(By Yared Huluf, first posted on 01 December 2020, updated 18 June 2021) –
To begin I would like to reiterate Mani (216 – 274 AD) the founder of the Manichaeism religion of the Sassanian Empire, who stated that the Aksumite Empire was one of four great kingdoms (Roman, Persian and Chinese Empires) of the ancient world stretching from 100 BC – 900 AD.
To outline and state the significance of this world power, we must account for its assets and achievements. Aksum produced and exported wheat, barley, myrrh, ivory and gold which was brought by the Nile through to the district called Cyeneum (ስሜን) and then on to Askum city. These goods were subsequently distributed to the rest of the world either via five day caravan trips to Adulis or up through Meroe to Egypt according to Perplus of the Erythraean Sea. Aksum had abundant gold, silver, bronze and copper mining fields that made it possible to mint coins as superior as that of Roman and Persian mintage.
That said however, Aksum fared worse compared to its contemporary empires and its past glory. Aksum became a miniature ghost of its past status as the world power was wiped out from international stage, whilst that of Rome, Persia, Egypt, Byzantium, Napata, Meroë and the Yemenites continued to hold, if not grow by the day.
Aksum was not under direct existential threat or challenge from Islam or for that matter from any power at the time of interest. In fact the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity in 313 AD under Constantine I. Egypt too had become a Christian state as it was a colony of the Roman Empire from 31 BC – 346 AD. Egypt remained under the influence of the Romans until 641 AD when it had been taken over by the Rashidun Caliphate, thus turning Egypt into an Islamic nation. Likewise the Persians under the Achaemenid and Sassanian Empire (which was following Zoroastrian polytheism) and the Meroitic dynasty (follower of the Egyptian Amun, Horas) converted to Islam, completing the North-East African and Middle Eastern circle as an area of Islamic influence, making it difficult for Aksum to go it alone now Roman Empire was removed from the region.
No nation or empire would turn out to be a superpower because that nation wishes to be. A nation or an empire has to have the necessary resources, organizational skills and military might to project and maintain the power it claims it has in the first place.
Aksum was a great power no doubt. In addition, it was not under existential threat or challenge from Islam or others. The question we ask is then why Aksum fell to oblivion faster compared to the others in the region.
One theory to ponder is whether they were distracted by the successful trade and commerce that they earned from across the Red Sea, which placed them at the forefront of the Spice monopoly. With these bountiful maritime excursions possibly came missed opportunities to expand and occupy the much more open lands to the south, which make up for the rest of Ethiopia today. This may have also validated their legacy by enchanting more of the Ethiopian populations that came centuries later. An enthusiasm to recover the buried history of a great unifying power in the region, more or less of the same identity. However, this is not the case presently, as most would isolate this ancient kingdom as solely Tigrian heritage.
It is argued that it was because of the emergence of Islam and I would also like to add to this line of thought the advent of Christianity in the area as another factor that triggered the problem Aksum faced.
Both the Roman and Aksumite Empire lost territories to Islam. The Romans lost direct colonial control of Egypt, which they possessed since 31BC, and the Persian Empire that was under the Hellenistic influence since its defeat under Darius 332 BC by Alexander the Great, who set up himself as Egyptian Pharaoh and naming the port of Alexandria after his name. His sister, Cleopatra remained with her mother, Olympias in Epirus, Macedonia, married to her uncle (Olympia’s brother) and begotten two daughters from him.
Following the rise of Prophet Mohammed, the Achaemenid and the Sassanian Empires lost their religion of Zoroastrianism to Shiite/Shai Islam (a member of one of the two great religious divisions of Islam that regards Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, as the legitimate successor of Muhammad, and disregards the three other caliphs (Umar ibn Ali-Khattab, Uthman Ibn Affan, Ali Ibn Abi T Talib), who succeeded him.
Also the Meroitic Kush lost their structure of belief in the pantheon of Egyptian Gods to Islam. Yet they were not to be as adversely and negatively affected as much as Aksum was following the rise of Islam, despite the good relationship Aksum had with Muhammad and his followers who were granted Hijra to Negash (region in Tigray) to escape prosecution they faced in Arabia. That said the environment of the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea became no more conducive for Aksum to trade and thrive. For a start, Aksum became landlocked. Though they were a commercial centre with sizeable fleets, the goods the Aksumites handled could not be ferried up to the Suez Canal for the Romans to collect and carry to final destinations within Europe.
