So I’m into my last 20 days of my countdown! And with two exams down I’ve had a bit of time to do some reading up on my soon-to-be country of residence!
Ethiopia has a much longer documented history than that of NZ’s few hundred
years – it is believed that civilisation in the horn of Africa first came about in 1500BC. Historians remain unsure of who founded Ethiopia’s first capital, Yeha. The history books currently say that this came about due to the mixing of the Southern Arabian and East African cultures, which brought about a number of Afro-Asiatic languages, including Ge’ez – which evolved into modern Amharic – the language that is spoken throughout Ethiopia today. Amazingly this language of Ge’ez is still read and spoken by a number of Christian priests in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. While the influence of the South Arabian culture is present in Ethiopia (shown through the Sabean script and in the worship Sabean Gods), with some scholars even arguing that civilisation spawned from Arabian settlers and not Africans, recently scholars have argued that this civilisation, although influenced by Sabean ideas, was actually African and was developed from within, through local ideas and initiatives. If this proves to be correct, history books concerning the horn of Africa will have to be re-written! Actually the stone temple of Yeha, considered to be the birthplace of Ethiopia’s earliest civilisation is still standing – it is located 58km north of the city Adwa and is comprised of sandstone building blocks measuring over 3m in length which are apparently so perfectly fitted together that you can’t even fit a coin in between the joins of the blocks! The whole temple is said to be a grid of perfect lines and geometry. Adwa is a town at the very north of Ethiopia, just below the Eritrean border.
The Kingdom of Aksum (Axum) is believed to have emerged in 400BC and it grew to rank among the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world. It is believed to have thrived on Red Sea trade and rich natural resources. It features in a book written by a Greek-speaking Egyptian sailor from the 1st century AD, entitled Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
- Aksum – the capital’s location, is thought to have been situated at an important
- commercial crossroads – Egypt to the northwest, the current Sudanese border to the west and present-day Eritrea to the north. Exports from the capital included mainly gold from lowlands near Egypt and Sudan, grain, animal skins, rhino horn, apes and ivory. Elephants are said to have roamed in numbers of up to tens of thousands! Imports included dyed cloaks, coats, glassware, iron, swords and axes from Egypt, Arabia and India. Wine, olive oil, gold and silver were imported from Syria and Italy for the king. The Aksumite Kingdom was rich, well-organised and technically and artistically advanced: dams, wells and reservoirs were established to maximise agricultural lands and coins made of bronze, silver and gold were used as currency.
Extraordinary monuments were erected and the kingdom is said to have introduced Christianity: the greatest influence of all on the future of Ethiopia. Auksum is the site of many obelisks, some of which are decorated with carvings to give the appearance of large buildings – with multi-levels and windows and doors. The largest standing obelisk is 24m high. The largest obelisk, 35m long and some 500tonnes is the biggest single piece of stone ever cut by humanity anywhere in the world, however, it is now broken on the ground. A third stone has been re-erected after being in three pieces after being looted by Italian facists under the orders of Mussolini in 1937. The three sections of the 1700year old obelisk were eventually brought back to Ethiopia 68 years after it was taken. It was eventually re-erected in its original place in September 2008, costing the Italians over six million Euros and taking over 50years to return after was promised in 1947 in a UN agreement. The monument is a symbol of renewed friendship between Italy and Ethiopia.
Although the Kingdom of Aksum introduced Christianity, it did not become the main religion until the beginning of the 4th Century. King Ezana’s stone inscription mentions Christ and in addition to this, his famous coins bear the cross – the first in the world to do so. His stone – which has three languages inscribed in it: Ge’ez, Greek and Sabean- lay in its position in eastern Aksum until the 1930’s – when the Italian’s moved it to its new position because it lay in the way of them wanting to widen a road. Between 640 and 750 the Aksumites lost control over trade in the Red Sea and the kingdom collapsed, followed by a long dark age lasting until the 12th Century – almost nothing about this period of time is known…
Okay….I think I’ve covered enough years for this blog post, but I will endeavor to fill you in on more history of this amazing country soon!
I feel like I should say as a “disclaimer” that not all Ethiopians agree with all of these versions of historical accounts. This is the factual history that historians speak about. I’m curious to learn more of the history that Ethiopians believe in, which includes legends concerning magical deeds, folk heroes and ghostly creatures…