Aksumite Empire

Aksumite Empire

Overview
The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and Ancient India
Ancient India
Ancient India may refer to:* The ancient history of India, which generally includes the ancient history of the Asian Subcontinent, including:*Science and technology in ancient India**Indian mathematics**Astronomy**List of Indian inventions...

 and the Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency
Aksumite currency
Aksumite currency was the first native currency to be issued in Africa without direct control by an outside culture like the Romans or Greeks. It was issued and circulated from the middle of the height of the Kingdom of Aksum under King Endubis around AD 270 until it began its decline in the first...

. The state established its hegemony
Hegemony
Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

 over the declining Kingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush
The native name of the Kingdom was likely kaš, recorded in Egyptian as .The name Kash is probably connected to Cush in the Hebrew Bible , son of Ham ....

 and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.

Under Ezana, Aksum became the first major empire to convert to Christiany, and was named by Mani
Mani (prophet)
Mani , of Iranian origin was the prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion of Late Antiquity which was once widespread but is now extinct...

 as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, Rome
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and China
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

.
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Encyclopedia
The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and Ancient India
Ancient India
Ancient India may refer to:* The ancient history of India, which generally includes the ancient history of the Asian Subcontinent, including:*Science and technology in ancient India**Indian mathematics**Astronomy**List of Indian inventions...

 and the Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency
Aksumite currency
Aksumite currency was the first native currency to be issued in Africa without direct control by an outside culture like the Romans or Greeks. It was issued and circulated from the middle of the height of the Kingdom of Aksum under King Endubis around AD 270 until it began its decline in the first...

. The state established its hegemony
Hegemony
Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

 over the declining Kingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush
The native name of the Kingdom was likely kaš, recorded in Egyptian as .The name Kash is probably connected to Cush in the Hebrew Bible , son of Ham ....

 and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.

Under Ezana, Aksum became the first major empire to convert to Christiany, and was named by Mani
Mani (prophet)
Mani , of Iranian origin was the prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion of Late Antiquity which was once widespread but is now extinct...

 as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, Rome
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and China
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

. In the 7th century the Muslims, who originally converged in Mecca
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

, sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to Aksum, which is known in Islamic history as the First Hijra
Migration to Abyssinia
The migration known as the first Hijarat was made in two groups totalling more than a hundred persons. According to Islamic tradition, eleven male and five female Sahabah, the Muslims who originally converged in Mecca, sought refuge from Quraysh persecution in the Kingdom of Aksum in of in the...

. Its ancient capital is found in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant , also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a chest described in Book of Exodus as solely containing the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed...

 and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.

Historical records


Aksum is mentioned in the 1st century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea or Periplus of the Red Sea is a Greco-Roman periplus, written in Greek, describing navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and India...

as an important market place for ivory
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

, which was exported throughout the ancient world, and states that the ruler of Aksum in the 1st century AD was Zoskales
Zoskales
Zoskales was a king in the Horn of Africa, whose realm is thought to include Axum.The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions him as ruler of the port of Adulis, whose territory extended "from the Moschophagoi ['calf-eaters'] to the rest of Barbaria .....

, who, besides ruling in Aksum also controlled two harbours on the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

: Adulis
Adulis
Adulis or Aduli is an archeological site in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea, about 30 miles south of Massawa. It was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum, located on the coast of the Red Sea. Adulis Bay is named after the port...

 (near Massawa
Massawa
Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa (Ge'ez ምጽዋዕ , formerly ባጽዕ is a city on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea. An important port for many centuries, it was ruled by a succession of polities, including the Axumite Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate,...

) and Avalites (Assab
Assab
Assab is a port city in the Southern Red Sea Region of Eritrea on the west coast of the Red Sea. In 1989, it had a population of 39,600. Assab possesses an oil refinery, which was shut down in 1997 for economic reasons...

) located in Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

. He is also said to have been familiar with Greek literature.

Origins


Aksum was previously thought to have been founded by Semitic
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

 from South Arabia (modern Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

) on the basis of Conti Rossini's theories and prolific work on Ethiopian history—but most scholars now agree that it was an indigenous African development.

