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Sahle Dengel was nəgusä nägäst of Ethiopia intermittently between 1832 and 11 February 1855, towards the end of the Zemene Mesafint ("Era of the Princes"). He was the son of Gebre Mesay, allegedly a descendant of a younger son of Emperor Fasilides.

He was largely a figurehead, with real power in the hands of the Enderase or Regent, Ras Ali II a member of the Oromo ruling family of the district of Yejju. Eduard Rüppell, who visited the capital of Gondar in 1833, stated that at the time the Emperor "barely had the income of an averagely well-to-do Ethiopian, and the great princes of the Tigrai, Shoa and Amhara were unable to prevent continuous strife and bloodshed."[1]

When Sahle Dengel was set on the throne by Ras Ali, the clergy of Azazo disapproved of his religious beliefs, and convinced Ras Ali to remove him; Sahle Dengel was sent to Zengaj. Ras Ali recalled Gebre Krestos from Meshralia, an island in Lake Tana, and restored him as Emperor. However, Gebre Krestos died after three months, and Sahle Dengel met Ras Ali in a village named Tagur, where he convinced the Ras to make him Emperor once again (October, 1832). About that same time, one Egwale Anbesa announced his claim to the throne; Sahle Dengel cut his head off, and set it in a tree at Adababay.[2]

Following the death of Ras Kinfu, the warlords fought for control of his lands in Gojjam. Eventually Menen Liben Amede gained the upper hand in the Battle of Chenti Ber (October, 1839), defeating and capturing Kinfu's relative Walda Tekle. Not long afterwards, she deposed Sahle Dengel on 29 August 1840 in favor of her husband Yohannes III.[3] However Yohannes offended Ras Ali by favoring his rival Wube Haile Maryam, and Ras Ali restored Sahle Dengel in October 1841. Sahle Dengel was still emperor in 1848, when Goshu Zewde entered Gondar and was invested with the title of Ras.[4] Yohannes somehow managed to get himself restored to the throne around 1850, only to be deposed again in 1851 and Sahle Dengel was once again restored. Despite this, but Yohannes III persisted with his claim; different parts of the fragmented realm recognized one or the other as Emperor until Tewodros II consolidated Ethiopia under his control and declared himself Emperor. Significantly, Yohannes III accepted the accession of Tewodros II.

International relations

Although without power, Sahle Dengel wrote to officials outside Ethiopia using his title and seal. Existing letters include a packet of letters sent to Samuel Gobat in April 1848, who had by that time become the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, which ask for his help in restoring the ownership of the Dar-es-Sultan monastery to the Ethiopian community.[5] His name also appears as one of several signatories to a letter Antoine d'Abbadie delivered to Viscount Henry Palmerston 18 May 1839, which asked that Queen Victoria ask the ruler of Egypt, Mohammad Ali, to recall his forces which were then ravaging Ethiopia and threatening Gondar.[6]


  1. ^ Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 83.
  2. ^ H. Weld Blundell, The Royal chronicle of Abyssinia, 1769-1840 (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), p. 489; Wallis Budge, E. A. (1970) [1928]. A History of Ethiopia: Nubia and Abyssinia. Oosterhout, the Netherlands: Anthropological Publications.  
  3. ^ Weld Blundell, Royal chronicle, pp. 491f
  4. ^ Sven Rubenson, King of Kings: Tewodros of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1966), p. 39
  5. ^ Text and translation in in David L. Appleyard (translator), Letters from Ethiopian Rulers (Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century) (Oxford: British Academy, 1985), pp. 91-118.
  6. ^ Discussed in Sven Rubenson, The Survival of Ethiopian Independence (Hollywood: Tsehai, 2003), pp. 76-82. Rubenson is suspicious of the letter in the form d'Abbadie delivered to Palmerston, and explains the missive as an attempt to create "the impression that he had been made the envoy of all Ethiopia on a national issue of some urgency."
Preceded by
Gebre Krestos
Emperor of Ethiopia Succeeded by
Tewodros II


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