King Endubis, or Endybis, was a royal Ethiopian Emperor who ruled the Aksumite Kingdom between c. 270 and 300. He was the first ruler to introduce coin currency in the horn of Africa.
The Aksumite Empire and Coin Currency
The Kingdom of Aksum, or rather Axum, was an ancient Kingdom centered in modern-day northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Axumite rulers portrayed themselves as Kings of Kings, King of Axum, Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Salhen, Kush, etc. The Kingdom existed from 100AD to 940 AD. The Kingdom extended to parts of Djibouti and Sudan. What we call Tigray today used to be all part of the Axum Empire. Axum grew from the proto-Axumite Iron Age Period around the 4th century. During that time, King Endubis was the sovereign ruler.
Axum was the capital of Ethiopia until the seventh century. At the time of its growth, the Kingdom had so much power, and it controlled territories in southern Egypt, east of the Gulf of Aden, south of Omo River, and the west of Cushite Kingdom of Meroe. Historians describe Axum as one of the greatest and most potent kingdoms to exist in Africa. Its widespread popularity was not only because of its wealth but also because of its features. Today, its tall stone cut towers with writing inscriptions, known as obelisks, serve as an archeological site.
The Axum Kingdom, being strategically positioned, controlled an extensive trading route in the horn of Africa. Merchants from Rome and India would occasionally trade with the Kingdom. Axum would export ivory, tortoiseshell, gold, emeralds through the Mediterranean and receive silk and spices imports.
It was not long before the Kingdom became wealthy. Its widespread popularity dominated the routes, having control of the merchandise arriving in the north. Around 270CE, the African Kingdom began to mint its coins. The decision was influenced by King Endubis, who by then was in charge of the powerful state. Many historians mention King Endubis as the first Ancient African King to mint coins.
As it happens that the Aksumite Kingdom only thrived after the downfall of Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Axum coin currency is thus documented as the only native currency to be issued in Africa without direct influence by an outside culture like the Romans or Greeks. King Endubis introduced the system of coin currency, thinking it was a great idea considering how trade was expanding in the region. As such, introducing the coin system made marketing more effective while standardizing government taxation and collecting other payments.
Soon after introducing the coin currency, the Axum Kingdom saw a tremendous surge in economic growth. And, of course, their trade routes increased as their living standards improved.
What Did the Coins Currency Look Like?
The coins were made to suit the indigenous creations and designs. Endubis used Roman waiting standards to issue the coins which existed in gold, silver, and bronze. The first Aksumite coins had Greek writings because the Axum traders wanted to enable the people of Axum to engage in the Red Sea’s profitable Greco-Roman trade. Being the first Aksumite King to mint the coins, Endubis had his image engraved on both sides of the coin, covered with a headcloth with a triangular riband hanging on the back. The first coins often came with Greek writings, some of which meant King of the Aksumites.
On the coin was encryption of the King’s head, and above it was a crescent symbol. The cresent symbolized the sun or moon god. During the ancient times, most African communities the Aksumites included had not embraced Christianity. There were also two ears of wheat or barley on both sides of the coin, which surrounded the King’s head. According to two historians, the two kinds of cereal probably symbolized the King’s role as the people’s provider.
During the fourth century, Axum Empire started adopting major transitions under its new governance. King Ezana had succeeded King Endubis. Amid his reign, Christianity was a significant religion. He made the Kingdom become the first civilization anywhere to use the cross of Christ on its coins. The transition in which the cross replaced the crescent symbol came about around 330CE when Ezana became King. Later, the currency became a tool for spreading Christianity while used during the trade.
Later, subsequent rulers continued embracing the currency system, though they embossed on the coins phrases such as by the Grace of God. And it was not long before people started using the coins as representations of what was happening while they were minted. Aksum continued to use the cash for an extended period until it began to fall.
Aksum and Trade
The main trade exports of Aksum during ancient times were agricultural products. As it would have been anticipated, Aksum was a land rich in fertile soils suitable for agricultural growth. Compared to modern Aksumite land, the ancient soils were rich and fertile. The inhabitants of the regions practiced crop growing, in which their primary crops were wheat and barley. Other than crop production, the Aksumites raised cattle, ships, and camels. Wild animals like rhinos and elephants were also hunted for their horns and ivory, respectively.
The Aksumite merchants often traded with the Romans, Egyptians, and Persians. Since the state was also rich in iron and gold deposits, they would exchange them for valuable products like fine silk, spices, etc. Most of all, salt was plentiful in Aksum and was traded quite frequently. The Aksum Empire benefitted greatly from the significant transformation of maritime trading that linked the Roman Empire and India. The change transpired around the start of the 1st century. Initially, the former trading system involved coastal sailing and many intermediary ports.
The red sea was of primary importance to the Persian Gulf and overland connections to the Levant. During the 1st century, a route from Egypt to India was established. It relied on the monsoon winds to cross the Arabian sea directly to south India. The Romans would import goods from southern India, resulting in a large ship sailing down the Red Sea from Roman Egypt to the Arabian Sea and India. And being that the Akum Kingdom was strategically positioned, it used the new trading situation to its advantage. Soon, Adulis became the main port for exporting African goods such as ivory, gold, slaves, incense, etc. To supply such goods, the Kings of Aksum worked to develop and expand an inland trading network which helped it gain control over territories in the region.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the Kingdom of Aksum continued to expand its control of the southern Red Sea Basin. A caravan route to Egypt was also established. Aksum succeeded in becoming the primary supplier of African goods to the Roman Empire because of the transformed trading routes and trade supplies availability.
The Collapse of the Aksum Empire
The Empire started declining around the 7th century, with some historians relating climatic change as the leading cause. Others were saying external political factors such as the rise of other large empires like Persia. Around the same time, Aksumite populations were forced to go further inland to the highlands for protection, abandoning Aksum as the capital.
The local subsistence base of the Aksum Kingdom was majorly augmented on the rainy seasons, which vastly improved the surface and subsurface water supply, doubling the length of the growing season and creating an environment comparable to that of modern central Ethiopia. This appears to explain how one of Ethiopia’s marginal agricultural environments was able to support the demographic base that made the commercial Empire possible. Nevertheless, as international profits from the exchange network declined, Aksum lost its ability to control its raw material sources, and that network collapsed.
The already constant environmental pressure of a large population to maintain a high level of regional food production continued to intensify. The result was a wave of soil erosion that began around c. 650 and became catastrophic after 700. The situation had deteriorated because of complex socio-economic reasons. Deforestation, pastoral exploitation, wholesale and irreversible land degradation were some of the factors that contributed to the climatic change.
And the constant decline in rainfall reliability ultimately steered the problems. Croplands were no longer as productive as they used to be. And with the surge in climate change, the situation completely deteriorated, never recovering.
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Some scholars hypothesize that the Aksum empire declined following external attacks. Around 960, a Jewish Queen, Judith, was alleged to have defeated the Empire and burnt its churches and literature. Nevertheless, some western authors have raised questions on whether the queen existed. Another probable attack that may have led to the decline of Aksum was the attack by the southern pagan queen named Bani al-Hamwiyah. Contemporary sources back this hypothesis considering they documented that a female usurper did rule Aksum and that her reign ended before 1003.
However, it should be clear that the Empire’s end did not mean the End of Aksumite culture and traditions. For instance, the Zagwe dynasty’s architecture at Lalibela and Yemrehana Krestos Church resemble heavy Aksumite influence today.