Scholars like Stuart Munro-Hay point to the existence of an older D'mt or Da'amot kingdom, prior to any Sabaean migration ca. 4th or 5th c. BC, as well as to evidence of Sabaean immigrants having resided in the region for little more than a few decades. Furthermore, Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

, the ancient Semitic language of Eritrea and Ethiopia, is now known not to have derived from Sabaean
Sabaean language
Sabaean , also known as Himyarite , was an Old South Arabian language spoken in Yemen from c. 1000 BC to the 6th century AD, by the Sabaeans; it was used as a written language by some other peoples of Ancient Yemen, including the Hashidites, Sirwahites, Humlanites, Ghaymanites, Himyarites,...

, and there is evidence of a Semitic speaking presence in Eritrea and Ethiopia at least as early as 2000 BC.

Sabaean influence is now thought to have been minor, limited to a few localities, and disappearing after a few decades or a century, perhaps representing a trading or military colony in some sort of symbiosis or military alliance with the civilization of D'mt or some proto-Aksumite state. Confusingly, there existed an Ethiopian city called Saba in the ancient period that does not seem to have been a Sabaean settlement.

Empire



The Empire of Aksum at its height extended across most of present-day Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

, northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, southern Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

 and northern Sudan
Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

. The capital city of the empire was Aksum, now in northern Ethiopia. Today a smaller community, the city of Aksum was once a bustling metropolis, cultural and economic center. Two hills and two streams lie on the east and west expanses of the city; perhaps providing the initial impetus for settling this area. Along the hills and plain outside the city, the Aksumites had cemeteries with elaborate grave stones called stelae, or obelisk
Obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

s. Other important cities included Yeha
Yeha
Yeha is a town in northern Ethiopia, located in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region. The Central Statistical Agency has not published an estimate for this village's 2005 population.- Archeology :...

, Hawulti-Melazo
Hawulti-Melazo
Hawulti-Melazo is an Aksumite and pre-Aksumite archaeological site in Tigray Region, northern Ethiopia....

, Matara
Matara, Eritrea
Matara is an archaeological site in Eritrea. Situated a few kilometers south of Senafe, it was a major city in the Dʿmt and Aksumite kingdoms. Since Eritrean independence, the National Museum of Eritrea has petitioned the Ethiopian government to return artifacts removed from the site...

, Adulis
Adulis
Adulis or Aduli is an archeological site in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea, about 30 miles south of Massawa. It was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum, located on the coast of the Red Sea. Adulis Bay is named after the port...

, and Qohaito
Qohaito
Qohaito was a pre-Aksumite city that thrived during the Aksumite period. Located over 2,500 meters above sea level in the Debub region of Eritrea, on a high plateau at the very edge of the edge of the great Rift Valley, , Qohaito's ruins have yet to be excavated...

, the last three of which are now in Eritrea.

In the 3rd century, Aksum began interfering in South Arabian affairs, controlling at times the western Tihama region among other areas. It dominated states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, making them pay Aksum a regular tribute. By the late 3rd century it had begun minting its own currency and was named by Mani
Mani (prophet)
Mani , of Iranian origin was the prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion of Late Antiquity which was once widespread but is now extinct...

 as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, Rome
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and China
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

. It converted to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 in 325 or 328 under King Ezana
Ezana of Axum
Ezana of Axum , was ruler of the Axumite Kingdom located in present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, he himself employed the style "king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan"...

 and was the first state ever to use the image of the cross on its coins. By 350, they conquered the Kingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush
The native name of the Kingdom was likely kaš, recorded in Egyptian as .The name Kash is probably connected to Cush in the Hebrew Bible , son of Ham ....

. At its height, Aksum controlled northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

, northern Sudan
Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

, southern Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, Djibouti
Djibouti
Djibouti , officially the Republic of Djibouti , is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east...

, Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, and southern Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

, totalling 1.25 million square kilometers.

