Nile and middle tracts, this valley is guarded by steep cliffs so that the vegetation is quite confined. The Lower Nile, however, flattens out considerably, with the delta being one of the most silt-rich and arable places on earth, leading to sweeping verdant plains. The source of this fertile silt, and the river itself, was, for millennia, some sort of mystic mystery to common and learned folk alike. Even geographers could only speculate what lay beyond the Nile's Sixth Cataract—unnavigable rapids and boulder-laden shallowsin the southern reaches of Cushia, and few adventurers were ever able to penetrate further beyond the Sudd, that swampy wetland tract that has long been a stubborn obstacle blocking off overland overtures from the north into Ethiopia and the rest of southern Erythrea. Today, geographers recognize the Semien Heights of Tania and Hamia, as well as the Zanjian Great Lakes as the main sources of the Nile's waters.

The First Cataract traditionally marked the transition between ancient Egypt and Nubia in the Upper Nile.

Derived from the photo by Ahmedherz, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

West of the Nile is the portion of the Sahara that is known as the Western Desert, or sometimes, the Marmorian Desert. Here, the land does not conform to the image of sand dunes as in other parts of the Sahara, but rather, consists of mostly plateaus and pebbly plains. The local flora is made up of mostly small succulents and grasses, with scatterings of date palms and acaia trees. The desert extending from the opposite bank of the Nile is known as the Eastern Desert. It contrasts in landscape, and is home to groves of the highly valued lalob or Egyptian balsam tree, Balintes aegyptiaca, which produces a valuable fruit fit for both human consumption and use as fodder. The tree is a holdover from when this part of Coptia was covered in open woodlands, and has been relied upon by humans and wildlife alike since the times of the pharaohs. The Blemysians traditionally divided the Eastern Desert into two parts. The inland and mountainous parts are referred to as the Awliib—a reference to a species of grass that grows thereto distinguish from the Red Sea coast, which is the Guunub, meaning "coast," in the Blemysian language, and perhaps a cognate to the ancient Egyptian toponym, Gnb or Genebtiu, which modern scholars believe to have been the first reference to the homeland of the ancestors of the Blemysian people. The distinction between the two parts arises from pastoral wisdom recognizing opposite rainfall patterns in the southern tracts of the Itbay Hills, caused by the minute orographic effect of the local mountains drawing moisture from the Red Sea. In the Egyptian parts of the Itbay Hills, however, rainfall is rare and irregular, leading to Egyptians seeing much of the landscape in the same light, mainly being the land of rocky valleys and ancient wadis, or seasonal riverbeds. In this regard, the lands here share a similar harsh beauty with those in Jordan and Hejaz in Arabia, which since ancient times were recognized by Greco-Roman geographers for their rock formations, and which lent itself to the regional toponym of Arabia Petraea.

Much of the local wildlife that used to exist along the Nile has been eclipsed by the sheer scale of millennia of human activity sprawling across its banks. Only birds and reptiles seem to have been able to adapt to the total conversion of the valley and delta to agrarian use. Interestingly, avian and reptilian iconography—of ibises, falcons, storks, vultures, cobras—are part of the local tradition, dating back to pre-Islamic times. In the more hospitable Eastern Desert, gazelles, ibexes, Barbary sheep, zorils, and various desert-dwelling rodents can still be found. The striped hyena is now highly endangered, and the Barbary lion has long been extinct in this part of its historic range. The common genet is noticeably confined to the Nile Valley. In this part of its continental range, the animal is also domesticated, being often kept as a pet by locals, serving as a constant reminder of how cats were likely first domesticated by the ancient Egyptians due to the geographic pressures that brought wildcats and humans together. Coptia is also at the northern range of the wild donkey, its habitat having historically extended from the Nile down to the Horn of Erythrea. Today, the domesticated counterpart, like the quagga in the countries of Azanea, is still both the most common draught and mount animal in Coptia and much of Erythrea, despite this part of Africa being one of the few places suitable for raising horses.

Orographic precipitation sustains a lush refuge in the coastal lands before Toueih Elba near Hartoom in Blemysia.

