Axum
Overview
 
Axum or Aksum is a city
City
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.For example, in the U.S...

 in northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 which was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. Population 56,500 (2010). Axum was a naval and trading power that ruled the region from ca. 400 BC into the 10th century. The kingdom was also arbitrarily identified as Abyssinia, Ethiopia, and India in medieval writings.
Located in the Mehakelegnaw Zone
Mehakelegnaw Zone
Mehakelegnaw is a Zone in the Ethiopian Region of Tigray. Mehakelegnaw is bordered on the east by Misraqawi , on the south by Debubawi , on the west by Mirabawi and on the north by Eritrea...

 of the Tigray Region
Tigray Region
Tigray Region is the northernmost of the nine ethnic regions of Ethiopia containing the homeland of the Tigray people. It was formerly known as Region 1...

 near the base of the Adwa
Adwa
Adwa is a market town in northern Ethiopia, and best known as the community closest to the decisive Battle of Adowa fought in 1896 with Italian troops. Notably, Ethiopian soldiers won the battle, thus being the only African nation to thwart European colonialism...

 mountains, Axum has an elevation of 2,131 meters.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Axum or Aksum is a city
City
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.For example, in the U.S...

 in northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 which was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. Population 56,500 (2010). Axum was a naval and trading power that ruled the region from ca. 400 BC into the 10th century. The kingdom was also arbitrarily identified as Abyssinia, Ethiopia, and India in medieval writings.

Overview

Located in the Mehakelegnaw Zone
Mehakelegnaw Zone
Mehakelegnaw is a Zone in the Ethiopian Region of Tigray. Mehakelegnaw is bordered on the east by Misraqawi , on the south by Debubawi , on the west by Mirabawi and on the north by Eritrea...

 of the Tigray Region
Tigray Region
Tigray Region is the northernmost of the nine ethnic regions of Ethiopia containing the homeland of the Tigray people. It was formerly known as Region 1...

 near the base of the Adwa
Adwa
Adwa is a market town in northern Ethiopia, and best known as the community closest to the decisive Battle of Adowa fought in 1896 with Italian troops. Notably, Ethiopian soldiers won the battle, thus being the only African nation to thwart European colonialism...

 mountains, Axum has an elevation of 2,131 meters. It is the administrative center of La'ilay Maychew
La'ilay Maychew
La'ilay Maychew is one of the 36 woredas in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. Part of the Mehakelegnaw Zone, La'ilay Maychew is bordered on the south by Naeder Adet, on the west by Tahtay Maychew, on the north by Mereb Lehe, and on the east by Adwa...

 woreda
Woreda
Woreda is an administrative division of Ethiopia , equivalent to a district . Woredas are composed of a number of Kebele, or neighborhood associations, which are the smallest unit of local government in Ethiopia...

.

Aksum is served by an airport (ICAO code HAAX, IATA AXU).

Due to their historical
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 value, in 1980 UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 added Aksum's archaeological sites to its list of World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

s.

History

Axum was the center of the marine trading power known as the Aksumite Kingdom, which predated the earliest mentions in Roman era writings. Around 356
356
Year 356 was a leap year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Constantius and Iulianus...

, its ruler was converted to Christianity by Frumentius
Frumentius
Saint Frumentius was the first Bishop of Axum, and he is credited with bringing Christianity to the Aksumite Kingdom. He was a Syro-Phoenician Greek born in Tyre....

. Later, under the reign of Kaleb
Kaleb of Axum
Kaleb is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum. Procopius of Caesarea calls him "Hellestheaeus", a variant of his throne name Ella Atsbeha or Ella Asbeha...

, Axum was a quasi-ally of Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 against the Persian Empire. The historical record is unclear, primary sources limited mainly to ancient church records.

