By Stuart Munro-Hay
Owing to the lack of inscriptions and other sources of information, this period is very inadequately documented. A regulation of Constantius II of the late 350s, in the legal text called the Codex Theodosianus (Pharr 1952: 380, 12.12.2) speaks of persons traveling (presumably on official business) to the Aksumites and Himyarites. It reads; The same Augusti and Julianus Caesar to Musonianus, Praetorian Prefect; No person who has been instructed to go to the tribe of the Aksumites or the Homerites shall henceforth tarry at Alexandria beyond the space of the time-limit of one year, and after a year he shall not receive subsistence allowance.
This gives the impression that contact was relatively frequent between the empire and Aksum in the later fourth and early fifth century. The law was issued at about the same time as the letter of Constantius II to Ezana and Sazana was written. Illustration 11b. Drawings of a gold and silver issue (d. c. 16mm and c. 14mm) of king Ebana. The obverse of the gold issue bears a legend which may read `king of the Habashat’, and the reverse of the silver shows a cross-crosslet with a gold-inlaid diamond-shaped center.
The Aksumite coins continue to provide a sequence of rulers, and from their designs and legends, some conclusions can be drawn (see Ch. 9). One remarkable feature of these coins, is that the gold (in one case in a hoard with some late Roman solidi — Munro-Hay 1989ii) has often been found in South Arabia, and that much of the gold and some of the silver bears a legend which may read `king of Habashat’ or `king of the Habashites’. Could this be a hint that the Aksumites still managed to maintain some kind of legal (or even actual?) footing there, as asserted by Ezana’s title `king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan’? Only one silver Aksumite coin, probably of the fifth century, has so far been reported from South Arabia, from Shabwa, capital of Hadhramawt (Munro-Hay, Syria, forthcoming.)
Other interesting features of the coinage of this period are the appearance of the cross, often gilded, on the coins, and the issue of coins with no royal name in all three metals. One king only, Mehadeyis (MHDYS on the unvowelled coin legends), issued copper/bronze coins with a Ge`ez legend, interestingly enough almost an exact translation of the Roman emperor Constantine’s famous motto `In hoc signo vinces’ (by this sign (the cross) you will conquer). He is also the last king to specifically mention Aksum or the Aksumites in his coinage legends until the post-Kaleb period.
Illustration 11c. Kings of Axum, MHDYS . Circa 400-450 AD. “MHDYS King of Aksum” (in Ge’ez), draped bust right wearing headcloth, flanked by grain ears / “By This Cross He Will Conquer” (in Ge’ez), cross potent; the interior of the cross gilt. Munro-Hay 70
Christian mottoes on the late fourth and fifth century coins abound, and it is evident that the climate was right, from the point-of-view of official sanction, for the missionary efforts of the Nine Saints whom the Ethiopian hagiographies attribute to the latter part of this period (Ch. 10: 4). There is no sign on the coinage of a lapse into paganism again (Pirenne 1975; Shahid 1979), but rather of an increasing emphasis on the rulers’ Christian faith. The names of the kings whose coins situate them in this phase of Aksumite history are; Ezana, MHDYS, Ouazebas, Eon, Ebana, Nezana, Nezool, Ousas and/or Ousana(s). Specific coinage questions are dealt with in Ch. 9 below.
Since coins of king Ouazebas were found in the occupation debris of a room buried under which were some of the broken fragments of the largest of the stelae at Aksum (de Contenson 1959; Munro-Hay, forthcoming), this, Aksum’s largest monolithic monument, could have fallen as early as the reign of Ouazebas himself, very likely in the late fourth or early fifth century. The stele seems to have been the last of such monumental funerary memorials and possibly they went out of favor as Christianity spread, bringing with it new ideas about burial (see Chs. 5: 4-5, and 14).
Illustration 11f.Kings Of Axum, Ouazebas AE18. Circa 350-400 AD. OVAZEBAC BACI LEYC, draped bust right wearing headcloth, flanked by grain ears / (May This [the cross] Please the Country), small draped bust right in the circle; the interior of the circle gilt. Munro-Hay 54.
The story of a scholastics, or lawyer, of Thebes in Egypt who traveled to India after a stay at Aksum, is preserved in a letter written by a certain Palladius, probably the bishop of Helenopolis by that name who lived from 368-431AD (Derrett 1960; Desanges 1969). Palladius traveled to India to investigate Brahmin philosophy in the company of Moses, bishop of Adulis. Palladius’ journey seems to have been undertaken sometime in the first quarter of the fifth century, and it was after that that he wrote his letter to some personage of high rank to inform him about the Brahmins, using the scholastics’ information. The latter had spent some time in Ethiopia, entering the country at Adulis and going on to Aksum. He eventually was able to go on an `Indian’ ship to India. His comments have been thought to indicate that the reputation of Aksum had declined rather in this period: the king of Aksum is apparently referred to rather scathingly as an Indian minor kinglet (basiliskos mikros). Although this title could simply result from the attitude of a Roman subject to almost any ruler in comparison to the Roman and Persian emperors, it may also reflect a certain diminution of Aksumite power at the time. The exact meaning of the title `basiliskos’, however, is still the subject of discussion (Donadoni 1959; Hansen 1986), and may actually be a superior title to basileus in certain circumstances. A significant point is that basilisks appear to be used otherwise particularly for Nubian rulers. It is the title used by the Blemmye king Kharakhin, a certain Pakutimne refers to himself as `epiph(ylarkhos) of the basiliskos’, the six Blemmye/Beja kings captured by Ezana’s brothers (DAE 4, 6 & 7) are called basiliskoi, and king Silko of the Nobatae is also basiliskos (Munro-Hay 1982-3: 93, n. 23). It may be that Palladius or the skholastikos confused the titles of the Aksumite king and a Nubian ruler, but mikros is still not very complimentary.
