The date and manner of Aksum’s decline is a topic surrounded by controversy. Ethiopian tradition is often interpreted as indicating its survival as a political capital into the tenth century, and the Aksumite coinage was formerly interpreted as having continued until that date. A more detailed study has, however, suggested a significantly shorter coinage chronology which has recently received support from radiocarbon dates for Late Aksumite occupation. It now appears that issue of the coinage ceased during the seventh century and that by or even shortly before that time the scale of human settlement at Aksum sharply declined.
Several factors may have contributed to this decline.
One of them being in or around 543, General Abreha rebelled and established himself as the independent ruler of South Arabia. King Kaleb and his successors fought back, but their limited efforts only helped consolidate and augment Abreha’s the authority, and he came to dominate the routes to northern Arabia and the east. His success actually advantaged many Axumites, who expanded their commercial activities internationally and locally, especially in San’a, Abreha’s capital. The self-proclaimed monarch kept his options and trading connections open by paying an annual tribute to both the Axumite and Persian emperors. While Abreha ruled, South Arabia was prosperous and well-governed; he improved public works and built monuments and churches since he sought to convert his subjects. He however, overextended himself in campaigns against Mecca, activities that disrupted the intricate web of desert trading patterns, thus helping to cause a commercial crisis.
The Persians became anxious as they saw the lucrative caravan trade dissipate. They decided to intervene when Abreha’s successors proved weak and vacillating, unable to retain the support of either the people or the army. The Sassanids reasoned that South Arabia’s current rulers were Ethiopians, who paid tribute to Axum—conveniently forgetting that the same people paid them, too—and that the African power was allied to Byzantium, their bitter political and trade rival. A success in Yemen, therefore, would weaken their enemy and probably would not provoke a counterattack.
In around 570, perhaps even on the day, prophet Muhammad was born, a ragtag Persian expedition of eight ships and eight hundred soldiers arrived on the South Arabian coast and proceeded systematically to destroy Ethiopian authority, helped by the people, who massacred Axumites throughout the land. The mother country stood by, apparently impotent to intervene, thus signaling the end of Axum’s political authority in Arabia. Commercial life in Adulis continued, however, and the links to South Arabia were maintained, especially with Mecca, where resident Ethiopians were important as traders and soldiers. Ships from Adulis regularly sailed to and from the Bay of Soaiba, Mecca’s debouchment. The connection was destroyed, however, in the mid-seventh century as Islam triumphed in Arabia.
As Muslim power and influence grew in the eighth century, Ethiopian shipping was swept from the Red Sea-Indian Ocean, changing the nature of the Axumite state. It became isolated from the eastern Mediterranean ecumene that for centuries had influenced its culture and sustained its economy. The coastal region lost its economic vitality as trade decreased, and Adulis and other commercial centers slowly withered. The state consequently suffered a sharp reduction in revenues and no longer could afford to maintain a large army, a complex administration, and urban amenities. The culture associated with the outside world quickly became a memory, and Ethiopia turned inward.
Axum’s weakened forces lost control over the trade routes into the interior and its monopoly over ivory and gold. In order to support itself, the Christian state moved southward, to the rich grain-growing areas of Agew country. By the early ninth century, the kingdom was well established as far south as the Beshlo River (then the Angot region; currently Wadla Delanta in west-central Welo). The drive southward was characterized by the implantation of military colonies, whose members established a feudal-like social order based on the productivity of the Agew cultivator. Soldiers, of course, took local wives and otherwise helped to assimilate the Agew, but priests and monks acted as the instruments of pacification and acculturation.
During 900-1000, the Aksumite Empire was overextended and its soldiers thin on the ground, permitting the majority Agew speakers to fight back. From the fragments of information contained in later chronicles, we learn that there were continual warfare and skirmishing against the isolated government fortresses. One persistent tradition tells of the Agew Queen Yodit Gudit, who persecuted Christians and fought their kingdom. .
Queen Yodit Gudit
Yodit meaning beautiful in Geez was an Ethiopian Queen of 9th century AD. The reign of Judith lasted, according to Ethiopian chronicles, between 850 and 890 AD. This appears to tally quite well with the first account of the Arab sources which mention a capital other than Aksum. Al Ya’qubi (872–891) was the first one to mention Ka’bar, or Ku’bar, as the capital of the kingdom of the Najashi. Unfortunately, we know very little about the regional base of Queen Judith who subjugated and destroyed Aksum towards the third quarter of the ninth century. The prevailing interpretation is that Judith was from Damot (south of Ethiopia). It has also been argued, on the basis of Ethiopian oral traditions, that Judith was the queen of the Felasha (Ethiopian Jews) who controlled present-day Gojam and Begamedir .
