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					                                    Ethiopia - Aksum

The state of Aksum developed around the first century BC, and at the height of its power
it stretched from the Red Sea Coast to the Nile Valley, from Sudan to Somalia, including
also part of Yemen on the Arabian side of the Red Sea. In about AD 300 the armies of
Aksum conquered Meroe in Nubia, ending the empire. The wealth of Aksum was based
on the commerce between Rome, the Red Sea, India and the rest of Africa. Gold, ivory,
incense and obsidian were exported in exchange for cloth, iron, oil, wine and glass.

The title of the kings of Aksum was Negusa Nagast or King of Kings. They created an
important civilisation which has lasted almost up to the present day. Palaces and
buildings were built in an original architectural style, and enormous carved stelae were
erected in memory of the dead kings. In fact the Aksumites had their own form of
writing, and many written records were left in Gi’iz and Greek, making it easy to
decipher them - Greek was often used for commerce in the area and with the
Mediterranean. Coins were minted and used as currency.

During the second century AD, Christianity spread throughout the area, although there
had already been contacts with the Christian world before that. In about 330 Ezana, the
emperor, was converted to Christianity, starting a tradition that was to last many

In spite of the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Aksum stayed Christian, because the
Arabs considered Aksum to be one of the great civilisations of the world, on the same
level as the Byzantine Empire and China, and so did not carry out a holy war against it.
Problems arose with its connections to the rest of the Christian world, when Egypt was
taken by the Muslims, as this cut off its link with the Mediterranean Sea and the
Byzantine Empire. Some contact was kept with the Coptic church in Egypt, which sent a
Patriarch to Aksum.

Many of Aksum’s trading routes in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean were lost through
the Islamic expansion, and at last it was forced to turn inwards and look for new markets
within Africa. It found these in the northern Ethiopian highlands. Slowly the Aksumites
began to move the centre of their empire away from Aksum, and by the seventh century
AD, Aksum was abandoned. It was only used as a ritual place where new kings were
crowned, to show that they traced their line to Aksum. The new capital was moved to
Amhara in the south. By the tenth century a Christian kingdom had been established in
the central northern highlands, which extended from present day Eritrea to Zeila in
modern Somalia. A new dynasty, known as the Zagwe, developed.