Abraha (also spelled Abreha, died after CE 553;[1] r. 525–at least 553[2]), also known as Abraha al-Ashram (Arabic: أبرهة الأشرم‎), was an Aksumite army general, then the viceroy of southern Arabia for the Kingdom of Aksum, and later declared himself an independent King of Himyar. Abraha ruled much of present-day Arabia and Yemen from at least 531–547 CE to 555–565 CE.[3][4]


Dhu Nuwas, the Jewish Himyarite ruler of Yemen, in the period c. 523–525[5] or c. 518–20[1] launched military operations against the Aksumite Christians and their local Arab Christian allies.[6] The Aksumites in Zafar were killed, their fortresses in the Yemeni highlands destroyed, and Najran sacked.

Najran fell in 518 or 523 and many members of the Himyarite Christian community were put to death evoking great sympathy throughout the Christian regions of the Orient and prompting an intercontinental Aksumite military intervention using the massive Aksumite fleet aided by a small extra Byzantine fleet first made in 518/523.[6]

Abraha was either one of the commanders or a member of one of the armies led by King Kaleb of Axum against Dhu Nuwas. In al-Tabari's history, 'Abraha is said to have been the commander of the second army sent by Kaléb after the first failed, led by 'Ariat.

Abraha was reported to have led his army of 100,000 men with hundreds of elephants to successfully crush all resistance of the Yemeni army and then, following the suicide of Dhu Nuwas, seized power and established himself at Sana‘a. He aroused the wrath of Kaléb, however, by withholding tribute who then sent his general 'Ariat to take over the governorship of Yemen. 'Abraha rid himself of the latter by a subterfuge in a duel resulting in 'Ariat being killed and 'Abraha suffering the injury which earned him the sobriquet of al-Asräm, "scar-face."[5]

According to Procopius (Histories 1.20), 'Abraha seized the control of Yemen from Esimiphaios (Sumuafa' Ashawa'), the Christian Himyarite viceroy appointed by Kaléb, with the support of dissident elements within the Aksum occupation force who were eager to settle in the Yemen, then a rich and fertile land.[5] Stuart Munro-Hay, who proposes a 518 date for the rise of Dhu Nuwas, dates this event to 525,[2] while by the later chronology (in which Dhu Nuwas comes to power in 523), this event would have happened about 530, although a date as late as 543 has been postulated by Jacques Ryckmans.[5]

An army sent by Kaléb to subdue 'Abraha joined his ranks and killed the ruler sent to replace him (this is perhaps a reference to 'Ariat) and a second army was defeated. After this Kaléb had to accord him de facto recognition before earning recognition under Kaleb's successor for a nominal tribute.


A reference map of the empire of Kaleb of Axum.

Abraha is seen as then becoming a prominent figure in Yemen's history, promoting the cause of Christianity in the face of the prevalent Judaism and the paganism of Central Arabia.[5] A zealous Christian himself, he is said to have built a great church at San'a' and to have repaired the principal irrigation dam at the Sabaean capital of Ma'rib.

Epigraphic sources chronicling 'Abraha's career include an inscription on the Marib Dam recording the quelling of an insurrection backed by a son of the deposed ruler, Esimiphaios, in the year 657 of the Sabaean era, i.e. between 540–550; vital repairs effected to the dam later in the same year; the reception of envoys from the Negus, from Byzantium, from Persia and from Al-Harith ibn Jabalah, the phylarch of Arabia; and the completion of repairs to the dam in the following year, followed by a great feast of rejoicing.

The royal title adopted by 'Abraha "King of Saba' and dhü-Raydän and Hadhramaut and Yamanat and of their Arabs on the plateau and the lowland." was of the Himyarites[7]

Islamic tradition

Islamic tradition credits Abraha with a military expedition against the Quraysh of Mecca in an invasion of Hejaz in 570,[6] known as the Year of the Elephant. The tafsir (exegesis) of the surat al-Fil states that he perished.

National Museum of Saudi Arabia

According to the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Abraha built Al-Qullays in Sana'a, he also built a similar one in Najran for Bani Al-Harith, the House of Allat in Taif for the tribe of Thaqeef, the House of Yareem and the House of Ghamdan in Yemen.

