Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9.: THE AXUMITES AND HIMYARITES — ( P. 230 sqq. ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 7
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9.: THE AXUMITES AND HIMYARITES — ( P. 230 sqq. ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 7 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 7.
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THE AXUMITES AND HIMYARITES — (P. 230sqq.)
The affairs of the kingdom of the Himyarites or Homerites of Yemen (Arabia Felix) always demanded the attention of the Roman sovrans, as the Himyarites had in their hands most of the carrying trade between the Empire and India. This people carried their civilisation to Abyssinia, on the other side of the Red Sea. The capital of the Abyssinian state was Axum, and hence it was known as the kingdom of the Axumites. Our first notice of this state is probably to be found in the Periplus of the Red Sea, which was composed by a merchant in the reign of Vespasian. (Best edition of this work by Fabricius, 1880.) There a King Zoskales is mentioned, and it is almost certain that an inscription which Cosmas Indicopleustes copied at Adulis (C.I.G. 5127 B) refers to him. (See D. H. Müller, Denkschriften of the Vienna Acad., xliii., 1894. In the fourth century we find that the king of Axum has reduced the Homerites under his sway; see C.I.G. 5128, βασιλεὺς Ἀξωμιτω̂ν καὶ Ὁμηριτω̂ν. This does not mean that both nations had only one king; it means that the king of the Homerites acknowledged the overlordship of his more powerful neighbour.
At the same time Christianity was beginning to make its way in these regions. Originally both Axumites and Homerites were votaries of the old Sabaean religion. Then the Jewish diaspora had led to the settlement of Jews in Central Arabia — in the region between the Nabataean kingdom (which reached as far as Leukê Kômê) and Yemen, — and the result was that Judaism took root in the kingdom of the Homerites. The mission of Frumentius to Abyssinia about the middle of the fourth century has been mentioned by Gibbon in a former chapter; the foundations of the Ethiopian Church were laid; but the king himself did not embrace the new doctrine. The name of the king of Axum at that time (c. 346-356 ) was Aizan, and he was a pagan (C.I.G. 5128). The conversion of the Homerites was also begun under the auspices of the Emperor Constantius. The missionary was Theophlius, either a Homerite or an Axumite by birth,1 who had been sent as a hostage to the court of Constantine. The Homerite king, though he had not adopted Christianity, built three Christian churches at his own expense and permitted his subjects to be converted if they wished. It was not till much later, in the reign of Anastasius, that Christianity began to spread, and a bishopric was founded (Theodorus Lector, 2, 58). The progress of the Christian faith advanced at least equally in Axum. It has been supposed (though hardly with good reason) that it was before the end of the fifth century that the king (or “negus”) of Abyssinia was converted.2
In the reign of Justin, a Homerite prince named Dhû-Novas (Gibbon’s Dunaan) threw off the Axumite yoke, restored the dominance of the Jewish religion, and massacred Christians at Nejrān. The king sent an embassy to Al-Mundir, the chief of the Saracens of Hira, to announce his success against Axum and Christianity. The message happened to come at a moment when envoys of the Emperor Justin had arrived on business to Al-Mundir (Jan. 20, 524). The news of the massacre, which was soon carried to Syria, created a great sensation, and John Psaltes (abbot of a monastery near the Syrian Chalcis) wrote a hymn in honour of the martyrs. (Published by Schröter, Ztsch. der morgenl. Gesellschaft, 31. There is also extant a letter of one Simeon Beth-Arsam, on the massacre: Syriac text with Italian translation, by J. Guidi, in the Memoirs of the Academia dei Lincei, 1880-1. It is also possible, as M. Duchesne thinks, that the Martyrium Arethae, Acta Sanctorum, Oct. x., was drawn up by a contemporary.) On the intervention of Justin, the king of the Axumites, Elesbaas or Chaleb,3 reconquered Yemen, overthrew Dhû-Novas, and set up Esimphaeus in his stead.4 But the revolt of a Christian named Abramos soon demanded a second intervention on the part of Elesbaas. This time the negus was unlucky. One Abyssinian army deserted to the rebel, and a second was destroyed. Abramos remained in power, and after the death of Elesbaas recognised the overlordship of his successor.
The embassy of Nonnosus to Elesbaas probably took place in the year 530.5 In the year 542-3 we find, according to Theophanes (p. 223, ed. de Boor), Adad, king of the Axumites, and Damian, king of the Homerites. Damian put to death Roman merchants who entered Yemen, on the ground that they injured his Jewish subjects. This policy injured the trade between Abyssinia and the Empire, and Adad and Damian fell out. Then Adad, who was still a heathen, swore that, if he conquered the Homerites, he would become a Christian. He was victorious and kept his vow, and sent to Justinian for a bishop. A man named John was sent from Alexandria.
