Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay



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Illustration 11e. Drawings of gold issues (d. c. 18mm) of the kings 
Ousas/Ousanas/Ousana, possibly different spellings for one name. The reverse dies all 
bear the Greek legend `Theou Eukharistia' — By the Grace of God — under a cross.  
Since coins of king Ouazebas were found in the occupation debris of a room buried under 
which were some of the broken fragments of the largest of the stelae at Aksum (de 
Contenson 1959; Munro-Hay, forthcoming), this, Aksum's largest monolithic monument, 
could have fallen as early as the reign of Ouazebas himself, very likely in the late fourth 
or early fifth century. The stele seems to have been the last of such monumental funerary 
memorials and possibly they went out of favour as Christianity spread, bringing with it 
new ideas about burial (see Chs. 
5: 4-5
, and 
14
).  


 
Illustration 11f. Drawing of a bronze issue (d. c. 17mm) of king Ouazebas of Aksum; the 
reverse bears the Greek legend `Touto arese te khora' — May this please the people — 
and the area around the royal bust is gilded.  
The story of a skholastikos, or lawyer, of Thebes in Egypt who travelled to India after a 
stay at Aksum is preserved in a letter written by a certain Palladius, probably the bishop 
of Helenopolis by that name who lived from 368-431AD (Derrett 1960; Desanges 1969). 
Palladius travelled to India to investigate Brahmin philosophy in the company of Moses, 
bishop of Adulis. Palladius' journey seems to have been undertaken sometime in the first 
quarter of the fifth century, and it was after that that he wrote his letter to some personage 
of high rank to inform him about the Brahmins, using the skholastikos' information. The 
latter had spent some time in Ethiopia, entering the country at Adulis and going on to 
Aksum. He eventually was able to go on an `Indian' ship to India. His comments have 
been thought to indicate that the reputation of Aksum had declined rather in this period: 
the king of Aksum is apparently referred to rather scathingly as an Indian minor kinglet 
(basiliskos mikros). Although this title could simply result from the attitude of a Roman 
subject to almost any ruler in comparison to the Roman and Persian emperors, it may also 
reflect a certain dimunition of Aksumite power at the time. The exact meaning of the title 
`basiliskos', however, is still the subject of discussion (Donadoni 1959; Hansen 1986), 
and may actually be a superior title to basileus in certain circumstances. A significant 
point is that basiliskos appears to be used otherwise particularly for Nubian rulers. It is 
the title used by the Blemmye king Kharakhin, a certain Pakutimne refers to himself as 
`epiph(ylarkhos) of the basiliskos', the six Blemmye/Beja kings captured by Ezana's 
brothers (DAE 4, 6 & 7) are called basiliskoi, and king Silko of the Nobatae is also 
basiliskos (Munro-Hay 1982-3: 93, n. 23). It may be that Palladius or the skholastikos 
confused the titles of the Aksumite king and a Nubian ruler; but mikros is still not very 
complimentary.  


 
Illustration 11g. Drawing of a gold coin (d. 16mm) of king Kaleb of Aksum, with, on the 
reverse, the king's monogram followed by the Greek words `Uios Thezena' — Son of 
Thezena.  
Kaleb, first ruler in our next period (see below), calls himself the `son of Tazena' on his 
inscription found at Aksum (Schneider 1972) and on his gold coins (where it is written in 
Greek as Thezena or variants; Munro-Hay 1984: 116-123). Tazena is also known from 
the Ge`ez stories about the Nine Saints, where he is identified as a king (Sergew Hable 
Sellassie, 1972: 115ff). Kaleb's own inscription from Aksum refers to `the throne of my 
fathers' which may not actually confirm that his father Tazena was king but at least 
means that Kaleb regarded himself as belonging to the legitimate dynasty. Tazena, if he 
actually ruled as a king of Aksum, may be identified with one or other of the names 
known from the coinage, since Aksumite rulers used several names; Ousas/Ousana(s) 
being perhaps the most likely identification from the numismatic point-of-view (Munro-
Hay 1987). The sequence given by the king- lists (Conti Rossini 1909) and hagiographies 
is usually Sa`aldoba, Ella Amida, Tazena, Kaleb, but apart from Tazena's name on 
Kaleb's coinage, so far only Kaleb himself can be accurately identified from other 
sources. There exists a Syriac work, the Book of the Himyarites (Moberg 1928), about the 
war in Himyar which Kaleb waged against the Jewish king Yusuf. The surviving leaves 
of this book were found, remarkably enough, acting as padding for the covers of another 
much later book and through this safe concealment survived to our day. In the Book of 
the Himyarites mention is made of a previous expedition conducted by the Aksumites to 
Arabia, led by a certain Hiuna. This name unquestionably resembles the royal name Eon 
(EWN) as it is written in Greek on the coins of Eon Bisi Anaaph (Munro-Hay 1984: 88-
9). The difference in the spelling is no more than would result from transposing the name 
into the two languages concerned. However, the coins in question, apparently of the 
beginning or early part of the fifth century, seem to be of too early a style to admit this 
identification. Accordingly, it has to be assumed that Eon and Hiuna are different people, 
unless, as is also possible, there is some distortion in the apparent chronology of the Book 
of the Himyarites at this point. The book only mentions Hiuna in its contents list, the 
particular chapter concerned having disappeared; `On the first coming of Hiuna and the 
Abyssinians'. The chapter, then, could refer to a previous expedition at some remove in 
time. However, the possibility that Hiuna might be a contemporary of Kaleb is enhanced 
by the latter's inscription (Schneider 1974: Drewes 1978), which apparently declares `I 
sent HYN ..BN ZSMR with my troops and I founded a church in Himyar'.  



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