Geez Legends on Aksumite Coins

 

While various writers[1] have listed and translated the Geez legends on the coins of the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum, none has attempted to help the reader with no knowledge of the Geez language to unravel them for himself, so he has had to take them on trust. This need not be the case as the vocabulary and grammar used on coins is limited and this article is intended to provide a basic understanding[2].

 

Geez (Ethiopic) is a Semitic language which survives to this day as the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Christian Church. Table 1 gives the Geez alphabet of 26 letters in Geez alphabetic order[3]. Five letters have not yet been found on coins and others appear in only one word. The coin alphabet is an unvocalised one consisting of consonants only; rarely vocalised[4] letter forms indicating a consonant and specific following vowel are used on the coins. Geez letters also occur on Aksumite coins in monograms of the kings' names, as symbols (control marks?) and even in Greek legends; Geez punctuation marks appear on rare occasions[5]. All these are outside the scope of this article.

 

Table 2 lists the Geez legends with the coin types on which they appear. In this and later tables Roman letters are used[6].

 

Tables 3 and 4 provide vocabularies of words and names (divine names, personal names and place names) appearing on coins, giving the vocalised form (in italics) where known and the meaning. In the vocalised form the vowels are added[7] and the consonants may be doubled. Sometimes as noted there are alternative vocalisations yielding different meanings. In these tables and Table 5 Roman alphabetic order[8] is used for convenience.

 

Table 5 provides the vocalisation and translation of each legend.

 

I am grateful to David Appleyard for his help with linguistic issues.

 

COPYRIGHT (C) VINCENT WEST 1999


Table 1: The Geez Alphabet (Geez Letter columns to be supplied)

 

Geez Letter

Roman Letter

On Coins?

Geez Letter

Roman Letter

On Coins?

 

h

yes

 

k

yes

 

l

yes

 

w

yes

 

H[9]

yes

 

yes - only in yby

 

m

yes

 

z

yes

 

[10]

yes

 

y

yes

 

r

yes

 

d

yes

 

s

yes

 

g

yes

 

q

yes - only in msql

 

t[11]

no

 

b

yes

 

p[12]

no

 

t

yes

 

s[13]

no

 

x[14]

yes

 

d[15]

no

 

n

yes

 

f

yes - only in fH

 

yes

 

p[16]

no


Table 2: Geez Legends

 

King(s)

AC Type(s)

Metal(s)

Obv. Legend

Rev. Legend

 

 

 

 

 

Wazeba

15

AV

wzb ng ksm bsy zgly

As obv.

 

16

AR

wzb ng

(none)

 

17,18

AR

wzb ng

(wzb) ng ksm[17]

Wazeba/Ousanas

19

AR

wzb ng

(Greek)

Anonymous?

66

AR

ng bxs..?[18]

[gz]bHr bkl[19]

Mhdys

67, 69

AV,AR

ng mw mHdys

bz msql mw

 

70

AE

mHdys ng ksm

bz mw bmsql

Kaleb

111,i[20]

AR,AE

ng klb

lhgr zydl

Wazena

117,i

AR

ng wzn

zyby lmdxn ng

Anonymous, AGD[21]

125,i,ii,

126,i,ii

AR

ng ksm

zyby lmdxn ng[22]

 

118-123

AE

lHzb zydl

zwzn zng

Joel

129,133

AR,AE

ng yl

(Greek)

 

130.135

AR,AE

yl

ng

 

131,132

AE

ng

yl

 

134,i

AE

ng yl

krsts msln

Hataz

138,139,142

AR,AE

Htz

ng

 

137,141

AR,AE

ng Htz

hl lHzb

 

140

AE

(none)

Htz ng ksm

Israel

144

AE

ng ysrl

hl lHzb

Gersem

147,150

AR,AE

grsm

ng

 

148,149

AE

ng grsm

bkrsts ymw[23]

Armah

151

AR

ng rmH

hl wslm

 

152

AE

ng rmH

fH wslm lHzb

 

153

AE

ng rmH

fH lykn lHzb

 


Table 3: Geez Vocabulary - Words

 

Word

Vocalisation

(if known)

Meaning

 

 

 

Hzb

aHzb

people (plural of Hezb)

b-

ba-

in, by, through

bsy[24]

beseya

man of (from[25] besi "man")

bz

ba-ze

by this

fH

feeH

joy

hgr

hagar

city, country

kl

kwellu

everything

l

la-

to, for (and special uses noted in Table 5)

mdxn

madxen

saviour

msln

meslna

with us

msql

masqal

cross

mw

mawi

victorious. See ymw

ng

negu

king

 

negua

king of

slm

salm

peace

hl

hl

mercy

w-

wa-

and

yby

yabbeyo

"he exalts him" (from[26] abaya "to exalt")

ydl

yedlu or yedallu

"may it be suitable" or "he is suitable" (from[27] dalawa "to be suitable")

ykn

yekun

"let there be" (from[28] kona "to be")

ymw

yemawwe

"he conquers" (from[29] moa "to conquer"). See mw

z-

za-

who, of

z

ze

this


Table 4: Geez Vocabulary - Names

 

Name Group

Name

Vocalisation

(if known)

Meaning

 

 

 

 

Divine Names

 

 

 

 

gzbHr

EgziabeHr

God (literally "The Master of the Land")

 

krsts

Kerestos

Christ

 

 

 

 

Personal Names

 

 

 

 

rmH

ArmaH

Armah

 

yl

Iyol

Joel

 

bxs..

