Abyssinia. The highlands of Aithiopia are thronged by various
tribes, called Ḥ abash by Arabs (“ mixed ”), and so Abasi, or Abassinos, by Portuguese. The land is called by natives Mangesta Itiopia, or “ Aithiopian Kingdom.” Dr Glaser connects the word with the tribal name of the ’Abāsāt of Māhra (Eastern Ḥ agramaut), whose capital was Abasem or Abasa—the Abyssa of Uranius, Ptolemy, and Pausanias, famous for its export of myrrh and frankincense (aṭyub or “good things”), with which he connects Aithiopes (see Aithiopes, and Arabia).
The presence of Sabean Arabs in Abyssinia explains their legend of the “Queen of Sheba,” who visited Solomon about 1000 B.C. The ’Abasa advanced on Yaman, perhaps as early, and Abyssinia accepted Yamanite rule in our 1st or 2nd century. Down to the 5th the Arabs persecuted Abyssinian Christians, who were established by Roman emperors. In 512 A.C. the Abyssinians conquered Yaman, and held it till 634 A.C., when Islām overwhelmed them, “so that they
Slept for a thousand years, forgetful of the world by which they were forgotten” (Gibbon).
As early as Solomon’s time, says Prof. Leo Reinish (Inaugural lecture, Vienna University, see Rl. Geog. Journal, March 1897), the Sabeans of Yaman had a trading “ association ” (or Ḥ abasah) ; and Sabeans became the carriers of the products of India, Arabia, and East Africa, to Egypt and Syria. Hebrews recognised their antiquity, calling Saba or Sheba the “Son of Cush” (Gen. x, 7). At the ancient capital of N. Abyssinia, called Yeha or Awa, about 14 miles north of Adowa (the Adulis of Ptolemaic times), Mr. Bent found, amid extensive ruins, seven Sabean texts, and “a grand and beautiful tower well proportioned,” and of good masonry, near which were a church and monastery, evidently modern, and poor by comparison —like the early Christian churches beside Irish round towers. Axum succeeded Adowa as a capital, but it was to Yeha, according to tradition, that Solomon’s son Menelak brought the Jewish Ark, and where dwelt Queen Candace. Prof. D. H. Muller connects the expression “ Awa his house,” in a text of Yeha, with Ba’al-awa commonly worshiped in Sabean Arabia.
Ptolemy, in his Geography, calls this region the “ Regio Trogloditica ” : for Adulites and Avalites lived mostly in caves on the “ Ava-lic Gulf.” They imported ivory, spices, and gold dust into Sabean Arabia. The masses in Abyssinia are still virtually pagans, worshiping fetishes, rude sun-stones, or lingams, like Tartar Ōbōs (Rivers of Life, ii, p. 247). Their altars often have cups and channels, for the blood or libations—like those of the Mithraic rites in Italy. They are of all kinds, from the uncut to the highly decorated stone (Bent’s Abyss., p. 145). “ Some of the monolithic inscriptions,” says Prof. Muller, “are purely Sabean.” They date (he thinks) from the 9th century B.C., down to the 4th century A.C. Drs Glaser and Sayce say the 7th to 5th centuries B.C. (Academy, 8th Sept. 1894, and Nov. 1895). [The script however is the same as that of dated
Sabean texts not older than 3rd century B.C.—ED.] In the 5th
century Christian (Koptik) missionaries, from Alexandria, were sent to convert the highlanders of Abyssinia, and established themselves near Adowa. Their religion became one purely of rites, feasts, fasts, and superstitions, Hebrew, Christian, or pagan. Children (of both sexes) are circumcised : food and persons are subject to purifications more or less Jewish. Priests may not marry, and are under the Abuna (“our father”), or high priest, nominated by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria.
The churches have three circular enclosures; the outside one
For the laity: the central for priests: and the inmost as the Holy of Holies. The services include reading the Scriptures in a tongue not understood by any: the Eucharist: and worship of the Virgin, as queen of heaven and earth, and chief intercessor; as well as of many saints, whose ikons abound, and who are more important than the Deity. There are three sharply divided Christian sects, ever disputing as to the unction of Christ, and cursing one another.
The Gheez, or ancient Aithiopik, of the N. Tigrē province (a Sabean dialect) is the language of literature and religion. The later Amharik prevails at court, and in the army, and among merchants; and the Agou dialect in several provinces: these present Arabic affinities, and are mixed with African words. The Gala race of the South have, since the 16th century A.C., overrun the highlands, and have long furnished the bulk of the army. There are few chiefs not of Galla blood: yet the people are, as a whole, evidently of mixed Arab and African race. The confederated chiefs owe fealty to the Amhara ruler, for purposes of defence, and he is now called king.