Axum was the centre of the marine trading power known as the Aksumite Empire, which predated the earliest mentions in Roman-era writings. Around 356 CE, its ruler was converted to Christianity by Frumentius. Later, under the reign of the Empreror Kaleb, Axum was a quasi-ally of Byzantium against the Sasanian Empire which had adopted Zoroastrianism.
During the reign of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, a member of the Zagwe dynasty who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century, the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha. The saint-king was named because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as emperor of Ethiopia.