Accessing Yemen’s Historical Importance and Possible Future Role – past traits predestine future’s potentialities:Yemen’s great past and future (2-2) [Archives:2004/747/Culture]
By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis For the Yemen Times
Abyssinia and/or Ethiopia?
In this regard, it is essential to stress the point that the use of the name 'Ethiopia' by the 19th and 20th century royal authorities of Abyssinia is completely false, and does not stand any serious scholarly and academic argumentation. Ethiopia is NOT Abyssinia; Ethiopia in Ancient Greek means 'the country of the black-face people' (Aithiops), and from the first moment it was in use (possibly already in the 2nd millennium BCE in the Mycenaean language of Linear B writing 'ai-ti-o-qo') it meant the country and the people next to the southern border of Egypt, which is Sudan (the various forms of state organization that existed there, namely the Kerma state at the middle of the 2nd millennium, Kush at the first half of the 1st millennium, and Meroe at the 2nd half of the first millennium BCE, as well as during the first four centuries of the 1st millennium CE). Ethiopia in Ancient Greek meant Sudan, and the famous work 'Aithiopika' of Heliodorus refers to 'the Table of the Sun' and other monuments of Meroe, today nearby Bagrawiyah /Atbara in Sudan).
It is certain that the use of the term 'Ethiopia' by Axumite Abyssinia (the first Christian state in Africa) bears a kind of historical justification, since it hints at the victory of the Axumite Negus (king) Ezana over Meroe, and at the annexation of Meroe (around 370 CE) to Axum. It refers to the Biblical verse that Aithiopia will extend its hand to the Lord, and by this 'argument' the Axumite diplomacy was justifying during the middle ages the christening of Abyssinia! However, one must bear in mind that what stands in the Greek text as Aithiopia corresponds to 'Kush' in the Hebrew Biblical text, and Kush is never Aithiopia!
The modern use of the term is all due to colonial powers' infiltration and policies aiming at disabling Sudan from attempting to establish a coherent national history. If there is one country to be called today 'Ethiopia', it's rather Sudan (again in Arabic, Bilad as-Sudan it means what was meant in Greek, the land of the black-face people), NOT Abyssinia.
All this may look 'far' from Yemen, but today's Yemenites must bear in mind that King Ezana of Axum, by speaking Gueze, was truly speaking a Yemenite dialect, and was writing Yemenite-like characters.
Yemenite presence and suzerainty over the Horn of Africa area, according to the text of the Periplus of the Red Sea (Periplus Maris Erythraei) – 1st century CE.
This very important text that brought about an unbelievable quantity of modern academic publications, and fascinated numerous scholars and research fellows allover the world was written by an Egyptian merchant and sailor of Alexandria, who lived in the 2nd half of the 1st century CE, during the reign of Malichus II of the small Aramaic kingdom of Rekem / Petra, or – to put it in Western terms – during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. The anonymous author left us with a uniquely rich text, although relatively brief (its 66 paragraphs can be accommodated in about 24 pages in English), which is full of information about the meteorological conditions, the commercial details, the navigational habitudes, the political and the geographical situation in all the area around the then called Red Sea, namely the entire area of the Indian Ocean, from the East Africa coast to Indochina and Indonesia, plus what we call today the Red Sea (in the Antiquity: 'Arabic Gulf') and Persian Gulf.
Being a kind of 'Instructions to Seafarers', the text drives the reader from the area of Arsinoe (Suez) and Berenice (Ras Banas) in Egypt, to the location of Rhapta (Pemba and Zanzibar islands, and Dar es Salam in Tanzania); further on, following the then usual navigation lines, the text drives the reader again from the area of Arsinoe (Suez), through the western Sinai coast and the coast of Hedjaz, to Yemen, Oman, and further on the entire round trip in the Persian Gulf area, then through the coast of Pakistan and the Delta of Indus river to the western coast of India, and to Palaisimundu / Taprobane / Sri Lanka, and further on to the eastern coast of India, to Indochina and China, with all the topographical references becoming very scarce and vague beyond the Ganges delta area.