The Muslim Arabs who were then in control of the Red Sea and Persian peninsulas were camel herders with little to no financial resources to purchase Aksumite fleets to carry camel milk or meat to sell. Remember petroleum was not discovered then for the Arabs to flex their financial muscles.
Yes, Aksum lost the territories of Saba in the formerly Himyarite Arabian Peninsula, in addition to Meroe, Beja and Napata straddling the Nile. However, the critical point came not only with the loss of land to Islam but also with the loss of the Red Sea trade route. This in turn caused economic decline, hence strangling the Aksumite Empire of the financial resources it once greatly depended on to maintain its status. Moreover, whilst it too was bad for the Romans retreating from the Red Sea as the result of Islamic expansion, the Romans had found an alternative means to avert their existential threat posed by Islam that compensated the land and trade routes they had lost. They had the Mediterranean region relatively free of the Islamic Caliphates for them to operate, whilst Aksum remained landlocked.
The other problems that challenged the Aksumite’s were of nature’s determination within their own ecosystem.
Let us start with the later. If you happen to come across a dead fox in the dirt, by the roadside in the outer belt of Khartoum or Cairo and you go again after a year to the same place, you would still find the dead fox intact laying on the same place with a bit of weight loss and gouge eye sockets.
The dry alkaline sand soil acts as a natural preservative and with a bit of human touch, with salt and the rest, you would get the mummification of a body (for which the Egyptian’s pharaohs were/are given the excessive credits for their invention). Credit where it lies due, everywhere you go in Meroe, Napata, Memphis, Thebes, Giza, Persia etc you would find archeologically excavated artifacts, hieroglyphic documents, human and animal remains, statues, pottery and metalwork well preserved and kept because of the presence of highly concentrated alkaline in the desert sand as can be seen in the links below: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darius_the_Great and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_burial.
Thanks to the near and far deserts for its preservative role, from the archeological findings the history of places such as Egypt, Meroe, Yémen and Persia is documented in graphic and accurate procedures.
However, Aksum lies on a different geo climatic zone where the soil is a black clay, rich in oxygen and moisture contents that facilitated decay of organic and inorganic matter faster than expected with desert biomes.
Add to the inept and lack of archeological undertakings on the part of Ethiopian leaders to this day, we do not have chronologically ordered and detailed information regarding the Aksumite and Pre-Aksumite Empires to tell the world.
With the exception of one or two standing stelae and coins of 19 Aksumite kings we have barely anything to rely on to give the full account of the history of Aksum as it took place back then.
The Aksumite script, with the operation of a functioning and well understood language, you would expect to get a documented and detail history of the Aksum and its environs. Yet we do not have this simply because the document did not survive the hostile underground conditions due to the presence of oxygen and moisture in the soil unlike that of Egypt, Meroe and Persia. If the hieratic Egyptian medical document, The Ebers Papyrus, survived the passing of time then the writings in Ge’ez on parchment or goat hide would also have had lasted had it not been the resident of wetter climate. Do not forget Aksum had two large rivers running across the city both of which coming out from Mereb-Rama lake, now a dried lakebed.
We all by now are also familiarized with the famous inscription, “I Ezana, king of kings, king of kings Beja, of Aksum,” still stands erect in Meroe but not in Aksum. One is in Balaw Kalaw, Metehara, Senafe, and the other in Deke Amhare according the “Book of Aksum “ by Carlo Conti Rossini, further highlighting the role of climate and that of man in the preservation and/or destruction of archeological artifacts that could otherwise shed light on human activities ventures before.