Aksum remained a strong empire and trading power until the rise of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 in the 7th century. However, unlike the relations between the Islamic powers and Christian Europe, Aksum, which provided shelter to Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

's early followers, was on good terms with its Islamic neighbors. Nevertheless, as early as 640, Umar ibn al-Khattāb
Umar
`Umar ibn al-Khattāb c. 2 November , was a leading companion and adviser to the Islamic prophet Muhammad who later became the second Muslim Caliph after Muhammad's death....

 sent a naval expedition against Adulis
Adulis
Adulis or Aduli is an archeological site in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea, about 30 miles south of Massawa. It was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum, located on the coast of the Red Sea. Adulis Bay is named after the port...

 under Alkama bin Mujazziz, but it was eventually defeated. Aksumite naval power also declined throughout the period, though in 702 Aksumite pirates were able to invade the Hejaz
Hejaz
al-Hejaz, also Hijaz is a region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia. Defined primarily by its western border on the Red Sea, it extends from Haql on the Gulf of Aqaba to Jizan. Its main city is Jeddah, but it is probably better known for the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina...

 and occupy Jeddah
Jeddah
Jeddah, Jiddah, Jidda, or Jedda is a city located on the coast of the Red Sea and is the major urban center of western Saudi Arabia. It is the largest city in Makkah Province, the largest sea port on the Red Sea, and the second largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital city, Riyadh. The...

. In retaliation, however, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik
Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik
Sulayman bin Abd al-Malik was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 715 until 717. His father was Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, and he was a younger brother of the previous caliph, al-Walid I.-Early years:...

 was able to take the Dahlak Archipelago
Dahlak Archipelago
The Dahlak Archipelago is an island group located in the Red Sea near Massawa, Eritrea. It consists of two large and 124 small islands. The pearl fisheries of the archipelago have been famous since Roman times and still produce a substantial number of pearls. Only four of the islands are...

 from Aksum, which became Muslim from that point on, though later recovered in the 9th century and vassal to the Emperor of Ethiopia
Emperor of Ethiopia
The Emperor of Ethiopia was the hereditary ruler of Ethiopia until the abolition of the monarchy in 1974. The Emperor was the head of state and head of government, with ultimate executive, judicial and legislative power in that country...

.

Decline


Eventually, the Islamic Empire took control of the Red Sea and most of the Nile, forcing Aksum into economic isolation. Northwest of Aksum in modern day Sudan
Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

, the Christian states of Maqurra and Alwa lasted till the 13th century before becoming Islamic. Aksum, isolated, nonetheless still remained Christian.

After a second golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

 in the early 6th century, the empire began to decline, eventually ceasing its production of coins in the early 7th century. Around this same time, the Aksumite population was forced to go farther inland to the highlands for protection. Local history holds that a Jewish Queen named Yodit (Judith) or "Gudit
Gudit
Gudit is a semi-legendary, non-Christian, Beta Israel, queen who laid waste to Axum and its countryside, destroyed churches and monuments, and attempted to exterminate the members of the ruling Axumite dynasty...

" defeated the empire and burned its churches and literature, but while there is evidence of churches being burned and an invasion around this time, her existence has been questioned by some modern authors.

Another possibility is that the Aksumite power was ended by a southern pagan queen named Bani al-Hamwiyah, possibly of the tribe al-Damutah or Damoti (Sidama). After a short Dark Age, the Aksumite Empire was succeeded by the Zagwe dynasty
Zagwe dynasty
The Zagwe dynasty was an historical kingdom in present-day Ethiopia. It ruled large parts of the territory from approximately 1137 to 1270, when the last Zagwe King Za-Ilmaknun was killed in battle by the forces of Yekuno Amlak...

 in the 11th century or 12th century, although limited in size and scope. However, Yekuno Amlak, who killed the last Zagwe king and founded the modern Solomonic dynasty
Solomonic dynasty
The Solomonic dynasty is the Imperial House of Abyssinia. Its members claim lineal descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the latter of whom tradition asserts gave birth to the first King Menelik I after her Biblically described visit to Solomon in Jerusalem .-Overview:The dynasty, a...

 traced his ancestry and his right to rule from the last emperor of Aksum, Dil Na'od
Dil Na'od
Dil Na'od was the last negus of Axum before the Zagwe dynasty of Ethiopia. He lived in either the 9th or 10th century. Dil Na'od was the younger son of Ged'a Jan , and succeeded his older brother 'Anbasa Wedem as negus...

