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Islam in Africa – Episode 1 – Pre-Islamic Aksum – KJ Vids


(tones chiming) (solemn music) – [Narrator] In Homer’s “Iliad,”
the pantheon of Greek gods travel to the remotest part
of the world they can think of for a banquet. The entire round trip
takes the gods two weeks. This remote destination, a full week by whatever means the gods took to travel from Mount
Olympus, was Ethiopia. This indicates the spatial relationship in Greek consciousness
between Greek and Ethiopian. In fact, the “Iliad”
and later the “Odyssey” describe Ethiopia as being
the remotest place on Earth, far from Greek civilization. Early biblical references to Kush also conceptualise Ethiopia
as a distant place. Ethiopia is the Greek translation
of the Hebrew word Kush. Both mean something akin
to darkness, dark-faced, and in some translations, burnt face. These civilizations were conceptualised as being remote but
also of great interest. This is perhaps best showcased in the story of the
biblical queen of Sheba, for whom the local Ethiopians
have the name Kandake Makeda. According to the accounts of
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Sheba and Solomon’s son, Menelik I, was the founder of the
Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia. Menelik, as the legend goes, also brought the Ark of
the Covenant to Ethiopia. This cements, at least in a
Christian narrative of history, Ethiopia’s place as a
foundational world civilization. The Ethiopians were seen by the Greeks to be favoured by the gods. Homer calls them blameless in the “Iliad.” In some translations, the
word used is matchless. In Greek mythology, the
Ethiopians were, in fact, closer to the gods than were the Greeks. The “Iliad” is not the only
mention of Ethiopia and Africa in Greek epics and mythology. In some versions of the Trojan war story, Helen does not go to Troy. She instead finds safety
in Africa where she hides. Ethiopia also features in the “Theogony,” a genealogy of the Greek gods and an account of the creation
of the world by Hesiod. As well as evidence within
Greek epics and mythology, there have also been artefacts uncovered from Bronze
Age Greek civilizations found in Egypt, in particular
the Minoans and Mycenaeans. From all this, we can safely assume that Ethiopia was well
known to Greek civilization as early as the Bronze Age,
circa 12th century BCE. Not only that, but African
civilizations were relevant, at least in the Greco-Roman world. A lot of ancient African history remains underappreciated and understudied. People may be vaguely
aware of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and ancient Egypt, all great civilizations that
achieved incredible things, but probably have little knowledge of ancient African history beyond that. This video will concentrate
on the kingdom of Aksum, which was a world power
in the first century CE and lasted until some time
in the 10th century CE. Aksum is a great case study
of African civilization because we have written records, but also because it was
a great civilization that existed at the same time as the Roman, Byzantine,
and Persian empires. A Persian Gnostic known as Mani who lived during the third century CE said there were four great civilizations, Rome, Persia, Sileos, and Aksum. Aksum is also perfect for this
series on Islam and Africa because Islam entered
Africa through Aksum. Aksum existed roughly where modern-day Eritrea and Ethiopia are. These boundaries expanded
and contracted with time. This also demonstrates how inextricably linked
conceptions of ancient and, by implication, modern Africa are to the specific geography
of Ethiopia/Kush/Nubia. This certainly contributes to our intellectual impoverishment regarding African history. Some historians and
archaeologists of Aksum have identified the foundations
of an Aksumite kingdom as early as the fourth century BCE. To be sure, this is not the beginning of the Aksumite kingdom. It was the development of culture that allowed the Aksumite kingdom to eventually flourish beyond
its neighbours at the time. According to these scholars,
the Aksumite culture took a different course of
development to its neighbours. David Phillipson, who
takes a different approach, identifies the sites where
Aksum was founded and grew from. He explains that the early community that would eventually became Aksum moved from their original location to what would become Aksum due to need, grazing lands for their cattle, communication links with their neighbours, and other considerations. Phillipson impresses on his
reader how important it was that the early Aksumite
community did not just move, but undertook what was
more akin to an expansion. The sites of the Aksumite
genesis were not abandoned, but both sites continued to function as one extended community. Early Aksumite polities began to form around these settlements with distinct forms of pottery,
