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Aksumites

A culture enjoying great natural wealth -- living, mineral, and elemental -- with territory from rainy, fertile plateaus to dry, hot seaports, the Aksumites are a trading powerhouse.

A city built on the highlands of northern Ethiopia at over 2000 meters altitude, Aksum was nevertheless the capital of a kingdom and empire resolutely focused on the sea. With its history of maritime trade on the Red Sea, Aksum became a pivotal trading post between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

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With close links to the Sabaean culture that dominated the western coast of the Red Sea via the Kingdom of Damot, the city of Aksum had already become a bustling urban center by the third century BCE. Located at a cultural crossroads, from 330 CE onward it became the birthplace of the Ethiopian Orthodox branch of Christianity, the precursor to the modern-day Ethiopian Church. While we do not know exactly how the Kingdom of Aksum achieved its position of dominance in the northern Horn of Africa, it is believed that it began developing into an empire in the first century of the Common Era. By conquering neighboring kingdoms and forcing them to pay regular tributes, the Aksumite rulers acquired the resources they needed to build prosperous states. In the seventh century they expanded their control across the sea to the coasts of Hejaz and modern-day Yemen. By controlling the Red Sea’s eastern and western coasts, the Empire of Aksum was able to insert itself into the trade networks linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. It established itself as a key player in the ivory trade and became the principal supplier of ivory to the Roman empires. The Aksum mariners were long-distance merchants that were active in the Red Sea, trading with places as far away as Sri Lanka.

Did you know?

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion was built in Aksum by Emperor Ezana in the fourth century and is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant. According to Christian tradition, this chest, said to contain the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, was brought back to Ethiopia by Menelik I, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.