Σάββατο, 5 Μαρτίου 2016

Kingdom of Aksum in Aethiopia : Greek culture, civilisation and Christianity in subsaharan Africa

The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was a trading nation in the area of Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia. It existed from approximately 100–940 AD. It grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period c. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD, and was a major player in the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India. The Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own Aksumite currency, the state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom. The Axumites erected a number of large stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre Christian times. One of these granite columns is the largest such structure in the world, standing at 90 feet. Under Ezana (320–360) Aksum adopted Christianity. In the 7th century, early Muslims from Mecca also sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom, a journey known in Islamic history as the First Hijra. Its ancient capital, also called Aksum, was in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.
Aksum is mentioned in the 1st-century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as an important market place for ivory, which was exported throughout the ancient world. It states that the ruler of Aksum in the 1st century AD was Zoskales, who, besides ruling the kingdom, likewise controlled two harbours on the Red Sea: Adulis (near Massawa) and Assab located in Eritrea. He is also said to have been familiar with Greek literature. According to the medieval Liber Axumae (Book of Aksum), Aksum's first capital, Mazaber, was built by Itiyopis, son of Kush.The Kingdom of Aksum was a trading empire centered in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. It existed from approximately 100–940 AD, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period c. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. According to the medieval Liber Axumae (Book of Aksum), Aksum's first capital, Mazaber, was built by Itiyopis, son of Cush. The capital was later moved to Aksum in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century. The Empire of Aksum at its height at times extended across most of present-dayEritrea, northern Ethiopia. The capital city of the empire was Aksum, now in northern Ethiopia. Today a smaller community, the city of Aksum was once a bustling metropolis, cultural and economic center. Two hills and two streams lie on the east and west expanses of the city; perhaps providing the initial impetus for settling this area. Along the hills and plain outside the city, the Aksumites had cemeteries with elaborate grave stones called stelae, or obelisks. Other important cities included Yeha, Hawulti-Melazo, Matara, Adulis, and Qohaito, the last three of which are now in Eritrea. By the reign of Endubis in the late 3rd century, it had begun minting its own currency and was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China. It converted to Christianity in 325 or 328 under King Ezana and was the first state ever to use the image of the cross on its coins. Around 520, the King Kaleb sent an expedition to Yemen against the Jewish Himyarite King Dhu Nuwas, who was persecuting the Christian/Aksumite community in his kingdom. Dhu Nuwas was deposed and killed and Kaleb appointed a Christian Himyarite, Sumuafa Ashawa, as his viceroy. However, around 525 this viceroy was deposed by the Aksumite general Abreha with support of Ethiopians who had settled in Yemen, and withheld tribute to Kaleb. When Kaleb sent another expedition against Abreha this force defected, killing their commander, and joining Abreha. Another expedition sent against them was defeated, leaving Yemen under Abreha's rule, where he continued to promote the Christian faith until his death, not long after which Yemen was conquered by the Persians. According to Munro-Hay these wars may have been Aksum's swan-song as a great power, with an overall weakening of Aksumite authority and over-expenditure in money and manpower. According to Ethiopian traditions, Kaleb eventually abdicated and retired to a monastery. It is also possible that Ethiopia was affected by the Plague of Justinian around this time.Aksum remained a strong, though weakened, empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the 7th century. However, unlike the relations between the Islamic powers and Christian Europe, Aksum (see Sahama), which provided shelter to Muhammad's early followers around 615, was on good terms with its Islamic neighbors. Nevertheless, as early as 640, Umar ibn al-Khattāb sent a naval expedition against Adulis under Alkama bin Mujazziz, but it was eventually defeated. Aksumite naval power also declined throughout the period, though in 702 Aksumite pirates were able to invade the Hejaz and occupy Jeddah. In retaliation, however, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik was able to take the Dahlak Archipelago from Aksum, which became Muslim from that point on, though later recovered in the 9th century and vassal to the Emperor of Ethiopia.Covering parts of what is now northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean (Rome, Byzantium), exporting ivory, tortoise shell, gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices. Aksum's access to both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile enabled its strong navy to profit in trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states. The main exports of Aksum were, as would be expected of a state during this time, agricultural products. The land was much more fertile during the time of the Aksumites than now, and their principal crops were grains such as wheat and barley. The people of Aksum also raised cattle, sheep, and camels. Wild animals were also hunted for