The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - Foundations of an African Civilisation - Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC - AD 1300

David Phillipson

Reviewer - Niall Finneran


This comprehensive book has clearly superseded my own 2007 book on the archaeology of Ethiopia. It should now be recognised as the standard work on the archaeology of the northern Horn of Africa. Drawing upon extensive experience of Ethiopia going back over forty years, David Phillipson is probably the world's premier expert on matters Ethiopian and archaeological. This book draws upon a number of published sources and extensively quarries all of the available relevant literature (the bibliography is quite exhaustive and wide-ranging). Professor Phillipson's extensive and important excavations at Aksum (Tigray, Ethiopia) in 1993-97, and which were published in 2000 as a Society of Antiquaries Research Report, shed new light on the chronological development and material culture of the Aksumite polity which dominated these highlands during the first seven centuries AD. In more recent years, Professor Phillipson has slightly re-orientated his interests to consider the development of medieval church architecture of the northern and central highlands, and his work on the ancient churches of Ethiopia (Yale University Press 2009) also typically set new and high standards in the analysis of these distinctive churches.

This book is centred upon the Aksumite polity, but is usefully flanked by detailed discussions of the (misnomered) pre-Aksumite period, and the question of South Arabian cultural and economic influences upon the Ethiopian highlands, and the post-Aksumite medieval period, characterised by developments in church building in Tigray and Lalibela. Fourteen chapters deal in detail with varying facets of the Aksumite system, including inscriptions, trade, burials, coinage and monumental architecture inter alia. The sources are extensive and comprehensive and one is left with the feeling that nothing has been left out. This book will remain the standard work for years to come, and is well recommended for all with an interest in the formation of Ethiopia's distinctive cultural identity and for those about to embark upon a cultural tour it is an indispensible and thoroughly valuable companion and guide.

Foundations of an African Civilisation book cover

Foundations of an African Civilisation: Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC - AD 1300
David Phillipson
Woodbridge: James Currey, 2012
ISBN 9781847010414
Hardback 293 pages
94 illustrations b/w line,
Price £40

First Published in News File Spring 2013

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