History of Ethiopia

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A blessed place whose story we absolutely wanted to tell. Ethiopia is a country of cultural, historical and faith richness with few equals in the world, we hope to have done it justice.


The territories of today’s Ethiopia were inhabited since ancient times, so much so that Lucy, the famous australopithecus, was found in these places. The first mention of the existence of a civilization dates back to 3000 BC. and a commercial exchange carried out between ancient Egyptians and some merchants of Punt, a region never identified with certainty but which would be found between: Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and, indeed, Ethiopia. The first real kingdom, however, will be that of D’mt, which will have Yeha as its capital and which will first illuminate the country from 980 to 400 BC. .

Menelik I brings Zion from Jerusalem to Ethiopia

Although the Ethiopian tradition identifies the legendary queen of Sheba and her son Menelik as their founders, it is very likely that the Sabean influence on these territories was only a few decades. In fact, no significant findings have been made regarding that civilization which, according to various historians, could more than anything else have been a great commercial and military partner of the local kingdoms; however, due to the lack of findings, it is very difficult to make predictions.

The reign of Axum and the arrival of Christianity

In 80 BC the kingdom of Axum was founded from the ashes of that of D’mt, arriving in a very short time as one of the greatest powers in African history; not by chance Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, placed it at the level of Rome, Persia in China. At its peak it came to conquer Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, some parts of Sudan. In 330, Ezanà of Aksum accepted the teachings of St. Frumentius of Tire and converted to Christianity, however it was King Kaleb who was even more celebrated by the Ethiopians.

King Kaleb

The latter, in fact, around 520 will begin a violent military campaign against the Himyarite kingdom of Sana’a, guilty of having killed Christians for no reason. This campaign will end with the victory of Kaleb, but the viceroy chosen by him will soon be killed by Abraha, the legendary Ethiopian leader. According to the Quran, the latter, once he has taken possession of Yemen, will try to destroy Mecca, however, seeing his elephants stopped by a shower of stones. In any case, his son was unable to maintain the dominion of those lands, so much so that the locals invoked and obtained the help of Khosrau I, the great Persian emperor who, arrived in the Arabian Peninsula, defeated the Aksumites in a short time, securing their control.

The arrival of Islam

Ethiopia will be the first non-Muslim country to defend the rights of the latter, so much so that it is legendary an episode concerning Najashi, negus at the time of the Prophet. In fact, Muhammad sent his followers to Africa precisely because of the great fame that enveloped this kingdom, so much so that the first Hegira took place precisely towards Ethiopia. The Meccan polytheists, however, sent their trusted men to have the fugitives delivered, once he heard the words of the Muslims, however, Najashi made a strip in the sand and declared that that was the difference between Islam and Christianity and that, precisely for this, he would never have handed them over, guaranteeing him freedom of worship. Such was the purity of mind of this sovereign, who is still remembered today with incredible admiration and respect by every faithful.

The great negus Najashi in Mustapha Akkad’s film “The Message”

Unfortunately, however, the birth of the caliphates quickly brought the kingdom of Axum into disgrace, which soon found itself very isolated both politically and economically; however, it is still an interesting place for many Arab merchants.

The Zagwe dynasty

Around 960, an evil queen named Gudit tried to destroy many churches and buildings, even trying to assassinate the entire royal family of Aksum, who were forced to move inland and cede their role to a new dynasty: the Zagwe. This lineage was the first not to be part of the House of Solomon and (perhaps), for this very reason, very few written sources and testimonies remain of her. According to tradition, Mara Takla Haymanot married the daughter of Dil Na’od, the last axumite negus, moving the capital to Lalibela, a legendary city in the Lasta region.

The cross churches of Lalibela

In this place there are spectacular churches carved in the shape of a cross in the stone which, according to most historians, would be a representation of Jerusalem, a place that the Ethiopians would have visited under the rule of Saladin. In 1270 Yekuno Amlak definitively destroyed the dynasty, allowing the return of that of Solomon and starting the writing of the Kebra Nagast, the “Book of Kings”.