This notice of Theophanes was derived from John Malalas, who however apparently placed it in the first year of Justinian ( 527-8). This date cannot be right, as Elesbaas was king of the Axumites in that year. M. Duchesne thinks that the episode of Adad (who in Malalas is called Andan) and Damian (Dimnos, in Malalas, more correctly) was anterior to the reign of Elesbaas. This may seem a hazardous conjecture. There is no reason why a successor of Elesbaas (whether his son or not) must needs have been a Christian; and it is hard to believe that Theophanes acted purely arbitrarily in placing under the year 542-3 an event which he found in Malalas under 527-8.6 It must be observed that Malalas was not the only source of Theophanes. On the other hand Ibn Ishāq (apud Tabari; Nöldeke, p. 219) gives a succession of kings of Yemen which leaves no room for Damian. The succession is Abraha, Yaksūm, Masrūq (who is supposed to be the same as Sanaturkes in Theophanes of Byzantium; which seems doubtful; for Sana in this name seems to correspond to the Homerite town Sana). Ibn Ishāq assigns an impossible number of years to these kings; and I doubt whether his statements are absolutely decisive as against Theophanes.7
It is another question whether, as Gutschmid and Nöldeke have suggested, Malalas and Theophanes and John of Ephesus (who has the same story) have interchanged the names of the Axumite and Homerite kings (see Nöldeke, Tabari, p. 175). The reason is that on the obverse of some coins Διμηάν appears as the heathen king of the Axumites; while on the reverse Ἀϕίδας is represented as the vassal king of the Homerites. (Revue Numismat. 1868, t. ii. 1, 2.) This conjecture seems highly probable. In any case the form Diméan explains the Greek variants Δίμνος and Δαμιανός.8
The Persian invasion of Yemen took place between 562 and 572 (cp. Nöldeke, p. 224), and formed one of the causes of the war between Justin and Chosroes. Arethas was at this time king of the Axumites, and Justin sent an ambassador named Julian to him, urging him to hostilities against Persia. In noticing this embassy (sub anno 571-2 — a.m. 6064) Theophanes has borrowed the account that is given by Malalas of the reception of the ambassador Nonnosus by Elesbaas; and hence he is always supposed to refer to the same embassy and to have misdated it. But the substitution of the new names (Arethas for Elesbaas, and Julianus for the ambassador whom Malalas does not name) refutes this opinion.
In this note I have derived much help from the valuable article of M.l’abbé Duchesne, Missions chrétiennes au sud de l’empire romain, which is included in his Eglises Séparées, 1896. Here will be found also an account of the conversions of the Blemmyes and the Nobadae of Upper Egypt.
[1 ]He was a native of the isle of Dibûs. Various suggestions have been made as to the identity of this island. M. Duchesne thinks it was one of the little islands off the coast of Abyssinia.
[2 ]This involves the hypothesis that the story of the victory of the Axumite king Andan (or Adad) over the Homerite king Dimnos (or Damianus) is not to be assigned to 527-8, in which year Malalas who records the story (ed. Bonn, p. 433-4) appears to place it. Theophanes, who takes the notice from Malalas, places it however still later, in 542-3 (a.m. 6035). Andan swore that he would become a Christian, if he were successful against the Homerites, and he kept his vow.
[3 ]Elesbaâs, Nonnosus, Theophanes; Elesbóas, Oxford MS. of Malálas; Ellisthaeus, Procopius; Ellaizbaao, Cosmas. Ludolf gives the Ethiopian original as Ela Atzbeha.
[4 ]For these events the Martyrium Arethae and Procopius, B.P. i. 20, are the chief sources. Theophanes briefly mentions the episode under the right year, 523-4. Procopius gives the name of the new prince or viceroy Esimphaeus, and records the revolt of Abramos. At the end of the Martyr. Arethae Elesbaas is represented as investing Abramos with the kingship; but this part is not contained in the Armenian version of the Martyrium, and it is therefore safer to follow Procopius. (Cp. Duchesne, p. 326, 328.) Malalas (p. 457, ed. Bonn) gives Anganes as the name of the king of the Homerites who was set up by Elesbaas. The form Esimphaeus represents Ἁσσινβαχά, which is found on a coin (Rev. Numism. 1868, ii. 3). See further the account of Ibn Ishāq (Nöldeke, Tabari, 107 sqq.).
[5 ]We know from Nonnosus himself (ap. Phot. Bibl. Cod. 3 = Müller, iv. p. 179) that he was sent to Elesbaas; and it seems justifiable to identify this embassy with that described by Malalas (p. 457). From the previous dates in Malalas, it seems probable that the year was 530. The date 533 (given by Gibbon, Müller, &c.) is too late; for the mission must have been previous to the conclusion of the peace.
[6 ]The motive of Malalas was to group it with other conversions of heathen kings.
[7 ]It is to be observed that the expedition of Abraha against Mecca, being mentioned by Procopius, B.P. i. 20 (see Nöldeke, p. 205), was earlier than 545; so that Abraha might conceivably have been dead before 542; and another ruler might have intervened between him and Yaksum (Ἰαξωμί).
[8 ]This variation seems in itself to prove that Theophanes had before him another source.