Aksum Ethiopia: Historic past of a once-powerful nation in Ethiopia

yeha axum aksum

If you heard about Ethiopia, you probably heard about the Aksum civilization, a civilization of one time was a powerful nation with its effect on the surrounding nations. The civilization had controlled up to the red sea and beyond. The country Ethiopia has been mentioned in the bible oftentimes and to express a mighty power from the south of the middle east.

Today, only a few buildings, stelae and historic artifacts are left in the area. The city is not as powerful as it once has been. Tourists travel there to visit the historic and cultural attractions in that part of the country. Aksum is located at an altitude of 2,200 m in the highlands of Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

It is the capital of the powerful Aksumite Empire which flourished from 100AD to 1000AD, centered at the present territory of empire territory of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. This kingdom was one of the earliest powerful civilizations in Africa. Today Aksum remains an urban settlement, known for its tourist artifacts, best known for its monumental stelae.

Once you visit Lalibela, another historic town of Ethiopia, you then have to see the Aksum town. This small town holds beautiful people and beautiful culture. Despite, the place being near a war zone between Ethiopia and Eretria, the people are nice and respectful. The culture is rich, the food is delicious and the climate is optimal.  

Here, I will tell you why you need to visit Aksum and what its place is in history.

Where does Aksum come from?

The name Aksum, or Aksum as its sometimes referred to, is derived from the Agew word “Aks” which means water and the Geez word “Shum” which means official.

The historical record of the rise of Axum is not well known. But it is said that the Sabaean people from South Arabia had an influence parallel with the locals being the Da’amot people. Following the decline of the kingdom of Kush, located in Sudan, Axum had the opportunity to expand. Aksumite Kings then expanded their control to the parts of modern Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

Initially, the pre-Axumite civilization developed based on agriculture. Similar to the Egyptian civilization, the fertile soil of the Nile river lead to settlements. The farmers used local tools to make their dwellings. Axumite rulers played an enormous role in the expansion of the empire. They dominated over several nations. As they ruled over them, they were titled as King of kings (Negusa Negast).

What Was the Axumite People Religion?

Through the northern Highlands of Ethiopia, the south Arabians had a strong influence on the culture and religion of the Axumite civilization. The Axumite people adapted the Sabean religion from the South Arabians. The crescent and the disk were a common element in the finding of the Axumite civilization. They represented the moon and the sun. They associated the crescent with feminine and fertility. While the disk represented strength and power.

Introduction of Christianity to Aksum Ethiopia

Christianity was first introduced to eastern Africa during the 4th century. A renowned king of Aksum named king Ezana was converted to Christianity in 320AD. Furmentius, a traveler during the 4th century, was employed as a teacher for the royal family. He was a childhood tutor of king Ezana. King Ezana was then persuaded to adopt Christianity. After traveling to Alexandria to receive an official title as patriarch, Furmentius became the first bishop of Aksum.

The form of Christianity was similar to the Roman Empire or Coptic Egypt. Bishop Furmentius remained a strong figure in the Ethiopian church and Kingdom. Churches and monasteries were built. The most significant church was at Aksum, the church of Maryam Tsion. According to texts, the church houses the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is believed to be still there.

The nine saints worked to spread Christianity in the region by establishing monasteries in the rural areas. By the 5th century, the rural population was converted. The success of the endeavors made Christianity be practiced to this day. Aksum and Islamic religion Refugees from Arab were set to settle in the Tigray region, Negash. The Muslim legends say that the king of Aksum was secretly converted to Islam after being impressed by the refugees. At the same time, the Ethiopian orthodox legends say that Muslim refugees living in Axum were converted to Christianity. The Muslim community remains the minority to this day. But the Muslims live peacefully with the Christian community.

Axumite kingdom language

The Sabaean language, a semantic language used in south Arabia, was adapted by the Axum people. The Sabaean syllabic included characters of vowels and consonants which was read from left to right. From the Sabaean language originated Amharic and Geez language. Greek was also used in some scripts. The kingdom of Axum had its writing system, the earliest examples of which are found on sheets of schist rock slabs which date to the 2nd century CE.