buildings, and burial sites. From examining this information, archaeologists have been able to conclude that early Aksumite settlements were probably formed as chiefdoms and had at least three social classes. These were likely chiefs and nobles, lesser nobles, and the ordinary people. In the space of a few 100 years, Aksum became a major
regional and global power. It was without a doubt the only
powerful state in the region that could play on the same stage as the Romans and Persians. An inscription by an Aksumite king, possibly from the third century CE, talks about all his regional conquests. This unknown king conquered
numerous local tribes and had conquered tribes
in the Arabian Peninsula. The king extracted tax
from those he conquered and signed treaties. Aksum had contact and engagement with both the Eastern and Western world. There are many references
in Greek and Roman texts to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. This wide reach was reflected
in the culture of Aksum, which borrowed aspects
of other civilizations, for example, South Arabian
forms of inscriptions or the use Greek on coins. Aksum was able to interact
with the rest of the world because of its great location, right on the coast of the Red Sea. As described earlier, it was also on the
periphery of the known world as far as the Greeks and
Romans were concerned. In that sense, Aksum was a
conduit between East and West. The early Aksum kingdom
was said to have two ports, Samidi and Adulis. They were not just ports but important stops on trade routes. It was common for Aksumites
to live along the trade routes and even police it at times. Arab historian Baydawi said that during the time of the Prophet, there was a community
of Ethiopian Christians that lived in Mecca. Part of this community was responsible for the protection of the
Meccan-Aksumite trade route. In fact, the Aksumite navy was stationed at the port of Adulis. A major part of the navy’s role was to protect the trade routes. Aksum was a major producer
and exporter of ivory, something it had in
abundance in its borders. Other things that were exported from Aksum were numerous animal skins,
such as hippopotamus and monkey. There were also tortoise
shells and slaves. A Greek trader known as Cosmas makes a reference in his
opus, “Christian Topography,” to camel leopards in the Aksum court. These were giraffes, which Comas says could
only be found in Aksum. Other than animal products, there were vegetables and spices. Imports came from as far
afield as Italy or India and included things like wine, cloth, iron, lace, and muslin. Aksumite gold has also been
found in Sri Lanka and India. Aksumite had diplomatic links with a number of different civilizations, most importantly, their links
with Byzantium and Rome. Through their shared faith, the Aksumites and the Byzantines always had very good relations. There were reported to be
Aksumite ambassadors to Rome as early on as the third century CE. According to archaeologist Mark Rose, Aksumite representatives were
present when Aurelian, 274 CE, paraded the captured queen
of the Palmyrians, Zenobia, through Rome. Romans too travelled to Askum, as is shown by the story of Frumentius. The Byzantine empire also sent support as diplomatic missions to the Aksumites during the Himyarite, which was undertaken by the Ethiopians to establish Christianity in Yemen. This would eventually
lead to the ascension of an Aksumite general known
as Abraha as king of Yemen. Diplomatic ties also existed with Mecca. During the reconstruction of the Kaaba, a man called Bakum was
enlisted to help rebuild it with materials the Qurayshis
were unfamiliar with. Islamic sources usually
suggest Bakum was Roman, but as Stuart Munro-Hay points out, the material and architecture
were typical of Aksum, particularly their religious buildings. The Aksumite kingdom was a monarchy. The Aksumite king was the negus. In some inscriptions, such as
Negus Ezana, fourth century, the designation is king of kings. Some historians have
suggested this may mean that while the negus was
the overall ruler of Aksum with a number of subordinates
had been conquered. In Ezana’s case, the
inscriptions read Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Salhan, Seyamo, Bega, Kasu. Interestingly, some
inscriptions have also used the designation M-L-K
for the king of kings. Archaeologists have uncovered paved roads in the Aksumite kingdom. These would have been for public use to reach places internally in the kingdom. Internally in the kingdom,
infrastructure was key to unifying the different
tribes into one unified kingdom. Ethiopia at the time was extremely diverse culturally, linguistically,
and ethnically. The Aksumite kings were able to successfully integrate conquered tribes both politically and within
