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African Kingdoms

East Africa

 

 

 

Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinian Aksumite Empire)

The Aksumite empire in Africa was originally a Semitic Jewish kingdom based at Axum (from around the second century BC), and founded, according to legend, by Menelik, son of King Solomon of Israel and the queen of Sheba. It seems much more likely that it was formed in the second century BC by Jewish settlers escaping from Elephantine in Egypt after their temple was destroyed, although there is evidence of a Semitic-speaking presence from at least as early as 2000 BC. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), a study in 2012 of the DNA of more than two hundred Ethiopians found that their ancestors intermixed with either Egyptian, Israeli, or Syrian populations around 1000 BC, precisely at the time that Sheba was supposedly at its height, lending much-needed weight to the story of King Solomon and Sheba.

The country is also known as Abyssinia, which probably originates from the Egyptian name of Habashat. The name 'Ethiopia' is Greek, meaning 'burnt faces', a collective name for all dark-skinned people south of Egypt, although this is now disputed as the Book of Aksum, a Ge'ez chronicle first composed in the fifteenth century, states that the name is derived from ''Ityopp'is', a son (unmentioned in the Bible) of Cush, son of Ham who, confusingly, also founded the city of Axum, according to legend. The Greek 'Aethiopia' was a translation of the original Hebrew 'Kush' which is generally used to refer to a kingdom to the north of what is know recognised as being Ethiopia.

There is a strain of historical researcher which, acting possibly on an Ethiopian nationalist basis, rather energetically claims Moses as the earliest known figure in the country's history. Apparently he married Tharbis, daughter of the unnamed king of Ethiopia, and she became pregnant with their child (the sex of the child is not mentioned but the child itself is claimed as the originator of a new dynasty of Ethiopian kings that effectively creates ties between the kingdom and the Israelites more than two hundred years before King Solomon). Support for this idea is claimed in Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus, and this writer certainly does relate a story of Moses leading an Egyptian army against the invading Ethiopians. He captures their capital at a city called Saba (which Josephus places firmly on the banks of the Nile, clearly differentiating it from the better known Saba) and marries Tharbis (probably as a form of cementing a peace treaty in order to preserve the captured city). However, Josephus states that Moses consummates his marriage and then returns to Egypt (seemingly without Tharbis). No mention is made of a child. The story itself is viewed as being dubious, perhaps invented to explain a comment in Numbers 12:1 by Miriam about marriage to a Cushite woman (prior to his marriage to Zipporah). Historically, it seems much more likely that any Egyptian military thrust southwards would have been aimed at the kingdom of Kush. Several other conflicts between the two kingdoms have been recorded to add support to this idea.

The partial list of rulers is largely gleaned from sources and enlarged by various notes. No two lists agree on early rulers, so this list is a compendium: those which are only shown by Munro-Hay in green, while those by Budge are in red.

(Additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), and from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996).)

fl c.960 BC

Menelik I

First Emperor. Legendary son of Israel and Sheba.

c.850 BC

The Philistines sack Jerusalem in Judah, along with Arabs and Ethiopians, who loot King Jehoram's house, and carry off all of his family except for his youngest son, Jehoahaz.

8th century BC

An apparently indigenous proto-Aksumite state kingdom known as D'mt is established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, with its capital at Yeha in northern Ethiopia. It is only briefly influenced by Saba due to the latter's hegemony of the Red Sea.

Ethiopian highlands
The Ethiopian highlands, a stretch of rugged mountain territory in the modern country's north-eastern region, have a history in terms of human occupation which dates back millions of years

715 - 664 BC

Ethiopian/Nubian groups conquer Egypt and found a ruling dynasty there.

from c.700 BC to c.650 BC

W'rn Hywt

King of D'mt.

Rd'm

King of D'mt.

S'rn Rbh

Son of W'rn Hywt. King of D'mt.

S'rn Lmn

Son. King of D'mt.

593 - 588 BC

Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus sends an army south to fight the king of the Ethiopians (at this stage an undefined area covering all peoples south of Egypt). Some deserters remain and settle in Western Abyssinia, according to Herodotus' 'Land of the Deserters'. There appears to have been a large Jewish contingent among them.

521 BC

Darius kills the usurper Gaumata (Smerdis) and seizes control of the Persian empire. He takes great pains to legitimise his rule by installing an inscription at Pasargadae to record his 'descent' from the legendary founder of the Persian dynasty. He also extends the satrapy of Egypt to include Cyrene, 'Put' (probably Punt, which is usually equated with Nubia), and Kush (also Nubia, but sometimes equated with Ethiopia, suggesting Nubia's southern regions which were centred around MeroŽ). Persian control is unlikely to extend to MeroŽ in anything other than as a vassal state, and is even less likely to reach as far as the early Ethiopian kingdom (D'mt).

5th century BC

The kingdom of D'mt falls. The plateau comes to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms. Few inscriptions exist from this kingdom, and very little archaeological work has taken place there. As a result, it is not known whether D`mt ended as a civilisation before Aksum's early stages, or whether it evolved into the Aksumite state, or was one of the smaller states united by Aksum.

c.400 BC

Jewish refugees from Egypt appear to settle in the area of Western Abyssinia.

3rd-2nd cent BC

Axum is founded as the capital of a Jewish kingdom.

Kingdom of Axum (Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia)
c.3rd Century BC - c.AD 980

In the fourth century AD the country was converted to Christianity at the same time as the new religion was accepted into the Roman empire, although a Jewish population, the Falashas, remained, and was still very powerful, with its own kings, until it was broken by the Aksumites.

AD ?

Ezanas I

AD 50

The kingdom of Axum expands, reuniting the area and expanding southwards. Until the end of the sixth century, Axum is considered to be one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdoms in the known world, ranking on equal terms with Rome or Persia.

c.100

Zoskales

Possibly the 'Za Haqala' from the king list

c.200

Gadarat (GDRT)

Inscriptions mention his son Beyga.

c.230 - c.240

Azaba / Adhebahs ('DBH)

Inscriptions mention his son Girma.

fl c.240s

Beyga / Baygat (BYGT)

fl c.240s

Girma / Garmat (GRMT)

c.250

Sembrouthes

c.260

Datawnas (DTWNS)

Inscriptions mention his son Zaqarnas (ZQRNS).

c.270 - c.300

Endubis

fl 290

Ella Amida (I, II or III?)

early 4th cent.

