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IV.Foreign Relations, Trade and Economy
Palaces, stelae and Tombs
VIII.Adewa mountains and emperor Yohanes II
The Kingdom of Aksum also known as the Aksumite
Empire, was a trading nation in the area of Eritrea and
northern Ethiopia, which existed from approximately 100–
940 AD. It grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period.
4th century BC to achieve standing by the 1st century AD,
and was a major player in the commerce between the
Roman Empire and Ancient India. The Aksumite rulers
facilitated trade by minting their own currency.
The Axumites erected a number of large stelae, which served
a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. One of these
granite columns is the largest such structure in the world.
Under Ezana (320–360) Aksum adopted Christianity. In the 7th
century, early Muslims from Mecca also sought refuge from
Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom, a journey
known in Islamic history as the First Hegira. The Kingdom
used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century. It is also
the invented resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the
supposed home of the Queen of Sheba.
Aksum was previously thought to have been founded by
Semitic-speaking. Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from
South Arabia (modern Yemen) on the basis of Conti Rossini's
theories and abundant work on Ethiopian history, but most
scholars now agree that it was an indigenous development.
Scholars like Stuart Munro-Hay point to the existence of an
older D’mt or Da'amot king Dom, prior to any Sabaean
migration c. fourth or fifth century B.C.E., as well as to
evidence of Sabaean immigrants having lived in the region for
little more than a few decades.
Furthermore, Ge'ez, the ancient Semitic language of Eritrea
and Ethiopia, Sabaean influence is now thought to have
been minor, limited to a few localities, and disappearing after
a few decades or a century.
The Empire of Aksum at its height at times extended across
most of present-day Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, Western
Yemen, southern Saudi Arabia ,and Sudan. The capital city
of the empire was Aksum, now in northern Ethiopia. Today a
smaller community, the city of Aksum was once a active
metropolitan area, cultural and economic center.
The Aksumites had cemeteries with elaborate grave stones
called stelae, or obelisks. Other important cities included Yeha,
Hawulti-Melazo, Matara, Adulis, and Qohaito, the last three of
which are now in Eritrea.
In the 3rd century, Aksum began intervening in South Arabian
affairs, controlling at times the western Tihama region among
other areas. It dominated states on the Arabian Peninsula
across the Red Sea, making them pay Aksum a regular tribute
By the reign of Endubis in the late 3rd century it had begun
minting its own currency and was named by Mani as one of the
four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and
It converted to Christianity in 325 or 328 under King Ezana
and was the first state ever to use the image of the cross
on its coins. At its height, Aksum controlled northern
Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti,
Western Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia, totaling 1.25
million square kilometers.
Foreign Relations, Trade and Economy
Aksum was an important participant in international trade from
the 1st century AD (Periplus of the Eritrean Sea) until about
the later part of the 1st millennium when it submitted to a long
decline against pressures from the various Islamic Powers
leagued against it.
The economically important northern Silk Road and southern
Spice (Eastern) trade routes. The sea routes around the horn
of Arabia and the Indian sub-continent were Aksum's specialty
for nearly a millennium.
Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between
India and the Mediterranean (Rome, later Byzantium),
exporting ivory, tortoise shell, gold and emeralds, and
importing silk and spices. Aksum's access to both the Red
Sea and the Upper Nile enabled its strong navy to profit in
trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and
Indian states. According to the Periplus, the ruler of Aksum in
the during this time was Zoscales, who, besides ruling in
Aksum, also controlled two ports on the Red Sea Adulis (near
Massawa) and Assab.
Most Aksumite coins were found in the large trade centers
with very few in remote villages, where trade would be
more through exchange and not coinage based.
The main exports of Aksum were, as would be expected of
a state during this time, agricultural products.
The land was much more fertile during the time of the
Aksumites than now, and their principal crops were grains
such as wheat and barley. The people of Aksum also
raised cattle, sheep, and camels. Wild animals were also
hunted for things such as ivory. The empire was also rich
with gold and iron deposits.
