Foundations of an African Civilisation

Foundations of an African Civilisation

Aksum and the northern Horn, 1000 BC - AD 1300

David W. Phillipson

Personal eBook

James Currey



A single coherent narrative of Aksumite civilisation revealing the roots of medieval Christian Ethiopia.
Focuses on the Aksumite state of the first millennium AD in northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea, its development, florescence and eventual transformation into the so-called medieval civilisation of Christian Ethiopia. This book seeks to apply a common methodology, utilising archaeology, art-history, written documents and oral tradition from a wide variety of sources; the result is a far greater emphasis on continuity than previous studies have revealed. It is thus a major re-interpretation of a key development in Ethiopia's past, while raising and discussing methodological issues of the relationship between archaeology and other historical disciplines; these issues, which have theoretical significance extending far beyond Ethiopia, are discussed in full.
The last millennium BC is seen as a time when northern Ethiopia and parts of Eritrea were inhabited by farming peoples whose ancestry may be traced far back into the local 'Late Stone Age'. Colonisation from southern Arabia, to which defining importance has been attached by earlier researchers, is now seen to have been brief in duration and small in scale, its effects largely restricted to élite sections of the community. Re-consideration of inscriptions shows the need to abandon the established belief in a single 'Pre-Aksumite' state. New evidence for the rise of Aksum during the last centuries BC is critically evaluated.
Finally, new chronological precision is provided for the decline of Aksum and the transfer of centralised political authority to more southerly regions. A new study of the ancient churches - both built and rock-hewn - which survive from this poorly-understood period emphasises once again a strong degree of continuity across periods that were previously regarded as distinct.

David W. Phillipson is Emeritus Professor of African Archaeology and former Director of the University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge. In 2014 he was made an Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences.

Published in association with the British Institute in Eastern Africa.

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa University Press


52 black and white, 35 line illustrations
304 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
Eastern Africa Series
Paperback, 9781847010889, April 2014
Personal eBook, 9781782042891, August 2012
Hardback, 9781847010414, August 2012
Library eBook
James Currey
BIC HD, 1H, 2AB, 3H
BISAC SOC003000, HIS001000, HIS037000
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Table of Contents

Introduction - Part I Before Aksum
The northern Horn 3000 years ago
The first millennium BC - Part II The Kingdom of Aksum
Aksumite civilisation: an introductory summary
Aksumite languages & literacy
Some written sources relating to Aksumite civilisation
The emergence & expansion of the Aksumite state
Aksumite kingship & politics
Aksumite religion
Cultivation & herding, food & drink
Urbanism, architecture & non-funerary monuments
Aksumite burials
Aksumite technology & material culture
Aksumite coinage
Foreign contacts of the Aksumite state
Decline & transformation of the Aksumite state - Part III After Aksum
The Zagwe Dynasty - Part IV Epilogue
The future of the past in the northern Horn


A useful working tool for scholars, a complete and updated textbook for students and a readable and informative account for those who wish to be introduced to the past of these regions. AETHIOPICA

This authoritative and challenging book is essential for experts of Ethiopian and Eritrean archaeology and history, but it is also an accessible and engaging read for a wider audience. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

(A) compelling read (and) a meticulous survey that engages with several branches of archaeology and history as well as art history, epigraphy, and linguistics. ... This authoritative and challenging book is essential for experts of Ethiopian and Eritrean archaeology and history, but it is also an accessible and engaging read for a wider audience beyond its geographical and temporal scope. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

Offers a valuable introduction to what is still a very poorly developed research field. . As a way into the complex world of 'Ethiopian' archaeology this book has much to offer. ANTIQUITY

(A) welcome synthesis of current scholarship (and) an important contribution to African history that belongs in all university libraries. CHOICE

An impressive piece of work, valuable not only as a statement on current archaeological research in Ethiopia and related areas, but also because it incorporates evidence from historical documentation, linguistics, and other sources. (...) This is a book that should be added to the shelves not only of those interested in the Ethiopian past but also of those with wider interests in later African archaeology and history. JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY

Foundations of an African Civilisation is an unparalleled contribution to the archaeological literature about Aksum, which will aid both the established researcher and the recently initiated student of Aksumite studies alike. Its comprehensive, yet largely accessible treatment of a range of archaeological, epigraphic, and historical data, excellent organisation and informative illustrations are a tribute and a testimony to David Phillipson's long-running dedication to exploring this most intriguing ancient African civilisation. AZANIA

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