Of all the stories of the Queen of Sheba, those of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa
are those that probably retain the most resonance today with the people who tell them. The stories are immortalized in the Ethiopian holy book – the Kebra Nagast – where we find accounts of the queen’s hairy hoof, her trip to Solomon and her seduction. But these tales go further. Here, the queen returns to her capital, Aksum, in northern Ethiopia, and months later gives birth to Solomon’s son, who is named Menelik, meaning ‘Son of the Wise’.
The story goes that years later Menelik traveled to Jerusalem to see his father, who greeted him with joy and invited him to remain there to rule after his death. But Menelik refused and decided to return home. Under cover of darkness he left the city – taking with him its most precious relic, the Ark of the Covenant. He took it back to Aksum, where it still resides today, in a specially built treasury in the courtyard of St Mary’s Church.
The importance of the queen, the Ark of the Covenant and the Kebra Nagast in Ethiopian history cannot be overstated. Through their reading of the Kebra Nagast, Ethiopians see their country as God’s chosen country, the final resting place that he chose for the Ark – and Sheba and her son were the means by which it came there. Thus, Sheba is the mother of their nation, and the kings of the land have divine right to rule because they are directly descended from her. Emperor Haile Selassie even had that fact enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution of 1955.
Haile Selassie was not, however, the first Emperor to publicly declare the importance of the Kebra Nagast. London’s National Archives contain letters dating from 1872, written by Prince Kasa (later King John IV) of Ethiopia to Queen Victoria, in which he writes (translated):
There is a book called Kebra Nagast which contains the law of the whole of Ethiopia, and the names of the shums (governors), churches and provinces are in this book. I pray you will find out who has got this book and send it to me, for in my country my people will not obey my orders without it. On Victoria’s permit, the book was returned to Ethiopia, and it is now kept in Raguel Church in Addis Ababa, where a front page inscription explains its history.
The term “Ethiopia” was first used by Ancient Greek writers in reference to the east-central African kingdom that they believed to be not only culturally and ethnically linked to ancient “Egypt” (Kemet), but the source of such civilization as well. Contrary to popular belief, the term was not exclusive to the landlocked modern country of Ethiopia.
According to early Greek writers, Ethiopia was an empire originally situated between Ta-Seti in Lower Kemet and the confluence of the White and Blue Niles.
Prior to Greek history, Ethiopia was known as “Kush” by the ancient “Egyptians.” The Buhen stela (housed in the Florence Museum), which dates from the reign of Sety I (1294-1279 BC), refers to this region as “Kas” and “Kash.” Kush is also mentioned as “KSH” in other texts dated between 1550 – 1069 BC.
According to history scholars Kushitic civilization began on the banks of the Nile over 15,000 years ago and was settled at least 55,000 years prior. Furthermore, based on the traditions of the first settlers and the artifacts found in this region, Kushitic civilization gave birth to that of so-called “Egypt”.
Ethiopia in Hebrew History (1200 – 500 BC)
The Torah (Old Testament of the Bible) mentions Ethiopia in its first and oldest book, Genesis (chapter 2, c. 1400 BC), and puts Ethiopia in a geographical context: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads…. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.”
In the Hebrew book of Numbers (chapter 12, verse 1, c. 1200 BC), Moses, who was born and educated in Egypt, married an Ethiopian woman: “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.”
By the 740s BC, the Hebrew prophet Nahum said, “Cush and Ethiopia were her [Nineveh’s] boundless strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers” (chapter 3, verse 9).
Emperor Taharqa, one of the most famous Kushite leaders who ruled Egypt and beyond (photo courtesy of David Liam Moran) Ethiopia’s King Taharqa, who also ruled Egypt (690-664 BC, 25th dynasty), is mentioned in Hebrew texts as having saved Jerusalem from Assyrian destruction (Isaiah, chapter 37, verse 10-11, c. 687 BC):
Ethiopians are first mentioned in the oldest of Greek texts, Homer’s Iliad (circa 800 BC), as a place frequented by the Greek gods. Homer states, “…twelve for Jupiter’s stay with the Ethiopians, at whose return Thetis prefers her petition” and “Zeus is at Ocean’s river with Ethiopians, feasting, he and all the heaven-dwellers.”
