Date:

The Kingdom of Aksum – Africa’s lost Empire

The Aksumite Empire was an ancient kingdom that existed in Ethiopia from AD 100 to 940.

Centred on the ancient city of Axum/Aksum, the nation grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period around 400 BC to its height around the 1st century AD.

- Advertisement -

At this time, the empire extended across most of present-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemem and even Saudi Arabia.

Aksum became a major commercial player in the trade routes between the Roman Empire (Later the Byzantine Empire), India and the Mediterranean – exporting ivory, tortoiseshell, gold, emeralds and minerals.

The Manichaein Prophet Mani (AD 216 – 274) even regarded Axum as one of the four great powers of his time, alongside Persia, Rome, and China.

Diachronic map showing pre-colonial cultures of Africa, spanning roughly 500 BC to AD 1500. (Aksum, shown in magenta) – Image Credit: Jeff Israel

Aksumite Culture

- Advertisement -

The Empire’s population was a mix of Semitic speaking people or Habeshas, Cushitic speaking people and the Nilo-Saharan speaking people.

Despite the linguistic complexities, Aksum developed its own alphabetic system called the Ge’ez script (also known as Ethiopic) that was later modified to include vowels, becoming an abugida segmental writing system.

The Empire practised a polytheistic and Judaic religion, possibly worshipping gods such as Astar, Beher, Meder/Medr, and Mahrem, but later adopted Christianity around AD 325  under the Emperor Ezana.

The wealth of Aksum was certainly represented in the architectural legacy of the Empire, from the giant Stelae obelisks to the ornate palaces left behind.

The stelae served to mark graves, often decorated with false doors and windows to represent a magnificent multi-storied palace. The largest of these towers discovered would have measured 33 metres high and was held up by massive underground counterweights.

Decline

After a second golden age in the early 6th century, the empire began to decline, eventually ceasing its production of coins in the early 7th century. Around this same time, the Aksumite population was forced to go farther inland to the highlands for protection, abandoning Axum/Aksum as the capital.

Eventually, the Islamic Empire took control of the Red Sea and most of the Nile, pushing Aksum into economic isolation. As international profits from the exchange network it had developed over centuries declined, Aksum lost its ability to control its own raw material sources and that network collapsed.

The pressure maintaining a large population meant a high level of regional food production had to be intensified. The result was a wave of soil erosion that began on a local scale c. 650 and attained catastrophic proportions after AD 700.

The Aksumite Empire ended with the last King, Dil Na’od who was defeated by his former General Mara Takla Haymanot who founded the Agaw Zagwe dynasty.

According to legend, a son of Dil Na’od fled in exile, until his descendants overthrew the Zagwe dynastic rulers and re-established the Solomonic dynasty around AD 1270.

The end of the Aksumite Empire didn’t mean the end of Aksumite culture and traditions; the architecture of the Zagwe dynasty at Lalibela and Yemrehana Krestos Church shows heavy Aksumite influence.

Header Image Credit : schizoform – CC BY 2.0

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Revolutionary war barracks discovered at Colonial Williamsburg

Archaeologists excavating at Colonial Williamsburg have discovered a barracks for soldiers of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.

Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought

Archaeologists have found that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Groundbreaking study reveals new insights into chosen locations of pyramids’ sites

A groundbreaking study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, has revealed why the largest concentration of pyramids in Egypt were built along a narrow desert strip.

Soldiers’ graffiti depicting hangings found on door at Dover Castle

Conservation of a Georgian door at Dover Castle has revealed etchings depicting hangings and graffiti from time of French Revolution.

Archaeologists find Roman villa with ornate indoor plunge pool

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Cultural Heritage have uncovered a Roman villa with an indoor plunge pool during excavations at the port city of Durrës, Albania.

Archaeologists excavate medieval timber hall

Archaeologists from the University of York have returned to Skipsea in East Yorkshire, England, to excavate the remains of a medieval timber hall.

Archaeologists find traces of Gloucester’s medieval castle

Archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology have uncovered traces of Gloucester’s medieval castle in Gloucester, England.

Treasure hoard associated with hermit conman found in Świętokrzyskie Mountains

A treasure hoard associated with Antoni Jaczewiczar, a notorious hermit, conman, and false prophet, has been discovered in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains in south-central Poland.