Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity

By Stuart Munro-Hay | Go to book overview

IV
Aksumite History

A useful divison for the study of the history of Aksum, in our present state of knowledge, is to separate the historical sequence into a number of periods based as far as possible on the coinage. The latter (Ch. 9) is the best criterion we have for suggesting a chronology. Since the history of Aksum obviously overlaps the issue of the coinage at both ends, the following divisions have been employed.

Pre-Aksumite. Northern Ethiopia before the rise of Aksum.

1. Early Aksum until the reign of Gadarat. 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

2. Gadarat to the first issues of coinage under Endubis. 3rd century AD until c 270.

3. The Pagan Kings; Endubis to Ezana. c 270 -- c 330 AD.

4. Ezana (after his conversion) to Kaleb. c. 330 -- c 520 AD.

5. Kaleb to the end of the coinage. c 520 -- early seventh century AD.

6. The Post-Aksumite period. From the early seventh century AD.

The period begins with the reign of Ashama ibn Abjar and continues until the accession of the Zagwé dynasty c. 1137.


I. THE PRE-AKSUMITE PERIOD.

This period is not of major concern to us here, and in any case we have very little information about it; but some consideration should be given to the situation in Ethiopia before the rise of Aksum, since the source of at least some of the characteristics of the later Aksumite civilisation can be traced to this earlier period. Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon in this respect is that by around the middle of the first millenium BC -- a date cautiously suggested, using palaeographical information ( Pirenne 1956; Drewes 1962: 91), but possibly rather too late in view of new discoveries in the Yemen ( Fattovich 1989: 16-17) which may even push it back to the eighth century BC -- some sort of contact, apparently quite close, seems to have been maintained between Ethiopia and South Arabia. This developed to such an extent that in not a few places in Ethiopia the remains of certain mainly religious or funerary installations, some of major importance, with an unmistakeable South Arabian appearance in many details, have been excavated. Among the sites are Hawelti-Melazo, near Aksum ( de Contenson 1961 ii), the

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Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Chronological Chart. vii
  • I- Introduction 1
  • II- Legend, Literature and Archaeological Discovery 9
  • III- The City and the State 30
  • IV- Aksumite History 61
  • V- The Capital City 104
  • VI- The Civil Administration 144
  • VII- The Monarchy 150
  • VIII- The Economy 166
  • IX- The Coinage 180
  • X- Religion 196
  • XI- Warfare 214
  • XII- Material Culture; the Archaeological Record 233
  • XIII- Language, Literature, and the Arts 244
  • XIV- Society and Death 252
  • XV- The Decline of Aksum 258
  • XVI- The British Institute in Eastern Africa's Excavations At Aksum 265
  • Bibliography 270
  • Index 285
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