The Empire of Aksum was also the first African polity to issue
its own coin. From the reign of Endubis up to Armah
(approximately 270 to 610), gold, silver, and bronze coins
were minted. Issuing coinage in ancient times was an act of
great importance in itself, for it proclaimed that the Axumite
Empire considered itself equal to its neighbors.
Many of the coins are used as signposts about what was
happening when they were minted. An example being the
addition of the cross to the coin after the conversion of the
empire to Christianity.
Cont.…. The presence of coins also
simplified trade, and was at
once a useful instrument of
propaganda and a source of
profit to the empire. The first
Aksumite coins used had
writing in Greek. This explains
why the Aksumites began to
use coins; to participate in the
highly influenced Greco-
Roman trade of the Red Sea.
Coins of king Endybis -235 C.
Coins of after Christianity
Silver coin of Ezana
The Aksumite population consisted of Sematic-speaking
people, Cushitic-speaking people, and Nilo-Saharan-
speaking people (the Kunama and Nara).
The Aksumite kings had the official title ነገሠ ፡ ነገሠተ ngś ngśt -
King of Kings (later vocalization Ge ez ንጉሠ ፡ ነገሥት nigūśa
nagaśt,Modern Ethiosemitic nigūse negest).
Aksumites did own slaves, and a modified feudal system
was in place to farm the land.
The Empire of Aksum is notable for a number of
achievements, such as its own alphabet, the Ge ez
alphabet which was eventually modified to include
vowels, becoming an abugida. Furthermore, in the early
times of the empire, around 1700 years ago, huge
Obelisks to mark emperor's tombs (underground grave
chambers) were constructed, the most famous of which
is the Obelisk of Aksum.
Under Emperor Ezana, Aksum adopted Christianity in place of
its former polytheistic and Judaic religions around 325.
Before its conversion to Christianity the Aksumites practiced
a polytheistic religion not unlike the Greek’s system. Astar
was the main god of the pre-Christian Aksumites, and his
son, Mahrem (Maher), was who the kings of Aksum traced
their ancestry. In about 324 C.E., the King Ezana was
converted by his slave-teacher Frumentius, the founder of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Axumites converted to Christianity because in their coins they
replaced the disc and crescent with the cross. Frumentius was
in contact with the Church in Alexandria and was appointed
Bishop of Ethiopia around 330 C.E.
Aksum is also the alleged home of the holy relic the Ark of the
Covenant. The Ark is said to have been placed in the Church of
Mary of Zion by Menelik I for safekeeping.
The introduction of
Christianity to Ethiopia was
during the reign of King
Ezana (320 - 356), the first
African king to become a
Christian and make
Christianity the official
religion of his country.
The Nine Saints
In 451 CE, the Council of Chalcedon declared Monophysitism
heretical. Those that fled the Byzantine Empire to escape
anti-Monophysitism prosecution settled in Egypt, Arabia, and
Ethiopia. Those Christians were known as Tsadkan in
Ethiopian. The most famous escapees to take refuge in
Ethiopia were known as the Nine Saints.
The Aksum royal court had
converted to Christianity over a
century earlier, but much of the
country, outside of Aksum, had yet
to hear about the Gospel. The
Nine Saints established
missionaries in areas outside of
Aksum. They built churches,
translated the Bible from Greek
to Geez, and created Christian
centers in various. A late 17th century picture from a Life of
Aregawi, written and painted at Dabra
Damo, showing the Nine Saints.
The Nine Saints came from many areas of the Byzantine
Empire. Their backgrounds included Syria, Constantinople,
Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Rome .Their names were Abba
Aregawi (Ze-Mikael), Abba Pantelewon, Abba Gerima
(Issac, or Yeshaq), Abba ftse, Abba Guba, Abba Alef, Abba
Yem’ata, Abba Liqanos, and Abba Sehma
Each of these mean has a saint’s day on the Ethiopian
religious calendar .These men are not only important to the
Ethiopian church but also to biblical studies because they
helped translate books such as the Book of Jubilees and the
Book of Enoch (both are part of the Apocrypha), which had
been lost to the outside world until the late eighteenth century
.The Ethiopian Bible contains the Apocrypha which Jewish and
Protestant canons of the Old Testament exclude.
