Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay



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(see 
Ch. 15
). In the twelfth-thirteenth century we have some of the elements of a titulary 
from the reign of Lalibela, the great Zagwé king. The History of the Patriarchs, which 
usually just refers to the kings anonymously, calls him Lalibala son of Shanuda (`the 
Lion') of the race of al-Nakba. Other sources add his throne-name, Gabra Masqal, and an 
epithet, be'esi `azzal, `the strong man', which resembles one of the earlier `Bisi'-titles 
(Atiya et al 1950: III, III, 184ff; Conti Rossini 1901: 188).  
Given the nature of the Aksumite `imperial' hegemony, with independent states bound in 
a loose federation only by their more or less theoretical subordination to the Aksumite 
negusa nagast, the territorial elements of the titulary do seem to represent fact rather than 
fiction. One hint in support of this assertion is that while Wa`zeb abandoned his father 
Kaleb's reference to the Hadhramawt and the highland and coastal areas of the Yemen, 
the contemporary king in South Arabia, Abreha, continued to employ them in his own 
titulary. Procopius (ed. Dewing 1914: 191) tells us that Abreha agreed to pay tribute to 
Kaleb's successor and was thus recognised as tributary king, and perhaps some 
adjustment of the titulary was effected at the same time. The Aksumite version of the title 
was always different from that used in Arabia, naming both Raydan and Salhen, which 
refer to the chief castles or citadels of the two states Himyar and Saba respectively. 
Though the names of the castles or palaces are used in a treaty preserved in the 
inscription CIH 308 (Jamme 1962: 294) where Salhen and Zararan (Gadarat's palace) are 
both mentioned, presumably as the two seats of government of the signatories, the 
Arabian inscriptions never use the parallelism of country and palace in the Aksumite 
way.  
An example of alterations in the titulary to suit events, but sometimes with the retention 
of traditional phraseology, occurs after Ezana's conversion to Christianity. It has already 
been noted (
Ch. 6: 1
) that Ezana abandoned the claim to be the `son of the invincible 
Mahrem/Ares', replacing it on the inscription DAE 11 (
Ch. 11: 5
) with the very similar 
phrase `son of Ella Amida, never defeated by the enemy', using his father's name to 
replace that of Mahrem although he had already used the phrase `son of Ella Amida' a 
line or two earlier. The Greek version of this text reads `son of Ella Amida, servant of 
Christ', an epithet also used much later by Wa`zeb `son of Ella Atsbeha, servant of 
Christ', while Kaleb's inscription puts his filiation earlier, but still uses the old locution, 
completing the titles with `servant of Christ, who is not defeated by the enemy'.  
Among the African territories included in the titulary, Siyamo (Tsiyamo, Tiamo) seems 
to have comprised the eastern part of the Ethiopian plateau; perhaps the Enderta region of 
Tigray. The name may be a derivative of D`MT, the old kingdom which existed there in 
the middle of the first millenium BC. It is probably the same as the Tiamaa of the 
Monumentum Adulitanum, associated with Gambela, "a valley in the neighbourhood of 
Makale, in the province of Enderta" by Kirwan 1972: 173. The lands of WYTG, DRBT, 
and ATFY are districts (presumably African) whose whereabouts are as yet unknown. 
Schneider (1988: 115) notes a region called SRD, mentioned only on the Geza `Agmai 
versions of DAE 6 and 7 (
Ch. 11: 5
). The Beja are the tribes of the Red Sea hills, the 
Noba the peoples of the Nubian kingdoms, and the Kasu the Kushites or Meroites. 
Finally, the term Ethiopia, employed as a translation for Habashat among the known 


inscriptions only by Ezana on DAE 4, appears for the first time in a Ge`ez manuscript 
(accompanied by the first such mention of Aksum itself) only in the twelfth century; 
though the text can only be tentatively dated (Sergew Hable Sellassie, 1989).  
6. The Coronation 
 
Whilst there are no contemporary accounts of the Aksumite coronation ritual, it is 
interesting to learn how the later `Solomonic' kings exploited the religious and historical 
prestige of the ancient site, by making it their ceremonial coronation place. Information 
can be assembled from different accounts of the coronations, such as those of Zara 
Ya`qob (1434-68) and Sartsa Dengel (1563-97), preserved in the royal chronicles 
(Perruchon 1893). The coronation of Susenyos on 18th March 1608 was described by the 
Spaniard Pedro Paez from the eye-witness account of João Gabriel, the Portuguese 
captain (Pais 1945-6: 115ff). The ceremony was accompanied by great pageantry, the 
king arriving with some 25,000 infantry and 1500 cavalry, riding a richly caparisoned 
steed, himself garbed in crimson damask with a golden chain around his neck.  
Zara Ya`qob is the first king who is known to have resurrected the ancient coronation 
ceremony at Aksum — or, at least, who is known to have employed the sacred precincts 
as his coronation place, and who accordingly may be suggested to have exploited ancient 
rituals of Aksumite origin. The king would first of all distribute largesse by flinging gold 
amongst the crowd as he processed over rich carpets laid out on the streets from the 
entrance of the town to the cathedral area. Then, he would be seated on the coronation 
throne (one of the Aksumite stone thrones) for the actual ceremony. On other occasions 
he would take his place on a different throne for the blessing ritual; this one was flanked 
by the thrones of the twelve judges in the main group of thrones. There was also one 
destined for the metropolitan.  
The ritual itself was as follows. As the king approached the cathedral, the priests, singing 
the chants composed by the legendary sixth-century musician-priest Yared, declared 
`May you be blessed, O king of Israel'. The `daughters of Zion' (the young women of 
Aksum) gathered in two rows on either side of the pathway near one of the Aksumite 
inscriptions to the east of the cathedral. The women stood to the left and right of the road 
holding a cord, with two older women holding swords. As the king's horse approached, 
the women questioned arrogantly `Who are you, and of what tribe and family?' The king 
answered, `I am the son of David, the son of Solomon, the son of Ibn Hakim (Menelik)'. 
A second and third time the king was questioned, and on these occasions replied with his 
real genealogy. He then used his sword to cut the cord, while the older women declaimed 
`Truly, you are the king of Zion, the son of David, the son of Solomon'. Then the king 
was seated on the coronation throne, spread with precious cloths for the occasion; the 
throne was called `the throne of David'. During the ceremonies the king also took on a 
new name, the throne-name, which, like the Aksumite `Ella'-name, was an epithet often 
with a religious implication. Apparently they were chosen randomly from tablets 



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