.

Other reasons for the decline are more scientific in nature. Climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 and trade isolation are probably also large reasons for the decline of the culture. Overfarming of the land led to decreased crop yield
Crop yield
In agriculture, crop yield is not only a measure of the yield of cereal per unit area of land under cultivation, yield is also the seed generation of the plant itself...

, which in turn led to decreased food supply. This, in turn with the changing flood pattern of the Nile
Flooding of the Nile
has been an important natal cycle in Egypt since ancient times. It is celebrated by Egyptians as an annual holiday for two weeks starting August 15, known as Wafaa El-Nil. It is also celebrated in the Coptic Church by ceremonially throwing a martyr's relic into the river, hence the name, Esba`...

 and several seasons of drought, would make it less important in the emerging European economy.

Foreign relations, trade and economy



Covering parts of what is now northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 and Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

, Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and the Mediterranean (Rome
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, later Byzantium
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

)), exporting ivory
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

, tortoise shell, gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices. Aksum's access to both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile enabled its strong navy to profit in trade between various African (Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

), Arabian (Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

), and Indian states.

The main exports of Aksum were, as would be expected of a state during this time, agricultural products. The land was much more fertile during the time of the Aksumites than now, and their principal crops were grains such as wheat and barley. The people of Aksum also raised cattle, sheep, and camels. Wild animals were also hunted for things such as ivory and rhinoceros horns. They traded with Roman traders as well as with Egyptian and Persian merchants. The empire was also rich with gold and iron deposits. These metals were valuable to trade, but another mineral was also widely traded. Salt was found richly in Aksum and was traded quite frequently.

It benefited from a major transformation of the maritime trading system that linked the Roman Empire and India
Roman trade with India
Roman trade with India through the overland caravan routes via Anatolia and Persia, though at a relative trickle compared to later times, antedated the southern trade route via the Red Sea and monsoons which started around the beginning of the Common Era following the reign of Augustus and his...

. This change took place around the start of the 1st century. The older trading system involved coastal sailing and many intermediary ports. The Red Sea was of secondary importance to the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 and overland connections to the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

. Starting around 100 BC a route from Egypt to India was established, making use of the Red Sea and using monsoon winds to cross the Arabian Sea
Arabian Sea
The Arabian Sea is a region of the Indian Ocean bounded on the east by India, on the north by Pakistan and Iran, on the west by the Arabian Peninsula, on the south, approximately, by a line between Cape Guardafui in northeastern Somalia and Kanyakumari in India...

 directly to southern India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

. By about 100 AD the volume of traffic being shipped on this route had eclipsed older routes. Roman demand for goods from southern India increased dramatically, resulting in greater number of large ships sailing down the Red Sea from Roman rule in Egypt to the Arabian Sea and India.

The Kingdom of Aksum was ideally located to take advantage of the new trading situation. Adulis
Adulis
Adulis or Aduli is an archeological site in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea, about 30 miles south of Massawa. It was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum, located on the coast of the Red Sea. Adulis Bay is named after the port...

 soon became the main port for the export of African goods, such as ivory, incense, gold, slaves, and exotic animals. In order to supply such goods the kings of Aksum worked to develop and expand an inland trading network. A rival, and much older trading network that tapped the same interior region of Africa was that of the Kingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush
The native name of the Kingdom was likely kaš, recorded in Egyptian as .The name Kash is probably connected to Cush in the Hebrew Bible , son of Ham ....

, which had long supplied Egypt with African goods via the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 corridor. By the 1st century AD, however, Aksum had gained control over territory previously Kushite. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea explicitly describes how ivory collected in Kushite territory was being exported through the port of Adulis instead of being taken to Meroë
Meroë
Meroë Meroitic: Medewi or Bedewi; Arabic: and Meruwi) is an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile about 6 km north-east of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, approximately 200 km north-east of Khartoum. Near the site are a group of villages called Bagrawiyah...