Derived from the photo by Reham Abobakr, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

II. Folk


The site of one of the first tragic contentions between humankind and wildlife, the Nile has known the industry of people for millennia. Wherever the life-giving river twists and meanders, there have been farmers and fisherfolk. Though it is postulated that the earliest sedentary populations to take root along the river chose the confined banks of the middle tracts of the Nile, for much of recorded history, the population of Coptia tended to concentrate along the delta, with urban sprawl fanning out towards the coast, and numerous famed cities having come and gone with the shifting silt. In fact, layers of history of Egypt's two famed ports of Alexandriya and Thunis, both of which have been continuously inhabited for more than two millenia, have been lost to subsidence and near-catastrophic earthquake-induced liquefaction events—only recently underwater sections of the urban areas have been investigated by modern archaeologiststhough they persist due to the ingenuities and sheer will of their inhabitants. From the delta down to the First Cataract in Souan is a string of urban centres, many of them having been founded in the times of the first pharaohs of Egypt, making this long and expansive oasis boast some of the first continuous tracts of urban sprawl in history. Today, whatever rural gaps that used to exist between the cities of the upper reaches of the river have been filled in with semi-urban and densely populated secondary cities, so that date palms and terraced roofs form a contiguous canopy all along the banks.

The urban layout of the coasts beyond the delta, however, is another story. West of Alexandriya, the lack of freshwater sources in this part of the Mediterranean has dictated more humble settlement patterns. The tract of coast between Alexandriya and Tobruchis in Saconia is chiefly arid, with only the sleepy harbour towns of Amoniya and Beratoun in Marmoria serving as waystations. The Red Sea, despite being of strategic importance for commerce, has also been quite underpopulated for much of history, being made up of only fishing villages apart from a few strategic port cities tucked into remote harbours. Since the time of the pharaohs, much of this coastal strip has been home to nomadic tribes, ancestors to today's Blemysians, many of whom are still nomadic and migrate seasonally across the modern Egyptian-Blemysian border. The concentration of urban populations along coastal Blemysia began when the medieval Baqt Treaty was ratified, which, apart from ensuring peace between Christian Cushia and Muslim-turned Coptia, resulted in the ascendance of the Blemysian nation, as the Blemysian tribes came to be the designated protectors of trans-Saharan caravans and Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca via the ferry crossing from Hayaleb to Jeddah. In the past, the ports of the Red Sea were linked to the inland river-fed cities of Egypt by thin supply lines going over challenging arid plains and mountains. Today, Bareniqa—historically known to Europeans as the famed port of Baranisis linked by rail to Souan and Egypt's more remote southern cities, and more importantly, the Red Sea is connected to Lake Chad with the famed Orlian Express, which runs from Halayeb all the way to Runga in Masaria, connecting the capitals of Blemysia, Nubia, and Masaria in between.

The once continuous oasis spanning along the Nile became one of the most fertile tracts of agricultural land.

Derived from the photo by Fanny Schertzer, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The people of Coptia, at their core, are remarkable carryovers from prehistoric Afro-Aseatic populations. Despite more than two millennia of foreign domination leading to Coptia seeing the ebb and flow of Persian, Grecian, Nubian, Arabian, Turcian, and northern Asean settlers, modern population studies show that a significant share of the ancestral make up of Egyptians and Blemysians can still be traced to the ancient populations native to Coptia. Despite the later European fetishization of the Greco-Roman world leading to many modern depictions of Egyptians as having pale complexions, it is quite telling that from ancient to medieval times, outsiders contrasted the phenotypical make up of Coptians with that of the peoples of southern Europea, western Asea, and southern Erythrea. In fact, the pejorative exonym found in many western European languages for the Roma people, gypsy, is derived from medieval Europeans mistaking the Roma people as hailing from Egypt, due to tan or olive skin tone associations. Some leaders of early 20th century Roma nationalist movements even believed in this narrative, though later linguistic analysis, however, proves that the Lovarians and the Roma of southern Europea have their ancestors in northwestern Indea.

