Ethiopian History

A German Historian thus sums up all that is known of Ethiopian history - that is, of the part which the great Negro race, inhabiting all Africa with the exception of the north-eastern coasts, performed in the general affairs of mankind in the early ages of the world: - ‘ On the history of this division of the species two remarks may be made: the one, that a now entirely extinct knowledge of the extension and power of this branch of the human family must have been forced upon even the Greeks by their early poets and historians; the other, that the Ethiopian history is interwoven throughout with that of Egypt. As regards the first remark, it is clear that in the earliest ages this branch of the race must have played an important part, since Meroe (in the present Nubia) is mentioned both by Herodotus (B.C. 408) and Strabo (A. D. 20); by the one as a still-existing, by the other as a formerly-existing seat of royalty, and centre of the Ethiopian religion and civilization.' To this Strabo adds, that the race spread from the boundaries of Egypt over the mountains of Atlas, as far as the Gaditanian Straits. Ephorus, too (B.C. 405), seems to have had a very great impression of the Ethiopians, since he names in the east the Indians, in the south the Ethiopians, in the west the Celts, in the north the Seythians, as the most mighty and numerous peoples of the known earth. Already in Strabo's time, however, their ancient power had been gone for an indefinite period, and the Negro states found themselves, after Meroe had ceased to be a religious capital, almost in the same situation as that in which they still continue. The second remark on the Negro branch of the human race and its history, can only be fully elucidated when the interpretation of the inscriptions on Egyptian monuments shall have been farther advanced. The latest travels into Abyssinia show this much - that at one time the Egyptian religion and civilization extended over the principal seat of the northern Negroes. Single mummies and monumental figures corroborate what Herodotus expressly says, that a great portion of the Egyptians of his time had black skins and woolly hair; hence we infer that the Negro race had combined itself intimately with the Caucasian part of the population. Not these notices only, but the express testimonies also of the Hebrew annals, show Egypt to have contained an abundance of Negroes, and mention a conquering king invading it at the head of a Negro host, and governing it for a considerable time. The nature of the accounts on which we must found does not permit us to give an accurate statement; we remark, however, that the Indians, the Egyptians, and the Babylonians, are not the only peoples which aimed at becoming world conquerors before the historic age, but that also to the Ethiopian stock warlike kings were not wanting in the early times. The Mongols alone seem to have enjoyed a happy repose within their own seats in the primitive historic times, and those antecedent to them they appear first very late as conquerors and destroyers in the history of the west. If, indeed, the hero-king of the Ethiopians, Tearcho, were one and the same with the Tirhakah of the book of Kings (2 Kings, xix. 9), then the wonder of those stories would disappear which were handed down by tradition to the Greeks; but even Bochart has combatted this belief, and we cannot reconcile it with the circumstances which are related of both. It remains for us only to observe, by way of summary, that in an age antecedent to the historic, the Ethiopian peoples may have been associated together in a more regular manner than in our own or Grecian and Roman times; and that their distant expeditions may have been so formidable, both to the Europeans as far as the Aegean Sea in the east, and to the dwellers on the Gaditanian Straits (Gibraltar) on the west, that the dim knowledge of the fact was not lost even in late times. In more recent ages we observe here and there an Ethiopian influence, and especially in the Egyptian history; but as concerns the general progress of the human species, the Negro race never acquired any vital importance.

The foregoing observations may be summed up in this proposition: - That in the most remote antiquity, Africa was overspread by the Negro variety of the human species; that in those parts of the continent to which the knowledge of the ancient geographers did not extend - namely, all, south of Egypt and the Great Desert - the Negro race degenerated, or at least dispersed into tribes, kingdoms, etc., constituting a great savage system within its own torrid abode, similar to that which even now, in the adult age of the world, we are vainly attempting to penetrate; but that on the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, the race either preserved its original faculty and intelligence longer, or was so improved by contact and intermixture with its Caucasian neighbors, as to constitute, under the name of the Ethiopians, one of the great ante-historic dynasties of the world; and that this dynasty ebbed and flowed against the Caucasian populations of western Asia and eastern Europe, thus giving rise to mixture of races along the African coasts of the north and east, until at length, leaving these mixed races to act their part awhile, the pure Ethiopian himself retired from historic view into Central Africa, where he lay concealed, till again in modern times he was dragged forth to become the slave of the Caucasian. Thus Negro history hitherto has exhibited a retrogression from a point once occupied, rather than a progress in civilization. Even this fact, however, must somehow be subordinate to a great law of general progress; and it is gratifying to know that, on the coast of Africa, a settlement has recently been formed called Liberia, peopled by liberated negro slaves from North America; and who, bringing with them the Anglo-American civilization, give promise of founding a cultured and prosperous community.

* Some years ago, a traveler, Mr. G. A. Hoskins, visited the site of this capital state of ancient Ethiopia, an island, if it may be so called, about 300 miles long, enclosed within two forking branches of the Nile. He found in it several distinct groups of magnificent pyramidal structures. Of one ruin he says - Never were my feelings more ardently excited than in approaching, after so tedious a journey, to this magnificent necropolis. The appearance of the pyramids in the distance announced their importance; but I was gratified beyond my most sanguine expectations when I found myself in the midst of them. The pyramids of Gizeh are magnificent, wonderful from their stupendous magnitude; but for picturesque effect and elegance of architectural design, I infinitely prefer those of Meroe. I expected to find few such remains here, and certainly nothing so imposing, so interesting, as these sepulchres, doubtless of the kings and queens of Ethiopia. I stood for some time lost in admiration. This, then, was the necropolis, or city of the dead! But where was the city itself, Meroe, its temples and palaces? A large space, about 2000 feet in length, and the same distance from the river, strewed with burnt brick and with some fragments of walls and stones, similar to those used in the erection of the pyramids, formed, doubtless, part of that celebrated s i te. The idea that this is the exact situation of the city is strengthened by the remark of Strabo, that the walls of the habitations were built of bricks. These indicate, without doubt, the site of that cradle of the arts which distinguish a civilized from a barbarous society. Of the birthplace of the arts and sciences, the wild natives of the adjacent villages have made a miserable burying-place; of the city of the learned - " its cloud-capt towers," its gorgeous palaces," its "solemn temples " - there is "left not a rack behind." The sepulchres alone of her departed kings have fulfilled their destination of surviving the habitations which their philosophy taught them to consider but as inns, and are now fast mouldering into dust. Scarcely a trace of a palace or a temple is to be seen.'