“The African kingdom of Kush became powerful enough to push north and conquer Egypt. Kush remained a powerful kingdom for over 1,000 years. Finally, a more powerful kingdom arose and conquered Kush. That kingdom was Aksum (Axum). It was located south of Kush on a rugged plateau on the Red Sea, in what are now the countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia. In this area of Africa, sometimes called the Horn of Africa, Arab traders from across the Red Sea established trading settlements. These traders were seeking ivory to trade in Persia and farther east in the Indian Ocean trade. They brought silks, textiles, and spices from eastern trade routes. Eventually, the trading settlements became colonies of farmers and traders. Trade with Mediterranean countries also flowed into seaports located here.
A legend traces the founding of the kingdom of Aksum and the Ethiopian royal dynasty to the son of King Solomon (of ancient Israel) and of the Queen of Sheba, (a country in southern Arabia). That dynasty lasted into the 20th century, until the last ruler, Haile Selassie, died in 1975. The first mention of Aksum was in a Greek guidebook written around A.D. 100, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. It describes Zoskales, thought to be the first king of Aksum. He was ‘a stickler about his possessions and always [greedy] for getting more, but in other respects a fine person and well versed in reading and writing Greek.’ Under Zoskales and other rulers, Aksum seized areas along the Red Sea and the Blue Nile in Africa. The rulers also crossed the Red Sea and took control of lands on the southwestern Arabian Peninsula.
Aksum’s location and expansion made it a hub for caravan routes to Egypt and Meroë. Access to sea trade on the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean helped Aksum become an international trading power. Traders from Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, and the Roman Empire crowded Aksum’s chief seaport, Adulis, near present-day Massawa. Aksumite merchants traded necessities such as salt and luxuries such as rhinoceros horns, tortoise shells, ivory, emeralds, and gold. In return, they chose from items such as imported cloth, glass, olive oil, wine, brass, iron, and copper.” ~ World History Identify and explain the following terms:
Horn of Africa
Indian Ocean Trade
King Solomon and Queen Sheba
Trade and Aksum - How did Aksum’s location help make it a trade city? - How did trade on the Indian Ocean benefit the kingdom of Aksum?
- The kingdom of Aksum reached its height between A.D. 325 and 360, when an exceptionally strong ruler, Ezana, occupied the throne - Determined to establish and expand his authority,
Ezana first conquered the part of the Arabian peninsula that is now Yemen - Then, in 330, Ezana turned his attention to Kush, which already had begun to decline - In 350, he conquered the Kushites and burned Meroë to the ground - Ezana succeeded to the throne as an infant after the death of his father - While his mother ruled the kingdom, a young Christian man from Syria who had been captured and taken into the court educated him - When Ezana finally became ruler of Aksum, he converted to Christianity and established it as the kingdom’s official religion - He vowed, “I will rule the people with righteousness and justice and will not oppress them, and may they preserve this Throne which I have set up for the Lord of Heaven.”
- The Aksumites, like other ancient Africans, traditionally believed in one god - They called their god Mahrem and believed that their king was directly descended from him - They were also animists, however, and worshiped the spirits of nature and honored their ancestors - They offered sacrifices – often as many as a dozen oxen at a time – to those spirits, to Mahrem, and often to the Greek god of war, Ares - Merchants exchanged more than raw materials and finished goods in Aksum - They shared ideas as well - King Ezana eventually converted to Christianity - King Ezana’s conversion and his devout practice of Christianity strengthened its hold in Aksum - The establishment of Christianity was the longest lasting achievement of the Aksumites - The land of Ethiopia, where Aksum was located, is home to millions of Christians even today
- The inscription on Ezana’s stele (pillar) is written in Ge’ez, the language brought to Aksum by its early Arab inhabitants - Aside from Egypt and
Meroë, Aksum was the only ancient African kingdom known to have developed a written language - It was also the first state south of the Sahara to mint its own coins - In addition to these cultural achievements, the Aksumites adapted creatively to their rugged, hilly environment - They created a new method of agriculture, terrace farming - This enabled them to greatly increase the productivity of their land - Terraces, or step-like ridges constructed on mountain slopes, helped the soil retain water and prevented its being washed downhill in heavy rains - The Aksumites dug canals to channel water from mountain streams into the fields - They also built dams and cisterns, or holding tanks, to store water
Identify and explain the following terms:
King Ezana’s Conversion to Christianity
Askum and Christianity
Askum and Coins
Terrace Farming - Which of Aksum’s achievements has continued into modern times?
- How did Aksum’s location help make it a trade city?
- Why did the people of Aksum become Christians?
- How did Aksum’s location and interaction with other regions affect its development?
- What impact did Ezana’s decision to become a Christian have on the kingdom of Aksum?
- Write an opinion paragraph on the following statement: The kingdom of Aksum would have reached the same heights even if Ezana had not become king.
“From the beginning, Aksumites had a diverse cultural heritage. This blend included traditions of the Arab peoples who crossed the Red Sea into Africa and those of the Kushite peoples they settled among. As the kingdom expanded and became a powerful trading center, it attracted people from all over the ancient world. The port city of Adulis was particularly cosmopolitan. It included people from Aksum’s widespread trading partners, such as Egypt, Arabia, Greece, Rome, Persia, India, and even Byzantium. In the babble of tongues heard in Aksum, Greek stood out as the international language of the time, much as English does in the world today.” ~ World History - Why did Aksumites have a diverse cultural heritage? - Prove that the port city of Adulis was cosmopolitan?
The Fall of Aksum:
As Muslim invaders spread Islam to the lands they conquered, Aksum became isolated from other Christian settlements. In 710, Muslims destroyed Adulis. To escape the advancing wave of Islam, Aksum’s rulers moved their capital over the mountains into what is now northern Ethiopia. Aksum’s new geographic isolation – along with depletion of the forests and soil erosion – led to its decline as a world power.” - Identify two reasons for the fall of Aksum. PR I M A RY S O U R C E
“They take along with them to the mining district oxen, lumps of salt, and iron, and when they reach its neighborhood they . . . halt . . . and form an encampment, which they fence round with a great hedge of thorns. Within this they live, and having slaughtered the oxen, cut them in pieces and lay the pieces on top of the thorns along with the lumps of salt and the iron. Then come the natives bringing gold in nuggets like peas . . . and lay one or two or more of these upon what pleases them. . . . Then the owner of the meat approaches, and if he is satisfied he takes the gold away, and upon seeing this its owner comes and takes the flesh or the salt or the iron.” ~ COSMAS quoted in Travellers in Ethiopia
- Why don’t the traders speak to each other instead of laying down goods or gold?