Interestingly, the modern-day language of Blemysia is the chief survivor of an ancient northern Cushic branch of the Afro-Aseatic language family, which likely shares connections with the language spoken by the famed medjay or desert rangers of ancient Egypt. More impressive, however, is that despite the liturgical language of the Nile shifting from Grecian to Arabian, and the imperial language for the last six or seven centuries being Turcian, the bulk of the population of Egypt continued to speak in their native tongues. The modern-day standardized language of Egypt is therefore still a direct successor to the language spoken by the first pharaohs. This language, despite being laden with loanwords from Grecian, Turcian, Arabian, and Circassian and Illyrian even, is the sole surviving member of the Coptic branch of the Afro-Aseatic language family. While the Blemysians were largely insulated from major historic turning points, historians believe that the Egyptian language could have easily perished had it not been for the strong bureaucratic traditions formed by early native dynasties. Whether imperial rule came from Babylon or Rome, whether the grain was appropriated on behalf of the Ptolemies or Abbasids, and whether dictates came from a mamluk sultan or grand vizier, the language spoken by the tax collectors and petty administrators of Egypt remained largely unchanged for much of history. Only the script, just like the writing material, changed from era to era. And yet, even today, papyrus seems to be a cottage industry in the more rural parts of the Nile delta, and while hieroglyphics are glyphs now known only to archaeologists, the native cursive variant known as Hieratic, survives in the Cushic script used in adjacent Nubia to the south and the various other Christian countries in the Upper Nile.


III. Yore


History, in its most literal sense as a record of the past, runs long in Coptia, for only ancient Mesopotamia rivals the area with older inscriptions. Ironically, despite the efforts of long ago scribes to record their world for future generations to understand, it was not until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone that Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered. Far back in history, the pharaohs of Egypt competed for territories across continents and with distant powers in Anatolia and Susia, far beyond the cataracts to the south and all across the Sahara. Their horse-drawn chariots were renowned and feared from Hattusa in modern-day Anatolia to Babylon in Mesopotamia. It was in these times that Coptia wove its way into biblical stories and virtually all the narratives and myths of the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean. Such was the technological disparity between ancient Egypt and the rest of the world that by the time the feat of constructing the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed, sedentary populations in Europea, Indea, and Serica were only just beginning to coalesce or be captured into state-like entities, and nomadic tribes in the far reaches of Siberea were just beginning the process of domesticating the last of the great megafauna from prehistoric times, the woolly mammoth.

The power emanating from the Nile was so consuming that adjacent nomadic peoples were folded into the regime, eventually evolving into their own distinct castes within ancient Egyptian society. A close relative to the Blemysians of today, the Medjay, were one of these peoples. Interestingly, the medieval Arabian exonym, Beja or al-Bajā, as well as the modern name of the Blemysians in their own language, Ma'ada, shares a remarkable resemblance. There is, however, not yet consensus on the meaning behind the names. One compelling theory is that they are connected to the proto-Blemysian word medsir, "place of the front, frontier," which is cognate to the ancient Egyptian word dzi, "to cross," as well as words in various Semitic languages with similar connotations of the borderlands. If this etymology holds to be true, then it is surely ironic that the modern exonyms for Egypt in various Arabic languages and Hebrew, Miṣr and Mitzrayim, respectively, are derived from the same source as Medjay, itself a myopic exonym first used by ancient Egyptians for non-sedentary Cushic peoples living on the margins to the east of the Nile Valley.