The Queen of Sheba
A large part of the history of Ethiopia is centred on the legend
of the Queen of Sheba of Ethiopia and King Solomon of
Israel. Many Ethiopians believe that the relationship between
Sheba and Solomon resulted to a son who founded the
Solomonic Dynasty in Aksum. According to Ethiopian
traditional history the Queen of Sheba learned about the
wisdom of King Solomon from a merchant called Tamrin, how
he worshiped God and his skills building a great Temple in
The Queen of Sheba decided to
visit and see for herself King
Solomon's wisdom, how he
worshiped God and his many
skills. When the Queen of Sheba
visited King Solomon in
Jerusalem she gave him many
gifts and she asked him many
questions, which he was able to
According to the legend of the Ethiopian history, while she was
with him; King Solomon made Queen Sheba promise not to
take anything from his house. King Solomon went to bed one
night on one side of the chamber and Queen Sheba went to
bed at the other side of the chamber. Before King Solomon
slept, he placed a bowl of water near Queen Sheba's chamber.
As she was thirsty, Queen Sheba woke up at the middle of the
night and found the water, which she drank. At this point
Solomon heard noises, woke up and found her drinking the
He accused her of having broken her promise not to take
anything from his house. Nevertheless the beauty of Queen
Sheba attracted King Solomon and the relationship between
King Solomon and Queen Sheba was consummated, resulting
in the birth of a son named Ibn-al-Malik (known as Menelik), the
founder of Ethiopian Solomonic Dynasty.
The queen of Sheba heard of Solomon's fame and came to
test him with hard questions. She arrived in Jerusalem with a
very large retinue, camels laden with spices, gold in great
quantity, and expensive stones.
When she came to Solomon, she told him everything she had
in her mind, and Solomon answered all her questions; not one
of them was too abstruse for the king to answer. When the
queen of Sheba saw all the Wisdom of Solomon, the house
which he had built, the food on his table, the courtiers sitting
round him, and his attendants standing behind in their dress,
his cupbearers, and the whole-offerings which he used to offer
in the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit left in her.
Then she said to the king, 'The report which I heard in my own
country about you and your wisdom was true, but I did not
believe it until I came and saw for myself,
Indeed I was not told half of it; your wisdom and your prosperity
go far beyond the report which I had of them. Happy are your
wives, happy these courtiers of yours who wait on every day and
hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God who has
delighted in you has set you on the throne of Israel; because he
loves Israel for ever, he has made you their king to maintain law
and justice.' Then she gave the king a hundred and twenty talents
of gold, spices in great abundance, and precious stones. Never
again came such a quantity of spices as the queen of Sheba gave
to King Solomon.
When Menelik grew up (about 22 years old), he asked his
mother who his father was and told him that it was King
Solomon of Israel. Menelik told his mother that he wanted to
go to visit his father in Jerusalem. He went to Jerusalem to
visit his father and Solomon received him with great honor.
Menelik stayed with his father in Jerusalem and learnt the Law
of Moses for 3 years. Menelik looked very like his father, which
confused the Israelites as they had difficulty in telling the
difference between Solomon and Menelik.
• Because of this confusion they
complained to King Solomon and
asked him to send Menelik home.
King Solomon said if they wanted
him to send his son back home the
high priests would have to send
their oldest son and 1000 people
from each tribe of Israel with
Menelik. The high priests agreed to send their oldest son and
1000 people from each tribe with Menelik.
• Menelik then returned to Aksum, amongst those
accompanying him was Azariah the son of the high priest
(Zadok) of the temple of Jerusalem. Before the journey
Azariah had a dream that told him to take the Ark of the
Covenant with him to Ethiopia. Azariah did what the dream told
him to do and he stole the Ark from the Temple, putting in its
place a copy. Azariah told Menelik what he had done and
Menelik was angry with him but Azariah convinced Menelik to
take the Ark with them.
