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AFRICAN EMPIRES to 1500 CE (1 of 4)

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African Empires to 1500 CE

Kingdom of Aksum | Empires in West Africa | Peoples and Empires in South Central Africa | Peoples Trade and Empire in East Africa

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The Kingdom of Aksum

In the sixth century, the kingdom of Aksum (Axum) was doing what many elsewhere had been doing: pursuing trade and empire. Despite the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the 400s and the decline in world trade, Aksum's trade increased during that century. Its exports of ivory, glass crystal, brass and copper items, and perhaps slaves, among other things, had brought prosperity to the kingdom. Some people had become wealthy and cosmopolitan. Aksum's port city on the Red Sea, Adulis, bustled with activity. Its agriculture and cattle breeding flourished. Aksum extended its rule to Nubia, across the Red Sea to Yemen, and it extended its rule to the northern Ethiopian Highlands and along the coast to Cape Guardafui.

From Aksum's beginnings in the third century, Christianity there had spread. But at the peak of Christianity's success, Aksum began its decline. In the late 600s, Aksum's trade was diminished by the clash between Constantinople and the Sassanid Empire. The Sassanid Empire clashed with Constantinople over trade on the Red Sea and expanded into Yemen, driving Aksum out of Arabia. Then Islam united Arabia and began expanding. In the 700s, Muslim Arabs occupied the Dahlak Islands just off the coast of Adulis, which had been ruled by Aksum. The Arabs moved into the port city of Adulis, and Aksum's trade by sea ended.

Aksum was now cut off from much of the world, and there the language of trade – Greek – declined. Minted coins became rare. Paganism revived and mixed with Christianity. And it has been surmised that the productivity of soil in the area was being diminished by over-exploitation and the cutting down of trees. Taking advantage of Aksum's weakness, the Bedja people, who had been living just north of Aksum, moved in. The people of Aksum, in turn, migrated into the Ethiopian Highlands, where they overran small farmers and settled at Amhara, among other nearby places. And with this migration a new Ethiopian civilization began.

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