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The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam

The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam

Hardback Emblems of Antiquity

By (author) G. W. Bowersock

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 208 pages
  • Dimensions: 145mm x 213mm x 15mm | 340g
  • Publication date: 4 October 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0199739323
  • ISBN 13: 9780199739325
  • Illustrations note: 8 illus. 2 maps
  • Sales rank: 243,158

Product description

Just prior to the rise of Islam, in the sixth century AD, southern Arabia was embroiled in a holy war between Christian Ethiopians and Jewish Arabs. The Jewish kingdom, composed of ethnic Arabs who had converted to Judaism more than a century before, had launched a bloody pogrom against Christians in the region. The ruler of Ethiopia, who claimed descent from the union of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and even was rumored to possess an object no less venerable than the Ark of the Covenant, aspired both to protect the persecuted Christians and to restore Ethiopian control in the Arabian Peninsula. Though little known today, this was an international war that involved both the Byzantine Empire, who had established Christian churches in Ethiopia beginning in the fourth century, and the Sasanian Empire in Persia, who supported the Jews in a proxy war with Byzantium. Our knowledge of these events derives mostly from an inscribed throne at the Ethiopian port of Adulis seen and meticulously described by a Christian merchant known as Cosmos in the sixth century. Trying to decipher and understand this monument takes us directly into religious conflicts that occupied the nations on both sides of the Red Sea in late antiquity. Using the writings of Cosmas and archaeological evidence from the period, historian G. W. Bowersock offers a narrative account of this fascinating but overlooked chapter in pre-Islamic Arabian history. The extraordinary story told in Throne of Adulis provides an important and much neglected background for the rise of Islam as well as the collapse of the Persian Empire before the Byzantines.

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Author information

G. W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of more than 300 articles and books on Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern history, as well as the classical tradition in western literature.

Review quote

"[O]n the whole this book offers an intriguing and useful introduction to the history of a relatively obscure but certainly important region of the ancient world." --Journal of Early Christian Studies"The Throne of Adulis shows Bowersock at full bent... Bowersock has brought a novel freshness to this grand narrative. He fastens with delight on new pieces of evidence, from each of which he derives conclusions that significantly alter our view of the whole story...Bowersock has taken us back to a moment of time when the future of the Middle East still hung in the balance...the pre-Islamic Middle East, Arabia, and the Red Sea have been thrown open for us by Glen Bowersock." --Peter Brown, New York Review of Books"[A] splendid new book." --Peter Thonemann, Times Literary Supplement"G W Bowersock amply achieves his aims in a most elegant fashion.... My summaries cannot convey the intense delight of reading The Throne of Adulis, which so lightly steps from language to language to delineate and richly explain its fragments of evidence, the implications of which accumulate into explanations of poorly known yet momentous events. G W Bowersock's latest is no more than an extended essay yet it outranks many multi-volume treatises." --Edward N Luttwak, Literary Review"This highly erudite study makes a noteworthy and heavyweight contribution to a complex subject. It does so in an unfussy and discreet manner that belies the impact it will have for scholars working in this field." --Peter Frankopan, History Today"Bowersock brilliantly weaves together a sixth-century description of a now lost marble throne from modern Eritrea with new scholarship on Ethiopia and South Arabia in Late Antiquity, with fascinating results for the perennial problem of Islamic origins." --Averil Cameron, author of The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity"Bowersock probes the complexities of pre-Islamic Arabia and finds flourishing Jewish and Christian communities at each other's throat, and pagans of monotheist bent. An ingenious, cutting-edge book, with answers for those wondering who needed the Qur'an's Third Way." --Garth Fowden, author of The Egyptian Hermes"Closely argued on scarce evidence, [The Throne of Adulis] draws attention to the enduring geopolitical significance of this poorly understood region. Recommended." --CHOICE

Table of contents

Preface ; Abbreviations ; List of Maps and Illustrations ; Maps ; I. The Throne ; II. A Christian Traveller in the Red Sea ; III. Ptolemy's Elephants ; IV. The Kingdom of Axum ; V. Christianity Comes to Axum ; VI. Judaism Comes to Himyar ; VII. The Ethiopian Invasion of 525 ; VIII. Entry of the Great Powers ; IX. Reckoning ; Appendix: Nonnosus ; Bibliography ; Index