the Aksumite zeitgeist by building churches
and other architecture that was indicative of Aksum. This led to political and
cultural participation by discrete tribes that were nonetheless a
part of the Aksumite whole. As is seen with the case
of the Zagwe dynasty, these peripheral tribes
became well-integrated into the structures of Aksumite power. Aksumite artisans
produced stonework, ivory, metalwork and pottery,
wood and even glass. Aksum’s stonemasons were renowned for their production of stelae, which were large stone columns that were used for marking graves and commemorating nobles and kings. One 57-ton stele was taken by Mussolini when Italy colonised Ethiopia. It was eventually returned and needed to be
transported in three parts. A stele was discovered
by the Church of Zion that weighed 550 tonnes and was 108 feet tall. The production of stelae was prolific that there remain to this day over a 1,000 stelae in the city of Aksum. These stele would have
been quarried locally. Stone also had a variety of
other uses, such as dice. There were ivory carving
workshops located in the kingdom with tools designed
specifically for carving ivory. Ivory carving became so intricate that artisans were able to
carve animals onto ivory. Ivory was also used to make
chairs with ornate carvings. Metals that the Aksumites used include gold, silver, bronze, and brass, as well as iron and copper. Uses were varied. Metals could be used decoratively,
as tools, or as coinage. Gold was even used as thread. The evidence suggests that
artisans were highly advanced in their work with metal. Aksumite pottery was all handmade with technology that
was developed in Aksum. Most of the official texts that survive, including books and inscriptions, are either Greek or Ge’ez script, and Ge’ez had two further scripts. The Ge’ez Asam-derived script was written both left to
right and right to left and contained only consonants
in its written form. Ge’ez was likely to first be written around the 19th century BCE. As historian Taddesse
Tamrat points out though, Aksum and its surrounding areas were very linguistically diverse, something that Tamrat’s study
of Ge’ez texts has uncovered. Tamrat also argues that ancient Agaw may have been the substratum
of Ethio-Semetic languages. There are Agaw loan words found in Ge’ez. Unlike Ge’ez and Greek though, it was oral and had no
script that had survived. Ge’ez loans several words to Arabic. There are several early
Islamic scholarly works that dedicate chapters to these words. Greek was used in some official
uses at different times. There are surviving
inscriptions and texts in Greek and even coins. Phillipson argues that
Greek was used primarily by those who were working with foreigners, traders, ambassadors, and so on. Greek was eventually
phased out of use in Aksum from the fifth century onward. Christianity entered the Aksumite kingdom some time in the fourth century CE. Evidence suggests that in around 440 CE, the kings formally adopted Christianity. Up until that time, Ezana, who was the first known Aksumite king to have adopted Christianity, had conflicting inscriptions
in Ge’ez and Greek. Some indicated that he had converted, and others, primarily the Ge’ez, suggested that he was still an adherent of a polytheistic religion which existed throughout
Ethiopia and South Arabia. A number of sources that
repeat an early account by Rufinus Aquileia in his
“Ecclesiastical History.” Aquileia mentions that
three travellers from Syria became shipwrecked on the Red Sea. The two surviving travellers,
Frumentius and Aedesius, were taken to the king of
Aksum, who employed them. After this king had passed away and a new king was appointed, Frumentius travelled to Alexandria
to have a bishop appointed over the small community of Christians, who were mostly foreigners, in Aksum. The patriarch in Alexandria appointed Frumentius as the bishop. Frumentius on his return
began to proselytise and managed to attract a
large number of converts. Aksumite Christianity very early on began to follow a different path from that of Roman Christianity, much to the dismay of the
Roman Emperor Constantius II. This was in part influenced by the patriarch in
Alexandria, Athanasius, who had strained relationships with the imperial authorities. This led to an Aksumite/Ethiopian
church being instituted with its own liturgical texts in Ge’ez as well as its own mythology. The Orthodox Ethiopian Church has its own saints, nine of them, which it venerates in
texts called gadlat, lives. Another important text with
regard to Christianity in Aksum is the “Kebra Nagast,” which discusses themes
of the Old Testament. Significantly, it also reiterates
that the king of Ethiopia is senior to the rulers of
Rome and Constantinople. The “Kebra Nagast” is also where the myth of Sheba
and Menelik I is found.

