The inscribed stelae prove that the monoliths were not exclusively used as burial markers. Inscriptions were an important feature of ancient Aksumite culture, and help us understand more about Aksumite political relations, warfare, trade, and religion. They were written in three scripts: South Arabian, Greek, and Ge’ez. Ge’ez is a Semitic language that evolved from a South Arabian dialect, and is still the official language used in Ethiopian liturgy. The use of the Greek language is a result of the kingdom’s relative proximity to Hellenized Egypt, and its powerful position within an intercontinental trading network, reaching out to the Greco-Roman habitat. In some cases, all three scripts appear on one stela.
The pictures on the left and below showcase the Ge'ez Stela. This stela was manufactured during the reign of King Ezana and inscribed in all three scripts. In the Greek text, one can read that the king conveys his gratitude to Ares (Greek god of war), who qualified as the Aksumite deity Mahrem. According to both the Greek and Ge’ez inscriptions, anyone who damages the stela, will be cursed. The stela stands in the northwest of the present-day town of Aksum. It remains where it was found, and is protected by a small purpose-built hut.
The inscribed stelae from after Ezana's conversion to Christianity reveal the king's new identity as a Christian ruler. Instead of referring to the Greek gods, for instance, inscriptions emphasize the role that the king’s faith in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had played in conquering tribes.
Detail of inscriptions on the Ge'ez Stela (1).
Detail of inscriptions on the Ge'ez Stela (2).