One of the most mysterious historical records regarding the Horn of Africa involves an inscription that was carved onto a throne at Adulis. This throne may still be at Adulis but Adulis itself is a ruin buried under the sand and if the throne still exists, it has yet to be excavated. The reason why this inscription is relatively well known despite being lost for 14 centuries is because the famous Egyptian mariner, geographer and explorer Cosmas Indicopleustes, who wrote down the Greek text of the multi-lingual inscription and copied that transcription into his book, Christian Topography.
The inscription not only transcribes various tribal groups into Greek but also translates various gods into Greek gods. For instance the text mentions Zeus, Ares and Poseidon, but this is because in the ancient world gods had many names and local “versions” of that god. “Zeus” refers to Almaqah, the sky god, wielder of lightning bolts. “Ares” refers to Maher, the god of war. Son of the Invincible Maher is a favorite epithet of Aksumite kings before Christianity, and the text includes this epithet as the conquerer is referred to as “Son of Ares”. Finally “Poseidon” refers to Beher, the god of the Sea. The Aksumite pantheon is a variant of the South Arabian pantheon of gods, and many of the same gods were also worshiped in Yemen by the same names.
This is a version of the text itself:
Having after this with a strong hand compelled the nations bordering on my kingdom to live in peace, I made war upon the following nations, and by force of arms reduced them to subjection. I warred first with the nation of Gazê, then with Agamê and Sigyê, and having conquered them I exacted the half of all that they possessed. I next reduced Aua and Tiamô, called Tziamô, and the Gambêla, and the tribes near them, and Zingabênê and Angabe and Tiama and Athagaûs and Kalaa, and the Semênoi —- a people who lived beyond the Nile on mountains difficult of access and covered with snow, where the year is all winter with hailstorms, frosts and snows into which a man sinks knee-deep. I passed the river to attack these nations, and reduced them. I next subdued Lazine and Zaa and Gabala, tribes which inhabit mountains with steep declivities abounding with hot springs, the Atalmô and Bega, and all the tribes in the same quarter along with them. I proceeded next against the Tangaitae, who adjoin the borders of Egypt; and having reduced them I made a footpath giving access by land into Egypt from that part of my dominions. Next I reduced Annine and Metine—-tribes inhabiting precipitous mountains. My arms were next directed against the Sesea nation. These had retired to a high mountain difficult of access; but I blockaded the mountain on every side, and compelled them to come down and surrender. I then selected for myself the best of their young men and their women, with their sons and daughters and all besides that they possessed. The tribes of Rhausi I next brought to submission: a barbarous race spread over wide waterless plains in the interior of the frankincense country. Advancing thence towards the sea, I encountered the Solate, whom I subdued, and left with instructions to guard the coast. All these nations, protected though they were by mountains all but impregnable, I conquered, after engagements in which I was myself present. Upon their submission I restored their territories to them, subject to the payment of tribute. Many other tribes besides these submitted of their own accord, and became likewise tributary. And I sent a fleet and land forces against the Arabitae and Cinaedocolpitae who dwelt on the other side of the Red Sea, and having reduced the sovereigns of both, I imposed on them a land tribute and charged them to make travelling safe both by sea and by land. I thus subdued the whole coast from Leucê Cômê to the country of the Sabaeans. I first and alone of the kings of my race made these conquests. For this success I now offer my thanks to my mighty God, Arês, who begat me, and by whose aid I reduced all the nations bordering on my own country, on the East to the country of frankincense, and on the West to Ethiopia and Sasu. Of these expeditions, some were conducted by myself in person, and ended in victory, and the others I entrusted to my officers. Having thus brought all the world under my authority to peace, I came down to Aduli and offered sacrifice to Zeus, and to Ares and to Poseidon, whom I entreated to befriend all who go down to the sea in ships. Here also I reunited all my forces, and setting down this Chair in this place, I consecrated it to Ares in the twenty-seventh year of my reign.
It has been nearly 1500 years since the Christian Topography was created, and in that time there have been about as many attempts to identify these places and peoples mentioned. Here is mine:
- The “Gazê”: Beginning his first campaign, conquering Akkele Guzay, the Gazê are also known as the Agazyan or the Ge’ez.
- The “Agamê”: This area is still called Agame, the region around Adigrat.
- The “Sigyê”: Considering where he goes next, this is probably a nation who originally lived around Entitcho.
- The “Aua”: This is a nation that lived around Adwa. Adwa means “Ad Aua” the city of the Aua.
- The “Tziamô”: Starting his second campaign Probably referring to the area of Tziama south of Agame.
- The “Gambêla”: This refers to the Jambela valley of Enderta.
- The “Zingabênê”: Completely unknown, but probably south of Enderta
- The “Angabe”: Other inscriptions of Ezana’s campaigns put Angabe in Agaw country, probably further south again.
- The “Tiama”: Also unknown, but again probably south again from Angabe.
- The “Athagaûs”: The Athagaûs are the Agaw, so this is probably Bugna or Wag, the heart of their country.
- The “Kalaa”: Perhaps Wag or another area adjacent to Bugna.
- The “Semênoi”: The people of the Semien Mountains, nowadays called the Falasha
- The “Lazine”: Lazen is where King Kaleb is from. Probably the original inhabitants of Waldebba
- The “Zaa”: Probably the original inhabitants of Woggera
- The “Gabala”: Probably the original inhabitants of Dembeya, challenging territory indeed, centered around Gonder
- The “Atalmô”: Probably the original inhabitants of Fogera, along the eastern shore of Lake Tana.
- The “Bega”: He’s actually referring to the Bega of Begmeder, not the Beja of Sudan
- The “Tangaitae”: He is done with his southern conquests and this is clearly a new campaign, this time in Eritrea. The border with Egypt was much further south in this time, as the Roman Empire controlled much of Nubia, especially the Red Sea Coast. The furthest southern Roman port was Limen Evangelis, probably near modern Suakin.
- The “Annine”: Between the Tangaitae and the Metine, Probably the original inhabitants of Senhit.
- The “Metine”: Mentioned in other inscriptions, the original inhabitants of Hamasien.
- The “Sesea”: Probably Debarwa, with it’s forbidding mountains. He doesn’t go any further west, turning east again.
- The “Rhausi”: The original inhabitants of the Danakil Depression, probably long since absorbed by the Afars
- The “Solate”: The original inhabitants of the northern Danakil coast, perhaps ancestors of the Saho.