Illustration 11g. KINGS of AXUM (Aksum). Kaleb. Circa 475-525 AD. Third Solidus (17mm, 1.55 gm, 12h). +draped bust right in headcloth, flanked by grain ears. Munro-Hay 102; BMC Aksum 408.
Kaleb, first ruler in our next period (see below), calls himself the `son of Tazena’ on his inscription found at Aksum (Schneider 1972) and on his gold coins (where it is written in Greek as Thezena or variants; Munro-Hay 1984: 116-123). Tazena is also known from the Ge`ez stories about the Nine Saints, where he is identified as a king (Sergew Hable Sellassie, 1972: 115ff). Kaleb’s own inscription from Aksum refers to `the throne of my fathers’ which may not actually confirm that his father Tazena was king but at least means that Kaleb regarded himself as belonging to the legitimate dynasty.
Tazena, if he actually ruled as a king of Aksum, may be identified with one or other of the names known from the coinage, since Aksumite rulers used several names; Ousas/Ousana(s) being perhaps the most likely identification from the numismatic point-of-view (MunroHay 1987). The sequence is given by the king-lists (Conti Rossini 1909) and hagiographies is usually Sa`aldoba, Ella Amida, Tazena, Kaleb, but apart from Tazena’s name on Kaleb’s coinage, so far only Kaleb himself can be accurately identified from other sources. There exists a Syriac work, the Book of the Himyarites (Moberg 1928), about the war in Himyar which Kaleb waged against the Jewish king Yusuf. The surviving leaves of this book were found, remarkably enough, acting as padding for the covers of another much later book and through this safe concealment survived to our day. In the Book of the Himyarites, mention is made of a previous expedition conducted by the Aksumites to Arabia, led by a certain Hiuna. This name unquestionably resembles the royal name Eon (EWN) as it is written in Greek on the coins of Eon Bisi Anaaph (Munro-Hay 1984: 88- 9). The difference in the spelling is no more than would result from transposing the name into the two languages concerned.
Eon, interestingly enough, appears to be the first of the Aksumite rulers to use the mysterious title + BAC + CIN + BAX + ABA, on his gold coins. This is of uncertain meaning but has been interpreted to include the phrase `Basileus Habasinon’, or king of Habashat/the Habash, one of the titles used by the South Arabians in their inscriptions when referring to the Aksumite rulers (Doresse 1957: I, 278ff). Further, Eon’s gold coins have been found in South Arabia, as have those of almost all his successors until the reign of Kaleb (Anzani 1928, Munro-Hay 1978, Munro-Hay forthcoming). It is possible, then, that the Aksumites continued to struggle to preserve some sort of foothold or official presence in South Arabia during the fifth century, in spite of the consolidation and expansion thereof the power of local rulers such as Abukarib As`ad. We cannot know for certain how much truth there might be in this suggestion until inscriptions of one or other of the Ethiopian kings of the period or their Arabian contemporaries come to light.
Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity
- 2-1. The Legends of Aksum
2-2. Aksum in Ancient Sources
2-3. The Rediscovery of Aksum in Modern Times
- 3-1. The Landscape
3-2. Origins and Expansion of the Kingdom
3-3. The Development of Aksum; an Interpretation
3-4. Cities, Towns, and Villages
3-5. The Inhabitants
3-6. Foreign Relations
- 4-1 The Pre-Aksumite Period
4-2 Early Aksum until the Reign of Gadarat
4-3 Gadarat to Endubis
4-4 Endubis to Ezana
4-5 Ezana after his Conversion, to Kaleb
4-6. Kaleb to the End of the Coinage
4-7. The Post-Aksumite Period
- 5-1. The Site
5-2. The Town Plan
5-3. Portuguese Records of Aksum
5-4. Aksumite Domestic Architecture
5-5. The Funerary Architecture
5-6. The Stelae
- 7-1. The King and the State
7-2. The Regalia
7-3. Dual Kingship
7-5. The Royal Titles
7-6. The Coronation
- 8-1. Population
8-2. Agriculture, Husbandry, and Animal Resources
8-3. Metal Resources
8-4. Trade, Imports and Exports
8-5. Local Industries
- 9-1. The Origins
9-2. Introduction and Spread of the Coinage
9-3. Internal Aspects of the Coinage
9-4. The Mottoes
9-5. The End of the Coinage
9-6. Modern Study of the Coinage
- 10-1. The Pre-Christian Period
10-2. The Conversion to Christianity
10-3. Abreha and Atsbeha
10-4. Ecclesiastical Development
- 11-1. The Inscriptional Record
11-2. The Military Structure
11-4. The Fleet
11-5. The Aksumite inscriptions
- 15-1. The Failure of Resources
15-2. The Climate
15-3. External and Internal Political Troubles
15-4. The Najashi Ashama ibn Abjar
15-5. The NatsaniDaniell