The Aksumite kingdom flourished in the area of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea in the first millennium AD. It is perhaps most famous as the kingdom that introduced Christianity to Ethiopia, and produced some of the earliest of the rock cut churches, but as this book demonstrates it had existed for some time before that, and was firmly rooted in local developments.
The main aim of this book is to provide an overview of the currently available evidence for the nature of the Aksumite civilisation, mainly focusing on the archaeological evidence (although written sources, inscriptions and coin evidence aren’t ignored). This is quite an academic book, looking in great detail at a wide range of topics, from religion and architecture to the details of agriculture (including exactly which grains were grown and how that changed over time).
If you are purely interested in military history then this book isn’t for you – there are brief mentions of the kingdom’s military exploits, which included conflicts with their African neighbours and some exploits in southern Arabia, but not enough to justify buying the book on purely military grounds. There are sections on the kingdom’s relationships with other powers, but these were largely peaceful trading contacts (and a fairly hands-off religious connection to Byzantium).
The author suggests that the target audience for the book will probably be students of Aksum, and especially those living in the area, but I found it of interest in its own right, giving a detailed picture of a civilisation that I had known very little about. The language can get a little technical on occasion, although not so much as to make it difficult to follow.
1 - General Introduction
Part 1: Before Aksum
2 - The northern Horn 3000 years ago
3 - The first millennium BC
Part 2: The Kingdom of Aksum
4 - Aksumite civilisation: an introductory summary
5 - Aksumite languages and literacy
6 - Some written sources relating to Aksumite civilisation
7 - The emergence and expansion of the Aksumite state
8 - Aksumite kingship and politics
9 - Aksumite religion
10 - Cultivation and herding, food and drink
11 - Urbanism, architecture and non-funerary monuments
12 - Aksumite burials
13 - Aksumite technology and material culture
14 - Aksumite coinage
15 - Foreign contacts of the Aksumite state
16 - Decline and transformation of the Aksumite state
Part 3: After Aksum
17 - The Zagwe dynasty
18 - Epilogue: The future of the past in the northern Horn
Author: David W. Phillipson
Publisher: James Currey
Year: 2014 edition of 2012 original