Axumite Kingdom

From Academic Kids

The Kingdom of Aksum (or Axum), was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from ca. 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 people who crossed from South Arabia (what is today Yemen). The kingdom started to decline in the 7th century AD, and the population was forced to go farther inland to the highlands, finally falling to 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 Axum, Dil Na'od.



The Kingdom of Aksum at its height extended across areas of what are today Eritrea, Northern Ethiopia and Yemen. The capital city of the kingdom was Aksum (in Northern Ethiopia). Other important cities included Adulis and Matara, in what is today Eritrea.

Society Structure

The Aksumite people represented a mix of Cushitic speaking people in Ethiopia and Semitic speaking people in southern Arabia, who settled the territory across the Red Sea around 500 BC.

The Aksumite kings had the official title negusa nagast - King of Kings. Aksumite kings traced their lineage to David, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This royal heritage was claimed by all emperors of Ethiopia.

Foreign relations and economy

Aksum traded with India and Rome (later Byzantium, a strong cultural influence on Aksum), exporting ivory, tortoise shell, gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices. It utilised its position to profit in trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states. It had a strong navy that dominated the Red Sea and reached India.

In the 2nd century AD, Aksum acquired tributary states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, and conquered northern Ethiopia. In the 4th century AD, they conquered the Kingdom of Kush.

Aksum remained a strong empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD. However, because the Axumites had sheltered Muhammad's first followers, the Muslims never attempted to overthrow Aksum as they spread across the face of Africa.

With time and expanding Islamic influence, Aksum was forced into isolation and thus lost its privileged position in 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. Aksum, however, remained untouched by the Islamic movements across Africa.

Cultural achivements

The Kingdom of Aksum developed its own alphabet (Geez or Ge'ez).

It adopted Christianity in place of its former polytheistic religion under King Ezana around AD 325. 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. Aksumite Christanity may be one of the foundations for the legend of Prester John.

A legend has it 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 Aksum. This custom of a 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.

The Kingdom of Aksum was also the first African polity to issue its own coins. From the reign of Endubis up to Armah (approximately 270 to 610), gold, silver and bronze coins in imitation of contemporary Roman currency were minted. Issuing coinage in ancient times was an act of great importance in itself, for it proclaimed that the Axumite kingdom considered itself equal to its neighbors. The presence of coins also simplified trade, and was at once a useful instrument of propaganda and a source of profit to the kingdom.

In the early times of the kingdom, around 2500 years ago, an unknown king ordered the construction of giant Obelisk of Axum.

List of kings (very partial)


  • Stuart Munro-Hays. Aksum. Edinburgh: University Press. 1991. ISBN 0748601066
  • Yuri M. Kobishchanov. Axum (Joseph W. Michels, editor; Lorraine T. Kapitanoff, translator). University Park, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 1979. ISBN 0271005319

See also


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