One example of Ethiopia's distinct culture is the unique churches of Lalibela. In the early 1200s, King Lalibela came to power in Ethiopia.

During his reign, he directed the building of eleven remarkable churches that workers had carved from ground level downward into the solid rock of the mountains. These amazing structures still exist today and illustrate the architectural and artistic skill of the craftsmen who created them.

Despite their isolation, Ethiopian Christians kept ties with the Holy Land. In fact, some made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They also were in touch with Christian communities in Egypt. Over time, Ethiopian Christianity absorbed many local customs. Traditional East African music and dance were adapted, and their influence is still felt in Ethiopian church services today. In addition, the services are still conducted in the ancient language of Geez.

Judaism in Ethiopia

The kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the Israelite king Solomon and the queen of Sheba. This belief was recorded in an ancient Ethiopian book called The Glory of Kings and reinforced by the fact that Ethiopians observe some of the Jewish holidays and dietary laws.

Some Ethiopians practiced Judaism, not the predominant Christianity. These Ethiopian Jews lived in the mountains of Ethiopia until the late 1900s, when most evacuated to Israel due to famine and persecutions.

City-States of East Africa

While Axum declined, a string of commercial cities—including Kilwa, Mogadishu, Mombasa, and Sofala—gradually arose along the East African coast. Since ancient times, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Indian traders had visited this region. In the 700s, Arab traders began visiting this region more frequently, and Arab and Persian merchants set up Muslim trading centers beginning in the 900s. Port cities, as well as offshore islands such as Lamu and Zanzibar, were ideally located for trade with Asia. As a result, Asian traders and immigrants from as far away as Indonesia soon added to the rich cultural mix.

Trade in the Indian Ocean

By the 600s, sailors had learned that the annual monsoon winds could carry sailing ships plying the waters of the Indian Ocean between India and Africa. On the East African coast, rulers took advantage of the opportunities for trade that these winds of the Indian Ocean provided.

Illustration of a desert market, with stalls and open areas displaying baskets and piles of items. Men and women in head coverings and robes engage in discussion and some exchange money.

Traders from Europe, Asia, and the interior of Africa descended on East Africa to trade enslaved people and ivory, gold, and other goods.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments