chapter
The Monoliths of Aksūm
Pages 14

The monoliths of Aksum are the oldest monuments in Abyssinia, and they are in every way remarkable. When, by whom, and why or with what object they were set up cannot be stated, for being uninscribed they yield no information on these points and the Abyssinians themselves know nothing about their origin. In the now famous “ Book of Aksum” a o K t h d + t Mashafa ’Aksum, we are told that the town was built by miraculous agency, and that it stands where a lake, or large sheet of water, once lay. The pious kings ’Abreha and ’Asbeha went up into a high mountain called Makyada ’Egzi’ena (i.e. the “ footprint of our Lord”), and entreated God to show them where they were to build a temple wherein His Name should dwell. Our Lord came down and stayed with them, and taking a pinch of dust from the ground sprinkled it on the waters of the lake, which immediately dried up and so provided a

site for the town. The “ Book of Aksum” then goes on to say that there are seventy-two springs in the town, and that there were in it at that time fifty-eight stone monoliths, some of which are standing and some of which are fallen A t * A'fl"}I s (/A0«J&Ml * 'Ml * B <d£4»* nrVfl - «M° s 9 * See Conti Rossini, Liber Axumae, Paris, 1909, text, p. 3. Beyond this the writer says nothing about the monoliths or “ obelisks,” as they have been called by many travellers. It may be said at once that “ obelisks ” is a misnomer. The obelisk is defined by Ammianus Marcellinus (bk. XVII. §§ 6-8 ) as “ a rough stone rising to a great height, shaped like a pillar in the stadium; and it tapers upwards in imitation of a sunbeam, keeping its quadrilateral shape, till it rises almost to a point, being made smooth by the hand of the sculptor.” The monoliths of Aksum certainly rise to a great height, and they diminish in thickness as they ascend, but they are not square, and they do not, with the exception of one, end in a point. Their width is greater than their thickness, and it seems to be more correct to describe them as monolithic stelae. The Abyssinians appear to have known nothing of the obelisk, and at the time when the translation of the Book of Job was made from Greek into Ge‘ez they had no single word for “ obelisk.” Hence the words in chap. 41, v. 21, 77 arpcofivr) avrov ofieXicrKoi 6%ei9, are rendered by * d i0 h £i't * O t t s “ his couch is a great slab of stone.” According to d’Abbadie (Dictionnaire, col. 396) the word “ obelisk ” is expressed in Amharic by tekel dangeyd , the meaning of which is “ a raised-up stone.”