Axum arose during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and further grew into a major trading power along the Red Sea, ultimately superseding other regional kingdoms in the area. The became the center of trade in east Africa, trading necessities such as turtle shells, ivory, obsidian, rhino horns, emeralds, cattle and gold.
Trade in Axum
When the Kingdom of Aksum was first formed, there were several kingdoms that made their wealth from trade, kingdoms like Kush. Even though Aksum is considered to be the first genuine trading nation. Trade not only was a major part of the lives of the Aksumite people, it is defined as what made them the trading staple they're known as today. them. One of the secrets to their success was a mixture of timing and location. Around 100 CE a new sailing technique emerged that used seasonal winds to quickly sail across the Red and Arabian Seas, increasing the amount of trade that passed through that region.
Aksum, from there on the Red Sea, was able to dominate the market on international trade. A main question is how? Well, Aksum was situated in the middle of the expansive trade networks that ran between India and the Mediterranean, and dealt in products that people at the time could want. Ivory and gold from Africa was exchanged for spices and jewels from India and wine and olive oil from Rome. Actually products that passed through Aksum could have made it as far west as Britain and as far east as China and Japan. The Aksumites themselves grew wheat and barley, which were major trade items as well.
Axum Currency is Created
The Aksumites first began producing coins around 270 CE, under the rule of king Endubis. Aksum was the first African civilization, not including African cities under the Roman Empire, to produce coins. Coins have a unique significance in the history of Aksum. They are particularly important because they provide evidence of Aksum and its rulers. The inscriptions on the coins highlight the fact that Aksumites were a literate people with knowledge of both Ethiopic and Greek languages.
Aksumite coins were issued in gold, silver, and bronze. King Endubis used Roman weighting standards to issue his coins. The first Aksumite coins used had writing in Greek. This explains why the Aksumites began to use coins; to participate in the highly influenced Greco-Roman trade of the Red Sea. It is generally thought that Aksum did this as an attempt to be part of the international trade.
Axum takes over Kush
350 AD - 520 AD
By 350, Aksum conquered the Kingdom of Kush. Around 520, King Kaleb sent an expedition to Yemen against the Jewish Himyarite King Dhu Nuwas, who was persecuting the Christian/Aksumite community in his kingdom. These wars may have been Aksum’s swan-song as a great power, but it is also possible that Ethiopia was affected by the Plague of Justinian.
Christianity was originally limited to Aksum’s royal elite. In the later fifth century it was spread to the general populace through missionaries fleeing into Ethiopia from the Eastern Roman Empire. These evangelizers fled to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church because, together with the Alexandrian church, it continued to maintain the Monophysite doctrine after it was branded heretical in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon. (The dispute over Monophysitism was doctrinally concerned with disagreements over the nature of Christ’s status as both god and man. It came to have substantial political and cultural overtones and was exacerbated by rivalries between Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria.)
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church outlasted its parent civilization and has remained a vital sponsor of religious arts up to the present day. Some of the most renowned Ethiopian Christian arts postdating the Aksumite period are the rock-cut churches of Lalibela and finely painted illuminated manuscripts.
The Axum Decline
700 AD - 940 AD
Eventually, the Islamic Empire took control of the Red Sea and most of the Nile, pushing Aksum into economic isolation. Northwest of Aksum, in modern-day Sudan, the Christian states of Makuria and Alodia lasted till the 13th century before becoming Islamic. Aksum, isolated, nonetheless still remained Christian.