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Monuments of Axum in the Light of South Arabian Archeology
Author(s): Gus W. van Beek
Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 87, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1967), pp. 113-122
Published by: American Oriental Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/597393
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MONUMENTS OF AXUM IN THE LIGHT OF SOUTH ARABIAN ARCHEOLOGY *
Gus W. VAN BEEK
SMITHSONIAN INsTITUTION
THE STELAE OF AxUm are among the more
enigmatic monuments of the historic period in
Africa. When were they built? What architec-
tural designs do they incorporate? Are these
motifs borrowed or are they indigenous? If they
are borrowed, what source or sources are repre-
sented? What is the purpose or function of the
stelae? Not all of these questions can be answered
even in part at this time, but the vastly increased
amount of archeological field work in both south-
ern Arabia and Ethiopia in the past 15 years has
added significantly to our knowledge of these re-
gions. This knowledge in turn provides a frame-
work within which these monuments must be
understood and interpreted.
CULTURAL RELATIONS BETWEEN ETHIOPIA
AND SouTH ARABIA
That Ethiopia and southern Arabia should
share close contact with one another appears
almost inevitable from an examination of the map.
The southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula
points directly to the heartland of Ethiopia. At
the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb, these two land
masses are separated by a scant fifteen miles.
Through this narrow passage, all shipping between
the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf,
and the Indian Ocean was funneled from the
Greco-Roman period-and perhaps earlier-up to
modern times. In addition to dominating this cor-
ridor, Ethiopia and southern Arabia, especially the
Yemen, share a similar environment. Rainfall,
flora, and fauna of these two regions are quite simi-
lar, and in many instances virtually identical.
While Caton Thompson has argued that the Red
*
A somewhat abbreviated version of this paper was
presented at the annual meeting of the African Studies
Association held in Philadelphia, Pa., October 28, 1965.
The drawings were made by Mr. George Robert Lewis,
Office of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution. The
writer also wishes to express gratitude to Mr. Thomas
Cassell of Wabash College, who served as a student
assistant during the summer, 1966.
Sea corridor may have been a formidable barrier
in prehistoric times,1 during the historic period, it
was an easy avenue for the transmission of com-
modities and ideas.
It seems likely that contact between Ethiopia
and the pre-Islamic civilization in southern Arabia
began about the tenth century B. c. Although we
as yet lack archeological control of this period in
both regions, a number of historical considerations
warrant this inference. The first of these deals
with the relationship between the nameless Queen
of Sheba and King Solomon as recounted in 1
Kings 10. It has been pointed out elsewhere that
this visit was essentially an economic mission.2
The Queen of Sheba, who controlled the frankin-
cense and myrrh-producing areas, probably made
the trip in order to reach an agreement regarding
the distribution of these precious commodities
among the customers in the north. Since the
Levant seems to have been the focal point of
Arabian trade throughout the pre-Islamic periods,
and since Solomon was the leading land monarch
in the entire Near East in the tenth century B. C.,
it is natural that the Queen should seek agreement
with him. The fact that such a trip could success-
fully be made implies a considerable degree of
security over some 1500 miles of rugged and bar-
ren terrain. Effective security, in turn, presup-
poses a high level of social organization and a
strong government in southern Arabia. Certainly
a government that could mount an expedition of
this size, could at the same time colonize the much
closer Ethiopian plateau and exploit its resources.
Such colonization would explain the seeming con-
fusion in Genesis Chapter 10-" The table of Na-
tions "-which lists Sheba as a son of Cush on the
1
G. Caton Thompson, "The Evidence of South
Arabian Palaeoliths in the Question of Pleistocene Land
connection with Africa," Third Pan African Congress on
Prehistory (London, 1957), pp. 380-384.
2 G. W. Van Beek,
"
Frankincense and Myrrh," Jour-
nal of the American Oriental Society, LXXVIII (1958),
pp. 145 ff.
113
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114 VAN BEER: Monuments of Axum
one hand, and a son of Shem through Eber and
Joktan on the other. The attribution of Sheba to
both Ham and Shem may indicate that Sabaeans
lived in both Arabia and Africa at the same time.
