Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Book Review: Foundations of an African Civilization: Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC - AD 1300 by David Phillipson

Pros: summarizes a large stretch of history, lots of detail in some areas

Cons: only a few black and white photo, some illustrations reproduced from earlier works, very dense

The book consists of 18 chapters starting with an introduction followed by 3 parts: 1) Before Aksum (2 chapters), 2) The Kingdom of Aksum (13 chapters), After Aksum (1 chapter) and an epilogue. There’s also an extensive bibliography.

In the introduction the author mentions that he wrote the book to be both a scholarly work and something accessible to every day Ethiopians wishing to know more about their past. He definitely achieved the former, while I’m not Ethiopian I had trouble with several sections that were quite dense. There’s a fair bit of repetition in sections where the author refers you to another chapter where a particular issue is dealt with in greater detail.

There are only a handful of photos, all of which are black and white. The author also used illustrations of floor plan/layouts, etc. from older books.

I was disappointed that the Zagwe dynasty only rated one chapter but the book did make me want to read what happens after 1300 when the Solomonic dynasty took over.

While I came away knowing more about the Aksumites, the writing is so dense that I can’t really recommend this book for casual readers interested in Ethiopian history.

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