From shabait.com

History & Culture
History of Eritrea: The Rise, the Apogee and the decline of the Axumite State
By Tewelde Beyene
Apr 6, 2005, 19:35

Archeology shows the Axumite area as "A vertical rectangle about 300 Km long and 160 Km wide, included approximately between 13 and 17 degree of latitude north and 38 and 40 degree of longitude east. It extends from the region of Rora-Laba in the north and Mount Algai in the South, from Adulis on the coast to Tekkeze in the west. The map of the sites shows the Axumite area had a greater extension than that of the previous period" (F. Anfray, Les Anciens Ethiopiens, Paris 1990, p.114).

It is evident therefore that the Axumite history and civilization had as its scenery much of today's Eritrea and Tigray.

1.        The emerging of Axum (1st and 2nd C. AD). Towards the end of the 1st C. AD, Axum appears for the first time in a historical source, the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, which also mentions the rulers of the time, Zoscales, and offers an interesting insight into the cultural and commercial developments. The Periplus is followed by Pliny the elder's Natural History (ca 70 AD) for Adulis only and Claudius Ptolemy's Geography (2nd C AD) for Axum, Koloe, and Maste. In an inscription on a metal object found in Addi Galamo, belonging to the end of the 2nd C. AD Axum is mentioned for the first time in a properly Axumite source.

2.        The rise of Axum (3rd C AD). The true kingdom rose up in the 3rd C. AD, when the whole country was unified and expeditions were sent to South Arabia and the Nile Valley. This period is documented by the following sources.

- Inscriptions in South Arabia, with frequent references to the Axum of "Ahbashan"  and the involvement of Axumite rulers in South Arabian affairs such as Gadar or Gadarat: ca 200AD; two sons of the Negus: ca 250 AD; Dtwns and Zqrns: ca 260 AD ( the most updated study on the subject is : C . Robin, La Premiere Intervention Abyssine en Arabie Meridionale, in Proceedings ...., cit.);


- The inscriptions of the Monumentum Adulitanum, copied by Cosmas Indicopleustes in the 6th C. AD and included in his Christian Topography, which speaks about Axumite domination extended over South Arabia by a King whose name is missing in the text;

- The small inscription of Deqqemhare, which contains only the name of King Smebrouthes and a few words;

- Coins minted for the first time contain the names of Kings Aphilas, Endybis, Ousanas and Wazieba.

From the above sources it is evident that the 3rd C was for Axum one of political and military power as well as economic prosperity. This justifies the inclusion of the "Kingdom of the Axumites" among the four greatest kingdoms in one of Mani's Kefalayas (ca 250 AD).

3.        The first apogee of Axum (4th C AD). During this century , the Axumite state reached the peak of its cultural , political and economic splendor illustrated by inscriptions, monuments , coins, and written sources concerned mostly with Ezana , Landmarks of this period are:

-         the official introduction of Christianity , a most revolutionary event also because of its political and commercial consequences in connection with Axum's alliance with the Byzantine Empire;

-         the evolution of the Geez language and script and the development of architecture, an expression of the high degree of civilization attained by Axum;

-         the conquest and destruction of Meroe probably by Ezana.

4.        The second apogee of Axum (5/6th C AD). After Ezana, however, Axumite history sinks into a long period shrouded in obscurity: Wazieb II, Taziena, Eon, Ezbahel are known from their coined. One has to wait for the rise of Kalieb, around the 6th C, to see another brilliant page of Axumite history, when the kingdom re-emerges as one of the most prestigious states of the day.

With the coming of the Syrian missionaries and their contribution to the life of the Church and the translation of the Bible into Geez, the cultural vitality was at its best.

5.        The decline of Axum (from the second half of the 6ht and the 7th C AD onwards). The reign of Kaleib was "the last brilliant page of Axum" (Vasiliev). After him the Axumite state entered into an irretrievable process of decline, due to a combination of factors the end result of which was isolation. First among such factors was, in order of time, the Persian conquest of Yemen and then of the whole Arabia and even ports on the African coast. This was followed by the rise of the Arab nation-state, united under Islam m the relation of which with Axum, quite friendly at the beginning (followers if Mohamed welcomes by Ess-Tsaham or Armah), soon deteriorated as a result of Axumite raids on the Arabian coast. The end of Adulis and the occupation of the Dahlak islands by the Arabs are decisive turning points. Thus, the control of the sea-routes, so vital for the Axumite civilization, was eventfully lost. At the same time, the Nile region and the land-routes to Egypt wee closed to Axumite access following the elimination of the Blemmii kingdom and the rise of a new state, the Soba kingdom with Alwa as a capital.

Encompassed on all sides by hostile forces "The Abyssinians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world by whom they were forgotten" (E. Gibbons, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 47).