Swords Versus Machine Guns: The Lopsided Battle of Omdurman — Part I

Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour


Swords Versus Machine Guns: The Lopsided Battle of Omdurman — Part I

Victorian imperialism reached its apex on 2 September 1898, when the modern British army faced off against an army of poorly equipped Islamic fundamentalists known as Mahdists, and the battle would end the Mahdist War that began in 1881. Even though the war would be officially over the following year in 1899, Omdurman was the defining battle that finally broke the Mahdist back.

But how did the war start?

Imperialism…and Revenge

What caused the British Empire to intervene into Sudan was imperialist monopolism, for other competing powers, like the French, wanted their share in the African land grab and it also appealed to bankers, such as the Rothschilds (a banking family with the largest private fortune in the world in the 19th century), who already invested a substantial amount of money into Egypt and were looking for new lucrative opportunities.

However, this was not how the public saw it. Your average citizens in Britain, who read the Pall Mall Gazette, took to the war with enthusiasm. For them, the subjugation and humiliation of the Sudan would be one of revenge.

In the early 1880s, Sudan became a hotbed of religious revolution. A man by the name of Mahdi, who claimed to be the last in the succession of twelve imans, had branded his own branch of strict Wahabbism and directly challenged the British who occupied Egypt. The army he mustered to wage jihad against the British forces were dervishes, who shaved their heads and wore a simple jibbeh.

A dervish, circa 1860s.

A dervish, circa 1860s. (Public Domain)

In 1883, Col. Williams Hicks led his 10,000 strong Egyptian forces to El Obeid only to be slaughtered by Mahdi’s forces. After a great press outrage by investigative journalist W.T. Stead, the British decided to send General Charles George Gordon.

General Charles George Gordon.

General Charles George Gordon. (Public Domain)

Become a member to read more OR login here

Ancient Origins Quotations