THE HISTORY OF ERITREA
OTHMAN SALEH SABBY Library of Congress
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Othman Saleh Sabby is one of the most prominent founders of the Eritrean Liberation Front and one of its most distinguished leaders. He is the official spokesman for the external mission of the Popular Liberation Forces, and also a founding member of its joint commission with the Revolutionary Council. This joint commission has been working for comprehensive unification of the bases of the revolution and its leaderships. Possibly, Osman Saleh Sabby is almost unique among his colleagues in practicing book writing. Other than this book, he has already published "The Struggle In The Red Sea" and other works.
This Book By Youssef Ibrahim Yazbeck
In introducing this vital book to the Arab reader, I am gladly and willingly fulfilling the wish of the brothers working for the liberation of Eritrea. I have deliberately described it as vital; it rates this description justly since the Arab library, whether in the east or the west, lacks a history of Eritrea, "the neighbour-sister", which is a part of the Arab entity and whose reassuring neighbourliness has a great effect on the fate of this Arab entity and whose son's rights are a charge with which we were entrusted and about whose history, reality and just aspirations we are completely in the dark. Thus, this book comes along to fill a disturbing, harmful vaccum. Moreover, a double credit is due to Othman Saleh Sabby, since, in writing this book, he has given us an opportunity to know the history of Eritrea, the "neighbour-sister".
I would like very much to thank the author for this strenuous undertaking which he has completed with effort and persistence. Being away from home, he had to secure references and sources to write his book and to put up with all the hard work that this involves, while at the same time shouldering a sacred national mission as Secretary General of the Eritrean Liberation Front and the official spokesman of for its revolution, charged with making its voice heard in all parts of the world. If we could only visualize a poor, exiled combatant whose only weapons are his faith in God almighty and a belief in his country's right to independence and Freedom, pursed by oppression and accompanied by the ghosts of the persecuted and starving of his people, hearing the groans of to fulfil his noble mission, only then can we realize the magnitude of his achievement in finding the time to write this book.
It is difficult for me or for anyone else, for that matter, to judge this new work in our language academically, since we lack sources and references. All this prevent us from pronouncing a specialist's judgement on it, but the effort of the respected writer, the circumstances under which he worked, and the liberation mission which he shoulders, impel me to thank him and commend his effort and perseverance.
The future of Eritrea, the "neighbour - sister", is inseparable from that of the Arab homeland. The western coast stretching along the Red Sea where the area of Eritrea unfolds from the Sudan to Bab el Mendeb, and racing the Arab Peninsula strategically, economically and fraternally (and "the guns of whoever occupies Asmarah can reach the Peninsula") is, from the point of view of political precaution and geographical adjacency, a part of the Peninsula from which the sea has not been able to separate it completely. It is wise, enlightened and the duty of Arab Nationalism that all Arabs in all their countries heed the problems, risks and dangers that threaten the good people of Eritrea, imperil their destiny and thus pose a direct threat to the security of the southern part of the Arab homeland.
The Struggle of the Eritrean people for their complete liberties, political, national and economic, is today a new test for world conscience in support of fight. Because right is one for all, for the strong and the weak, for the rich and the poor, alike. It is the duty of the Arabs as we are part of world conscience and as we have been known for gallantry, and known for the fact that whole quarters of ours were destroyed in defending those who sought refuge in our midst, to be motivated by brotherhood and neighbourliness, and by national interest in sympathizing with the Eritrean struggle and to make our governments stand by the “neighbour-sister" in its efforts to realize its just demands.
Finally, I fully appreciate the difficulties which the author had to cope with. He merits a double praise, on the one hand, he has rendered his oppressed country a service, and, on the other hand, he has rendered human knowledge a service. In both cases, his services were useful and generous. I sincerely say to him "May your hands thrive" and invite the Arab reader to read "The History of Eritrea".
This book covers the history of Eritrea from the earliest ages till the present day. My motive in writing it is not only my wish to fill the gap in the Arabic library about the past of this country which enjoys historical, Geographical and Cultural ties with the Arab world, but also my wish to make a modest contribution in refuting Ethiopia's allegations which have never ceased to smother historical facts in the interest of its expansionist goals, denying the very existence of Eritrea as an historically separate entity.
When I embarked on writing, I was faced with many difficulties among which is the fact that I am not a specialized historian and consequently my command of the historical facts concerning the area is limited. Moreover, it has to be noted that the history of Eritrea was associated, in most of its stages, with the history of the neighbouring countries in North East Africa and the basin of the Red Sea, which requires a complete historical study of the area concerned, an undertaking the time for which I cannot afford, because of my national responsibilities.
Furthermore, not enough references about the history of Eritrea are available in the two languages I am proficient in, Arabic and English, what has been written about the history of Eritrea has been mainly written in Italian. There are more than two hundred books about Eritrea in the library of the African Museum in Rome. These books were written by scholars specialised in the various fields of knowledge, the most outstanding among whom is the famous Italian historian, Conti Rossini, who certainly made great efforts in writing these books.
I sincerely hope that Eritrean researchers will make use of this Italian library and of the library of Eritrean Studies, which is now being established by the External Mission of the Popular Liberation Forces of The Eritrean Liberation Front, so that Eritrean history will be written by specialized Eritrean writers.
I have drawn on my various readings of history books which deal with the region of North East Africa and the basin of the Red Sea in general, and the history of Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Egypt in particular for most of the information recorded here, in addition to what my memory has retained since childhood of general historical information the source of which was the stories related to as by my father (may God have mercy on his soul), who was interested in Islamic, and Arab history and that of his country.
Our Sudanese teacher, Tayfour Babakr Aldikouni, drew on him for preliminary information about the history of Eritrea which he used to teach in the intermediate school; he used to dictate to him from memory the dates of some Eritrean events. I memorized some of these such as the year I557 A.D., in which the Ottoman Turks occupied Massawa, and the year 1869, in which the Italian missionary, Sabito, bought a piece of land from the Sultan of Aseb to be a supply station for the ships of the Italian Rubatino company, with the result that this contract became the beginning of the Italian colonization of Eritrea.
It may be that the years I557 and 1869 have stuck in my memory since childhood, because they formed a turning point in the history of Eritrea. The first was the beginning of the dominance of the Ottoman influence over all the coasts of Eritrea for the following three countries.
The second formed the beginning of the modern history of Eritrea and the important events it covered such as the departure of the Italians after their defeat in the Second World War and the coming of Eritrea under Ethiopian occupation according to an American-British plan.
Another shortage which I faced on preparing this book was my being away for the homeland for a period that has now reached fifteen years during which I returned to the rural areas of my country a few times only, and under such circumstances as would not grant the opportunity for historical research and the study of archeological sites such as the ruins of Adulis, Matara and Quohito, which were thriving cities two thousand years ago.
However, I did not come out of these return trips empty handed; for example, in the Al Gheden area west of Eritrea I found some historical sites of the ancient wars. Also, in the Dankalia area, in south east Eritrea, I came across the cubical and Pyramidical graves which have important historical connotations concerning the relation of Al-Fung Sultanate in Eritrea to the wars with Ethiopia.
I am looking forward, if I survive, to devote myself to participate in writing the history of my country after the victorious return, God willing, by relaying on direct contact and observation of the land and people concerned and not only by drawing on references written by foreign researchers whose capacity to understand the Eritrean society remains, no matter how great an effort they make, less than that of the Eritrean, the son of the environment who's versed in its idiosyncrasies.
The greatest difficulty which faced me was the 'multiplicity of Eritrean history'. Eritrea, in its present boundaries, did not live under the rule of one state, in spite of the unity of origins and formation, until after the Italian occupation in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In view of its geographical position and the many human migrations which settled in its various regions, Eritrea was under the influence of various states at the same time.
Parts of it were connected with other parts of neighboring countries as was the case with the Eritrean Plateau, which was at one time under the Kingdom of Aksum, the region of Baraka in western Eritrea, which was for a time under the Kingdoms of Al Beja and the Kingdom of Al Senar in the Sudan, or Red Sea coast, which was at times under the authority of Yemen or Hidjaz.
I have narrated with the greatest possible accuracy and realism the events of these associations deducing from the 'historical multiplicity' a united whole, the result of historical intermingling among the various elements from which our people was formed, Cushitic Hamitic, Semitic and Negro. Also, 'unity with multiplicity' was imposed by the heterogeneous geographical environment and the need of the inhabitants in their summer-winter voyages of this constructive heterogeneousness.
The important truth which I wanted to attain through my modest research is that the Eritrean people had been in existence on this piece of land stretching along the western coast of the Red Sea from the Sudanese borders to Bab el Mendeb long before the Italians named it Eritrea early in 1890. It had been in existence, like other peoples of the area, with its strifes, its wars, its achievements and its many dialects, affecting and being affected by the course of events in the area.
The name of 'Eritrea' is not local but Greek and means the Red Sea; however, it is an old name which dates back to more than two thousand years. The fact that this name was revived in the nineteenth century does not mean, as Ethiopia claims, that the existence of the people was revived or fabricated. The name of Ethiopia itself is Greek and means 'the burnt face'. The emperor Menelik gave it to the old Habasha kingdom after enlarging it at the expense of his neighbours in cooperation with the western colonialist states at the end of the nineteenth century. And many are the new names for the new states in the world; what, for instance was the name of Kenya a hundred years ago, Pakistan, or Argentina. The importance does not lie the name but in the actual existence of the named.
Another historical fact which I wanted to prove is that the Ethiopian-Eritrean struggle is not a latter day phenomenon. Ever since the Amhara founded their mountain kingdom in the thirteenth century after the fall of the kingdom of Aksum, the Ethiopians have set their sights on the Eritrean coasts to make Ethiopia a naval state.
And to realize this goal, they have made great efforts, sometimes by resorting to violence, and at other times by entering into alliances with European powers, which introduced international power struggles into the area borne out by the Portuguese Turkish struggle in the sixteenth century.
