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History of Ethiopia

Early History

Ethiopia is considered one of the oldest human settlement areas, if not the oldest according to some scientific findings. 'Lucy', discovered in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar region, is considered the world’s second oldest, but most complete, and best preserved adult Australopithecine fossil. Lucy's species is named Australopithecus afarensis, which means 'Southern Ape of Afar', after the Ethiopian region where the discovery was made. Lucy is estimated to have lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. There have been many other notable fossil findings in the country including recently found oldest human fossil, 'Ardi'.

Evidence of Naqadan contacts include obsidian from Ethiopia. The first records of Ethiopia proper come from Egyptian traders from about 3000 BC, who refer to lands south of Nubia or Cush as Punt and Yam. The Ancient Egyptians were in possession of myrrh (found in Punt) as early as the First or Second Dynasties

The first known voyage to Punt occurred in the 25th century BC under the reign of Pharaoh Sahure. The most famous expedition to Punt, however, comes during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut probably around 1495 BC, as the expedition was recorded in detailed reliefs on the temple of Deir el-Bahri at Thebes. The inscriptions depict a trading group bringing back myrrh trees, sacks of myrrh, elephant tusks, incense, gold, various fragmented wood and exotic animals. Detailed information about these two nations is sparse, and there are many theories concerning their locations and the ethnic relationship of their peoples. The Egyptians sometimes called Punt land Ta-Netjeru, meaning "Land of the Gods," and considered it their place of origin.

Around the eighth century BC, a kingdom known as Dʿmt was established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, with its capital at Yeha in northern Ethiopia. Most modern historians consider this civilization to be a native African one, although Sabaean-influenced because of the latter's hegemony of the Red Sea, while others view Dʿmt as the result of a mixture of Sabaeans and indigenous peoples. However, Ge'ez, the ancient Semitic language of Ethiopia, is now thought not to have derived from Sabaean (also South Semitic). There is evidence of a Semitic-speaking presence in Ethiopia and Eritrea at least as early as 2000 BC. Sabaean influence is now thought to have been minor, limited to a few localities, and disappearing after a few decades or a century, perhaps representing a trading or military colony in some sort of symbiosis or military alliance with the Ethiopian civilisation of Dʿmt or some other proto-Aksumite state.

After the fall of Dʿmt in the fourth century BC, the plateau came to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms, until the rise of one of these kingdoms during the first century BC, the Aksumite Empire, ancestor of medieval and modern Ethiopia, which was able to reunite the area. They established bases on the northern highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau and from there expanded southward.

The Aksum Kingdom

The first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia was that of Aksum in the first century AD. It was one of many successor kingdoms to Dʿmt and was able to unite the northern Ethiopian plateau beginning around the first century BC. They established bases on the northern highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau and from there expanded southward. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Aksum with Rome, Persia and China as one of the four great powers of his time. The origins of the Aksumite Kingdom are unclear, although experts have offered their speculations about it. Even whom should be considered the earliest known king is contested: although C. Conti Rossini proposed that Zoskales of Aksum, mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, should be identified with one Za Haqle mentioned in the Ethiopian King Lists. However, G.W.B. Huntingford argued that Zoskales was only a sub-king whose authority was limited to Adulis, and that Conti Rossini's identification can not be substantiated.

Inscriptions have been found in southern Arabia celebrating victories over one GDRT, described as "Nagashi of Habashat and of Aksum". Other dated inscriptions are used to determine a floruit for GDRT (interpreted as representing a Ge'ez name such as Gadarat, Gedur, Gadurat or Gedara) around the beginning of the 3rd century. A bronze sceptre or wand has been discovered at Atsbi Dera with in inscription mentioning "GDR of Axum". Coins showing the royal portrait began to be minted under King Endubis toward the end of the third century.

Christianity was introduced into the country by Frumentius, who was consecrated first bishop of Ethiopia by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria about 330. Frumentius converted Ezana, who has left several inscriptions detailing his reign both before and after his conversion. One inscription found at Aksum, states that he conquered the nation of the Bogos, and returned thanks to his father, the god Mars, for his victory. Later inscriptions show Ezana's growing attachment to Christianity, and Ezana's coins bear this out, shifting from a design with disc and crescent to a design with a cross. Expeditions by Ezana into the Kingdom of Kush at Meroe in Sudan may have brought about its demise, though there is evidence that the kingdom was experiencing a period of decline beforehand. As a result of Ezana's expansions, Aksum bordered the Roman province of Egypt. The degree of Ezana's control over Yemen is uncertain. Though there is little evidence supporting Aksumite control of the region at that time, his title, which includes king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan (all in modern-day Yemen), along with gold Aksumite coins with the inscriptions, "King of the Habshat" or "Habashite", indicate that Aksum might have retained some legal or actual footing in the area.

From the scanty evidence available it would appear that the new religion at first made little progress. Towards the close of the fifth century a great company of monks known as the ''Nine Saints'' are believed to have established themselves in the country. Since that time monasticism has been a power among the people and not without its influence on the course of events.

The Aksumite Kingdom is recorded once again as controlling part, if not all, of Yemen in the sixth century. Around 523, the Jewish king Dhu Nuwas came to power in Yemen and, announcing that he would kill all the Christians, attacked an Aksumite garrison at Zafar, burning the city's churches. He then attacked the Christian stronghold of Najran, slaughtering the Christians who would not convert. Emperor Justin I of the Eastern Roman empire requested that his fellow Christian, Kaleb, help fight the Yemenite king, and around 525, Kaleb invaded and defeated Dhu Nuwas, appointing his Christian follower Sumuafa' Ashawa' as his viceroy. This dating is tentative, however, as the basis of the year 525 for the invasion is based on the death of the ruler of Yemen at the time, who very well could have been Kaleb's viceroy. After about five years, Abraha deposed the viceroy and made himself king. Despite several attempted invasions across the Red Sea, Kaleb was unable to dislodge Abreha, and acquiesced to the change; this was the last time Ethiopian armies left Africa until the 20th century when several units participated in the Korean War. Eventually Kaleb abdicated in favour of his son Wa'zeb and retired to a monastery where he ended his days. Abraha later made peace with Kaleb's successor and recognised his superiority. Despite this reverse, under Ezana and Kaleb the kingdom was at its height, benefiting from a large trade, which extended as far as India and Ceylon, and were in constant communication with the Byzantine Empire.

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