In plain sentiment, a man would not desire to fight himself by destroying his grasp on his national identity. This reflects Egypt’s commonality between Christian and Muslim inhabitants and its unified stance on the Nile subject. If you came across any Romans, Persians, Egyptians, Yemenites, etc they all may have their differences and so fight against each other on issues of concern, but none would wish to stand against their own respective nations. They would protect and support with fierce patriotism their heritage when it comes to the questions of their national identities. Take any Caliphate ruler of today or the past, any Coptic Pope or Patriarch of Alexandria from today or the past, they all display dual and conflicting personalities in the embodiment of one. If their stances defend the existence of Egypt with divine rights over the Nile, the Popes and Patriarchs would turn Muslims, the Caliphs would also cross over and take Communion. That is what they have been doing with Arabs and Americans and Europeans to assert their exclusive rights over the Nile. They are doing it right now and succeeded by winning over even the Ethiopians who opposed the construction of the dam against their own self-interest. . The people who suffered repeated famines under the operation of the Amhara rulers, in return stretch their hands to alleviate the poverty of other fellow Ethiopians in good faith were then cursed for the wrong reasons – building the Dam.
It is no good to fight against the whole world, it is no good to fight at the same time against both Muslims and Christians operating in unison, manipulating and being manipulated for mutual ends, especially when one gets a stab in the back from the people one wishes to help – they are too powerful to deal with. It does not mean they are right, but one would lose this fight. The best thing is to withdraw from this scene of chest puffers and bravados with your head held high, because in your absence they will do the job for you- they will eat each other and destroy the plates from which the food was served on.
If you have ears to listen
Open your eyes to vision.
Relax your mind to reason
And you will not be panic stricken.
Taphephobia you shall no longer reckon
In the desert sand as courtiers did often
Watching the pharaohs lie unrotten.
For Tigray will no more be concern.
The water is yours, you have won.
If only you and your champions
Leave Tigray to go it alone,
And give back the land stolen.
Unlike in Ethiopia, many people and their governments have raised and spent enormous amounts of personal and national resources to discovering, maintaining and publicizing archeological sites, artifacts and mummified human remains as a source of national pride.
For example, the Sudanese wealthy families donated huge sums of money to explore and excavate Meroe’s archeological sites, even though historic Meroe was a pagan centre with nothing to do with the Muslim Sudanese of today. As a result of their the archeological endeavors there are now over 200 pyramids excavated in excellent conditions preserved and maintained. Pyramids in Sudan are more numerous than the ones found in Egypt. Nevertheless, there is not the same sort of exposure with the Meroe pyramids as there is with the Egyptian pyramids by the Westerners. There are good reasons for such cold reception by the outside world.
They say, ‘scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. The Meroitic Kush were/are black people, and Westerners would not be in the mood to celebrate and appreciate any works of art or monumental achievements by blacks. Likewise, the Meroitic Kush were not colonized for 700 years as the Egyptians were before and after the birth of Christ by white Greco-Roman invaders and sucked to the bone as Egypt was. But do not forget the Ancient Egyptians though believed to be light skinned were not. The fact is the Egyptians were Nilotic.
Further, Egypt and the Western powers have intertwined economic and political ties for existential reason, which cannot be understated or underestimated. The existence of the Israeli state could not be granted in the short and long term without the underhand support of Egypt; the existence of Egypt cannot be granted without the constant flow of the Nile, which the Europeans and Americans promise to keep.
In the western world, there are countless Egyptologists and Egyptomania selling the glorified image of Egypt to tourists and others. This is for mutual benefits of the money-generating machine that has been created. Far more though, the Europeans are implicated in the decadence and myth surrounding the filthy practices the Greek leaders ruling Egypt turned Pharaohs shared with the Egyptians (I will come back to this): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nubian_pyramids
After the fall of the Red Sea to the hands of Arab Muslims, the Aksumites were compelled to retreat but as they did so they were yet again met by a resistance from within their own circle, leading to further declination to a depth they could not hope to emerge from.
Let me take you through a story to make the Aksumite tragedy more clearer to perceive.
A young man got married to woman he became very fond of after living with her for some time. But unfortunately the women got sick and shortly died leaving the man unprepared and not knowing how to cope her loss. His community was empathetic, as they understood what he was going through, especially when they witnessed him standing next to her grave delivering requiescat every three days. This went on for almost two years until suddenly the behavior of the man appeared to have worsened. Now every three days the man was seen carrying a slate of stone and laying it on her grave. The town folk, worried about the direction of the man’s grief and how it was leading to a collapse of mind, approached him and inquired why he was piling the rocks on top of her grave. His reply was unexpected: he said he was doing it so that she may not rise and come back to life, as he had found the new love of his life! They were shocked but then quickly entered hysterical bouts of laughter because in all this time they had got quite things wrong.