The return of the line of Solomon

Once back in power, the House of Solomon expanded the borders of the country, placing Tigray, Amhara and Shewa as provinces of greater importance. At that time the kingdom of Ethiopia always became known abroad thanks to the countless ambassadors sent to most of Europe, a place where it was long confused for the legendary reign of the Prester John. These contacts will then prove to be decisive during the war with the Sultanate of Adal which between 1528 and 1540 seriously threatened the existence of the town, so much so that it was saved almost by chance. Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi, great imam and leader of the sultanate, in fact strenuously engaged the forces of the negus, forcing him to retire to the inland fortresses.

Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi

Here the presence of João Bermudes, one of the few Portuguese missionaries who had chosen to remain in Ethiopia, proved decisive. The latter was sent to Lisbon and, thanks to his intermediation, the Portuguese crown sent to Massawa 400 musketeers commanded by Cristóvão da Gama. Nevertheless, the latter were quickly defeated and only with the battle of Wayna Daga in 1543, where the great leader died, that the Somalis were definitively rejected.

Zemene Mesafint, “The Age of Princes”

With the ascension to the throne of Iyasu I in 1682, the kingdom experienced an incredible political and military exploit, which however saw its end with this great king. The negus, in fact in 1706, upset by the death of his favorite concubine, chose to go into exile on Lake Tana, bringing many problems to the royal family. Iyasu I’s son, Tekle Haymanot, not only was not considered to be up to par, but died a few years later under mysterious circumstances, laying the foundations for one of the most turbulent eras in all Ethiopian history: the Zemene Mesafint or “Age of Princes. “.

Iyasu I

As many as 7 different royals alternated between 1706 and 1730, dragging the country into a stalemate and allowing the local nobility to understand for the first time their power and influence, quickly deployed. With the death of the negus Iyasu II, in fact, Ras Mikael Sehul took advantage of his kinship and his own supremacy to earn a more prominent place in the country, going so far as to have the monarch Iyoas publicly killed, transforming for the first time the power of the House into a mere formality. From that moment, in fact, it will be the title of Ras to be decisive, bringing many conflicts and wars in the kingdom, which will only be resolved with the rise to power of Emperor Tewodros II in 1855.

Tewodros II and the British affair

In a few years the new negus managed to bring the whole territory back under his direct control, but this led him to antagonize most of the nobility, which was further exacerbated by the death of his wife, the Empress Tewabech. Like Iyasu, Tewodros II also went mad over his death, but unlike his great predecessor, he poured out his anger on his rivals, revealing a strong tendency towards brutal violence. This behavior, as it is obvious to imagine, led the sovereign to develop an ever-growing fear of the Muslim kingdoms of Egypt and Sudan, leading him to send a messenger to London to get help; unfortunately, that will be the beginning of his end.

Tewodros II

Due to the very close ties with both realms, the British Empire was in no way interested in holding a “pseudo-crusade” in those territories, which is why the letter was ignored for 2 years, greatly altering the Ethiopian ruler . Tewodros II, in fact, began to imprison all the British present on its territory, effectively starting to attract the attention of the crown. Then came a diplomatic mission headed by the Assyrian Hormuzd Rassam, who however was taken prisoner as soon as she arrived on Ethiopian soil. At this point, London, furious at the insult, sent 13,000 men and 26,000 military engineers, doctors and machinists in order to obtain justice; in just 6 months the British troops led the king to commit suicide in Magdala, his capital.

Alone against the world

Tewodros II’s successor, Yohannes IV, found himself at the head of a country with an extremely complex and worrying political situation, with a new and rediscovered national identity, but with more and more external enemies. In fact, even though the negus had also expanded its domains to other nearby Christian regions, Egypt had launched a large-scale military campaign for the conquest of Eritrea. This will involve a lot of imperial forces, which will then have to contend with the Mahdi of Sudan, a new power that really seemed to be able to assert its status quo in the region.

Yohannes IV

Meanwhile, the Italians had taken their first steps in Abyssinia by purchasing, in 1869, the port of Assab, in present-day Eritrea. Within a few years, the Italic territories grew more and more, so much so that, in 1882, the birth of Italian Eritrea was proclaimed, a territory that continued to expand taking advantage of the difficult and confused political situation in Ethiopia at that time.