Aphilas

Uzana

Could be another form of Esana.

early 4th cent.

Wazeba

c.320 - c.330

Ousanas

316

Frumentius is stranded on the coast and is taken to the court, where, upon the death of the emperor, he is appointed regent by the new king's mother.

c.333 - c.356

Ezanas II / Esana / Ezna / Aezanes

Son. First Christian convert.

c.333 - ?

Frumentius

Regent.

331

Frumentius converts the emperor to Christianity and is created first Coptic Bishop of Ethiopia. This act leads to centuries of conflict between the Christian and Jewish communities in Ethiopia as each vies for overall control of the empire. Even so, Christianity in Ethiopia is still only skin deep, being deeply influenced by the Judaism which appears to have been established in the country over a thousand years previously. Between 331-1959 all Ethiopian archbishops are supplied by the Coptic Patriarchate in Alexandria.

c.328 - c.370

Shizana

Brother of Ezanas.

350

According to traditional theory, the kingdom of Kush at MeroŽ is destroyed during an invasion by Ezana of the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. To contradict this, the Ethiopian account seems to describe the quelling of a rebellion in lands they already control. It also refers only to the Nuba, and makes no mention of the rulers of MeroŽ. The differing accounts would seem to be the result of propaganda issued by both sides (very similar messages are frequently issued in modern political statements), with one denying the other's existence in order to legitimise its conquest. As no details of Kushite rulers are known after this date, their survival after this event is unlikely.

c.350

Mehadeyis (MHDYS)

c.356

Ella Abreha

Ella Asfeha

Ella Shahel

late 4th century

Ouazebas

c.400

Eon

Possibly the 'Huina' from the Book of the Himyarites.

Ebana

451

The Fourth Catholic Council (Chalcedon) is held. Monophysitism is condemned, but the fatal disaffection of Syria and Egypt is effected (the former eventually forms the Syriac Orthodox Church which survives to the present day). Oriental Orthodoxy develops a distinctive flavour of its own under the patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt, with the majority of its adherents hailing from Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Armenia.

Nezool / Nezana

474 - 475

Agabe

474 - 475

Levi

475 - 486

Ella Amida (IV?) / Alla Amidas

486 - 489

Jacob I

486 - 489

David

489 - 504

Armah I

504 - 505

Zitana

c.500

Ousas / Ousanas

Possibly Tazena, father of Kaleb. Also Zitana?

505 - 514

Jacob II

514 - 542

Caleb / Kaleb / Ella Asbeha

His son is traditionally Gabra Masqal. (Or c.500 - 534.)

523 - 525

Under pressure from Byzantium, the Ethiopians install a Christian king in Saba/Yemen.

Caleb also wages war against the Falashas in a continuation of the long conflict between the empire's Jewish and Christian populations. The Falashas are eventually vanquished to an extent, but from their northern strongholds, ruled by their own line of Jewish kings, they continue to strike against the Christian south over the subsequent 400 years.

542 - c.550

Beta Israel (House of Israel)

This is also the Falashas' own name for their people.

c.550 - 564

Gabra Masqal

Son of Kaleb.

Anaeb

c.590

Ancient Nubia, which stretches south as far as the Ethiopian uplands, is once more brought into the orbit of the Mediterranean world by the arrival of Christian missionaries. The kingdom of Dongola is converted to Christianity, as is Alodia which is strongly influenced by Axum at this time. However, after the work of the missionaries is concluded, the region sinks back into obscurity, and only re-emerges in the seventh century.

Alamiris

Joel / Ioel

Israel

Possibly a son of Kaleb.

Gersem I

Ella Gabaz

622 - 632

As the forces of the Prophet Muhammed creates the Islamic empire, Ethiopia is encircled and begins nearly a thousand years of increasing isolation. Decline sets in and records become extremely sparse.

c.625

Ella Sahem

Armah II

Iathlia

Hataz I

Possibly the same as Iathlia.

Wazena

Za Ya'abiyo

Armah III

?

Unknown.

Hataz II

Gersem II

Hataz III

from c.600

Kwastantinos / Constantine

Wasan Sagad

Bazagar?

Fere Shanay / Fere Shernay

'Adre'az / 'Adre'azar

'Akla Wedem

Germa Safar

Zergaz / Gergaz

Degna Mikael

Bahr Ikela

Gum

'Asgwomgum

Letem

Talatem

'Oda Gosh / 'Oda Sasa

'Ayzur

Reigned half a day and was strangled to death.

Dedem

Wededem

Wedem 'Asfare

'Armah

Degna Djan / Ged'a Djan

'Anbasa Wedem

Son.

to c.900

Dil Na'od

Brother. Last king of Axum.

c.980

In a conclusion to the long religious conflict in the empire, Gudit, the head of a large tribal confederation known as the Agaw - which includes the Jewish Falashas - leads an uprising which snatches the Axumite throne, razes much of Axum itself, and destroys much of the ruling Solomonic dynasty, replacing it with the Zagwe dynasty.

As the state is sent into a minor Dark Age, one royal prince escapes to hide in the south, in the distant province of Shoa, where his descendants continue to live until they reclaim the throne in the thirteenth century.

Old Cathedral of St Mary of Zion
The Old Cathedral of St Mary of Zion was consecrated in the fourth century by Ezanas and Shizana, and fortunately it survived the fall of the kingdom of Axum around AD 980

Zagwe Dynasty (Ethiopia)
c.AD 1030 - 1270

The Solomonic Dynasty was replaced by a Falasha dynasty which was established following Queen Gudit's uprising and largely un-chronicled reign. Although it is by no means certain that Gudit left any direct successor, it is accepted that within fifty years of her death Ethiopia was generally governed by the Jewish Zagwe dynasty. This line converted to Christianity well before the birth of Lallebella in circa 1140.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Church and State in Ethiopia, Taddesse Tamrat (Clarendon Press, 1972), from Wollo, Yager Dibab, Getachew Mekonnen Hasen (Nigd Matemiya Bet, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Global Security.)

c.980 - c.1020

Gudit

Falasha queen.

c.1030

Mara Takla Haymanot

First Zagwe monarch of the Agaw confederation.

