The Kingdom the Abyssinia was founded in the 13th century CE and, transforming itself into the Ethiopian empire via a series of army conquests, lasted until the 20th century CE. The was created by the monarchs of the Solomonid dynasty who, claiming lower from no less a number than the Bible"s King Solomon, would rule in one unbroken line throughout the state"s long history. A Christian kingdom which spread the faith via army conquest and also the establishment of churches and also monasteries, its biggest threat came from the Muslim trading claims of east Africa and also southern Arabia and also the migrate of the Oromo civilization from the south. The mix of its wealthy Christian heritage, the cult of its emperors and the geography obstacles gift to intruders meant the the Ethiopian realm would be one of only 2 African states never ever to be formally colonised by a europe power.

Origins: Axum

The Ethiopian Highlands, through their reliable annual monsoon rainfall and fertile soil, had actually been effectively inhabited since the rock Age. Agriculture and trade with Egypt, southern Arabia, and other African individuals ensured the increase of the powerful kingdom of Axum (also Aksum), which was established in the 1st century CE. Flourishing from the 3rd to 6th century CE, and then surviving as a lot smaller political entity into the 8 hours century CE, the Kingdom that Axum was the first sub-Saharan afri state to officially embrace Christianity, c. 350 CE. Axum also created its own script, Ge"ez, i beg your pardon is tho in use in Ethiopia today.

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Across this Christian kingdom, churches to be built, abbeys founded, and also translations make of the Bible. The most essential church to be at Axum, the Church the Maryam Tsion, which, according to later on Ethiopian medieval texts, housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, intended to contain the original stone tablets the the Ten Commandments given by God come Moses, is supposed to it is in still there, however as nobody is ever permitted to see it, check of its presence is an overwhelming to achieve. The most necessary monastery in the Axum kingdom was at Debre Damo, started by the 5th-century CE oriental ascetic Saint Aregawi, one of the celebrated Nine Saints who operated to spread Christianity in the an ar by developing monasteries. The success of these endeavours supposed that Christianity would continue to it is in practised in Ethiopia right right into the 21st century CE.

The kingdom of Axum go into decrease from the late 6th century CE, perhaps because of overuse of agricultural land, the attack of west Bedja herders, and the raised competition for the Red Sea profession networks indigenous Arab Muslims. The heartland of the Axum state shifted southwards when the city of Axum fared far better than the namesake kingdom and also has never lost its religious significance. In the 8 hours century CE, the Axumite harbor of Adulis was destroyed and the kingdom lost regulate of local trade to the Muslims. It was the end of the state yet not the culture.

Kingdom the Zagwe

Bridging the gap between Axum and the Kingdom that Abyssinia was a 3rd kingdom, the of Zagwe v its funding at Roha (300 km south that Axum). Established in 1137 CE through a command of Lasta in unclear circumstances, the brand-new kingdom continued to encourage Christianity in the region and quiet possessed many of the social and artistic traditions the Axum. The kingdom increased from the heartland in northern Ethiopia thanks to a huge and well-equipped army, particularly in the pagan west and south. One well known king, Lalibela, bespeak rock-cut churches to it is in built and such to be their effect on the populace that the funding was change the name in his honour.


Christianity, still nominally led by the Patriarch that Alexandria, ongoing as a subject linking the assorted political states of Ethiopia"s history. The country is dotted v over 1,500 churches carved out the rock. The designs normally follow the classic Roman-Byzantine basilica kind with aisles, galleries and also a domed nave yet there are plenty of variations such as the Church that Saint George in ~ Lalibela (11-12th century CE) through its distinctive cross shape. The largest example is Beta Madhane Alem, additionally at Lalibela. Many of the churches can not be dated as result of lack of engravings and an ideal remains yet they carry out a convincing argument that Ethiopia did not suffer a cultural Dark Age in between Axum, Zagwe, and the Kingdom the Abyssinia.

