King Ezana of Aksum(Okuzu/Oka UZU) In Ancient Ethiopia
There is a long list of rulers who led the Aksum(Okuzu) Empire, but only two of its leaders stand out from the lot; Ezana, and Kaleb, and all for something to do with Christianity.
The latter is widely known for coming to the rescue of Christians who were being persecuted under the reign of the Himyar Kingdom, then led by the religiously intolerant Dhu Nawas, a convert to Judaism. When King Kaleb, himself a Christian, heard news of the persecution of Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of the Red Sea, he launched a punitive expedition that landed in what is now Yemen and deposed Dhu Nawas in 525 AD.
But it can be argued that the path that led Kaleb to this moment of greatness was beaten centuries ago, by his predecessor King Ezana (ruled between 320-360CE).
King Ezana set this path when he declared Christianity the state religion, shortly after his own conversion to the monotheistic faith after dabbling in polytheistic beliefs for a while. He was guided into the faith by his childhood tutor, Frumentius. Frumentius, whom we now know as St. Frumentius of Ethiopia, was a Syrian Christian who had been captured at sea during the reign of King Ousanas, Ezana’s father. Frumentius was instrumental in the establishment of the Christian faith in Aksum, training bishops and fathers to spread the word.
Beyond this one great deed, nothing much is really known about Ezana, other than the fact that during his reign, the Aksumite Empire was thriving in trade, as it controlled the Red Sea route which brought the kingdom merchants from far; coins belonging from Aksum have been found as far away as India. During this time of prosperity, Ezana was responsible for the expansion of the kingdom to cover lands in modern day Sudan and Somalia.
It is believed that during his reign, a lot of structures came up, and one of the most easily identifiable symbols of Aksum’s grandeur are the stele that dot the landscape around the modern day town of Akzum. One particularly large stele, known as Ezana’s Stele, is a 70ft. celebration of his achievements, including the conversion of the state to Christianity and his victory over Kush, a formerly powerful neighboring kingdom. Built during his reign, the stele had inscriptions in Greek, Ge’ez and Sabaean.
Ezana lives on among Ethiopians and followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as a saint, whose great sacrifices to ensure the survival of the faith are celebrated on the 4th day of Tekemt (Ethiopian calendar); on the Gregorian calendar that is October 14th.
The Aksum or Axum Empire was an important military power and trading nation in the area which is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, existing from approximately 100–940 A.D. At its height, it was one of only four major international super powers of its day along with Persia, Rome and China. Axum controlled northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Western Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia, totaling 1.25 million square kilometers. This is almost half the size of India. Axum traded and projected its influence as far as China and India, where coins minted in Axum were discovered in 1990.
Akzum was previously thought to have been founded by Semitic-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from South Arabia (modern Yemen) on the basis of Conti Rossini’s theories —but most scholars now agree that when it was founded it was an indigenous African development.
According to historians, GDRT(Gad) was most likely the first Axumite king to be involved in South Arabian affairs, as well as the first known king to be mentioned in South Arabian inscriptions. His reign resulted in the control of much of western Yemen, such as the Tihāmah, Najrā, Ma`afir, Ẓafār (until c. 230), and parts of Hashid territory around Hamir in the northern highlands. His involvement would mark the beginning of centuries of Axumite involvement in South Arabia, culminating with the full-scale invasion of Yemen by King Kaleb in 520 (or 525). This resulted in the establishment of an Akzumite province covering all of South Arabia.
The ancient Sabaean Kingdom established power in the early first millennium B.C. It was conquered in the first century B.C. by the Ḥimyarites. After the disintegration of the first Himyarite Kingdom of the Kings of Saba’ and Dhū Raydān, the Middle Sabaean Kingdom reappeared in the early second century. The Sabaean kingdom was finally conquered by the Ḥimyarites in the late third century. At that time the capital was Ma’rib. The Sabaean Kingdom was a part of Yemeni Province dominated by Akzum.
The South Arabian Kingdom of Himyar and Hadramawt
As early as the first quarter of the third century, the Aksumite Empire invaded and captured the capital of the Arab kingdom of Himyarite. King GDRT(Gad) of Aksum dispatched troops under his son BYGT, sending them from the western coast to occupy Thifar, the Ḥimyarite capital, as well as from the southern coast against Ḥaḑramawt. The invasion of Hadramawt was done in cooperation with the then King of Saba.
Dominion Over Arab Cities on the Red Sea
By the early fourth century A.D., King Ezana (reigned 325-60) controlled a domain extending from Southwest Arabia across the Red Sea west to Meroe and south from Sawakin to the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. As an indication of the type of political control he exercised, Ezana, like other Axumite rulers, carried the title Negus Nagast, king of kings, symbolic of his rule over numerous tribute-paying principalities on both the African continent and Arabia. Ezana dominated states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, making them pay regular tribute to Akzum.
Around 517 A.D., King Kaleb of the Axum Empire sent his army across the Red Sea to invade and annex what is today called Yemen, on report that the Jewish King Yūsuf Asar Yathar was persecuting Christians and Axumites. Abraha, a general in the Axumite army, was reported to have led the army of 100,000 men with hundreds of elephants to successfully crush all resistance of the Yemeni army. Yūsuf Asar Yathar was killed in the battle and King Kaleb appointed a viceroy to rule in his place. The Yemenite Kingdom was then forced to pay tribute to the Akzum empire.
The Campaign Against Mecca in A.D. 570
According to Islamic sources, Axumite general and ruler of Yemen, Abraha, invaded Mecca in 570 A.D., the same year as the birth of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. This attack took the form of a sort of religious crusade in which the Ethiopian Orthodox Axumites planned to destroy the center of pagan Arabic religion.
Aksum remained a strong, though weakened, empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the 7th century.
However, unlike the relations between the Islamic powers and Christian Europe, Aksum (see Sahama), which provided shelter to Muhammad‘s early followers around 615, was on good terms with its Islamic neighbors.Nevertheless, as early as 640, Umar ibn al-Khattāb sent a naval expedition against Adulis under Alkama bin Mujazziz, but it was eventually defeated. Aksumite naval power also declined throughout the period, though in 702 Aksumite pirates were able to invade the Hejaz and occupy Jeddah. In retaliation, however, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik was able to take the Dahlak Archipelago from Aksum, which became Muslim from that point on, though it later recovered in the 9th century and became a vassal to the Emperor of Ethiopia…and that gave birth to the Kingdom of Nri 940 AD