Introduction: The Crescent and the Cross (02:59)
In this program Henry Louis Gates Jr. will explore the impact of Christianity and Islam on the African Continent. Egyptians traded with the kingdoms of Punt and Kush as well as the Byzantines, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. "The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea" describes African ports on the Red Sea. (Credits)
Kingdom of Axum (06:45)
Learn about the history of the kingdom. Tour the Steles which serve as grave markers for former Kings; bodies and possessions are separated. A golden age occurred in the fourth century C.E. under the rule of Ousana and Ezana.
Queen of Sheba (03:48)
Dr. Iris Gerlach excavates an ancient palace near the city of Yeha in Ethiopia and explains similarities with Sabean culture. Built in the fifth century B.C.E., the temple is dedicated to the moon god Almougah; gradually, Axum adopted the same gods worshipped in Yeha.
Christianity Reached Africa (07:41)
Christianity spread through the north-eastern part of Africa, establishing communities in Alexandria as early as ten years after Jesus Christ's death. Saint Anthony the Great created a monastic lifestyle in a cave in Egypt. King Ezana converted and made Christianity the official state religion of Axum; hear the legend.
Constantine converted to Christianity a few years prior to King Ezana. Axum attacked and conquered Meroe and the Kingdom of Kush.
Early Christian Kingdoms (03:15)
The National Museum of Sudan houses Christian artworks from across Africa. Christian missionaries converted Nubia and Nobatia. Tour some of the frescos gathered from the Faras Cathedral.
Islam reaches Africa (03:01)
Mohammed sent members of his family and friends to seek asylum in Axum. Islamic armies attacked North Africa and drove out the Byzantine and Greek rulers. Experts describe how armies did not impose religion on its conquered people, but people freely converted over time.
Islam Looks Toward Europe (04:59)
Born into slavery, Tariq ibn-Ziyad rose to a general in the Muslim army and conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula and Spain, establishing outposts as far as Southern France. Berbers were an ethnic group strengthened by their desert lifestyle. Islamic culture spread through two continents.
Christian Axum (07:35)
Trade Routes shifted to Damascus, Baghdad, and the Persian Gulf. As the Islamic Empire took control of the region, Axum fell into economic isolation and vulnerable to attacks. Christians created a dozen churches in Lalibela cut from monolithic rock during the Zagwe dynasty.
Lake Tana (04:59)
Twenty ancient monasteries exist on isolated islands within the lake. The Ethiopian Orthodox church developed its own style of painting. Tana Quirqos supposedly housed the Ark of the Covenant before Menelik I brought it to its new resting place; the Solomonic dynasty claimed direct descendency from King Solomon.
Festival of Timkat (03:21)
Every Ethiopian Orthodox Church hosts its own scion, or replica of the Ark of the Covenant. Its followers still believe the Ark is hidden away in St. Mary's church in Axum. Christianity and Islam spread and changed the culture of Africa.
Credits: Africa's Great Civilizations— Part 2: The Crescent and the Cross (00:45)
Credits: Africa's Great Civilizations— Part 2: The Crescent and the Cross
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