(European) history,” Herodotus (490-425 BC), spoke often on the subject of Ethiopia, and places it in geographical context:
“Beyond the island [Elephantine] is a great lake, and round its shores live nomadic tribes of Ethiopians. After crossing the lake one comes again to the stream of the Nile, which flows into it… After forty days journey on land along the river, one takes another boat and in twelve days reaches a big city named Meroe, said to be the capital city of the Ethiopians.”
“…Where the south declines towards the setting sun lies the country called Ethiopia, the last inhabited land in that direction. There gold is obtained in great plenty, huge elephants abound, with wild trees of all sorts, and ebony…” Herodotus describes their physical characteristics and provides great detail about the traditions of Ethiopians in his era, stating,
“…and the men are taller, handsomer, burnt skin curly haired and longer lived than anywhere else. The Ethiopians were clothed in the skins of leopards and lions, and had long bows made of the stem of the palm-leaf, not less than four cubits in length. On these they laid short arrows made of reed, and armed at the tip, not with iron, but with a piece of stone, sharpened to a point, of the kind used in engraving seals. They carried likewise spears, the head of which was the sharpened horn of an antelope; and in addition they had knotted clubs.
There are also a great many other tribes of the Ethiopians, some of them dwelling in the land lying on both banks of the Nile and on the islands in the river, others inhabiting the neighbouring countries, and still others residing in the interior of Libya the Greek term for interior Africa west of the Nile.
The majority of them, and especially those who dwell along the river, are black in colour and have flat noses and woolly hair.it is appropriate first to tell of the working of the gold as it is carried on in these regions. in the contiguous territory of both Arabia and Ethiopia there lies a region which contains many large gold mines, where the gold is secured in great quantities.”
Ethiopia in Roman History (1 – 200 AD)
Later the term “Ethiopia” would become synonymous not just with the Kushites, but all Africans. Unlike the earlier Greek writers who distinguished Ethiopians from other Africans, Claudius Ptolemy (90 – 168 AD), a Roman citizen who lived in Alexandria, used “Ethiopia” as a racial term. In his Tetrabiblos: Or Quadripartite, he tried to explain the physical characteristics of people around the world saying, “They are consequently black in complexion, and have thick and curled hair…and they are called by the common name of Aethiopians.”
Ethiopia in Byzantine History (c 700 AD)
Stephanus of Byzantium (circa 700 AD) wrote, “Ethiopia was the first established country on earth; and the Ethiopians were the first to set up the worship of the gods and to establish laws.”
Haile Selassie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, as an incarnation of God and the messiah.
Fewer still know that one of the reasons for Haile Selassie’s popularity among the 20th century Afrocentrist movement that gave rise to Rastafaris was that Ethiopia was the only country in Africa free of European domination.
In the eyes of blacks throughout the Western Hemisphere, Haile Selassie’s exuberant coronation, which was attended by world leaders from around the world, was a potent symbol of their own yearning for political freedom and representation on the world stage.
If Ethiopia’s defiance in the face of that weren’t enough the Ethiopian royalty claimed direct descent from the Biblical House of David through an affair between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, lending the country a certain mystique that was undeniably attractive to black religious leaders.
Kush The Kushites
Known in ancient Egyptian sources for its abundance of gold For the next century, a series of Kushite pharaohs ruled a territory. According to historians It was the Kushite rulers who revived the building of pyramids and promoted their construction across the Sudan. They were eventually ousted from Egypt by an Assyrian invasion, ending centuries of Egyptian and Kushite cultural exchange.
The Kushites fled south and re-established themselves at Meroe on the southeast bank of the Nile. At Meroe, the Kushites broke away from Egyptian influence and developed their own form of writing, now called Meroitic. The script remains a mystery and still has not been deciphered, obscuring much of Kush’s history. The last king of Kush died in A.D. 300, though his kingdom’s decline and the exact reasons for its demise remain a mystery.
The city of Aksum
The kingdom Aksum (or Axum) has been the subject of countless mystical legends. Whether as the home of the lost kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, or the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, Aksum has long been at the forefront of Western imaginations.