As mentioned before the Egyptians would fight tooth and nail to protect and maintain the country, as they know it. We have seen them dying defending the benefit and integrity of Egypt from the Pharaohs, the dictators of all colours, the Muslim Brothers and socialists.
Instead of helping each other, the Ethiopians of the recent and past history had been piling dirt and stones on the grave of Aksum than dying for it, as to not allow Aksum or its legacy rise again.
When Tigray fell victim to famine in 1984 under a brutal military dictator, members of Amhara ethnic group living abroad had been heard on record that the famine had nothing to do with them but only the concern of the Tigrayans. Never mind working toward helping Aksum re-emerge, the leaders of Ethiopia did not spend enough resources to explore and excavate archeological sites to map the historical records.Never mind excavating and recovering historical relics for posterity that would possibly give the impetus for the emergence of a renaissance as it happened in Rome following its decline then.
It is embarrassing to see that the only serving stalae still standing at Aksum is lopsided about to fall and no serious action is taken to restore it to its previous glorious erect position to this day.
In the 10 Century AD Yodit Gudit, exact ethnic background may be controversial but no doubt she was one of the group contending for power in Ethiopia. She came to ascendency at the time of Pope Cosmos III refused to appoint a patriarch to Ethiopia after Abuna Peter/Petros was expelled and Degna Djan was the king in Aksum. Yodit roundly defeated the Aksumite king and overran the city, destroyed buildings, stelae, burnt the rock church of Abreha Atsbeha and Debre Damo, historical documents the country could not afford to lose. She did so deliberately as to break and wipe out the possibility of recovery, thereafter in centuries down the line, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (1505-Feb 21/1543) did the same damage if not worse. Both these characters were Ethiopians and/or most certainly, the army to led were Ethiopians nonetheless and yet they were unleashed to destroy not only fellow men and women, but the country they were meant to defend. I will explain the role Christianity and Islam played in the subterfuge behind the open conflicts between Ethiopians in the acts of destruction towards their own country.
Patriarchs appointed and sent from Alexandria sat with the Aksumites and later Ethiopian kings to advise and set important foreign policies as they see it fit, but fit only in subterfuge and not to the needs of Aksum (later Ethiopia) but to the Caliphate of Alexandria.
From the time people settled and began making a living from the Nile River straddled by a desert where no living creature would breathe and move if the Nile ceased flowing, the infliction of taphephobia has probably existed in mass. An interesting case for the fear that the pharaohs did not take in to account with regards to the families and the victims when they buried courtiers alive to provide services in the afterlife for the pharaohs.
To remain in charge of the flow of Nile waters, Egyptian leaders would want to know and control the actions of Aksumite and later Ethiopian leaders. Thus, the patriarchs they sent to Ethiopia were always carefully chosen and some were openly Muslim imposters aided by Egyptian caliphates as well as Popes leading Christian faith to be delegated and sent.
Yodit’s conflict that precipitated to an open war with the Aksumite king was believed to be instigated by an imposter Muslim pretending to be a Patriarch who advised King Degna Dian and presented other conflicting advice to Yodit to set a wedge between them. These acts of betrayal and sabotages had been repeated many times, but the Aksumites (later Ethiopians) were obsessed with their beliefs that they were blindsided and did not want to know the true role of Christianity and patriarchs they were requesting from Alexandria, whom were sent at an enormous cost to the empire that included precious with gifts delivered.
I would say it was wrong for a kingdom to have a foreigner patriarch at the helm cognizant of the sensitive secrecies of a country and involved in policy devising.
The Aksumites got it wrong. They were taken for a drive and tossed right and left not only by Islamic followers but also by Christian zealots in the service of not necessarily the sultanate, but Egypt their birthplace. Can you blame them? Yes because they were double agents and double agents do not have any principle to stand as leaders and righteous icons, for they are not upright characters.
