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Just prior to the rise of Islam, in the sixth century AD, southern Arabia was embroiled in a holy war between Christian Ethiopians and Jewish Arabs. The Jewish kingdom, composed of ethnic Arabs who had converted to Judaism more than a century before, had launched a bloody pogrom against Christians in the region. The ruler of Ethiopia, who claimed descent from the union of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and even was rumored to possess an object no less venerable than the Ark of the Covenant, aspired both to protect the persecuted Christians and to restore Ethiopian control in the Arabian Peninsula. Though little known today, this was an international war that involved both the Byzantine Empire, who had established Christian churches in Ethiopia beginning in the fourth century, and the Sasanian Empire in Persia, who supported the Jews in a proxy war with Byzantium. Our knowledge of these events derives mostly from an inscribed throne at the Ethiopian port of Adulis seen and meticulously described by a Christian merchant known as Cosmos in the sixth century. Trying to decipher and understand this monument takes us directly into religious conflicts that occupied the nations on both sides of the Red Sea in late antiquity. Using the writings of Cosmas and archaeological evidence from the period, historian G. W. Bowersock offers a narrative account of this fascinating but overlooked chapter in pre-Islamic Arabian history. The extraordinary story told inThroneof Adulisprovides an important and much neglected background for the rise of Islam as well as the collapse of the Persian Empire before the Byzantines.
G. W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. Among his many previous books are From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition, Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam, and Roman Arabia.
Table of Contents
List of Maps and Illustrations
I. The Throne
II. A Christian Traveller in the Red Sea
III. Ptolemy's Elephants
IV. The Kingdom of Axum
V. Christianity Comes to Axum
VI. Judaism Comes to Himyar
VII. The Ethiopian Invasion of 525
VIII. Entry of the Great Powers