impossible that such a breach in relations was caused by the death of one king and the
succession of another, since in traditional Hellenistic monarchies (some elements of
whose organisation we can detect in Aksum) treaties would lapse until confirmed by the
ruler who next came to power. In this case, we might conceivably suggest that king
Wazeba of Aksum had died, and Ousanas (Ella Amida) had just come to the throne (
). The lapse of the treaty might also reflect the uncertain conditions in the Roman
world after the retirement of Diocletian in 305 until 323 when complete order was
restored by Constantine's defeat of Licinius.
Apart from this story, there are no signs of anything but peaceful trade and occasional
diplomatic activity. With the new order in the Roman empire, and no challenges on the
frontiers between Roman and Aksumite ambitions, Aksum had nothing to look for from
Rome/Constantinople but peaceful and profitable trading relations. There was a certain
amount of diplomatic activity in the reign of Constantius II, with the mission of
Theophilus the Indian. This ecclesiastic may also have delivered the letter of Constantius
preserved in the Apologia of the patriarch Athanasius of Alexandria (
Ch. 4: 3
and after the Himyarite war which Kaleb conducted in the sixth century, there was an
increase in recorded diplomatic activity, and several missions were sent by Justinian.
Two of the ambassadors, Julian, and Nonnosus son of Abrames, are mentioned by
historians of the period, together with some details as to their instructions from the
emperor (Procopius, ed. Dewing 1924: 192-5; Photius, ed. Henry 1959: 4-5).
The suggestion (Sergew Hable Sellassie 1972: 86) that Aksumites were taken prisoner by
Aurelian (270-275AD), the Roman emperor who conquered Queen Zenobia of Palmyra's
armies, is unfounded. Zenobia's forces had benefited from the weakness of Rome under
its ephemeral military emperors in the late third century, and she was in control of Syria
and the great city of Antioch. In 269AD, she successfully invaded Egypt; by 270 her
interest was turning to Asia Minor. In 271 she proclaimed her son Wahballat as
Augustus. In spite of this widespread success, the Roman empire was at last recovering
from its unhappy condition under a new emperor, Aurelian, and Palmyrene hegemony
lasted only a few years; and in August 272 Palmyra itself fell to the emperor's armies.
The Aksumites mentioned in the (rather suspect) Latin `Life of Aurelian' attributed to
Flavius Vopiscus in the so-called Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Magie 1932: 258-61),
seem to have been among the foreign envoys present at the celebration of Aurelian's
triumph rather than defeated allies of Zenobia being led with the queen in the procession.
They are included in a separate section with other representatives from different countries
bearing gifts, and not among the captives from peoples against whom Aurelian is known
to have conducted campaigns. There is no evidence that Zenobia was able to open any
diplomatic relations with Aksum during her brief period of dominance, and none to
indicate that she enlisted the support of the Aksumites in her wars.
Towards the end of Aksum's period of power, the Persians conquered both Egypt (in
619AD, holding it until 628) and South Arabia (in 575 and again, after a rebellion in
Himyar, in 598), and it may have been this that began to destroy Aksum's trade in the
Red Sea rather than the later Arab expansion. There is only a little information about
Persian relations with Aksum. John of Ephesus, in his `Life of Simeon the Bishop', states
that when Simeon and his companions had been for seven years in the prison at Nis ibis,
the king of Ethiopia heard of it and made a successful request, through his ambassadors
to king Kawad (d. 531AD), that they should be freed (Brooks 1923: 153). Kosmas
mentions that merchants from Adulis and Persia both met in Taprobane (Sri Lanka), and
that ivory was exported from Ethiopia to Persia by sea (Wolska-Conus 1973: 348, 354).
Also in the sixth century, the emperor Justinian is supposed to have tried to use Aksum
against Persia in both an economic war over silk supplies and a military tentative through
Aksum's South Arabian possessions (Procopius, ed. Dewing 1914: 192-5). The inference
is that Aksum would be ready to act against the Persians because of their community of
religion with the Roman/Byzantine empire. After the loss of Aksum's direct influence in
South Arabia, and the death of the negus Kaleb, the historian Procopius (ed. Dewing
1914: 190-1) informs us that the leader of the rebel government in Arabia, Abreha,
agreed to pay tribute to Aksum. The Persian conquest would have terminated this
arrangement if it still applied to Abreha's successors. It may be supposed, then, that after
575 Aksum had not only lost its tribute, but was also faced with a more or less hostile
Persian dependency just across the Red Sea. Already there may have been an increase in
the movement of hostile shipping in the sea- lanes on which Aksum depended for its
A few links with Persia have been suggested at different times. It may be that certain
figures, robed and with curly hair, depicted on the monumental staircase of the Apadana
at Persepolis, are Ethiopians. They are shown presenting a giraffe, a tusk, and a vase.
Some details of their appearance resemble the more-or- less contemporary Ethiopians as
known from their statues and throne reliefs from Hawelti (Leroy 1963: 293-5). At a much
later date, certain glazed wares, blue- green in colour, found at Aksum and Matara, have
been classified, rather vaguely, as Sassanian-Islamic or Gulf wares (Wilding in Munro-
Hay 1989; Anfray 1974: 759).
India and Sri Lanka.
Aksum also had trading relations with India and Sri Lanka (Pankhurst 1974). A find of
Indian gold coins, issued by the Kushana kings (who ruled in north India and
Afghanistan) in the earlier third century, at the monastery of Dabra Damo on the route
between Aksum and the coast, confirms the contact from the Ethiopian side (Mordini
1960, 1967). There are also occasional allusions to ships from Adulis sailing to or from
the sub-continent. Such instances occur in the accounts of the arrival of the future bishop
Frumentius in Ethiopia (
Ch. 10: 2
), the journey of bishop Moses of Adulis (Desanges
1969) and in the Christian Topography of Kosmas Indikopleustes. Kosmas (Wolska-