Home Information on the "Medjai"

The Medjai lived in the eastern desert of Nubia - between the first and the second Nile-cataract.

Presumably in 4000 before Christi (BC) they came from Asia via Arabia to Africa, lived outside the Nile-valley, but were in contact with the local Egypts.
Between 4000 - 3200 BC: they became pastoral nomads.
2700 - 1200: The Medjai were a tribal community, but split: one part was pastoral, the other served as soldiers in the Egyptian army.

Middle Kingdom (2040 - 1640)

The relation between the Medjai and the Egyptians becames worse because the Medjai-soldiers didn't any longer want to fight for the Egyptians. So Amenhetep I (1994 - 1964) could claim that he has captured the Medjai. Nevertheless, his assertation refers only to the pastoral Medjai who on their part could only have been enslaved for a short time, because their were handed-down as independent people, just after the conquest of Lower Nubia in 1950.
The enmity between to Egyptians and the pastoral Medjai continued: The Egypts built fortresses in the area claimed by the Medjai for controlling them - if famine-stricken they were not allowed to settle at the rich Nile-valley. However, the Egyptians profited from the knowledge of the pastoral Medjai who were fond of cattle-breeding.

Second Intermediate Period (1640 - 1532)

The Medjai fought again for the Egyptians but non as mercenary troops but as allies - as the only non-Egyptians who helped the Egyptians. Pharaoh Kamose let them fight from the beginning against the Hyksos - side by side with himself.

New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 BC)

The Medjai served yet as soldiers, but also as guardians and leaders in the mines in Nubia. Mining was only possible with their help. They formed the biggest mercenary troop - because of recruitments under Amenhetep III (1388 - 1248 BC). In times of peace the Medjai served as police, as bodyguards of the Pharaoh but also as soldiers. The police was independent from the army. A lot of buildings were identified as Medjai-quarters. The Medjai also lived at Deir el Medina, the village of the workers for the valley of the kings, and guarded the valley of the kings - just because of robbers.
Besides, the pastoral Medjai were not mentioned after 1500 BC - so eventually their went to the South or were absorbed fully with the Egyptians or remained in the eastern desert.

Some "prominent" Medjai

NebamunDedu: Leader of the troops under Tutmosis III (1479 - 1424 BC)
Mahu: Leader of the police troop in Amarna
Nebamun: commander of the Medjai under Tutmosis IV (1398 - 1388 BC) and Amenhetep III. His name is interesting because of the suffix -amun: It shows the adaptation of the Egyptian culture within the Medjai one.
Humay: built temples for Horus and Sesostris III, in that potsherds of vessels of the Medjai-culture remained. There are also pictures of Medjai in this temples who worshipped the Egyptian gods (blending of their own with the Egyptian culture).


Medjai AD

Medjai were warriors until no less than 700 AD when they fought against the Persians.

At the time of the Macedonian dynasty (to whom Cleopatra as last queen of Egypt belonged) the Medjai had marriage relations to the Greeks who on their own part played an active role in Medjai society. At this time the name "Medjai" disappeared.
The eastern nomads of the Medjai-region were known as the "Blemmyes". Because they used for the first time camels they became stronger as a tribe and gained more identity so that they could have challenged the Romans. After military actions the Blemmyes were given the land of Syene up to today's frontier to Sudan by the Romans in 268 AD, moreover an annual tribute, the right to worship in Philae and to have priests there. Practically they ruled the Nile-valley up to Aswan. After 451 AD they were expelled by Macrinus.
In 536 AD Justinian prohibited the so-called pagan religions, whereupon the angry Blemmyes began to fight against the Roman-Byzantine authorities, but they were defeated by the Christian king of Ethopia, Silko, and expelled to the desert. Thus the Blemmyes became the forefathers of today's Bega (Bedja) who still live in the same area as their forefathers: in the South of Egypt/North of Sudan.


I got this information from various sources (books, internet, especially from the excellent and detailed representations by Alisha Jourdenais (A History of the Med-jai Nubians). She stated today's descendants of the Medjai as "Bega". Instead of "Bega" I have found also the term "Beja" / "Bedja" which linguistic-etymologically could be related with "Medjai" - more than "Bega" (b/m are linguistically related, "b" is often beoming "m" and otherwise).

The Beja bedouins have attacked the place Korosko in 1887 und one year later the place Kalabsha. 1891 they have occupied the city Berber (just before the Anglo-Egyptian army under Lord Kitchener arrived) because of food shortage. Life in the desert was always frugal and pasture-grounds for animal must be found. After this attack they retired speedily into their own region, the hilly desert in the east of the Nile. (Info from: Bergmann, Carlo: Der letzte Beduine. Hamburg 2001, p. 82)

So the Medjai reached their apex in the time of the New Kingdom - they served as soldiers, police, guardians of the valley of the kings, and bodyguards of the Pharaoh. The Biblical Archaeology Review states:
"Members of a Nubian tribe known as the Medjai lived outside the walled town [Deir el-Medina] and served as policemen, as they did throughout New Kingdom Egypt; may kept their desert patrol jobs for their entire lives. Their names turn up on the ostraca among those who bartered and dickered with the villagers." As remark to this text it is said, that even today Nubians served as Egyptian desert patrols.
One source on the Medjai states that they were not from Nubia but from Lybia. That is interisting for "Mummy"-fans, because in Pharaoh Sethos I's (Seti) tomb pictures from Lybian troops with tattoos can be found. ;-)
By all means, the "Mummy"-film-makers strategically used the Medjai well for their purposes, because they served as bodyguards in Pharaoh Sethos I's time (as shown in the scenes of old Egypt), and later they lived as bedouins in the desert (since the time of their expulsion by the Christian king Silko). So that fits very well - and perhaps some speculation is allowed whether they lived today as desert warriors, protecting some ancient sites, always covering their true identity. ;-)