The Aksumites thereafter from within, were forced to change their name and identity to Ethiopians. Why wasn’t the brand name kept as a matter of principle for marketing reasons, the one the whole world knew? They complied with a national name, which was implied by Greeks, even though the word itself was not strange to the Aksumites. Itiyopis the son of Kush establish Mazaber as the capital before Aksum during the 1st Century AD. In the 4th century AD the term has been identified as the name of three more kings but nevertheless Aksumite was designated first and there were no compelling reasons to change course later.
That said, the leaders that came after the fall of Aksum abandoned it not only in name, but also in a real sense. They refused to spend money to excavate and maintain archeological sites. 80% of archeological sites from Aksum’s reign remains untouched to this day. Worse they split the kingdom and sold part of the old empire to a foreign colonial power; Italy.
The Egyptian Empire goes back to 3200 BC from the time of Dynasty Zero ruled by Scorpion I, Ja,Ury-Hor, Scorpion II followed by Narmer of the First Dynasty starting from 3150 BC. During the first Dynasty the Egyptians were not only erecting pyramids but also practicing the mass burial of courtiers and animals alive next to the tomb of the pharaohs. 381 couriers and horses and a chariot were buried next Narmer tomb. The pharaohs regarded themselves as the embodiment of the deities they worshiped. The personification of Maat, goddess who brought back law, order, harmony and justice in contrast to Isfet goddess of disorder and darkness.
Pharaohs were believed to possess divine power by virtue of their position. They acted as intermediaries between the people and the gods, and needed to sustain the gods through ritual offering to maintain Maat, the order of the cosmos.
Starting from the get go almost uninterrupted, the Egyptian pharaohs married their own sisters and at times their stepmothers. This was practiced as it is claimed that the union of brothers and sisters would prevent the downgrading of the deities within and godly stature of the pharaohs and the offspring produced thereafter. Right from the predynastic times to the thirty-second dynasty in periods spanning from 3200 – 30 BC, Egyptian pharaohs (including the Hellenistic Dynasties (332 – 30 BC) of Greek rulers) conducted uninterrupted marriage of brothers and sisters and other relatives.
From the table provided below, you can see that Hatshepsut (1507 – 1458 BC) married her brother Thutmose II (1510 – 1479 BC). The two begot Neferubity and Thutmose III.
Thutmose III married Neferubity ( also married Satish, Nebtu, Menai, Merti, Menhet, Nebsemi) and begot Amenemhat, Amenhotep II, Beketamun,Iset, Meryetankum, Nebetiunet, Nefertiti, Siamun.
Likewise, the descendants of Alexander the Great half brother’s grandson Ptolemy V and his sister Cleopatra I begot Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VII, Cleopatra II. Ptolemy VIII married Cleopatra II (sister) and Cleopatra III the daughter of Ptolemy VI (his brother). Ptolemy X married his brother’s wife, who was his own sister, and her daughter, Bernice III. Ptolemy X married his brother’s wife who was his sister and her daughter Bernice III. Ptolemy XI married his step mother Bernice III, and finally he was lynched after murdering Bernice III.
He was not the only Pharaoh who killed his wife. Ptolemy VIII killed his son, Ptolemy Mephite begotten from his sister Cleopatra II, Ptolemy XII killed his own daughter Bernice IV after he returned from Rome to Egypt to reclaim the throne with their help. Cleopatra VII aided in the execution of Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV both who were husbands and brothers and Arsinoe IV, half sister Caesrion from Julius Caesar of Roman Republic king in an effort to assist her son Constantine the Great of Roman empire had his eldest son, Crispus ordered to be hanged and soon after his wife Faust, the mother of Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans, Constantina, Helena was killed. Constans murdered Constantine II in a battle they waged against each other; Nero in 59 AD executed his own mother, before he sent an expedition to the source of Nile but with no success. in 61 AD.