things such as ivory and rhinoceros horns. They traded with Roman traders as well as with Egyptian and Persian merchants. The empire was also rich with gold and iron deposits. These metals were valuable to trade, but another mineral was also widely traded: salt. Salt was abundant in Aksum and was traded quite frequently.It benefited from a major transformation of the maritime trading system that linked the Roman Empire and India. This change took place around the start of the 1st century. The older trading system involved coastal sailing and many intermediary ports. The Red Sea was of secondary importance to the Persian Gulf and overland connections to the Levant. Starting around 100 BC a route from Egypt to India was established, making use of the Red Sea and using monsoon winds to cross the Arabian Sea directly to southern India. By about 100 AD, the volume of traffic being shipped on this route had eclipsed older routes. Roman demand for goods from southern India increased dramatically, resulting in greater number of large ships sailing down the Red Sea from Roman rule in Egypt to the Arabian Sea and India. The Kingdom of Aksum was ideally located to take advantage of the new trading situation. Adulis soon became the main port for the export of African goods, such as ivory, incense, gold, slaves, and exotic animals. In order to supply such goods the kings of Aksum worked to develop and expand an inland trading network. A rival, and much older trading network that tapped the same interior region of Africa was that of the Kingdom of Kush, which had long supplied Egypt with African goods via the Nile corridor. By the 1st century AD, however, Aksum had gained control over territory previously Kushite. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea explicitly describes how ivory collected in Kushite territory was being exported through the port of Adulis instead of being taken to Meroë, the capital of Kush. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD the Kingdom of Aksum continued to expand their control of the southern Red Sea basin. A caravan route to Egypt was established which bypassed the Nile corridor entirely. Aksum succeeded in becoming the principal supplier of African goods to the Roman Empire, not least as a result of the transformed Indian Ocean trading system.The Empire of Aksum is notable for a number of achievements, such as its own alphabet, the Ge'ez alphabet which was eventually modified to include vowels, becoming an abugida. Furthermore, in the early times of the empire, around 1700 years ago, giant Obelisks to mark emperors' (and nobles') tombs (underground grave chambers) were constructed, the most famous of which is the Obelisk of Aksum. Under Emperor Ezana, Aksum adopted Christianity in place of its former polytheistic and Judaic religions around 325. This gave rise to the present day Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (in 1953), and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church (in 1993). Since the schism with orthodoxy following the Council of Chalcedon (451), it has been an important Miaphysite church, and its scriptures and liturgy continue to be in Ge'ez.
Around 324 AD the King Ezana II was converted to Christianity by his Greek Christian teacher Frumentius of Alexandria, the founder of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Frumentius taught the emperor while he was young, and it is believed that at some point staged the conversion of the empire. We know that the Aksumites converted to Christianity because in their coins they replaced the disc and crescent with the cross. Frumentius was in contact with the Church of Alexandria, and was appointed Bishop of Ethiopia around the year 330. The Church of Alexandria never closely managed the affairs of the churches in Aksum, allowing them to develop their own unique form of Christianity. However, the Church of Alexandria probably did retain some influence considering that the churches of Aksum followed the Church of Alexandria into Oriental Orthodoxy by rejecting the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Aksum is also the alleged home of the holy relic the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is said to have been placed in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion by Menelik I for safekeeping.The Empire of Aksum was one of the first African polities economically and politically ambitious enough to issue its own coins, which bore legends in Ge'ez and Greek. From the reign of Endubis up to Armah (270 to 610), gold, silver and bronze coins were minted. Issuing coinage in ancient times was an act of great importance in itself, for it proclaimed that the Aksumite Empire considered itself equal to its neighbors. The Ezana stone is an artifact from the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. It is a stone monument which documents the conversion of King Ezana to Christianity and his subjugation of various neighboring areas, including Meroë. From AD 330 to 356, King Ezana ruled the ancient Aksumite kingdom in the Horn of Africa. He fought against the Nubians and recorded his victories on stone written in Ge'ez(Eritrean/Ethiopian), Sabaean (Arabian) and Greek praising God for his victories. His carvings in stone provided a trilingual monument in different languages, similar to the Rosetta stone. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church had its beginnings during this period. Rufinus's Ecclesiastical History narrates that Saint Frumentius, a slave and tutor for the very young King, converted him to Christianity. Towards the end of his reign, King Ezana launched a campaign against the Kushites around 350 which brought down the Kingdom of Kush. Various stone inscriptions written in Ge'ez (Ge'ez script) have been found at Meroë, the central city of the Kushites.

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