If this document dates to the tenth century B. C.,
as has generally been supposed by Biblical schol-
ars,3 it would be good evidence of the expansion
of the South Arabian kingdom of Saba (Sheba) to
the Ethiopian plateau by that time. This in turn
suggests that the Ethiopian account in the Kebra
Nagast of the visit of Queen Makeda to the court
of Solomon may rest on long oral tradition and
contain a nucleus of historical fact: That Ethiopia
was inhabited by people from Saba who owed al-
legiance to the South Arabian queen.
In any case, it is clear that by the seventh cen-
tury B. C., South Arabian culture was firmly im-
planted in Ethiopia, so much so that for the next
several centuries many aspects of the material cul-
ture of Ethiopia and southern Arabia are virtually
identical. Let us cite a few examples. Perhaps
the outstanding example of borrowing is language.
Not only South Arabic itself, but also its script
and even its peculiar boustrophedon direction of
writing became firmly established in Ethiopia. It
should be noted here that boustrophedon writing
largely died out in South Arabia by the middle of
the fifth century B. C., clearly indicating that the
borrowing took place well before that time.
In material culture, there are also numerous
examples. A limestone statue of a seated woman
wearing a robe decorated with highly stylized ro-
settes was found at Makalle by French archeolo-
gists in 1954; 4this statue, which probably belongs
to the late 7th or early 6th century B. C., would be
equally at home in southern Arabia. Further,
there are a large number of similar incense burners
from both regions dating from about the middle
of the first millennium B. C., to about the first cen-
tury A. D. South Arabian incense burners of this
period are commonly square and are decorated
with recessed paneling or windows. On the more
elaborate models, four stages of recessing are
usually represented in combination with a band of
dentil-like projections, a louvered panel, and are
sometimes surmounted by yet another row of den-
til-like projections and a louvered panel
5
(PI. 1 a).
Incense burners of this type are also found in
Ethiopia" (P1. lb). Round incense burners or
altars also are a common link. Several were found
in South Arabia, some of which have parallel in-
cised vertical lines around the body and rest on
tripod legs
7
(P1. 1 c); two examples of a similar
form been found at Makalle 8 (P1. 1 d). There is
also a curious architectural member which was
perhaps used to border doorways and windows, and
which is common to both regions. This form con-
sists of a stone slab, dressed smooth on one face,
with two shallow parallel grooves running length-
wise of the slab, both of which are interrupted at
intervals by thin transverse dividers; examples of
this member abound in South Arabia, appearing in
pre-Islamic sites in Hadhramaut (PI. 1 e); Wadi
Beihan, and Yemen, as well as in Ethiopia near
Enda (erqos
9
(pl. 1 f). The ceramic traditions, on
the other hand, appear to have diverged consider-
ably, based on the rather limited material re-
covered to date. This probably reflects an increas-
ing tendency toward cultural divergence between
southern Arabia and the Ethiopian plateau. The
only commonly shared example as yet isolated is
sand tempered ware, which appears in a limited
repertory of forms. Examples of this ware are
found in South Arabia between the seventh or
sixth to the fourth or second centuries B. c. The
most common form is a jar with a narrow neck,
a flattened flaring rim, sometimes two or more
knobs placed on the shoulder, and a high ring base.
Examples of this ware are found in Tigre Prov-
ince, Ethiopia (PI. 1 g), in Yemen (PI. 1 h), at
3
W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity,
Anchor Books (Garden City, 1957), p. 251.
4
A. Caquot and A. J. Drewes, " Les Monuments Re-
cueillis a Maqalle (Tigrp) ,"' Annales d'Lthiopie, 1
(1955), pp. 18-26.
A. Grohmann, Gottersymbole und Symboltiere aufi
Siidarabischen Denkmdlern (Vienna, 1914), p. 39. See
also the writer's discussion in "A New Interpretation of
the So-called South Arabian House Model," American
.Jouirnal of Archaeology, 63 (1959), pp. 269-273, Pis.
69-76.
' Caquot and Drewes, op. cit., pp. 26-32.
7
R. L. Cleveland, An Ancient South Arabian Necropo-
lius, (Baltimore, 1965), pp. 115-117, PI. 90, especially TC
1217, 1565.
