, Ptol. 4.7.25
, Steph. Byz. s. v.; Eth. Ἀξουμίτης
, Perip. Mar. Eryth. p. 3: Ἀξωμίτης
, Procop. B. Pers. 1.19), the modern Axum,
the capital of Tigré,
in Abyssinia, was the metropolis of a province, or kingdom of the same name (Regio Axiomitarum), and is described by Stephanus B. (s. v.) as the chief town of the Aethiopes Auxumitae (Ptol. 4.7.29
). Auxume stood in about lat. 14° 7′ N. to the SE. of Meroe and E. of the river Astaboras or Tacazzé.
The modern city, which corresponds in site to the ancient one, is described by Salt “as standing partly in and partly at the mouth of a nook, formed by two hills on the NW. end of an extensive and fertile valley, which is watered by a small stream.” The kingdom of Auxume was at one time nearly co-extensive with the modern Abyssinia, and comprised also a portion of the SW. coast of the Red Sea, and the tribes of the Sabaean and Homerite Arabs on the opposite shore. Its principal haven was Adule (Arkeeko
), from which it was about 120 miles distant. Auxume and Adule were the chief centres of the trade with the interior of Africa in gold-dust, ivory, leather, hides, and aromatics. (Nonnosus, ap. Photium. n.3, p. 2, ed. Bekker.) The Auxumitae were originally a pure Aethiopian race, with little admixture from the neighbouring Arabians.
In the decline of the kingdom the latter seem to have become the principal element in the Auxuinite population.
The kingdom and its capital attained a high degree of prosperity after the decline of Meroë, in the first or second century of our era.
As a city of inferior note, however, Auxume was known much earlier; and is even supposed by some writers to have been founded by the exiled Egyptian war-caste, in the reign of Psammitichus B.C. 671--617; by others, as Heeren (Ideen
2.1. p. 431) to have been one of the numerous priest-colonies from Meroë. The Greek language was spoken at Auxume--a circumstance which adds to the probability that the city did not begin to flourish until the Macedonian dynasty was established in Egypt, and Greek factors and colonists had generally penetrated the Nile-Valley. Indeed, a Greek inscription, which will be noticed presently, makes it not unlikely that, as regards the Hellenic element of its population, Auxume was a colony of its haven Adule.
That Auxume was a city of great extent its ruins still attest. Travellers, however, vary considerably in their accounts of its vestiges; and the more recent visitors of Axum
seem to have found the fewest authentic remains. Combes and Tamisier, who visited it in 1836 (Voyage en Abyssinie,
vol. i. p. 268.), for example, saw much less to describe [p. 1.348]
than Mr. Salt in 1813, or Lord Valentia in 1808. Its most interesting monument is its obelisk.
Originally there appear to have been 55 obelisks: of which 4 were of superior magnitude to the rest. One of the 4 is still erect.
It is 60 feet in height, and is formed of a single block of granite.
But it is not inscribed with hieroglyphics, and differs considerably from Egyptian and Aethiopian structures of that kind. For the Auxumite obelisk, although quadrilateral, has not a pyramidal summit, but a finial shaped like a slipper or a patera; and on one of its faces is a deep hollow groove, surmounting a doorway, and running up the centre of the face from the lintel of the door to the vertex of the obelisk.
It stands near a Daroo tree (ficus sycaminus
) of remarkable size, and of great age--the sole survivor possibly of a sacred grove, in which the other now prostrate obelisks were erected. Nothing is known of the date of these obelisks; but they are probably not anterior to the Christian era.
The most interesting monument of Auxume is to be found near its principal church.
This is a square enclosure, with a pillar at each of its angles, and a seat and. footstool nearly in its centre.
The walls, pillars, and seat are all of granite.
The enclosure was, according to a local tradition, the coronation chamber, and the seat the throne of the ancient Auxumite kings. Bruce affirms, but more recent travellers deny, that there is upon this footstool and seat an inscription in Greek characters.
The real Auxumite inscription, however, appears, from Mr. Salt's narrative, to be found upon another footstool without the enclosure, and about 30 yards apart from it. A Greek inscription was seen at Auxume by the Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century. (Tellez, Hist. of Aethiopia,
vol. i. ch. 22.)
