Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity

By Stuart Munro-Hay | Go to book overview

XVI
The British Institute in Eastern Africa's Excavations at Aksum

This final chapter is based on a talk given by the author to the Society of Antiquaries of London in October 1987, designed more or less to coincide with the publication of the report on the excavations undertaken for the BIEA by Dr. Neville Chittick at Aksum from 1972-1974. Chittick's untimely death in 1984 prevented him from writing a fuller account than his Preliminary Report of 1974, but this task was undertaken by the present author, and has now been published ( Munro-Hay 1989). Since the last major book on Aksumite archaeology appeared before the First World War ( Littmann 1913), new studies based on archaeological excavation are long overdue. In addition, the architectural, numismatic, chronological and general cultural information revealed by Chittick's excavations has radically changed the impression gained of Aksum and its civilisation through previously published material, and it is evidently useful to recapitulate some of the main points here. Some of this material has been mentioned in previous chapters, but is here described all together within the context of the two main archaeological campaigns of 1973 and 1974.

The BIEA excavations which Chittick directed were on a large scale, and there was a great deal of information to sift through. The result is that we have not only a much clearer picture of many facets of Aksumite life, but also valuable indications towards a chronology, one of the perennial problems in Aksumite studies. As usual, more information produces more problems; we cannot claim to have more than begun to solve them, but a good deal of progress has been made, and the general schema of Aksumite history presented by this book has greatly benefited from Chittick's work.

The excavations explored a large number of sites in and around present- day Aksum. The archaeology of these is fully described in Munro-Hay 1989. The location of the most important sites was as follows.

The easternmost sites excavated were those flanking or near to the superstructure covering the so-called Tombs of Kaleb and Gabra Masqal. Next to the west were a number of stele sites, called Geza 'Agmai (GA), 'Enda Yesus (EY), and Ghele Emmi (GE). In the eastern central part of the town the site DA revealed the Tomb of the Brick Arches, and many trenches were laid out around the Stele Park (ST) to investigate and to try to date the stelae. Among

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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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