As a matter of fact, Hailaselassie's alliance in 1950 with the Americans, who enabled him to occupy Eritrea under the guise of Federation in return for the hegemony of their military, economic and political influence in the area, was only an extension of the attempts made by the Emperors of Ethiopia since the fourteenth century, the most notable among which were the attempts of Yeshag, Zara Yakub and Lubna Dengel, to ally themselves with the kings of Aragon, France and Portugal in the three centuries, the fourteenth, the fifteenth and the sixteenth to control the coasts of Eritrea. These attempts eventually failed with the intervention of the Ottoman Turks, the greater power at the time.
I have explained that the mountain kingdom of Amhara, which I called the kingdom of Habasha as distinct from the ancient kingdom of Aksum and the present kingdom of Ethiopia, was neither an extension of Aksum nor its heir. For how could it be an extension of the kingdom of Aksum when it arose five centuries after the fall of the latter? I have placed the relation of the Ethiopian Plateau with the kingdom of Aksum in its true historical perspective.
I have also shown the relation of Aksum with Yemen, which is a relation that makes of the culture of Aksum an extension of the culture of Yemen. Finally, I have discussed the close historical relations between Eritrea and the Arab world in the various ages since the days of Hemyar and Sheba in the south of the Arabian Peninsula until our present day, bypassing any sensibilities, domestic or external, that could be provoked.
However, the relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia was not always in a state of deterioration and permanent wars, but was sometimes marked by detente and agreement. For example, the Emperor Fasilides and the Gondar kings who followed him allied with the viceroy of Massawa against Jesuit missionaries and foreign invaders and cooperated in that respect for a period that lasted for a hundred and fifty years until the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Actually, the movement of commerce and traffic between two countries was not hindered throughout the ages. Moreover, Ethiopia was in no way hurt because of Eritrea's control over its naval outlets, except when Eritrea itself was hurt by powers which neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia could face or challenge.
Today, this relation could be restored to its normal condition if the Ethiopian Amhara gave up their propensity for domination and expansion, Amharizing peoples and destroying their national entities. I sincerely believe that building bridges of cooperation and friendship between the two peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, each under his own state, would further their common interests and the interests of peace and security in the basin of the Red Sea and in East Africa.
Another fact I would like to draw attention to is that every element of the Eritreans have across the borders brothers of theirs to whom they are bound by historical, cultural, religious and language ties. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Eritrea, but is common among all the border areas in the world. We hope that this border homogeneousness will be a motive for establishing the best of relations with the neighbours.
Although Eritrea in the Middle Ages was divided among the sphere of influence of a number of neighbouring and distant kingdoms, this influence did not erect partitions among the people of Eritrea who used to move in their traditional voyages in winter and summer among the plateau, the eastern plains and the western plains. These voyages have always availed shepherds and peasants alike of varied climates for grazing and cultivation in different seasons.
Moreover, the economic factor played a principle role in binding the Eritrean people together. Furthermore, modern transport and modem economy augment the ties of unity among the Eritrean people; the bananas of Baraka are transported to Massawa for export within seven hours, and the same thing applies to the copper of the plateau, its honey and its various cereals; and many are the states whose different provinces were under the influence of several empires and which enjoy today their national unit.
Yogoslavia is a case in point. Its different provinces were under the control of the Ottoman Empire, Austria, and Hungary simultaneously, and they were not united within one state until after the First World War.
Finally, I have devoted three chapters to the modern history of Eritrea and its national liberation struggle, so that the Arab reader will be informed on what is going on in an area which is a natural extension of the Middle East Area geographically and strategically.
I do not claim complete objectivity in what I have written, for the mind of man cannot be completely divorced from his emotion, but I have tried my best to present historical facts as I perceived them. I hope that this attempt will pave the wav for other specialized writings about Eritrean history and welcome any constructive criticism.
1/9/1974 Othman Saleh Sabby
The Old Races in Eritrea
Some historians, believe the race known as 'Cush' (in relation to Cush, the son of Ham, the son of Noah) were the first to settle the Eritrean coasts. These historians are inclined to think that these are the first origins of the ancient Egyptians, and that they made the Red Sea coasts, to which they moved from the Southern Arabian Peninsula more than ten thousand years ago, a passageway until they reached in their wanderings the Nile Valley, where they settled and built Egypt's famous pharonic civilization.
Still, groups of these settled the coastal region and were known for their dark skins and features which were non-negroid, possibly due to their mingling with other races of African origins. Historians do mention the migration of some groups from the Nile uplands to Barakah Valley and Al-Gash. These groups were known as the Nilotic peoples. They founded an agricultural civilization in western Eritrea and remained there until, displaced by the Hamitic Beja migrations two thousand years ago from their homeland in the plains and valleys, they penetrated into the Barentu plateau in search of a sanctuary.
The Al-Barya and Al-Baza tribes are related to these ancient origins of the Nilotic peoples. Most of the Cushitic groups remained in the coasts of Eritrea and its highlands depending on sheep-herding and hunting until they mingled with the new migrants from the southern Arabian Peninsula, who transplanted their agricultural civilization in the fifth century B.C, and founded settled kingdoms in Akkele Guzai and Serae, which were latter merged to form the famous kingdom of Aksum.
Pharonic manuscripts indicate the presence of some agricultural and trader communities on the Eritrean coasts. The manuscripts of Thutmose III point to places on the coasts of the Red Sea under the names of 'Outoulit', 'Hamasu' and 'Tekaro', which are probably the origins of the current names of 'Adulis', 'Hamasien' and 'Tigrai' according to Jean Doresse. It is probable that Adulis had been the name of a village before the Ptolomites founded the famous, historical port of Adulis in the third century B.C.
In the third century B.C., the Greek historian, Agatharchides, described the inhabitants of the Eritrean coasts as cave dwellers in the desert adjacent to the coast who lived in the rainy season on a diet which was a mixture of milk and blood, and who wore animal skins and practised circumcision. Their women were communal, unbound by marital ties, except for those who were the property of their leaders. They were grouped into small tribes and their arms were shields made of hide, thick sticks, spears and arrows.
Another Greek historian, Artemidorus, presented a detailed description of the Eritrean coasts and their inhabitants in the five centuries preceding the birth of Christ. He mentioned a number of anchorages which were later to disappear. He also mentioned bitter lakes in the region of Dankalia from which the inhabitants obtained salt; these are probably the famous Bardoli salt pans in the Bori Peninsula and the lake of Asal which are still a source of income for the inhabitants.
The migrants from the southern Arab Peninsula transferred their culture and their blood to the region through continuous migrations which started three thousand years ago and lasted until the dawn of the twentieth century and through historical intermingling. They were followed in the Middle Ages by the migrations of the Hamitic Beja tribes from southern Egypt and eastern Sudan. Thus, the inhabitants of Eritrea inherited the mixed blood of the people conventionally called ‘Hamito – Semitic’.
This can be clearly seen in the customs of the people and their different dialects. Tigrinya and Tigre belong to Semitic origins, while the dialects of the Danakil, the Saho Belin, and Al Hadareb belong to the Cushitic - Hamitic languages. The dialects of Al Barya and Al Baza belong to the African-Nilotic language group. The language of the Belin is considered one of the oldest Cushitic languages in the region to the point that some historians think it is probable that the name is derived from the term used in Pharonic inscriptions and borrowed by the Greeks and the Romans as the word 'Blemmys'.
It used to be given to the peoples on the coasts of the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. In general, Eritrea forms with the varied affiliations of its people a typical model of the peoples of the area stretching from Kenya to the furthest countries of the Arab west.
In this respect, Dennis Polm says, in his "The African Cultures", "Whatever the age was in which the blacks appeared in Africa and proliferated in it, there's no doubt that contacts were made between them and whites whose origin was North Africa or the Near East and who are the ancestors of the Berber in North Africa at the same time. We can also give these people the name "Hamito - Semitic", in relation to Ham, the son of Noah, to point out their origin which is close to the Semitics.
The difference between them lies in the linguistic aspect. As for the racial aspect, they are originally of the inhabitants of the Mediterranean. In our present day, the western or the northern group of the Hamito Semitic comprises, apart from the Arabs, who came with the historical invasions, though most of the Arabs of North Africa are actually Berbers who adopted the language of the migrants, the inhabitants of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Western Sudan (The Twaregs) and the inhabitants of the central desert.
Today, we see that the Eastern Hamites who mingled with the Semites and the Blacks make up the Egyptian people, the people of the Beja, the Nubians, the Eritreans, the Ethiopians, the Gala, the Soleans, and the Danakils. Moreover, linguists distinguish in the Hamito - Semitic language group three subgroups: I) Semitic, 2) Berber, 3) Cushitic.
The region which has furthest to the east in Africa, i.e. the plateau of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somaliland and the Sudan is inhabited by Ethiopian (i) stock, which is characterized by dark skins, near to black, tall bodies, curly hair and straight faces. This is due to the mingling of the blacks with the white invaders who most probably came from the Arabian Peninsula, or it could be a consequence of the presence of an aboriginal group of people which had the characteristics of both whites and blacks.
To the south, there was intermingling between the Ethiopians (2) and the Nilotics which later formed what we sometimes call 'Semi - Hamites'. These are the Masai, the Nandi and the Souk tribes in Kenya and the southern Sudan".
I have quoted historian Polm to show the vastness of the expanse in which there was racial intermingling, which makes a discussion of the specific origin of a race, insignificant as it is, out of the question.
(i) & (2) What is meant by Ethiopia and Ethiopians here is the general sense of the word as given by the Greeks to the people who lived south of Aswan, and means the blacks or ‘those of the burnt faces’.
