Aksum, ancient empire in Ethiopia

Stela van Koning Remhai. Foto Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

The Aksumite Empire lay mainly in what is today Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia. Even today the remains of the enormous stone pillars and buildings which are still visible fire the imagination. The empire flourished from 80 BC until 825 AD. The emperors of Aksum saw themselves as being superior to all other kings and gave themselves all sorts of names such as Emperors of Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Salhen, Tsiyamo, Bejar and of Kush. Aksum was their capital city and played a key role on the trade routes between the Roman Empire and ancient India. The most important products were scents and spices.

Since 1980 Aksum has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The prophet Mani (3rd century AD) wrote that Aksum (or Axum) was one of the four greatest empires at that time, together with Persia, Rome and China.

Aksum Foto Francesco Bandarin [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0-igo)]

The Aksumites erected many tall stone pillars which probably had a religious significance. One of these granite pillars is 30 metres high and is the largest of its kind in the world. The pillars predate Christianity, which was first brought to Aksum by Ezana (320 -360 AD) who embraced the new religion..

Ruins in Aksum. Photo. Giustino [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

At its zenith, the empire stretched from the old capital at Axum as far as parts of today’s Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It was said that the Ark of the Covenant stood in Aksum, and also that the city was the home of the famous Queen of Sheba.

Aksum. Foto Rod Waddington (Flickr)

End of an empire

After the 7th century prosperity came to an end relatively quickly when the trade routes were severed, first by the Persians and then by the rise of Islam in Arabia. The empire was forced back to the west coast of the Red Sea, where piracy was rife. A dark period followed from the 8th to the early 12th century when a new dynasty came to power, the Zagwe. Although the centre of power shifted further south, Aksum still played a ceremonial role as the city of the Ethiopian kings. Her religious importance also remained secure through the alleged presence of the Ark of the Covenant in the cathedral of Maria of Zion. (Source Wikipedia)

Translation     Alun Harvey


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