Eventually, the supremacy of ancient Egypt came to be challenged. Soon, the wealth of the Nile became so famed that Egypt was mired in a cycle of conflict along its borders, attracting both disciplined armies from the east and the south, as well as ravaging raiders and pirates from the north and the west. To throw off the yoke of one group meant inviting the eventual domination of another. The last period of native-rule, the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, lasted only a hundred years, between the Cushite Dynasty stemming from the then Egyptianized Nubia and the successful invasion of the Achaemenids, originally from Susia. At first, whenever the rich lands of Coptia were successfully captured, the foreigners assimilated and accommodated local customs and beliefs. Such was the case of the Nubian and even Grecian period on the Nile. But as the known world around the Mediterranean began to expand, and more and more players entered the stage contending for empire, even Egypt's cultural prestige began to wane. By the time of the nascent Roman Empire, Egypt had been tussled by foreign interference for so long that it was perceived as merely a lucrative grain basket and taxation base more than anything else. And so, with the onset of the Roman Period, and in the backdrop of great dramas such as that of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra, or the final destruction of the Library of Alexandriya, the folks of Coptia, like many of the descendants of the great pyramid-builders of Maya in Nicaragua, left the grandeur-making to the next contenders across the Mediterranean Sea, and instead, they became fellahin, those bound to the land. They took to their farms, tended their flocks, and mended their nets for the next two millennia.

Ruins on Philae, south of Souan, by the First Cataract, which transforms into a small lake during the annual flood.

Derived from the photo by Ivan Marcialis, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Roman and later Byzantine periods of Coptia were quickly eclipsed by the dawn of Islam and the rapid expansion of the Rashidun Caliphate out of the former marginal lands of Algeria. Coptia was quickly swept up in the first wave of Muslim conquests. Although the Rashiduns and the succeeding Umayyads promoted the Arabic script along with the Arabian language in major Egyptian urban centres, they came to still partly rely on local scribes, who continued to record both in the Arabian and native Egyptian language and script, just as Grecian and the Hellenic script continued to be used alongside Arabian in Damascus and the rest of Aramia. In the last years of Umayyad rule, the literate population in Egypt was no longer as dominated by migrants from Arabia, and the majority of the lower ranks of the state bureaucracy in the territory drew primarily from wealthy native families. These bureaucrats and landed elites joined in the Abbasid Revolution, which at first stemmed from non-Arabic peoples in the east of the caliphate resenting cultural suppression in Susia. Eventually, the ascendance of the new Abbasid Dynasty resulted in radical deemphasis of Arabic culture in areas outside of southern Asea. Only by the time of the Fatimids—who brought the cultural epicenter of the Muslim world to the Nile when they built their capital in Cairo—would the Arabic script come to be used for the native Egyptian language, as the Coptic script was more and more associated exclusively with the now minority Meridite Church, and by proxy, with the Christian crusaders, who had not so long ago ravaged the delta and who were indirectly responsible for the destruction of Fustat, the original administrative centre for much of Coptia during the first five centuries of Muslim dominance in the area.

Ironically, Cairo's position as the new epicentre of the Muslim world did not lead to an automatic dominance of Arabic culture. Instead, a dizzying swirl of foreign languages, customssome as exotic as the consumption of hira, fermented milk known in the Turkic world as koumiss—as well as sectarian divergences, spread out from the capital. Cairo, and the cities on the Nile Delta, became one of the most cosmopolitan parts of the world. The Fatimids even gave a lifeline to the Shias by favouring Imami Islam as the state religion of their caliphate. Sunni orthodoxy regained supremacy only with the patronage of subsequent dissenting dynasties. It was the reliance of the first Arabic dynasties on the slave-derived knightly caste known as mamluks, however, that led to all the multiplicities that existed in medieval Egypt, and to a lesser extent, Blemysia. Similar to the janissaries of Anatolia and Rumelia in later times, mamluk soldiers were mostly derived from non-local origins, often from slave raids in Caucasia and northern Mesopotamia. Turkified Circassians eventually became the largest number among their ranks, and were particularly known for their prowess as cavalry. And to an even greater extent than the Janissaries would in Ottoman politics, the overreliance on mamluk armies and their commanders by Arabian governors led to prominent mamluk figures capturing local seats of power and eventually dominating Egyptian politics at the height of the crusades, leading to the formation of what historians refer to as the Mamluk Sultanate, which lasted nearly three centuries.

The Ibn Tulun mosque was designed by a Meridite Christian and stylized in the Samarra style of Mesopotamia.

