By Stuart Munro-Hay
The formal protocol of the Aksumite kings on their inscriptions is interesting both as an indication of which titles the Aksumite rulers decided, for one reason or another, to adopt and as a guide to the official version of the kingdom’s status at different periods. However, so far we only know the form of the titulary from widely separated instances, in the inscriptions of Ezana, Kaleb and Wa`zeb (see Ch. 11: 5). Ezana’s titles are, on his pagan inscription in Greek, (DAE 4), `Aeizanas, king of the Aksumites, the Himyarites, Raeidan, the Ethiopians, the Sabaeans, Silei (Salhen), Tiyamo, the Beja, and Kasou, king of kings, son of the unconquered Ares’. The version written in the Epigraphic South Arabian script (DAE 6) reads in the order Aksum, Himyar, Raydan, Habashat, Saba, Salhen, Tsiyamo, Kasu, and the Beja, and the Ge`ez version (DAE 7) reads Aksum, Himyar, Kasu, Saba, Habashat, Raydan, Salhen, Siyamo, Beja; both of these add the phrase `king of kings, son of the unconquered Mahrem’. There does not seem to be any particular anxiety over the order of the states mentioned, nor is precedence always given to Arabian or African names; however, the general outline of the majority of the inscriptional titularies seems to prescribe Aksum, Arabia, and Africa in that order. On Ezana’s other inscriptions he gives the filiation Ella Amida, and the title Bisi Halen, or Alene, and mentions that he is the son of Ares/Mahrem or, in the case of his Christian inscription, the servant of Christ. The inscription DAE 8 may not be of Ezana (to whom it was attributed by Littmann) but of his predecessor, possibly Ousanas. It appears to read `[Ousanas?] Ella Amida, Bisi [Gi]sene . . .’ but this reading cannot at present be checked; the order of the countries following is the same as in DAE 4 but omits Habashat.
The next inscriptions preserved date from over 150 years later. Kaleb’s inscription gives the protocol `Kaleb Ella Atsbeha, son of Tazena, Bisi Lazen, king of Aksum, Himyar, Dhu Raydan, Saba, Salhen, the High Country and Yamanat, the Coastal Plain, Hadhramawt, and all their Arabs, the Beja, Noba, Kasu, Siyamo, DRBT . . . and the land of ATFY(?), servant of Christ’. The South Arabian section of this is exactly that expanded form adopted in the later fourth century by Abukarib As`ad and employed by his successors in the region, including the Ethiopian usurper Abreha himself. The inscription of Wa`zeb more modestly only names Aksum, Himyar, Dhu Raydan, Saba, Salaf (Salhen), Beja, Kasu, Tsiyamo, WYTG. Wa`zeb also calls himself `son of Ella Atsbeha, Bisi Hadefan‘, and `servant of Christ’. His titulary thus reverts to the older form employed by Ezana (and out of use in Arabia even at that time) for the overseas section, abandoning his father’s more elaborate Arabian claims.
king Ezena statue
The titular of an Aksumite king, therefore, consisted of several separate elements; the personal name, the `Ella’-name, the `Bisi’-name, a real or divine filiation, certain epithets, and then the enumeration of territories. The personal name is often, in the case of the Christian kings, a biblical name. Apart from Kaleb, these are only known from the coinage.
The name preceded by `Ella‘, meaning `he who . . .’ is an epithet, probably employed after the king’s accession or coronation as his reign title or throne name. Kaleb’s name Ella Atsbeha, for example, means `he who brought forth the dawn’. Ezana’s `Ella’-name is unknown; possibly he could have used one or more, giving rise to the legend of `Abreha and Atsbeha’ as the rulers of Ethiopia in Frumentius’ time. Such throne names might have been changed at times by kings anxious to commemorate some special feature of their reign. The `Bisi’ element, meaning `man of . . .’ may refer to a clan division in the royal family, or possibly to a military regiment with which he was especially connected.
Among regimental names mentioned in the inscriptions, there are a few which resemble the `Bisi’ names of one or other of the kings. The `Bisi’-title is not available for all the kings but is attested from Endubis to Wa`zeb, a period of over two hundred and fifty years, and later for Lalibela. These are the known examples;
Endubis Bisi Dakhu.
Aphilas Bisi Dimele.
WZB B’SY ZGLY (Zagalay?).
Ousanas Bisi Gisene.
Ezana Bisi Alene, Alen, or Halen.