The traditions also say that Abraha is said to have built a cathedral at San'a' known as al-Qullays (from the Greek Ekklesia)[8] to rival the Kaaba at Mecca and specifically came with his forces of elephants to destroy the Kaaba.[9]


Balami - Tarikhnama - The arrow of old Wahraz kills Masruq, the Ethiopian King of Yemen (cropped)
Abraha's son Masruq

No reliable information exists about the date of 'Abraha's death. Munro-Hay dates his death to some time after 553 based on the inscription at Murayghän.[1] Islamic tradition places it immediately after his expedition to Mecca. He was succeeded on the throne by two of his sons, Yaksum and Masruq, born to him by Raihäna, a Yemenite noblewoman whom 'Abraha had abducted from her husband.[5]

Between 570 and 575 the pro-Persian group in Yemen made contact with the Sassanid king through the Lakhmid princes in Al-Hirah. The Persians then sent troops under the command of Wahriz, who helped the semi-legendary Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan drive the Aksumites from Yemen and Southern Arabia became a Persian dominion under a Yemenite vassal within the sphere of influence of the Sassanian empire.[6]

Death of Abraha according to Islamic belief

According to the Qur'an,[10] the next day, as Abraha prepared to enter Mecca, a dark cloud of birds appeared. The birds, sent by God, carried brimstone and bombarded Abraha's army, and killed him and his army. This is the theme mentioned in the Qur'an, Chapter 105 "al-Feel" (The Elephant) as follows:

"Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant? Did He not cause their war plot to end in confusion, and send down (to prey) upon them birds in flocks, casting them with brimstone, so He rendered them like straw eaten up"

See also


  1. ^ a b c Stuart Munro-Hay (2003) "Abraha" in Siegbert Uhlig (ed.) Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
  2. ^ a b S. C. Munro-Hay (1991) Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0748601066
  3. ^ Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (ed.) (2015) The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press. p. 287. ISBN 019027753X
  4. ^ Francis E. Peters (1994) Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. p. 88. ISBN 0791418758.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Abraha." Archived 2016-01-13 at the Wayback Machine Dictionary of African Christian Biographies. 2007. (last accessed 11 April 2007)
  6. ^ a b c d Walter W. Müller (1987) "Outline of the History of Ancient Southern Arabia," in Werner Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 Years of Art and Civilisation in Arabia Felix. Pinguin-Verlag. ISBN 9068322133
  7. ^ Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (ed.) (2015) The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press. p. 285. ISBN 019027753X
  8. ^ Edward Ullendorff (1960) The Ethiopians: an Introduction to Country and People. 2nd edition. London: Oxford University Press. p. 56.
  9. ^ Abraha | viceroy of Yemen. Encylopaedia Britannica.
  10. ^ Qur'an, al-Fil
Ababil (mythology)

Ababil (Arabic: أبابيل‎, translit. abābīl) refers to the miraculous birds (identified as swallows) mentioned in Sura 105 of the Quran that protected the Ka'ba in Mecca from the Aksumite elephant army of Abraha, then self-styled governor of Himyar, by dropping small clay stones on them as they approached.

The actual phrase from the Quran from which the word is derived from reads as "ṭayran abābīl(a)" (طَيْرًا اَبَابِيلَ) and translates as "birds in flocks". But the phrase can also be translated as "Abābīl birds" giving rise to the notion of a legendary race of magical birds.

The event is said to have occurred in 570, the year that the Islamic prophet Mohammed was born.

Abraha (name)

Abraha is an Arabic name that may refer to

Given nameAbraha, 6th-century Aksumite military general

Abraha Asfaha, Eritrea's Minister of Public Works and Construction

Abraha Hadush (born 1982), Ethiopian long-distance runner

Abraha Kassa, Director of National Security for EritreaSurnameFrançois Abraha (1918–2000), Ethiopian Catholic Bishop of Asmara

Ogbe Abraha (born 1948), Eritrean politician

Ruth Abraha, Eritrean singer

Siye Abraha, leader of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front

Tekie Abraha, Eritrean football manager

Woldemichael Abraha, Minister of Transport and Communications for Eritrea

Abraha Asfaha

Abraha Asfaha is Eritrea's Minister of Public Works and Construction, a post he has held since independence.

