Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Pierre SCHNEIDER, Université d'Artois (France)

It is not until the mid-1st century A.D. that the name of Axum appeared in the extant Greek and Roman written sources. The renowned "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea", a treatise going back to ca 70 A.D. reports connections linking Adulis on the Red Sea and the metropolis called "Axômitês" (Axum). Whereas the anonymous author says nothing about the country surrounding this city, one may assume that he located Axum in what Greeks and Romans called "Aithiopia" (“Ethiopia”). Be that as it may, the subsequent written documents (from the 2nd century A.D. till the 6th century A.D.) shows that depending on sources Axum was located either in Aithiopia or in India (accordingly the Axumite people were called Indians or Ethiopians): for instance, geographer Ptolemy (2nd century) includes Axum in the so-called sub-Egyptian Aithiopia, while several authorities in their account of the christinisation of Axum by Frumentius point to an Indian Axumite kingdom. In my presentation I shall firstly assess the Greek and Roman evidence – the Axumite royal inscriptions written in Greek will also be taken into account. The following discussion aims at understanding these problematic spatial conceptions: in fact, a set of explanations accounts for this geographical phenomenon. In doing so I shall also examine the case of Adulis briefly: this important port of trade, which at some point became part of the Axumite kingdom, was also regarded as Aithiopian or Indian by the Mediterranean people.