The Connotations of the Old Names: Cush, Aksum, Al Habasha, Ethiopia
It is a great concern of ours while studying the history of Eritrea to study the connotations of the historical names which were given to the region stretching from the south of Egypt to the outskirts of Kenya, since Eritrea, with its present boundaries in relation to the neighbouring countries, did not have a separate name or a history separate from the history of the peoples who settled this vast region. The terms Aksum, Al Habasha, Ethiopia and Cush, to be specific, are the object of our present study as they have been subject to a lot of confusion and conflicting claims in the service of political aims.
The name of Ethiopia
The term "Ethiopia" is an ancient name which was mentioned in many of the old Greek writings and other important religions and historical references. Its Greek meaning is "the burnt face". Some old sources foremost among which is the Old Testament gave it to the Nubian Kingdoms which were influenced by the old Egyptian culture. Some references went further by giving it to all the inhabitants of the African continent south of the desert and the Nile uplands.
When Sir Budge wrote his book about the history of Eritrea, he started by talking about the history of the Nubian Kingdom as part of Ethiopia. In this respect, he relied on all the ancient sources since the old Greek writers, Homer, Herodotus and others who thought that Ethiopia commenced from the southern boundaries of Egypt. The geographer Strabo said that Ethiopia was part of Egypt and a southern extension of it. Ancient writings are numerous and varied; some had it that the name Ethiopia comprises Egypt, the Sudan, Arabia, Palestine, India and especially the people who inhabited the Nile valley, in the north and the south.
Since the name in its Greek origin means 'the burnt face', historians gave it to all the peoples whose complexion varies between brown and black, including the Negroes, and they assumed that the lands inhabited by these people were called Ethiopia. Since the old sources did not agree on known boundaries for the land given this name, it remained indeterminate without any geographical definition and it was associated with another contemporaneous name, 'Cush', which meant the same peoples and the same regions.
One of the indications of confusion in defining the areas designated by this name is the invasion of Egypt by the King of Nubia, whose dynasty ruled Egypt from 712 to 663 B.C. This dynasty was the 25th dynasty called by historians the Ethiopian dynasty, although it came from Nubia. This shows that the name Ethiopia meant to ancient historians the kingdom of Nubia and Meroe more than anything else. They defined Nabata as its first capital and Meroe as its second capital, both of which are in Northern Sudan.
Why did Al-Habasha call itself Ethiopia?
Writers in the Middle and Modem Ages found important parts of the area concerned which had acquired distinct names such as Egypt and the Sudan, so, excepting these, they gave the rest, i.e. all the black peoples including Al-Habasha (Abyssinia), the name Ethiopia.
Thus arose the desire of the kings of Al-Habasha (Abyssinia) to adopt the name Ethiopia in the Middle Ages, because of their desire to give up the old common name, Al-Habesha (Abyssinia, which suggests a multiplicity of races, their intermingling and lack of cohesion, especially since those kings, supported by the church, had been trying since the reign of king Ykunu Amlak (1270 A.D.) to enhance the king's prestige and authority by surrounding him with an aura of sanctification and by relating him to prophets and apostles.
So, they invented a story for the name by saying that Ethiops, the son of Ham, the son of Noah, is their ancestor, that his progeny migrated to Al-Habasha (Abyssinia) plateau at the beginning, that the name is acquired from him, and that his son, Yksum, founded the city of Aksum.
Spenser Trimingham preferred to apply the name Ethiopia as a geographical term to the region of North East Africa, which comprises the old Habasha (Abyssinia) and its dependencies; Eritrea, and Somali land, but it is a term which lacks scientific accuracy and appeases the desire of Ethiopian kings for expansion at the expense of neighbouring countries.
The Term Cush and its Connotation
As for Cush, the ancient Egyptians used it to designate the Southern boundaries of Egypt, now called Nubia. The Hebrews mentioned it in the Torah just as they mentioned Ethiopia to signify that Cush is one of Ham's sons. The Aksumite inscriptions mentioned it as Casu. Since the Hamites, who were also called Cushites, settled the Sudan, Eritrea, Habasha (Abyssinia) and Somali land after having migrated there in early historical times, the land was called Cush land and comprised Habasha (Abyssinia), Eritrea, and the Sudan among others.
The Cushitic element had been dominant in the area before the coming of the Semites from the Southern Arabian Peninsula. In the region of Eritrea, Somaliland and Habasha, they now form one of the elements of which the peoples of that region are formed. The Agan, Gala and Sidama languages in Habesha (Abyssinia) and the Saho, Danakil and the Belin languages in Eritrea and the Somaliland are considered languages of Cushitic origin.
The Kingdom of Aksum Is Not The Kingdom of Habasha.
The word Habasha is derived from the term 'Habashat' or 'Habasht', the name of an Arab tribe which migrated from the southern Arabian Peninsula to the coasts of Eritrea, then penetrated into the mountainous highlands to become later one of the tribes which contributed in founding the kingdom of Aksum. At the beginning, this tribe and other migrants inhabited the Eritrean islands of Dahlak. Then they established caravan trails into the interior to trade with the indigenous Cushitic inhabitants.
The Semitic names, common on the coasts and the Eritrean plateau, indicate the migration routes. Massawa from the name of a Yemenite family 'Massawa', Saharat from Shahar in Yemen, Hisein from 'Thee Hussein', Anbasa from Ayn Saba, Marab from 'Mareb', Wa'a, Matara, and Areb etc... Historians state that the Habashat tribe secured for itself a foothold on the Eritrean plateau in the 5th century B.C. The word 'Habasha' in Arabic signifies unity and alliance, and from this root there are derivatives common among Arabs.
We find that 'Habashat' is an Arab market before Islam; 'Habasha' and Hubeish are Arabic proper nouns. 'Al-Ahabeesh' are people from 'Qureish' who entered into an alliance and were called thus. Also, in Yemen, there is a mountain called Hubeish and it is said that the Habashat tribe belongs to that area. As for the Aja'azyan tribe, it is said to be the oldest Yemenite tribe to migrate to the coasts of Eritrea. Their original habitant was on the coast between Sana'a and Aden, and they are mentioned in inscriptions in Aden and Aksum. To them is attributed the Geez language from which were derived Tigrinya and Tigre, two languages current in Eritrea.
It must be noted that the state of Aksum, founded by the Semitic migrants such as the 'Habashat' and ' Aj'azyan' tribes and others in the Eritrean highlands and the Tigrai plateau in the north of what is now called Ethiopia, was not called the state of Habasha (Abyssinia) until later ages; about the tenth century A.D. after the rise of the Amhara kingdom, as will be detailed later.
There is no mention of the word Habasha or 'Ahbashat' in old Aksumite inscriptions except within states or tribes that were subordinate to Aksum, while the official name of the state was the kingdom of Aksum. An old Aksumite inscription that dates back to 4th century A.D. mentions two kings of this region, Ala'mida and his son, Ezana, who are called "the king of Aksum, Thoo Rydan, Saba, Ahbashat, Aslah, Tahama, Beja and Samu" which attests the fact that Ahbashat did not mean the whole region or all its peoples at the time the inscription was recorded.
Another Aksumite inscription which dates back to 6th century A.D. mentions the name of Ramhaz, one of the kinds of Aksum, who is called king of the Ja'azites. The word Ahbashat was mentioned in the inscription which shows that the name did not cover the whole region.
It can be concluded from this the current Habasha which is called Ethiopia by its kings and which comprises its dependencies in the land of the Gala and Somaliland, is not an extension of the kingdom of Aksum which fell in the 8th century A.D. Rather, Aksum was a kingdom on its own, which at the beginning formed an extension of the kingdoms of Sheba (Saba') and Himyar in Yemen to the extent that initially, the title of its ruler, Negus or 'Negash', meant merely a tax collector who was sent by the kings of Sheba and Himyar to their communities there for the collection of taxes, but with the passage of time the word came to mean king.
Eritrea and the historical Aksum enjoy a common heritage embodied in the human, cultural, linguistic and civilisation composition of sizable parts of Eritrea, especially its plateau. This is why we paid such concern to the history, culture and civilisation of Aksum, in spite of our awareness of the sensibilities which might be offended on account of that, especially since the kings of Ethiopia claim the Ethiopian heritage though they are more removed from it than the Eritreans, and since the city of Aksum itself still stands on the Tigrai plateau near the Eritrean boundaries.
However, if the Amhara kings and their peoples do have distant affiliations with the civilization of Aksum, then it is only of the nature of common heritage which we do not contest. The Latin peoples in Europe, for example, belong to a common cultural heritage, but this has not prevented the existence of separate, independent nationalities such as Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Rumania besides the countries of Latin America.
The Name of Eritrea
In the third century B.C., the Greeks gave the name Trichone-Sinus Erythraeum to the sees around the Arabian Peninsula which were the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arab Sea, and the Arabian Gulf. They explained the name which literally means the Red Sea by alluding to the numerous mosses which were seen by the Greek sailors afloat on the waters of these seas and which used to reflect a red colour off the surface of the water.
In ancient Greece, there was an island called Eritrea, which is the island of Yoboya racing the eastern coast of Greece, and out of which came many people to find the colonies in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. These colonies took part in the Greek uprising against the Persians (499 B.C.), so Darius I (490 B.C.) destroyed them later. Athens established a colony there which revolted against it twice (411 - 349 B.C.), and there is still a site in the Island of Crete which is called Cape Eritrea.
We do not know whether the Greeks, in their days of glory, transplanted this name to a Red Sea region which they controlled. The Romans, in their days of glory, confined the name Sinus Erythraeum to the Red Sea and its coasts, which they came to control when Adulis fell under their influence. When the Italians occupied the coasts of the Red Sea, which stretch from Rahaita in the south to Ras Kassar in the north, they revived the old Roman name for the coast of Adulis by decree issued by king Humbert I, the king of Italy, on the first of January, 1890 A. D.. (p. 30)
The Relation of the Eritrean Plateau with the Kingdom of Aksum and the Southern Arabian Peninsula
The Intervention of Aksum in the Affairs of the Southern Arabian Peninsula
The flow of Arab migrations stopped temporarily when the Greek Ptolomites in Egypt intervened in the Red Sea, acquired political and military influence on both sides of the Red Sea and founded the famous port of Adulis in the middle of the third century.