, the capital of Kush. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Kingdom of Aksum continued to expand their control of the southern Red Sea basin. A caravan route to Egypt was established which bypassed the Nile corridor entirely. Aksum succeeded in becoming the principal supplier of African goods to the Roman Empire, not least as a result of the transformed Indian Ocean trading system.

Society


The Aksumite population consisted of Semitic
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

-speaking people (collectively known as Habeshas
Habesha people
The term Habesha ābešā, Ḥābešā; al-Ḥabašah) refers to the South Semitic-speaking group of people whose cultural, linguistic, and in certain cases, ancestral origins trace back to those people who ruled the Axumite Empire and the kingdom known as DʿMT .Peoples referred to as "Habesha" today...

), Cushitic
Cushitic languages
The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family spoken in the Horn of Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. They are named after the Biblical character Cush, who was identified as an ancestor of the speakers of these specific languages as early as AD 947...

-speaking people, and Nilo-Saharan
Nilo-Saharan languages
The Nilo-Saharan languages are a proposed family of African languages spoken by some 50 million people, mainly in the upper parts of the Chari and Nile rivers , including historic Nubia, north of where the two tributaries of Nile meet...

-speaking people (the Kunama
Kunama people
The Kunama are a Nilotic people living in Eritrea and Ethiopia. 80% of Kunamas live in Eritrea yet make up only 2 percent of the population of Eritrea, where they are one of the smallest ethnic groups. Most of the estimated 100,000 Kunama live in the remote and isolated area between the Gash and...

 and Nara
Nara people
The Nara are a Nilotic ethnic group living in Eritrea and make up less than 1% of the population. The Nara people are generally Muslim, with a few still practicing their indigenous beliefs. The Nara name means "Sky Heaven" and Speak a language called Nara-Bana, which means "Nara-Talk". The Nara are...

).

The Aksumite kings had the official title ነገሠ ፡ ነገሠተ ngś ngśt - King of Kings (later vocalization Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

 ንጉሠ ፡ ነገሥት nigūśa nagaśt, Modern Ethiosemitic
Ethiopian Semitic languages
Ethiopian Semitic is a language group, which together with Old South Arabian forms the Western branch of the South Semitic languages. The languages are spoken in both Ethiopia and Eritrea...

 nigūse negest).

Aksumites did own slaves, and a modified feudal system was in place to farm the land.

Culture



The Empire of Aksum is notable for a number of achievements, such as its own alphabet, the Ge'ez alphabet
Ge'ez alphabet
Ge'ez , also called Ethiopic, is a script used as an abugida for several languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea but originated in an abjad used to write Ge'ez, now the liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Church...

 which was eventually modified to include vowels, becoming an abugida
Abugida
An abugida , also called an alphasyllabary, is a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is obligatory but secondary...

. Furthermore, in the early times of the empire, around 1700 years ago, giant Obelisks to mark emperor's (and nobles') tombs (underground grave chambers) were constructed, the most famous of which is the Obelisk of Aksum.

Under Emperor Ezana
Ezana of Axum
Ezana of Axum , was ruler of the Axumite Kingdom located in present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, he himself employed the style "king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan"...

, Aksum adopted Christianity in place of its former polytheistic and Judaic religions around 325. This gave rise to the present day Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the predominant Oriental Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Church was administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959, when it was granted its own Patriarch by Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All...

 (only granted autonomy from the Coptic Church in 1959), and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church
The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church. Its autocephaly was recognised by Pope Shenouda III after Eritrea gained its independence in 1993.-Origins:...

 (granted autonomy from the Ethiopian Orthodox church in 1993). Since the schism with orthodoxy following the Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 (451), it has been an important Miaphysite church, and its scriptures and liturgy
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 continue to be in Ge'ez.

It was a cosmopolitan state. Culturally, it was a meeting place for a variety of people: Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

n, Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian, Sudan
Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

ic, Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

ic, and India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n. The largest cities of the realm had Sabean, Jewish, Nubian, Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

, and even Buddhist minorities.

