Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay



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Period 4. Ezana as a Christian to Kaleb. c.330AD to c.520AD.  
330AD  
 
 
 
Christian inscriptions and coins. 
Anonymous Christian coins 
350AD  
 
 
MHDYS* 
 
 
Ouazebas* 
 
400AD  
 
 
Eon* 
 
 
Ebana* 
 
 
Nezool*/Nezana* 
 
500AD Ousas*/Ousana(s)*. Tazena  
Period 5. Kaleb until the end of the coinage. c.515AD to early C.7th AD  
 
Kaleb* 
Inscription 
 
 
Yusuf As'ar 
530AD   
Sumyafa' Ashwa 
 
Alla Amidas* 
Abreha 
 
Wazena* 
 
 
W`ZB/Ella Gabaz   
 
Ioel* 
 
575AD   
Persians in Yemen 
 
Hataz* = `Iathlia'*?  
 
Israel* 
 
600AD   
 
 
Gersem* 
 
614AD  Armah* 
Jerusalem falls to Persia 
619AD   
Egypt falls to Persia 
End of Aksum as capital 
Period 6. After the end of the coinage  
630AD 
Death of Ashama ibn Abjar  
640AD 
 
Arab expedition in Red Sea, 
Egypt falls to Arabs 
705-715AD 
Reign of al-Walid, 
Qusayr Amra painting 
 
The symbol * denotes issues of coins 
Preface 
 


Perhaps the most frequently quoted remark about Ethiopia occurs in a brief excursus on 
the Ethiopian church which Edward Gibbon included in his monumental work The 
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written at the end of the eighteenth century; 
`Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion the Æthiopians slept near a 
thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten'. Gibbon further 
accorded brief mention to those few events in Aksumite Ethiopia's history which touched 
the larger theme of the history of the Roman empire. In this he still remains relatively 
unusual, for however one might nowadays view the Ethiopians' `sleep', Gibbon's last 
phrases still ring true. Of all the important ancient civilisations of the past, that of the 
ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum still remains perhaps the least known.  
When this book was in preparation, I wrote to the archaeology editor of one of Britain's 
most prominent history and archaeology publishers about its prospects. He replied that
although he had a degree in archaeology, he had never heard of Aksum, and didn't think 
it would arouse much interest. If anything, this points the more strongly to the need for an 
introductory history to one of Africa's most fascinating civilisations. In most of the recent 
general histories of Africa or of the Roman world, Aksum is either not mentioned at all, 
or is noted in brief summaries culled from earlier works. Only in Connah's 1987 book 
African Civilisations does Aksum, though still dealt with in one brief chapter, begin to 
take its proper place as an important part of Africa's history. Certainly there have been 
books on Aksum, or on Ethiopian civilisation in general, mainly in German, French, 
Italian and Russian; but since the last of these was published much new work has been 
done, and a well- illustrated and up-to-date general coverage of Aksumite Ethiopia is now 
the more urgently required.  
It is hoped that this book, the result of nearly fifteen years study of Aksumite history and 
civilisation, will at least partly fill the gap, and encourage interest in Aksumite studies. 
Ancient Ethiopia is a fertile field for future researchers, and if this book attracts the 
attention of even a few towards this neglected but richly rewarding subject, it will have 
served its purpose adequately. It is worth adding that Ethiopia, and especially Aksumite 
Ethiopia, is an elusive entity, and I cannot hope to have always plumped for the correct 
interpretation in some of the more debated themes of its history. Theories and arguments 
which I may seem to have left aside could prove to be of great importance to future study. 
In most cases where a choice between opposing theories has been made, it is nevertheless 
with a profound consciousness of the stimulation afforded by the points-of- view of 
colleagues who share the opposite opinion, and with the certainty that the last word has 
not yet been said, that I have leaned towards certain conclusions. I have not infrequently 
drawn on my own earlier publications for certain sections of this book, sometimes with 
radically different results; alterations indicative of the progress made by more recent 
research.  
I am extremely grateful, as the dedication indicates, to the late Dr. H. Neville Chittick for 
introducing me to Aksumite studies during the important excavations which he directed 
at Aksum between 1972 and 1974, and for his continued subsequent encouragement. His 
excavations at Aksum completely altered many concepts about Aksumite Ethiopia, 
clarifying certain points and, inevitably, raising new questions. In 1985 I was invited by 


the British Institute in Eastern Africa, under whose auspices Neville Chittick had worked, 
to publish in their Memoir series the excavation report his death prevented him from 
undertaking; and it was during this work that the idea of the present book, less specialist 
and wider-ranging, was suggested to me by Glen Kania. The British Institute in Eastern 
Africa also kindly gave permission for the reproduction of some of the photographs taken 
during the excavations. A number of friends and colleagues helped in the preparation of 
the book; I would particularly like to thank Dr. Bent Juel-Jensen and Dr. David Phillipson 
for reading and commenting on the typescript at different stages, and for supplying 
illustrations; Roger Brereton and the late Ruth Plant for other illustrations; Chris Tsielepi 
for information from the Horniman Museum; Michael Grogan for the maps and Glen 
Kania for his usual patience and assistance in editing and word-processing, for the fourth 
time, a book on an Aksumite theme.  
Aksum's obscurity, and the impossibility of visiting the site at present, seem to have had a 
discouraging effect on funding institutions. However, awards which have greatly helped 
me in the writing of this book, and in my Aksumite studies in general, came from the 
Twenty-Seven Foundation and the Spalding Trust; to these organisations I am extremely 
grateful, particularly since they have both assisted my work in other fields as well.  
  
  
Stuart Munro-Hay 
  
St. Orens-Pouy-Petit, France. December 1988. 
  
  
1. Introduction 
 
  
This book is designed to introduce the ancient African civilisation of Aksum to a wider 
readership than has been catered for by specialist publications currently available. The 
Ethiopian kingdom centred on Aksum in the northern province of Tigray during the first 
six or seven hundred years of our era, is still very little known in general terms. Its 
history and civilisation has been largely ignored, or at most accorded only brief mention, 
in the majority of recent books purporting to deal at large with ancient African 
civilisations, or with the world of late antiquity. Perhaps, considering the paucity of 
published material, authors of such syntheses can hardly be blamed for omitting it; those 
who do include it generally merely repeat the same vague outlines of Aksumite history as 
are found in much older works. The excavations of the 1950s-70s in Ethiopia, and the 
studies of a few scholars in recent years, have increased the scope of our information 
about the country's history and civilisation, and the time has now come when a general 
introduction to Aksum should be of value to interested readers and students of ancient 
history alike.  



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