Sailing south along the East African coast, the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea mentions successive harbours and ports of call: Myos Hormos (al Ghardaq or Hurghada) and Berenice in Egypt, then Ptolemais Theron (Suakin) in Sudan, Adulis (nearby Massawa) and Avalites (Assab) in Eritrea, then – in the Northern Somali coast – Malao, Mundu, Mosyllon, Neoptolemaeus, Tabatege, Cape Elephas, Cape Aromaton (the 'Cape of the Perfumes' was the ancient Greek name for Cape Guardafui, the promontory at the very end of the Horn of Africa), only to continue throughout the Eastern Somali coast through Tabai, Opone, Apocopa, Aigialos, Sarapion pastureland, Nicon pastureland, the Pyralaon Islands and Dioryhos ('straits'), Menouthias and Rhapta, the furthermost port of call in the south, the last place known to the author of the text.
It is essential to note that the political administration of the entire East African coast is very clear to the mind of the anonymous author. The Roman Empire – through its Praefectus Aegypti – controls the Egyptian ports of call Arsinoe,
Myos Hormos and Berenice, as well as Ptolemais Theron (Suakin) in Sudan. The impression is given that this was a Ptolemaic colony serving the hunting purposes of Ptolemaic Egypt. Although a strong inland kingdom, Meroe did not exercise a control over the Red Sea coast.
It is impressive that the Sudanese Nile state was at times in conflict with Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt regarding areas of the Dodekaschoenus or the Triakontaschoenus (both being at the south of Syene / Aswan, the former being 12 schoenoi long, and the latter being 30 schoenoi long, reaching the area of the Second Cataract and Wadi Halfa) that are in a distance of 1300 – 1600 km from Bagrawiyah, the area of the Meroitic capital where dozens of pyramids are still preserved until today, but did not bother to control the Red Sea coast that is much closer to Meroe, Mussawarat as Sufra, Wad ben Naqa, Basa and Naqa, the main centers of Meroitic power nearby the Nile and/or in the vast Butana area between the Blue Nile, the Nile and its main affluent river Atbara (250 to 300 km)!
In the immediate south of Meroe and Ptolemais Theron ('Ptolemais of the Hunting'), in the area of today's Eritrea and Abyssinia, the situation is quite reverse. According to the Periplus of the Red Sea, Zoscales of Axum (today in Abyssinia) rules not only in the mountainous Abyssinian inland but also in the coast, where two harbours and ports of call are mentioned: Adulis (nearby Massawa) and Avalites (Assab). Adulis was probably by that time the largest commercial center in the entire Red Sea from Suez to Bab el Mandeb, and belonged to the Axumite King Zoscales, who was fluent in Greek, and could be reached in his palace at Axumites (Axum) after an eight days travel inland from Adulis through Koloe.
Proceeding further to the south, the author of the text names seventeen toponyms but only two political entities; from the point where the control of the Abyssinian king Zoscales ends starts 'the Other Berberia', which corresponds to the Northern Somalia up to the Horn of Africa. In this regard, it is useful to bear in mind that 'Berberia' is called by the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea the area in the south of Berenice (end of the Egyptian Red Sea coast), and in the north of Adulis (beginning of the Axumitic Red Sea coast), which corresponds to the area around Ptolemais Theron, today's Sudanese Red Sea coast. All toponyms from Malao to Cape Aromaton (Cape of Perfumes) belong to 'the Other Berberia'. One should also stress in this regard that Berberia as toponym should not be confused with the adjective 'barbaric'.
Beyond Akroterion Aromaton (Horn of Africa), from Tabai and Opone down to Rhapta, the entire land is called Azania; the appellation encompasses today's eastern coast of Somalia, as well as the coast of Kenya and Tanzania. Azania is the oldest name used collectively for this entire area (approx. 3000 km long!), and the only collective appellation throughout history. Of course, one may refer to the Ancient Egyptian term 'Punt', target-area of the homonymous pharaonic expedition undertaken by Nehesi, the admiral to Pharaoh Hatshepsout. But that term signified a small kingdom the extent of which we cannot perceive accurately through the hieroglyphic text of the Deir al Bahari mortuary temple of Hatshepsout (Thebes – West, Luqsor). The term Punt however presents similarities to the later Ancient Greek term 'Opone', since -t and -e are respectively Egyptian and Greek endings of feminine names and/or toponyms.