Tatadim

Jan Seyum

Germa Seyum

1117 - 1133

Marari / Mairari

Not widely recognised.

1133 - ?

Yemrehana Krestos

Kedus Harbe

al.1160 - 1185

Harbay / Harbai

Half brother of Lallebella. Not widely recognised.

1185 - 1211

Gebral Maskal Lalibela / Lallebella

Exiled. Knights Templars helped regain his throne.

1211 - 1212?

Imrahana Laab

Son. Naakuto or Yitbarek?

1212 - 1270

Naakuto Laab / Na'akueto La'ab

Son. Possibly the same as Imrahana. Usurper?

1260 - 1268

Yitbarek / Yetbarak

Son of Lallebella. Secured the throne for 8 years?

1270

According to tradition Naakuto Laab is persuaded to abdicate the throne in favour of a monarch claiming Solomonic descent. However, there is a degree of uncertainty about events in this period, with Yitbarek, apparently Naakuto Laab's uncle, possibly responsible for seizing the throne for eight years in the 1260s. This Yitbarek could also be Za-Ilmaknun, the name meaning 'the unknown, the hidden one'. It is claimed that this otherwise unknown individual is killed by Yekuno Amlak, the Solomonic monarch who replaces Naakuto Laab. In this light, a peaceful handover between the Zagwe king and his Solomonic successor must be doubted.

Solomonic Dynasty (Ethiopia)
AD 1270 - 1974

The Christian Solomonic dynasty of Axum was restored in Ethiopia in what has been claimed to have been a peaceful process which saw the last of the Zagwe kings step down in their favour (see above). The Solomonic rulers of the seventh to tenth centuries were largely obscure. In the late tenth century the state was embroiled in a drawn-out civil war between Christians in Axum and Gudit, the head of a large tribal confederation known as the Agaw which included the Jewish Falashas. Her uprising seized the Axumite throne around AD 980, razing much of Axum itself, and destroying much of the ruling Solomonic dynasty. This was, following Gudit's own reign, replaced by the Zagwe dynasty. As the state was sent into a minor dark age, one royal prince managed to escape the destruction to hide in the south, in the distant province of Shoa. His descendants continued to live there until the thirteenth century when Yekuno Amlak claimed descent from him and restored the Solomonic dynasty as rulers of Ethiopia. His and other stories regarding these late medieval rulers largely comes from oral tradition mixed with medieval hagiography.

This Ethiopia was not the Ethiopia of today, with its fixed borders and relatively large volume of territory. Imperial Ethiopia was much smaller and with constantly shifting borders. It was surrounded by minor regions and kingdoms that bickered and fought between themselves and with the Solomonic emperors. Many were Muslims, inherently antagonistic towards Ethiopia's Christians, and the empire's history is one of gradual expansion, defeating its local opponents minor kingdom by minor kingdom. Even then these vassal kingdoms often retained their own kingship for quite some time afterwards, sometimes rebelling, sometimes offering imperial wives. Imperial Ethiopia itself was just as tribal as its neighbours and it should not be assumed that just because it had imperial pretensions it also had the imperial trappings that could be seen in Europe around the same period in time.

Some ruler's names are shown in two forms - the native version of their name and the Anglicised Christian form of the name. Some seem to be known only by a native form of their name, although sometimes the Anglicised version can still be seen in it. Some bear a very Eastern Orthodox air to them, such as Basilidies - a result of Egypt's Christians siding with the Orthodox separation from Catholicism in AD 451 and the marked Byzantine influence orthodoxy received from that point. Minor princes and the more powerful figures of the nobility could be given the title of ras, which literally means 'head' and was often used for imperial advisors and officers.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Church and State in Ethiopia, Taddesse Tamrat (Clarendon Press, 1972), from Wollo, Yager Dibab, Getachew Mekonnen Hasen (Nigd Matemiya Bet, 1992), from A History of Ethiopia: Nubia and Abyssinia, Sir E A Wallis Budge (1928, reproduced in Anthropological Publications, 1970), from Heads of State and Government, John V Da Graca (Macmillan Reference Books, 1985), from Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, James Bruce (Vol 3, 1805), from The Abyssinians, David Buxon (Praeger, 1970), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Global Security.)

1270 - 1285

Yekuno Amlak / Tasfa Iyasus

Claimed Solomonic descent via his father, Tasfa Iyasus.

1270

Yekuno Amlak is an Amhara prince of the Bet Amhara province in what is now the Wollo region of north-eastern Ethiopia. The son of Tasfa Iyasus, he is claimed as being the direct descendant of the last Solomonic ruler of Axum before him, Dil Na'od. He takes the throne name Tasfa Iyasus, possibly to honour his father. During his reign he exchanges letters with Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palśologus, but his relations with regional Muslim rulers deteriorate as he presses for improved recognition and conditions for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Sultan Baybars I of Egypt seems to be particularly disinterested in responding to his letters in this regard.

Axum
Axum in what is now northern Ethiopia was the capital of the early kingdom of the same name but the destruction of that kingdom in the tenth century saw Axum reduced to a provincial town

1285 - 1294

Yagba Zion / Solomon I

Son. Co-ruler from 1283.

1294

Having shared power with his father for the last two years of the latter's life, Yagba Zion seems to fail to make the same provision to ensure the succession after his own lifetime. Tradition states that he is unable to decide between his many sons, so each of them should rule for a year in turn. A more realistic interpretation of the tradition would suggest instability, with the sons fighting one another for superiority.

1294 - 1297

Bahr Asgad / Senfa Asgad / Senfa Ared IV

Son.

1297 - 1299

Qedma / Hezba Asgad / Heezba Ared

Brother.

1297 - 1298

Jin Asgad

Brother. In opposition in 1297?

1298 - 1299

Saba Asgad

Brother. In opposition in 1298?

1299

The instability caused by the five sons of Yagba Zion contesting the throne (one of those seems not to gain the throne at all, which is why only four are shown) comes to an end. Their uncle, Wedem Ara'ad, seizes the throne and imposes a more stable monarchy.