The Solomonid Dynasty

The medieval Kingdom that Abyssinia was founded by the Solomonid empire c. 1270 CE. Their first ruler gift Yekuno-Amlak (r. 1270-1285 CE), a local leader in ~ Amhara. It is most likely that the Solomonids observed the emperors of Zagwe together usurpers, an discontinuity to the dynasty that had actually ruled Axum, and they gathered the support of anti-Zagwe factions which had presented a consistent opposition transparent the 12th and also 13th centuries CE. The Zagwe dynasty added to its very own downfall by constantly having conflicts over who had actually the right of succession - even the great Lalibela had been briefly deposed by his very own nephew.

Yekuno-Amlak and also his successors, follow to both oral and written medieval heritages (which were largely compiled in the 13th or 14th century CE choose the Kebra Negast yet possibly utilizing older sources), declared direct lower from the biblical King Solomon the Jerusalem and also Makeda, the Queen the Sheba (equated v Ethiopia in this legacy but an ext likely come be southerly Arabia), therefore their dynastic surname of "Solomonid". The story goes the the Queen of Sheba saw King Solomon in Jerusalem after hearing the his good wisdom. The royal pair enjoyed an amorous encounter, the fruit the which to be a son referred to as Menelik. When reaching adulthood, Menelik likewise went to Jerusalem and, thanks to one of his travel companions, the came ago to Axum with quite a prize, the Ark the the Covenant.

The insurance claim may have been dubious - indeed, there is, in any type of case, no straight evidence the a historical King Solomon judgment Israel in the 10th century BCE - yet it does seem the the Ethiopian majesties themselves believed their heritage, or at the very least publicly asserted to. King Zara Yakob (r. 1434-1468 CE) to be asked around his genealogy at his coronation and also boldly stated: "I am the kid of David, the boy of Solomon, the child of Menelik" (quoted in Curtin, 141).


The case may have actually been fabricated and also was definitely perpetuated in stimulate to provide legitimacy come the Solomonid line. Plenty of Solomonid kings hosted their coronation at Axum because of the Ark of the Covenant connection there. That is also interesting to note that in Ethiopian literature on what constitutes an excellent kingship two points are held as crucial - descent from a person, like Solomon, who had made a holy agreement with God and also possession of the sacred Ark that the Covenant. Ethiopian majesties were fortunate to case both and, by association, the civilization of Ethiopia were able to additionally claim they to be God"s liked people, a suggest reinforced by the Christian kingdom"s isolation in eastern Africa, surrounded as it was by claims which were mostly Muslim, Jewish, or practised traditional African beliefs. Because that the Ethiopian people, they were the "second Israel". The is not to say classic African faith was wholly eradicated in Abyssinia, even the king performed a ritual sacrifice of a buffalo and also a lion when he to be crowned.

The Solomonids had actually their funding at Amhara, near Ethiopia"s present-day capital, Addis Ababa. Although initiatives to control seaside trade had some success, land trade routes and also those follow me the Blue Nile showed more profitable for the Ethiopians. Are was additionally disputed between the Solomonids and also Muslim traders of the Red Sea who established such small states together Harar, Dawaro, Bale, and also Adal. At the same time, the Solomonids broadened their kingdom in as numerous directions as feasible to ultimately carve out realm which spanned from Shoa in the southern to the lands north of Lake Tana in ~ the other end of the compass.

The Ethiopian Empire

The Solomonid queens used several means to expand their territory: warfare, religion, and diplomacy as right here summarised by the chronicler P. Curtin:

It to be the case likewise in Solomonid Ethiopia where…the kingdom spread to areas where believer did not kind a bulk of the population. Small colonies of Christians who lived beyond the kingdom"s boundaries served together the advancement guard of imperial expansion. They stayed on after ~ conquest, and also were joined by added colonies the the king"s soldiers. In the an initial stages of occupation a defeated ruler, a non-Christian who had been independent, might remain in office, but now together a topic of the king and now ruling over Christian negotiations that to be in touch v the king. Over there were plenty of royal methods for keeping manage of this territory. The king often forced the tributary chief to send a variety of his children and also other relatives to live at his court. They offered as hostages in case of rebellion, and also they likewise came come learn just how to behave together Solomonid courtiers. (147)

To entice colonists to clear up in the new territory, reward administrators, and further cement Solomonid control, floor grants to be awarded recognize as gult. Recipients then had the appropriate to extract an individual tribute indigenous the farmer who worked that land. These merged strategies were specifically successful in conquering the Shoa hill area.

