Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity

By Stuart Munro-Hay | Go to book overview

VI
The Civil Administration

1. THE RULERS.

The government of Aksum, as far as can be discerned, was administered through a pyramid of authority expanding as it passed from the king to the lower echelons. There is some slight evidence that at times there may have been two kings reigning comtemporaneously (Ch. 7: 3), but in such a case one of them would have presumably been recognised as pre-eminent. The structure of power appears to have been that of an absolute monarchy, with a form of kingship implying a semi-divine ruler, and with the king's immediate family retaining important supportive military and administrative posts. At the next level were provincial governors or chiefs and sub-kings.

What information we have concerning the theory of government, and the working of the administration and other government functions is episodic, and we may assume that over the centuries the machinery of government did not remain static, but was subject to gradual changes as situations altered. One of the more important changes must have occurred with the acceptance of Christianity. The pre-Christian kings whose inscriptions have come down to us called themselves 'son of the invincible god Mahrem', the royal tutelary deity, and thus asserted their own claim to divine honours; they may also have been high-priests of the state cult. This semi-divine status, though implicitly abandoned by the Christian kings -- or at least transformed by the anointing and coronation rituals -- seems to have lost them little if any authority, since they remained the de facto heads of their own church; one of the advantages of having the titular head of the church in far-away Alexandria (Ch. 10: 2). Ezana, the first Christian king, in order to keep the customary protocol intact in an inscription (Ch. 11: 5, DAE 11) simply replaced the divine filiation with his own real filiation 'son of Ella Amida, never defeated by the enemy'.

Various stratagems were employed to keep power vested in the royal family. This appears to have also included female members of the ruling dynasty, since Rufinus (ed. Migne 1849) tells us that the dowager queen acted as regent during Ezana's minority. If the theory suggested by de Blois ( 1984) is valid, the royal wives may have been chosen from the chief clans of the country, thus encouraging their support for the regime. Those royal wives who became the mothers of future kings, would pass on to their sons the

-144-

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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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