Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity

By Stuart Munro-Hay | Go to book overview

VIII
The Economy

1. POPULATION

An important factor in the economic development of the Aksumite state would have been its demographic history. Kobishchanov ( 1979: 122-5), in his discussion about Aksumite population, somewhat adventurously concluded that the largest towns, including Aksum, were, 'judging by the area they occupied' to be 'numbered in thousands or a few tens of thousands of persons', and that the population of the whole Aksumite kingdom without Arabia and Nubia, was 'at the outside half a million'. This was presumably based on available archaeological evidence. It has been mentioned above that a survey conducted by Joseph Michels in 1974 revealed a concentration of population in the immediate area around Aksum, where he identified eight 'culture historical phases' (Ch. 3: 3). His plans ( Kobishchanov 1979: 24; Michels 1988) show many large and small élite residences, which he identified as belonging to the phases within the Aksumite period, but the entire city plan for any one period is not available. Accordingly, no valid population estimates can be made.

There is in reality little evidence which allows us to even try to estimate Aksumite urban populations. We cannot really judge population from the size of the towns, since their peripheral areas, where we may suppose a considerable number of people would be concentrated in contrast to the probably more sparsely-populated élite areas, were doubtless occupied by impermanent dwellings untraceable without excavation. Though such areas can be partially identified archaeologically by surface collection of sherds and so forth, this has only been done for Aksum, with the results shown on Michels' survey plan. From the chronological point of view, Michels ( 1986) considered that some of the élite residences behind Enda Kaleb dated from a late period in Aksumite history when the capital had been 'reduced to a loose cluster of villages'. In earlier times the town would not have extended so far, and only after much more concentrated archaeological investigation can we expect to assemble an accurate picture of the town's various expansion phases over the centuries. Nevertheless, the general impression of the capital resulting from Michels' survey is of a town of considerable size, containing a corresponding population.

-166-

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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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