PROF. ADAM ŁAJTAR: WINNER OF THE 2022 FNP PRIZE
Prof. Adam Łajtar from the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, Poland, received the 2021 FNP Prize in the area of humanities and social sciences for the interpretation of epigraphic sources explaining the religious-cultural functioning of medieval communities living in the Nile Valley.
Adam Łajtar was born in 1960 in Kwasówka, in the Podlasie region of Poland. He is an internationally recognized Polish historian of antiquity, papyrologist, epigraphist, and nubiologist. He graduated from the University of Warsaw, where he also received his doctorate and habilitation in 1994 and 2006, respectively. He received full professorship in 2012. Today, Łajtar works at the Department of Papyrology and Epigraphy of the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw. He is Vice-Chair of the Scientific Committee on Ancient Culture at the Polish Academy of Sciences, a member of the Commission on Archaeology of Mediterranean Countries at the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, a board member of the International Society for Nubian Studies, and one of the editors of the Journal of Juristic Papyrology and its series of supplements.
Łajtar’s current research interests include Greek epigraphy with an emphasis on the study of inscriptions from the eastern Mediterranean (Asia Minor, Palestine, Cyprus, Cyrenaica, the Nile Valley), the religion and culture of Greco-Roman Egypt, and the history and culture of Christian Nubia. He devoted to these subjects more than 250 scientific studies, including six books.
Prof. Adam Łajtar is a world-renowned scientist, specializing in papyrology and epigraphy. Papyrology means the examination of manuscripts made on papyrus, while epigraphy studies inscriptions made on hard materials, such as stone, metal, or wood. Łajtar received the 2022 FNP Prize for his edition and interpretation of inscriptions from Banganarti, thus significantly enriching our knowledge of the cultural and social aspects of medieval communities who lived in Nubia, a historical land located in the Nile Valley, between Egypt and Sudan.
Łajtar’s achievement consists in documenting, editing, and interpreting linguistically, religiously, socially, and culturally nearly a thousand inscriptions found on the walls of the so-called Upper Church in Banganarti (North Sudan), discovered nearly twenty years ago by Polish archaeologists. In medieval times, Banganarti was a fortified settlement located about ten kilometers south of Dongola, the capital of the Christian Kingdom of Makuria. The center of the settlement was occupied by a church. At first, it was a “Lower Church,” and after its destruction in the mid-eleventh century, the “Upper Church” was erected on the ruins, so as to function until around 1500. The patron saint of the Upper Church was Archangel Raphael, revered as a protector and helper of people in all kinds of difficulties, especially illnesses, and their intercessor before God. Another vivid aspect of the worship of Archangel Raphael in Banganarti was his protection of the Makurite royal family residing in the nearby Dongola. The Banganarti church was the eternal resting place for at least one Makurian king. The surviving interior walls of the church show paintings and inscriptions dating from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Most are graffiti carved into the plaster covering the walls by the faithful visiting this place of worship, which was an expression of their piety, a material testimony of their presence before God and their prayers to Him. The Banganarti inscriptions are a wonderful testimony to the literary culture and spiritual life of the people of Christian Nubia, while the information they contain about the authors provides fantastic information for reconstructing their social life.
Most of the Banganarti inscriptions were edited in Greek, which was the sacred language of Nubian Christians, adopted during the Christianization of Nubia in the sixth century and used, with numerous modifications, until the end of the Christian Nubian culture. These are accompanied by inscriptions in the local Old Nubian language and those in which the two languages – Greek and Old Nubian – mix, sometimes in the same statement. Reading such texts grossly exceeds the competence of a philologist specializing in one of the two languages. An additional difficulty stems from the often-unsatisfactory state of preservation of the inscriptions, the authors’ use of abbreviated forms of expression, and our imperfect knowledge of the local historical, religious, and cultural context.
Despite these difficulties, Łajtar perfectly managed the material under his scrutiny. He made an exemplary edition of the inscriptions, which includes a description of their material side, a transcription in the original language, a translation, and a commentary. His edition is accompanied by rich illustrative material, consisting largely of his handmade facsimile. Based on the edition, Łajtar produced a reconstruction of the social, religious, and cultural life of the Christian communities who lived in the Middle Nile Valley, which he placed against the broad background of the medieval history and culture of the eastern Mediterranean. The accuracy of Łajtar’s reconstruction is evidenced by the fact that it is verifiable and applicable for other areas and fields of cultural activity, such as painting. Hence, Łajtar managed to build a broad picture of the life of Christian Nubians from an apparently modest source such as Banganarti inscriptions.
The result of Łajtar’s work on deciphering the Greek and Old Nubian inscriptions from Banganarti is the book A Late Christian Pilgrimage Centre in Nubia: The Evidence of Wall Inscriptions in the Upper Church at Banganarti, published in 2020 by the renowned Peeters Publishers based in Leuven, Belgium. An exemplary publication, meeting the highest standards of clarity, accuracy, and accessibility, the book is an important contribution to the study of Nubian Greek, Old Nubian, Christian Nubia’s literary culture, Nile Valley Christians’ religiosity, Kingdom of Makuria’s history, and more generally, the history of the Eastern Christian Churches.
Photo: Magdalena Wiśniewska-Krasińska_FNP ArchivesBack