1299 - 1314

Wedem Ara'ad

Brother of Yagba Zion. Seized the throne. Died.

1314 - 1344

Amda Siyon / Seyoi I 'Pillar of Zion'

Son? Seized throne? Died.

1316/17

Ruling a rather small Christian Ethiopian kingdom that is surrounded by other, Muslim Ethiopian states, Amda Siyon now campaigns against the kingdoms of Damot and Hadiya. Both are conquered and large numbers of their subjects are exiled. Hadiya is fully integrated into the Solomonic state by 1329 or 1332 as it provides troops for a subsequent campaign. A campaign also takes place in 1316/17 against Gojjam to the north.

1317 - 1329

The northern province of Enderta is next to fall, although Amda Siyon's initial appointments to govern it prove unpopular and need to be replaced. More northern provinces are attacked in 1329, including Semien, Tsegede, Tselemt, and Wegera. Many in these areas had been converting to Judaism as part of the Beta Israel movement of Ethiopian Judaism, so establishing Christianity there is a priority.

1344 - 1372

Newaya Krestos 'Vessel of Christ'

Son. Died.

1372 - 1382

Newaya Maryam

Son. Died without issue.

1376 - c.1377

Newaya Maryam loses one of his grandfather's military gains when the south-eastern Ethiopian kingdom of Ifat is taken out of his hands. Its new ruler is Haqq ad-Din II of the Walasma (Walashma) dynasty, and he begins to raid into the empire's territory.

1382 - 1413

Dawit / David I

Brother. Killed by one of his horses.

c.1382

Early in his reign Emperor Dawit raids into Egypt as far as Aswan before being persuaded to return home by the Christian patriarch of Alexandria. Egypt's continuing destabilisation is only worsened by this incident. When the ruling Bahris are replaced there in the same year by the first of the Burjis, Dawit sends Barquq al Yalburghawi twenty-two camels loaded with gifts.

1413 - 1414

Tewodros / Theodore I

Son. Died in battle against Muslims.

1414 - 1429

Yeshaq I / Isaac

Brother. Killed in battle or assassinated.

1414

The reign of Yeshaq is marked not only by his imprisonment of his brother, Zara Yakob (emperor in 1434), but also by a revolt of the Beta Israel, Ethiopia's population of Jews. Yeshaq marches his forces into Wogera in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. The rebels are defeated in battle at Kossege, terminating their efforts, and the Debre Yeshaq church is built there to commemorate the emperor's victory.

1429 - 1430

Andreyas / Andrew

Son. Died.

1430 - 1433

Takla Maryam / Hezba NaŮ

Brother. Throne name 'Hezba NaŮ'. Died.

1433

Sarwe Iyasus

Son. Ruled 4 or 8 months. Killed by plague. Not in all lists.

1433 - 1434

Amda Iyasus

Brother. Died without issue.

1434 - 1468

Zara Yakob / Constantine I

Son of Dawit I. Died aged 69.

1434

Following the rapid turnover of emperors since his imprisonment in 1414, Zara Yakob inherits a state that is in some disarray. Having been deprived of large degrees of human contact during his own lifetime, the emperor is forced to deal with an Ethiopia which is 'seething with plots and rebellions, a Church riven with heresies, and outside enemies constantly threatening invasion'. He tackles his duties with grim determination and emerges as one of the state's most notable rulers. He takes Princess Eleni as his wife, daughter of the subject king of Hadiya.

Gondar Castle
Gondar on the northern shore of Lake Tana was founded in 1635 by Emperor Fasilides and served as one of the few fixed capitals for the later Solomonic dynasty

1445

The emperor faces a considerable Somali army under the leadership of the sultan of Adal, Badlay ibn Sa'ad ad-Din. The Battle of Gomit (or Ygubba) sees the Ethiopians victorious and the sultan dead. Zara Yakob is able to consolidate his hold over the Sidamo kingdoms to the south.

1468 - 1478

Baeda Mariam I

Son. Died aged 30.

1478 - 1494

Eksender / Constantine II

Son. Acceded aged 7. Killed aged 22, in battle or assasinated.

1494

Amda Seyon II

Son. Acceded aged 7. Died 6 months later.

1494 - 1508

Naod / Na'od

Brother of Eskender. Killed by Muslims.

1508 - 1540

Lebna Dengel / Dawit II / David II

Son. Died aged 39, exhausted by years of conflict and defeat.

1520

The Portuguese, represented by members of the Order of Christ (direct successors of the Knights Templar in Portugal), finally manage to establish an embassy in the country, although the emperor suspects their motives. Still, he needs their support to counter increased Muslim antagonism which would seem to be supported by the Ottoman empire, and also to assist in what becomes a bitter war against the state of Adal which has a new ruler in the form of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi.

1528 - 1541

The Muslim Galla people from the emirate of Harar in the eastern part of the Horn of Africa invade and conquer large areas of Ethiopia while allied to the Ottoman empire. Under the command of Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim el Ghazi (nicknamed Gragn, the 'left-handed'), the wild Somali troops, backed up by Arab mercenaries and Turkish matchlockmen, rampage through the Christian highlands, killing thousands and burning and looting as they go. They are defeated, with the help of a contingent of 450 Portuguese musketeers, at the Battle of Lake Tana.

1540 - 1559

Gelawedos / Claudius

Son. Died aged 37-38.

1560 - 1564

Menas

Brother. Died.

1564 - 1597

Sarsa Dengel

Son. Died aged 47.

1564 - 1580

Sarsa Dengel wages a seventeen year crusade against the Falasha Jewish population, slowly destroying their powerful strongholds in the Simien mountains. The Falasha king, Radai, is taken prisoner and accepts death over conversion to Christianity. The Falashas begin to diminish from this point, from an estimated population of 500,000 in the early 1600s to one of 28,000 in 1984.

Falasha synagogue in Ethiopia
Falasha Jews lived for centuries as the subjects of Axum and its successors and, while today most have left for Israel, some communities still remain

1597 - 1603

Yaqob / Jacob

Son. Deposed by Ras Sellase, a chief advisor.

1603 - 1604

Za Dengel

Nephew of Sarsa Dengel. Killed in battle against Ras Sellase.