The Ethiopian kingdom of reality, not myth, was an international trading power. Thanks to access to both the Nile and Red Sea trading routes, Aksumite commerce thrived.
At its height, around the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, Aksum had brought much of modern Ethiopia as well as Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan under its control, along with smaller portions of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and was regarded as one of the four great empires of the known world (the remainder of which were Persia, the Roman Empire, and ancient China). A major center of trade, Aksum was an important part of the Indian Ocean sea trade that linked Egypt to India, China, and Southeast Asia, controlling the Red Sea through which much of said trade was conducted.
However, while the political state known as Aksum came to an end, Aksum’s cultural legacy would survive into the present day, in the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Amhara people, and the Solomonic dynasty’s claims to descent from ancient Judea. And that certainly makes them an empire worth remembering.
The dawn of a religious era coincided approximately, with the rise in what is now northern Ethiopia, of the renowned Aksumite kingdom. This was an important commercial realm, which issued its own currency, in gold, silver, and bronze. The Aksumites, who constituted the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia, included both resolute merchants and skilled craftsmen.
Aksumite exports, as evident from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greek manual probably written by an Egyptian trader around the first century AD, consisted largely of ivory, rhinoceros, tortoise-shell, and obsidian stone. Imports comprised cloth, raw metal, and a wide range of manufactured and luxury goods, including even lacquerware, wine and olive oil.
Though the Aksumites minted their own coins, many of which have been found in Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and India, when trading with the interior they also engaged in what is termed “silent trade”. This was reported by Kosmos Indikopleustes, an early sixth century Egyptian merchant-cum-monk. He states that Aksumite traders, when travelling to the Blue Nile area to obtain gold, would take with them cattle, as well as pieces of salt and iron.
They would then make a large hedge of thorns around their camp, after which they would slaughter some of their livestock, and place portions of the meat, together with pieces of salt and iron upon the fence, before withdrawing into their camp. The local people would then come and put gold beside the meat, salt and iron, they wished to obtain in exchange for the gold and would then withdraw.
The traders would then approach. If satisfied with the quantity of gold offered they would take it, and go back to their camp, whereupon the locals would pick up the meat, salt and iron offered in exchange, but if unsatisfied, would return, and recover their articles.
The Middle Ages: Markets and Caravans
Ethiopian trade in the Middle Ages
The Book of Ezekiel (27 v.22-24) tells us that the merchants trading with Tyre came from Sheba and Raamah, and brought with them spices, precious stones and gold – the exact same goods that the Queen of Sheba brought with her when she came to visit Solomon in Jerusalem.
For centuries, merchants have travelled there with caravans of camels to collect salt from the surface of the vast desert basin.
The mineral is extracted and shaped into slabs, then loaded onto the animals before being transported back across the desert so that it can be sold around the country.The salt blocks, which were once used as a unit of money, are sold across Ethiopia, many of them to farmers to provide their animals with essential minerals. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population on the African continent.
Markets were to be found in all major towns, but more commonly in the countryside, where fairs were usually held weekly at some distance from inhabited settlements. Such markets would be attended by local people coming to buy and sell their produce, as well as to exchange gossip, but also by travelling merchants, in many cases handling imported articles. Such traders would probably attend a different fair each day.
Merchants, who for security often travelled together in large caravans made their way across the length and breadth of the country. Those seeking ivory, gold, civet musk, and sometimes servants would journey to the rich lands of Ethiopia’s south-west.
66 cts 9.2 mm Ethiopian Welo Blue Red Green Fire Opal
gold coin was minted in the Kushite empire of Axum (today’s Ethiopia
Ethiopian Gold Coins – Ethiopa | Chards | Tax Free Gold
Ethiopian Birr Coins 1 Birr Coin
Ethiopia 5 santeems 1944 (year 1936) Ethiopia – coins – Catawiki
… Empire of Ethiopia Gold coin Etui &Zertifikat pp Coin coins and medals
Coin Values: 1 Werk 1897 Ethiopia Gold Menelik II of Ethiopia ( 1844 …
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