Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire




Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Home | Prev | Next | Contents


10, 13, 26, 27, 28. Gothic. l. ii. c. 11, 15,) Agathias, (l. iv.

  1. 141, 142,) and Menander, (in Excerpt. Legat. p. 132 - 147.) Consult Barbeyrac, Hist. des Anciens Traites, tom. ii. p. 154, 181 - 184, 193 - 200.]

[Footnote 91: D'Herbelot, Bibliot. Orient. p. 680, 681, 294, 295.]

Justinian had been reproached for his alliance with the

Aethiopians, as if he attempted to introduce a people of savage negroes into the system of civilized society. But the friends of the Roman empire, the Axumites, or Abyssinians, may be always distinguished from the original natives of Africa. ^92 The hand of nature has flattened the noses of the negroes, covered their heads with shaggy wool, and tinged their skin with inherent and indelible blackness. But the olive complexion of the Abyssinians, their hair, shape, and features, distinctly mark them as a colony of Arabs; and this descent is confirmed by the resemblance of language and manners the report of an ancient emigration, and the narrow interval between the shores of the Red Sea. Christianity had raised that nation above the level of African barbarism: ^93 their intercourse with Egypt, and the successors of Constantine, ^94 had communicated the rudiments of the arts and sciences; their vessels traded to the Isle of Ceylon, ^95 and seven kingdoms obeyed the Negus or supreme prince of Abyssinia. The independence of the Homerites, ^! who reigned in the rich and happy Arabia, was first violated by an Aethiopian conqueror: he drew his hereditary claim from the queen of Sheba, ^96 and his ambition was sanctified by religious zeal. The Jews, powerful and active in exile, had seduced the mind of Dunaan, prince of the Homerites. They urged him to retaliate the persecution inflicted by the Imperial laws on their unfortunate brethren: some Roman merchants were injuriously treated; and several Christians of Negra ^97 were honored with the crown of martyrdom. ^98 The churches of Arabia implored the protection of the Abyssinian monarch. The Negus passed the Red Sea with a fleet and army, deprived the Jewish proselyte of his kingdom and life, and extinguished a race of princes, who had ruled above two thousand years the sequestered region of myrrh and frankincense. The conqueror immediately announced the victory of the gospel, requested an orthodox patriarch, and so warmly professed his friendship to the Roman empire, that Justinian was flattered by the hope of diverting the silk trade through the channel of Abyssinia, and of exciting the forces of Arabia against the Persian king. Nonnosus, descended from a family of ambassadors, was named by the emperor to execute this important commission. He wisely declined the shorter, but more dangerous, road, through the sandy deserts of Nubia; ascended the Nile, embarked on the Red Sea, and safely landed at the African port of Adulis. From Adulis to the royal city of Axume is no more than fifty leagues, in a direct line; but the winding passes of the mountains detained the ambassador fifteen days; and as he traversed the forests, he saw, and vaguely computed, about five thousand wild elephants. The capital, according to his report, was large and populous; and the village of Axume is still conspicuous by the regal coronations, by the ruins of a Christian temple, and by sixteen or seventeen obelisks inscribed with Grecian characters. ^99 But the Negus ^!! gave audience in the open field, seated on a lofty chariot, which was drawn by four elephants, superbly caparisoned, and surrounded by his nobles and musicians. He was clad in a linen garment and cap, holding in his hand two javelins and a light shield; and, although his nakedness was imperfectly covered, he displayed the Barbaric pomp of gold chains, collars, and bracelets, richly adorned with pearls and precious stones. The ambassador of Justinian knelt; the Negus raised him from the ground, embraced Nonnosus, kissed the seal, perused the letter, accepted the Roman alliance, and, brandishing his weapons, denounced implacable war against the worshipers of fire. But the proposal of the silk trade was eluded; and notwithstanding the assurances, and perhaps the wishes, of the Abyssinians, these hostile menaces evaporated without effect. The Homerites were unwilling to abandon their aromatic groves, to explore a sandy desert, and to encounter, after all their fatigues, a formidable nation from whom they had never received any personal injuries. Instead of enlarging his conquests, the king of Aethiopia was incapable of defending his possessions. Abrahah, ^!!! the slave of a Roman merchant of Adulis, assumed the sceptre of the Homerites,; the troops of Africa were seduced by the luxury of the climate; and Justinian solicited the friendship of the usurper, who honored with a slight tribute the supremacy of his prince. After a long series of prosperity, the power of Abrahah was overthrown before the gates of Mecca; and his children were despoiled by the Persian conqueror; and the Aethiopians were finally expelled from the continent of Asia. This narrative of obscure and remote events is not foreign to the decline and fall of the Roman empire. If a Christian power had been maintained in Arabia, Mahomet must have been crushed in his cradle, and Abyssinia would have prevented a revolution which has changed the civil and religious state of the world. ^100 ^*

[Footnote 92: See Buffon, Hist. Naturelle, tom. iii. p. 449. This Arab cast of features and complexion, which has continued 3400 years (Ludolpb. Hist. et Comment. Aethiopic. l. i. c. 4) in the colony of Abyssinia, will justify the suspicion, that race, as well as climate, must have contributed to form the negroes of the adjacent and similar regions.