Eon Bisi Anaaph.
KLB . . . B’S LZN (Lazen?).
W`ZB B’S HDFN (Hadefan?).
Lalibela be’esi `azzal (but see below).
François de Blois has recently (1984) proposed a credible solution to the problem of the `Bisi’-title. He suggests that the clan system in ancient Aksum was matrilineal, and thus each successive ruler bore his mother’s clan-name. These clans were also the basis of the military organization, hence the coincidence of certain `Bisi’ names with certain regiment names. All the kings known from inscriptions give their patronymic or filiation, and Kaleb does so on his coins as well.
The custom was probably a usual one in Ethiopian society of the time and is found also used in the inscriptions of the hatseni Daniel, son of Debra Ferem (see Ch. 15). In the twelfth-thirteenth century, we have some of the elements of a titulary from the reign of Lalibela, the great Zagwé king. The History of the Patriarchs, which usually just refers to the kings anonymously, calls him Lalibala son of Shanuda (`the Lion’) of the race of al-Nakba. Other sources add his throne-name, Gabra Masqal, and an epithet, be’esi `azzal, `the strong man’, which resembles one of the earlier `Bisi’-titles (Atiya et al 1950: III, III, 184ff; Conti Rossini 1901: 188).
King Ezena statue
Given the nature of the Aksumite `imperial’ hegemony, with independent states bound in a loose federation only by their more or less theoretical subordination to the Aksumite negusa nagast, the territorial elements of the titulary do seem to represent fact rather than fiction. One hint in support of this assertion is that while Wa`zeb abandoned his father Kaleb’s reference to the Hadhramawt and the highland and coastal areas of Yemen, the contemporary king in South Arabia, Abreha, continued to employ them in his own titulary. Procopius (ed. Dewing 1914: 191) tells us that Abreha agreed to pay tribute to Kaleb’s successor and was thus recognized as tributary king, and perhaps some adjustment of the titulary was effected at the same time. The Aksumite version of the title was always different from that used in Arabia, naming both Raydan and Salhen, which refer to the chief castles or citadels of the two states Himyar and Saba respectively. Though the names of the castles or palaces are used in a treaty preserved in the inscription CIH 308 (Jamme 1962: 294) where Salhen and Zararan (Gadarat’s palace) are both mentioned, presumably as the two seats of government of the signatories, the Arabian inscriptions never use the parallelism of country and palace in the Aksumite way.
An example of alterations in the titulary to suit events, but sometimes with the retention of traditional phraseology, occurs after Ezana’s conversion to Christianity. It has already been noted (Ch. 6: 1) that Ezana abandoned the claim to be the `son of the invincible Mahrem/Ares’, replacing it on the inscription DAE 11 (Ch. 11: 5) with the very similar phrase `son of Ella Amida, never defeated by the enemy’, using his father’s name to replace that of Mahrem although he had already used the phrase `son of Ella Amida’ a line or two earlier. The Greek version of this text reads `son of Ella Amida, servant of Christ’, an epithet also used much later by Wa`zeb `son of Ella Atsbeha, servant of Christ’, while Kaleb’s inscription puts his filiation earlier, but still uses the old locution, completing the titles with `servant of Christ, who is not defeated by the enemy’.
Among the African territories included in the titulary, Siyamo (Tsiyamo, Tiamo) seems to have comprised the eastern part of the Ethiopian plateau; perhaps the Enderta region of Tigray. The name may be a derivative of D`MT, the old kingdom which existed there in the middle of the first Millenium BC. It is probably the same as the Tiamaa of the Monumentum Adulitanum, associated with Gambela, “a valley in the neighborhood of Makale, in the province of Enderta” by Kirwan 1972: 173. The lands of WYTG, DRBT, and ATFY are districts (presumably African) whose whereabouts are as yet unknown. Schneider (1988: 115) notes a region called SRD, mentioned only on the Geza `Agmai versions of DAE 6 and 7 (Ch. 11: 5). The Beja are the tribes of the Red Sea hills, the Noba the peoples of the Nubian kingdoms, and the Kasu the Kushites or Meroites. Finally, the term Ethiopia, employed as a translation for Habashat among the known inscriptions only by Ezana on DAE 4, appears for the first time in a Ge`ez manuscript (accompanied by the first such mention of Aksum itself) only in the twelfth century; though the text can only be tentatively dated (Sergew Hable Sellassie, 1989).
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