Kingdom of Aksum

Aksumite Empire

መንግስቲ ኣኽሱም (Ge'ez)
c. 100 AD – c. 940 AD
Aksum, shown in blue
Aksum, shown in blue
Common languagesGe'ez
Arabian polytheism
(pre-Aksumite to 4th century)
(before c. 330)
Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church; after c. 330)
• c. 100
Za Haqala (first known)
• c. 940
Dil Na'od (last)
Historical eraClassical Antiquity to Early Middle Ages
• Established
c. 100 AD
• Conquest by Gudit
c. 960 AD
350[1]1,250,000 km2 (480,000 sq mi)
CurrencyAU, AR, AE units
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Himyarite Kingdom
Medri Bahri
Zagwe dynasty
Sasanian Empire
Today part ofEritrea
Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Aksum (Ge'ez: መንግስቲ ኣኽሱም), also known as the Kingdom of Axum or the Aksumite Empire, was an ancient kingdom centered in what is now Eritrea and the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia.[2][3] Axumite Emperors were powerful sovereigns, styling themselves King of kings, king of Aksum, Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Salhen, Tsiyamo, Beja and of Kush.[4]Ruled by the Aksumites, it existed from approximately 100 AD to 940 AD. The polity was centered in the city of Axum and grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period around the 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. Aksum became a major player on the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India. The Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own Aksumite currency, with the state establishing its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush. It also regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula and eventually extended its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom. The Manichaei prophet Mani (died 274 AD) regarded Axum as one of the four great powers of his time, the others being Persia, Rome, and China.[2][5]

The Aksumites erected monumental stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. One of these granite columns is the largest such structure in the world, at 90 feet.[6] Under Ezana (fl. 320–360) Aksum adopted Christianity. In the 7th century, early Muslims from Mecca sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom, a journey known in Islamic history as the First Hijra.[7][8]

The kingdom's ancient capital, also called Axum, is now a town in Tigray Region (northern Ethiopia). The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century.[9][10] Tradition claims Axum as the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.[11]

Historical records

Aksum is mentioned in the first-century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as an important market place for the trade in ivory, which was exported throughout the ancient world. It states that the ruler of Aksum in the first century was Zoskales, who, besides ruling the kingdom, likewise controlled land near the Red Sea: Adulis (near Massawa) and lands through the highlands of present-day Eritrea. He is also said to have been familiar with Greek literature.

4. Below Ptolemais of the Hunts, at a distance of about three thousand stadia, there is Adulis, a port established by law, lying at the inner end of a bay that runs in toward the south. Before the harbor lies the so-called Mountain Island, about two hundred stadia seaward from the very head of the bay, with the shores of the mainland close to it on both sides. Ships bound for this port now anchor here because of attacks from the land. They used formerly to anchor at the very head of the bay, by an island called Diodorus, close to the shore, which could be reached on foot from the land; by which means the barbarous natives attacked the island. Opposite Mountain Island, on the mainland twenty stadia from shore, lies Adulis, a fair-sized village, from which there is a three-days' journey to Coloe, an inland town and the first market for ivory. From that place to the city of the people called Auxumites there is a five days' journey more; to that place all the ivory is brought from the country beyond the Nile through the district called Cyeneum, and thence to Adulis. Practically the whole number of elephants and rhinoceros that are killed live in the places inland, although at rare intervals they are hunted on the seacoast even near Adulis. Before the harbor of that market-town, out at sea on the right hand, there lie a great many little sandy islands called Alalaei, yielding tortoise-shell, which is brought to market there by the Fish-Eaters.


6. There are imported into these places, undressed cloth made in Egypt for the Berbers; robes from Arsinoe; cloaks of poor quality dyed in colors; double-fringed linen mantles; many articles of flint glass, and others of murrhine, made in Diospolis; and brass, which is used for ornament and in cut pieces instead of coin; sheets of soft copper, used for cooking-utensils and cut up for bracelets and anklets for the women; iron, which is made into spears used against the elephants and other wild beasts, and in their wars. Besides these, small axes are imported, and adzes and swords; copper drinking-cups, round and large; a little coin for those coming to the market; wine of Laodicea and Italy, not much; olive oil, not much; for the king, gold and silver plate made after the fashion of the country, and for clothing, military cloaks, and thin coats of skin, of no great value. Likewise from the district of Ariaca across this sea, there are imported Indian iron, and steel, and Indian cotton cloth; the broad cloth called monache and that called sagmatogene, and girdles, and coats of skin and mallow-colored cloth, and a few muslins, and colored lac. There are exported from these places ivory, and tortoiseshell and rhinoceros-horn. The most from Egypt is brought to this market from the month of January to September, that is, from Tybi to Thoth; but seasonably they put to sea about the month of September.[12]