Aristotle was the tutor and mentor of Alexander the Great, chosen by King Phillip II his father. If Aristotle was a companion of a king with nine wives and concubines, and his son Alexander who had three wives, then not only were to pharaohs decadent but then so too were Greek intellectuals and cultural elites. What hope was there if the ancient Europeans were no better than the people whom they look down upon? Whilst they were interbreeding with siblings to preserve divine entity in purity and further distancing themselves from the people they led, the average age of the pharaohs was 40 and there were various genetic threats they suffered greatly from. If Africans had committed these things, you would not wonder whether Africans would readily have been called savages.
To Egyptologists and the rest of the world, Egypt’s history is regarded as the pinnacle of human achievement and therefore the world’s ancient identity. This creates impunity for the Egyptians and their absolute claim over the Nile. It is untouchable due the nation’s ‘divine right’ and for one who chooses to gaze into the future; there is little hope of that being rebuked.
It was also the period the pharaohs were undertaking complex and improved pyramid constructions.
During the Fourth dynasty under Senferu (2613 – 2589 BC) Pharaoh Senferu managed to come back from the expedition with 1,100 captured Libyans turned slaves and 13,000 raided cattle to feed the pyramid construction workers/serfs.
However, Egypt itself was a victim of numerous empire/colonial expansion before and after Christ. First it fell into the hands of the Kushite Empire from Meroe (744 BC – 656 AD).
The first colonizers were the Meroitic Kush People (744 – 644). The capital of the Kush Dynasty got its name after the sister king of Persia – Cambyses II 550-530BC.
The rule of indigenous Egyptian pharaohs existed as a couple brief intervals between the Third Intermediate and Late Periods (664 – 525 BC and 404 – 342 BC). However, it did fall twice to the Achaemenid Empire (525 – 404 BC and 343 – 332 BC). Then the Greeks conquered the Persians and became Egyptian pharaohs themselves from 332 BC until the Greeks themselves were defeated by the Romans in 30 BC. In 661 AD, the Romans were defeated by the Rashidun Caliphate that led to the spread of Islam in the Red Sea, Persian and Arabian peninsulas.
Islam per se was not damaging to the Aksumite Empire as a figure of punishment for having remained steadfast as a Christian state. The decline of Aksumite could also be attributed to the decline of commerce in the Red Sea after Roman and Hellenistic Empires were removed from the region.
Christianity also brought some problems to Aksum and Roman as Islam did to Arabia and Persia between Shiites and Sunni regarding the legitimacy of the four Rashidun Caliphate (Abu Baker, Umar, Uthman, Ali).
Constantine I adopted Christianity as Roman official religion in 313 AD. Soon trouble arise between different sects within the religion (Anomoean, Homoousuan, Homoiousian, Heteroousian). The Homoousuan believe that Father the God and Christ the God are consubstantial, one and the same in essence – coeternal.
The Arian Anomoean believe that God the Son was a creature made from nothing and has a beginning.
The Heteroousuan believe that God the Father and God the Son are alike, similar but not one and the same.
The Catholics believe that Christ is the perfect God and perfect human, in one person two.
Four council meetings were held; in 325 Council of Nicaea, 335 Council Nicomedia (Beirut) Council of Constantinople in 381 and finally that of Catholicism at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD were held to sort out or affirm one schism against another..
In 325 (when – BC or AD?) the Nicene Creed declared Arianism excommunicated under Bishop Alexander. In 335 (?) Athanasius representing Bishop Sylvester I from Alexandria was found wanting, and Arius (Arian) was rehabilitated only in 381 (?) to be again excommunicated.
Constantius II wrote a letter to Ezana to recall Frumentius to Alexandria and be replaced by Theophilos if India because of his Monophysite – he was Trinitarian.
In Trinitarian doctrine, God exists as three persons or hypostases, but is one being, having a single divine nature. … “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” are not names for different parts of God, but one name for God because three persons exist in God as one entity. They cannot be separate from one another.
Council of Chalcedon declared that Christ is both divine and human in 451 AD. The embodiment of Christ was perfect human and perfect God. As Rome was struggling to keep up from internal rebellion the schisms of Christianity did not help staving its downfall, much the same fight between Tewahedo, Echat, and Kebat እጫት: ቅባት:ተዋሕዶ did to Ethiopia.
Click the link to see Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaohs of Egypt Axum Awaken… Egypt Harken! Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaohs of Egypt
Poems to read: If it waddles like a duck