Religion




Before its conversion to Christianity the Aksumites practiced a polytheistic religion. Astar was the main god of the pre-Christian Aksumites; his son, Mahrem, was to whom the kings of Aksum traced their lineage. Around AD 324 the King Ezana II was converted by his slave-teacher Frumentius, the founder of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Frumentius taught the emperor while he was young, and at some point staged the conversion of the empire. We know that the Aksumites converted to Christianity because in their coins they replaced the disc and crescent with the cross. Frumentius was in contact with the Church in Alexandria and was appointed Bishop of Ethiopia circa 330. The Church of Alexandria never reined Aksum in tightly, rather allowing its own form of Christianity to develop; however it did retain some influence and the Ethiopian Church followed the Coptic Church of Alexandria into Monophysitism
Monophysitism
Monophysitism , or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Jesus Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity...

 after the Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

. Aksum is also the alleged home of the holy relic the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is said to have been placed in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
The Church of Our Virgin Mary of Zion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most important church in Ethiopia...

 by Menelik I for safekeeping.

Coinage



The Empire of Aksum was the first African polity economically and politically ambitious enough to issue its own coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s, which bore legends in Ge'ez and Greek. From the reign of Endubis up to Armah (approximately 270 to 610), gold, silver and bronze coins were minted. Issuing coinage in ancient times was an act of great importance in itself, for it proclaimed that the Aksumite Empire considered itself equal to its neighbors. Many of the coins are used as signposts about what was happening when they were minted. An example being the addition of the cross to the coin after the conversion of the empire to Christianity. The presence of coins also simplified trade, and was at once a useful instrument of propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 and a source of profit to the empire.

Stelae



The Stelae are perhaps the most identifiable part of the Aksumite legacy. These stone towers served to mark graves or represent a magnificent building. The largest of these towering obelisks would measure 33 meters high had it not fallen. The Stelae have most of their mass out of the ground, but are stabilized by massive underground counter-weights. The stone was often engraved with a pattern or emblem denoting the king's or the noble's rank.

In fiction


The Aksumite Empire is portrayed as the main ally of Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 in the Belisarius series
Belisarius series
The Belisarius Series is a fictional saga in the alternate history and military history sub-genres of science fiction, written by American authors David Drake and Eric Flint...

 by David Drake
David Drake
David Drake is an American author of science fiction and fantasy literature. A Vietnam War veteran who has worked as a lawyer, he is now one of the premier authors of the military science fiction subgenre.-Biography:...

 and Eric Flint
Eric Flint
Eric Flint is an American author, editor, and e-publisher. The majority of his main works are alternate history science fiction, but he also writes humorous fantasy adventures.- Career :...

 published by Baen Books
Baen Books
Baen Books is an American publishing company established in 1983 by long time science fiction publisher and editor Jim Baen. It is a science fiction and fantasy publishing house that emphasizes space opera, hard science fiction, military science fiction, and fantasy...

. The series takes place during the reign of Kaleb
Kaleb of Axum
Kaleb is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum. Procopius of Caesarea calls him "Hellestheaeus", a variant of his throne name Ella Atsbeha or Ella Asbeha...

, who in the series was assassinated by the Malwa in 532 at the Ta'akha Maryam and succeeded by his youngest son Eon bisi Dakuen.

In Elizabeth Wein's series The Lion Hunters, Mordred
Mordred
Mordred or Modred is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his...

 and his family take refuge in Aksum after the fall of Camelot
Camelot
Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world...

. Kaleb
Kaleb of Axum
Kaleb is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum. Procopius of Caesarea calls him "Hellestheaeus", a variant of his throne name Ella Atsbeha or Ella Asbeha...

 is the ruler in the first book; he passes his sovereignty onto his son Gebre Meskal, who rules during the Plague of Justinian
Plague of Justinian
The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic that afflicted the Eastern Roman Empire , including its capital Constantinople, in 541–542 AD. It was one of the greatest plagues in history. The most commonly accepted cause of the pandemic is bubonic plague, which later became infamous for either causing or...

.

External links