Aksum lies on the western side of the northern Ethiopian highlands, some 200 km inland from the strategic ancient port of Adulis on the Red Sea coast of modern Eritrea. During the first seven centuries AD it was the capital of a major empire. It rose from the gradual merging of an indigenous farming population with immigrants from southern Arabia. These had settled in the region several hundreds of years previously, bringing with them important cultural traditions, including literacy in a Semitic language.
Aksum’s prosperity seems to have peaked in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AD. Monumental royal tombs were constructed, each marked by a huge monolithic stela carved to represent a multi-storied building. Around the same time, Aksum began to produce its own coinage, with gold used for international trade, and copper and silver for local circulation. In about AD 340, the Aksumite kingdom formally adopted Christianity, becoming only the second nation in the world (after Armenia) to do this. Initially the new religion was practised mainly by the élite, but during the next 150 years it became more widely accepted.
The Maryam Tsion cathedral is still venerated as the mother-church of Ethiopia, and much of tradition of modern Ethiopia may be traced back to Aksumite origins.
These are elaborately carved megalithic royal grave markers, up to 25 metres high, erected over tomb complexes.
The spatial documentation of the Stelae field in Axum took place during the Zamani Project field campaign in2006.