Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay



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to the sister of Sha`ir Awtar, and in 217-8AD the latter had helped put down a rebellion 
against the Hadhrami king; the enmity between Hadhramawt and Saba was a major 
change in policy. The Abyssinian position in these events is not clear. Sha`ir Awtar 
apparent ly used both Himyarite and Sabaean troops in this campaign, and the Himyarite 
ruler, Li`azz Yahnuf Yuhasdiq, whose reign may have overlapped with the end of 
Sha`ir's, also allied with the Sabaeans against Gadarat. Aksum suffered a defeat, and was 
expelled from the Himyarite capital, Zafar, which had been occupied and garrisoned 
under the command of a son of the nagashi, Beyga or Baygat (BYGT). However, Aksum 
still retained territory in Arabia in the reign of Sha`ir Awtar's successor Lahay`atat 
Yarkham, who had at least one clash with Habash troops. In any event, these activities, 
dating from perhaps the beginning of the third century to the 230's AD, are confirmation 
that Aksum had reached a new zenith in its power. Overseas wars, the occupation of 
territories in Arabia, military alliances, a fleet, and the extension of Aksumite political 
and military influence from the Hadhramawt to Najran in modern Saudi Arabia bespeak 
an important increase in the scope of the Aksumite state.  
A peace may have been patched up between the contestants for a while, but it was only 
temporary. A little later, in the 240s, we find two rival dynasties calling themselves kings 
of Saba and Dhu-Raydan, one of which, represented by a certain Shamir of Dhu-Raydan 
and Himyar, turned for help to king `Azeba or `Adhebah (`ADBH) of Aksum, and his son 
Girma, Garima or Garmat (GRMT), with their allies from Sahartan and the tribe of Akk, 
against the Sabaean kings Ilsharah Yahdub and Yazzil Bayyin, sons of Fari`um Yanhub 
(who only called himself king of Saba, perhaps recognising that he was not in the same 
position of power as his two predecessors, who had employed the dual title `king of Saba 
and Dhu-Raydan'). These kings considered that Himyar, the Abyssinians, and Sahartan 
were in breach of a peace-treaty during the ensuing war. Shamir Dhu-Raydan was almost 
certainly the Himyarite king Shamir Yuhahmid, who became an ally of Aksum under 
`ADBH and the `son of the nagashi' GRMT. He sent for help to the nagashi, and, though 
one inscription claims that  
"Shamir of Dhu-Raydan and Himyar had called in the help of the clans of Habashat for 
war against the kings of Saba; but Ilmuqah granted . . . the submission of Shamir of Dhu-
Raydan and the clans of Habashat",  
Shamir seems to have to some extent recovered Himyarite power. It may have been such 
a request for aid that eventually led the Aksumite kings to claim the much- used titles of 
`king of Saba and Himyar' in their own titulature, asserting some sort of theoretical 
suzerainty over the Arabian kings. Incidentally, it is unknown whether the two generals 
entitled `son of the nagashi' Baygat and Garmat were `crown princes' who succeeded to 
the throne in their turn, or whether they were merely military captains under the nagashis. 
Their names are unknown except for these inscriptions.  
Around the end of the 240s until c260, the Himyarite king was Karibil Ayfa`, who fought 
with Yada`il Bayyin and his son Ilriyam Yadum of the new dynasty in Hadhramawt, with 
the Abyssinians, and with Ilsharah Yahdub and Yazzil Bayyin of Saba; all the main 
forces then in the Yemen. One of the al-Mis`al inscriptions (no. 3) mentions that a son of 


the nagashi, unfortunately unnamed, came to Zafar with the troops of al-Ma`afir and the 
Abyssinians, and that a sortie was made against them.  
A new gap now occurs in the records. Possibly it may be filled by one of the most 
mysterious of the Aksumite kings, Sembrouthes (Littmann 1913: IV, 3). He is known 
only from his Greek inscription from Daqqi Mahari, well north of Aksum in present-day 
Eritrea. The inscription is on a roughly shaped building block, and, for so brief a text, is 
filled with expressions of the royal self-esteem;  
"King of kings of Aksum, great Sembrouthes came (and) dedicated (this inscription) in 
the year 24 of Sembrouthes the Great King".  
His substantial reign of at least 24 years, if correctly placed here, fills the period between 
the last mention of `Adhebah and the next known Aksumite rulers, DTWNS and ZQRNS. 
Himyarite power was growing stronger throughout this period, and perhaps to curb this 
Aksum decided to act; in c267-8 Yasir Yuhan`im of Himyar (c260-270) suffered an 
invasion led by two Aksumite kings. More South Arabian inscriptions, recently brought 
to notice by Christian Robin, (whose dating of the South Arabian eras, and general 
historical scheme (1981) we have followed here) come from the Yemeni site of al-Mis`al. 
One inscription (no. 5) deals with this war in which the two kings of Aksum, Datawnas 
(DTWNS) and Zaqarnas (ZQRNS), with their allies of al-Ma`afir, were involved. 
Whether these were co-rulers, or successive occupants of the Aksumite throne, is not 
certain, but they appear to have renewed or continued the Aksumite presence in South 
Arabia sometime during the years between 260 and 270 AD. The results of their efforts 
remain unclear; when the al-Mis`al inscriptions are fully published more may be known 
about the events of this period, but the fact that the Aksumite kings were still interfering 
in Arabian politics indicates that their interests in South Arabia were not lightly 
abandoned. An inscription of the last Sabaean king, Nashakarib Yuha`min Yuharib, also 
mentions Abyssinian incursions at this time, but it is notable that accounts of his wars in 
Sahartan do not mention the Abyssinians.  
Illustration 10. The Greek inscription of the king of kings Sembrouthes of Aksum, from 
Daqqi Mahari, Eritrea (courtesy of G. Tringali).  
The subsequent events, culminating in a Himyarite victory over Saba, are conjectured to 
be more or less contemporary with the Aksumite kings Endubis and Aphilas, and are 
detailed below (
Ch. 4: 5
).  
Sadly, nothing is known of these Aksumite kings of the third century from the Ethiopian 
side except for the discovery at Atsbi Dera of a sceptre or wand in bronze, which 
mentions the name of `GDR negus of Aksum' (Caquot and Drewes 1955: 32-38; Doresse 
1960). This appears in a short inscription which has been translated as either "GDR king 
of Aksum occupied the passages of `RG and LMQ", or "Gedara, King of Axum is 
humbled before the [gods] Arg and Almouqah" (Jamme 1957). GDR is very likely the 
same king called by the Arabian kings GDRT (Gadarat). In addition, some finds of 
Himyarite coins at Aksum may be attributed to this overseas intercourse (Munro-Hay 
1978).  



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