EMERALDS AND EMBASSIES IN THE ETHIOPIAN STORY OF HELIODORUS

J L Hilton

Abstract


In The Ethiopian story of Heliodorus reference is made to a dispute
between the Persians and the Ethiopians over control of the emerald
mines to the south of Egypt. This disagreement leads to war between
these two nations and sets the action of the plot of the novel in
motion. When taken together with the similar manner in which
precious stones are viewed in The Ethiopian story and in the pseudo-
Orphic Lithica — a poem about the magical properties of stones
dated to the fourth century of our era — the argument over
possession of the mines can convincingly be placed in the context of
the political and religious changes taking place at this time in
Ethiopia, as documented by Epiphanius of Cyprus in his sermon
On the gems. Under Constantine and his successor Constantius II
embassies were exchanged with the Ethiopians, specifically with the
people of Axum (who appear to have displaced the people of Meroe
from power at about 350), the Blemmyes, and the Indians. The fact
that embassies involving these peoples feature prominently in The
Ethiopian story also provides yet more circumstantial evidence to
suggest that the novel belongs to a similar fourth-century milieu to
other texts from the same period, especially the anonymous Lithica
and the Περὶ Καταρχῶν (On Beginnings) of Maximus of Ephesus.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7445/61-1-963

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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