Caquot and Drewes, op. cit., pp. 39-41.
'See G. Caton Thompson, Tomb8 and Moon Temple of
I1 ureidha (Oxford, 1944), PI. 18: 1 and 21: 2 and pp. 50-51.
G. L. Harding, Archaeology in the Aden Protectorates,
P1. 33: 70, 74. J. Leclant, " Haoulti-Melazo (1955-1956),"
Autv ales d'tthiopie, III (1959), p. 54 and PI. 43: B & C.;
H. de Contenson, "Les Fouilles a Haoulti-Melazo en
1958," Anunales d'tthiopie, IV (1961), p. 40 and PI. 23:
D; C. Rathjens, Sabaeica, 1 (Hamburg, 1953), figs. 60,
109.
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-\T-N BEEX:
Monuments of Axum
1II)
Hajar Bin Humeid in Wadi Beihan, and at nu-
merous sites in Hadhramaut10 (PI. 1i). These
forms seem to indicate not a common ceramic cul-
ture, but rather trade between the two regions.
The virtual identity of the culture of Ethiopia
and southern Arabia in the first millennium B. C.
points to settlements by colonialists or immigrants
from southern Arabia, who brought with them an
already developed culture which they maintained in
Ethiopia, adapting it to local needs. As might be
expected, divergence between cultural traditions
took place in the course of time, a phenomenon
which can be shown to have existed elsewhere in
the ancient Near East, such as in Palestine where
there are microcultural differences between the
north and south, and again between Palestine
proper and Transjordan, although a basic culture
is common to the entire region.
From the first century A. D. until the coming of
Christianity in the fourth century A. D., Ethiopian
culture and South Arabian culture seemed to have
diverged considerably, although adequate evidence
for a certain judgment is lacking because of a
dearth of archeological excavations of this period.
It appears that each culture developed more or
less independently, suggesting that contact between
the two regions was declining. Perhaps this loss
of contact is in part due to the gradual decline in
the frankincense and myrrh trade which formed
the basis of South Arabian economy, and more
particularly of the role played by the southern
Arabian ports as trans-shipment points for com-
modities of both east and west. It seems probable
that with the loss of trade revenues, the South
Arabs turned their attention to more intensive
agricultural pursuits, and I am inclined to think,
based on little evidence at the moment, that terrace
agriculture began in the highlands of Yemen dur-
ing this period.
With the coming of Christianity to Ethiopia in
A. D. 327, relations between Ethiopia and southern
Arabia gradually intensified. The Ethiopians-or
Abyssinians-conquered Saba about A.D. 335 and
ruled until A. D. 370; during this period, Theophi-
los converted the Sabaean ruler to Christianity.
In the fifth century, the Sabaean rulers adopted
Judaism, and for some time it appears that traces
of the old South Arabian polytheism, Christianity,
and Judaism existed side by side, competing for
the loyalty of the population. In the
early sixth
century A. D., the Jewish ruler, Dhu-Nuwas, perse-
cuted the Christians and was responsible for their
massacre at al-Ukhdud in Negran. This act so
incensed the Ethiopians, that Kaleb and his army
crossed the Red Sea and, in A. D. 525, killed
Dhu-Nuwas. Ethiopian rule in Saba lasted until
about A.D. 575, when the area was conquered by
the Persians.
Because of a lack of archeological excavations
of this period, there is little evidence of Ethi-
opian-South Arabian contact in material culture.
One example will be cited. At Marib, the north
sluice of the great dam, which was constructed
between the fourth and sixth centuries A. D., is
built with headers protruding beyond the face of
the wall." This technique has no real construc-
tion antecedents in South Arabian architecture.
In Ethiopian architecture, on the other hand, the
ends of wooden joists frequently protruded beyond
the face of the building, and were often imitated
in stone.'2 In view of the fact that the Ethiopians
politically dominated the Sabaeans throughout
much of this period, it seems likely that they might
also be responsible for such architectural forms as
these protruding headers, and in a larger frame-
work, this technique should probably be interpreted
as cultural influence coming from Ethiopia to
southern Arabia.