A Greek language manuscript found near Dukki Mahari 40 kilometers to the south of Asmara mentions a king who bears the Greek name of Sembruthes, which shows the influence of Greek culture as a consequence of the Greek Ptolomite presence in Adulis on the Eritrean coasts. However, Arab migrations did not cease completely even in that period. Some researchers think that the Arabs entered the opposite African coasts after the birth of Christ also, and that they used to cross the sea and land there between the years 232 and 250 A.D.
Moreover, the Shebans who settled the Eritrean highlands and the Tigrai plateau did not sever relations with their old homeland, but they remained interested in it, interfering in its affairs, sending campaigns against it and occupying it at certain times. Aksumite writings reveal that the kings of Aksum were in the southern Arabia in the first century A.D., and they were there again in the second century A.D. also.
It seems that they had occupied the western coasts, which are near the Eritrean coast and can be reached by small boats across Bab el Mendeb, it is stated in an Aksumite text that the king of Aksum had subjugated the coasts racing the coast of his kingdom by sending land forces that defeated the "Arab kings of those coasts and forced them to pay tribute. An inscription speaks of a war which 'Al-Sharih Yakhsab' of Hemyar on 'Ahzab Ahbashat', i.e. the people of Habasha (Abyssinia), and 'Thee Sahartat', i.e. the people of Sahartah.
Writings that date back to the days of 'Alhan Nahfan' state that this Yemenite king negotiated with 'Jadart', the king of Aksum, to make peace with him. The sentence "Tha Qowl Wakadiness Wa'asha'ab Malek Habashat", i.e. "the leaders, lords and tribes of the king of Habasha (Abyssinia), indicate that the king of Aksum ruled over a part of southern Arabia at the time. There is also a reference in the text to the Aksumite king, 'Jadart Malek Habashat Wa Aksumen". Moreover, Withba, the king of Aksum, interfered in the affairs of southern Arabia between the years 300 and 320 A.D.
It can be seen from the long title assumed by the king of Aksum, Ezana, that Yemen and the neighbouring land were under his rule. But the most obvious intervention of Aksum in southern Arabia was the one that took place in the first half of the sixteenth century and its occupation of Yemen, where they stayed for about seventy years until the people of Yemen, aided by the Persians, revolted against them and they left Yemen forever. They had entered it in 528 A.D. with the help of the Romans, who provided them with the ships that transported them from the port of Adulis, which we will discuss in our discourse on the struggle in the Red Sea.
The Roman historian, Prokobius, wrote that the Emperor Justinian sent an emissary called Julianos to the Negash Asbaha to ask him to declare war on the Persians and sever commercial relations with them, since Casear and he were co-religionists, i.e. Christians, and his duty was to support his Roman Christian co-religionists and up-hold their cause. Justinian's emissary arrived at the port of Adulis, then proceeded to Aksum where he found the Negus Al-Asbasha standing in a four wheeled chariot to which were tied four elephants; he was naked except for a cotton loincloth fastened with gold, and on his waist and arms were tied gold ornaments.
The Negus heeded the call and sent a military expedition to save the Christians of Najran from the persecution of the Jewish king of Hemyar, Thee Nawas, who was supported by the Persians. The expeditionary force was transported in two stages on Roman ships which had come from Egypt. The first convoy moved under the command of the negus who had his own ship, which crossed Bab el Mendeb and landed at the coast of Yemen.
The negus's ship was the first to reach and was followed by the rest of the ships. The battles which took place between the army of Aksum and the Hemyarites culminated in the victory of Aksum and the appointment of 'Abraha Al Ashram', who was one of the commanders of the expeditionary force, as ruler of Yemen. He later declared his independence and his sons succeeded him on the throne for seventy years. (Refer to special chapter on the struggle in the Red Sea).
The System of Government in Aksum
The Provinces of the Eritrean Plateau
The kingdom of Aksum was formed of several small kingdoms founded by Semitic migrants from Yemen in the age of Sheba (Saba') and Hemyar between the land of Takzi and the Eritrean province of 'Akkele Guzai'. It is probable that this dates back to the 1st century A.D. Aksumite inscriptions, especially the one recorded on the stone tablet of its most famous king, Ezana, who was the first to embrace Christianity about 350 A.D., show that Aksum used to launch invasions aiming at subjugating the neighbouring tribes and forcing them to pay an annual indemnity.
It was not so much a case of centralised government as of kingdoms and tribes that used to pay their annual indemnities. In his tablet, Ezana mentions several peoples he had subjugated and refers to himself as the ruler of Aksum, Hemyar, Rydan and Sheba (Saba') in Yemen. He also mentions 'Salhin', 'Siyamo', 'Beja' and 'Cassu' which might have been in the kingdom of Meroe in the Nile Valley and in eastern Sudan, since he refers to his crossing, 'Takasa' river and also to the peoples of 'Minkarto', 'Hassa', 'Barya', 'Sarawi', and 'Hamasein' in the Gash Valley in western Eritrea and the Eritrean highlands.
What attests to the independence of the territories which fell under the influence of Aksum is what Yzana's tablet mentions of his subjugating the king of 'Agosal' which, according to historians, is the Eritrean Akkele Guazi, bordering on Aksum and also the king Hamasein. He also mentions the king of 'Sarati', (this name crops up in different forms of one of which is Sarawi. It stands for the Eritrean province of 'Serae'), and says that he came to an understanding with him concerning the passage of trade caravans to 'Adulis' peacefully across his country. However, the names of these kingdoms disappeared after the fourth century A.D., and the only records that were found were the ones that mention the names of the kings of Aksum and the dates of their reigns inaccurately.
Following the fall of Aksum as a united kingdom after the Hamiti Beja tribes overran the Eritrean highlands in the 8th century A.D., the province 'Serae' formed an independent state under the administration of its ruler who was called 'Cantibai'. Hamasein, also, remained independent under a prince called 'Aksan'. When the leaders of the Tigrai imposed a shade of their influence and 'Ekunu Amlak' ascended the throne of Habasha (Abyssinia), the rule of the three provinces of the Eritrean plateau was assumed by a prince called ‘Bahr Negash’, i.e. ‘the king of the sea', although his influence did not reach the sea, as the ferocious Beja tribes controlled the coastal strip.
The system of government in the three provinces was not centralized, but was rather like a confederation imposed by security precautions in a land that had been exposed to invasion and constant looting by northern migrants, the Beja, and southern migrants the Tigrai and each province had its local rulers. (P 35)
The Roots of Culture on the Eritrean Plateau and its Relation with the Arabs
Before and After the Introduction of Christianity
There is no territory in the world outside the countries of the Arab league whose local culture bears such a Semitic or Arab imprint as the Eritrean plateau, the various aspects of whose civilization, culture and language and the basis of social life had been influence by the Southern Arab peninsula before the introduction of Christianity into it in the middle of the 4th century A.D., and later by Arabic culture after its church had been linked to the Egyptian church throughout the ages of history, which required the translation of religions, legal and cultural books from Arabic as we will see in this chapter.
The Need for Archeological Excavation
The history of Eritrea lacks research and Archeological Excavations. With the exception of the limited Italian research in Adulis, there has not been a thorough search for ancient ruins. However, the ruins found so far, especially those found in 'Quohito', 'Tikhonoa' and 'Kaski' in the province of Akkele Guazi, reveal a clear southern Arabian influence on this area.
The archaeologist Duncanson is inclined to believe that there are many other ruins which are still under the earth in the Eritrean plateau. Lotman found a number of historical relics which date back to sometime between the 1st and 5th B.C.. Also, some Eritrean villagers in ‘Adi Karansham’ in Hamasein found a stone statue which resembles the Egyptian sphinx and a pulpit bearing writing in Sabaean letters. Count Rossini thinks that it was written in the period between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C. These historical relics are the oldest that have been found in North East Africa.
Aja'azyah and Geez - People and Language
Geez is considered the oldest Semitic language in North East Africa. It was the language of the Sabaean Tribes which migrated to the Eritrean plateau and the Tigrai plateau from the southern Arabian peninsula in the ancient ages. The people who spoke Geez were called Aja'azyan and its literal meaning is, according to some researchers, 'nomads' (i) and according to others, the free ones. If it is the second meaning, then it is probable that the migrant Semitic tribes called themselves thus to distinguish themselves from the aboriginal Negroid and Cushitic elements which were stigmatized with slavery.
This is supported by the fact that the Semitics imposed their culture and their language on the Cushitic peoples that had preceeded them since they were culturally more advanced. It was they who had introduced the means of cultivating hills by means of terracing hillsides, building with sheer stone unconnected by piaster, building oval temples and palaces, writing and other means of civilisation and progress. It is sufficient that they gave the region its language.
(i) Geeza and Ga’azi in Tigre dialect derived from Geez, means “the nomads”. Since the Aja’azyan migrated from their original homeland in the southern Arabian peninsula to settle in the Eritrean plateau, the first meaning of the word is probably correct.
Their religion replaced the old religions of the Cushitic peoples who used to sanctify certain kinds of trees, water and snakes. The inhabitants of the southern Arabian Peninsula used to worship the sun, the moon and the Planet Venus. The old ruins in Matara and Quohito in the province of Akele Guazzi attest to the worship of the 'goddess Ashtar', i.e. the goddess Venus.
The Tigre word, ‘A star’ was delivered from this word to mean the sky. They also worshipped 'Ilah Bahr' and 'Ilah Madar', which mean respectively the god of the sea and the god of the earth, and 'Ilah Mahram which means the god of war. All of these are pagan gods for which idols were made in the southern Arabian Peninsula and which were transferred to the Eritrean Plateau by the Semitic migrants.
