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Aksum and Nubia

Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa

George Hatke
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Aksum and Nubia
    Book Description:

    Aksum and Nubia assembles and analyzes the textual and archaeological evidence of interaction between Nubia and the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum, focusing primarily on the fourth century CE. Although ancient Nubia and Ethiopia have been the subject of a growing number of studies in recent years, little attention has been given to contact between these two regions. Hatke argues that ancient Northeast Africa cannot be treated as a unified area politically, economically, or culturally. Rather, Nubia and Ethiopia developed within very different regional spheres of interaction, as a result of which the Nubian kingdom of Kush came to focus its energies on the Nile Valley, relying on this as its main route of contact with the outside world, while Aksum was oriented towards the Red Sea and Arabia. In this way Aksum and Kush coexisted in peace for most of their history, and such contact as they maintained with each other was limited to small-scale commerce. Only in the fourth century CE did Aksum take up arms against Kush, and even then the conflict seems to have been related mainly to security issues on Aksum's western frontier. Although Aksum never managed to hold onto Kush for long, much less dealt the final death-blow to the Nubian kingdom, as is often believed, claims to Kush continued to play a role in Aksumite royal ideology as late as the sixth century. Aksum and Nubia critically examines the extent to which relations between two ancient African states were influenced by warfare, commerce, and political fictions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6278-3
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Preface
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 11-24)

    The Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum³ and the Nubian kingdom of Kush were two of the great African civilizations of antiquity. Both were expansionist polities linked to the outside world through long-distance trade and have left rich records of their respective histories in the form of monuments and inscriptions. Aksum dominated the northern highlands of Ethiopia from at least the turn of the Common Era down to the seventh century, Kush the middle Nile Valley as far south as the lower Blue Nile from the early ninth century BCE to the mid-fourth century CE. Thanks to these inscriptions, as well as...

  5. 2. The Question of Aksumite Trade with Nubia
    (pp. 25-36)

    Though excavations at the hill of Bēta Gīyōrgīs indicate that the district of Aksum, the town after which the kingdom took its name, was occupied at least as early as the fourth century BCE,₆³ it was not until the first century CE that the kingdom of Aksum was first mentioned by Graeco-Roman authors. That it attracted the attention of the Mediterranean world at this time is undoubtedly the result of the increase in western trade with India via the Red Sea following the conquest of Egypt by Augustus in 30 BCE, a development which brought Ethiopia into commercial contact with...

  6. 3. The Third Century CE: Monumentum Adulitanum II (RIE 277)
    (pp. 37-66)

    Having examined the evidence for contact between Aksum and Kush during the first two centuries of the Common Era, one is left with the impression that the two kingdoms, though closely tied to the commerce of the outside world, had little interest in maintaining intensive trade ties with each other. While it cannot be doubted that Aksum and Kush maintained trade ties, it is difcult to determine what sort of items they might have traded. Livestock is one possibility, particularly given the moister climate in the southern regions of Kush. For their part, the Kushites may have engaged in small-scale...

  7. 4. The Fourth Century CE: Aksum in Nubia
    (pp. 67-148)

    The story of Aksum’s military operations in Upper Nubia is a familiar one, retold countless times—with varying degrees of accuracy—in secondary literature on Ethiopia and Nubia, as well as in general histories of pre-colonial Africa.²₇₀ Traditionally, the dynamic Aksumite king ‘Ēzānā, also famous as the first Christian king of Ethiopia, has been credited with singlehandedly dealing the death-blow to Meroë on the basis of several inscriptions in Greek and Ge‘ez which he erected at Aksum. In fact, the history of Aksumite military intervention in Upper Nubia during the fourth century is a good deal more complicated than this...

  8. 5. After Kush: Aksum and Nubia in the Sixth Century CE
    (pp. 149-166)

    An able and powerful ruler, Kālēb (c. 510-540) compares favorably with ‘Ēzānā as one of Aksum’s greatest military leaders. By far the most significant development in his reign was the conquest of the South Arabian kingdom of Ḥimyar, the successor to Saba’ and the polity which since the early fourth century had enjoyed uncontested dominion over South Arabia from the Tihāma to the Ḥaḍramawt. In 518, an invasion force sent by Kālēb against South Arabia brought to power a Christian Ḥimyarite potentate named Ma‘dīkarib Ya‘fur, who ruled the region as Aksum’s client. A rebellion led by one Yūsuf ’As’ar Yath’ar...

  9. 6. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-172)

    What have we learned of Aksumite-Nubian relations? In fact, very little. For the period before the rise of Aksum, there is indeed good evidence of commercial and even political contact between Nubia and the Horn of Africa. By the turn of the first millennium BCE, however, the two regions seem to have gravitated toward two diferent axes: a Nile Valley axis in the case of Nubia and an Ethiopian Highlands–Red Sea axis in the case of Ethiopia. Thus for the Nubian kingdom of Kush, the most obvious point of contact with the outside world was Egypt, which had long...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-199)
  11. Maps
    (pp. 200-202)
  12. Index
    (pp. 203-208)