• Zadok, the high priest of the
Temple, discovered the Ark's
disappearance and informed King
Solomon. King Solomon and his
army followed Menelik but could
not catch him. While this was
taking place Solomon dreamt that
his son should have the Ark and he
returned to Jerusalem and ordered
his high Priests to keep its
disappearance a secret.
On his return to Ethiopia, Menelik founded the "Solomonic
Dynasty" and the Aksumite kingdom adopted Judaism and
the Law of Moses. The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King
Solomon as mentioned in the Holy Bib le signifies to the
Ethiopians their claim to be direct progenies of the
"Solomonic Dynasty". This shows that Judaic culture was
established and followed in Ethiopia since the reign of King
Menelik. When the Aksumite kingdom accepted the arrival of
Christianity, during the reign of King Ezana in the fourth
century, the Felashas (Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) refused
to accept Christianity and continued to practice Judaism,
which they still do today.
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant is the most reserved holy relic of
God's alive and became part of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Tewahedo Christian belief. A copy of the Ark of the Covenant,
known as the tabot, is kept in the holy of holies (Maqdas) in
every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. According to the
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, this priceless treasure
(the Ark of the Covenant) still exists and rests in a small
chapel in the monastic complex of Saint Mary of Zion
church in Aksum. This makes Saint Mary of Zion the holiest
sanctuary in Ethiopia.
One holy monk is elected and charged with its care and
preservation. The elected monk becomes the official guardian
of the Ark and no one, except the elected Guardian (a monk)
who looks after the Ark of the Covenant, is allowed to enter
the chapel. Before the guardian dies, according to Aksumit
tradition, he must nominate his successor.
Muslims arrived in the Axumite Empire during the Hijarat as
immigrants from Mecca, offended by the ruling Quraysh
tribe. They were received by the ruler of Axum, whom Arabic
tradition has named Ashama ibn Abjar, and he settled them
in Negash. Located in the Region. When Mohammed saw
the persecution to which his followers were subjected to in
Mecca, he told them to find safe haven in northern Ethiopia,
Abyssinia, where they would "find a king there who does not
It was the first hijra (migration)
in Islam history. While the city of
Medina, north of Mecca,
ultimately became the new
home of most of the exiles from
Mecca, a 7th-century cemetery
excavated inside the
boundaries of Negash shows
the Muslim community survived
Yeha's Temple are
believed to have been built
around 800 BC. Yeha, the
foundation of Ethiopian
civilization, is situated
between Aksum and Adwa
in the province of Tigray.
Evolution of the stelae
The stelae of Aksum are among ancient Africa’s greatest
architectural victories. The funerary monuments at Aksum
include man-made stone platforms, stelae, pit graves, shaft
tombs, staircase tombs, and constructed tombs. The stelae
are the most distinctive monuments in the area and were
most likely erected to remember lineages rather than
individuals. They vary from simple unshaped monoliths in a
natural shape to dressed, symmetrical and sculpted pillars.
Their height ranges from about two metres to over 30.
The Stelae are perhaps the most
identifiable part of the Aksumite legacy.
These stone towers served to mark
graves or represent a magnificent
building. The largest of these towering
obelisks would measure 33 meters high
had it not fallen. The Stelae have most of
their mass out of the ground, but are
stabilized by massive underground
counter-weights. The stone was often
carved with a pattern or symbol denoting
the king's or the noble's rank
King Ezana's Stele is the tallest
standing stele -- 70 feet
Many tombs in Aksum such as:-
Northern stelae field Tombs
Tomb of the Brick Arches
Tomb of the False Door
Tomb of Nefas Mawcha
Than we discuss about in the only
tombs of king Kaleb and
Tombs of Kings Kaleb & Gebre Meskel
Set on a small hill 1.8km
northeast of the Northern
Stelae Field and offering
views of the pointed
mountains of Adwa, local
tradition attributes these
two tombs to the 6th-
century King Kaleb and
his son, King Gebre
Although the twin
resembles the Tomb
of the False Door,
they show more
locking stones that
don’t require iron
Tombs of King Gebre Meskel
Entrance to the Tomb of the False Door
The Gebre Meskel (south)
tomb is the most refined. The
tomb consists of one
chamber and five rooms, with
one boasting an exceptionally
finely carved portal leading
into it. Inside that room are
three tombs, one decorated
with a cross similar to
Christian crosses found on
Aksumite coins. This point
towards an age around the
6th century, which, as once in
a while happens, resembles
with local tradition. Though
the rest of the story has
Meskel buried at Debre
The Rockheiown churches in tigray
Many rockheiown monasteries are found in tigray region. The
Nine Saints come in Ethiopia to spread Christianity and all have
settled their own church named after them.