1604 - 1607

Yaqob / Jacob

Restored by Ras Sellase. Died aged 47.

1606

Although he is deposed by his brother, Sultan Abd al-Qadir of Sinnar is a friend of (soon-to-be?) Emperor Susenyos I. At some point after this date, the deposed sultan is appointed governor of Chilga (also known as Ayikel), an important trading town near the Ethiopian border with Sinnar.

1607 - 1632

Susenyos I / Sissinios

Grandson of Dawit II. Died aged 60.

1607

Having quickly seen off the would-be 'king-maker', Ras Sellase,Susenyos launches a pogrom against the constantly troublesome Falasha Jews which witnesses twenty years of butchery.

1615

Susenyos conquers and annexes the kingdom of Fazughli into the Ethiopian empire, on the borders of the sultanate of Sinnar. The emperor subsequently sends priests to renew the Orthodox Christianity of the province, although the missionaries appear to achieve little, seemingly becoming mired in doctrinal disputes.

1618 - 1619

Relations with Ethiopia have been deteriorating since the reign of Sultan Badi I of Sinnar as the Funj press southwards up the Blue Nile to annexe the gold-producing land of Fazughli. In this period major Ethiopian invasions that are designed to reclaim the valuable territory and kick out the Funj are repulsed.

1632 - 1667

Fasilidas / Basilides

Son. Described as 'the greatest king' of Ethiopia. Died aged 64.

1632

Despite the help that has been given by the Portuguese in saving the empire, the Ethiopian monarchs still do not trust their motives. Fasilidas now expels them, offering Turks at Massawa a bounty on any Portuguese heads they can capture.

1667 - 1682

Yohannes I / John I

Son. Died after quashing several revolts.

1682 - 1706

Iyasu I the Great / Joshua / Jesus I

Son. Assassinated on his son's orders.

1685

Yeshaq Iyasu

Gojjam rebel who claimed to be the son of Susenyos I. Died.

1685

Yeshaq is proclaimed emperor by Qegnazmach Wale of Damot and Tabdan the Hermit in opposition to Iyasu I. Iyasu quickly suppresses the revolt and Yeshaq is captured. A year later, Iyasu marches beyond southern Gojjam in a punitive expedition against the Agaws who had supported the rebels.

1706 - 1708

Tekle Haimanot I 'the Cursed'

Son of Iyasu I. Died aged 24, unpopular after murdering his father.

1707

Amda Seyon

Gojjam rebel. Died.

1707

Amda Seyon is another rebel from the Gojjam region. He manages to make his way to Ethiopia's capital where he is crowned. Tekle Haimanot makes the tricky return trip to the capital during the rainy season and the would-be usurper flees, only to be killed in battle at Maitsa some time later.

Tiya megaliths
The Tiya megaliths of Ethiopia's Gurage Zone were carved surprisingly recently - between about the tenth and fifteenth centuries - although remarkably little is known about them

1708 - 1711

Tewoflos / Theophilus

Son of Fasilides. Died.

1709 - 1710

Nebahne Yohannes

Rebel 4 year-old son of Tewoflos' nephew. Arrested and exiled.

1711 - 1716

Yostos / Justus

Grandson of Iyasu I. Died following a long sickness.

1716 - 1721

Dawit / David III 'the Singer'

Son of Iyasu I. Proclaimed by the imperial guard. Poisoned?

1721 - 1730

Bekaffa

Brother. Died.

1730 - 1755

Iyasu / Joshua / Jesus II

Son of Bekaffa. Died aged 31. Poisoned?

1730 - 1755

Mentewab / Welete Giyorgis

Mother and regent, plus enforced co-ruler.

1730

Shortly after Iyasu is proclaimed emperor, a rival claimant assaults the royal enclosure for eight days, only leaving the capital of Gondar when an army of 30,000 from Gojjam appears. The rebels fail to penetrate its walls but much of Gondar is still left in ruins.

Instead of taking the title of regent upon the succession of her under-age son, Empress Mentewab has herself crowned as co-ruler, becoming the first woman to be crowned in this manner in Ethiopian history. Empress Mentewab wields significant authority throughout the reign of her son, and well into the reign of her grandson as well.

1736 - 1737

Hezqeyas / Hezekiah

Rebel proclaimed in opposition to Iyasu. Captured and hanged.

1738

In a bid to gain the respect of his subjects the largely ineffectual Emperor Iyasu engages in a campaign against the the Funj sultanate of Sinnar which ends in defeat at the Battle of the River Dindar. An icon of Christ and a piece of the True Cross that had been carried into battle are captured, and have to be ransomed for eight thousand ounces of gold.

1744

Another Ethiopian invasion of the Funj sultanate of Sinnar takes place. This is part of continuing problems between the two states now that Ethiopian territories border those of Sinnar.

1755

With the death of her son, Iyasu, his mother and co-ruler Empress Mentewab comes into conflict with Iyasu's wife, Wubit. Mentewab descends from emperors herself, but it is Wubit who now expects to support her own son on the throne, Iyoas. Both sides summon their supporters and, to avoid a bloody civil war, a powerful figure by the name of Mikael Sehul is made ras and is given the job of deciding who should prevail. He chooses Wubit and promptly seizes Mentewab's position of power for himself.

1755 - 1769

Iyoas / Joas

Son of Iyasu II. Deposed and killed by Sehul aged about 29.

1755 - 1771

Ras Mikael Sehul

Enforced co-ruler. Captured by his opponents.

1769

Ras Mikael Sehul's murder of the emperor shatters the illusion that the holder of this post is somehow untouchable and protected. From this point onwards the empire is weakened, a period that is labelled the time of the masafent ('judges') in which the emperor's power holds less meaning. Ras Mikael Sehul selects his next puppet, the one-handed Yohannes, but his own position is ended in 1771.

Ethiopian warriors
The warriors of Ethiopia were captured in print in just this period - around 1770 - when the empire suffered a body-blow in its self-confidence with the murder of Emperor Iyoas

1769

Yohannes II / John II

Son of Iyasu I. Died aged 70.

1769 - 1770

Tekle Haimanot II

Son. Acceded aged 15. Briefly lost throne while on campaign.