It is believed it began a long slow decline after the 7th century due partly to Islamic groups contesting trade routes. Eventually Aksum was cut off from its principal markets in Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 and Southern Europe
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

 and its trade share was captured by Arab traders of the era. The Kingdom of Aksum was finally destroyed by Gudit
Gudit
Gudit is a semi-legendary, non-Christian, Beta Israel, queen who laid waste to Axum and its countryside, destroyed churches and monuments, and attempted to exterminate the members of the ruling Axumite dynasty...

, and eventually the people of Aksum were forced south and their civilization declined. As the kingdom's power declined so did the influence of the city, which is believed to have lost population in the decline similar to Rome and other cities thrust away from the flow of world events. The last known (nominal) king to reign was crowned ca. 10th century, but the kingdom's influence and power ended long before that.

Its decline in population and trade then contributed to the shift of the power center of the Ethiopian Empire so that it moved further inland and bequeathed its alternative place name (Ethiopia) to the region, and eventually, the modern state.

Aksum kingdom and Ethiopian Church

The Kingdom of Aksum had its own written language called Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

, and also developed a distinctive architecture exemplified by giant obelisks, the oldest of which (though much smaller) date from 5000–2000 BC. This kingdom was at its height under King Ezana, baptized as Abreha, in the 4th century (which was also when it officially embraced Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

ity).

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Tewahedo Church
Tewahedo Church may refer to any of the following:* The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church* The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church...

 claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
The Church of Our Virgin Mary of Zion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most important church in Ethiopia...

 in Aksum houses the Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant , also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a chest described in Book of Exodus as solely containing the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed...

 in which lie the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

 are inscribed. This same church was the site where Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries until the reign of Fasilides
Fasilides of Ethiopia
Fasilides was of Ethiopia, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty...

, then again beginning with Yohannes IV
Yohannes IV of Ethiopia
Yohannes IV , born Lij Kassay Mercha Ge'ez, was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1872 until his death.-Early life:...

 until the end of the empire. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination of pilgrimages. Significant religious festivals are the T'imk'et Festival (known as the Epiphany in western Christianity) on 7 January and the Festival of Maryam Zion in late November.

In 1937, a 24-metre tall, 1,700-year-old Obelisk of Axum
Obelisk of Axum
The Obelisk of Axum is a 1,700-year-old, 24-metres tall granite stele/obelisk, weighing 160 tonnes, in the city of Axum in Ethiopia. It is decorated with two false doors at the base, and decorations resembling windows on all sides...

 broken into five parts and lying on the ground, was found and shipped by Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 soldiers to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 to be erected. The obelisk is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of engineering from the height of the Axumite empire. Despite a 1947 United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 agreement that the obelisk would be shipped back, Italy balked, resulting in a long-standing diplomatic dispute with the Ethiopian government, which views the obelisk as a symbol of national identity. In April 2005, Italy finally returned the obelisk pieces to Axum amidst much official and public rejoicing; Italy also covered the $4 million costs of the transfer. UNESCO has assumed responsibility for the re-installation of this stele in Axum, and as of the end of July 2008 the obelisk has been reinstalled (see panographic photos in external links below). Rededication of the obelisk took place on 4 September 2008 in Paris, France with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dedicating the obelisk to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for his kind efforts in returning the obelisk.

Axum and Islam

The Axumite Empire has a longstanding relationship with Islam. According to ibn Hisham
Ibn Hisham
Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Malik bin Hisham , or Ibn Hisham edited the biography of Muhammad written by Ibn Ishaq. Ibn Ishaq's work is lost and is now only known in the recensions of Ibn Hisham and al-Tabari. Ibn Hisham grew up in Basra, Iraq, but moved afterwards to Egypt, where he gained a name...

, when Prophet Muhammad faced oppression from the Quraish clan, he sent a small group that included his daughter Ruqayya
Ruqayya
-List:* Ruqayyah bint Husayn, daughter of Husayn - grandson of Muhammad* Ruqayyah bint Muhammad, daughter of Muhammad according to Sunni belief...

 and her husband Uthman ibn Affan to Axum. Ashama ibn Abjar
Ashama ibn Abjar
According to Arabic sources, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar was Emperor or al-Najashi of Aksum at the time of Muhammad, and gave refuge to several Muslims in the Kingdom of Aksum. The term "al-Najashi" has the variant al-Negashi; it corresponds to the ancient Aksumite title Negus, with the variant Negash...