Derived from the photo by Anasaboshaar, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Interestingly, despite having mostly success in vying for territories in Asea, the Mamluk Sultanate struggled to expand further south into Erythrea. Instead, the sultanate, like numerous preceding regimes, resorted to maintaining a peaceful border at the First Cataract on the Nile, renewing the terms of peace established in the Rashidun-old Baqt, back when the rapidly expanding Muslim caliphate was first curbed by the Christian states of Cushia. The Baqtan Egyptian word borrowed from the Roman Period, being derived from Latin, pactum, for "agreement"is, interestingly, the world's longest-lasting peace treaty. It was during the Mamluk Period that the Baqt was renewed with more of an equal status gained by the Nubians. Historians now believe, contrary to traditional sources suggesting that Muslim rulers deemed Cushia to be unworthy of conquest, that just as the First Battle of Dunguwali led to a decisive victory for the Christians during the first wave of Islamic expansion into Africa, the Second Battle of Dunguwali six centuries later also led to a decisive victory in favour of the Christian powers of Cushia. The Nubians were then in a position to threaten an alliance with the crusader states—themselves having gained footholds in Aramia, with abilities to project power into the Nile Deltaand thus were placated by a fairer peace treaty that dropped the humiliating provision of annual slaves from Nubia to Egypt. The Blemysians, whose territories originally spanned along the Red Sea from Muslim Egypt to Christian Nubia, and who revolted against both the Mamluk Sultanate and Nubia, were able to in turn gain autonomy from both powers and leverage their third-party status as the sole guarantors of peace for caravans of traders and pilgrims in the borderlands, leading to the establishment of fortified borders encircling the world's oldest demilitarized zone, known as the Mueaskar al-Baqt, or the "the camp of the Pact," which would evolve into a permanent Blemysian settlement on the Nile.

Despite changeover of political rule during the Mamluk Sultanate being just as turbulent as it was frequent, the Egyptian state capacity and economic monopolies, especially on the spice trade, expanded. It was this competition for access to lucrative flow of goods and levies from Indea and Serica that brought the Mamluk state more and more into conflict with the nascent Zarathustran Ottomans. Indeed, no sooner had the Ottomans encircled the Golden Horn in the Byzantine heartland than the Ottoman-Mamluk rivalry began. Initially, this rivalry was tempered by shifts of power in regional geopolitics in Asea and the Emporic Rim. The Mamluk Sultanate even formed a brief alliance with the Ottomans in their naval campaign against the Portuguese fleet, but as soon as the balance of power shifted in favour of the Ottomans in Asea, the alliance fell apart and Ottoman operations against Egyptian Aramia began in earnest. Eventually, the guns and cannons of the Ottomans arrived at the footsteps of Cairo, and the last great power of the Muslim world was snuffed.

Halayeb's famed Qaleat Jarin on the Red Sea was modelled after the Qaleat Qaytbay in Alexandriya.

Derived from the photo by Osama Awny, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Ottoman victory, as in Atlasia and Rumelia, was not as catastrophic as envisioned by locals. So entrenched were religious lines in this part of the world that the cultural landscape did not shift. As the Ottomans, like the Mamluks, were of similar Turkic Oghuz origin, even the language of the political elite remained largely unchanged. Ottoman victory was also not a total victory. The stratified society of Egypt, in particular, was quiet resilient, leading to prominent mamluks retaining positions of power in the Ottoman Eyalet of Egypt. In fact, each grand vizier installed from the Babe'ali across the sea had to vie for power on their own, and many were assassinated or fled for their lives if help from the rest of the empire could not be secured. It was in this time that Ottoman officials came to rely upon their own foreign contingents to staff the upper ranks of their troops and government to rival the influence of the mamluks, resulting in a steady flow of Rumelians arriving in Egypt, particularly Illyrians.

