Red Sea, and the country remained sensitive to developments stemming from this direction. The highlands, which presented such a challenge to Ethiopia's rulers, presented an even greater challenge to external powers, and afforded the country a degree of autonomy vis-a-vis the millennial forces which swept the region. Of these forces, Islam was one of the most powerful. Its rise, in the seventh century of the era, ended Aksumite dominance in the Red Sea. Over time, Islam came to dominate the Hellenistic world into which the Aksumites had fitted so comfortably.
Ethiopians came to see themselves as an island of Christianity in a hostile sea of Islam and of paganism. The patriarchates - of Alexandria and of Antioch -to which they looked for guidance were subjected to Muslim rule in the first decades of the Islamic era and the adherents of the churches which they led soon became minorities. The Nubian Christian kingdoms of the middle Nile Valley were slower to succumb, the last of them passing out of the historical record in the fifteenth century.3 Meanwhile, Islam was establishing itself on the western side of the Red Sea, on the coastlands below the Ethiopian highlands, from where it slowly spread inland along routes of trade. In the Ethiopian region, both Islam and Christianity were confronted with a multiplicity of religious beliefs and practices which both viewed as pagan. As we shall see, the struggle against pre-Christian belief and practice was waged not simply on the frontiers of the kingdom but even within the royal court itself.
Ethiopia's position as an outpost of Christendom allowed the development of beliefs and practices which, while unfairly viewed as exotic, were none the less distinctive. Ethiopians never lost the sense of being part of Christendom. Their sense of Orthodoxy came in their commitment to christological doctrine as they had received it from Alexandria. This doctrine they understand as tawahedo, or union, emphasising the union of the divine and human natures in Christ, whom they view as one person with one nature, which is uniquely divine and human. The common western designation of this position as 'Monophysite' sits uneasily with some of its adherents.4
3 W Y. Adams, Nubia: corridor to Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 525-46.
4 On the occasion of the meeting in Addis Ababa of the churches of the Syrian-Alexandrian connection, two authoritative publications were issued, one by the patriarchate, the other by 'The Ethiopian Orthodox Mission', a palace-supported organisation based at the Church ofthe Holy Trinity: The Church of Ethiopia: apanoramaofhistoryandspirituallife (Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 1970) [hereafterPanorama]; and Aymro Wond-magegnehu and Joachim Motovu(eds.), The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Addis Ababa: The Ethiopian Orthodox Mission, 1970). Both retain their value as authoritative statements. For a more recent sympathetic account, by a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, see C. Chaillot, The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church tradition: a brief introduction to its life and spirituality (Paris: Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, 2002). Older, sympathetic accounts
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