Ancient ‘lost’ city found in Ethiopia was once part of mighty Aksum Empire

A village in Ethiopia has been discovered that belonged to the little-known Aksum Empire – a bustling, sprawling metropolis rivaling Rome that has survived for centuries.

The Empire dominated much of East Africa from the first century BC until 825 AD and rivaled its contemporary Roman in size and power.

The city predates the rise of the empire by several centuries and is believed to have been inhabited between 80 BC and 650 AD.

It was given the name Beta Samati – which means “audience house” in the local Tigrinya language.

Its enormous historical significance comes from the fact that it proves that the colonies that existed before the rise of the Empire flourished before and after the emergence of Askum.

It is one of the only Empire settlements ever to be discovered and contains various buildings, an ancient Aksumite basilica, and a range of individual objects.

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A village in Ethiopia was discovered by archaeologists (pictured) who belonged to the little-known Aksum Empire – a bustling, sprawling metropolis rivaling Rome that has survived for centuries

The most striking of the individual objects is a ring (photo) made of copper alloy and covered with gold leaf.  A red stone in the center, called Carnelian, is engraved with the image of a bull's head on a vine or crown

The most striking of the individual objects is a ring (photo) made of copper alloy and covered with gold leaf. A red stone in the center, called Carnelian, is engraved with the image of a bull’s head on a vine or crown

“Beta Samati is a very densely populated former settlement with both residential and religious structures,” said Dr. Ioana Dumitru, of Johns Hopkins, who worked on the document.

The village was abandoned in AD 650, and the entire mysterious empire collapsed less than two centuries later.

Senior author Michael Harrower, associate professor of archeology at Johns Hopkins University and senior research author, said: “The Aksum Empire was one of the most influential ancient civilizations in the world, but it remains one of the least known.

“The Beta Samati excavations help fill important gaps in our understanding of ancient pre-Aksumite and Aksumite civilizations.”

The modern region of Ethiopia known as Yeha was the focal point of a study looking for signs of the Aksumite Empire and similar civilizations.

The area was previously thought to have flourished between 800 BC.

Parts of this ancient capital still survive, with ancient obelisks marking its presence.

But the Southern Red Sea Archaeological Stories Project (SRSAH) proves this was not the case, revealing that the Yeha region remained important throughout the Aksumite era and that the town of Beta Samati was a key hub of commerce and commerce.

Dr Harrower called the village “an important administrative center located on the trade route which linked the capital of Aksum to the Red Sea and beyond”.

Beta Samati was first occupied by the Pre-Aksumites around 750 BC and for over a millennium has been a crucial regional center.

During the time of the city, the kingdom of Aksum rose in importance and converted to Christianity.

“Beta Samati covers Aksum’s official conversion from polytheism to Christianity and the rise of Islam in Arabia,” Harrower said

Local residents brought in experts to investigate a hill as it likely had a deep historical role.

The 80-foot (25 m) mound turned out to be an artificial tell – created over generations of occupation, and radiocarbon dating cemented the occupied chronology from 750 BC to 650 AD.

WHAT WAS AKSOUM’S EMPIRE?

The Empire dominated much of East Africa from the first century BC until 825 AD and rivaled its contemporary Roman in size and power.

It extends to Arabia and is one of the first powers of the time, alongside Rome, Persia and China.

Parts of this ancient capital, also called Aksum, still survive, with ancient obelisks marking its presence.

Aksum originally had a polytheistic religion, with many traditions originating from modern Yemen.

In the 4th century, King Ezana converted Aksum to Christianity.

Not much else is known about the Empire, as archaeological excavations in the area have rarely taken place.

A Christian stone pendant found in the basilica with a cross on the left and, on the right, the word “venerable” in Geez - an ancient Ethiopian language, which remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

A Christian stone pendant found in the basilica with a cross on the left and, on the right, the word “venerable” in Ge’ez – an ancient Ethiopian language, which remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Local residents brought in experts to investigate a hill as it likely had a deep historical role.  The 80ft (25m) mound (pictured) turned out to be an artificial tell - created over generations of occupation

Local residents brought in experts to investigate a hill as it likely had a deep historical role. The 80ft (25m) mound (pictured) turned out to be an artificial tell – created over generations of occupation

The site has been excavated in two places and archaeologists have uncovered various buildings as well as evidence of glass and metal production and signs of food processing and consumption.

Towards the bottom of the hill, excavations have revealed a basilica, considered one of the first places built for Christian worship in the Aksumite kingdom.

It was built shortly after King Ezana converted the empire to Christianity in the mid-4th century AD.

The role of basilicas in Aksumite society baffled scientists, as there was so little evidence to study.

But the building itself and a series of other objects found nearby, including animal figures, crosses, stamp seals, and so-called tokens, prove that Yeha was not sorry during the reign of the Empire, but was an important area.

The most striking of the objects is a ring made of copper alloy and covered with gold leaf.

A red stone in the center, called carnelian, is engraved with the image of a bull’s head on a vine or crown.

“It looks a lot like a Roman ring, except for the style of the bull badge,” presumes Dr Harrower.

“Politics and religion are important factors in the formation of human history, but are difficult to examine archaeologically,” says Dr Harrower.

He adds that this also has implications for our “understanding of political and religious changes among ancient civilizations more broadly.”

The village of Beta Samati has been studied in detail in the journal Antiquity.

The Aksum Empire dominated much of East Africa from the first century BC until 825 AD and rivaled its Roman contemporary in size and power. Beta Samati preceded it by several centuries and maintained its importance through the rise of the Empire

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