Last week, we looked at some of the arms and armor of the Abyssinian Empire. With the holidays coming up, I decided to do something a bit more peaceful. On my trips through Africa, I noticed a huge amount of detritus from its various wars. I was impressed at how the people adapted this stuff into something more useful. A lot of the spare metal is picked up and sold for scrap. Old battlefields once littered with burnt-out tanks get cleared out, only a few rusting hulks being left behind.
As you can see in the picture above, one of the tanks that was left behind has been turned into the local jungle gym. This photo was taken in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border. The tank was probably a casualty of the bitter war between the two countries. These kids are Eritrean refugees from a nearby refugee camp, whose only playground is a symbol of what made them refugees in the first place.
In a recent post on the ancient and medieval civilizations of Somalia, we looked at the importance of the Horn of Africa in international trade. The Somalis acted as middlemen, supplying the Eastern Mediterranean, India, and China with goods from the African interior. One of the major ancient civilizations in east Africa that was producing exports was the Empire of Axum.
Axum is a little-known civilization. It didn’t leave much in the way of writing and its sites have not been extensively excavated. Even its capital city has been little explored. We do know that it was founded in the fourth century BC and became a major power by about 100 AD. It came to control most of what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea, and then hopped over the Red Sea in the third century to take over parts of what is now Yemen and Saudi Arabia. For a time, it controlled trade through the Red Sea and acted as a link between the Roman Empire and India. Axumite coins have been found as far away as China. Greek writers noted Axum as one of the world’s great civilizations.