(unknown)

BXSA..A[30]

 

grsm

Gersem

Gersem

 

Htz

Hataz

Hataz

 

klb

Kaleb

Kaleb

 

mHdys

(unknown)

MHDYS[31]

 

wzb

conventionallyWazeb(a)

Wazeba

 

wzn

conventionally Wazena

Wazena

 

ysrl

Yesrl

Israel

 

 

 

 

Place Name

 

 

 

 

ksm

Aksum

Aksum

 

 

 

 

Uncertain Name

 

 

 

 

zgly

(unknown)

ZGLY[32]

 


Table 5: Translations of Geez Legends

 

Legend

Vocalisation (if known)

Translation

 

 

 

[gz]bHr bkl

EgziabeHr ba-kwellu

God in everything[33]

yl

Iyol

Joel

bkrsts ymw

ba-Kerestos yemawwe

through Christ he conquers

bz msql mw

ba-ze masqal mawi

by this cross victorious

bz mw bmsql

ba-ze mawi ba-masqal

by this victorious, by the cross

fH lykn lHzb

feeH la-yekun la-aHzb

let there be joy to the people[34]

fH wslm lHzb

feeH wa-salm la-aHzb

joy and peace to the people

grsm

Gersem

Gersem

Htz

Hataz

Hataz

Htz ng ksm

Hataz negua Aksum

Hataz king of Aksum

krsts msln

Kerestos meslna

Christ is with us

lHzb zydl

la-aHzb ze-yedlu (or za-yedallu)

may this be (or he who is) suitable for the people

lhgr zydl

la-hagar ze-yedlu (or za-yedallu)

may this be (or he who is) suitable for the city/country

mHdys ng ksm

MHDYS negua Aksum

MHDYS king of Aksum

ng

negu

king

ng ksm

negua Aksum

king of Aksum

ng rmH

negu ArmaH

king Armah

ng yl

negu Iyol

king Joel

ng bxs..

negu BXS..

king BXSA..A

ng grsm

negu Gersem

king Gersem

ng Htz

negu Hataz

king Hataz

ng klb

negu Kaleb

king Kaleb

ng mw mHdys

negu mawi MHDYS

the victorious king MHDYS

ng wzn

negu Wazena

king Wazena

ng ysrl

negu Yesrl

king Israel

hl lHzb

hl la-aHzb

mercy to the people[35]

hl wslm

hl wa-salm

mercy and peace

wzb ng

Wazeba negu

king Wazeba

wzb ng ksm

Wazeba negua Aksum

Wazeba king of Aksum

wzb ng ksm bsy zgly

Wazeba negua Aksum beseya ZGLY

Wazeba king of Aksum man of ZGLY

zwzn zng

za-Wazena za-negu

of Wazena, of the king

zyby lmdxn ng

za-yabbeyo la-madxen negu

the king who exalts the saviour[36]

 



[1]Most recently Munro-Hay S.C. and Juel-Jensen B., Aksumite Coinage, Spink & Son Ltd., 1995 (henceforth AC) which also contains an extensive bibliography

[2]For more information on Geez see Lambdin T.O., Introduction to Classical Ethiopic (Geez), Atlanta, 1978 and Leslau W., Concise Dictionary of Geez (Classical Ethiopic), Wiesbaden, 1989

[3]For charts of the letter forms appearing on coins see Munro-Hay S.C., The Geez and Greek Palaeography of the Coinage of Aksum, Azania XIX, 1984, p. 134-144

[4]The vocalised syllabary consists of 202 characters

[5](Footnote deleted)

[6]For the legends in Geez letters see AC passim

[7]The vowels added are a e i o u and the long a and e vowels here represented by and

[8]The precise order used for the 21 letters found on coins is:   b d f g h H k l m n q r s t w x y z

[9]Usually represented as h with a dot below, but here for typographical convenience as H. This suffices to distinguish it from h above except as the first letter of the personal name Htz (Hataz) where the initial letter is this one

[10]Possibly pronounced originally sh

[11]Usually represented as t with a dot below. Since it does not occur on coins, it does not appear again in this article

[12]The two p's are usually distinguished using dots above or below (see previous note)

[13]Usually represented as s with a dot below (see previous note)

[14]Pronounced originally ch as in German Bach

[15]Usually represented as d with a dot below (see earlier notes)

[16]See earlier note on p's

[17]Rarely wzb is omitted

[18]The only recorded specimen is fragmentary with perhaps two letters of the obverse legend missing. The last letter may be a cross

[19]The letters gz in square brackets are restored (see previous note)

[20]''i" here for example refers to 111i

[21]AGD occurs only as a monogram

[22]Type 125i has the misspelling nn for ng

[23]AC in error omits the y

[24]This word also occurs in Greek legends on Aksumite coins as BICI

[25]beseya is an early form; bes is the later one

[26]In the imperfect form

[27]In the subjunctive or imperfect form. Yet other possibilities are the forms ydlu and ydallu from the derived verb adlawa "to please"

[28]In the subjunctive form

[29]In the imperfect form

[30]Capital letters are used by convention in names with unknown vocalisation

[31]See previous note

[32]See previous note

[33]Not as in AC "from God's side we have it"

[34]la- is optional before the subjunctive verb in this construction

[35]For type 144 of king Israel AC mistranslates this as "peace to the people"

[36]A relative clause may precede the noun it modifies. The use of the pronoun suffix -o (him) on the verb and la- before the object is a special construction for definite objects