Alternate History

Axum (The Great Lakes)

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Union of Great Axum
Timeline: The Great Lakes
OTL equivalent: Ethiopia
4500 BC - 2000 BC
Flag of Axum
(and largest city)
Other cities Amhara
Official languages Axumite
 -  Founder Eremias Orkoi
Axum was an early civilisation that was situated around the north and east coasts of Lake Axum in eastern Africa. It was united from local tribes by Eremias Orkoi. It lasted almost two and a half thousand years, from around 4500 BC to the start of the of the second century BC, when internal fighting caused a collapse. It is regarded by historians as one of the earliest 'great' civilisations, and the first to be considered a single state.


The tribes of Axum before its unification by Orkoi were established farming and fishing communities, living under a mutual respect on the shores of Lake Axum, which was slightly larger than today. The rich volcanic soils in the area and teeming lake meant for a strong life in the area. The tribes had occasional dispute from time to time which were usually settled with trade discussions, though at times small skirmishes broke out.

Humans had lived in and around the area as hunter-gatherer tribes for many thousands of years, though it wasn't until the domestication of animals and the arrival of sustainable farming (around 6000 BC) that the tribes settled around the lake in small villages and surrounding fields. The largest of these villages, Axum, from which the tribe, the lake and the eventual kingdom take their names, had an estimated population of two thousand at the time of the unification. 

Askum Carvings (The Great Lakes)

Carvings of a chieftain's wife

Each tribe had a chieftain who would make decisions involving trade and harvests, as well as commanding the armed men of the peoples when necessary. They each held a throne in the largest building in the town, either his home or some sort of ruling palace. Excavations near modern-day Axum in the 1980s uncovered one of these thrones, inlaid with lapis and covered in ornate carvings and markings. One carving appears to show a tribe chieftain's wife, lavishly decorated in jewels.

The Orkoiyot

As populations in the region grew, it was only a matter of time before conflict would arise. The flashpoint was in around 4500 BC, when a prolonged drought led to the failing of crops in the whole region. Food shortages led to the tribes attacking each other to increase their own grain stocks. It is around this time that historical records suggest Eremias the Uplifter began to make a name for himself, commanding the men of the Amhara tribe brilliantly and raiding many villages in the region. Local folklore suggests Eremias took great care to learn the names of each of the men fighting with him and was loved by his men and feared by his enemies. Whatever the true case may be, there is no doubt that was an effective commander, with his actions forcing the other tribes in the region to rely on his village for food. When these villages formed an alliance against him - he ruthlessly beat back their forces and killed every man in the village that instigated the rebellion to send a message.

Soon after the drought, the chieftain of Axum died of unknown causes, and Eremias seized power. With control of the coastal tribes, as well as the most powerful city, already in his hands, he used a combination of superb military prowess and tactful negotiation to unite the Axumite tribes under one name, the Orkoiyot, a word he himself fashioned and a title he took. Through a series of ruthless campaigns, the new Orkoiyot extended the borders of Axum to an unprecedented size, reaching the western reaches of Lake Victoria, and touching the oceans in the north and east. By the end of his conquests, it was the largest nation the world had ever seen.

Eremias was no stranger to diplomacy, and knowing that he needed allies, took a rival chieftain's daughter as wife - thus securing his hold on the region even further. He would have more than half a dozen children survive into adulthood and at his death, aged 61, would leave behind a small but stable state.

Golden Age

Immediately after its unification, Axum grew into an age of great prosperity and riches. Through some ruthless acquisitions through swift raids, by the start of the third millennium BC, Axum controlled the fledgling ivory trade that had links with some Mesopotamian city states, as well as passing through the youthful Egyptian kingdoms.

Furthermore, this time spawned some of the earliest examples of town-planning, developing in parallel to the early cities of Indus, which shared the designed order of Axumite cities. These two civilisations had no links however, so this mirrored development of street plans and town designs was purely coincidence, albeit a fruitful one. Towns were designed with very efficient and effective watering systems, in which water from the lake was siphoned into a series of canals and channels that fed to every house in each town, giving a steady supply of fresh water to the population. However, this supply did not come without a cost, as each Orkoiyot at the time laid claim to all the water of Lake Axum, meaning that a small fee must be paid in order to receive water, as the lock and pump system was controlled by Orkoiyot men. This monopoly over the water supply led to easy suppression of rebellions at many points throughout the history of ancient Axum.

Axum at this time was comprised of a series of townships, surrounded by the large fields that fed the nation. Each of these townships had a chieftain, as of old, yet each was sworn in blood to the Orkoiyot, who held power from lofty Axum on the shores of the lake.

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