One of the most successful Solomonid rulers in regards to empire-building to be Amda Seyon ns (r. 1314-1344 CE) who doubled the dimension of his region which currently spread down from the Red Sea to the Rift Valley. Amda Seyon likewise had the clever idea the confining every his male loved ones - except his boy - within a monastery at Gishen. The king"s successors complied with the exact same strategy and also thus sequence disputes, or at least all-out polite wars, were mainly avoided till the mid-16th century CE.

Another an excellent king to be Zera-Yakob who found time not only to write several treatises top top Christianity but also to transaction crushing loss on the coastal Muslim claims in the mid-15th century CE. Dispersing Christianity through divine War to be a significant aim that the kingdom"s campaigns. Fortunately for posterity, Amda Seyon guarantee he always had with him on campaign a priest that wrote down selection episodes. This cotton priest taped the occasions he saw in his occupational The Glorious win of Amda Seyon. Right here is an extract indigenous it:

Now be not afraid in challenge of the rebels; be no divided, because that God is fighting for us…For long you have made yourselves all set to fight because that me; currently be ready to fight for Christ, as it is stated in the publication of Canons, "Slay the infidels and renegades v the sword of iron, and draw the sword in behalf of the perfect faith." Gird ~ above then your swords, make prepared your hearts, and be no fearful in spirit, yet be valiant and put her trust in God. (quoted in von Sivers, 459)

In the mid-15th century CE, the influence of Coptic Egypt ongoing in Abyssinia v Solomonid queens adopting and adapting a Christian variation of the old roman law, The legislation of the Kings (Fetha Nagast), which Egyptian Copts had codified right into a solitary volume of regulations which used to whatever from church matters to criminal punishments. That would continue to be in impact in Ethiopia until the 20th century CE. In addition, there were various other contacts with the wider Christian world such as an Ethiopian embassy come the Pope in Rome in the beforehand 14th century CE and also exchanges of embassies with numerous European powers as the crusades proved ever much more disappointing in your attempt to regain manage of Jerusalem from the Muslims. Indeed, because that a time, european Christians, and specifically the Portuguese, thought that the legend that Prester John, a mythical Christian king believed to dominion a fabulous kingdom in the middle of the Muslim world, described the king that Abyssinia that would certain come and rescue the holy Land indigenous the infidels. Next from sending a stable stream of pilgrims come Jerusalem, however, Abyssinia did no involve chin in the major crusades.


Later History

The Ethiopian Empire"s imperialism in the long term only ensured the Muslim says of east Africa and also Southern Arabia at some point organised themselves right into a more collective and efficient opposition. At the very same time, interior rivalries in between the Solomonids and their distinctive lack of any kind of centralised state apparatus (despite the do the efforts of several detailed rulers) weakened Abbysinia"s capability to respond. The Solomonids would suffer greatly at the hand of Adal in the an initial half the the 16th century once its leader, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (aka Ahmed Gragn, r. 1506-1543 CE), developed a coalition of various other Muslim states and also Somali chiefs. Numerous Christian churches to be torched, the monastery that Debra-Libanos was destroyed and also even Axum was sacked. Ottoman Egypt and Portuguese traders became associated in east African affairs, only including to the disruption in trade networks and also general politics chaos.

The actual winners, though, of the incessant Muslim-Christian wars were the Oromo (aka Galla) people, who had their own traditional religion and also who took over the southern part of Abyssinia. The Solomonid line would certainly continue however the empire they had created really existed in name only until a renewal in the mid-19th century CE. In the meantime, the state was quite a collection of quarrelsome principalities. The relocate of the capital to the an ext centrally-placed and secure Gondar in 1636 CE was a have fun of the brand-new geopolitical reality. There would still be part Ethiopian highpoints to come such as the loss of an Italian intrusion in 1896 CE, the unification and expansion under Menelik II (1889-1913 CE), and also managing to remain the only African country in addition to Liberia no to it is in formally colonised by a europe power, but the lengthy line that Solomonid rulers eventually finished with probably their most renowned of emperors, Haile Selassie i (r. 1930-1974 CE).

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Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His distinct interests encompass pottery, architecture, people mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. He holds one MA in politics Philosophy and also is the publishing Director at WHE.