Towering Ancient stelae

The Aksumite Empire

A common third stop on the historic circuit is the ancient capital city of Axum ,which lies in modern-day northern Ethiopia (Tigray province) and Eritrea. Axum was the dominant economic and political force in the region for about a millennium prior to its collapse around 700 AD.

Aksum is perhaps most famous and well known by the mysterious stelae. It is also the alleged resting place of the biblical Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the legendary Queen of Sheba. The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire became important trading nation in northeastern Africa, ruled from approximately 100–940 AD. The Empire of Aksum at its height extended across most of present-day Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, Yemen, southern Saudi Arabia and northern Sudan. The Aksumites developed Africa’s only indigenous written script, Ge’ez . The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century.

The Aksumite Empire was well known to the Greek and Roman worlds, to the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Persians. Vague knowledge of it extended as far as ancient China. But in Medieval Europe it was forgotten. All that persisted was the legend of Prester John who ruled a mysterious Christian empire somewhere beyond the boundaries of the known world.

The Persian prophet Mani, who lived in the third century AD, wrote: There are four great kingdoms on earth: the first is the Kingdom of Babylon and Persia; the second is the Kingdom of Rome; the third is the Kingdom of the Aksumites: the fourth is the kingdom of the Chinese . Aksum’s prosperity seems to have peaked in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AD .

Aksum embraced the Orthodox tradition of Christianity in the 4th century (c. 340–356 C.E.) under the rule of King Ezana, becoming only the second nation in the world (after Armenia) to embrace Christianity. The king had been converted by Frumentius, a former Syrian captive who was made Bishop of Aksum. On his return, Frumentius had promptly baptized King Ezana, who then declared Aksum a Christian state, followed by the king’s active converting of the Aksumites. By the 6th century, King Kaleb was recognized as a Christian by the emperor Justin I of Byzantium (ruled 518–527) when he sought Kaleb’s support in avenging atrocities suffered by fellow Christians in South Arabia. This invasion saw the inclusion of the region into the Aksumite kingdom for the next seven decades.

The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon are important figures in Ethiopian heritage. Traditional accounts describe their meeting when Sheba, Queen of Aksum, went to Jerusalem, and their son Menelik I formed the Solomonic dynasty from which the rulers of Ethiopia (up to the 1970s) are said to be descended. It has also been claimed that Aksum is the home of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, in which lies the "Tablets of Law" upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed. Menelik is believed to have taken it on a visit to Jerusalem to see his father. It is supposed to reside still in the Church of St Mary in Aksum, though no-one is allowed to set eyes on it. Replicas of the Ark, called Tabots, are housed in all of Ethiopia’s churches, and are carried in procession on special days.

The majority of the kingdoms wealth came from the rise of a new sailing technique that used seasonal winds to cross the Red and Arabian Seas, increasing the amount of trade that could pass through that region. Axum was right at the intersection of trade routes between the Mediterranean and these seas and was able to dominate the market on international trade.Monumental. royal tombs were constructed, each marked by a huge monolithic stela carved to represent a multi-storied building. Around the same time, Aksum began to produce its own coinage, with gold used for international trade, and copper and silver for local circulation

The expansion of Islam in the Red Sea , erratic rainfall and depletion of soils and forests due to 600 years of intensive exploitation of the land have affected the prosperity of the kingdom and lead it to its decline. However, even after the realm's decline, the city remained Ethiopia's religious capital as well as the place where several medieval emperors went to be officially crowned. The town abounds in archaeological remains - including the graves of kings, the foundations of a palace, inscribed tablets, and great carved obelisks.It is believed not more than 20% of the old town is excavated, much is unknown. The archeological sites of Axum have been declared a World Heritage Site.

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