In and around Axum, the old Ethiopian capital, there are over 50 obelisks, many of them undecorated. Some are believed to be very old, but firm dates have not been established. Near to some of these obelisks, one kilometre from Axum on the road to the city of Gondar, is a massive building containing a drainage system with "finely-mortared stone walls, deep foundations and an impressive throne room". Ethiopian tradition establishes this building as the palace of Empress Makeda, the fabled Queen of Sheba (1005-955 BC). Tradition also establishes one of the obelisks, carved with four horizontal bands, each topped with a row of circles in relief, as the marker of the Queen's grave. It was probably due to this evidence that J. A. Rogers, the famous Jamaican historian, declared that: "A few years ago her tomb, as well as the ruins of a great temple and twenty-two obelisks of her period, were excavated at Axum".
The Queen of Sheba was one of the most powerful women in history. She is named as Makeda in the Ethiopian chronicle, the Kebra Negaste, or Bilqis, in the Koran. She presided over Ethiopia and Yemen (Saba or Sheba) and thus controlled the Red Sea, a great trade route. The evidence of the tomb and the obelisks indicate that the Queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian. There are also obelisks that seem to be intermediate in date and style between those of the Makeda period and those of the early Christian era.
There is another theory, which is worthy of discussion, to the effect that the Queen was half-Ethiopian and half-Yemeni. Professor William Hansberry, master of the African-American historians, draws attention to a mediæval manuscript of Al-Hamdani. This Muslim scholar died in the Arabian city of Sana in the middle of the tenth century AD. His account portrays Bilqis as the daughter of Shar Habil, the king of Yemen, and Ekeye Azeb, an Ethiopian princess. Moreover, she was born in the Yemenite city of Marib, but spent her youth in Ethiopia. She returned to Marib just before her father's death. The Yemenis of this period were Negroes and therefore the Queen was fully Black
The Queen was famous as a trader. She established trading networks carried by 520 camels and 370 ships. Tamrin, her chief merchant, headed the operation. The Book of Ezekiel 27: 22-24 says: "The merchants of Sheba and Raamah were thy merchants; they traded in thy fairs with the best of all spices, and with all precious stones, and gold. Haran, and Calneh, and Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad were thy merchants. These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and embroidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise."
Unlike some other personalities in African history, there is an abundance of documents surrounding Makeda. This has made it difficult to separate fact from legend. For example Josephus, the great Roman Jewish historian, portrays her as Queen of Ethiopia but also Egypt. Other sources give her sovereignty over parts of Syria, Armenia, India and Indonesia. We take the more prudent view that she ruled just Ethiopia and Yemen.