Facts about Axum

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Axum, sometimes spelt as Aksum refers to the capital city of an ancient and powerful kingdom that existed during the early Christian era in northern Ethiopia and is also one of the first major empires that were Christian converts after their ruler converted to Christianity in around 356A.D.  It was a Christian empire and remained in power up to the 7th century when Islam rulers rose to power in the adjacent regions of the kingdom. The kingdom flourished primarily through marine trade having been located along the Red Sea. They controlled trade and goods coming from different parts of the world including Rome, India, Egypt and Persia.

Here are some fascinating facts about the Axum Empire.

  • Axum is well-known for the many gigantic carved obelisks that were created during the pre-Christian era and also the extensive royal underground necropolis.

  • The kingdom is said to have minted their own currency and had their own language, called Ge’ez.

  • Axum was the first African empire outside of those under Rome to have produced their own coins. Production of coins dates back to around 270 AD under the rule of King Endubis.

  • During the 2nd and 3rd century, Aksum was a growing trade empire after which an Aksumite invasion took place in the 4th century.

  • When the ruler and people of Axum converted to Christianity, they got religiously as well as politically linked with Byzantine and also extended their control over parts of Arabia.

  • When the Arabs started invading Axum in the 7th and 8th centuries, sources from Mediterranean trade closed down.

  • The Axum Empire imported goods such as oil, wine, silver, gold and olive and exported luxury items such as brass and copper, glass crystal, frankincense and myrrh etc. Myrrh and frankincense which were exported to Rome were extracted from the resin of certain trees that grew in abundance in the mountainous regions of Axum, now part of south-western Arabia.

  • Before conversion to Christianity, the people of Axum followed a polytheistic religion meaning that they worshipped many Gods, each of whom represented different powers of the natural world.

  • Like the Egyptians, Axumites also built elaborate tombs for the wealthy ruling classes. King Ezana’s Stele that is about 70 feet high still stands and is made of solid stone dating back to about 300 AD. Most Axumite monuments were thin and tall.  They also contained inscriptions about the king’s achievements and events of historical importance.

  • Axum continues to be a centre of Ethiopian Christianity even in the present day.

  • Modern day descendants of the inhabitants of Axum belong to tribes such as Tigrayans and Gurage. Their language too has been found to be closely related to the Ge’ez language of the Axums.

  • By the 12 and 13th century, Axumite power shifted to Agew people and a new Christian dynastic line was created known as the Zagwe dynasty.

The decline of the Axum Empire is often said to be caused by the Arabian invasions and end of trade with Persians and Arabs. However, some historians also believe that deteriorating environmental conditions were also to account for the decline of the civilisation.

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