Kingdom of Axum (AD 1-700)

Posted: May 25, 2016 in Ethiopia - the Secret of Africa
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One of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world was the unique African civilisation of Aksum. The kingdom was very conveniently located at a very important ‘crossroad’. To the north lay Egypt and to the west one could find the rich, gold-producing lowlands. In present-day Eritrea, then part of Aksum, was the port of Adulis – from where very extensive trading routes started, including Egypt, the Mediterranean, India and Sri Lanka. The Aksumite kingdom boomed. Aksum also benefited from its well-watered agricultural lands, which were further developed by the use of well-designed dams and wells.

But the kingdom’s greatest assets were its natural resources: incense, grain, animal skins, and most importantly: ivory. In those days there was a great deal of wildlife, and the region was rich with elephant.

Products that came back from Egypt, Arabia and India were: dyed cloaks, glassware, wine, olive oil and iron for making spears, swords and axes.

In its most powerful period, the kingdom of Axum stretched out east across the Red Sea into large parts of southern Arabia, and west into the Sudanese Nile valley. The Axumite society was rich, well organised and technically and artistically advanced. During this period coins of bronze, silver and gold were used as means of payment, extraordinary monuments were built – which can still be admired in Aksum today – and most importantly for future Ethiopia: Christianity was introduced.

Historians are not certain of how Christianity came and spread exactly, but it seems that with the many merchants coming ashore for trade, the first Christians came as well. What ís certain is that Christianity became the state religion in the beginning of the 4th century.

By the end of the 5th century, many well known monasteries in the north such as Debre Damo, were established by the Greek speaking Nine Saints. In this period, the bible was translated from Greek into Ge’ez. The Christian religion has had (and still has) a great influence on the country, shaping not only its spiritual and intellectual life, but also its cultural and social life (art and literature).

In the year 615, the prophet Mohammed, founder of the Islam, sent a number of his followers to Ethiopia. At Aksum, they were shown hospitality and relations between the religions were good for many years.

But then the Islam began to expand and fortunes rose and the Arabs became the new masters of the Red Sea. Little by little, Aksum became isolated: trade and economy went down and it was obvious that Aksum’s commercial domination of the region was over.

Up to this day however, Aksum has remained a religious and spiritual capital in the eyes of Ethiopia’s Christian population.

 

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