“Between the first and the twelfth centuries, extraordinary events happened in Africa, events that transformed not just the history of the continent, but the history of the world.” - Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Africa’s Great Civilizations
Industry, trade and religion had a great influence on the development of Africa and the early economies. Through additional research explore the kingdom of Aksum and map out how East African kingdoms in Aksum, Ethiopia, the Swahili region, and Zimbabwe established trade routes. Compare these routes and areas with modern maps of current countries and landmarks.
Research the city of Adulis. Write an essay or poem that places yourself in a bustling trading center in Audlis in ancient times. What were some of the commodities that were traded? What are the smells and sounds? What are the merchants saying?
Activity: Explore the Stelae of Aksum
Over 100 stelae were erected between the third and fourth centuries for Aksum’s elite, taller than any other monuments crafted in the ancient world. Brought from a distance of five kilometers, each fragments column is estimated to weigh 700 tons and at 33 metres in height. Conducting research of this time period, have students consider the following:
Have far is five kilometers?
How would you move a single stone that weighs 700 tons over five kilometers?
How long would it take?
Research other monuments and grave markers for the elite in the Greek, Roman and Persian empires of the time. Compare and contrast their memorials. How are they artistically and structurally similar and different?
Between 300 BCE and 1,000 CE, trade began to play a key role in this developing continent, linking more of Africa into networks of exchange that extended across the Eastern Hemisphere.
In the first through sixth centuries (CE), East Africa had one of the greatest empires of its time, the kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia. Considered as important as the empires in Rome, Persia and China, the kingdom of Aksum arose in the Horn of Africa. This location provided access to trade in the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, allowing it to become a powerful trading hub.
The gateway to this African kingdom was the port city of Adulis, the main trading post of Aksum. Located on the Red Sea, Traders came from Egypt, the Middle East, and India. Greek, Roman and Persians followed with an eagerness to acquire the luxury goods that had captured the attention of Egyptian pharaohs. The kingdom of Aksum traded frankincense, myrrh, ivory and tortoise shell, while receiving imports of copper, bronze, silver, gold and wine.
Through control of Adulis, Aksum became extremely wealthy through stiff tariffs on goods, which could be seen through its stunning architecture, monuments and art.