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Dawit I[1] (Ge'ez ዳዊት dāwīt, "David") was nəgusä nägäst (1382 - 6 October 1413) of Ethiopia, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was the younger son of Newaya Krestos.


Taddesse Tamrat discusses a tradition that early in his reign Dawit campaigned against Egypt, reaching as far north as Aswan; in response the Emir forced the Patriarch of Alexandria, Matthew I, to send a deputation to Dawit to persuade him to retire back to his kingdom. Taddesse concludes, "There seems to be little or no doubt that, on the eve of the advent of the Burji dynasty of Mamluk Egypt, King Dawit had in fact led his troops beyond the northern frontiers of his kingdom, and created much havoc among the Muslim inhabitants of the area who had been within the sphere of influence of Egypt since the thirteenth century."[2] He apparently had a much friendlier relationship with the Sultan's successor, for according to the medieval historian al-Maqrizi Dawit sent 22 camels laden with gifts to Berkuk, the first Sultan of the Burji dynasty.[3]

He confronted the problem of raids from the Muslim kingdoms on his eastern border with numerous counter attacks on those kingdoms. According to al-Maqrizi, in 1403 Emperor Dawit pursued the Sultan of Adal, Sa'ad ad-Din II to Zeila where he killed Sa'ad ad-Din, and sacked Zeila; however, another contemporary source dates the death of Sa'ad ad-Din to 1415, and gives the credit to Emperor Yeshaq.[4]

A noted horseman, Dawit was killed when he was kicked in the head by one of his horses. His body was interred in the monastery of St. Stephen on Daga Island in Lake Tana.[3]

Other events

The Emperor Dawit was an enthusiastic Christian. He dealt with a revolt of the Beta Israel in Tigray, and encouraged missionary work in Gojjam. According to E. A. Wallis Budge, during his reign a piece of the True Cross arrived in Ethiopia.[5] He also made endowments to the Ethiopian Church: three charters survive of grants he made of lands in Wolqayt, Serae, Adiyabo, Shire, Addi Arkay, northern Semien, the Gar'alta, Manbarta, and Karnesem which lies north of present-day Asmara.[6]

During his reign, two surviving examples of illustrated manuscripts were produced. One is a translation of the Miracles of Mary which had been written in Arabic, done at the command of Emperor Dawit; this is the oldest surviving illustrated book commissioned by an Ethiopian Emperor.[7] The other, described as "one of the most beautiful illustrated books of the period" is a copy of the gospels, which is now at the monastery of Saint Gabriel on Kebran island in Lake Tana.[8]


  1. ^ In Ethiopian sources he is referred to as Dawit II (and all subsequent Dawits are numerated accordingly), as Dawit I is used to refer only to King David of Judah.
  2. ^ Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p.255
  3. ^ a b E. A. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia: Nubia and Abyssinia, 1928 (Oosterhout, the Netherlands: Anthropological Publications, 1970), p. 301.
  4. ^ J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford: Geoffrey Cumberlege for the University Press, 1952), p. 74 and note explains the discrepancy in the sources; some historians pick one of the two possible dates (e.g. Paul Henze selects 1403 in Layers of Time, A History of Ethiopia [New York: Palgrave, 2000], p. 67) without even mentioning the problem.)
  5. ^ Budge, p. 300.
  6. ^ G.W.B. Huntingford, The Historical Geography of Ethiopia (London: The British Academy, 1989), p. 82
  7. ^ Jacques Mercier, "Ethiopian Art History" in Ethiopian Art: The Walters Museum (London: Third Millennium, 2001), p. 51.
  8. ^ Mercier, p. 53.
Preceded by
Newaya Maryam
Emperor of Ethiopia Succeeded by
Tewodros I


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