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Mangista Ityop'p'ya
Ethiopian Empire

c.980/50 BC - AD 1974
Flag Coat of arms
Capital Addis Ababa
Government Monarchy
 - c.100 Zoksales (first)
 - 1930-1974 Haile Selassie I (last)
 - Rise of Dʿmt c. 50
 - Rise of Solomonid Dynasty 1270
 - Italian occupation 1936
 - Liberty 1941
 - Coup d'etat 1974
 - Monarchy abolished March 12, 1975

The Ethiopian Empire, also known as Abyssinia, was in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea. At its height the empire also included Northern Somalia[citation needed], Djibouti[citation needed], Southern Egypt, Eastern Sudan, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia and existed from approximately 1137 (beginning of Zagwe Dynasty) until 1974 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'etat. It was in its time the oldest state in the world[citation needed], and the only native African nation to successfully resist the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers during the 19th century.


Early History

Human settlement in Ethiopia is very ancient with earliest ancestors to the human species discovered. Together with Eritrea and the southeastern part of the Red Sea coast of Sudan, it is considered the most likely location of the land known to the ancient Egyptians as Land of Punt whose first mention dates to the 25th century BC. The beginnings of a state were evident in the area that would become Abyssinia by 980 BC, which also serves as its legendary date of establishment. This date may have more to do with dynastic lineage than the actual establishment of a state.


Aksumite Ethiopia

By the 400s BC, the Kingdom of Axum was established on the coast and made itself known as a seafaring people active in the spice trade to India. They became known to the Romans no later than the 30s BC when Augustus conquered Egypt, and it is believed by then the square-rigged Axumite galleys were disdaining the long slow coastal trade route and riding the Monsoon winds to and from India, moreover, having established trading with Rome for goods from inland Africa, the Ethiopians passed the trick on to Roman traders, and probably carried some of their cargoes for hire. The sea route also connected with the Silk Road through what is now Pakistan, so the Axumites also aided Rome in obtaining Chinese silk, and by the third century Rome had established trade entrepots in India and the sea route carried virtually all the eastern trade to the consternation of Roman statesmen who decried the flow of bullion out of Rome. Around 300 CE Axum both became Christian, and conquered the neighboring ancient kingdom of Kush. References to that time thereafter began referring to them as an Empire, and they themselves were by then using "Ethiopia" in correspondence. The kingdom spread south and westwards and into the Arabian peninsula over the next few centuries, and generally flourished trading with both the Western Roman Empire or the barbarians who supplanted it and the Byzantine Empire until the Islamic conquest of Egypt ca 640 CE cut the Empire off from European markets. Indications are the Empire turned inland, locating its capital for example further west and expanding its territory in the uplands both to the south and west. References to "Ethiopia" and "Ethopian Christians" are sprinkled through European and Byzantine documents throughout the Early and High Middle Ages, but gradually dwindle, indicating there was some contact over the ensuing centuries after the Muslim conquest, but in general, the Empire went into a slow declining spiral but endured until the last Axumite king was killed by the mysterious Queen Gudit around 960.[1]

Ethiopian Dark Ages

After the conquest of Aksum by Queen Gudit or Yodit, a period began which some scholars refer to as the Ethiopian Dark Ages.[1] According to Ethiopian tradition, she ruled over the remains of the Aksumite Empire for 40 years before transmitting the crown to her descendants.[1] Very little is known about the queen or the state, if indeed there even was one, she set up. What is evident however, is that her reign marked the end of Aksumite control in Ethiopia.

Zagwe Dynasty

The last of Queen Yodit's successors were overthrown by Mara Takla Haymanot. He founded the Zagwe dynasty in 1137,[1] and married a female descendant of the last Aksumite emperor to stake his claim as the legitimate heir to the long dead empire.[1] The Zagwe were of the Agaw people, whose power never extended much farther than their own ethnic heartland. The capital was at Adafa, not far from modern day Lalibela in the Lasta mountains.[2] The Zagwe continued the Christianity of Aksum and constructed many magnificent churches such as those at Lalibela. The dynasty would last until its overthrow by a new regime claiming descent from the old Aksumite kings.

Solomonid Dynasty

Ethiopian Empire and neighboring states circa 1750

In 1270,[2] the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage with the Aksumite emperors and thus that of Solomon (hence the name "Solomonid"). The Solomonid Dynasty was born of and ruled by the Habesha, from whom Abyssinia gets its name.

The Habesha reigned with only a few interruptions from 1270 until the late 20th century. It is under this dynasty that most of Ethiopia's modern history is formed. During this time, the empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia and Eritrea. They successfully fought off Arab and Turkish armies and made fruitful contacts with some European powers.

Age of Princes

From 1769 to 1855, the Ethiopian Empire went through the "Age of Princes" (Zemene Mesafint). This was a period in Ethiopian history when the country was rent by conflicts between warlords, the Emperor was reduced to little more than a figurehead confined to the capital city of Gondar, and both society and culture stagnated. Religious conflict both within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and with Ethiopian Muslims were often used as the pretext for the powerful to battle each other. The "Age of Princes" ended with the reign of Tewodros II.

Scramble for Africa and Modernization

The 1880s were marked by the Scramble for Africa and modernization of the Ethiopian Empire. In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, conflicts with the Kingdom of Italy resulted in the Battle of Adowa. In this battle, the Ethiopians under the rule of Menelik II surprised the world by defeating the colonial power and remaining independent. The Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia signed a provisional treaty of peace on October 26, 1896.

During his reign, Menelik expanded the empire to include much of what is modern Ethiopia.

Italian Invasion and WWII

On 3 October 1935, Italian soldiers commanded by General Emilio De Bono invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea and started the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The war lasted seven months before Haile Selassie I went into exile and the Italians declared victory. The invasion was condemned by the League of Nations, Italy was namaed as the aggressor, and some sanctions were imposed. However, not much was ever done to end hostilities. In May 1936, Ethiopia became part of Italian East Africa and remained as part of the colony until World War II.

In 1941, the Ethiopian Empire was liberated by a combination of Ethiopian partisans and British and Commonwealth forces. The major offensives launched against the Italian colonial forces came from the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and from British East Africa. Haile Selassie re-entered Addis Ababa five years to the day from when he was forced into exile.

After World War II, Eritrea was incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire. Eritrea remained a part of Ethiopia even after the dissolution of the monarchy. In 1993, Eritrea won its independance from Ethiopia.

Rise of Derg

In 1974 a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg", led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, deposed Haile Selassie and established a one-party communist state. Haile Selassie was imprisoned and died under unclear circumstances, the most likely known rumour being that he was suffocated with an ether-soaked pillow.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Adekumobi, page 10
  2. ^ a b Pankhurst, page 45


  • Adekumobi, Saheed A. (2007). The History of Ethiopia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 219 Pages. ISBN 0-31332-273-2. 
  • Pankhurst, Richard (2001). The Ethiopians: A History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 299 Pages. ISBN 0-63122-493-9. 
  • Shillington, Kevin (2004). Encyclopedia of African History, Vol. 1. London: Routledge. pp. 1912 Pages. ISBN 1-57958-245-1. 


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