Aksumite coins at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

by Rebecca Darley

Obverse of a gold coin of King Ousanas, fourth century AD, 17mm. Used from Vincent West’s ‘Aksumite Numismatics‘, West 319.

Those with an interest in Aksumite coinage were fortunate on 6th September had a chance to attend a lecture in London organised by the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and presenting some of the foundational research of Prof. Wolfgang Hahn, of the Institut für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, Vienna, into Aksumite Numismatics. Prof. Hahn gave an engaging and detailed talk concerning the date of the conversion of Aksum to Christianity, using coins and archaeology to offer a compelling re-interpretation of dates traditionally derived from textual evidence alone. The effect of this was to suggest a re-dating of some thirty years, placing the conversion around AD 360 rather than in the 330s. The work to date, catalogue and publish the coins of the Aksumite empire of East Africa, which issued coins between the fourth and seventh centuries, owes much to the decades of work done by Prof. Hahn. It has brought to increased public and scholarly attention a state which was involved in diplomatic, commercial and, at times, military relations with the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Byzantine Empire and which has much to tell us about the history of the Indian Ocean, East Africa and the world of Late Antiquity.

The talk was also an excellent opportunity to promote the recent publication of the sylloge of Aksumite coins in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. This invaluable new publication, including discursive sections and beautiful colour images, expands markedly the body of Aksumite coinage which can now be accessed via high-quality publication. It was created by Prof. Hahn, in collaboration with Vincent West, another prominent scholar of Aksumite numismatics, and keeper of the incomparable internet bibliography of Aksumite Numismatics.

It will soon also now possible to see some of the coins of the Ashmolean collection on display in a new exhibition, ‘Aksum: a Late Antique Empire of Faith in Africa’, which opened in Gallery 7 of the museum. The exhibition, showcasing the museum’s extremely good selection of gold coins, opened on 26th September and runs until 31st January 2018. Exciting times for those of us already fascinated by Aksumite numismatics, and a great opportunity to for exploration if you have not already discovered the coinage and culture of this powerful and dynamic Late Antique state!