The suggestion that some Aksumite kings took colleagues on the throne has already been mentioned. The examples of this practice, frequent in the Roman and South Arabian ruling dynasties, might have encouraged the kings to hope that such a system could help overcome succession crises and make the king’s day to day tasks in ruling an ever-expanding empire somewhat easier.
However, the evidence for this theory is very tenuous indeed. In some ways, the idea of dual kingship seems alien to the spirit of Aksumite monarchy as far as we know anything about it. Were both monarchs regarded as `sons of Mahrem’, for example, or was the duality, if it existed, really only the recognition of a successor during a senior ruler’s lifetime, and purely an arrangement for the legitimate transmission of power? In this case, would only the senior partner be represented on the coins and use the titulature? The first occasion when dual monarchy can be suggested is in the third century in the inscription mentioning Datawnas and Zaqarnas from al-Mis`al (Robin 1981). The idea is based on the use of the dual term, `the two kings of Aksum’. The inscription remains unpublished and is therefore not yet available for study; and so the question must rest as to whether these kings actually ruled contemporaneously or in succession.
The second possibility for dual kingship is that raised by the bi-regnal issue of a silver coin of Wazeba and Ousanas (Anzani 1941: Munro-Hay 1978 and 1984ii; Hahn 1983). The production of such an issue could have been an accident, but this seems unlikely since the three known specimens are all from different dies, and such accidents are otherwise unknown. It could have been a deliberate issue of two jointly reigning kings, Wazeba presumably the senior, since the obverse die is his. Or it could have been produced by confusion in the mint where the dies of two jointly-reigning kings were being used simultaneously. There may be some political problem concealed in this issue; Wazeba presumably did not last for long, since he is otherwise known from only a single gold coin and a not-very-common silver issue, whereas all the other kings of the period are much better represented by the types of coins they issued and the numbers so far recorded.
Illustration 44. Ezana as Christian (mid 4th Century AD), Gold, crowned and draped bust right, holding a stick, between wheat stalks, the triangle of pellets above, within beaded circle
An interesting conundrum also touched on above, is posed by the status of Sazana, Ezana’s brother. The numismatist Wolfgang Hahn, the chief proponent of the dual kingship theory, has suggested (1983) that Sazana was a co-ruler of Ezana, and identifies some of the coins bearing the name Ousana as his. However, the sole documents which might justify this are the address of the Roman emperor Constantius II’s letter to the two princes of Aksum (Szymusiak 1958), and the much later tradition whereby two brothers, Abreha and Atsbeha, were on the throne at the time of the conversion of Ethiopia to Christianity. The first of these documents is only a copy of the letter preserved in the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria; and even if the letter is an accurate copy, we have no means of knowing how well-informed the Roman chancery was about the Ethiopian sovereign and his family. The second is so late a tradition that it is of very dubious value, and another explanation has been given for the names Abreha and Atsbeha (see Ch. 10: 3). Ezana alludes to his brother Sazana in his inscriptions, but he neither accords him any special titles, nor does he differentiate him from the other brother, Hadefan, who is also mentioned. Finally, it is not considered that the numismatic suggestion has sufficient value to strengthen the proposal (Munro-Hay 1984ii).
Another possible dual reign is again suggested by the coinage. The kings Nezana and Nezool both have gold issues, which are, in terms of modern recovery figures, commoner for Nezool than for Nezana. On the other hand, Nezana has a silver issue while Nezool does not (so far). On Nezana’s silver appears a monogram, NZWL, or Nezool. The tentative interpretation of this is that Nezool was the chief partner in a dual reign, issuing gold in his own name, whilst his partner Nezana issued the lesser metal but also added his senior’s monogram. On Nezool’s death, Nezana issued his own gold, even employing one of Nezool’s obverse dies with his own reverse (Munro-Hay 1984ii). However, the much enlarged selection of these coins supplied by the al-Madhariba hoard (Munro-Hay 1989ii) shows the condition of the die as worsening from Nezana to Nezool, and the situation could well be reversed.
Illustration 43. The obverse of a gold coin of king Nezana of Aksum shows the monogram of Nezool above his head.
The inscription of Sumyafa` Ashwa`, appointed by Kaleb as king of Himyar, refers to `the kings of Aksum’, using the plural forms nagast and amlak (Ch. 4: 7; Ryckmans 1946). Since coins of Kaleb and Alla Amidas are die-linked (Munro-Hay 1984ii), it seems possible that the latter was co-opted by Kaleb, (conceivably when Kaleb began to turn his attention to South Arabia), and that it is to these joint monarchs that Sumyafa` Ashwa` refers. However, the inscription, which is much damaged, mentions only Ella Atsbeha by name, and may simply refer to the Aksumite crown in general terms. The question is interesting in that Kaleb is the only one of the coin-issuing Aksumite monarchs who is thought to have left Africa for some considerable time, if we can believe the various accounts of the Himyarite war (Shahid 1979), and, under such circumstances, he would surely have needed to arrange a regency in his absence to deal with the day-to-day running of the kingdom.
Finally, again on numismatic grounds, Dr. Hahn has suggested that the kings Ioel, Gersem and Hataz all reigned together. Once again, the numismatic evidence, though interesting, is not conclusive enough to show beyond doubt that these three were joint rulers.
To sum up, the suggestion of dual kingship, plausible enough as a theory, seems conceivable for Wazeba/Ousanas, Nezana/Nezool, and Kaleb/Alla Amidas, but is not very convincing otherwise.
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