Many Geez inscriptions have been discovered in the Eritrean plateau, the writing of which can be divided into three categories or ages. The first represents the oldest models of Geez writing, and its script is the old Sabaean script common in the age of the kings of Sheba (Saba who were known as 'Makreb'. Their reign extended almost from 1000 B. C. to 600 B. C. This kind of writing represented the migrants before their mingling with the local elements. The second resembles late Sabaean script; this category came six centuries after the first. The third is Geez writings with a distinct script and language.
Their religion replaced the old religions of the Cushitic peoples who used to sanctify certain kinds of trees, waters and snakes. The inhabitants of the southern Arabian Peninsula used to worship the sun, the moon and the Planet Venus. The old ruins of Matara and Quohito in the province of Akele Guzzai attest to the worship of the ‘goddess Ashtar’, i.e. the goddess Venus. The Tigre word ‘A star’ was delivered from this word to mean the sky.
They also, worshiped ‘Ilah Bahr’ and ‘Ilah Madar’, which means respectively the god of the sea and the god of the earth, and ‘Ilah Mahram’ which means the god of war. All of these are pagan gods for which idols were made in the southern Arabian Peninsula and which were transferred to the Eritrean Plateau by the Semitic migrants.
Many Geez inscriptions have been discovered in the Eritrean plateau, the writings of which can be divided into three categories of ages. The first represents the oldest models of Geez writing, and its script is the old Sabaean script common in the age of the kings of Sheba (Saba who were known as ‘Makreb’.
Their reign extended almost from 1000 B. C. to 600 B. C. This kind of writing represented the migrants before their mingling with the local elements. The second resembles late Sabaean script; this category came six centuries after the first. The third is Geez writings with a distinct script and language.
However, a scrutiny of the Geez script proves it to be delivered from the Sabaean and influenced by the Sabaean form. It seems that the Sabaean script was not very compatible with Geez pronounciation, so the Aksumites, on first embracing Christianity, had to invent this script, which added to its letters something resembling stresses, in an independent style making it a compromise between Semitic and Greek scripts.
Geez was initially the language of Semitic tribes that lived among African tribes on the Eritrean plateau and in Axum, When the two elements started merging and forming a nation which was neither pure Semitic nor pure Hamitic, this language remained the language of the hybird nation in all parts of the country without losing its Semitic character or origin, since the roots of its derivation are found in Arabic and other Semitic languages.
What change it did undergo is confined to the fact that its pronounciation was somewhat altered in relation to what is common among Semites, and some Hamitic words were introduced into it. Orientalists have observed that Geez has preserved old Semitic features of which there is no trace in all other Semitic languages, especially in forms which in Eritrea are old in structure and system. Also, there are other indications which show that Geez has preserved the oldest.
Semitic features such as the lack of a differntiation between masculine and feminine in nouns. We do not know the time when Geez seceded completely from the mother Sabaean language, as the process of evolution must have taken many centuries as mentioned above. It is probable that Geez became incomprehensible to the inhabitants of the southern Arabian Peninsula about the first century A.D. The obelisk of Matara in Akele Guzai, which dates back to the 4th century A.D. the emergence of Geez as a language distinct from the language of the southern Arabian Peninsula.
However, a language is greatly influenced by the political state. The glory of Aksum, which lasted from the 4th century to the 7th century A.D., declined. This was succeeded by the decline of Geez as a living language and its confinement to books within the church for the purpose of religions teachings.
It is noted that the cultural revival of Geez was between the 13th and the 17th centuries, the period in which the church was very active after centuries of isolation Tigre and Tigrinic replaced it as spoken languages in the areas in which it had been historically dominant. The former two are, of all Semitic dialects, the closest to Geez. As for Amharic, it was more strongly influenced by Cushitic languages in spite of its Semitic roots. To show the unit of origins and roots among Geez and the other Semitic languages, we adduce here a table which includes a number of similar words. (i)
(i) Translator's note:
These and subsequent transcriptions are based on the Third New International as condensed in the Merriam-Webster pronounciation guide.
There are many other words in Arabic which are of Geez origin or came from other languages such as Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew by way of Geez. For example:
/hawariyyen/, /munafag/, /futr/, /mihrab/, /burhar/, /mishkat/ /bavl/, /mazida/, /zinzhel/, /jahannem/, /tabut/, /Sarh/, /jilbab/, /zareba/, etc... Even the word /mus.naf/ is of Geez origin and is read with a clear /s/.
The author of "The Beautiful Slave Maids in the History of the "Hubshan" relates that Salem, the Mawlah of lbn Abi Huthaifa, assembled the Qoran between covers. Then they conferred on naming it; some suggested (Al-Sifr). But he told them that this is the name the Jews gave to their books so they declined it. Then he said I have seen its like in Aksum called /almus.naf/, so they unanimously decided to call it so.
The Hemyaritic influence is noticed in the names of the early kings of the kingdom of Aksum. The names of the kings who ruled in the period between the first and third centuries A.D. are prefixed with the syllable /za/ as in /zabazen/, /zazantu/, /zahkalce/. The syllable /tha/ in Arabic means master or ruler and their likes in Himyar are called /al Ith wai/ such as /thu yazen/, /thugafarr/ and /thu jadan/. It is generally known that what follows this syllable indicates the name of the tribe, the people, or the place to which this king belongs. /bazaen/, /zanati/ and /hkalae/ are all the names of the tribes or the places of these kings. Some of these still remain in Al-Gash region, like /bazaen/ which is the name of a tribe. The same can be probably said of /Yazenwakfan/ and /jadan/ also. Today in Yemen, the syllable /thu/ prefixes a number of significant names such as the tribe /thuhusaen/ and /thumuhammad/.
There is also another group of kings whose names are prefixed with an /al/ syllable with a stressed on a non stressed /I/ as in /alasfan/, /alsamra/, /aliskindi/, /alabraha/ and /allasbaha/.
We find that this structure persists in the names of the kings from 275 B.C. until 478 A.D. It ceases as of this date until the end of the Aksumite state in the seventh century A.D. indicating the break up of its cultural and spiritual relations with the southern Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps, the meaning of /al/ is god in which case the meanings of the structure /alzasfah/ becomes the God of Asfah'.
It is customary in ancient Geez to end the name preceding a preposition with an /a/ sound, thus /al asfah/ means the God of Asfah. Perhaps, the traditions of kings in that age bestowed on them qualities of divinity and holiness since Aksum was initially pagan.
After the introduction of Christianity into the country, the features of the pagan Geez culture were suppressed or altered to suit the teachings of the new religion, which cast shades of ambiguity on the cultural works of the period which preceeded the introduction of Christianity. Geez remained a Semitic language, the closest of the Semitic languages to Arabic from the point of view of semantics. The translated version of the famous Biblical prayer (The Lord's Prayer) is the best evidence for that.
Here's the Arabic version "/lbanal lathi fis samawat lyatakadas ismuka kama huwa bissama kathalika alal ard uvfur lana sayyiatina kama nagnu navfuru liman sa a ilayna/"
And here's the Geez version "/abuna tha bismayat yatakaddas sumka bikama bissamay kama bimudri haydej lana isana kama nannu nahdej litha ibs lana/"
The Sabaean influence on the Ownership of Land on the Eritrean Plateau.
After the new migrants from the southern Arabian Peninsula had divested the old Cushitic inhabitants of their land and made them into slaves, they bequeathed the land to their sons and their descendants. Thus the system of ownership became hereditary or what is locally called "Rusti". The village owns the land on a communal basis and re-allocates it among its citizens once every seven years to achieve fairness of distribution.
Belonging to a village originally bore the nature of blood relation and kinship. It is noticed that most of the villages on the Eritrean plateau bore the name "Dekki" which means children or "Adi" which means town, such as "Dekki Mada'abi", "Dekki A'd Shoom" and "Dekki Mahari", which respectively mean the children of Mada'abi, the children of A'd Shoom and the children of Mahari.
Also, "Adi Qih", "A'di Nabra", and "A'di Khala", which respectively mean the town of Qih', the town of Nabra and the town of Khala. These were originally the names of big families or important persons who bequeathed the place to their sons. Sometimes, the big families gave their names to a whole province, as is the case with the province of “Akkele Guzai” which means the sons of the two brothers, Akkele and Guzai. The land surrounding the village is inherited by it on a hereditary basis.
The Sabaeans transplanted this system from their plateau in Yemen. It is also noted that the province of Serae is an exception to the communal ownership principle and the distribution of land. The ownership of the land is individual and the system of periodical re-allocation of land is not applied. A person becomes a citizen of a village once he has resided in it for forty years.
In introduction of Christianity into the Eritrean plateau and Aksum.
Christianity was introduced into Eritrea and Aksum in an early age. The most intelligible narrative about the introduction of Christianity is the one written by the priest Rufinus, who died in 410 A.D. He said that he had heard it from Edesius personally. The gist of it is that a group of merchants from the city of Tyre made a commercial voyage to India, accompanied by two related young men; the older was Frumentius and the younger was Edesius.
During the voyage, the ship stopped at the port of Adulis on the Eritrean coast. The ship and its owner had inflicted some damages on the people of the port, in an earlier voyage, so the latter attacked the ship, drowned the people on board and only these two young men survived. The natives sold them to the king of Aksum, who was happy with them, gave them his confidence, and made the older his secretary and treasurer and the second his private cupbearer.
When he died, they remained beside the queen to look after state affairs until the young king "Yzana" came of age and then they remained in his service. It was by this means that Frumentius was able to influence king "Yzana" until he made him embrace Christianity. Edesius later returned to Tyre where he became the pastor of its church and where he was able to relate his story to Rufinus. As for Frumentius, he went to Alexandria where he met the patriarch Athenasius and urged him to send a bishop to Aksum o tend the affairs of Christians and Christianity in that country.
The patriarch found him to be best man for the job, and so ordained him bishop of Aksum. During the lifetime of Frumentius and king Yzana, Christianity became the official state religion represented by the church which adhered to the Orthodox Coptic, Jacobite confession of the Egyptian Church.
