Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay



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the old claim of Ezana's time to overlordship of Saba and Himyar only (Schneider 1972). 
This seems to reflect exactly the position as Procopius, writing after the death of Kaleb, 
related it, and seems to indicate that the titulature of the Aksumite kings did have some 
real significance in relation to events, rather than consisting of a merely traditional listing 
of both actual possessions and former claims (
Ch. 7: 5
). The essential of the situation is, 
that while the Aksumites may have been palliated by a formal submission and tribute, in 
actual terms they had permanently lost the control of the Yemen. A poem recorded by 
one of the Arab authors (Guillaume 1955: 34) sums up the history of Dhimar (Yemen) in 
this period, (as seen through anti- Ethiopian eyes);  
"To whom belongs the kingdom of Dhimar? to Himyar the righteous; 
to whom belongs the kingdom of Dhimar? to the wicked Abyssinians
to whom belongs the kingdom of Dhimar? to the noble Persians; 
to whom belongs the kingdom of Dhimar? to the Qoreysh, the merchants".  
Glorious though Kaleb's re-establishment of the Christian faith in the Yemen seemed to 
contemporary (and later) ecclesiastical historians, it was Aksum's swan-song as a great 
power in the region. The real result may well have been quite the opposite; a weakening 
of Aksumite authority, over-expenditure in money and man-power, and a loss of prestige. 
The venture was, it seems, too ambitious for the times, and did Aksum nothing but harm 
in the long run. Nevertheless, for a while we still hear of embassies arriving from the 
Byzantine empire with trade proposals, and others going to Abreha in the Yemen 
(recorded on his Marib Dam inscription of 658HE/c543AD) and to the Persian king to 
persuade him to release certain bishops jailed at Nisibis (according to John of Ephesus' 
life of Simeon, bishop, of Beth Arsham — Brooks 1923; Doresse 1971: 102). Evidently 
Aksum still remained in the main stream of international affairs for a while.  
Kaleb's inscription and coins, the hagiographical tales (and the king- lists, rather 
surprisingly, as well), confirm that Kaleb Ella Atsbeha's father was a certain Tazena. He 
is not represented on the coins, but could be included under some other name; one of the 
great difficulties of Aksumite numismatics. The gold coins which most closely resemble 
those of Kaleb come from a group bearing the royal names Ousas/Ousana/Ousanas, 
which may all belong to only one king. Perhaps he is to be identified with Tazena, as 
noted above (
Ch. 4: 6
). On the other hand, the emphasis on naming Kaleb's father on all 
his son's surviving official documents, and his use of the phrase `throne of my fathers' in 
his inscription (see above) might lead us to suppose that some political need was felt for 
this assertion of legitimacy; perhaps Tazena's kingship was somehow in dispute, or 
perhaps he was not an Aksumite king, but a claimant in the line of succession? The late 
compilations of the tales of the Nine Saints mention a king Tazena as the father of Kaleb, 
but their evidence is not necessarily reliable.  


 
Illustration 13. Drawings of coins (d. 17mm) of king Alla Amidas of Aksum.  
The Ethiopian traditions say that Kaleb eventually abdicated the throne, sent his crown to 
be hung on the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, and retired to a monastery. Since there are 
actual die- links between the coins of Kaleb and a king Alla Amidas (Munro-Hay, Oddy 
and Cowell, 1988), it is possible that he and Kaleb may have ruled together, Kaleb 
perhaps later retiring, thus explaining the plural term `the neguses (nagast) of Aksum' in 
the inscription of Sumyafa` Ashwa` (Ryckmans 1946: line 3). Another line (8) in this 
inscription mentions that `they submitted to the kings (amlak) of Aksum'; however, these 
locutions might apply to a concept of `the crown of Aksum', since a further phrase (line 
14) alludes to the ngsy in the singular form.  
Kaleb's son Wa`zeb (W`ZB) is known from an inscription (Schneider 1974), where he is 
actually called `son of Ella Atsbeha' using his father's throne-name. He is presumably 
represented on the coins by another name, possibly Ella Gabaz (Munro-Hay 1984ii). 
Wa`zeb has left only this inscription, in Ge`ez, written in South Arabian script like 
Kaleb's, but so damaged that it is very difficult to decipher (but see 
Ch. 11: 5
). The story 
of Abba Libanos, the `Apostle of Eritrea', mentions a king called `Za-Gabaza Aksum', 
perhaps another version of the name Ella Gabaz (Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography 
1975: I, 103); a suggestion confirmed very recently by Sergew Hable Sellassie (1989) 
who notes a homily of the Metropolitan Elias of Aksum about Abba Mat'e, Libanos, in 
which it is stated that the contemporary king was Ella Gabaz. Ella Gabaz and Za-Gabaza 
Aksum may be epithets indicating that Wa`zeb (if the identity is admitted) did some 
important building work at Maryam Tseyon cathedral.  


 
Illustration 14. Drawings of a gold coin (d. 18mm) of king Iathlia/Hataz, with two issues 
each of Hataz in silver and bronze.  
The coinage of this period is extremely difficult to put in order. There are often only 
single surviving specimens of issues, or a bewildering array of mutually exclusive factors 
to take into account when attempting to classify them into a sequence. However, among 
names known from the coinage, apart from those already noted above, are Wazena 
(tentatively identified with Alla Amidas), Ioel, Iathlia/Hataz, and Israel. If the identity of 
Alla Amidas with Wazena is correct (Munro-Hay 1984ii), and this ruler was a colleague 
or immediate successor of Kaleb, it may be that Wazena is the name found in the opening 
phrases of Abreha's 543AD Marib inscription; `viceroy of the king Ella `ZYN' (see 
Schneider 1984: 162-3). This would be a somewhat bizarre rendering of a supposed name 
`Wazena Ella Amida' with, in addition, the waw written as `ain.  
Illustration 15. The obverse of a gold coin (d. 18mm) of king Israel of Aksum. Photo 
British Museum.  
King Israel bears the name of one of Kaleb's sons in the legendary histories (Conti 
Rossini 1909; Sergew Hable Sellassie 1972: 161), but seems too far removed from him 
from a numismatic point-of- view to be so identified (Munro-Hay 1984ii). Two more 
kings, Armah and Gersem, close the sequence of the coinage. The coins of the later kings 
are very degenerate in appearance in comparison to the earlier issues, and their gold 



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