Aksum An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity Stuart Munro-Hay

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3. Abreha and Atsbeha 
According to the Ethiopian traditional accounts of the conversion, Frumentius was 
captured during the reign of Ella Alada (Amida?), who was succeeded by two brothers, 
Abreha and Atsbeha, who were the first Christian kings. It has been suggested (Hahn 
1983) that these names were constituent parts of the titulary of Ezana and his brother 
Sazana, but, as mentioned above (
Ch. 7: 3
) there is no real proof for this joint reign. They 
could alternatively have been two successive `Ella'-names adopted by Ezana. It may also 
be that, due to a confusion of legends, the conversion has become muddled with the other 
great Aksumite religious event, king Kaleb's invasion of the Yemen to end persecution of 
Christians there. As Kaleb's throne name was Ella Atsbeha, and the name of the 
rebellious general in the Yemen was Abreha, this theory could easily provide the 
explanation for the Ethiopian legend (Ullendorff 1949). Abreha built the great cathedral 
at San`a, and tried to turn it into a major pilgrimage centre, and so both he and Kaleb 
gained reputations as powerful champions of Christianity. Abreha is said to have written 
to the najashi saying `I have built a church for you, O King, such as has not been built for 
any king before you. I shall not rest until I have diverted the Arab's pilgrimage to it' 
(Guillaume 1955: 21).  
Some more ideas on the identity of Ezana and the date of his conversion have recently 
been aired. One theory (de Blois 1988) concluded that the Aksumite ruler Ezana of 
Constantius II's time was a different person from king Ezana, son of Ella Amida, known 
from his inscriptions. This latter would have been an uncle and direct predecessor of 
Kaleb, the brother of Kaleb's father Tazena, and the Andug of the Syriac sources; his 
reign would have concluded between 518 and 523. He would have been the first 
Ethiopian royal convert to Christianity, the earlier Ezana of the fourth century having 
retained his pagan beliefs; in spite of the presence of Frumentius, later consecrated bishop 
of Aksum, and in spite of Constantius II's communication with him on ecclesiastical 
affairs. This view of the position of Ezana, multiplied into two kings, once again takes 
little account of the concrete evidence from the coinage. The consistency of the gold 
content in all three gold issues bearing the names of Ezanas/Ezana, the heavier weight of 
Ezanas' pagan and Christian issues, and the fact that the Ezana issue reduces its weight to 
follow the contemporary Roman weight reduction, together with stylistic points, 
conclusively place Ezana in the fourth century, and indicate that the conversion took 
place as the Ethiopian traditions relate. The difference between the coins of Ezana Bisi 
Halen and Kaleb in terms of style, weight, gold content, and palaeography is radical, and 
the two cannot possibly have been successive rulers. Schneider (1988) also dismisses this 
new theory for other reasons.  
Laszlo Török (1988) accepts that the king Ezana who was a contemporary of emperor 
Constantius II eventually converted to Christianity. But he holds that this could only have 
happened after 361, since he believes that the text of Constantius II's letter `is 
unambiguous as to the paganism of the tyrants Aizanas and Sazanas'. He goes on to say 
that `everything thus points to the probability that Ezana's conversion, and consequently, 

the campaign against the Noba and Meroe, cannot be dated earlier than the decade after 
361, perhaps closer to 370 than 360'. Török also believes that the inscription published by 
Anfray, Caquot and Nautin (1970) does not belong to Ezana but to a brother and 
successor of his whose name he reads AG..AS.  
The first of these ideas is evidently based on a subjective reading of the letter of 
Constantius II. It can as well be asserted that the emperor did not specifically address the 
Aksumite rulers as Christians since he knew perfectly well that they were Christians, and 
had been for some time. He simply began to discuss an ecclesiastical point important to 
him with people he regarded as fellow Christians, and nowhere is there any remark which 
seems `unambiguously' to indicate their paganism.  
The evidence for the postulated ruler AG..AS remains equally unconvincing. It seems far 
more probable that this king AG..AS never existed. There are no coins bearing his name, 
and the inscription almost certainly belongs to Ezana (exceptionally spelled AZANAS) as 
Anfray, Caquot and Nautin believed. Most importantly, it bears Ezana's well-known 
coinage and inscriptional title Bisi- Alene as well as his patronymic Elle Amida; the 
Greek spelling of the Bisi-title is in this case also exceptional, being rendered as either 
Bisi Alene or Bisi Alen on the coins. The inscription appears to be a version in Greek, 
with slight variations, of the `monotheistic' vocalised Ge`ez inscription DAE 11 (
Ch. 11: 
) of Ezana Ella Amida Bisi Halen. It is notable that in the case of the pagan inscriptions 
DAE 4, 6 and 7 of Aeizanas, and their parallels on the Geza `Agmai inscription, there are 
also small variations between the different versions. The most interesting here is that 
whereas the former version writes Saiazana and Adefan in Greek for the king's brothers' 
names, the latter writes Sazanan and Adiphan, showing a similar variation in the spelling 
of proper names; we now have four different spellings of Ezana's name in Greek; 
(Ezana(s), Aeizanas, Aizanas, Azanas). In sum, neither of these two latest ideas about the 
chronology of Ezana, and the Ethiopian conversion, seem strong enough to alter the view 
gene rally accepted.  
4. Ecclesiastical Development 
Not very much is known of the early centuries of church history in Ethiopia. After the 
royal adoption of Christianity, numbers of people may have simply followed the lead of 
the monarchy. Beyond this predictable guidance from a powerful ruler towards his 
subordinates, we have no idea which particular features of the new faith may have made 
it appeal to the Aksumites, but in time Christianity became a strong influence in Ethiopia. 
Constantius II's attempt (
Ch. 4: 5
) to subordinate Frumentius to his Arian appointee in 
Alexandria was unsuccessful, and Frumentius, under the names Feremnatos or Abba 
Salama, is still revered in Ethiopia as the founder of the faith. The lists of the 
metropolitans (which do not always include the same names) show a continuous line of 
abuns of whom nothing at all is known (Guidi 1871; Zotenberg 1877; Chaine 1925; 
Ayele Teklahaymanot 1984; Munro-Hay, forthcoming). Other bishoprics were 

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