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Adulis: The gateway of Eritrea’s civilization

Adulis or known also as Aduli is an archeological site situated in the Northern Red Sea region, abut 45 kilometers south of Massawa. It was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum and the gateway of trade to the Eritrean hinterland. Adulis is described in the 1st century Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a guide of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.


The guide book descibes the port as the center of ivory, hides, slaves trade and other exports of the interior.

Cosmas Indicoleustes records two inscriptions he found there in the 6th century: the first records how Ptolemy Euergetes used war elephants captured in the region to gain victories in his wars abroad; the second, known as Monumentum Adulitanum, was inscribed in the 27th year of an unnamed king in Aksum, boasting of his victories to the north and south of Aksum.

Control of Adulis allowed Aksum to be the major power on the Red Sea. This port was the principal staging area for King Kaleb’s invasion of the Himyarite kingdom of Dhu Nuwas around 520. While the scholar Yuri Kobishchanov detailed a number of raids Aksumites made on the Arabian coast and argued that Adulis was later captured by other forces that eventually bring the end of Aksum’s naval ability and contributed to the Aksumite Kingdom’s isolation from the Byzantine Empire and other traditional allies.

Adulis was one of the first sites to undergo excavation, when a French mission to Eritrea under Vignaud and Petit performed an initial survey in 1840, and prepare a map to which marked the location of the structures they believed were temples. In 1868, workers attached to Napier’s campaign to the heart of Ethiopia visited Adulis and exposed several buildings, including the foundation of Byzantine like church.

The first scientific excavation at Adulis was undertaken by German expedition in 1906, under the supervision of R. Sundstrom. He worked in the northern sector of the site, exposing a large structure, which he dubbed the palace of Adulis, as well as recovering Aksumite coinage. The expedition’s results were published in four volumes in 1913. R. Paribeni excavated in Adulis the following year, discovering many structures similar to what Sunstrom had found earlier, as well as a number of ordinary dwellings. Wine amphorae imported from the area of modern Aqaba were found here.

Excavation resumed in 1962 by an expedition led by a French archeologist, Francis Anfray. This excavation not only recovered materials showing strong affinities with the late Aksumite kingdom but nalso significant item depicting Adulis the center of civilization in the area. Adulis ever since has become the hub of Eritrean ancient history revealing new findings to this day. New relics are stilly being discovered by Eritrean and Italian archeologists. The latest being two temples, ancient ceramic leftovers from the Middle East, as well as walls and other artifacts. Archeologists working at the site believe that Eritrea would possess various tourist attraction sites at global level following the excavation of the newly recovered relics.

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