The story of Sudan and the Mahdi during the scramble for Africa is one of the epic stories in the history of Africa. It features two extremist figures who cast themselves as deliverers, Messianic figures for their own side of the struggle.

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The man who proclaimed himself as Islam’s Mahdi triggered revolt and confrontation with the British in the Sudan.

sudan and the mahdi
Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi

General Charles Gordon represented the best of Victorian-era Britain and was one of Queen Victoria’s favorite generals. His stand and fall at Khartoum was used to justify many British incursions into Africa after the fact.

general charles gordon
by Lady Julia Abercromby, watercolour, posthumous

This famous sketch mythologized the death of General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi’s insurgents as they stormed Khartoum.

sudan and the mahdi
General Charles G. Gordon is standing on the stairs of his house about to be speared by dervishes. Etching by H. Dicksee after G. W. Joy.

Find more of our episodes on the History of Africa podcast series here.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at