Axumite Architecture


The prehistoric Axum is also known for the temples. The temples were made before the acceptance of Christianity. The temples where constructed meticulously. They had perfectly smooth surfaces with long cut blocks of stone with straight tight joints with perfect corners. The stones were not connected with mortar but merely with the friction between the stones. The utterly perfect walls are allegedly claimed to have been made with a stone melting technology. One of these famous temples is the temple of yeha.

The domestic houses are made from stone structural elements woof for roof construction and sometimes mud as walls. This domestic housing remains more of the same till today.

The Axum Stele

Axumite people had advanced architecture. The ruins from the monuments are proof of their high level of artistic and engineering ability. The ruins are found around the northern Ethiopian border. They mark the heart of Ethiopia. It testifies the greatness of the kingdom of Aksum between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The ruins contain giant obelisk, royal tomb, and ruins of Ancient Castles.

The Royal tombs and Stele date to the 6th and 7th century AD. Some Stele survived in the town of Aksum. The Largest Stele is 33 meters tall and weighs 160. At present, it lies where it fell for reasons unknown. It is the tallest stone stele any human being has ever attempted to erect. Currently, the tallest stele is 23 meters tall. It is decorated with serious reliefs and inscriptions. Most of the inscription was written in Sabaean and geez language which described their beliefs and religion. The concept of the multi-storey building was ahead of its time when the Axumite people decorated the monumental steles with these characters. The decorations on the steles where elements from building such as windows and doors.

These elements were staggered vertically eight to ten stories high. The monuments were there to mark the graveyard found underneath the obelisk. The ruins of the Axumite obelisks are not fully recorded. Due to financial conditions, it is said that only 5 percent of the Axumite civilization has been discovered so far. Even today, the engineering of the tall obelisk is a controversy. It is still not known how the Axumite people structurally erected the stele to last till today. During the Italian fascist occupation of Ethiopia, King Ezana stele of Aksum was taken by the Italians.

yeha axum aksum

 It was then erected in Rome. In 1947 the UN agreement Italy was forced to return the stele to Ethiopia. In the process of the reassembly in Rome, the stele hit lighting due to a violent thunderstorm on May 27, 2002. This causes significant damage. In the reconstruction, the three sections were fixed together. This arrangement has a guarantee of structural resistance during future incidents of earthquakes and lighting. It would also avoid rust. Although the vastly known architecture of Aksum is the obelisk, Axumite people were also known for the palaces. Their palaces were of a grand entrance which was emphasized with stairs. It had courtyards with well-dressed corner walls. They were mostly multi-story with stone buttresses.

Vernacular architecture Axumite vernacular architecture is known for its monkey heads. This where timber structures connected without nails, only by interlocking. This was connected as cross pieces. The edges where visible as protruding and rounded; monkey heads. The domestic houses were made with small stone and clay masonry. They used materials natural and easily found around the site, the windows were made with shallow and recessed projections. Axumite dry stone masonry construction.

Some bigger structures were made without the use of masonry. This was a remarkable architecture and engineering, as it was constructed during that period. The construction had walls with big stones at corners and crushed smaller stones in-between. The bigger stones at the corners, like column, supporters the smaller stones to its sides to stand firmly. From the Flat stones are used at a uniform level. The walls stepped inwards as the height increases. As the stones stepped inwards the flat stones as slabs support to stabilize the walls. Design ideas. The Axumite people used an equal-equal principle. This is a measurement mechanism. They divide spaces equally. The Axumite people used the central symmetrical idea. This is when the central element is set apart while the elements right and left are similar.

