When Black Men Ruled the World: 5 Arab Kingdoms, Cities Dominated By Africans Before Rise of Islam
The Aksum or Axum Empire was an important military power and trading nation in the area which is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, existing from approximately 100–940 A.D. At its height, it was one of only four major international super powers of its day along with Persia, Rome and China. Axum controlled northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Western Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia, totaling 1.25 million square kilometers. This is almost half the size of India. Axum traded and projected its influence as far as China and India, where coins minted in Axum were discovered in 1990.
Axum was previously thought to have been founded by Semitic-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from South Arabia (modern Yemen) on the basis of Conti Rossini’s theories —but most scholars now agree that when it was founded it was an indigenous African development.
According to historians, GDRT was most likely the first Axumite king to be involved in South Arabian affairs, as well as the first known king to be mentioned in South Arabian inscriptions. His reign resulted in the control of much of western Yemen, such as the Tihāmah, Najrā, Ma`afir, Ẓafār (until c. 230), and parts of Hashid territory around Hamir in the northern highlands. His involvement would mark the beginning of centuries of Axumite involvement in South Arabia, culminating with the full-scale invasion of Yemen by King Kaleb in 520 (or 525). This resulted in the establishment of an Axumite province covering all of South Arabia.
The ancient Sabaean Kingdom established power in the early first millennium B.C. It was conquered in the first century B.C. by the Ḥimyarites. After the disintegration of the first Himyarite Kingdom of the Kings of Saba’ and Dhū Raydān, the Middle Sabaean Kingdom reappeared in the early second century. The Sabaean kingdom was finally conquered by the Ḥimyarites in the late third century. At that time the capital was Ma’rib. The Sabaean Kingdom was a part of Yemeni Province dominated by Axum.
The South Arabian Kingdom of Himyar and Hadramawt
As early as the first quarter of the third century, the Aksumite Empire invaded and captured the capital of the Arab kingdom of Himyarite. King GDRT of Aksum dispatched troops under his son BYGT, sending them from the western coast to occupy Thifar, the Ḥimyarite capital, as well as from the southern coast against Ḥaḑramawt. The invasion of Hadramawt was done in cooperation with the then King of Saba.
Dominion Over Arab Cities on the Red Sea
By the early fourth century A.D., King Ezana (reigned 325-60) controlled a domain extending from Southwest Arabia across the Red Sea west to Meroe and south from Sawakin to the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. As an indication of the type of political control he exercised, Ezana, like other Axumite rulers, carried the title Negus Nagast, king of kings, symbolic of his rule over numerous tribute-paying principalities on both the African continent and Arabia. Ezana dominated states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, making them pay regular tribute to Axum.
Around 517 A.D., King Kaleb of the Axum Empire sent his army across the Red Sea to invade and annex what is today called Yemen, on report that the Jewish King Yūsuf Asar Yathar was persecuting Christians and Axumites. Abraha, a general in the Axumite army, was reported to have led the army of 100,000 men with hundreds of elephants to successfully crush all resistance of the Yemeni army. Yūsuf Asar Yathar was killed in the battle and King Kaleb appointed a viceroy to rule in his place. The Yemenite Kingdom was then forced to pay tribute to the Axum empire.
The Campaign Against Mecca in A.D. 570
According to Islamic sources, Axumite general and ruler of Yemen, Abraha, invaded Mecca in 570 A.D., the same year as the birth of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. This attack took the form of a sort of religious crusade in which the Ethiopian Orthodox Axumites planned to destroy the center of pagan Arabic religion. Some scholars believe the actual campaign occurred as much as a decade earlier than the date given by Islamic sources.