The Horn of Africa is a region with a unique identity and vibrant history. Close to the Arabian Peninsula, it always stood out from the rest of the African continent. Today, the Horn of Africa is home to the modern nations of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia, comprising some 115 million people. Throughout centuries of rich history, Ethiopia has managed to persevere and preserve its identity, despite many pressures. Once known as the Ethiopian Empire, or Abyssinia, which existed from 1270 to 1974, it is one of the longest surviving empires in history and is defined by its distinctive character and a past filled with defining moments. Today we’ll be stepping back in time, as we recount the ancient and modern ages of the venerable Ethiopian Empire.
Ancient Origins of the Ethiopian Empire: The Rise of Aksum
The earliest origins of the Ethiopian Empire reach back before 1270. The story begins with the Kingdom of Aksum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, an ancient kingdom of great import in the classical world. Aksum was located in today’s northern Ethiopia, and flourished from about 80 BC to 825 AD. Taking its name from its key city, the capital called Axum, its strategic location played a crucial role in the trading routes of the ancient world, particularly between ancient India and the Roman Empire. In time, Axum grew in power and importance, and eclipsed the neighboring and older Kingdom of Kush.
The importance of Axum was well portrayed by the famous Persian prophet Mani, who said:
“There are four great Kingdoms on Earth: the first is the Kingdom of Babylon and Persia; the second is the Kingdom of Rome; the third is the Kingdom of the Aksumites; the fourth is the Kingdom of the Chinese .”
To the Greeks and the Romans, the Kingdom of Aksum was well known, as it was to the Arabs and the Persians as well. Aksum ascended to great heights thanks almost exclusively to trade. Commerce was the key factor that helped Axum evolve to become the capital of an empire. This can safely be ascribed to its proximity to the Red Sea and its trade routes, since all it had to do was successfully facilitate the growing need of the Greeks and the Romans for African goods. A major export of Axum was elephant ivory, which was a highly sought after commodity in the Mediterranean, Levant, and Persia.
Aksumite traders established far-reaching caravans that would travel into the African interior in order to procure more ivory. As Axum was located at key crossroads for trade traffic, it only sped up its prosperity. In time, Axum became the hotbed for a rising civilization with a unique character fed by a proper amalgam of indigenous African cultures infused with South Arabian character, as well as plenty of influences from the classical world of the Mediterranean.
Original article titled "Abyssinia and the Ethiopian Empire: The Ancient History of a Struggling Nation."
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