Ancient Aksum Agriculture

In the 4th and 5th century the remarkable development of culture and society was coupled with a high level of production. Citterns and Dams made with stone and terraced agriculture plots. The remains of the settled people are there to testify. The Axumite is said to have an education of viticulture. They grew wheat and other grain crops. Phillipson (1995: 4) has proposed that Aksum first attained prosperity through the exploitation of indigenous agricultural resources, including teff and emmer wheat, well before its people obtained control of gold and ivory sources and established relations with overseas partners, including the eastern Roman Empire. They reared a large amount of herd and cattle.

Aksum trade Agriculture cultivated in Aksum was not surplus to provide for market yet it was enough to fill the needs of the merchants. These merchants came from different areas that came with goods such as textiles, knives, swords, cotton, and silk. Through the trade, the Axumite kingdom wielded considerable power. As the manifestation, they minted their independent coin.

They were made from gold silver and bronze and where used in trade among the local Axum people and the merchants from abroad.

Geographically territory the territory of Axum was suited for trade. It had access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. It had commercial relations with Persia, Arabia Romans, Byzantine, Ceylon, and India. This gave the Axumite people control of the northeastern Africa trade. Axum was surrounded by North Tigray Mountains. This was an advantage for the military of Axum

The minting of these coins was a political and economic activity of proofing to the world as an independent and powerful state. It also fosters the names and mottos of the kings.

Trade was carried along with the African countries along the Indian ocean through the intermediately of Axum and Adulis. This brought wealth to the Aksumite kingdom. The kings and the king vassals were the primary costumers. They extended their trade through their agents. The king’s agents were usually accompanied by other persons (Aksumites)

Although the kingdom was to the best advantage through the trade, the population had a great advantage as well. The bracelets made from imported

The local Aksum people would sell gold, ivory, hippopotamus hide, and slaves. In the process of trade exchange, there was a great deal of cultural exchange. Brackets made from imported bronze by local Smith, Spears made from imported iron and cloth made from imported textile were made for commercial markets.

The political domination of the trade routes gave Aksum great advantage as to becoming the leading state and economy.

Political structure

The kingdom had three zones. The center was where the king wielded power directly. The ruler’s immediate relatives worked as administrative. Too little is known about the history of Aksum. At the highest reach of power, the Axumite king Ezana was concerned with the centralization of power. He went no further to subjugating earlier territories.

The fall of Axum Empire

Axumite people had trading power through the Red sea that predated the earliest mentions of the Roman Empire. It said that the Axum Empire began to decline due to Persians and the Arabs rival along the red Sea tread routes. In time Axum was forced to be cut off from its principal markets in the Roman-Byzantine and Arab traders. As the empire declined, the influence in the city declined as well. It is believed that empress Yodit Gudit finally destroyed the Axumite Empire as it was in its weakest state.

Axum at present

At the present Axum is a city of population 56,000. The majority of the population practices Christianity. 85.0 percent was reported to be Christian while 15 percent where Islam. Relative to other developing cities, Axum is clean and well planned. The roads are pedestrian-friendly. The roads are chartered with bicyclists and walkers. The city is centered around the Axum obelisk. Just next to the Axum obelisk is the Gishen Mariam church. It is constructed out of granite.

Most roads in Axum are made from cobblestones. The stones are colorful. They give a lively character to the city. Axum University was established in May 2006. It has five facilities. Social science and languages, natural science and mathematics, business and economic science, technology and agriculture. The university has also dormitory and cafeteria facilities. Students from all over Ethiopia learn there. All students of the university are granted dormitories and can use the cafeteria. The student cafeteria is relatively affordable prices.


Although it is famous for the stone stele, obelisk, and relics it is so much more. It is one of the most powerful ancient civilizations in Africa. It was the first African city to accept Christianity. The economy of Axum was prominent. It played a big role in the commercial route of Ancient India and the Roman Empire. It was the first African nation to adopt its currency. Axumite civilization is remarkable. It is the identity of the Ethiopian people. Yet only five percent of the civilization is discovered. And limited information is available digitally. Hence, it is necessary to invest in the research and documentation of Axumite civilization. Aksum is UNESCO listed city.

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