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Les bâtisseurs sur les deux rives de la mer Rouge

Jean-François Breton


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1In the kingdom of Axum, archaeologists have so far not uncovered any remains of nonreligious buildings similar to those in late South Arabia. Indeed, the successive excavations have hardly been oriented to the great public buildings of the capital with the exception of the Deutsche-Aksum Expedition of 1906-1907. A variety of reasons can of course be offered to explain this lack of attention: ancient destruction of such buildings, expansion of the modern city, disappearance of the wooden elements due to humidity, etc. Nor have archaeologists and architects, with the exception of D. Buxton and D. Matthews, given much priority to a precise reconstruction of the villae and palaces. But it seems most unlikely that any buildings with porticoes like those of the royal palace at Shabwa will ever be found at Axum.

  • 1 Phillipson 2000??

2One reason for this pessimism undoubtedly inheres in an asymmetry regarding the degree of foreign architectural and artistic influences on South Arabia vs Axum. While a number of South Arabian royal courts bear witness to profound influence from the Orient, the Axumite court seems to have been much more resistant. The reasons can hardly be geographic since trade in the Red Sea concerns both of its sides; nor economic, since the level of prosperity at Axum was roughly equivalent to that of Himyar. It would seem therefore that we must appeal to ideological or social factors: a greater degree of resistance to the “fashion of the day” in the Hellenistic Greco-Roman world from the 1st-4th centuries AD. Among these “fashions” could be mentioned the total absence of wall paintings in the art of the Axumite court, which were very common in the Hellenistic world. And yet the Axumite court did import oriental glass, ivory, and ceramic, and undoubtedly also textiles, embroidery, and luxury products. Exceptionally, it countenanced the representation of a human figure (a bearded man, or a Medusa) at the top of one (or more) of the stelae which dominated the city1 (fig. 8.19). In the final analysis, oriental Hellenism, which was so pervasive in the provinces of the late Roman Empire, seems to have made only minimal inroads into the Axumite world. And the Axumite inscriptions themselves are hardly informative about the fashions and practices at the court.


1 Phillipson 2000??

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2015

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