1770

Susenyos II

Illegitimate son of Iyasu II? Proclaimed by warlords. Died c.1771.

1770 - 1777

Tekle Haimanot II

Restored. Died aged 23 after abdicating to become a monk.

1777 - 1779

Salomon / Solomon II

Son of the abeto (prince), Adigo. Deposed. Died 1782.

1779 - 1784

Tekle Giorgis I

Son of Yohannes II. Deposed.

1784

In an Ethiopia which is riven by internal conflict as rival groups jostle for power, Tekle Giorgis is deposed no less than four times. The first time is when either Ras Abeto of Gojjam or Ras Hailu Yosadiq take action against him, showing just how powerful the regional lords have become.

1784 - 1788

Iyesu / Joshua / Jesus III

Grandson of Iyasu II. Died by 1810.

1787 - 1789

With Iyesu having been placed on the throne by warlords who are serving their own interests, few are interested in keeping him there. The would-be emperor faces no less than three opponents, while the deposed Tekle Giorgis also watches for an opportunity to restore his own rule. A rival who is also called Iyesu is proclaimed in Gojjam and Tigray but is defeated in battle. Ba'eda Maryam I is also proclaimed in Gojjam and Tigray, but in opposition to both Iyesus. Tekle Haymanot is proclaimed in Gondar itself by the defeated followers of Ba'eda Maryam I.

1787 - 1788

Iyesu

Non-dynastic. In opposition to Iyesu. Died 1813.

1787 - 1788

Ba'eda Maryam I

Non-dynastic. In opposition to Iyesu III & Iyesu. Captured.

1788 - 1789

Tekle Haymanot

Non-dynastic. In opposition to Iyesu. Died by 1810.

1788 - 1789

Tekle Giorgis I

Restored briefly before losing the throne to Hezqeyas.

1789 - 1794

Hezqeyas / Hezekiah

Son of Iyasu III. Died 1813.

1794

Tekle Giorgis defeats the powerful warlord Ras Haile Yosadiq and reclaims the throne for a second time. This time, with support from Ras Aligaz who commands a large army of his own, he is able to remain in power for over a year. However, the cycle of powerful warlords supporting their own contenders for the throne and then enforcing that claim for a brief period does not end. The next seven years sees no fewer than ten changes of emperor, each supported by one or more warlords whose own loyalties shift according to circumstance.

1794 - 1795

Tekle Giorgis I

Restored for a second time. Lost the throne to  Ba'eda Maryam II.

1795

Ba'eda Maryam II

Son of Salomon II? Briefly held the throne. Died 1833.

1795 - 1796

Tekle Giorgis I

Restored for a third time.

1796 - 1797

Solomon III

Son of Tekle Haimanot II. Puppet ruler. Deposed & imprisoned.

1797 - 1798

Yonas / Jonah

Grandson of Fasilides. Imprisoned. Died 1813.

1797 - 1799

Tekle Giorgis I

Restored for a fourth time.

1799

Solomon III

Restored. Placed in chains and replaced by Demetros.

1799 - 1800

Demetros / Demetrius

Son of Arqedemos. Non-dynastic.

1800

Tekle Giorgis I

Restored for a fifth time. Sidelined, and died 1817.

1800 - 1801

Demetros / Demetrius

Restored while Tekle was on campaign. Died 1802.

1801 - 1803

With the accession of Egwala Seyon through the support of rasses Wolde Selassie of Tigray and Gugsa of Yejju, the country sees a temporary end to the continual rotation of would-be emperors. Egwala, though, mounts one brief campaign during his reign and thereafter achieves nothing of note. Perhaps his main intention is to avoid alienating all of the rival warlords in the state, but any hope that the internal feuding will end is extinguished with the commencement of a full-blown civil war from 1803. His immediate successors are little more than puppets of the warlords and are shown in red to highlight this fact.

Ethiopian manuscript illustration
This highly colourful and detailed illustration was created for a manuscript in the eighteenth century, part of a Christian tradition which dated back centuries

1801 - 1818

Egwala Seyon

Son of Hezqeyas. Died.

1818 - 1821

Iyoas / Joas II

Brother. Died. An interregnum of several months followed.

1821 - 1826

Gigar

Son of Iyasu II or descendant of Fasilides? Deposed.

1826

Ba'eda Maryam III

Non-dynastic and only briefly on the throne. Died.

1826 - 1830

Gigar

Restored. Died an old man in 1832.

1830 - 1832

Iyasu / Joshua / Jesus IV

Son of Salomon III. Poisoned?

1832

Gabra Krestos

Claimed as a descendant of Fasilides. Deposed for his brother.

1832

Sahla Dengel

Brother.

1832

Gabra Krestos

Restored.

1832 - 1840

Sahla Dengel

Restored.

1832

Egwale Anbesa

Non-dynastic rebel. Beheaded by Sahla Dengel.

1840 - 1841

Yohannes / John III

Son of Tekle Giorgis I. Died c.1873.

1841 - 1855

Sahla Dengel

Restored for a second time. Died.

1855

The accession of Tewodros is accepted by Sahla Dengel (and therefore his supporters who are the real power in the country). This is often seen as the point in Ethiopian history in which the country enters the modern age and ends the period of the princes in which no one rules over a centralised and unified Ethiopian state. His first act is to take control of Shoa (Shewa) which has become independent to the extent that its ruler has been styling himself as a negus, a badge of monarchy.

1855 - 1868

Tewodros / Theodore II / Ras Kassa

Non-dynastic. Rebuilt the state. Committed suicide.

1862 - 1868

Having put down several early rebellions and then overseeing an almost unheard-of period of peace, the emperor's position is extremely weak by 1862. Much of the state is in revolt against him and he constantly campaigns to maintain what there is of his position. Tewodros writes to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom requesting help from a fellow Christian monarch but his approach is sidelined by British officials. In desperation he takes several diplomats hostage. A British military expedition enters the country and defeats him at the Battle of Magdala. Tewodros commits suicide to avoid capture.

Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia
Tewodros II offered Ethiopia's empire the opportunity to unite in the face of ever-increasing colonial interference, but the old habits of rebellion and counter-rebellion could not be put aside

1868 - 1872

Tekle Giorgis II / Wagshum Gobeze

Descended from the Zagwe and from Iyasu I. Died 1873.

