Mahdist Revolt

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mahdist Revolt


a revolt in the Sudan from 1881 to 1898 against Turco-Egyptian authorities and British colonialists. The revolt was led by the Mahdi.

At the outset of the revolt (1881) the Mahdists occupied a number of towns in Kordofan. In February 1883, El Obeid, the administrative center of Kordofan province, fell. In November 1883 at the approaches to El Obeid the Mahdists smashed the 10,000-man force of the British general Hicks. Khartoum, the administrative center of the country, was taken by storm in January 1885. The British governor of the Sudan, C. G. Gordon, was killed during the battle. Many Arab officers and soldiers of the Anglo-Egyptian forces went over to the side of the Mahdists. Nilotic tribes rebelled in the south of the Sudan and helped the Mahdists to expel the foreign forces. In the wake of the revolt there emerged an independent feudal-theocratic state, which included the territory of the modern Sudan Republic (with the exception of Suakin, which was retained by the English).

After the Mahdi’s death the state was headed by his successor, Abdullahi ibn al-Said Muhammad Khalifa (al-Taaisha). His closest assistants were four caliphs, who had authority over the leading emirs (rulers of the provinces). Taxes and extortions from the population, the profits from state monopolies (including the slave trade and the ivory trade), and military spoils were the main sources of state revenues. The caliph, emirs, and feudal-tribal elite, in addition to official receipts from the treasury, received a considerable income from land holdings. Commerce, crafts, and road and school construction were developed; throughout the country a single legal system was in effect. But the increased exploitation of the farmers and cattle raisers and the aggravation of social contradictions and intertribal discord weakened the Sudanese state.

In order to smash the Mahdist state, Great Britain organized a blockade of the sea coast of Sudan, provoked in 1885 a war of Ethiopia against the Mahdists, which depleted both states, and used the material and human resources of a subjugated Egypt as well as the latest European arms. Military actions of the Anglo-Egyptian forces against the Mahdists were renewed in 1896. At the Battle of Omdurman on Sept. 2, 1898, the army of Mahdists, headed by Abdullahi Khalifa, was routed. As a result, the Sudan was turned into a British colony. However, the partisan struggle of the popular masses of Sudan, led by Abdullahi, continued until November 1899.


Smirnov, S. R. Vosstanie makhdistov v Sudane (1881-1899). Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Smirnov, S. R. Istoriia Sudana (1821-1956). Moscow, 1968.
Holt, P. M. The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 2nd ed. Oxford, 1970.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
More recently, we have the fateful case of the 19th century protracted Sudanese Mahdist Revolt, led by a committed Sufi of the Sammaniya order.
In The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, Winston Churchill presented the British perspective on the conflict between British/Egyptian forces and the Sudanese forces of the Sudanese Mahdist Revolt of the late 19th century, largely focusing, as one might expect, on the agency of the British officers involved in the fighting.
Artefacts from the Mahdist revolt of the late 19th century in Sudan will also be displayed for the first time.
Khartoum is the first major book on the Mahdist revolt and its aftermath to present a Sudanese, as well as British, perspective, Its author, Royal Geographical Society award winner Michael Asher, has lived in Sudan for ten years, speaks fluent Arabic and has gained invaluable insights into the Sudanese way of life.
Yet if Gordon was unable to introduce sweeping reforms, change nevertheless was occurring, and it is in the attending social, political, and cultural turbulence that Moore-Hareli believes we can locate the origins of the Mahdist revolt, an event which not only led to Gordon's death but fundamentally reshaped the Sudan and Britain's relations with it.
Until the Mahdist revolt of the 1880s, led by a Nile boat-builder, Muhammad Ahmad bin Abdullah who proclaimed himself Mahdi -- herald of the end of the world -- in 1881, the Upper Nile basin had been part of an Egyptian empire extended into Sudan first by Muhammad Ali and later by the Khedive Ismail: hence the Egyptian fort at Fashoda.
The Mahdist revolt (1881 -- 1898) was mounted by the people who were oppressed by this system: the people of the village communities along with the peasant-slaves of the agricultural domains and the artisans, and the slaves and beggars from the market-towns.