In summary, then, the basic structure of ancient
Ethiopian culture of the historic period was South
Arabian, and throughout the first millennium B. C.
these separate cultures remained close to one
another and probably developed along close, paral-
lel lines. Toward the end of the period, it seems
likely that they began to diverge and develop along
separate and independent lines, a tendency which
was accentuated during the first three centuries
A. D. By the time Christianity reached Ethiopia,
Ethiopian culture had achieved a considerable
measure of independence, and with the vigor which
characterized its early Christian period, it may
have exported aspects of its own culture to
southern Arabia.
10
See the writer's detailed description and discussion
in his forthcoming volume Hajar Bin Humeid.
1{ R. LeBaron Bowen and F. P. Albright, Archaeologi-
cal Discoveries in South Arabia, (Baltimore, 1958), P1.
87, where protruding headers appear in the north face of
the overflow wall of the north sluice.
12 In addition to the stele (see below), early examples
include the church at Debra Damo, parts of which may
go back to the 6th century A. D., See D. Krencker, Deut-
sche Aksum-Expedition, II, (Berlin, 1913), PI. 25.
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116 VAN BByi: Monuments of Axum
THE STELAE AT AxUM
In April, 1964, on the invitation of His High-
ness Mengesha Seyoum,13 it was the writer's
privilege to make a brief visit to Axum. The most
surprising impression which I, as a South Arabian
archeologist, formed was that the archeological
remains at Axum have little that resemble the pre-
Islamic culture of southern Arabia; virtually
everything seen suggests the early Christian period.
For example the inscription of Ezana-who made
Christianity the state religion of Ethiopia in A. D.
327-is carved on gray granite, the same stone
used for the major stelae, as well as the column
and capital in the park, and in the construction
of portions of the tombs of Kaleb and his son
Gabra Maskal in the first half of the 6th cen-
tury A. D. Further, in the stelae field to the
west of the village of Axum, in an area which
until recently had been under cultivation, were
found many potsherds and steep scrapers. This
pottery is all of the early Christian period as
shown by crosses on bowl rims; it seems likely,
though by no means certain, that the steep scrapers
belong to a somewhat earlier period than the pot-
tery. On the high ground to the north of this stelae
field with its Christian pottery, are natural out-
croppings of rock on which are scrawled Christian
rock carvings including crosses, and crosses with
crowns. These and other lines of evidence lead to
the inescapable conclusion that Axum is chiefly a
creation of the Ethiopian Christian community.
This impression is borne out by the data re-
covered in the various archeological expeditions at
Axum. The first of these, the Deutsche Aksum Ex-
pedition of 1906, directed by D. Krencker, yielded
nothing definitely pre-Christian.14 The more
recent French excavations by Jean Leclant and
Henri de Contenson from 1955 to the present15
have shown that the area of the stelae and plat-
forms contains three periods of occupation: the
uppermost is a recent 17th century cemetery in-
truding into the lower remains; the second, an
intensive building phase dated by the excavators
to the 5th-8th centuries A. D.; the third, the earliest
occupation in the late third-early fourth century
A. D. at which time the excavators believe the stelae
were erected and the platforms constructed. The
chief dating evidence of this period are coins of
Ezana and other early rulers, some of whom were
pre-Christian. Coins of the pre-Christian rulers,
of course, may have been in circulation for some
time, and do not require a contemporary occupa-
tion of the area, although this is certainly possible.
It has been generally assumed that the monu-
mental stelae at Axum belong to pre-Christian
times, and more particularly to the period im-
mediately preceding the coming of Christianity.16
It has also been suggested that they derived from
both native Ethiopian and South Arabian archi-
tectural forms; 17 and that they represent a
" House of God, terminating in the firmament, in
which the Sabaean sun-god is supposed to re-
side," 18 or the various heavens of the gods whose
chief was the sun-god and whose symbol was fast-
ened to the uppermost surface of the stele; 'I or
that they functioned as grave-stones and memo-
rials.20 Let us examine the stelae in detail, con-
sidering their assumed connections with South
Arabian architectural motifs, as well as their prob-
able date and function.