1872 - 1874

Egypt under Isma'il Pasha conquers South Sudan between 1872-1874. The eventual intent is to fully unite Egypt and Sudan as one single state under Egyptian rule. However, a further annexation of 1875 leads to a state of (largely inactive) war with Ethiopia.

1872 - 1889

Yohannes / John IV / Kassa Mercha

Tigrayan chieftain of the Solomonics. Killed in battle.

1875 - 1876

The Egyptians are defeated, being driven out of Eritrea at the Battle of Gundet in 1875, and the Battle of Gura in 1876. After this actual hostilities generally cease, but a long period of mutual animosity follows.

1887 - 1889

A 60,000-strong Mahdi army under the ansars enters Ethiopia. It gets as far as Gondar, the former imperial capital of the Begemder province. The city is sacked, and at the start of 1888 the Sudanese occupiers set fire to almost all of its churches, devastating the whole city. In 1889, Yohannes marches on Metemma in Sudan, but is killed in battle. Ethiopia withdraws.

1889 - 1913

Menilek / Menelik II / Sahle Maryam

Former Solomonic king of Shoa (southern province).

1889

Menelik overrides Yohannes' dying wish that his own son succeed him because Menelik sees his own Solomonic descent as being stronger than that of Yohannes. He moves the capital from Axum to Addis Ababa, and signs a bilateral friendship treaty with Italy at Wuchale which Italy interprets as giving it a protectorate over Ethiopia.

1890

The Italian forces adopt the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea - Erythra Thalassa - to describe the territory they think they now hold. In time the name becomes Anglicised as Eritrea. Menelik has other ideas as he tours the north, is accepted by many of the regional leaders, and begins to build a truly consolidated and centralised Ethiopia.

1893

Italian forces push back a Sudanese attack on Akordat in Eritrea. The Sudanese are entirely forced out of Ethiopia by the defeat, but the effort is purely for Italy's own ends. They prepare to take the country by force in the face of Menelik's increasing hostility towards them.

1896

It is Menelik's refusal to accept one of the major terms of the 1889 treaty that leads to open conflict between Italians and Ethiopians. The Italians approach Ras Mengesha of Tigray with a view to sparking civil war in the country but, realising the importance of Ethiopian unity at this vital stage, he refuses them. The Italians are soundly defeated at the subsequent Battle of Adowa (Adwa) although they still retain control over Eritrea, to the north.

Battle of Adowa 1896
Italy's colonial ambitions in East Africa were dealt a shattering - and highly embarrassing - blow when it was defeated in battle by the Ethiopians at Adowa and was expelled from the empire

1909 - 1913

Iyasu / Joshua V / Lij Kifle Yaqub

Grandson and regent. Succeeded as ruler.

1913 - 1916

Iyasu / Joshua V / Lij Kifle Yaqub

Former regent. Deposed. Died 1935.

1916 - 1930

Empress Zawditu / Askala Maryam

Dau of Menelik II. Died aged 53.

1916 - 1930

Ras Tafari Makonnen

Son of Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael. Regent. Succeeded as ruler.

1930 - 1936

Haile Sellassie

Former regent, Ras Tafari. Ruled as Haile Sellassie.

1930s

The Abrahamic religion of Rastafari or Rastafarianism develops amongst the impoverished people of Jamaica during this decade. There is no central authority to govern it but Emperor Haile Sellassie is seen as a central figure. Many adherents - Rastas - regard him as an incarnation of Jah (from 'Yahweh', the Old Testament name for the Israelite monotheistic god) and even as the 'Second Coming of Christ'.

1935 - 1941

Further court intrigue and jostling for supremacy have weakened the Ethiopian court following Menelik's several strokes and eventual death. Italy invades in 1935 and occupies the country following a short military campaign in which mustard gas is used. Victor Emmanuel III of Italy is styled 'Emperor of Ethiopia' in place of the official Ethiopian emperor who is declared to have been deposed in 1936.

1941 - 1974

Haile Sellassie

Restored. Overthrown. Died in suspicious circumstances in 1975.

1974 - 1991

Having been weakened by colonial involvement in the country's interests, the Solomonic imperial line of descent is now broken as a dictatorship is established in Ethiopia. The leader of the Marxists who form this dictatorship is Mengistu Haile Mariam, commanding a junta under the banner of the 'People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia' in 1974 and as an outright dictator from 1977. The Solomonic dynasty continues to hold its claim to a return to power, albeit largely from outside modern Ethiopia.

Modern Ethiopia & Eritrea
AD 1974 - Present Day

Having suffered from a drawn-out period of post-colonial strife during the twentieth century, Ethiopia today is not quite the country it once was. It has a history that goes further back in time than almost any other in Africa, and a population that is the second largest on the continent, but it lost its northern region of Eritrea in 1993 following years of internecine warfare. Denuded of a Red Sea coastline, the landlocked Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia retains its capital at the ancient city of Addis Ababa. It is neighboured by the aforementioned Eritrea to the north and, beyond that, Sudan and South Sudan to the west and north-west, Yemen across the Red Sea, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, and Kenya to the south.

According to legend, ancient Ethiopia was founded by Menelik, son of Solomon of Israel and the rarely-named queen of Sheba. The subsequent Aksumite empire, based at Axum (Aksum) from around the second century BC, appears to have been a Semitic Jewish kingdom that was formed at Axum by Jewish settlers who were escaping from Elephantine in Egypt after their temple was destroyed. There is evidence of a Semitic-speaking presence around Axum from at least as early as 2000 BC, so they seem to have been settling amongst a related people, earlier colonists perhaps. Modern DNA evidence seems to support a mixed Egyptian-Syrian-Canaanite heritage.

Throughout much of history Ethiopia has also been known as Abyssinia, which probably originates from the Egyptian name of Habashat. 'Ethiopia' itself is Greek, meaning 'burnt faces', a collective name for all dark-skinned people south of Egypt. This is somewhat disputed, as the Book of Aksum, a Ge'ez chronicle that was first composed in the fifteenth century, states that the name is derived from ''Ityopp'is', a son (unmentioned in the Old Testament) of Cush, son of Ham who, confusingly, also founded the city of Axum, according to legend. Given the book's lateness in terms of publication, its authority must be considered dubious.

