Ethiopia Religion – Historical Outline

By | December 17, 2021

Religion of Abyssinia in the middle of the century. IV. – Christianity was introduced in Abyssinia around 330-350 of the Common Era. The vast majority of the residents of the country were then formed by a branch of the Cushitic race, the Agau, who probably had assimilated the very ancient natives of the Negro race. Of the Agau we know what the religion was at the beginning of the century. XVII; and if, as it is reasonable to suppose in a primitive religion, it was also such in the century. VI, it consisted of a crude animism; the Agau venerated beneficial or evil spirits and genes according to the places or objects where it was believed that they lived; benefits if near springs or large trees, evil or “zār” if near unclean waters or unhealthy places or the like. But above all they worshiped, like the other Cushites, the sky, or made sacrifices of cows and other animals on top of the mountains, having no temples and no making idols, although there was a hereditary priesthood from father to son; however, they did not believe that every individual existence ended with death; hence some cult of the ancestors. They had a religious respect for snakes, indeed a cult for “Arwē” or the “Snake”, who was believed to be the first king of Abyssinia, while they detested hyenas and some other animals. Agau were joined by the indigenous people as early as the seventh century BC. C., at least, the Arabs, who from the opposite shore of Yemen immigrated uninterruptedly to the region of Adulis (Zula which was a dwelling center prior to the Ptolemies), and along the coast, whence then, little by little, forced by the great heat and the unhealthiness of the place, they advanced into the mountainous interior, founding small residential and commercial centers, and oppressing the weak natives; it is probable that small Jewish centers formed together with them, so numerous in Yemen. Perhaps the number of Arabs was not great; but, endowed with superior aptitudes, and coming from a country advanced in agriculture and commerce, they easily imposed themselves on the rough natives, and contributed, according to all probability, to the foundation of the kingdom of Aksum, whose religion recognized as major deities: Astar or the Heaven, Meder or the “Mother Earth”, Beḥēr or the Sea (as is to be believed = Ποσειδῶν); and Mahrem or the god of war. These divinities do not correspond to those of southern Arabia, where the much venerated Triad: the “god” (masc.) “Moon”, the “goddess” (femin.) “Sun” and the morning star of Venus, was, as you can see, a sidereal Triad, while in Abyssinia “the Earth” and “the Sea” were worshiped; nor does its no longer sidereal nature change the fact that the crescent moon and the star appear in coins prior to Christianity. There is also the god of war Mahrem; not that a god of war is missing in the South Arabian pantheon,  but Mahrem is the special god, progenitor of the kings of Aksum, as was Ilmaqāh of the Sabaean kings and Wadd of the Minei kings; this idea of ​​the kings’ descent from any god that was common to other peoples, and suffice it to mention Romulus and Mars. This religion professed by the immigrant Semites could not proselytize among the rough Agau they subjugated and their eternal enemies. For the flourishing trade with Egypt and Byzantium there were especially in the region of Adulis and Aksum, Greek merchants who professed Christianity. For Ethiopia 1997, please check

Introduction of Christianity in Aksumn. – Narrates Rufino (died in 410) in his Historia Ecclesiastica, I, 9, that two brothers, Frumentius and Edesio, returning by sea from a voyage to India, landed in a port, of which it cannot be doubted that it was in the vicinity of Adulis. The local barbarians killed the sailors, but spared Frumentius and Edesio who were enslaved and led to the king, in Aksum, capital of the kingdom of this name, founded about three centuries earlier. The king was then Ella Amidā who died between 320 and 325, leaving the government in the hands of her widow and her son Ēzānā who was still a minor. Frumentius and Edesio, well received at court, had, as it is said, important offices, and Frumentius’ request was granted that the free exercise of the Christian religion be granted to Greek merchants, and that they be allowed to build small oratories. Frumentius, who then came to Alexandria, he gave news to the patriarch of the time, who was the great Athanasius, of the new Christianity of Aksum, and asked for a bishop for it; naturally Frumentius himself was ordained as such by St. Athanasius. The story of Rufinus, which he declares to go back to Edesio, Frumentius’s brother, is passed on to later historians: Socrates, Sozomenus, and others, and from these to the Menei and Sinassari, whence it came to the Abyssinians, to whom Frumentius is called: “Abbā Salāmā revealing the light”. An authentic document inserted in the Apology of St. Athanasius, that is the letter sent in 356 by the emperor Constantius to the king of Aksum Aeizanas (Ēzānā) and his brother Saeizanas, allows us to specify the place and time of what Rufinus narrates, hence we know with certainty that Frumentius was bishop of Aksum. Hist. Eccl., V, III, 4-6; in Photius) a mission sent by Constantius headed by the Arian bishop Theophilus, to promote Arianism, would also have come to Aksum, but it had, in any case, little or no fruit. Rufino adds that Frumentius converted “an infinite number of barbarians”. This is not at all credible, or, at the most, it must be understood of the conversion of residents of Adulis or Aksum, or of persons dependent or assigned to the court of the converted king, not of the other residents of the vast country. What some authors, the Monophysite Syrian John of Ephesus (died in 585), Malala and others, tell of the conversion of a king Andog (not Aydog) does not seem to deserve any faith, nor is it clear if and from what historical event the news may have originated.

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