The finely worked architectural monuments,
which are six in number, consist of two parts: a
stele, and a platform (PI. 2: a-d). The platform,
which normally enclosed the base of the stele on
three sides, may have functioned as some kind of
an altar. In all instances in which the platforms
13
The writer wishes to express here his gratitude to
His Highness for having made this visit possible, and for
local arrangements which greatly facilitated this survey.
14 D. Krencker, Deutsche Aksum-Expedition, II, (Ber-
lin, 1913).
1' J. Leclant, "Les Fouilles A Axoum en 1955-1956:
Rapport pr~1iminaire," Annales d'JKthiopie, III (1959),
pp. 3-24. H. de Contenson, "Les Fouilles a Axoum en
1957: Rapport preliminaire," ibid., pp. 25-42.
16E. A. W. Budge, A History of Ethiopia, II (Lon-
don), pp. 621-627, dated them between the Ptolemaic
period and Ezana. D. Krencker, op. cit., p. 30, assigned
them between the 1st and 4th centuries A. D. S. Pank-
hurst, Ethiopia: A Cultural History, (Essex, 1955), p.
62, assigns them to before A. D. 327. E. Ullendorff, The
Ethiopians, (London, 1960), p. 55, attributes them to
Ezana.
17 D. Krencker, op. cit., p. 16 and 30, correctly derives
the basic design and architectural form from earlier
Ethiopian construction. Ullendorff's suggestion (op. cit.,
p. 160) that the multistoried aspect is reminiscent of
the high and many storied buildings in southern Arabia
is most improbable. While the multistoried structure
is the most distinctive architectural feature in South
Arabia in modern times, we have absolutely no evidence
that such construction was used in the pre-Islamic
period.
18 J. T. Bent, The Sacred City of the Ethiopians, (Lon-
don, 1893), p. 185.
19 Budge, op. cit., p. 627.
20
Ullendorff, op. cit., p. 160.
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VAN BEEK: Monuments of Axum 1 17
have been finished, there is a series of four hollows,
sometimes plain, and sometimes elaborately worked
to resemble recessed bowls. Where there is a step
or secondary platform in front of the stele, one of
the hollows is located in that step. The platform
of the standing stele also has a great number of
small shallow holes, some of which are arranged in
lines and others in symmetrical groups. The fact
that none of the other platforms have holes of this
type suggests that these are a later addition and
may have been used for playing a game,21 simply
because this platform has been exposed. Around
the rim of this platform is a grapevine motif of a
type which appears in the Hellenistic world in the
first century in. c., achieves considerable popularity
in the early centuries A. D., and is adopted by
Islamic artists after the seventh century A. D. This
particular design can be paralleled in southern
Arabia; excellent examples of it occur on exposed
blocks at Husn el-Urr in lladhramaut,22 where it
probably belongs to the late first-third centuries
A. D. The use of this motif at Axum indicates that
the stelae cannot precede the first century B. C., and
in all probability belong after the first century A. D.
All authors who have addressed themselves to
the subject of the purpose of the platforms agree
that they functioned as sacrificial altars where
blood sacrifices were made, and where offerings of
wine, milk, and bread were placed.23 While it
seems likely that the bowls were intended for some
kind of libations, it is most improbable that they
were designed as sacrificial altars, since they are
entirely different from the known sacrificial altars
of the pre-Christian period in Ethiopia and the
pre-Islamic period in South Arabia, which are
furnished with a sloping drain spout, usually ter-
minating in the head of a bull.
The stelae themselves are granite monoliths; the
largest-which fell in antiquity perhaps while
being erected-is 110 ft. long, and the second
largest-which is still standing-is 70 ft. high
(P1. 2: a); none of the monumental stelae are
smaller than 40 ft. Immediately above the plat-
form, each stele has a false stone door, sometimes
equipped with a carved stone doorpull near the left
edge as one faces the door. Rarely is a door indi-
cated on the back side. Just beyond the door
jambs, and both above and below the level of the
door, are squared ends of beams rendered in stone.
