Archaeological Sources

The Sabaean migrants who crossed the Red Sea in the first millennium B.C and settled in Ethiopia brought with them their own religion. They were polytheists, and worshipped different gods of heaven, the earth and the sea. Almouqah (Elmouqah), for example, was the principal god of the south Arabian pantheon, and was retained as such in Ethiopia. Other Sabaean gods, like Astar (Astarte), corresponding to Aphrodite and Venus of the Greek and Roman world, sin the moon god shams the sun god, were widely worshipped in Ethiopia. Later, with the introduction of Greek culture into Ethiopia, worship of the Greek pantheon became widespread. In the well-known Greek inscription, left at Adulis by an anonymous Ethiopia Emperor, mention is made of Zeus, Poseidon and Aries. On the reverse of the monument appear engravings of another Greek god and demi-god, Hermes and Hercules, Aries was in fact the personal god of the Ethiopian Emperors of the pre-Christian era, as shown in the frequent references made to him in epigraphic inscriptions.


After the third century, with the development of more purely Ethiopian civilization, Ethiopic names evolved for the gods then worshipped. This can be observed in the pre-Christian Ge’ez inscriptions of Emperor Ezana, where Ethiopic names replace the Sabaean or Greek names. Mahrem corresponds to Aries, Baher to Poseidon, and seamy to the Sabaean god Almouqah.


Temples, altars and statues were dedicated to gods. In Yeha there is a well-preserved temple dedicated to Almouqah. This temple was created before fifth century; it is rectangular in form with a double wall and single door. A similar temple to the same god existed at Hawlti-Melazo, near Axum, but it is now in ruins. A temple dedicated to Aries is found in Axum itself. Altars to the gods were also erected in various places. For example, at Kaskasse about eight kilometers northeast of Matara, there is an altar with a Sabaean dedicatory inscription to god sin, engraved with the symbols of the crescent and disc. There are also many altars bearing dedications in Sabaean to Almouqah. After his victory over the Beja people on the northern frontier of his domain, the Emperor Ezana erected status in gold silver and bronze to the god Aries.