Axum was the name of a town and a kingdom that is basically modern northern Ethiopia. Research shows that from the 1st to the 7th centuries C.E., Axum was a significant naval and trade force. It had a tremendous effect as a civilization on the inhabitants of Egypt, Southern Arabia, Europe and Asia, many of whom were tourists to their shores and, in some instances, citizens.
At its height in the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., Axum established a culture and empire whose influence spread across the regions lying south of the Roman Empire, from the borders of the Sahara in the west, through the Red Sea to the inner Arab desert in the east. The Axumites created the only indigenous written script from Africa, Ge’ez. Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean and Arabia traded with them.
A Persian writer described it as one of the four greatest powers in the world at that time, considering its strength and prestige. Very little is known about Aksum. There were written scripts, but no stories or explanations were found to make this culture of Africa come alive.
Aksum presents a counterpoint to the Greek and Roman worlds and is an fascinating example of the flourishing of a sub-Saharan civilization towards the end of the great empires of the Mediterranean period. It provides a connection between the Mediterranean and Asian trading systems and demonstrates the scale of international trade at that time. It retains the mystery of being a “lost” culture, but with its own script and coinage and an international reputation, one that was African, Christian. It was as advanced as the Western European societies of the time, arguably.
With a king at the top, then nobles, and the general public below, the culture was hierarchical. The buildings that have been identified, and the wealth of the products found in them, will discern this. While Aksum wrote, very little has been learned from inscriptions about society.
It can be presumed that, because of the money they would have made, priests were important, and possibly traders, too. It was possible that most of the poor were craftsmen or farmers. The ruler is identified as the “King of Kings” in some descriptions, which may indicate that there were other junior kings in outlying parts of the empire that eventually took over the Aksumites.