Above the door and the beams, is a row of dentil-
like projections, but without the louvered panel
with which it is always associated in architectural
motifs from pre-Islamic South Arabia; this sug-
gests that a considerable period of independent
development occurred during which the purpose of
the original motif was forgotten, selectivity took
place, and the retained design element became
firmly established. It is interesting to note that
an identical door is found in the tomb of Gabra
MKaskal, son and successor of Kaleb, located a short
distance north of Axum.24 Since this tomb dates
to the sixth century A. D., the similarity of its
doorway with that represented on the stelae sug-
gests this architectural form is common to the
early Christian period of Ethiopia.
Above the doorway, the stelae are carved to
represent successive stories of a building, ranging
in number from three to twelve. Between each
story is a row of round projections which pre-
sumably represent round beams or logs which
served as ceiling joists. As noted above,25 the
method of construction imitated here has no ante-
cedents in southern Arabia; that it is Ethiopian in
origin can be assumed, but the absence of evidence
from pre-Christian times indicates that it is a com-
paratively late development. Each story is further
marked by a row of windows, covered with lattice
consisting of horizontal and vertical members.
These windows are exceptionally simple, altogether
lacking the complexity of the lattice window in
South Arabia as is found in the temple Haram
Bilqis at Marib.26 Further, none of the windows
on the stelae are crowned with the row of dentil-
like projections and the louvered panel which com-
monly appear both above lattice windows and in
recessed panelling in South Arabian examples
dating between the seventh and first centuries B. C.
21 J
owe this suggestion to a number of persons who
participated in the discussion of this paper at the Afri-
can Studies Association meeting. There is at least one
group of 18 hollows arranged in 3 rows of 6 hollows
each. Bent (op. cit., pp. 72 f.) calls attention to an
Ethiopian game called Gabatta', which requires a board
with 18 holes.
22
See Harding, Archaeology in the Aden Protectorates,
PI. 37: 1-3.
21 Budge, op. cit., p. 627. Bent (op. cit., p. 185)
speaks of the altars "receiving blood of slaughtered
victims."
24
For a good summary discussion of this structure,
see Pankhurst, op. cit., pp. 88-94, and P1. 14.
25
See note 12.
26
Bowen and Albright, Archaeological Discoveries
in
South Arabia, p. 223 and PIs. 162, 165, 166, and 168.
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118 VAN BEEK: Monuments of Axunt
If the windows on the stelae at Axum are related
to the recessed lattice windows of southern Arabia,
they must represent a late stage of development
which could hardly have occurred before the early
centuries of the Christian era. In the top three
stories of the largest of the stelae (the one which
fell and
broke),27 the windows are covered with a
kind of tracery which presumably imitates tracery
either in stone or plaster. While such tracery com-
monly occurs during the Islamic period in South
Arabia, the writer knows of no instances in pre-
Islamic Arabia. Indeed, the fact that tracery does
not appear before the beginning of the Christian
era in southern Arabia may be taken as an indica-
tion of the relatively late date of the stelae.
The stelae terminate in an arch-shaped top.
IBelow the arching rim on the face are one or two
flat surfaces with groups of cuttings for the attach-
ment of some kind of plaque or standard. It has
been suggested that the standard was the crescent
and disk, an exceptionally common symbol in the
pre-Christian and pre-Islamic periods in both
Ethiopia and southern Arabia.28 A careful exami-
nation of the arrangement of these holes in every
stele, however, shows that it would have been diffi-
cult if not impossible to fit a disk and crescent,
since some holes would have been left unfilled. On
the other hand, a cross, bordered by a circular or
arching band representing a crown, by a garland,
or by ears of grain in any of a number of combi-
nations and styles would fit the holes nicely (PI.
3: a-e).29 The designs used in these drawings are
based on motifs found on the early Christian coins
ranging from the reigns of Ezana to Hataz II,
from the 4th to the 9th centuries A. D.'0 In one
reconstruction (PI. 3: d), a gabled roof chest is
used, which is based on the so-called "unique"
stele at Axum, which must be roughly contempo-
rary with the other stelae. Pankhurst plausibly
suggests that the chest shown on the unique stele
may represent the Ark of the Covenant or a Torah
shrine in view of the Judaic influence in the
thought of the early Ethiopian Church.31
A number of lines of evidence, therefore, indi-
cate an early Christian date for the Axumite stelae.