Falling foul of colonial influence in Africa in the nineteenth century, Ethiopia's kings were weakened by invasions by Egypt, Sudan, and Italy. In 1974 they were overthrown by one of their own, and a dictatorship was formed. Retaining their claim to governance over Ethiopia, the Solomonic emperors in exile were originally designated as such by the Marxist Derg regime (in the case of Amha Selassie), but they were not and are not officially recognised by the current government of Ethiopia. Successive claimants to the imperial throne are shown below with a shaded background.

Eritrea, known officially as the 'State of Eritrea' since independence in 1993, occupies much of the territory of the ancient kingdom of Axum, although not its northern extremes in Sudan or its southern extremes in what is now northern Ethiopia. Its name is based upon the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea - Erythra Thalassa. This was first adopted by the Italians in 1890 to designate territory that was then under their control, following their conquest of several former petty Islamic sultanates. The two states - Ethiopia and Eritrea - experienced rocky relations from the very start. A UN border commission set up under a peace agreement ruled in 2000 that the town of Badme, the flashpoint for the conflict, was part of Eritrea, but Ethiopia refused to accept this and so normal relations were never resumed. Peace finally came in 2018 when a new Ethiopian government swept away much of the resistance towards an agreement with its new northern neighbour.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The World Factbook, CIA, from the International Organisation for Standardisation, from Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity, Stuart Munro-Hay (1991), and from External Links: Ethiopian Famine (The Guardian), and Imperial Ethiopia, and Ethiopia and Eritrea end decades-long 'state of war' (The Week).)

1974

A military coup overthrows Emperor Haile Sellassie, replacing his authority with the Marxist-Leninist 'Derg', a military junta that is led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. A one party communist state is established, named the 'People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia' despite being anything but democratic.

1974 - 1997

Amha Selassie / Asfa Wossen

Son of Haile, born 1916. Proclaimed in exile in April 1989.

1977 - 1991

Mengistu Haile Mariam

Dictator.

1977 - 1978

Mengistu Haile Mariam achieves control of the Derg in February 1977. He soon begins a violent campaign of repression against his opponents, called the 'Red Terror'. This is his response to the 'White Terror' of competing civilian groups who also want control of the country. Mengistu has many of them arrested and executed, and may be responsible for the deaths of several thousand other Ethiopians at this time (a precise figure is contested).

Mengistu and Castro
Mengistu Haile Mariam is pictured here whilst receiving Fidel Castro of Cuba on state visit to Ethiopia during a period of the twentieth century in which weak, dictatorial communist states sought comfort in perceived mutual support

Somalia launches an offensive into Ethiopia in July 1977 over the disputed Ogaden region. Known either as the Ogaden War or the Ethio-Somali War, little is achieved in the conflict other than the USSR and the USA switching their support of either faction as part of their own greater game of political chess. A truce is declared early in 1978 after the Somali retreat back across the border.

1983 - 1985

Widespread famine hits areas of East Africa, with Ethiopia being especially hard hit. The worst famine to hit the country in a century leaves over 400,000 dead, but much of this can be traced back to Mengistu's human rights abuses, an inflexible system that cannot cope with the disaster, and two decades of civil war. The situation catches the attention of the West, with pop culture figures such as Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure organising relief in the form of 'Live Aid' and governments organising airdrops of food supplies.

1989 - 1990

Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen is proclaimed 'Emperor of Ethiopia' in exile, having settled in London, by members of the exiled Ethiopian community. He adopts the throne name Amha Selassie I. His wife also begins to refer to herself as empress. In 1990 the royal family move to McLean, Virginia, USA, so that they can be close to the large Ethiopian immigrant population in and around Washington, DC.

1991

The Derg falls and Mengistu flees to Zimbabwe. The EPRDF assumes power in Ethiopia, forming a federal democratic republic, and the exiled monarchy establish the Moa Anbessa - a movement that is designed to promote the restoration of the monarchy in Ethiopia. During Mengistu's absence he is sentenced to life imprisonment (in 2007).

Modern Addis Ababa
Following the fall of Derg, Ethiopia quickly began to modernise, with Addis Ababa now a mix of the ancient and the very modern, especially in terms of public transport

1993

Ethiopia's northern region of Eritrea achieves independence following a UN-backed referendum. Ethiopia is now a landlocked state, and one which exists uneasily with its new northern neighbour. The new 'State of Eritrea' encompasses several former petty sultanates that had been incorporated into Italian Eritrea in 1947. Many in the region had never fully accepted subsequent incorporation into Ethiopia, and had fought for this independence. Now they achieve international recognition. However, the EPLF soon seize control and establish a one-party state that bans all political activity and offers no elections. A brutal conflict is triggered against Ethiopia in which 80,000 people are believed to be killed over the next seven years.

1997 - Present

Zera Yacob Amha Selassie

Son of Asfa Wossen. Born 1953. Not recognised in Ethiopia.

1999

Persecution of the Falasha has steadily increased, so the state of Israel begins covert airlifts of Falasha populations, taking them back to their homeland. Despite attempts by the Ethiopian government to put a halt to this, the airlift is completed by 1999 with all of the Falashas being removed to Israel.

2000

A UN border commission set up under a new peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea rules that the town of Badme, the flashpoint for the conflict, is part of Eritrea, but Ethiopia refuses to accept this and so normal relations are never resumed. The countries remain in a state of 'no war, no peace'. They take rival sides in Somalia's long conflict, with Eritrea being accused of backing Islamist groups while Ethiopia, a US ally, supports the internationally-recognised government.

2018

Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, makes the trip to meet his Eritrean counterpart, President Isaias Afwerki, on Sunday 8 July 2018. It is the first time that the heads of state of these two countries have met for nearly two decades. Under a peace accord which is signed by the two leaders, both countries agree to open embassies, develop ports, and resume flights and telephone connections, concrete signs of a stunning rapprochement that has swept away two decades of hostility in a matter of weeks.

Prince Wossen Seged Makonnen

Grandson of Haile Sellassie. Heir, & duke of Harar.