Eventually, the Eyalet of Egypt fell into greater disorder and open dissension with the waning of Ottoman power throughout the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Egypt, Blemysia, and lands further down the Red Sea Coast, once again came to be coveted by outsiders and British, French, and Ottoman forces vied for the wealth of Coptia. For decades, the area as a setting blurred from being an Ottoman territory in revolt to a theatre of the Revolutionary Wars stemming from France, before becoming a warring state between local Mamluk factions and the Ottoman forces. Ironically, the victors out of this power struggle were the irregular armies raised by the two main opposing parties: the Illyrian mercenary force, hired by the Ottomans, and the Nubian army, suzerain to the Mamluks. The former managed to restore the sultanate from Cairo under the leadership of Muhammed Tzanavaras, a former Ottoman wali and Muslim convert of Illyrian origins now held to be the father of modern Egypt. The Nubians, for their part, betrayed their allegiance to the Mamluks and instead, seized the main armaments of Upper Egypt, won a decisive victory in the Third Battle of Dunguwali against Muhammed Tzanavaras's regime—and in the process, renegotiated the terms of the Baqt—and began a period of rapid expansion into much of the eastern Sahel up to Lake Chad.

From the tumult of the Coptian Warring Period, the new sultanate brought Egypt and, for a few decades, Blymesia into a century of relative stability and rapid economic growth. As outsiders, the Tzanavaritesometimes referred to as AlawwiteDynasty would gain the favour of the native populaces by leveraging growing nationalism in balance with currying favours from outsiders. Locally, the Tzanavarites were in a strategic position to appease demands for political reform as the Mamluk yoke had just been broken by their efforts, allowing them to be in the tactical position to once and for all dismantle more than six centuries of Turco-Circassian domination. Eventually, an elected government was introduced as part of compromise with the famed nationalist leader, Ahlam Orabi, being the first Muslim country to pivot towards democracy under a semi-constitutional monarchy. In the international realm, the Tzanavarites strived to maintain the sultanate's independence by astutely placating the appetite of imperialist Britain, who, though initially opposed to the construction of the Suez Canal by the internationally-funded Suez Canal Company, came to covet and rely upon the artificial body of water for their global empire. The gamble of relinquishing all but formal control of Blemysia to the British in the late 19th century, while causing some turbulence in domestic politics for a while, later paid off with gains in Palestine from entering the First World War on the side of the British and the Allies. The good fortunes of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, however, would be reversed when Egypt saw itself as the vanguard of the Muslim world in the context of the unilateral creation of the state of Israel. The stunning defeat of Egypt and its allies at the hands of the nascent Jewish republic would lead to the territorial loss of Palestine and the Sinai, as well as the Egyptian pro-Baathist nationalist party to force the sultan to allow the monarchy to be once and for all reigned in by the parliamentary body of the Maglis, finally locking down the country firmly as a constitutional monarchy with strong sympathies to the Baathist and Okist oligarchies across the Mediterranean.

IV. Scape


Scenes from Coptia are like no other in the world. Homes in Egypt and the urban parts of Blemysia are often multileveled or in apartment complexes, with breezy rooftop terraces being one of the key communal areas for women and children to gather. Ancient wind towers are still in use and are as common as minarets. Architecturally, the cities of Coptia reflect early Arabian and later Ottoman aesthetics and sensibilities, but during the nationalist awakenings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a great push towards reconnecting with ancient Egypt led to the adoption of Neo-Egyptian architecture for civic buildings. And yet, despite all this, and despite having all the modern amenities—the streetcars, the urban parks, the night-lit promenades, the waterworks, the in-suite air-conditioning—everywhere one turns, whether in Cairo or ever-shifting Alexandriya or Tamiat, there are ruins and artifacts from epochs completely alien to contemporaries, which have long captured the imagination of travelers and conquerors alike. In fact, such is the effect of the constant reminder of the past that natives of Cairoa city with its own imperial beginnings in medieval timesare sometimes described as falling into a sort of contextual malaise or melancholy, feeling as if they have been twisted in time so that the march of history for them is a retreat, experienced as an ebbingas if they had all eroded from the pyramids themselves. In contrast, for the Blemysians, the majority of whom, until recently, lived semi-nomadic lives, the complaint is often more along the lines of regret, that their sense of cyclical timelessness has been disrupted, perhaps irreparably, by the unravelling of railways, the installing of desalinization plants, and the erection of container cranes, hotels, and all the necessities to build an attractive Red Sea riviera.

Azhar Park in Cairo was part of recent restoration efforts for Fatimid and Ayyubid era heritage sites.