Abraha Hadush

Abraha Hadush (born 1982) is a former Ethiopian long-distance runner who competed in the 10,000 metres. He won gold in the event at the 2000 African Championships with the time of 28:40.51.

Abraha Kassa

Brigadier General Abraha Kassa is the Director of National Security for Eritrea.

Aksumite–Persian wars

In the late sixth century, Sasanian Empire of Persia and the Ethiopia-based Aksumite Empire fought a series of wars over control of the Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen, Southern Arabia. After the Battle of Hadhramaut and the Siege of Sana'a in 570, the Aksumites were expelled from the Arabian peninsula. They had re-established their power there by 575 or 578, when another Persian army invaded Yemen and re-established the deposed king on his throne as their client. It marked the end of Ethiopian rule in Arabia.

Army of the Ethiopian Empire

The Armies of the Ethiopian Empire have existed since earliest times. Ethiopia maintained a sizable contingent of her forces in her Sabbean Garrisons which expanded out to project power over colonies in Yemen and to protect Caravans or trade routes.

At home Ethiopian Forces under the command Prince Nastesen (Iskindr) inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Persian Army of Cambyses. The Prince had been Ordered by His Mother the Candace to draw the Persian Forces deep into Ethiopian territory before engaging them. He did this so well that Cambyses Army was never able to recover and those let alive had to retreat back to Egypt. Cambyses did not attempt to reconquer Ethiopia.About the 2nd century AD, there arose the Axumites rapidly supplanting the Damot. The Axumite however paid homage to their former masters. The Judaic rulers of Damot were held in the highest esteem by the new Axumite Empire.

There is evidence in inscriptions and archaeological finds that attest to the presence of Axumite troops in Yemen as early as AD 200. This suggests that Axum was no less involved in the Arabian matters than Damot during the reigns of GDRT, and his successors `DBH and Sembrouthes, During the reign of Ousanas, Ezanas father, Axum traded and projected its influence as far as India, where coins minted in Ousanas' reign were discovered in 1990.

This lasted until the 4th century when Twin Axumite Emperors Ezana and Sezana became converted to the new Christian Faith.

Axum's Armies were launched into the former tributary Kingdom of Nubia devastating it to the point it never recovered its former glory or was ever an independent polity again.

In 520, during the reign of Emperor Kaleb Ella Atsbeha, Axum received an appeal from the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian. At first Axum re-occupied an abandoned fort at Najran with cavalry troops admonishing the local ruler Yusuf Hathar who as a consequence of his conversion to Judaism and the urging of the Persian Sassanian Kings had vigorously undertaken the persecution of Christian pilgrims. Axum was not a new power there Yusuf Hathar who had taken the throne name of Dhu Nuwas may have genuinely been mollified by his actions. The elderly commander Arayat, the uncle of the Emperor, led a company of cavalry into Najran charged with protecting Christian pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem from Banditry. However, peace proved fleeting: perhaps as a result of encouragement from the Persians else out of humiliation Dhu Nuwa's men attacked the Fort of Najran. What happened afterward is debated. By some accounts the garrison fought back and died. Witness later accused Dhu Nuwas of having killed the soldiers in their sleep and then massacring all others who had sought their protection.

Dhu Nuwas may have believed, and perhaps even received assurances, that the Sassanians would protect his fledgling empire with a sizable force. It is doubtful if he knew that Aryat led the Garrison that he would kill the Emperor's uncle without knowing with certainty that Kaleb would exact revenge. It was said that Emperor Kaleb received news of the massacre and the death of his beloved uncle as he was coming out of the Church. He ordered the entire court back into Church and ordered the priests to give the assembled nobles and soldiers including himself the last rites of the Christian faith.

He ordered the entire Imperial host to war. The first attempt at crossing was not successful: the army unable to land was forced to return to Adulis dropped anchor in Yemen.

