The accurate history of the Empire of Aksum has been lost. This is undeniable for two reasons. The first reason is simply that much of the documentation has been destroyed in the last 1200 years of calamitous wars that have befallen Ethiopia. The second and more significant reason is deliberate rewriting of Ethiopian history to glorify to the dynasty of Yekuno Amlak, which went on to found the medieval state of Abyssinia in 1270 which is, like the Capetian monarchy is the basis of modern France, the basis of modern Ethiopia.
This rewriting ranges from the subtle to the extreme. For instance Yekuno Amlak was a descendant of the son of Del Naod, who reigned before the invasion of Gudit and the destruction of Aksum in the 9th century. The sack of Aksum by Gudit was a critical turning point in Ethiopian history, the significance of which has been diminished as other more recent turning points have come and gone, but about 1100 years ago or thereabouts a woman named Yodit or Gudit, who was a queen of the Beta Israel, sacked Aksum and ruled as Empress of the Aksumite Empire for about 40 years. Now if you study the history, this happened more than a century after the reign of Del Naod, who began his reign in the year 861. We know this because Debre Istafanos Monastary was founded in the 7th year of Del Naod in 868. The Coptic Pope of Alexandria Pope Philotheos sent a new Metropolitan of Aksum to Ethiopia in 985 and Gudit was defeated very shortly thereafter.
The Aksumite dynasty would limp along for another 200 years until the dynasty ended and the Zagwe dynasty would assume the throne through marriage to Terdae Gabaz and take the throne in 1137. The Zagwe rule would last for a little over a century until Yekuno Amlak, a powerful regional lord from the south, would overthrow the Zagwe in a coup d’etat and two year war and seize the throne for himself in 1270.
The rewriting began somewhat immediately, where Del Naod was made the last king of Aksum, after which time there was a 333 year rule of the Zagwe (who were in league with Gudit in this revised history, as the Beta Israel and the Zagwe were of related ethnic groups). Also in this revised history, the dynasty was not just the kings of Aksum but also the sons of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, thus renaming the dynasty the Solomonic Dynasty. This claim is not present in any Aksumite inscriptions or monuments and appears shortly after 1270.
In order to have a dynasty that stretched back to King Solomon’s time and also to erase the senior branch of the Aksumite dynasty from history, the king lists were terminally altered into unintelligibility to the point where they bear no resemblance to the historical coinage, inscriptions or church histories. For political convenience, history was destroyed.
However in the church records, which are a parallel and independent authority, we find grains of historicity. And this is where we come to the Gadla Abuna Aragawi or the Acts of Father Aragawi, one of the church leaders during the active period of the 6th century, in the heart of the era we are discussing, the late Aksumite era. The book is mainly about Abuna Aragawi, as you would imagine, but delves into a very revealing passage of history where it makes an extremely important statement:
“In the 8th year of Emperor Bazen, was the advent of Christ. Between Emperor Bazen and Abreha and Azbeha there were 19 kings and 244 years. Between Abreha and Azbeha and Gabra Masqal there were 9 kings and 124 years, for a total of 368 years.”
Due to the way the king lists have been formatted to stretch into antiquity, the first line has been traditionally interpreted to mean that in the 8th year of Bazen, Christ was born, meaning the beginning of his reign was 8 BCE. However, the early parts of the king lists, around king Bazen, is one of the few areas where recognizable historical kings like Gedur (who reigned in the 3rd century), Afilya (or Aphilas, who reigned after Gedur) and Awsena (Ousanas, who reigned after Afilya and before Ezana) can be found. This offers an alternative interpretation of this passage, that the archaeological records are correct and Aksum is a kingdom founded in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, and Bazen is in fact Ezana.
If one takes this interpretation of the passage and the era of Ezana, the 244 year span between the beginning of Ezana and the end of Abreha and Azbeha becomes very interesting. Azbeha in this scenario is of course Kaleb, the emperor who invaded Yemen to defeat Dhu Nuways, and Abreha is his church-building brother who marched on Mecca and died in the Year of the Elephant, 569. Aksum converted to Coptic Christianity in 333 CE, so if this is the 8th year of Ezana, meaning his reign began in 325, this is exactly 244 years prior to the Year of the Elephant and the death of Azbeha’s (Kaleb’s) brother Abreha, nicknamed “Scarface” or al-Ashrar by the Arabs.
Moving forward in time to the reign of Gabra Masqal, this puts the end of his reign in 693, around the time when the Aksum Empire fell apart into civil war approximately around the year 700 when his descendants and the descendants of his brother Israel (founder of the Beta Israel or House of Israel) began fighting, which circles back to Queen Gudit invading and destroying Aksum 250 years later.
Having made this connection I frantically looked through all the king lists to find one with 19 names inclusive between Bazen and Abreha/Azbeha and no such list exists, and in any case the lists that do exist the names in this era do not match historical records like the pre-Bazen ones do (which were I assume so ancient as to be safe to include in king lists without people noticing chronological discrepancies and so embedded in legend that their absence would be noticed).