, the King of Axum, gave them refuge and protection and refused the requests of the Quraish clan to send these refugees back to Arabia. These refugees did not return until the sixth year of the Hijra
Hijra (Islam)
The Hijra is the migration or journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. Alternate spellings of this Arabic word are Hijrah, Hijrat or Hegira, the latter following the spelling rules of Latin.- Hijra of Muhammad :In September 622, warned of a plot to...

 (628
628
Year 628 was a leap year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 628 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Asia :* January – Third Perso-Turkic War: Emperor...

), and even then many remained in Ethiopia, eventually settling at Negash
Negash
Negash is a village in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, which straddles the Adigrat-Mekele road 10 kilometers north of Wukro. Located in Wukro woreda, this settlement has a longitude and latitude of ....

 in eastern Tigray.

There are different traditions concerning the effect these early Muslims had on the ruler of Axum. The Muslim tradition is that the ruler of Axum was so impressed by these refugees that he became a secret convert. On the other hand, Arabic historians and Ethiopian tradition state that some of the Muslim refugees who lived in Ethiopia during this time converted to Orthodox Christianity. There is also a second Ethiopian tradition that, on the death of Ashama ibn Abjar, Muhammed is reported to have prayed for the king's soul, and told his followers, "Leave the Abyssinians in peace, as long as they do not take the offensive."

Main sights

The major Aksumite monument
Monument
A monument is a type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, or simply as an example of historic architecture...

s in the town are stelae; the largest number lie in the Northern Stelae Park, ranging up to the 33-metre (33 metres high 3.84 metres wide 2.35 metres deep, weighing 520 tonnes) Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction. The tallest standing is the 24-metre (20.6 metres high 2.65 metres wide 1.18 metres deep, weighing 160 tonnes) King Ezana's Stele
King Ezana's Stele
King Ezana's Stele is the central obelisk still standing in the Northern Stelae Park in the ancient city of Axum, in modern-day Ethiopia. This stele is probably the last erected one and the biggest of those remained unbroken...

. Another stele
Obelisk of Axum
The Obelisk of Axum is a 1,700-year-old, 24-metres tall granite stele/obelisk, weighing 160 tonnes, in the city of Axum in Ethiopia. It is decorated with two false doors at the base, and decorations resembling windows on all sides...

 (24.6 metres high 2.32 metres wide 1.36 metres deep, weighing 170 tonnes) removed by the Italian army was returned to Ethiopia in 2005 and reinstalled July 31, 2008. This stele was already broken into pieces before being shipped. Three more stelae measure 18.2 metres high 1.56 metres wide 0.76 metres deep, weighing 56 tonnes; 15.8 metres high 2.35 metres wide 1 metres deep, weighing 75 tonnes; 15.3 metres high 1.47 metres wide 0.78 metres deep, weighing 43 tonnes. The stelae are believed to mark graves
Grave (burial)
A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries....

 and would have had cast metal discs affixed to their sides, which are also carved with architectural designs. The Gudit Stelae to the west of town, unlike the northern area, are interspersed with mostly 4th century tomb
Tomb
A tomb is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes...

s.

Other features of the town include St Mary of Zion church, built in 1665 and said to contain the Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant , also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a chest described in Book of Exodus as solely containing the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed...

 (a prominent twentieth-century church of the same name neighbours it), archaeological and ethnographic museum
Museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

s, the Ezana Stone
Ezana Stone
The Ezana stone is an artifact from the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. It is a stone monument which documents the conversion of King Ezana to Christianity and his subjugation of various neighboring peoples, including Meroë...

 written in Sabaean, Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

 and Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 in a similar manner to the Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek...

