Sayzana (4th century A.D.) was one of the brothers of the Emperor Ezana (q.v.), ruler of Aksum, in whose reign Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia. Sayzana appears to have ruled with his brother as co-regent, and is reputed to have reigned for 14 years after his brother’s death.
Like Ezana, Sayzana received a Christian and Greek education from the Syrian Frumentius (q.v.) [F’ré Menatos], the first bishop of Ethiopia, who is widely regarded as having introduced Christianity into the realm. Sayzana, accompanied by his brother Adephas, was then sent to northern Ethiopia as the leader of a military expedition against the Beja tribes, who had rebelled against Aksum. He defeated the Beja, and took several prisoners, including six tributary kings. An inscription tells of his kindness to the prisoners.
Victory against the Beja tribes of the north had great economic significance for the Aksumite Empire, because of the trade routes which passed through the area. Ezana ordered the event to be commemorated in three languages - Greek, Sabaean, and Ge’ez - on a stele (stone pillar) which he erected at the entrance of the town of Aksum where it is found today. He also ordered commemorative statues in gold, silver, and copper to be dedicated to the invincible Ares, Greek god of war.
When Christianity was introduced into Ethiopia, Sayzana became a Christian and, most probably, after his baptism, received the name Atsbeha, meaning “Dawn”. Although in his inscription Ezana presents himself as the only monarch of the empire, Ethiopian tradition insists that Atsbeha (Sayzana) shared in the administration. This is supported by a letter written in 356 by emperor Constantius II, ruler of the Roman empire from 353-361, addressed to the “esteemed brothers” Ezana and Sayzana, in which he accused Frumentius, then bishop of Aksum, of not having been properly ordained. Legend had it that Sayzana ruled the southern and central parts of Ethiopia independently, although in consultation with his brother, for ten years. After Ezana’s death, Sayzana came to Aksum and continued to rule all Ethiopia for 14 years. He died at the age of 65, and was buried in the same church as Ezana. Both brothers were canonized by the Ethiopian Church, and their memory is observed on the 14th of Tekemt (October 14).
Sergew Hable Selassie
Athanasius, “Apoligia ad Constantium Imperatorem” (“Apology to Emperor Constantine”), in Patrologia Graeca, XXV, 636; E. A. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia, 2 Vols, London, 1928, The Book of Saints of the Ethiopian Church, 4 vols, Cambridge, 1928; E. Littmann (editor), Deursche Aksum Expedition (“The German Expedition to Aksum”), Berlin, 1913.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.