Under the command of its Emperor Abraha the Axumite Army of spearmen, swordsmen, elephants, cavalry and Archers defeated the Army of Himyar.

It was apparent that Kaleb had not gone there just to punish a wayward vassal. Holding a trial for Dhu Nuwas, Kaleb gave Dhu Nuwas to his own people so they may exact their own justice. He appointed a local Christian named Safwa administrator, left Abraha, his cousin, in charge of the sizable portion of the Axumite Host and returned home to Axum with the rest.

The target was an usurper, Yusuf Hathar that had begun to make a name of himself consolidating power in the region. A recent convert to Judaism, he had become a client of the Sassanian Persians, avowed enemies of the Western Roman Empire.

appealed for the Ethiopian Emperor. Ethiopian Imperial Army existed in one form or another since the founding of the Ethiopian Empire in the 13th century.

During the First Italo–Ethiopian War, the Army of the Ethiopian Empire was able to defeat the army of the Kingdom of Italy at the battle of Adwa.

During the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, the Army of the Ethiopian Empire consisted of the Imperial Bodyguard, a central army, and several armies of provincial forces. The Ethiopian army was defeated soundly, after giving considerable difficulty to the Italians. The Italians employed mass aerial bombing of mustard gas to win the Battle of Amba Aradam.

On 12 September 1974, a committee of low-ranking military officers and enlisted men called the Derg deposed Emperor Haile Selassie. The Army of the Ethiopian Empire became the Army of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Cabinet of Ministers of Eritrea

The Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers, are headed by the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, and run the day-to-day operations of the Government of Eritrea. The National Assembly of Eritrea approves all candidates for the Cabinet.

Minister of Agriculture — Arefaine Berhe

Minister of Defense —

Minister of Education — Semere Russom

Minister of Energy & Mines — General Sebhat Ephrem

Minister of Finance — Berhane Habtemariam

Minister of Fisheries & Marine Resources — Tewolde Kelati

Minister of Foreign Affairs — Osman Saleh Mohammed

Minister of Health — Amna Nurhusein

Minister of Information — Yemane Gebremeskel

Minister of Justice — Fozia Hashim

Minister of Labor & Human Welfare — Kahsay Gebrehiwet

Minister of Land, Water, & Environment — Tesfai Gebreselassie

Minister of National Development — Gergish Teklemichael, Dr.

Minister of Public Works — Abraha Asfaha

Minister of Tourism — Askalu Menkerios

Minister of Trade & Industry — Nesredin M.S.A. Bekit

Minister of Transport & Communications — Tesfaselasie Berhane

Minister of Local government — Woldemichael Araha

Dawit Mebratu

Dawit Abraha Mebratu (Amharic: ዻዊት ዓብራሃ መብራቱ, born 13 June 1984 in Ethiopia) is an Ethiopian football midfielder. He currently plays for Saint-George SA.

François Abraha

François Abraha (2 April 1918 – 26 March 2000) was appointed by Pope John XXIII in 1961 as the first autonomous Bishop of Asmara, which at that time was a part of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. He went on to attend the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

François Abraha was known for his ecumenical openness and for his activism against the Derg in Ethiopia. He repeatedly protested against Soviet involvement in the Eritrean struggle for independence.

Kingdom of Aksum

The Kingdom of Aksum (Tigrinya: መንግስቲ ኣኽሱም also known as the Kingdom of Axum, or the Aksumite Empire) was an ancient kingdom located in what is now Tigray Region (northern Ethiopia) and Eritrea. Axumite Emperors were powerful sovereigns, styling themselves King of kings, king of Aksum, Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Salhen, Tsiyamo, Beja and of Kush.

Ruled by the Aksumites, it existed from approximately 100 AD to 940 AD. The polity was centered in the city of Axum and grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period around the 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD.