Jean Kelley

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31 COMMENTS

  1. ABHISHEK KASHYAP Posted on July 30, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Stop making these far from reality , somewhere in the past glorification of Islam…. If you want to talk about Islam…. Then talk about the extremism , radical islam and terrorism which more well suited for the current time period

    Reply
  2. future tv Posted on July 30, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    maharban sadiqi

    Reply
  3. KJ Vids Posted on July 30, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks for watching the first episode of our brand new series on Africa.

    If you liked what you watched, please kindly support us by subscribing to our website www.kjvids.co.uk or donating to www.fundmypage.com/kjvids

    Reply
  4. Afro Football Posted on July 30, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    You're a real one bro💯!

    Reply
  5. malika nuur Posted on July 30, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Great video

    Reply
  6. Ahmed Ajmi Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    This is a fascinating watch! Highly recommend for anybody interested in African and black history.
    Well done

    Reply
  7. Hkuba Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Fascinating JAK!

    Reply
  8. Mike mike Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    lol I was just discussing with an Ethiopian that our language was pre-Arabic and that some Geez words could have been used in Arabic. Anyways today there might be a lot more Arabic words used in Tigrinay and Amhara

    Reply
  9. Rizwan Khan Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    Dear KJ vids I love your every episode

    Reply
  10. Egie Asemota Posted on July 30, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Hope this series covers that often willfully ignored topic of the Arab slave trade that has yet to end.

    Reply
  11. Abdullah Musa Desh Posted on July 30, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) is Great King.

    Reply
  12. Ali Bumaye Posted on July 30, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    Disappointed you didn't speak about the land of Punt or any other Somali civilization. The first Muslims built one of the oldest masjids in a city called Zeyla in northern Somalia. It has 2 qiblahs one that faces Jerusalem and another that faces Mecca.

    Reply
  13. dreamingguy1999 Posted on July 31, 2019 at 1:19 am

    Hi Kasim, I think a large number of your viewers would agree with me in stating that, we are used to you speaking and todays presenter appears very odd. Kindly continue presenting yourself. Your Voice is Authentic.This voice of today appears funny.

    Reply
  14. Mohammed Ameen Hassan Posted on July 31, 2019 at 8:06 am

    KJ vids are you guys going to over how Islaam came to South Africa, more specifically the Cape of Good Hope?

    Reply
  15. Imran md Posted on July 31, 2019 at 10:12 am

    What is pre Greek invasion ofEU Christians of African religious background

    Reply
  16. MortalZeus Posted on July 31, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Can we have your voice back? Thanks

    Reply
  17. The Ancients Ancients Posted on July 31, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    This dude completed deleted Somalia with its large coast first contact for travellers and traders in ancient times and archaeological artefacts from Greece to Japan. A civilisation going back 10 thousand years ✌

    Reply
  18. Lakitu Tha Boss Posted on July 31, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    The Quran talks about how Axumites tried to destroy the Kaaba and how Allah sent birds to destroy the invading Axumite army. But this is completely false! The Arabs wiped out the Ethiopians with Biological weapon (Smallpox).

    Reply
  19. Alinux Alinux Posted on July 31, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    اصحاب الفيل

    Reply
  20. Alinux Alinux Posted on July 31, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    قصة أصحاب الفيل كما رواها أرباب السير‎ – حادث الفيل معروف متواتر لدى العرب، حتى إنهم جعلوه مبدأ تاريخ يحددون به أوقات

    Reply
  21. Tariq Khan Posted on July 31, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    I love the way you do research before making any video. Knowledge and information is most authentic 👍🏻🙂

    Reply
  22. Salim I. Sheriff Posted on July 31, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Amazing 😉

    Reply
  23. 27 HUORS Posted on August 1, 2019 at 12:54 am

    Even the mother of Muhammad was Ethiopian

    Reply
  24. Bamber Banbury Posted on August 1, 2019 at 3:25 am

    Allah’s negroes.

    Reply
  25. Bamber Banbury Posted on August 1, 2019 at 3:26 am

    Oh negro of Allah why was the negro enslaved and sold wholesale to the white man via the white and brown arab wholesalers.

    Reply
  26. Samuel Appiah Posted on August 9, 2019 at 1:34 am

    Can’t wait for part 2

    Reply
  27. Yolo 2.0 Posted on September 10, 2019 at 10:40 am

    That narrator keeps saying EEETHEEOPIA. It's pretty annoying. Great info in the vid however

    Reply
  28. Abraham issac Jacob Yisrael Posted on September 18, 2019 at 5:24 am

    U must explain the 1500 year ISLAMIC SLAVE TRADE IN Africa&How Africans must be Stupid for allowing Islam to be in AFRICA

    Reply
  29. E Posted on November 22, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    The unknown King is King Ezana, he conquered Modern-day Sudan and made Christianity the State Religion of the Axumite Empire.
    During his reign, the Golden Age of Axum started and Axum flourished.

    Reply
  30. Kareem Khattab Posted on January 10, 2020 at 3:24 am

    Hi where is part 2?.

    Reply
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