Also known as Kaleb of Axum.
A king, hermit, and saint of Ethiopia during the 6th cent.
Procopius, John of Ephesus, and other contemporary historians recount Kaleb’s invasion of Yemen around 520, against the Jewish Himyarite king Yusuf Asar Yathar (also known as Dhu Nuwas), who was persecuting the Christians in his kingdom. After much fighting, Kaleb’s soldiers eventually routed Yusuf’s forces and killed the king, allowing Kaleb to appoint Sumuafa’ Ashawa’, a native Christian (named Esimiphaios by Procopius), as his viceroy of Himyar.
As a result of his protection of the Christians, he is known as St. Elesbaan after the sixteenth-century Cardinal Cesare Baronio added him to his edition of the Roman Martyrology despite his being a miaphysite. However, the question of whether Miaphysitism—the actual christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (including the Coptic Orthodox Church)—was a heresy is a question which remains to this day.
Axumite control of South Arabia continued until c.525 when Sumuafa’ Ashawa’ was deposed by Abraha, who made himself king. Procopius states that Kaleb made several unsuccessful attempts to recover his overseas territory; however, his successor later negotiated a peace with Abraha, where Abraha acknowledged the Axumite king’s authority and paid tribute. Munro-Hay opines that by this expedition Axum overextended itself, and this final intervention across the Red Sea, “was Aksum’s swan-song as a great power in the region.”
A historical record survives of a meeting between the Byzantine ambassador Nonnosus (historian) and Kaleb in the year 530.
Ethiopian tradition states that Kaleb eventually abdicated his throne, gave his crown to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, and retired to a monastery. Later historians who recount the events of King Kaleb’s reign include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, and Tabari. Taddesse Tamrat records a tradition he heard from an aged priest in Lalibela that “Kaleb was a man of Lasta and his palace was at Bugna where it is known that Gebre Mesqel Lalibela had later established his centre. The relevance of this tradition for us is the mere association of the name of Kaleb with the evangelization of this interior province of Aksum.”