Axum Aksum Axumite Aksumite Empire Kingdom

Axum (Aksumite Empire, Kingdom of Axum) was a powerful Ethiopian/Eritrean empire, located in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. It developed by controlling the Red Sea trade routes. Axum was prosperous from 100 AD to 700 AD. It was contemporary with the Roman Empire and according to Mani, the Axumite civilization was among the four great civilization of the time, on par with Rome, Persia, and China.


Three theories exist as to the origins of Axum: One, it was the interaction between predominantly Arabic Sabaean and native Ethiopian/Eritrean developments. The second theory,  the Sabaean contribution was limited and with pre-Axumite Kingdoms like Damot (Dmt), Axum was completely indigenous. Third, Axum was a development from a southern Semitic culture that co-developed independently parallel to  Arabia. Axum was ruled by the negusa naghast("the kings of kings"). Under Ezana, Axum was the most powerful empire in northeast Africa and in 350 CE sacked the Nubian kingdom of Meroe. In the latter part of the 4th century, Axum invaded the southern part of the Arabian Penninsula and occupied Yemen from 335 to 370. At its height, Axum included the surrounding Ethiopian highlands, Beja, Noba, Kasu, and Arabian kingdoms Himyar and Sabar.


The original Axumite religion contained a pantheon of Gods--Astar, Beher, Meder, Mahrem. The empire converted to Christianity around 300 CE. Emperor Ezana(320-350 CE) made Christianity the state religion in 333 CE. Frumentius, a Christian trader, kidnapped on his way to India is said to have introduced Christianity to Axum. Axumites practiced a form of Christianity known as mono-physite, heretic in Western Christianity, but related to the Egyptian Coptic and Nubian Churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is unique in that it believes it holds the Ark of the Covenant, brought to Ethiopia by Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon,according to tradition, in the Book of the Glory of Kings(Kebra Neghast). Ezana used the cross to represent the state, first time it was used in such a manner. 


By the 1st century CE, the Axumite port of Adulis had become a major port of stop to India and a center of ivory, according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. At this time, Axum was already prosperous. It exported frankincense, myrrh, and ivory. Axum manufactured glass crystals. It exported copper, slaves, and brass.  The empire also issued silver, gold, and bronze coins beginning with the reign of Endybis (270 AD) to Armah (610 AD). They traded with Egypt, Arabia, India, and as far as Sri Lanka.


The army was divided into sarawit. Sarawit were groups. They could have been named after districts or ethnic designation. Each sarawit was under a general called a nagast. The army was called upon when needed. Aksumite army numbers have been noted at its lowest number 3,000 , to 100,000 at its highest, account of Aksumite army size varies.

The capital had a standing army that served guard duties in the palace, treasury, and as the king's personal body guard. 

Aksumite warriors fought with iron spears. They were re-known for being spear throwers. They also fought with round shields. Shields could have been made from buffalo hide. They also did battle with a "broad-blade, flat-ended sword" secured behind the back. Other weapons included poniards or iron knives, "tanged spear-heads."

Aksumite army made use of pack animals to transport items on the battle field. The donkey was made use of. In desert warfare, Aksum made use of camels. Elephants might have also been used in battle. 

Aksum had a fleet of ships that guarded the Red Sea  ports. Aksumite ships were put together by rope fibers. It did not use iron nails to bind wood. Ships sailed as far away as India and possibly China.


By the sixth century, Axum under Negusa Neghast Kaleb invaded Arabia and made the Jewish kingdom of King Dhu Nuwas subject to Axum. The sixth century was also the century Muhammad took refuge in Axum. By the end of the seventh century, Persia was able to thwart Aksumite presence on the Arabian Peninsula. With the rise of Islam, Axum experience decline in trade via the Red Sea route, which was now being diverted to the Persian Gulf and then to India. Aksum due to over farming and drought experienced much environmental degradation. These factors diminished the empire to the point it moved its capital to the interior. The city of Axum still remained a sacred and religious site.

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, p. 59. ISBN 0-465-00071-1. 

Iliffe, John (2007). Africans: The History of a Continent. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 41, ISBN 978-0-521-68297-8.

Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa. Revised 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 69-71. ISBN 0-333-59957-8