Northern Africa 100: Empire of Aksum
Traditionally Jewish since the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the East African state of Aksum emerged as an empire in c.100 AD under the negus Za Haqala. Obscure for much of the second century, Aksum would expand in the third century to gain recognition as one of the great empires of the ancient world.
85?–86? AD Septimius Flaccus expedition▲
According to the Greek-speaking geographer Marinus of Tyre, a Roman military expedition under Septimius Flaccus set out from Leptis Magna in Roman Africa to the Saharan city of Garama, capital of the Garamantes. Traveling directly south from here for three months, Flaccus passed into the Aethiopian land of Agisymba, purportedly reaching 24° south of the equator (as far as northern South Africa!). Little else is known of this extraordinary expedition—if it really happened—but some have identified the otherwise unknown Septimius Flaccus with the Suellius Flaccus who defeated the Nasamones in c.85 AD.
90? AD Julius Maternus expedition▲
In around 90 AD Julius Maternus, believed to be a trader or diplomat, traveled from Leptis Magna in Roman Africa to the land of the Garmantes. From here he accompanied the king of the Garamantes in a military campaign against Agisymba, a mountainous land four months journey away where many rhinoceros lived (Maternus may have opened up a trade in these beasts, which began appearing on coins minted by Emperor Domitian in 91 AD). Many historians identify Agisymba with northern Chad, which may still have harbored rhinoceros in the 1st century.
100? AD Empire of Aksum▲
Beginning as a trading center between the Red Sea and the Ethiopian highlands, the city of Axum established itself as the capital of the Empire of Aksum in around 100 AD. At this date the first recorded Aksumite negus, Za Haqala—identified by some as Zoskales, the ruler of Adulis in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea—began his reign, although little information exists about the empire until the third century. Tradition holds that Aksum had been Jewish since the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (c.960 BC).