The one Sudanese to achieve world renown in modern history was the Mahdi (Muhammad Ahmad bin 'Abdallah, 1843–85), who set out on a self-appointed mission to purify Islam, a mission he hoped would carry him ultimately to Istanbul and to the apex of the Muslim world. Under his banner, the people of Sudan rose against their Egyptian overlords and for over a decade kept most of their country free from foreign rule. The Mahdi died shortly after the seizure of Khartoum. His able but harsh successor, the Khalifa ('Abdallah bin Muhammad at-Ta'a'ishi, d.1899), organized an independent government, which lasted until 1898, when an Anglo-Egyptian expeditionary corps reconquered Sudan.
The Mahdist wars provided the background for the exploits of famous British soldiers and administrators, among them generals Charles George Gordon (1833–85), Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850–1916), and Sir Francis Reginald Wingate (1861–1953), the first governor-general of the condominium, as well as other foreign officers and explorers in the service of Egypt, such as the Italian Romolo Gessi (1831–81), the German Emin Pasha (Eduard Carl Oscar Theodor Schnitzer, 1840–92), the American Charles Chaillé-Long (1842–1917), and the Austrian Sir Rudolf Carl von Slatin (1857–1932).
Osman Digna ('Uthnab Abu Bakr Digna, c. 1840–1926), an organizer and leader of the Mahdist armies, and Sayyid 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Mahdi (1885–1959), posthumous son of the Mahdi, are revered by Sudanese. The most influential figure in recent years was Gaafar Mohammed Nimeiri (Ja'far Muhammad Numayri, b.1930), leader of Sudan from the 1969 coup until 1985. Sadiq al-Mahdi (b. 1936) was prime minister during 1966– 67 and 1985–87.