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The city of Aksum – Ethiopia

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  1. Introduction.
    1. Population estimates as of 2005.
  2. Location and history.
    1. Aksum as a city.
    2. The last regular references in the Egyptian texts to the land of Punt.
    3. Moving of the major site for the city.
    4. The state adoption of Christianity in AD 330.
    5. The end of the sixth century.
    6. The destruction of the central city of the Aksum state.
    7. In-migration to the highlands during the sixteenth century.
  3. The city today.
  4. Conclusion.

Aksum was the ancient capital of the only sub-Saharan African kingdom known to the Romans and Byzantines. Located on the upland area of Ethiopia, Aksum is the Holy City of Ethiopia, a city rich in tradition and fantastical monuments and central to Ethiopian national narrative and culture. It is the legendary site of the ark of the covenant, home for the queen of Sheba, and site for the coronation of kings. This key city of the early Red Sea economic system has survived plagues, famine, and periodic destruction for more than 1,300 years, and today it is reemerging as an important regional metropolis. Aksum (Ge'ez, Aksum) is located on the northern edge of the Tigray Plateau at 7,000 feet on the edge of an east-west depression reachable from the east via valleys from the Red Sea coast. From Aksum there is also access to the west down into the Sudanese plains and beyond via the Takkaze Valley. The climate is monsoonal, upland savannah, with the plant cover mainly deforested because of overuse. The ancient water storage and irrigation dam systems around the city are reminiscent of early Yemenite technology, although the city has long been noted for its numerous springs. It lies about 100 miles inland and slightly southwest from the Red Sea port of Massawa and ancient Adulis, not far from the border with Eritrea.

[...] It is clear that the hinterland around the city was in a chaotic state: in a letter written around 980 to the king of Nubia, the Aksum king complained that a queen of the (Jewish) Falasha, named Yudit (Judith), had led tribes who sacked the city and burned the churches, causing the king to ?ee from place to place. For the next 400 years, the city was remembered primarily in legend and narrative, although it remained as a religious site. [...]

[...] The destruction of the central city of the Aksum state may have played a role in the development of a unique Ethiopian tradition?the ?mobile capital.?Starting even before the fourteenth century, Ethiopian kings would move their ?capital? around the various regions of their empire, establishing temporary tent cities or camps ranging from a few thousand to as many as 50,000 people. These camps would remain in place for months or more at a time, were laid out in ordered grids of social hierarchy, and contained churches, kitchens, prisons, markets, and tents for prostitutes. [...]

[...] However, archaeological remains from east of the Sudanic Nile suggest the existence of regular overland trade from the Aksum region to the Nile during the next millennium. This route may have linked the Red Sea via the area of Aksum to Aswan via the Kasala region. With the rise of the Meroitic kingdom of Nubia (750 BC to AD 320), there was reciprocal trade with the Aksum area, and such trade may have extended far beyond into central Africa. Plantain banana remains, for example, discovered in an eighth-century BC grave in Cameroon, suggest a link via the Red Sea, given that the source of such bananas is East Asia. [...]

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