Africa, Kingdom of Aksum, King Ezana

Date: c. 340 - 425 CE
Ethiopia

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Item Description:

This rare bronze coinage comes from the Kingdom of Aksum (sometimes spelled Axum), located in the region of modern day Ethiopia. Though these specific coins were issued anonymously, meaning they did not bear the name of a specific ruler, they roughly date to within the reign of King Ezana.

The kingdom flourished as a major city along the trade route between Rome and India, a trade route which allowed for growing Greco-Roman cultural influence, notably, the adoption of the Greek language in administration, diplomacy and trade; much of the coinage and inscription on Aksumite currency is written in Greek, although Ge’ez, a spoken Semitic language, remained in use and was made an official state language during the reign of King Ezana.

Ezana rose to power in the 4th century, though his ascension to the throne occurred when he was a child and his mother Sofya served as regent until he reached adulthood. Ezana was tutored by Frumentius, a Phoenician Christian missionary who was enslaved by Ousanas, Ezana’s father. Frumentius was freed shortly before Ousanas’ death, but Sofya convinced him to remain in Aksum and tutor the young King before his ascension to power.

Due to Frumentius’ influence, Ezana was the first King to adopt Christianity as a national religion, an act reflected in the cross design replacing earlier designs on coinage. Aksum was one of the first kingdoms to feature the cross on their currency, reflecting their national religion and replacing earlier pagan imagery of a disc and crescent. This strengthened the country’s relationship with other Christian powers of the time. Ezana and his brother, Saizan, have been venerated as Saints by the Catholic Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

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