The Axumite Kingdom, also known as the Aksum Kingdom, was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from circa the 5th century BC to become an important trading nation by the 1st century AD. It converted to Christianity in 325 or 328 (various sources).
It was founded by a mixture of people from Yemen and colonists and traders from Greece, who had established ports along the coast. Spreading Christian and Islamic influences eroded the kingdom between the 7th century and the 10th century. The kingdom was forced inland, becoming more African and less Middle Eastern. Its rulers were overthrown by the Zagwe dynasty in the twelfth century, but Yekuno Amlak , who killed the last Zagwe king and founded the Solomonid dynasty traced his ancestry to the last king of Aksum, Dil Na'od .
The Axumite Kingdom at its height extended across areas of what are today Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen. The capital city of the kingdom was Axum, dating back to 100 BC. Other important cities included Adulis and Matara .
The Axumite kings had an official title negusa nagast - King of Kings. Axumite kings traced lineage back to times of David, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This royal heritage was claimed by all emperors of Ethiopia until the last died in 1974.
Foreign relations and economy
Axum traded with India and Rome (later Byzantium, which had a strong cultural influence upon Axum), exporting ivory, tortoise shell , gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices. It utilised its position to profit on trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states. It had a strong navy that dominated the Red Sea and reached India.
Axum remained a strong empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD. However, because the Axumites had sheltered Muhammed's first followers, the Muslims never attempted to overthrow Axum as they spread across the face of Africa.
With time and expanding Islam influence, Axum was forced into isolation and thus lost its priviliged position in the international and regional trade, but it still had relatively good relations with all of its Muslim neighbors. Two Christian states north of Axum, Maqurra and Alwa , survived until the thirteenth century when they were finally forced by Muslim migration to become Islamic. Axum, however, remained untouched by the Islamic movements across Africa until the present day.
It adopted Christianity in place of its former polytheistic religion under King Ezana around 325 AD. The Ethiopic (or Abyssinian) Church has lasted until the present day. It is still a Monophysite church and its scriptures and liturgy are still in Ge'ez. Axumite Christanity may be one of the fundations for the myth of Prester John.
A legend has that at that time a foreign boy named Frumentius was made a slave of the royal court and later a tutor to the royal children. When the king died the queen asked Frumentius to help rule Axum. He had declined promised freedom and remained until the queen's son, Ezana, was old enough to rule. Frumentius established a number of Christian churches and when Ezana became king he made Christianity (Monophysite) the official religion of Axum. This custom of slave who teaches kings remained an important tradition for the next few hundred years.
It was a cosmopolitan and culturally important state. It was a meeting place for a variety of cultures: Egyptian, Sudanic, Arabic, Middle Eastern, and Indian. The major Aksumite cities had Jewish, Nubian, Christian, and even Buddhist minorities.
At the early times of the kingdom, around 2500 years ago, a king ordered the construction of giant Obelisk of Axum.
List of kings
- Ezana of Axum c. 320-350 AD
- Kaleb of Axum
- Eon of Axum
- Civilizations in Africa: Axum
- Ancient Horn of Africa:Axum
- Ancient History Sourcebook: Accounts of Meröe, Kush, and Axum
- About Early African Kingdoms