The Queen was known for being part of the destruction of the Axumite Empire, and bringing the end of over 700 years domination. Since she burned most of the monasteries of the 9 Saints, who came from Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire in Ethiopia, she also is known with a negative name Gudit She was also attributed to Esato meaning the fire. The Arabic writing of the time also called her Hwyia meaning fire too. According to the tale, her originated from the Christianity resisting family in the Nile provinces of Damot. Some even proclaimed her being the first Ruler of the Zagwe Dynasty.
The young beautiful non-Christianized Hebrew girl of Axum belonging to a stigmatized family that resistance to Christian conversion by Axumite evangelists was loved by a young deacon serving the Church of Zion where the Ark of the Covenant resides. She demanded her young lover to bring her a piece of the cover of the Tabot (sarcophagi) where the Ark resides as a gift for his love. The young fellow did not hesitate to bring her the piece of the holy cloth with which she made a Shoe and a sharp. Than, Yodit exposed herself in public with her new holy gift. Thus blaspheming the Sacred Church and the Holy artifact. Once its found Gudit is the mastermind of this bizarro-thought, her right breast cut off and exiling her to the middle east.
There she was sold to a general, who falls in love with her. After they got married, her new husband who also happens to be a prince Zenobis, son of the King of Šam. (Syria In Arabic) came back to Ethiopia waged a war against Axum. In her first move, she hides in the monastery of Debre Bizen in Eritrea,where females are not allowed to visit to this day. After done hiding, she set out with her husband at the head of an army and attacked Aksum in vengeance for harsh treatment that she had received in the past. Yodit successfully destroyed the Empire of Axum and reigned over Ethiopia for four decades, and established Hebrewism the religion of Sheba as a state ideology.
It’s during the seventh year of her reign, she established a new dynasty in the Axumite Del-Nä’ad, that continued for the next three centuries. She expanded the border of Ethiopia west and South including the provinces of Gojjam, Begemder and up unto the Sidama provinces where she is known as Ga’Ewa where the Axum never reached.
Other research done by Belaynesh Michael
Gudit, Gwedit, Yodit or Judith, Queen (? perhaps fl. 10th century A.D.), also known in Amharic as ‘Esato and in Teltal as Ga’Ewa, was a rebel leader to whom the downfall of the ancient Aksumite Empire is traditionally ascribed. In addition to oral tradition there is considerable documentary evidence that c. 970 A.D. the ruling Aksumite dynasty was harassed by a non-Christian queen, who lay waste to the city and countryside, destroyed churches and monuments and sought to exterminate all members of the royal family, the House of David. Many traditional sources affirm that this queen was of the Jewish faith, or had adopted it from her husband. This perhaps led some traditional Ethiopian scholars and others such as Bruce to assume that she was a daughter of the Fälaša rulers of Semén. Gudit has also been confused with the Princess Mäsobä-Wärq or Terde’a-Gäbäz said to have been instrumental in the transfer of power from the legitimate royal house to the Zagwé, a dynasty of usurpers who seized the throne at some time after the fall of Aksum. Thus Gudit herself has sometimes been pictured as the founder of the Zagwé dynasty and is said to have reigned for forty years and to have been succeeded by her descendants.
That a rebellious and non-Christian queen harried the Emperor and the Christian populace of northern Ethiopia in mid-tenth century is attested from an independent source, although the problem of identifying the queen remains a complex one, and her identification with the legendary Queen Gudit is by no means secure. In the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, it is recorded that, during the Patriarchate of Philotheos (979-1003 A.D.), George, the King of Nubia, received an appeal for transmission to the Patriarch from an unnamed ruler of Ethiopia seeking the appointment of a new Metropolitan. The letter described how a woman, apparently queen of the Bani al-Hamuya (the script of the Arabic text lends itself to various interpretations), was laying waste to the country and harrying the Emperor and his followers from place to place in an effort to wipe out Christianity completely. The Emperor attributed this calamity to divine wrath incurred because in an earlier reign, during the Patriarchate of Cosmas (923-34 A.D.), the Metropolitan, Abunä Pétros, had been dispossessed and the imposter Minas installed in his place; since this episode no Metropolitan had been sent to Ethiopia. In response to this appeal Philotheos appointed Dan’él, a monk from Abbu Maqar as abun. Subsequent to his arrival in Ethiopia, peace seems to have been restored and it is recorded that “God was no longer angry with them and put an end to the activities of the woman who had risen against them.”