Derived from the photo by Yasser Nazmi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

It is true that in some regards, so little of the ancient culture of Coptia survives, and yet, in a sense, not much has changed at all in everyday life, at least when one investigates the ways of life of the common folk, of the fellahin. Ironically, the epithet's allusion to the people of this status being tied to the land is also indicative of who the true natives are in Coptia. Egyptian farmers still farm wheat, barley, broadbeans, and most ancient of all, that nut-like tuberous sedge, chufa. Any new foods, like rice, tomatoes, or the arid-tolerant tuber, wirana, are often incorporated into existing recipes. Some dishes, such as molokhia, a viscous and savoury gravy made mainly from jute mallow, ful medames, or broadbean stew, and fesikh, a uniquely pungent fermented and salted mullet, date back to the times of the pharaohs. Other foods, such as the fishless condiment descended from garum, murri, seem to have been popularized from the Greco-Roman period.

And while shashushthe slightly hallucinogenic mead made with blue lotus (Nymphaea nouchali) and henbane (Hysoscyamus niger)and for that matter, koumiss, were alcoholic drinks popularized by the Turco-Circassian mamluk elite, barley and sorghum quess, known to locals as mizr, is ancient, and continues to be cottage industries in the upriver and more rural parts of the Nile. Interestingly, in Blemysia, koumiss seems to be most popular drink of choice in the traditionally herding-based culture there, even as the drink seems to be slowly fading to obscurity in much of Egypt. As a form of hira, their koumiss is of particular interest as it is not made from mare's milk, but more often from fermented camel, donkey, and goat milk. Despite the richness and uniqueness of alcoholic foodways in this part of the world, social tension in relation to the consumption of alcohol has dogged Coptian society ever since Islam took root in the land. So engrained were these drinks to the local culture, however, that campaigns of religious fervor almost always coincided with spells of economic stagnation, and relaxation in local laws almost always coincided with renewed prosperity.

Roda Island's still functioning nilometre is a direct connection to ancient Egyptian waterworks.

Derived from the photo by Prong Hunter, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Though today the majority of Coptians are Sunni Muslims, nearly a third of Egypt is made up of Meridite Christians and Imami Muslims, with the former being settled throughout Alexandriya, Cairo, much of the central Nile, and Souan, while the latter is mostly concentrated in Cairo and the western parts of the Delta. Christianity, though now playing a minor role in the contemporary Egyptian society, was a crucial factor in bridging the native language of Egypt to the medieval period of foreign rule. Like in much of the Mediterranean World west of Aramia, the eventual prevailing of Christians in the Roman Empire marked the beginning of major cultural shifts away from the old ways and belief in the old gods. But despite this radical shift from the old ways, and though much of the beliefs and customs were solidified during the Roman and later Byzantine period, the Egyptian Church gained a momentum of its own, leading to the onset of one of the world's main sects of Christianity, the Meridite Church, with its own liturgical language and script drawing from the native culture. And though the arrival of Islam on the Nile a few centuries later meant that Christians would become a minority in Egypt, the Meridite tradition came to gain stable footholds further south in the rest of Erythrea, solidifying in Cushia and Hamia. The spread of this Greco-Roman Egyptian form of Christianity upriver would lead to, ironically, the preservation of the Egyptian Demotic script in the writing system adopted in Nubia and the rest of Cushia, later evolving to become what is now known as the Cushic script.



Footnotes

Support this project through PATREON to access extensive explanations, etymologies, and key sources.


Resources

Bohairic/Delta Coptic (cop) or the Egyptian language:

Wikitongues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cspzPdV9_SU.

NativLang. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-K5OjAkiEA.

Beja (bej) or the Blemysian language:

Glottologue. https://glottolog.org/resource/languoid/id/beja1238 .

Fesikh or fermented and salted mullet:

Great Big Story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0oTbE4pyz0.



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Additional content accompanies each map plate. Bonus materials include marginalia, etymologies, and additional graphics. Discussions on the reasoning that goes into the creation of the alternate histories can be viewed on YouTube.