Aksum became a major player on the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India. The Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own Aksumite currency, with the state establishing its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush. It also regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula and eventually extended its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom. The Manichaei prophet Mani (died 274 AD) regarded Axum as one of the four great powers of his time, the others being Persia, Rome, and China.The Aksumites erected a number of monumental stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. One of these granite columns is the largest such structure in the world, at 90 feet. Under Ezana (fl. 320–360) Aksum adopted Christianity. In the 7th century, early Muslims from Mecca sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom, a journey known in Islamic history as the First Hijra.The kingdom's ancient capital, also called Axum, is now a town in Tigray Region (northern Ethiopia). The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century. Tradition claims Axum as the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.

Ogbe Abraha

Ogbe Abraha (born 1948) is an Eritrean politician. He joined the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1972 and, since independence, has held the following positions: member of the Central Council of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), member of the National Council, Secretary and then Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare (beginning in February 1997), Chief of Logistics, Administration and Health in the Ministry of Defence, Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces. Abraha was dismissed from his post and stripped of his military rank by the President in February 2000. He was arrested in September 2001 due to his membership in a group of ministers calling for political reforms. He has been held incommunicado since that time. He is reported to be suffering from asthma and his condition is unknown.

Ruth Abraha

Ruth Abraha, also known as Rutta Abraha, is a singer from Eritrea. She is the lead singer of the group Wari.

Siye Abraha

Siye Abraha Hagos (Tigrinya: ስዬ አብርሃ ሓጐስ, siyә abräha) was one of the founders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and later a member of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Tekie Abraha

Tekie Abraha is an Eritrean professional football manager.

Tesfay Abraha

Tesfay Abraha Habtemariam (born 3 October 1990 in Asmara) is an Eritrean former cyclist.

Woldemichael Abraha

Woldemichael Abraha was the fourth Minister of Transport and Communications for Eritrea starting in 2004.He was appointed Minister of Local Government after Woldemichael Gebremariam died in 2013. Accoriding to Eritrean government convention, Abraha, as minister of Local Government, serves as head of state when the President is away.

Year of the Elephant

The ʿām al-fīl (Arabic: عام الفيل‎, Year of the Elephant) is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 570 CE. According to some Islamic resources, it was in this year that Muhammad (Arabic: مُـحَـمَّـد‎, consonant letters: m-ħ-m-d) was born. The name is derived from an event said to have occurred at Mecca: Abraha, the Abyssinian, Christian ruler of Yemen, which was subject to the Kingdom of Aksum of Ethiopia, marched upon the Ka‘bah in Mecca with a large army, which included one or more war elephants, intending to demolish it. However, the lead elephant, known as 'Mahmud' (Arabic: مَـحْـمُـوْد‎, consonant letters: m-ħ-m-d), is said to have stopped at the boundary around Mecca, and refused to enter. It has been theorized that an epidemic, perhaps caused by smallpox, could have caused such a failed invasion of Mecca. The year came to be known as the Year of the Elephant, beginning a trend for reckoning the years in the Arabian Peninsula. This reckoning was used until it was replaced with the Islamic calendar during the times of ‘Umar.

Archaeological discoveries in Southern Arabia suggest that Year of the Elephant may have been 569 or 568, as the Sasanian Empire overthrew the Aksumite-affiliated rulers in Yemen around 570.The year is also recorded as that of the birth of ‘Ammar ibn Yasir.

Zuhayr ibn Janab

Zuhayr ibn Janab ibn Hubal al-Kalbi was a chieftain of the Banu Kalb tribe and a pre-Islamic Arabic warrior poet. Much of his biography relies on semi-legendary accounts, but it is apparent that he lived in the early 6th century. He led not only the Kalb, but the entire Quda'a tribal confederation. During his one-time alliance with the Aksumite viceroy Abraha, Zuhayr quelled a revolt by the Taghlib and Bakr tribes, capturing their chieftains, including Kulayb ibn Rabi'a. Later, he destroyed the pagan sanctuary of the Ghatafan tribe, which rivaled the Ka'aba in Mecca. Traditional Arab sources noted that Zuhayr lived an extremely long life, and finally died by suicide after he was disobeyed. His descendants, particularly those belonging to the family of Bahdal ibn Unayf, would later hold high positions under the Umayyad Caliphate.

People and things in the Quran

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