List of rockheiown monasteries in tigray and select 3 examples
1, GHERALTA CLUSTER
Abraha wa atsbeha
Debre tsion abraham
Abune Gebre Mikael
Debre Damo monastery is situated
on an isolated mountain in northern
part of Tigray. It is unique compared
with most Ethiopian monasteries.
Debre Damo was built, in the sixth
century AD, with curved wood
panels, painted ceilings and walls
dedicated to the legend of Saint
The history of Debre Damo is
centred on the "Nine Saints" who
came to Ethiopia from Syria to
spread Christianity in the Tigray
region. One of them was Saint
Aregawi who settled on the
mountain of Debre Damo. The
other eight saints settled around
Tigray countryside and all have
their own church named after
Cont….. Many books have been written there
and distributed to churches throughout
Debre Damo is only accessible by hiking
up by a rope, which is made of "plaited
leather", lowered from the cliffs, which
visitors tie around their waist and are
then pulled up by a monk at the top of
the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and
male animals. Women and even female
animals are forbidden to set a foot into
the monastery, and must remain under
the cliffs and pray from there
The feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi is celebrated on October
14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 Gregorian calendar) which
culminates in a pilgrimage to Debre Damo from all over the
Abraha WA Atsbeha
The wonderful church of Abreha wa Atsebha
is situated 15 kms. West of Wuqro. A newly
built gravel road leads to within a few
meters of the church and beyond to
Hawzien via Degum. The church is one of
the best and largest of the rock churches of
Tigray, dedicated to the famous kings of
Axum, the brothers Abreha and Atsebha.
They are known by that name to history, but
they are said in Ethiopian legends to be
kings who adopted Christianity in the 4th
Directly at the edge of the small town of Wuqro
(47 Kms from Mekele), on a knoll of red rock, is
the rock- cut church of Wuqro Cherqos.The
church is supposed to have been constructed by
the 4th C by the two kings Abreha and Asbeha.
It is one of the first of the rock churches of
Tigray. The upper part of the wool and the
ceilings were painted, but now much destroyed.
Nevertheless, a good impression of the
decoration can be gained. A number of scenes
can be distinguished: angles, the Abune
Samuel, the Nine Saints, St. Cherkos. The
priests tell the story that the church was burnet
by Gudit, the distinctive queen who is supposed
also to have fallen the Axum stelae.
The palace of Yohannes IV
The palace is bulled at the center of
Mekelle. It was built at the Emperor's
command by Giacom Naretti, who had
served Yohannes already at Debre
Tabor, with the assistance of William
Schimper, and completed in 1884.The
complex still stands and now serves as
a museum, where the Emperor’s
throne, royal bed, ceremonial dress,
rifles and many other valuable
historical collections can be seen.
Adwa is a market town and
separate woreda in northern
Ethiopia. It is best known as the
community closest to the
decisive Battle of Adowa fought
in 1896 with Italian troops.
Notably, Ethiopian soldiers won
the battle, thus being the only
African nation to thwart
European colonialism. Adwa is
surrounded by Adwa woreda.
The Empire of Aksum is notable for a number of
achievements, such its own alphabet, the Ge'ez alphabet
(which evolved from Epigraphic South Arabian during the
late pre-Aksumite and proto-Aksumite period), which was
modified to include vowels, becoming an abugida.
Furthermore, in the early times of the empire, around 1700
years ago, giant Obelisks to mark emperor's (and nobles')
tombstones (underground grave chambers) were
constructed, the most famous of which is the Obelisk of