This week saw the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, Great Britain’s longest reigning Monarch. Her 90th birthday celebrations standing as a significant testament to the unfathomable amount of work and achievements throughout a lifetime spent in the public eye.
* Married for 68 years (longest of any British Monarch)
* Hers was the first televised Coronation
* Has seen no less than twelve Prime Ministers come and go, along with seven Archbishops of Canterbury and seven Popes.
* Has sat for more than 130 official paintings
* Travelled a staggering one million miles, visiting 117 countries.
With such a long list of influences, it is safe to say that her Majesty’s place in history is secured, and she takes her place at the end of a long, long line of British Monarchs – the majority of whom have similar little asterisks at the end of their names with footnotes that send ripples of consequence throughout British and world events.
It is inconceivable then, that we don’t remember them – who they were, what they did and the events they inspired (or sometimes conspired) to create. There are legacies scattered throughout individual reigns and reigns of houses (Tudor, Lancaster, Windsor) that will forever be etched onto the nation’s consciousness; tales that have been ingrained as quintessentially British as Stonehenge or a cup of tea.
We assume that these legacies will last forever – the names of Charles I, Victoria, Elizabeth II resounding through the histories of the future. But is that assumption safe? Are Monarchies and their Kings and Queens really remembered forever?
2000 years ago, the Aksumite Empire rose up in what is now modern-day Ethiopia, encompassing parts of Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Sudan. It was a major cultural and economic influence on the Ancient World – they were the second civilisation to adopt Christianity as their official faith (behind Armenia), and the only sub-Saharan State to mint their own coinage. They even had their own version of Stonehenge – the Axum Stelae.
Aksum’s influence was so huge that it is purported to be the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. They even created their own alphabet (the Ge’ez alphabet), and was a meeting point for a huge variety of cultures – the sprawling Aksumite cities had Sabean, Jewish, Nubian, Christian and Buddhist minorities.
An important location in world history then – certainly on a par with the British Empire of the 1800’s.
And yet we know next to nothing about their Monarchs.
A few names survive – Endybis (who ruled around AD 290); Ousanas (c. AD 320); Ouazebas (late 4th Century AD) for example – but most have been lost to the mists of time. In fact, many of the names we do know about we know only from their coinage.
Endybis (c. AD 290), Gold, 2.64g. Extremely fine.
It is a much celebrated fact of numismatics that the history of the coin contains much of its appeal – in the case of the Aksumite coinage coming under the hammer in our May auctions, it is the coin itself that is the history. Without them, these names would be as inaccessible as the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (where the Ark of the Covenant is purported to be housed).
What did their Kings do? Just what were their achievements? Did any of them foil a ‘Gunpowder Plot’ to blow up Parliament? Did any of them fight invasions and take an arrow in the eye?
Did any of them celebrate their 90th birthday with a huge party in front of an adoring crowd?
We may never know. Aksum today is no more than a small country village in Ethiopia, which begs the question: will any of our own Monarchies be known in 2000 years’ time, or will the only way those in the future will know of their legacies will be from the rare fifty-pence pieces that turn up every now and again?
The Aksumite Collection for sale in our London Auctions on May 4 2016 has been formed over many years, with the aim of putting together a representative selection of good quality examples from the entire series of Aksumite coinage. It is particularly noteworthy for the fact that it contains denominations in gold, silver and copper – a rare and excellent opportunity for collectors of the series (or those who would perhaps like to start).