Saturday 8 October 2016

Aksumite Empire of Ethiopia

The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was a trading nation in Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia. It existed from approximately 100–940 CE. It grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period c. 4th century BCE to achieve prominence by the 1st century CE, and was a major player in the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India.

The Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own Aksumite currency, the state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush(now Republic of Sudan) and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom(kingdom in ancient Yemen). 

Aksumite currency

The Persian Prophet Mani regarded Axum as third of the four greatest powers of his time after Persia and Rome, with China being the fourth.

Persian Prophet Mani

The Axumites erected a number of large stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. These stone towers served to mark graves and represent a magnificent multi-storied palace. 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.

Aksum obelisk

Under Ezana (fl. 320–360) Aksum adopted Christianity. The Ezana Stone records negus Ezana's conversion to Christianity and his subjugation of various neighboring peoples, including MeroĆ«. In the 7th century, early Muslims from Mecca also sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom, a journey known in Islamic history as the First Hijra.

The Ezana Stone

Its ancient capital, also called Aksum, was in northern Ethiopia Tigray as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant in Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba. The Ark of the Covenant is a gold-covered wooden chest described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. According to various texts within the Hebrew Bible, it also contained Aaron's rod and a pot of manna. 

Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Ethiopia

The Queen of Sheba is a Biblical figure. The tale of her visit to King Solomon has undergone extensive Jewish, Arabian, and Ethiopian elaborations, and has become the subject of one of the most widespread and fertile cycles of legends in the Orient.

Queen of Sheeba

Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean(Rome, later Byzantium), exporting ivory, 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), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states.

The Aksumite population consisted of Semitic-speaking people (collectively known as Habeshas), Cushitic-speaking people, and Nilo-Saharan-speaking people (the Kunama and Nara). Aksumites did own slaves, and a modified feudal system was in place to farm the land.

Axumite Menhir in Balaw Kalaw (Metera) near Senafe

In general, elite Aksumite buildings such as palaces were constructed atop podia built of loose stones held together with mud-mortar, with carefully cut granite corner blocks which rebated back a few centimeters at regular intervals as the wall got higher, so the walls narrowed as they rose higher. Palaces usually consisted of a central pavilion surrounded by subsidiary structures pierced by doors and gates that provided some privacy (see Dungur for an example). The largest of these structures now known is the Ta'akha Maryam. 

Aksum remained a strong, though weakened, empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the 7th century. 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, the Christian states of Makuria and Alodia lasted till the 13th century before becoming Islamic. Aksum, isolated, nonetheless still remained Christian.

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