Menelik II

With the sudden death of Yohannes, which took place during the clashes with the Sudanese Mahdi, Menelik II, probably the father of modern Ethiopia, took power. Under his reign, in fact, not only was imperial power definitively confirmed, but many provinces were conquered, so much so as to form the borders of today’s Ethiopia. However, the sovereign did not always behave in the best possible way, in fact he honored those who spontaneously submitted to him, but he subjected to the others atrocious cruelty, so much so that he was looked at for a long time with suspicion by the British, the real hegemonic power of the time. In terms of foreign policy, however, it was not the perfidious Albion who threw terror, but the Bel Paese, now ready to start its own armed colonial policy.

Menelik II

With the Uccialli treaty of 1889, however, it seemed that Italy wanted a policy of alliance with Ethiopia, a pity that, within the latter a considerable variant was inserted: in the Amharic version there was talk of “alliance”, in that in Italian of “Italian protectorate”. It will be this last variation to cause the anger of the negus, who refused (rightly) to sign it, and the consequent Italic attack. Rome, however, in its great hunger for conquest, had not controlled the Ethiopian army and armamentarium, giving rise to the most embarrassing colonial attempt in all of European history. In fact, the Italians, convinced that they had a small army armed with bow and arrows in front of them, sent about 22,000, it is a pity that the imperial forces had 196,000 at their disposal, of which 96,000 better armed than the Italian army. After the battle of Adua on 23 October 1896, the Italians were finally rejected and the Uccialli treaty was canceled; however, this will not mark the end of the problems for the country which, shortly after, will find itself having to deal with a difficult succession.

The ascent to the throne of Ras Tafari

In fact, none of the pretenders to the throne seemed to have the right characteristics and this led Menelik to pronounce himself only after he was hit by a stroke. The chosen one will be Lij Iyasu, who, however, will bring great disturbance to the nation. The new sovereign, in fact, will not be able to cultivate profitable relations with the local nobility and, his choice to favor Muslims and central empires, led him to be unpopular even outside its borders. Precisely for this reason, in 1916 the throne will pass to the empress Zewditu, who will devote little time to politics and too much to faith, favoring the birth of a new figure, her regent: Ras Tafari Makonenn, the future Hailé Selassié.

Hailé Selassié or Ras Tafari Makonenn

Afraid of too much power in the hands of the regent, Zawditu’s husband, Ras Gugsa Welle, began waging war on Ras Tafari, but was defeated in the battle of Anchim. The death of the empress will allow Makonenn to be officially proclaimed as the new lord of Ethiopia, giving way to a large list of important innovations. Particularly important, from this point of view, the opening of several new schools in the country and the first significant one of canceling slavery from the country. However, his work was interrupted in 1935, when the fascist forces occupied Ethiopian soil.

Fascists and democracy

The Italian occupation will prove to be heavy for the country, especially in terms of human lives; with the Ethiopian military alone they exceeded 350,000 victims, but civilians were the ones who really suffered, 35,000 of whom died in concentration camps, while another 30,000 were brutally massacred after a failed attack on Rodolfo Graziani. In this period, moreover, both sides violated the Geneva Convention several times, with the Italians guilty of shooting the Red Cross and bombing with mustard gas even on civilian areas. The only positive result of this sad period was the almost total disappearance of slavery and the construction of 900 km of asphalt, things which, however, do not and will never make an occupation just.

Rodolfo Graziani

In 1941 the British liberated the country allowing Haile Selassiè to return and continue with his own modernization plans. In 1950 the University of Addis Ababa was built and in 1955 a new constitution was passed which gave even more power to the parliament. However, it certainly cannot be said that the return of Ras Tafari represented a total return of human rights, given that Ethiopia engulfed Eritrea, refusing until 1991 to recognize it as a state and organizing violent reprisals with local separatists. The lack of economic development, then, favored the emergence of the Derg, a socialist military junta that from 1974 to 1991 took control of the country. With the fall of the latter, Eritrea was finally free and the whole country could begin its democratic history.

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