The patriarchs of Alexandria kept ordaining Egyptian bishops at the head of the church in Aksum and later in Habasha (Abyssinia) one after the other, and the Eritrean church remained subordinate to it until the Habashite (Abyssinian) church succeeded and ordained its own bishop in 1948. It was only a small segment of the people that embraced Christianity in the reign of king Yzana, as the pagan tribes remained mutinous and Christianity penetrated them very slowly over two centuries.
Thus, Christianity is as old in Eritrea as it is in the Middle East. 80% of the total Christian Eritrean population belong to the Orthodox confession, while the remainder are divided among the other confessions, especially Catholicism and Protestantism, which were introduced in the nineteenth century with the occurance of European colonization and established missionary schools in various parts of the Eritrean plateau. The activity of the Catholic missionary schools is especially noted in the province of 'Akkele Guzai', while the protestant bodies, headed by the Swedish Mission, which came in the Egyptian rule and set up a church in 'Um Kulo', a suburb of Massawa, were active in Asmara, Keren, Al-Mansaa' region, and Kunama, the last of which was a pagan area. These missions played a noteworthy role in spreading modem education under the Italian occupation, and were exposed to persecution by the Italian authorities who closed down their schools.
The Syrian Missionaries Introduce Reforms Into Geez and its Writings;
Christianity in Eritrea introduced a few improvements into old Geez which became suitable for receiving the sacred texts. The credit for that is due to those missionaries who came to this country from Syria. The old language of Sheba as it appeared in the oldest Eritrean inscriptions was devoid of vowel stresses, so that if they wanted to write /Sanafi/, meaning writer, they wrote it as /shf/. The Syrian missionaries were able to introduce reforms into this language. They devised vowel stresses which they connected to the letters, made writing proceed from left to right, and added three letters to its twenty six letters.
The Syrian 'Syriac' missionaries had a Greek culture, so they added new religious expressions same of which were Syriac and some Greek. Nine of these missionaries fled to Aksum having refused to abide by the decrees of the council of Efzus in 431 A.D. and the council of Caledonia in 451 A.D. They augmented Christianity on the Eritrean plateau and in Aksum and translated the Bible into Geez.
The influence of these missionaries was borne out in the religious terms which they used. These were Semitic terms which were close to Arabic such as 'Kurban', 'Salut', 'Mukaddas', 'Soum', Qais or Quashi, Kahen, etc... A hundred years later, a group of Moslems fled there to escape the oppression of the non-believers ('Kafirs') of 'Qureish', which shows the existence of religious tolerance on the plateau and in Aksum.
The Influence of the Arab Language on the Literature of the Church:
The literature of the church in Eritrea and neighbouring Aksum was influence by Arabic in the Middle Ages in view of the relation of the Coptic church in Alexandria which had adopted Arabic as its language. The emissary of the Imam of Yemen, Al Hassan bin Ahmad Al Haimi writes in his book "The story of Habasha" in 1665 A.D. "The bishop was an Egyptian Copt whose mother tongue was Arabic and who came out of Egypt taking along with him a Bible written in Arabic and books of their faith and of the rulings of their religion which were also written in Arabic".
Thus, most of what was written in Geez for the purpose of religious preaching and juridical rulings was translated from Arabic. The best known among these books is 'Fatha Najist' which means "The Law of the King", written by an Egyptian immigrant called lbn Asal, and mostly derived from Islamic jurisprudence and Greek laws. Also, the book 'Fossi Manfassei', i.e. the 'Medicine of the Spirit', is ascribed to an Egyptian priest called Mikhail. Likewise, the books 'Sawana Nafsi', i.e. the refuge of the spirit and 'Fakari Malakout' contemplation of the kingdom and 'Hamanut Abu', the faith of the fathers, have all been derived from books that first had been
The Role of the Eritrean Church and its Monastery in the Middle Ages
The Monastery of Debre Beazen
In the Middle Ages, the church in Eritrea and in Ethiopia, having absorbed many Jewish and Pagan local rites, remained a centre of cultural radiation for the Christian inhabitants and its teachings and traditions acquired a unique character which made it interfere in the various daily affairs of its adherents.
The monasteries were centres of learning as they were centres of worship and preaching and shelters in the impregnable mountains at the time of the raids which used to rock the region. The monastery of Debre Beazen, founded by Father Philbus between the years 1350 – 1360 on the top of Mount Beazen in Akkele Guazi, one of the most famous Eritrean monasteries and the most important.
The head of the Portuguese mission, Father Alvarez, saw while passing by the monastery around I520 A.D. that the land owned by the monastery extended for 30 miles and the villages subordinate to the monastery stretched for a day's or two day's march. Each village paid a horse every three years as a tax to the monastery, which shows that the church practiced secular authority in addition to temporal authority.
Alvarez says: "l asked one of them why horses when the people of the monastery don't ride them?"' He said they were forced that it be thus, but in actual fact payment was paid in cattle at the rate of fifty heads of cattle for every horse. This ratio is out of proportion as it seems, unless Alvarez mistook the number; especially as the area, as it is now, does not enjoy a big livestock fortune.
The authority of the church grew stronger after the decline and fall of the kingdom of Aksum, since only the church and its rich monasteries were left to preserve the heritage of the country, its religion and its entity at a time when the Eritrean plateau was exposed to the onslaught of the Beja, who settled in the country and ruled it for more than four centuries. As a result of this, many inhabitants of Hamasein, such as the people of Sa'ad Zakka, Hazzaka and Beit Mukha villages claim kinship with the Beja and Balu tribes.
These Beja tribes were then assimilated into the framework of the Christian Semitic culture, and lost their relations with their old characteristics before they were replaced in power and authority at the end of the thirteenth century by the Agau tribes and one of their branches, the Bleins, who migrated from the Lasta province in the heart of Habasha (Abyssinia) after its ruling dynasty 'Zague' had been displaced by another family which called itself the Solomonid dynasty. The latter still rules Habasha (Abyssinia) and the current Emperor, Haile Selassie, claims kinship with it.
The Effect of Religion on the Development of Art
Since the introduction of Christianity into the Eritrean plateau, the life of the inhabitants in its different aspects was associated with religious life, and the arts were no exception. They
were mainly associated with the church and its requirements of buildings, drawings, crucifixes and bells, and they were influenced by Byzantine forms.
The greatest manifestation of church art was the writing and embellishment of manuscripts. This is a phenomenon which was common in the Islamic world in view of the fact that Islam docs not encourage drawing pictures of living things. The boundaries of iron and copper used to be established near a monastery or a church on the mountain tops. Besides crucifixes and bells, their most important products were items of daily use such as plows, domestic vessels, and arms such as spears and short hooked swords.
Apart from building and decorating churches and monasteries, no development in building took place among the settled agricultural population after the fall of the glory of Aksum and of the civilizations of Sheba and Hemyar, which constructed the great buildings and obelisks.
After that, the building movement did not die out and probably the natives entisled the help of Egyptian Coptic masons, a number of whom migrated to escape the persecution of the Fatimid Caliphs. The church of 'Debre Libanus' in the Serae province is considered an architectural masterpiece in the harmony of its parts and the precision of its buildings, especially its entrance which is hollowed in the rocks.
As for the building of castles, it was not familiar. This is possibly due to the fact that the mountain tops and the rugged trails provided a shelter for the natives in emergencies, thus obviating the need for building castles and walls. The Turks, however, built a castle in 'Debarwa' on the Hamasein plateau when their forces occupied the region.
One of conspicuous features of buildings on the Eritrean plateau is the use of stones and wood in alternate lavers. This is a style of building which dates back to the Aksumite age and which was used in building churches in early Middle Ages as instanced by one of the old churches in Asmara. This mode of building is still common on the plateau. Also, horizontally jutting supports which are bent in a wide are represent a model of Aksumite buildings. As for the widely popular buildings, Hedmo, Akdo and Tikul, we have discussed them elsewhere.
Song and dance were influenced by the religious life, especially by the Old Testament. One of the noted musical instruments is ‘Krar’, a harp with six to ten strings, the equivalent of which in the Old Testament is David's harp, which was called Kenor. The Messango, a single string instrument, is considered purely local and produces sad, beautiful tunes. No occasion, whether happy or sad, is complete without the Kebro, the drum. These musical instruments are used on religious feasts and occasions, when the priests often dance with their long sticks (i) steps of regular and constant rhythm to the beat of the drums. Moreover, all these instruments are used on normal occasions in the life of the people like marriage, for instance.
A number of people on the plateau who are called 'Waty' are professional singers, but this is not considered a respectable occupation.
(i) The author has seen in Damascus some people from Houran who resembled the people of the Eritrean plateau in their costumes, dances and musical instruments. It is probably due to the influence of the Syrian missionaries.
The Influence of the Eritrean Art on the Arabs
The Arabs were acquainted with the people of Aksum, and the Arab merchants frequented the coasts of Eritrea and its plateau for the sake of trade, in flight from persecution or in search of pasture. They called all those who came from the African land racing the peninsula the people of Habasha (Abyssinia), since the Habasha was the most distinguished among the various, numerous nations which inhabited the area.
They were known by the Arabs for their love of dance and song. It is related that upon Ali Bin Abi Talab's return from the migration to Habasha, the prophet met him in private. Ali, influenced by the manners of the people of Aksum, started dancing around the Prophet, which he approved of and did not find unbecoming.
Some Aksumites in Mecca practiced dancing and playing with pikes during festivities and feasts. It 's related that on one such occasion they were playing in the mosque while the Prophet watched them with his wife, Aisha, leaning on his shoulder. Then they danced before him saving in Geez: "Muhammad is a good man". He approved of it and said in their language "Sanah...... Sanah" which means "fine..., fine".
This word is still used in Geez and Tigre. The Arabs took some kinds of dances from Aksum and the Eritrean plateau. Also, Arabic poetry benefited from the rhythms of old Aksumite dances and songs. The 'Quanin', an Arabic musical instrument, is based on the Aksumite 'tambour'.
