Meeting a King of Axum

In the same year the Romans and Persians broke their peace. The Persian war was renewed because of the embassy of the Himyarite Arabs to the Romans. The Romans sent the Magistranos Julian from Alexandria down the Nile River and through the Indian Ocean with sacral letters to Arethas, the king of the Ethiopians. King Arethas received him with great joy, since Arethas longed after the Roman Emperor's friendship.

   On his return to Constantinople, this same same Julian reported that King Arethas (King Kaleb)  was naked when he received him but had round his kidneys a loincloth of linen and gold thread. On his belly he wore linen with precious pearls; his bracelets had five spikes, and he wore  gold armlets by his hands. He had a linen and gold cloth turban round his head, with four cords hanging down from both its straps.

He stood on a carriage drawn by four standing elephants

which had a yoke and four wheels. Like any stately carriage, it was ornamented with golden petals, just as are the carriages of provincial governors. While he stood upon it, he held in his hands a small gilded shield and two gold javelins. His counselors were all armed, and sang musical tunes.

When the Roman ambassador was brought in and had performed the prostration, he was ordered to rise by the king and was led before him. Arethas accepted the Emperor's sacral letters and tenderly kissed the seal which had the Emperor's image. He also accepted Julian's gifts and greatly rejoiced.

When he read the letter, he found that it was urgent for him to arm himself against the Persian king, devastate Persian territory near him, and in the future no longer make covenants with the Persian. Rather, the letter arranged that the land of the Homeritai would conduct its business with Egyptian Alexandria by way of the Nile River.44

In the sight of the envoy, King Arethas immediately began to campaign: he set war in motion against the Persians and sent out his Saracens. He himself also went off against Persian territory and pillaged all of it in that area. After conquering, King Arethas gave Julian a kiss of peace on the head and sent him off with a large retinue and many gifts


Extract from Stanley Burstein ed. Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, Markus Wiener,  Princeton, 1998