->"Too late, too late to save him. In vain, in vain, they tried. His life was England's glory, his death was England's pride."
-->Music Hall song eulogizing Charles Gordon
Also called the Mahdist War or the Mahdist Revolt. Read on to see why.
In 1881, a religious leader in Sudan named Muhammad Ahmad declared himself the ''Mahdi,'' the expected redeemer and purifier of the Islamic faith before TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt. He led a successful rebellion against the Egyptian government (since 1882 was under the control of UsefulNotes/TheBritishEmpire), astounding the world by defeating technological superior forces with just spears and lances. By 1884, the British government sent the renowned soldier and explorer Charles George Gordon to oversee the evacuation of Anglo-Egyptian troops from Sudan, but the Mahdists holed him up in Khartoum for ten months. The world eagerly awaited news from the besieged Gordon, but expeditions sent to relieve him were held up on the Nile and by the time they reached Khartoum, it had fallen and Gordon killed by the Mahdi.
This disaster sent shockwaves through the British government, causing QueenVicky to send a StronglyWordedLetter to Prime Minister UsefulNotes/WilliamGladstone chastising him for failing to act in time. However, a crisis in India caused Britain to withdraw its troops from the Sudan before they could recapture Khartoum. The Mahdi died several months later, but his successor the Khalifa remained in power, engaging Anglo-Egyptian forces in a low-level conflict for the next decade. The fighting also spread to Sudan's neighbors, including Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Italian Eritrea and the Belgian Congo.
In 1896, the British sent a force under Horatio Kitchener to reclaim Sudan. This force was victorious at Omdurman in 1898, claiming revenge for Gordon's death 13 years earlier. This expedition included a relatively unknown solider with some political ambitions named UsefulNotes/WinstonChurchill, who published the first exhaustive history of the war. The Sudan afterwards became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium, jointly ruled by those countries until achieving independence in 1956.
!!This conflict contained examples of:
* AntiClimax: The British never got to take revenge on the Mahdi personally, because he died of natural causes six months after the Battle of Khartoum.
* ApocalypticLog: Gordon's letters during the siege, which were smuggled out just before the city fell.
* BigBad: To the British, the Mahdi was this. However, according to UsefulNotes/WinstonChurchill, Islam was the real BigBad.
* BunnyEarsLawyer: Gordon had a tremendously charismatic personality and field presence. He was respected by both Europeans and Arabs as a figure almost larger-than-life. He was also incredibly eccentric, insubordinate, and impossible to work with. His religious mysticism had something to do with it, as he literally believed he was on a MissionFromGod.
* CallingTheHeroOut: Winston Churchill does this in his history of the war. He criticizes Kitchener's decision to dig up the Mahdi's body and cut off his head as excessive and disrespectful.
* TheCavalryArrivesLate: The steamers didn't arrive in time to save Gordon.
* CelibateHero: Gordon is a famous real-life example. Though historians have often speculated about his sexuality, his writings indicate the topic simply didn't interest him, which considering the code of gentility at the time is understandable. Gordon was popularly considered a homosexual, most notably by the Kray gangsters who invoked him as a hero.
* ChekhovsGunman: A young intelligence officer named Horatio Kitchener relayed messages to and from General Gordon during the Siege of Khartoum. He returned a decade later at the head of an army.
* ComplainingAboutRescuesTheyDontLike: Gordon was furious when he heard the press calling Wolseley's army "the Gordon Relief Expedition." He [[InsistentTerminology insisted]] it was for "the relief of the Sudan garrisons" instead, saying he would not leave Khartoum unless it was secured.
* CrapsackWorld: Life under the Mahdi and his successors wasn't fun. If you weren't killed in the regime's constant wars with its neighbors, there's a good chance you were chronically overtaxed, enslaved, imprisoned for trivial reasons, or dying of famine or disease (several failed harvests occurred during the 1880s, with catastrophic results). There was also a mini-genocide of the Sudan's Christian population. It's estimated that ''two-thirds'' of the Sudan's population died between 1881 and 1898.
* CurbStompBattle: The destruction of the Hicks Column by the Mahdi in 1883; Valentin Baker's Egyptian gendarmerie met a similar fate at Tel-el-Kabr a year later. Most of his early battles are like this.
** Paid back with *massive* interest to the Madhists at the Battle of Omdurman, where most of the Mahdi's forces were wiped out by machine guns and artillery before they got anywhere near the British lines.
** [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_Agordat Every time]] [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Serodeti they attacked]] [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Battle_of_Agordat Italian-held Eritrea]], and [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kassala the one time the Italians decided to pay them a visit]].
* DarkMessiah: It's hard to think of a more fitting description for The Madhi.
* DueToTheDead: Kitchener's disrespect toward the Madhi's remains would provoke a CallingTheHeroOut on the part of Winston Churchill.
* TheEmpire: UsefulNotes/TheBritishEmpire and the Madhists.
* FakeDefector: Austrian general Rudolph Carl von Slatin surrendered to the Mahdi at Darfur and publicly converted to Islam. He lived among the Mahdists for years before escaping and publishing his story just before the deployment of Kitchener to Sudan.
* FromNobodyToNightmare: It took almost three years for the British and Egyptians to take the Mahdi seriously, considering him just a tribal rabble-rouser until he defeated Hicks.
* TheFundamentalist: Both the Mahdi and his followers and Gordon.
* GrayAndGreyMorality: In one corner, the British seeking to control Egypt and the Egyptians themselves perpetuating a corrupt, repressive regime in the Sudan. In the other, the Mahdi establishing a brutal Muslim theocracy that makes the Taliban look like liberal democrats.
* HeroicSacrifice: Gordon.
** As well as the entire Khartoum Garrison
* TheHorde: The stereotype of the Madhists, and one which their tactics played into.
* ICanRuleAlone: The Mahdi did this to Yohannes IV of Ethiopia in response to the latter's alliance offer.
* ImmediateSequel: The 1898 Fashoda Incident resulted directly from the Mahdist Wars. With Sudan "unclaimed" after Gordon's death, the French sent a small expedition under Captain Marchand to stake out the region. Unfortunately Kitchener simultaneously trounced the Mahdists at Omdurman and then sent a detachment to checkmate Marchand. This nearly precipitated war between Britain and France.
** The war itself is an immediate sequel to Arabi Pasha's Egyptian nationalist revolt of 1881. The resultant turmoil (climaxed by British occupation) weakened Egyptian authority in the Sudan, allowing the Mahdists to gain steam. Further, many of the British players (notably Garnet Wolseley) took part in the Gordon Relief Expedition. Most of Hicks Pasha's ill-fated troops were Arabi supporters press-ganged into the Khedive's service.
* KarmicDeath: The Madhists (who took so much damage invading their neighbors and pissing off non-British-alligned powers like the Italians, King Leopold's Congo Company, and the Ethiopians that when the British returned, they were severely weakened).
** Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV played both sides against each other and tried to make an alliance with the radical Muslim theocrats against the Western imperial powers [[TooDumbToLive in spite of the fact that he was a Christian and said prior playing both sides.]] He wound up being killed by a Madhist invasion soon after.
* LaResistance: The Mahdists [[TheRevolutionWillNotBeCivilized thought of themselves as this]] [[TheEmpire at first.]]
* LeeroyJenkins: What's the surest way to ensure your new country has a short shelf life? Pick a fight with ''every single one'' of your neighbors. By the time Kitchener returned in 1898, the Mahdists had alienated everyone who might conceivably have opposed Britain's conquest of the Sudan: Belgium, Ethiopia, France, Italy.
** In fact the only reason Italy (that was begging for any excuse to expand in Africa) and Ethiopia (by then under [[MagnificentBastard Menelik II]]) didn't gang up on the Mahdists after they launched an invasion on the south was that they were too busy fighting each other (even then the Italians ''did'' [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kassala attack once]], and the only reason they didn't do more was that they had their hands full with Menelik).
* MassiveMultiplayerCrossover: The war reads like a CrisisCrossover of UsefulNotes/TheBritishEmpire. It included the participation of characters who were famous before, such as Gordon, Samuel Baker, and Henry Morton Stanley, as well as those who would gain fame from the war like Kitchener. UsefulNotes/WinstonChurchill also makes an appearance.
** Not to mention Sir Garnet Wolseley, "the very model of a [[ThePiratesofPenzance Modern Major General]]."
* MemeticBadass: Charles Gordon gained fame abolishing slavery in the Sudan years before, and he assumed that his mere presence in Khartoum (sans British troops) could unite the Sudanese against the Mahdi. He was surprisingly successful, at least initially. He certainly convinced the British public; it was popular outcry to save Gordon that led Gladstone's government to organize the Gordon Relief Expedition.
* NeverFoundTheBody: Gordon's body was never recovered, but reports held that the Mahdi cut off his head and displayed it as a trophy.
* OccupiersOutOfOurCountry: The rebels' immediate goal.
* OneRiotOneRanger: General Gordon was supposed to achieve this. He failed.
* PlayingBothSides: Attempted by Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV, who tried to make an alliance with the radical Islamists against the Western imperialists in spite of being a Christian, and tried to cut a deal with the Western imperialists against the radical Islamists. In the end the Madhists decided [[WhyDontYouJustShootHim to just stab him with spears.]]
* RagtagBandOfMisfits: The Hicks Pasha expedition, whose agonizing defeat goes to show that this trope isn't always good in RealLife.
* RapePillageAndBurn: What happened to Khartoum after the Mahdi defeated Gordon.
* RealMenLoveJesus: Gordon literally had no fear of death, and actively volunteered for impossible battles because he believed that if he died he would be with God.
* TheRemnant: Emin Pasha, the German-born Governor of Equatoria (South Sudan), held out against the Mahdists until being "rescued" in 1889 by British-backed mercenaries led by Henry Morton Stanley. This being ''four years'' after Gordon's defeat and death.
** On the flip side, a few scattered Mahdists escaped the slaughter at Omdurman, including Abdallahi ibn Muhammad (the Khalifa), the Mahdi's successor. His band of diehards weren't defeated until November 1899, over a year later.
* RockBeatsLaser: Both played straight and subverted. The Mahdi's early victories were accomplished with only primitive armaments, until he found it difficult to besiege the city of El Obeid, whereupon he reversed his edicts prohibiting modern weapons.
* TheSiege: Lasted for 10 months. Did not end well.
* TechnologyMarchesOn (InUniverse): The Mahdi failed to attack the advancing British until they were almost on top of him, because he's been made overconfident by the defeat of Hick's Expedition. He didn't understand how Maxim machine guns, bolt-action rifles and breech-loading artillery were a GameChanger. Neither did he launch raids on the railway being built to supply the British forces, being unaware of just how much a railway can supply.
* TokenEvilTeammate: The other person put in charge of overseeing the evacuation in 1884 was Zubehr Pasha, a notorious slave trader who Gordon had clashed with years earlier.
* TookALevelInBadAss: The Egyptian Army was universally regarded as a joke, which their early defeats by the Mahdists did little to dissuade. By the time of the Omdurman Campaign however, they were a trained, well-armed force that served with distinction under Kitchener.
* VestigialEmpire: The war was triggered by a combination of the Egyptian Khedieve's decay coupled with its attempts to assert control over the region. By the time of Khartoum it was all but a subdivision of the British Empire. Ethiopia also counts, and the splash damage from the conflict was enough to plunge them into a SuccessionCrisis.
* WorthyOpponent: The Mahdi considered Gordon this, even asking him at one point to abandon Khartoum so he wouldn't be killed. Gordon refused. The Mahdi later ordered Gordon captured alive though his soldiers disobeyed.
** The British troops generally respected Mahdist bravery, in part due to their breaking an infantry square at Abu Klea. Kipling even wrote a laudatory poem, "Fuzzy Wuzzy," in tribute.
* YouCantThwartStageOne: The Madhist conquest of the Sudan and probing attacks into pretty much all of its neighbors.
* ZergRush: Standard Madhist practice.
!!Depictions in fiction
* The film ''Khartoum'' starring LaurenceOlivier as the Mahdi and Charlton Heston as Gordon was released in 1966.
* The death of Gordon at Khartoum is mentioned in passing in ''Film/TopsyTurvy'', preceded by a helpful super-imposed title for the benefit of Viewers Who Are Not Geniuses.
* The war is mentioned in both ''Series/DadsArmy'' and ''BlackadderGoesForth,'' as characters in those shows were veterans of the Sudan conflict.
* A. E. W. Mason's novel ''Film/TheFourFeathers'' and its [[TheFilmOfTheBook various film adaptations]] are all set during this war. Oddly, the book takes place between Gordon's death and Kitchener's reconquest, the 1939 version during Kitchener's campaign, the 2002 version during the Gordon Relief Expedition.
* The Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz set his ''Literature/InDesertAndWilderness'' against the backdrop of this war.
* Creator/RudyardKipling wrote about it while it was still ongoing, in his 1890 novel ''TheLightThatFailed''. It, too, was [[TheFilmOfTheBook made into a film]].
* Described in an episode of ''Series/MurdochMysteries'' where UsefulNotes/WinstonChurchill appears as a young man. His disapproval of Kitchener's disrespect for the Mahdi's remains is part of what drives the plot.
* The movie ''Young Winston'' (1972) depicts the Battle of Omdurman.
* Creator/WilburSmith featured the Siege of Khartoum in his novel ''Triumph of the Sun''.