In the "Encyclopeadia of Islam", Creswell says that an Aksumlte,'Bakum'or'Habakok', rebuilt the 'Qa'aba' in 608 A.D., and that he used wooden boards which he took off a sunken ship. He erected the building of alternate layers of stone and wood. It consisted of sixteen stone layers and fifteen wooden layers. It was a model of Askumite buildings. (p 51)
The Struggle of the Strong for the Control of Adulis
Adulis was famous as a port founded by Ptolomy Philadelphius III, one of the Greek Ptolomy kings, who ruled Egypt after the empire of Alexander was divided into three parts in the middle of the third century B.C. The ruins of this port still stand near the village of Zula 60 kilometres north of Massawa. Possibly, the village derived its name for the historical port which the natives call A'zull.
It was known by the Arabs before Islam under the name Aduli, and ships made there were called Adulite. It seems that the Arabs used this natural anchorage on the bay of Zula for the purpose of trading with the African coasts. Waves of migrants passed through it to the Eritrean Plateau and the Tigrai to found the aforementioned kingdom of Aksum.
So, researchers do not rule out the possibility that the Arabs could have preceded Ptolomy in choosing the port. However, the port was known as Ptolomy's, and the old ruins indicate the presence of Greek drawings and culture.
The first recorded information to reach us about this historical port was written by the author of "Pryblus Aerithreus", a Greek sailor who inhabited Alexandria and made a long voyage around the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. He collected some documents which he published in 60 A.D. in 7500 words describing all the ports on the African coast up to the port of 'Rabta' which is believed to have been hear the present Dar-es-Salam in Tanzania.
The author of the "Pryblus" states that Adulis was of great commercial importance as it was a port of exporting various kinds of ivory, Rhinoceros horns and skins. It was at the center of the east-west trade route. The big ships coming from India, the Persian Gulf, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula used to barter various goods such as wheat, rice, sesame, cotton cloth and honey with the ships coming from Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.
Merchants imported into it various iron tools which were manufactured in the port of Muza on the Red Sea. The author adds that the city was of medium size and it is a three days' march from 'Kulu', an internal centre of ivory trade, and near the site of the present Addi Qih in Akkele Guzai. The city of Aksum, which imports ivory from a country beyond the Nile, is a five days march from it. He also says that there is a big Greek community in Adulis and also Persian, Arab and African communities, and that Greek is the dominant written language.
Aksum Did Not Enter the Arena of the Struggle for Adulis:
The author of the "Pryblus" says that this land, the coasts of the Red Sea, has no one king to whom everybody owes allegiance, as every market and city on the coast has a chief. Some of the chiefs of these coasts are independent while others owe allegiance to the state of Himyar in Yemen.
This confirms the falsehood of the current Ethiopian allegations which claim that Aksum controlled Adulis, although we have already illustrated that the current state of Ethiopia is not an extension of the kingdom of Aksum, which fell in the seventh century A.D. It is historically established that the Eritrean coast was a link between Aksum and many other nations. The history of this coast is older than that of the Aksumite state.
The history of Adulis dates back to the century B.C., while Aksum did not emerge as a state until the first century A.D. The excavations undertaken by the Italian mission headed by Paribeni in 1906 uncovered the ruins of a temple which was Greek in structure and architecture. This temple dates back to the age when the Greek communities settled in Adulis before the Roman Age. This does not mean that some of the kings of Aksum did not occasionally control Adulis and repeatedly invade it.
This always happened between neighbouring lands. The migrants from the southern Arabian Peninsula, who founded the kingdom of Aksum, preferred to settle on the Eritrean plateau and the Tigrai plateau which resembles in their moderate climate and the fertility of their soil their original homeland. Thus, the migrations did not settle on the hot, damps Eritrean coasts.
So Aksum did not enter the Arena of the international struggle that was going on then among the naval states to control the entrances of the Red Sea. Since the age of Alexander, this struggle was confined between the Greeks, on the one hand, and the Persians on the other hand. Later when the Romans inherited the Greek empire in the Middle East, the struggle became between them and the Persians.
When the Roman Emperor Justinian I requested the help of the Aksumite army to avenge the torture of the Najran Christians by Thee Nawas, the Jewish king of Hemyar, and his attacking the Roman caravans in Yemen, he provided them with a Roman fleet that transported the Aksumite army to Yemen. Adulis was in those times subordinate to whoever controlled Egypt, the Greek Ptolomies first, and the Romans second.
The well-known Roman historian, Kosmas Andquiseltos, was in Adulis when the Aksumite expedition was transported to Yemen. He wrote about it in his book, "Christian Topography", and stated that the Roman ships had come from Agaba Gulf, and that Adulis was prosperous, teeming with ships that came from Egypt, Yemen, Persia, India and the Island of Ceylon. Emerald stones were brought to it from India. He calls the Aksumite king, who headed the expedition 'Eleshaah' and also 'Ella Asbeha'.
Contrary to historical facts, current Ethiopian Allegations mention that the name of the king who invaded Yemen was Kaleb and claim that his fleet roamed the seas of the world. This falsehood was refuted by a contemporary historian. Had the control of Aksum over Adulis been a historical fact, the Eritrean have greater cause to clarify this fact as it forms a part of their historical heritage.
The struggle of Aksum was mainly with the neighbouring small kingdoms foremost among which was the kingdom of Meroe in the Sudan which was destroyed in the middle of the fourth century A.D. by the Aksumite king, Ezana. The main reason for the struggle was, according to the great British historian, Arnold Toynbee the control of the land routes of the caravans that used to travel to Adulis under the supervision of the Beja tribes from the regions of the Middle Nile carrying African products of ivory, Rhinoceros horns, etc...
The historic role of Adulis was finished when the Persians managed to spread their influence over Yemen again after the Hemyarites regained sovereignty through the work of 'Thee Yazen' and expelled the Aksumites. This enabled the Persians to spread their control over Adulis and the Daklak Archipelago, thus impending the traffic of Roman trade and reducing the number of ships that called on Adulis until it became a deserted city. It ended in ruins after it was overrun by the pastoral Beja tribes, which came from eastern Sudan after the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the eighth century A.D. Then it became a hide out for pirates, which caused the Omayyad state to occupy it with the rest of the neighbouring coastal region, as we will show in the special chapter on the struggle in the Red Sea.
However, the excellent geographical position of this port still kept it a passageway for invaders. The Portuguese expedition, which penetrated the Habasha (Abyssinia) plateau to aid its negus against the conquests of the prince of Harar, Imam Ahmad bin Ibraheem, passed through it in 1541. Also, the British expedition of Lord Napier, which also penetrated the Habasha (Abyssinia) plateau to rescue a handful of British prisoners headed by the British Consul, Cameron, who had been captured by the Emperor Theodore, passed through it.
The ruins of Adulis are still an object of struggle between their rightful owners and the Ethiopian claimants. (p 57)
The Struggle in the Red Sea through History
The Struggle in the Red Sea in the Ancient Ages:
The ancient Egyptians were the first to sail the Red Sea because of their need for the coasts of Eritrea Somaliland and the southern Arabian Peninsula, especially to obtain incense, perfumes and some kinds of wood necessary for temples and religious life. They made the Red Sea their transport route to those lands. History mentions that Sahure developed naval traffic with "Punt" land', from which he brought myrrh, gold and silver. The land stretching along the Eritrean coasts until the African horn was known as Somaliland. Queen Hatshepsut (1520 - 1 484 B.C.) made a voyage to the land of "Punt", which is attested to by the ruins in Dayr al Bahri temple in Thebes.
However, the ancient Egyptians did not monopolize the trade routes in the Red Sea. Other peoples entered the arena of competition in latter periods of the Pharonic age. The Phoenicians were foremost among them; Hiram, the king of Tyre, sent his ships to bring him gold for which the region was famous. This had taken place 2500 years before the voyage of the Portuguese Barbarossa who came for the same purpose in 1500 A.D. The southern Arabian Peninsula was not untouched by this competition.
After its advanced civilisation had built impregnable strongholds on the mountains of Yemen and Hadramut, it gained complete control over the entrances and exits of the Red Sea. No one was allowed to cross this sea before paying full tribute according to the wish of the lords of both ends of the sea. Akathsides, the Alexandrian historian, mentioned the wealth of that part of the Peninsula and its power in 150 B.C. The records of Solomon the wise provide the best indication of the wealth of "Punt" land and the south of Arabia. He owned a fleet in Tarshish together with Hiram's fleet.
This Tarshish fleet used to come once every three years to bring gold, silver, ivory and peacocks from Ofir, which made king Solomon the wealthiest king on earth and his wisdom spread at large. The origins of this vast wealth first emerged in Saba which was administered by Balkis. "She gave Solomon a hundred and twenty bundles of gold, and great amounts of spices and of precious stones. People had never known an amount of spices such as the one brought by Balkis to Solomon". This was three thousand years ago.
The struggle between the Greeks and the Persians:
After a while, the power of the Greeks increased after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Alexander wanted gold and silver and also wanted to subjugate the Red Sea and its coasts to acquire incense, musk and other valuable products. He sent reconaissance missions to gather the necessary information in preparation for sending a big fleet from the Gulf of Agaba. He assembled the fleet and brought ship parts and the wood necessary for making them from Phonecia and Cyprus.
However, his sudden death and the subsequent rivalry and division among his commanders aborted the project which died with his death. Still, the heirs of Alexander did not neglect the Red Sea. They sent several reconnaissance missions to study the conditions of the sea, the coast and the peoples, with the aim of putting their findings to use in furthering their practical objectives in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. This concern with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean displayed by the Ptolomy government is probably due to Egypt’s excellent geographical position.