, King Bazen's Tomb (a megalith
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

 considered to be one of the earliest structures), the so-called Queen of Sheba's Bath (actually a reservoir), the fourth-century Ta'akha Maryam and 6th-century Dungur
Dungur
Dungur is the name of the ruins of a substantial mansion located in the western part of Aksum, Ethiopia, the former capital of the Kingdom of Aksum. These ruins are located in the western part of Aksum, across the Gondar road from the Gudit Stelae field.Dungur is known locally and popularly as the...

 palaces, the monasteries of Abba Pentalewon and Abba Liqanos and the Lioness of Gobedra
Lioness of Gobedra
The Lioness of Gobedra is a representation of a crouching lioness, about 3 meters long, carved in relief on a large rock outcropping. First described by German archeologists in 1913, this carving is located two kilometers west of Axum, Ethiopia....

 rock art
Rock art
Rock art is a term used in archaeology for any human-made markings made on natural stone. They can be divided into:*Petroglyphs - carvings into stone surfaces*Pictographs - rock and cave paintings...

.

Local legend claims the Queen of Sheba lived in the town.

Demographics

Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency
Central Statistical Agency (Ethiopia)
The Central Statistical Agency is an agency of the government of Ethiopia designated to provide all surveys and censuses for that country used to monitor economic and social growth, as well as to act as an official training center in that field. It is part of the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and...

 in 2005, Axum has an estimated total population of 47,320 of whom 20,774 are men and 21,898 women. The 1994 national census reported a total population for this city of 27,148, of whom 12,536 were men and 14,612 were women. The largest ethnic group reported was the Tigrayan
Tigray-Tigrinya people
Tigray-Tigrinya are an ethnic group who live in the southern, central and northern parts of Eritrea and the northern highlands of Ethiopia's Tigray province. They also live in Ethiopia's former provinces of Begemder and Wollo, which are today mostly part of Amhara Region, though a few regions...

 (98.54%) and Tigrinya
Tigrinya language
Tigrinya , also spelled Tigrigna, Tigrnia, Tigrina, Tigriña, less commonly Tigrinian, Tigrinyan, is a Semitic language spoken by the Tigrinya people in central Eritrea , where it is one of the two main languages of Eritrea, and in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia , where it...

 was spoken as a first language by 98.68%. The majority of the population practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity with 85.08% reported as embracing that religion, while 14.81% were Muslim
Islam in Ethiopia
According to the latest 2007 national census, Islam is the second most widely practised religion in Ethiopia after Christianity, with over 25 million of Ethiopians adhering to Islam according to the 2007 national census, having arrived in Ethiopia in 615...

.

Aksum University

Axum University was established in Axum in May 2006 on a green field site, four kilometers from the town center; the inauguration ceremony was held on 16 February 2007. The current area of the campus is 107 hectares, with ample room for potential expansion.

The establishment of a university in Axum is expected to contribute much to the ongoing development of the country in general and of the region in particular.

Further reading

  • Francis Anfray. Les anciens ethiopiens. Paris: Armand Colin, 1991.
  • Yuri M. Kobishchanov. Axum (Joseph W. Michels, editor; Lorraine T. Kapitanoff, translator). University Park, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 1979. ISBN 0-271-00531-9
  • David W. Phillipson. Ancient Ethiopia. Aksum: Its antecedents and successors. London: The British Brisith Museum, 1998.
  • David W. Phillipson. Archaeology at Aksum, Ethiopia, 1993-97. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 2000. ISBN 1-872566-13-8
  • Stuart Munro-Hay. Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: University Press. 1991. ISBN 0-7486-0106-6 online edition
  • Stuart Munro-Hay. Excavations at Aksum: An account of research at the ancient Ethiopian capital directed in 1972-74 by the late Dr Nevill Chittick London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1989 ISBN 0-500-97008-4
  • Sergew Hable Sellassie. Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270 Addis Ababa: United Printers, 1972.
  • African Zion, the Sacred Art of Ethiopia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

External links

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