There has been much discussion among scholars about the correct interpretation of the designation of this queen in the Arabic text. Conti Rossini, reading Bani al-Damutafor al-Hamuya, has suggested that she was a ruler of the once powerful old kingdom of Damot, lying at this date south of the Abbay, and that her rebellion represented an attempt by one of the indigenous Sidama peoples of southern Ethiopia to reassert their independence and resist domination or absorption by the Semiticized and Christian north. This plausible hypothesis has received widespread support form modern scholars, many of whom envisage the warrior-queen as ruler of a Sidama kingdom, differing only in the possible locations they suggest as the seat of her kingdom. It should not be forgotten, however, that other Arabic scholars have interpreted the phrase differently, although these differences are not necessarily irreconcilable. For example, Ignazio Guidi read al-Yahoudya (Jews) for al-Hamuya, while Joseph Halévy considered al-Haghouya(Agäw) as a more likely interpretation. In more recent years, Enrico Cerulli has pointed out that queens such as Badit, daughter of Maya (d. 1063 A.D.), were not unknown even among Muslim populations of Ethiopia.
The episode of a warlike queen receives further confirmation, although the geographical location remains vague and specific identification with the queen of the Bani al-Hamuya is not possible, in a note on Ethiopia by the contemporary Arab scholar Ibn Hawqal who wrote:
“As for Abyssinia, it has been ruled by a woman for many years. It is she who killed the Emperor of Abyssinia, known as the hadani and she still holds sway over her own country and the neighbouring regions of the hadani’s country *in the interior**of Abyssinia”.
- sic, translation by Enrico Cerulli (RSE, III, 273); but cf. J. S. Trimingham (Islam in Ethiopia, 52) “…in the west of Abyssinia” and Taddesse Tamrat (Journal of Ethiopian Studies, X, No. 1, p. 137, n. 4), after G. Wiet, Configuration de la Terre I, 56, “…in the southern part of the land of the Habesha”.
The basic theme of the legend of a rebel queen as a destructive fury bringing ruin and devastation upon Aksumite civilization is common to Ethiopian tradition, both oral and written, and to the corroborative external sources. Ethiopian tradition affirms, however, that this queen was of the Jewish faith. Some manuscripts studied recently at Aksum by the contemporary scholar Sergew Hable-Selassie provide a surprisingly detailed framework to the story. They indicate a belief that Gudit was related in some way to the royal family – she is, for example, said to have been a grand-daughter in the female line of Emperor Wedem-Asfäré. She is also said to have married a Jewish prince, a certain Zenobis, son of the King of Šam, which is an Arabic form for Syria, but here appears to designate a country on the Red Sea coastal plain, perhaps to the north of Ethiopia. She set out with her husband at the head of an army he had provided to attack Aksum in vengeance for harsh treatment that she had received in the past, coming across the Samhar plain from the coast, at Arkiko, i.e. a complete change of direction from that usually postulated by modern scholars. It is of interest to note that the same text gives the name of the queen in its various forms with the addition of the Teltal, Ga’ewa, reminiscent of the Béja queen Ga’ewa who was an ally of Ahmad Grañ. A detailed description of the destruction of Aksum is also included, first the cathedral and then the ancient stelae, “…constucted by Greek artisans, at great cost.” Traditional scholars generally affirm that the invasion of the queen dealt a death blow to the city of Aksum and it is interesting to note, that, in the Gädlä ‘Iyäsus-Mo’a, it is recorded that, in the seventh year of the reign of Del-Nä’ad, sometimes said to have been the son or grandson of Degna-Zan , “…[the seat of] the kingdom was transferred from Aksum to the country of the east.” It is also suggested that, to plan her campaign, Gudit took advantage of the death of Emperor Degna-Zan, who had perished with an entire Aksumite army in the desert, while on an expedition to the “land of the Arabs,” apparently western Ethiopia.
With the evidence available to us we can only hypothesize on the historicity of Queen Gudit. If her existence as an historical personage is accepted, it is still a matter of conjecture whether she should be identified with the queen of the Bani al-Hamuya and represented a resurgence of one of the non-Christian indigenous populations of southern Ethiopia, or whether she had indeed much closer links with the Aksumite dynasty and was perhaps herself an apostate and leader of a Judaized element. It is possible that the whole cycle of legends of a Jewish queen who brought about the downfall of Aksum evolved from indistinct memories of invasion and persecution by a woman ruler, who in fact killed the reigning Emperor and for many years persecuted Christians and destroyed their churches.