Aksum (also spelled Axum) is today a rural and easily overlooked town in northern Ethiopia. However, Aksum was a center of trade for more than six hundred years and the site where Christianity was first introduced to sub-Saharan Africa. Aksum’s wealth was derived from its location on the Red Sea, which allowed the Aksumites to exchange spices, ivory, ebony, and animal shells with Egypt, Greece, Rome, and lands as far away as Persia and India. Foreign ships introduced textiles, precious metal objects, wine, and olive oil to East Africa through the ports in the Aksumite kingdom. Gold and silver coins minted in Aksum circulated in Africa, Asia, and Europe from about 270CE to the empire’s decline in the seventh century. The coins spread the message of Aksum’s wealth. Modern historians can use the coins to provide a reliable history of the Aksumite Empire. Aksumite kings used their wealth to build impressive palaces and granite monuments.
The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum was a trading nation in the area of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea from approximately 100–940CE.
Local legends describe how two shipwrecked brothers brought Christianity to Aksum in the fourth century. Frumentius and Aedesius were aboard a ship that stopped to rest in Aksum during a voyage. Local tribes people massacred everyone onboard the ship except for the two brothers, who were taken as slaves to the Aksumite king and queen. When the king died, Frumentius and Aedesius gained the queen’s favor. She asked the brothers to tutor her son, Ezana, and to assist her in running the empire. The brothers encouraged traveling Christian merchants to share their faith, and in time, the boy they tutored became king. King Ezana established the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the fourth century. Islam became the dominant religion in the Middle East and North Africa in the seventh century, but more than forty million people in Ethiopia continue to practice Christianity today.