The absence of a significant pre-Christian occupa-
tion at Axum, the divergent architectural motifs
represented on the stelae which have no counter-
part in southern Arabia, the similarity of the stelae
false door with that of the sixth century A. D. tomb
of Gabra Maskal, and the arrangement of the drill-
ings at the top of the stele for the attachment of an
Ethiopian cross, all point to a date for the stelae
in the early Christian period in Ethiopia, probably
between the fourth and sixth centuries A. D. The
ruder stelae, which are found in profusion in the
area of Axum and which are only rarely decorated,
possibly belong to about the same period, but there
is nothing to prevent them from being somewhat
earlier or later. The fact that the stele form is
known at Mlatara in Ethiopia as well as in southern
Arabia suggests that this pagan, pre-Islamic form
was taken over by the early Christians and infused
with a new meaning.
FUNCTION OF THE STELAB
If these stelae are indeed Christian monuments,
what was their purpose? Since they certainly
were not utilitarian, what symbolism did they por-
tray? With no great measure of confidence, the
writer suggests that they may have been a graphic
representation of the words of Jesus contained in
the Gospel of John 14: 2 ff: "In my Father's
house are many mansions, if it were not so I would
have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come
again, and will receive you unto myself; that
27
Krencker, op. cit., pp. 8-10, Pis. 8-10.
28Most scholars allude here to the plain stele from
Matara, which has a typical crescent and disk symbol,
(C. Conti Rossini, Storia d'Ttiopia, 1 [Milan, 1928], PI.
42: 127), together with pre-Christian Ethiopian coins
which carry the same symbol on the reverse. See
Krencker (op. cit., p. 142, fig. 276), who follows Litt-
mann, and A. Kammerer, Essad sur l'Histoire Antique
d'Abyssinie, (Paris, 1926), pp. 131 ff.
291Krencker's arguments (op. cit., pp. 12f.), that the
arrangement of the holes does not determine the shape
of the plaque, and that a cross was not used because the
stelae are pagan monuments have little force. Dowel
holes do provide a reasonably good indication of the
design, since they must provide adequate over all sup-
port, especially at points where the design is not con-
tinuous, as in the case of the arms of a cross or the
ends of a crescent. If a solid plaque with a relief design
had been used, fewer and more evenly spaced holes
would have been cut. With regard to his second argu-
ment, one can only say that Krencker is reasoning in a
circle, i. e., the monuments had a disk and crescent sym-
bol and are therefore pagan; since they are pagan, they
could not have used the cross, but must have employed
the disk and crescent.
30
See Arturo Anzani, " Corpus delle Monete Axumite,"
Revista Italiana di Numismatica e Scienze Affini, III:
39 (1926), PI. A-K. Conti Rossini, op. cit., PIS. 60 f.
81
Pankhurst, op. cit., pp. 76-80 and PIS. 10-11.
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VAN B1EK:
Monuments
of Axum
119
Ia Hwle
I b
Ic
Id
19
I h
< 1 A m S 1 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~If
YEHA MARIB
WADI DUAN
0 5 10 15 20
Cm.
P1. I
a. South Arabian incense burner (after Grohmann).
b. Ethiopian incense burner from Makalle, Tigre Province (after Caquot and Drewes).
c. South Arabian incense burner or altar from Hureidha, Hadhramaut (after Caton Thompson, The
Tombs and Moon Temple of Hureidha, PI. 57: 1).
d. Ethiopian incense burner or altar from Makalle (after Caquot and Drewes).
e. South Arabian grooved architectural fragment from Hureidha (after Caton Thompson).
f. Ethiopian grooved architectural fragment from near Enda ?erqos (after Leclant).
,-. Sand tempere(l 4herds from Ethiopia, Yemen, and Hadhramaut.
Diverse Scdles.
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120 VAN BEEK: Monuments of Axum
rN~~~~~~~~~~
b d~~~~~~~~~~~~-
RXK~~~~~~~~~~~I 1111W
i~ ~ ~ ~ I _2 _n :I. .'
'~~~d Fou of th mouetl seefro Axu
(atrKece
DDE OD Ss.