The inscription on the latter footstool is bilingual--Greek and Cushite, or Aethiopian--one set of characters was probably intended for the native Auxumites, the other for their Greek rulers or colonists. Mr. Salt considers them as contemporary and identical in meaning.
He was unable to transcribe much of the Aethiopic, which is in small letters; but he copied the Greek inscription, which is in rude characters.
By comparing the Auxumite inscription with the Marmor Adulitanum [ADULE
], we find that they both relate to the same dynasty of kings, and that the latter is the more ancient of the two. From each it appears that the Auxumite and Adulitan monarchs claimed a descent from Ares, and that while the Adulitan king conquered various neighbouring tribes--Troglodytes, Homerites, Sabaeans, &c.--the Auxumite king is simply stated to have ruled over them. We may accordingly infer that Adule was at first the more powerful state of the two, and that Auxume derived its prosperity from its commercial emporium on the Red Sea.
About A.D. 356 Athanasius of Alexandreia was expelled from his see by the Arians, and his successor Gregory insisted upon his right to re-consecrate all the bishops in his diocese. The Byzantine emperor Constantius Nicephorus accordingly addressed a rescript to the kings of Auxume, ordering them to send forthwith the Auxumitan bishop Frumentius for re-consecration to Alexandreia.
This rescript has been transmitted to us by Athanasius in the “Apology
” which he addressed to Constantius shortly after his expulsion. (Athanas. Opera,
vol. i. pt. i. p. 315, ed. Bened.)
From the address of the rescript we learn that two equal and contemporary monarchs, Aeizanas and Sazanas, reigned at that time in Auxume.
These names are, probably, like that of the Parthian Surenas, not so much personal as official appellations. Now, the above-mentioned Greek inscription records the name and acts of Aizanas, king of the Auxumites, Homerites, &c., and moreover mentions his royal brothers Saizanas and Adephas.
The rescript and the inscription, therefore, relate to the same persons and the same period.
There is, indeed, some little difficulty respecting the religion of the Auxumite monarchs at this epoch.
The city was a Christian see, since Frumentius was its bishop, and Christianity had been preached in Abyssinia at least as early as A.D. 330. Two suppositions, therefore, are before us: (1) that Aeizanas and Sazanas were Christians, but retained on public monuments the old pagan formularies, as most familiar to their subjects; or (2) they were tolerant princes, and protected, without themselves embracing, the new faith. Cosmas, the Indian voyager, who composed his work on Christian Topography in the sixth century A. D., mentions another Auxumite king, whom he names Elesbaan, and who was contemporary with the emperor Justinian, i.e. A.D. 527--565. (Nonnosus, ap. Phot. p. 2, ed. Bekker) Here we seem to find the Arabic prefix Al or El; and in the “Book of Axum or Abyssinian Chronicles,” a copy of which was brought to this country by Mr. Bruce, several of the Auxumite kings have a similar prefix to their names. If the names be wholly or partially Arabic, the circumstance affords an additional proof of the gradual influx of the Arabs into Aethiopia, which we have already noticed.
The subject of the Auxumite inscription is discussed by Buttmann (Mus. der Alterthumswissenschaft,
vol. ii. p. 575, where all the authorities are given). Vopiscus, in his account of the emperor Aurelian's triumph in A.D. 274 (Aurelian.
33), enumerates Axomitae among the captives who preceded his chariot.
These were probably merchants who were resident in Palmyra at the time of its capture; and if so, they afford an additional proof of the commercial enterprise of their countrymen. The Byzantine historians speak of the Auxumites as Indians, but by that term they imply not an ethnical but a physiological distinction--the dark colour of the Aethiopian race. (Bruce, Travels,
vol. i. p. 476, seq., vol. ii. p. 527, vol. iii. p. 128, seq.; Valentia, Travels,
p. 87, seq. 180; Salt, Travels in Abyssinia,
p. 510; Combe and Tamisier, Voyage en Abyssinie,
vol. i. p. 268; Ritter, Erdkcunde,
vol. i. p. 222; Mannert, Geograph. d. Alten.
10.1, p. 122, seq.)