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COSMAS INDOCOPLEUSTES’ DESCRIPTION OF THE AKSUMITE GOLD MARKET OF SASOU: FACT AND FICTION [Abstract ID: 0518-04]
Aksum began minting its own gold, silver and bronze coins in the last quarter of the 3rd century and continued to the mid 7th century AD. It was the only sub-Saharan African state to issue its own money and was minting high-quality gold coins destined for international commerce. Only very few contemporary states are known to have issued their own gold coins in the ancient world. Gold was used for ornamental purposes and to make statues (as votives in the pre-Christian Aksum period), but in addition, gold was one of the major exports of the Aksumite Empire. Although there may have been small gold deposits in the immediate vicinity of Aksum, the largest gold deposits were probably found outside the immediate area. Where did the bulk of the gold come from during the Aksumite period? The provenance of gold and other precious metals used for coinage, ornaments and export during the Aksumite time is shrouded in mystery and has led researchers to endless speculation. Although based on second-hand information, the only contemporary account we have concerning the provenance of gold during the Aksumite period, comes from Cosmas. Cosmas, also know as Indicopleustes, was a 6th century AD Alexandrian merchant whose business was located in the Red Sea ports. According to Cosmas, the Aksumite Empire was involved in the long distance gold trade with the country of Sasou. But where were the goldmines/markets of Sasou? This article seeks to locate the gold field and market of Sasou based on a re-reading of the royal Aksumite inscriptions and medieval travel accounts. Careful reading of this evidences suggests that Sasou may have been located in a territory south of the gold-rich mediaeval kingdom of Damot, including the governorates of Kasô and Sasôgi mentioned in King Amde Tseyon’s chronicle. These toponyms echo the Sasou referred to by Cosmas in the 6th century CE.