1tC~~~~~~ C d S
mx~~~~1 2:
L~~~.d Fou of th mouena stle fromAu (ater reckr)
= :~~~~~~~~~~~ies Scales.- i3
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VAN BEmX: Monuments of Axum 121
II~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~P
g g
b~~~~~~~~~
lot
I.,~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~0
a~~~~~~~~~~~
I%.,J~ .-e Posil fom of plaue fofte
oiverse Scales.
'4,~~~~~4
@117~~~~~~~~~~~~~
b0
d
I -' r~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
e
Pl. 3:
a.-e. Possible forms of plaques for stele.
Diverse Scales.
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122 VAN BFXK: Monuments of Axum
where I am there ye may be also." The house-like
character of the stelae is clear: there is a repre-
sentation of a door at the bottom; above the door
are successive stories ranging in number from
three to twelve, which suggest an apartmenthouse-
like structure. Such a structure can indeed be
viewed as a house containing many apartments or
mansions, surmounted by a cross-perhaps of gold,
silver or bronze-symbolizing the identification of
the inhabitants with a victorious Lord. The bowl-
like holes in the platform at the base of the stelae
may have served for some kinds of libations,
baptism, or possibly even communion, although an
explanation for their number and arrangement
remains a mystery.
It is certain, however, that these monuments are
products of the early Christian community in
Ethiopia. Perhaps a fresh examination of the
early traditions and practices of the church will
lead to a still better understanding of their role in
that vital movement.
THE TRANSLITERATION OF OTTOMAN TURKISH FOR LIBRARY
AND GENERAL PURPOSES'
ELEAZAR BIRNBAUM
UlNIVErSITY oF TORONTO
IN 1958 THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS and the
American Library Association jointly approved a
transliteration scheme for Arabic,2 to be used in
North American library cataloging, and in 1963
a parallel scheme for Persian3 was published by
the same bodies. Both were the results of pro-
tracted labors by committees of librarians and
scholars. The rapidly increasing number of
libraries building up collections in Arabic and
Persian and the variety of differing transliteration
practices made it essential to agree on a system
suitable for the use of large general libraries.
This implied not merely a table of the translitera-
tion to be followed, but also detailed rules for their
application. However, the transliteration schemes
for Arabic and Persian adopted by those organiza-
tions embodied and systematized much of the
common practice of scholars working in these
fields, and they can be, and in fact are being, used
for many purposes in addition to library catalog-
ing-for example, in citations from. Oriental
works, references to Islamic historical and politi-
cal personalities and institutions which appear in
western language books and articles, and so on.
The only major language of the Near Eastern
Islamic world still not provided with a translitera-
tion scheme approved by the American Library
Association and the Library of Congress remains
Ottoman Turkish. Yet this is the very one which
is the most difficult of the three to transliterate,
and, therefore, needs a scheme no less than the
other two. It was the literary vehicle of one of
the world's greatest empires, which was for much
of the last seven hundred years the mightiest of
Muslim powers, in constant and increasing con-
tact, friendly and otherwise, with the powers of
Europe: an empire which was literate (and ex-
tensively so) in the three greatest literary lan-
guages of the Islamic world.
As the western world now takes an increasing
interest in the languages, literatures, history and
culture of the Near East, whether for their own
sakes or because of their interaction with the
western world, a growing volume of books con-
cerning the area pours from the presses and into
the libraries. Periodicals, whether orientalist,
specialized or general, contain more and more
articles about the Ottoman period in Eastern and
'This article is an expanded form of a paper read
at the 173rd Annual Meeting of the American Oriental
Society, Washington, March 28, 1963, to introduce the
Ottoman Turkish Transliteration Scheme printed below,
with minor revisions made since that time.
2 First published in: Library of Congress, Processing
Dept., Cataloging Service, Bulletin 49. Washington,
jNovember 1958. Reprinted in Cataloging Rules of the
American Library Association and the Library of Con-
gress. Additions and changes, 1949-1958. Washington,
Library of Congress, 1959. pp. 38-45.
8 Library of Congress, Processing Dept., Cataloguing
Service, Bulletin 59, Washington, July 1963.
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