Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay

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future bishop. Since Rufinus' account is so important for the history of Christianity in 
Ethiopia, it is given here in full in translation;  
One Metrodorus, a philosopher, is said to have penetrated to further India in order to 
view places and see the world. Inspired by his example, one Meropius, a philosopher of 
Tyre, wished to visit India with a similar object, taking with him two small boys who were 
related to him and whom he was educating in humane studies. The younger of these was 
called Aedesius, the other Frumentius. When, having seen and taken note of what his soul 
fed upon, the philosopher had begun to return, the ship, on which he travelled put in for 
water or some other necessary at a certain port. It is the custom of the barbarians of 
these parts that, if ever the neighbouring tribes should report that their treaty with the 
Romans is broken, all Romans found among them should be massacred. The 
philosopher's ship was boarded; all with himself were put to the sword. The boys were 
found studying under a tree and preparing their lessons, and, preserved by the mercy of 
the barbarians, were taken to the king. He made one of them, Aedesius, his cupbearer. 
Frumentius, whom he had perceived to be sagacious and prudent, he made his treasurer 
and secretary. Therefore they were held in great honour and affection by the king.  
The king died, leaving his wife with an infant son as heir of the bereaved kingdom. He 
gave the young men liberty to do what they pleased but the queen besought them with 
tears, since she had no more faithful subjects in the whole kingdom, to share with her the 
cares of governing the kingdom until her son should grow up, especially Frumentius, 
whose ability was equal to guiding the kingdom — for the other, though loyal and honest 
of heart, was simple.  
While they lived there and Frumentius held the reins of government in his hands, God 
stirred up his heart and he began to search out with care those of the Roman merchants 
who were Christians and to give them great influence and to urge them to establish in 
various places conventicles to which they might resort for prayer in the Roman manner. 
He himself, moreover, did the same and so encouraged the others, attracting them with 
his favour and his benefits, providing them with whatever was needed, supplying sites for 
buildings and other necessaries, and in every way promoting the seed of Christianity in 
the country.  
When the prince for whom they exercised the regency had grown up, they completed and 
faithfully delivered over their trust, and, though the queen and her son sought greatly to 
detain them and begged them to remain, returned to the Roman Empire. Aedesius 
hastened to Tyre to revisit his parents and relatives. Frumentius went to Alexandria, 
saying that it was not right to hide the work of God. He laid the whole affair before the 
bishop and urged him to look for some worthy man to send as bishop over the many 
Christians already congregated and the churches built on barbarian soil. Then 
Athanasius (for he had recently assumed the episcopate) having carefully weighed and 
considered Frumentius' words and deeds, declared in a council of the priests: `What 
other man shall we find in whom the Spirit of God is as in thee, who can accomplish 
these things?' And he consecrated him, and bade him return in the grace of God whence 
he had come. And when he arrived in India as bishop, such grace is said to have been 

given to him by God that apostolic miracles were wrought by him and a countless 
number of barbarians were converted by him to the faith. From which time Christian 
peoples and churches have been created in the parts of India, and the priesthood has 
begun. These facts I know not from vulgar report but from the mouth of Aedesius himself, 
who had been Frumentius' companion and was later made a priest in Tyre (Jones and 
Munroe 1955: 26-7).  
Rufinus' story is simply told and involves no incredible miracles or impossible situations. 
The two youths, Frumentius and Aedesius, and their kinsman Meropius, were apparently 
all Tyrians with Greek names and education (Pétridès 1972). The lapsing of a Romano-
Ethiopian treaty resulted in their captivity and servitude in the Aksumite royal household. 
On the death of the king (Ousanas Ella Amida?; see 
Ch. 4: 5
) Aedesius and Frumentius 
were given freedom to leave if they wished, but chose to remain in the country. 
Frumentius being appointed to look after state matters by the queen regent, took the 
opportunity to encourage Christians in the country where he could. King Ezana, on 
attaining his majority, assumed control of the administration; he may already have been 
converted by Frumentius and Aedesius, but no mention of this is made. In any event, they 
departed for the Roman world to return home. However, when Frumentius went to 
Alexandria to report on the progress of Christianity in Ethiopia, and to ask for a bishop 
for Aksum from Athanasius, the patriarch, he was himself chosen and consecrated, in 
about 330AD, and so returned to Aksum again as its bishop. This founded the custom of 
receiving a bishop from the patriarchs of Alexandria which continued until our own time 
(Munro-Hay, The Metropolitan Episcopate of Ethiopia, and the Patriarchate of 
Alexandria, 4th-14th centuries, forthcoming).  
The custom had its advantages. From the point of view of the Alexandrine patriarchs, it 
kept the Aksumite kingdom within the sphere of influence of the see of St. Mark, with the 
Nubian kingdoms of Nobatia, Alodia, and Makoria and the Libyan Pentapolis. The 
patriarch retained the right, established by Athanasius' consecration of Frumentius, to 
select a bishop for Ethiopia's metropolitan see. Eventually the system whereby the bishop 
chosen had to be a Coptic Egyptian monk, no native Ethiopian being eligible, became 
accepted. As far as the Ethiopian ruler was concerned, this meant that he had as local 
head of the church a foreigner, probably almost completely ignorant of the conditions 
prevailing in the country, and even of its language; in short, one whose interference in 
local politics was likely to be minimal, and who could offer little rivalry to the king's 
decrees. It is not certain when this arrangement became institutionalised, but it was later 
`established' by an apocryphal canon attributed to the Council of Nicea. At times all did 
not work out so well. On one occasion a metropolitan or abun arrived with forged 
credentials and, since the distance to Alexandria was great and the journey difficult, it 
took time before the imposture was detected. Another problem arose when a king and 
metropolitan fell out, and the patriarch refused to send a new abun. It was the absence of 
abuns and the quarrel with the patriarchate which was piously believed to have caused 
the punishment delivered by the mysterious `Queen of the Bani al-Hamwiyya' about 
whom an unnamed Ethiopian king wrote to king Girgis II of Nubia in the tenth century 
Ch. 4: 8

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