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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Robert Paynter

Second Advisor

Michael Sugerman

Third Advisor

John Higginson

Fourth Advisor

Elliot Fratkin

Subject Categories

African Studies | Archaeological Anthropology | Political Economy


This dissertation models the local political economy of Adulis, during Africa’s Classical Age (1000 BCE-700 ACE), by evaluating the materiality of Adulis (built forms and artifacts). Thirty-nine built forms are 3D modeled, and their energetics values (labor and time) are inferred to estimate the social power and wealth that was necessary for the construction of such a built-forms. Two political economy models are used to critically evaluate the energetics data from the built-forms combined to another set of data of essential artifacts from the site. The traditional political economy perspective holds that Adulis is a periphery, a port in an Aksum dominated world economy. An alternative theoretical position proposed in this dissertation is that Adulis was an independent state and a center of its own. The dissertation research shows the archaeological data supports that Adulis was a center of its own.

Moreover, the dissertation successfully establishes the basis of Adulis's political economy by distinctly illustrating its role in interregional trades in aromatics, readiness to train and export war elephants, and its perceived upper-tier rank in governance locally and among other Red Sea ports. Early involvement of Adulis in the aromatics trades of the Red Sea instituted tangible and intangible political economy capital. However, it was a combination of Adulis’ capability to export war elephants in wars of local and general interest, its strategic location connecting the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean worlds, responsible governance, and its favorable climatic conditions all were factors in Adulis’ significant position in antiquity.

This dissertation seeks to advance the understanding of the Northern Horn of Africa by such scholars as W.E.B. Du Bois who insist that African history be studied on its own terms and not those imported from or that emphasize the importance of the European experience. Key to building such a perspective is an understanding of the complexities of the exercise of power and the provisioning of past societies in the region. I develop this position for Adulis and its role in the Ancient World by focusing on the long-term, using a broad regional and continuous material culture data of Northern Africa and an inquiry of the political economy of such. This perspective contextualizes the relationship between Europe and Africa in long-term and recent experiences. W.E.B. Du Bois calls for the long-term focus to envelop an era of mutual respect and trade between Africa and Europe distinctive from the painful recent experience. While recent postcolonial studies have made notable contributions regarding the recent past, the long-term focus of this dissertation has pushed the boundaries of these. The dissertation concludes by pointing out how advancing this perspective improves concurrent social struggles and promotes the development of relevant social theories.