It is a position which forms a bridge between the two seas, the Mediterranean and the Red, and a market which is a commercial crossroad for the trade of the north, the south, Europe and the Mediterranean basin, the Sudan, Eritrea, Habasha, Somaliland and the other parts of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and India. This display of concern had been shown by the ancient Egyptians, then by the Persians and then by Alexander. The concern of the Ptolomies is actually an extension of the old objectives of controlling the fortune of the region.
Ptolomy II Philadephius (285 - 246 BC.) ordered the re-excavation of the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea. This was a project begun by the Egyptians under the Pharos to connect the two seas. He also ordered an increase in the trade with the coasts of Africa and those of the Arabian Peninsula and India, and an increase in the number of categories imported from the hot regions. Thus, the trade of Arab lands and Africa acquired a form unknown hitherto.
Deodorus mentions that the last attempt made to connect the Red Sea with the Nile was in the days of Ptolomy II Philadelphius, who named the canal be ordered dug, Ptolomy's canal. It was dug about 269 B.C. Then he sent a fleet to survey the coasts of the Red Sea from the Suez to the Indian Ocean. Then he founded several colonies along the coasts of the Red Sea to protect Egyptian ships and trade.
The Ptolomies, who succeeded Ptolomy II, continued his policy of expansion on the African coasts and in the Indian Ocean. They started sending adventurers to explore certain regions so as to be acquainted with their conditions and benefit from the knowledge thus obtained in implementing the policy of commercial and political expansion which they pursued in the countries that lie in the hot regions.
The Ptolomies strove with the Arabs for the control of the trade of east Africa and India. Then the efforts of the Greek Ptalomaic merchants were confined to direct the trade from the Arab ports in Yemen and Hijaz to the Eritrean coasts and then to Egypt. Ptolomy III Orgatus (247 – 221 B. C.) founded Adulis (60 kilometres south of Massawa in Eritrea) as one of the important historic stations. Ptolomy II had already built a strong fleet in the Red Sea which made a regular voyage to India, the mecca of the seas, and he assigned special officials to guard merchant vessels and protect them from the thieves of the seas. These functioned as a naval police.
The interests of the Arab caravans in the south of the Arabian Peninsula and Hijaz were affected by the interference of the Ptolomies in the affairs of the sea, by their placing Greeks in several places on the coast to protect their ships, and by their trading directly with the ports of the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, the best known which then was Adulis, Makha and Aden. Arab merchants were forced to abandon the sea to their mighty rivals and settle for sending their trade on the land routes to Syria.
This led to the flourishing of Adulis, which became early in the first century A.D. the greatest commercial port on the Red Sea. The author of "Pryblus Aerithreus" describes it by saying: "It was a thriving, organized society living in a big city of beautiful buildings, temples, baths and wide streets. Big ships from the Arabian Peninsula and from every direction in the Indian Ocean brought it daggers, spears and glass and sailed from it laden with ivory, Rhinoceros horns and turtle skins".
The coming of Greece into the Red Sea brought about a direct contact between Greek culture and oriental cultures. Greek writings have been found in several places on the coasts of the Red Sea and East Africa, especially in Adulis. Coins were found in several places on these coasts. The effects of the Greek culture moved from Adulis to the kingdom of Aksum. Greek even became the language of culture there for a period of time, which makes the current rulers of Ethiopia include this in their historic arguments concerning the possession of Adulis.
The Entry of the Romans into The Arena of the Struggle:
In the first century B.C., the Romans put an end to the Ptolomies, rule in Egypt and displaced them in authority. The Romans, who were the mightiest empire in that age, also inherited the Greeks in the Red Sea, and set their sights on its coasts and on the Indian Ocean until the Persians wrested away the Gulf from the Greek Selucids.
When Augustus occupied Egypt and made it a vassal of Rome, he ordered the reformation of what had deteriorated on account of poor political and economic conditions in the last days of the Ptolomies. He gave special attention to naval commerce and to the waters of the Red Sea which were infested with the thieves of the sea. He ordered the governor of Egypt, Ulius Galus to invade the Arabian Peninsula and the African coasts in the Red Sea to occupy and take possession of its great fortune, and to destroy the thieves and the pirates and make the Red Sea, a Roman Sea, as he put it.
The expeditionary force was assembled in Egypt. It consisted of ten thousand soldiers, Egyptians and Greeks and others. They boarded ships in a port on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea. They were to be transported to the port of Luica Cuma on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and then they were to travel by land to Yemen. But the expedition was neither organized nor sufficiently prepared beforehand.
Most of the ships were wrecked while attempting to cross the sea. Many of the soldiers died in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, and the rest came back laden with failure. However, the Romans kept their control over the port of Adulis and the other ports on the western coasts of the Red Sea, the protection of which from the attacks of the Beja tribes cost them dearly.
The Roman historian, Estrabon, indicates that the Romans kept sending ships to India across the Red Sea. They made commercial treaties with the kingdom of Aksum and even formed an occasional alliance with it against the southern Arabian Peninsula and the Persians, as will be detailed in another place. The author of "Travelling around the Red Sea" speaks of the Roman occupation of Aden. Some researchers think that the Romans occupied Aden by way of the sea after the failure of Ulius Galus' expedition against Yemen around 24 A.D.
After the occupation of Aden, it was possible for Roman ships to call on and sail from it to India and the African coasts, and to return to it before heading to their next stop, Adulis on the opposite coast of the Red Sea. The Romans stationed a garrison in Aden, as they did in Adulis, to ensure the safety of the Romans in the region. They also assigned some ships with Roman archers on board to protect ships from the attacks of the pirates, who filled the seas. In Crater, Aden, there's a big cistern which dates back to the birth of Christ. It has a capacity of twenty million gallons of water. It was used for storing rainwater to provide the port with drinking water in that age.
The Jewish king Thu Nawas enters into an alliance with the Persians against Aksum and the Romans.
With the entry of Christianity into the Habashite kingdom of Aksum at the hands of king Ezana in 350 A.D. and the alliance of this kingdom with the Romans, new elements were introduced into the struggle in the Red Sea.
It happened that a group of Jews settled in Yemen after fleeing to Arabia to escape the persecution of the Roman Emperors, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Hundreds of them were slain and a large number fled to the boundaries of the old world. They found themselves under the protection of the Persians, the mighty rivals of the Romans, whose help was invoked by the Himyarites against the Romans and their allies, the kings of Aksum.
Aksum, which had been founded by Sabaean and Himyaritic migrants from Yemen, had crossed the sea and invaded Yemen. Some historians mention its first invasion in the reign of king Ezana with the help of Roman ships as Aksum was not a naval state. Ezana's inscriptions confirm the coming of Yemen under the rule of Aksum as he calls himself the king of Aksum, Hemyar, Raidan, Saba, Salmien, Sidamo, Beja and Cassu. The sixth century A.D. is full of the news of the Habashite Aksum and its relations with Yemen, and precious inscriptions which date back to this century have been found. Probably, the most important books recorded are:
1) The book of the works of the saint Al-Hareth "Actadi Aretae". This is one of the oldest Latin texts which related to us the events that took place in Yemen, the news of the king of Himyar and his slaying the Christians headed by Al-Hareth, the leader of Najran, and the intervention of Aksum and the murder of the Jewish king.
2) The book of the Himyarites "Kathafad Himyarya". This book consists of very old papers written in Syriac at a time almost contemporary with the martyrs of Najran around 525 A.D.
3) What was written by Roman historians such as Prokobus, Cosmas, Lamalas and others. These historians knew of the religious troubles which took place in Yemen at the time, and knew of the battles that were happening between Aksum and Yemen. They spoke of the Roman Emperor's intervention. Cosmas speaks of what he witnessed in Adulis around 525 A.D. of Roman ships preparing to transport the Aksumite expedition undertaken by the king 'EI Asbaha' against the land of Hemyar. The Roman Emperor and sent his emissary, Nunuzus, to the king of Aksum. Nunuzus wrote a report about the expedition,.
According to most reports, what led to this Aksumite expedition was the persecution of the Christians of Najran and burning them alive in a fissure in the earth, according to the Koran, by the Jewish king of Hemyar, Thu Nawas. But the real motive for this great expedition was only seemingly religious; in actual fact it was the struggle between the two mightiest empires, the Roman and the Persian, for the routes of international commerce in the Red Sea.
Once the Jews assumed power in the land of Himyar, they started avenging themselves on the Roman Christians passing with their goods through the land of Yemen and Bab el Mendeb to Adulis and Egypt, which provoked the anger of the Romans and aroused their fear over their commercial interests, especially since the Persians supported the Himyarites.
Arabic books which speak of Judaization of some Himyaritic kings say that Thian Asa'ad Aba Karb was the first Judaized Himyaritic king. He had three children, Hassan, Amr and Zara'a. It is said that Zara'a is Thu Nawas, the last of the kings of Himyar, who, according to one narrative, ruled from 520 A.D. to 530 A.D., and whose capital was Zufar (Raidan).
It is generally understood that Christianity created a strong tie between Christianized countries and the Roman state. In other words, conversion to Christianity was a means of spreading the Roman influence. The Romans gained the friendship of Aksum after the success of Christianity in it. But the mission of the Roman Theophilus to Christianize Yemen failed because the opposing movements were too strong to be resisted, since the Persians had a considerable influence in it.
It is related that 'Dimyanos' or 'Dimnos , the Jewish king of Himyar, had ordered the killing of one or more caravans of Romans traders who were passing through his kingdom to Adulis and Aksum across the Red Sea. This spited the king of Aksum, Abduj, and the emperorof Rome. These two waged a campaign against the Jewishking, which culminated in his defeat and murder. The Romans and the Aksumites placed a Christian prince at the head of Himyar, but he did not survive long.
The Jews, having regained some of their strength, seized the opportunity to reinstate a Jew over them, so they crowned the Jewish Thu Nawas king over Himyar. Merchants had given up the Yemen route out of fear for their lives, which caused stagnation and recession in the flow of trade in the Red Sea, the port of Adulis, and the ports of Egypt. (p. 67)
April 2008 – Sweden