What makes a striking impression is the explicit reference of the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea to the fact that the entire vast area of Azania, according to an ancient law, belonged to the (Yemenite) ruler ('tyrannos') of Mofar, and that the earliest state formation that was developed here was due to Yemenites of the Mofar and Muza region. Because of this, the texts states the rights accorded to the merchants of Muza by the Yemenite king ('basileus'). More than just political control and commercial presence, the text (precisely in paragraph 16) testifies to high level Yemenite colonial practices:
“Furthermore, they (Yemenites from Muza and Mofar) send here (Azania, East Africa coast) merchant fleet manned by Yemenite captains and sailors, who thanks to their mixed marriages with indigenous women, as well as to their familiarization with the entire area, know very well the local dialect and the traditions”.
In addition, the text offers valuable information about the trade exchanged between Yemen and its African colony, Azania. Yemenites were exporting military artifacts and other crafts to the African coast of Azania, and they were also sending wheat and wine as gifts to the local tribal leaders (paragraph 17) in a diplomatic effort to keep their colonial rule stabilized and unchallenged.
Who were the Yemenites who controlled Eastern Africa?
Except the aforementioned excerpts, the Periplus of the Red Sea refers to Yemen itself, while describing the second navigational line, from Arsinoe (Suez) alongside the Sinai and the Hedjaz coasts. Since there was no other significant port of call except Leuke Kome (at the northern part of the peninsula's coast), and the fish – eating barbaric inhabitants of the Hedjaz coast were always a threat, ships were rather sailing in some distance from the coast. They were reaching again the civilized world only at Muza. This is the most important port of call at the eastern shore of the Red Sea. Mentioned already for its extensive trade with Avalites (Assab) at the opposite coast of Eritrea (in paragraph 7), Muza is presented within its entire Yemenite environment in paragraphs 21 – 25 of the text of Periplus of the Red Sea. Muza is identified with the famous al Mokha of the Islamic times. Muza is described as harbour to Save, the capital of the Mafar province, an inland city at three days' trip distance, where Holaibos rules. The author of the text goes on adding that after another nine days inland trip one reaches Safar, the capital of king Haribael, who joined under his scepter the two “nations” ('ethni' in Greek) of Sabaeans ('Sabaeitai') and Himyarites ('Homeritai').
The Periplus of the Red Sea presents extensive details about Yemen, and it may be an interesting reading of general culture for Europeans and other people allover the world. But for the Yemenites, the Periplus of the Red Sea consists in a kind of National Covenant that testifies to a moment of great expansion and major achievements. Although written by a non-Yemenite, the text bears witness to the first colonial era in the area of the Indian Ocean, to the commercial, maritime, cultural, scientific and technical prowess of the ancient Yemenites.
Studying more carefully and analyzing in depth the aforementioned excerpts, we are able to understand where a great awaits expects Yemen, where the country must focus, where the best possibilities for Yemenite development can be found. The area of the Horn of Africa has always been of particular importance; it must not be conceived in terms of geographical narrowness, and limited to the unfortunate Somali fragmentation.
The Horn of Africa area is a very large part of Eastern Africa, plus Yemen: a vast area that evolves around the historical Cape of the Perfumes. From Sudan to Mozambique, and from Abyssinia to Madagascar, a great number of interacting partners encompass Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania as well. By now, lack of development, poverty, multi-division, as well as diseases tend to be endemic. If we see the entire area within a wider spectrum, we will find it oscillating between South Africa, India and the oil-rich but economically uni-dimensional Gulf states. But there is no need for anyone to accept a 'fate'; actually, the only fate for all of us is that there is no fate. Why should Mozambique become an economic dependence of South Africa? Why should Yemen rely on the Gulf States? And why should India be left as the only ideal place for outsourcing information technology?
The Countries of the Horn of Africa consist of a large market of 240 million people with a GDP smaller than that of 10 million in Greece (just US$ 220 billion)! At this level of poverty and under-development, a quantitative approach does not matter. It makes no difference that Sudan with almost double the population of Yemen has more than three times the GDP of Yemen. The proof for this evaluation is already given by the recent political developments; the fact that Sudan is 'richer' than Yemen did not ensure a sense of national unity for the largest African country.
Among the ten countries that evolve around the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, Abyssinia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, the real leader will make the difference at the qualitative level. This involves mainly a regional vision for regional peace, concord, progress, development, knowledge and prosperity. A vision that can emanate from Yemen, that would bring forth a fresh common perspective for the entire regional population, and that would match the great historical past with modern ideals and practices. The cultural exchanges that took place in Azania 2000 years ago, as testified by the Periplus of the Red Sea, show the way towards a multi-cultural Union of the Horn of Africa Countries.