Note: Mr. Salt (Travels, vol. ii. p. 458) considers them to

be distinct from the Arabs - "in feature, color, habit, and manners." - M.]
[Footnote 93: The Portuguese missionaries, Alvarez, (Ramusio, tom. i. fol. 204, rect. 274, vers.) Bermudez, (Purchas's Pilgrims, vol. ii. l. v. c. 7, p. 1149 - 1188,) Lobo, (Relation, &c., par M. le Grand, with xv. Dissertations, Paris, 1728,) and Tellez (Relations de Thevenot, part iv.) could only relate of modern Abyssinia what they had seen or invented. The erudition of Ludolphus, (Hist. Aethiopica, Francofurt, 1681. Commentarius, 1691. Appendix, 1694,) in twenty-five languages, could add little concerning its ancient history. Yet the fame of Caled, or Ellisthaeus, the conqueror of Yemen, is celebrated in national songs and legends.]

[Footnote 94: The negotiations of Justinian with the Axumites, or Aethiopians, are recorded by Procopius (Persic. l. i. c. 19, 20) and John Malala, tom. ii. p. 163 - 165, 193 - 196.) The historian of Antioch quotes the original narrative of the ambassador Nonnosus, of which Photius (Bibliot. Cod. iii.) has preserved a curious extract.]

[Footnote 95: The trade of the Axumites to the coast of India and Africa, and the Isle of Ceylon, is curiously represented by Cosmas Indicopleustes, (Topograph. Christian. l. ii. p. 132, 138, 139, 140, l. xi. p. 338, 339.)]
[Footnote !: It appears by the important inscription discovered by Mr. Salt at Axoum, and from a law of Constantius, (16th Jan. 356, inserted in the Theodosian Code, l. 12, c. 12,) that in the middle of the fourth century of our era the princes of the Axumites joined to their titles that of king of the Homerites. The conquests which they made over the Arabs in the sixth century were only a restoration of the ancient order of things. St. Martin vol. viii. p. 46 - M.]

[Footnote 96: Ludolph. Hist. et Comment. Aethiop. l. ii. c. 3.] [Footnote 97: The city of Negra, or Nag'ran, in Yemen, is surrounded with palm-trees, and stands in the high road between Saana, the capital, and Mecca; from the former ten, from the latter twenty days' journey of a caravan of camels, (Abulfeda, Descript. Arabiae, p. 52.)]

[Footnote 98: The martyrdom of St. Arethas, prince of Negra, and his three hundred and forty companions, is embellished in the legends of Metaphrastes and Nicephorus Callistus, copied by Baronius, (A. D 522, No. 22 - 66, A.D. 523, No. 16 - 29,) and refuted with obscure diligence, by Basnage, (Hist. des Juifs, tom. viii. l. xii. c. ii. p. 333 - 348,) who investigates the state of the Jews in Arabia and Aethiopia.

Note: According to Johannsen, (Hist. Yemanae, Praef. p. 89,)

Dunaan (Ds Nowas) massacred 20,000 Christians, and threw them into a pit, where they were burned. They are called in the Koran the companions of the pit (socii foveae.) - M.]

[Footnote 99: Alvarez (in Ramusio, tom. i. fol. 219, vers. 221, vers.) saw the flourishing state of Axume in the year 1520 - luogomolto buono e grande. It was ruined in the same century by the Turkish invasion. No more than 100 houses remain; but the memory of its past greatness is preserved by the regal coronation, (Ludolph. Hist. et Comment. l. ii. c. 11.)

Note: Lord Valentia's and Mr. Salt's Travels give a high

notion of the ruins of Axum. - M.]

[Footnote !!: The Negus is differently called Elesbaan, Elesboas, Elisthaeus, probably the same name, or rather appellation. See St. Martin, vol. viii. p. 49. - M.]

[Footnote !!!: According to the Arabian authorities, (Johannsen, Hist. Yemanae, p. 94, Bonn, 1828,) Abrahah was an Abyssinian, the rival of Ariathus, the brother of the Abyssinian king: he surprised and slew Ariathus, and by his craft appeased the resentment of Nadjash, the Abyssinian king. Abrahah was a Christian; he built a magnificent church at Sana, and dissuaded his subjects from their accustomed pilgrimages to Mecca. The church was defiled, it was supposed, by the Koreishites, and Abrahah took up arms to revenge himself on the temple at Mecca. He was repelled by miracle: his elephant would not advance, but knelt down before the sacred place; Abrahah fled, discomfited and mortally wounded, to Sana - M.]

[Footnote 100: The revolutions of Yemen in the sixth century must be collected from Procopius, (Persic. l. i. c. 19, 20,) Theophanes Byzant., (apud Phot. cod. lxiii. p. 80,) St. Theophanes, (in Chronograph. p. 144, 145, 188, 189, 206, 207, who is full of strange blunders,) Pocock, (Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 62, 65,) D'Herbelot, (Bibliot. Orientale, p. 12, 477,) and Sale's Preliminary Discourse and Koran, (c. 105.) The revolt of Abrahah is mentioned by Procopius; and his fall, though clouded with miracles, is an historical fact.

Note: To the authors who have illustrated the obscure

history of the Jewish and Abyssinian kingdoms in Homeritis may be added Schultens, Hist. Joctanidarum; Walch, Historia rerum in Homerite gestarum, in the 4th vol. of the Gottingen Transactions; Salt's Travels, vol. ii. p. 446, &c.: Sylvestre de Sacy, vol. i. Acad. des Inscrip. Jost, Geschichte der Israeliter; Johannsen, Hist. Yemanae; St. Martin's notes to Le Beau, t. vii p. 42. - M.]

[Footnote *: A period of sixty-seven years is assigned by most of the Arabian authorities to the Abyssinian kingdoms in Homeritis.

  • M.]



Prev | Next | Contents

Preface | Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6 |






Fall of Roman Empire
Advertisements: