Ethiopian Kings and Tribes I

The Making of an Empire

By Iyassu Demissie

Although the kings came to have power in the begining of the eighteenth century the princes were still strong enough to exert power and have their own dominion to rule. This divided the country and made it prone to outbreaks of civil war. In this tome of internal chaos of the 1800 there were as many as six rival emperors. The strongest ones among these were Sahla Sillasie of Shoa,Ras Ali of Begemder, Ras Wube of Tigre and Ras Hailu of Gojam. And the most powerful among these were Sahla Sillasie.

King Sahle Silasie(1841-1854)

Negus Sahla Sillasie, King of Shoa,was with out a doubt one of the most cunning and progressive ruler in Ethiopian history. He was described by historians as "a shrewed politician and warrior who set his family on the path that made his descendants emperors of Ethiopia". Inspite of the time of conflict and unrest in various part of the Ethiopian empire Negus Sahla Sillasie was able to bring some progress to his country. He was very interested in foriegn medical treatment and he was determined to collect as much information and medicine as he could get from various European travelers with medical knowledge. Negus Sahla Sillasie's craving for medical knowledge was elaborately written by W.C Harris who was part of a British envoy to Ethiopia in 1842. To read about this document go to the next web site "Sahla Sillase". Although he was an able ruler Negus(king) Sahla Sillasie was not able to make all his rivals obey him and the country stayed in internal unrest. All this unrest was brought to an end when a man who does not belong to the Solomonic Line took Power. To see all the Kings of Ethiopia click next.. "Solomonic kings". This individual was, as mentioned before, the Emperor Theodros. Atse( Ethiopian title for rulers) Theodros was born in a town called Quara in North western Ethiopia and was brought up in a monastry. In his youth Theodros became a band leader who targetd muslim merchants in the border towns of the Sudan. He was an ambitious persom who dreamt of a unified Ethiopia and an Ethiopia with a Red sea outlet, which at that time was controled by the Ottoman Turks. After defeating local Rases( a tille of authority which could mean Prince) and marying the daughter of one of the Rases he set out to conqour southern teritories that were controlled by people living in the Southern part of the country such as the Oromos. This he accomplshed by deafiting waring tribes all over the country. And doing this he enterd his name as the Emperor Theodros unifier of Ethiopia.

The Emperor Theodros(1855-1868)

Among the many things that are attributed to the Emperor Theodros are his introduction of a military body that is paid by the state,manufacture of fire arms inside Ethiopia and the intorduction of construction of modern roads, which originally was intended for the movement of cannons which were manufactured inside Ethiopia by the help of Swiss men. Theodros's introduction of new methods of governing the country brought hostilty from all around especially from the church which was disgruntled by its loss of land which the Emperor took so that the state could have a revenue by which to pay the new military order. Later in his reign Theodros was embitterd by the obstinancy of his subjects and the revolt of the southern tribes which ultimately made him to resort to violence to stop all insubordination. All these brought the visionary Emperor more trouble and insubordination that made him adopt violence as his way of finding solutions which made things all the more complicated and ended his kingship. At the end of his reign he imprisoned British subjects who came as representatives of Queen Victorya because he was offended by the English.
The British tried in vain to placate the emperor by sending different messangers, one of whom was the Iraqi citizen Rassam.When everything failed the British sent an army led by Brithish officer Napier. The British were able to defeat the Emperor by the help they got from the a ras of Tigray( the future Emperor Yohannes IV) and the alienated subjects of the Emperor Theodros. The Emperor abandoned by his subjects comitted suicide rather than being caught alive. The British , after the war, promptly left Ethiopia under the watchful eyes of the Ethiopians. The British, though, were able to take numerous manuscripts and ancient books from the Fort of Makdela, Emperor Theodros's power base. They, the British also took the son of the Emperor Theodros, Alemayehu with them to London, this time though by the request from the young man's mother. Alemayehu lived with Queen Victoria untill his death wich was not long after his voyage to London. He was buried in the palaceand his memorial, which was built by the late Emperor Haile Sillasie, can be seen there today in the palace compound. In his endevor to build a modern and strong Ethiopia the Emperor Theodros opened a new page in the history of Ethiopia and left his name in history books as the unforgettable unifier of his beloved country Ethiopia. To know more about the Emperor Theodros go to the next URL "Emperor Tewodros II".

The Emperor Menelik II(1889-1913)

Another king from the tribe of Amhara who played a huge role in the modernisation of Ethiopia is the Emperor Menelik. Menelik was from the Solomonic Line and he came to the throne at the end of the eighteenth century after he managed to defeat any contenders for the throne. Emperor Menelik was born in the Shewa region in the central region of Ethiopia. While he was young he was the prisoner of the Emperor Theodros who brought Menelik from Shewa in one of his southward campaigns to eliminate insubordinate Rases such as Menelik. Theodros acted as a tutor for the young Menelik while the latter was in a mountian top prison along other Shewan or Northern compititors for the throne. Later on Menelik was lucky to escape form the prison and return to his own rigion in Shewa and grow to be a major and strong contendor for the throne.
King Menelik is responsible for modernising Ethiopia. One of the first things he did was building a new capital which he did in his native Shewa and named it Addis Abeba, which in Amharic means "New Flower". While he was on theSolomonic throne Menelik introduced telephone service and built a rail way that starts from the capital Addis Abeba to the capital of Djibouti near the red sea. At the same time as menelik set out to modernize his country the European colonizers started to slice the African Continent. Menelik knew that if he wanted Ethiopia to stay soverign he had to have military power and inorder to do so he had to stall the would be colonizers especially Italy. Menelik set out to sign treaties that would keep Ethiopia and its own independent from any foriegn power. One of these treaties is the famous " Wuchali Treaty" with Italy.But inspite of all his endevor to keep Ethiopia from war and from the influence of colonizers he found himself embroiled in a war with Italy who wanted the status of a protectorate over Ethiopia and justified that by caliming the Wuchali Treaty allows it to do so. But the reply Italy got from the Ethiopian Monarch Menelik was a defaint "no". Little by little things got form bad to worse between the two nations and war broke out. What followed was the famous "Battle of Adwa" where the the armies of Ethiopia and Italy met.
As was in the European fasion then Italy underestimated the military might of Ethiopia. When the two Armies met in the Northern highland region called "Adwa" the Italian soldiers got the surprise of their life. In the place of ill equiped and unrully warriors as they had expected they were met with well armed soldiers from all corners of the Ethiopian Empire. That day the Italian army was cornerd and annhilated. That was the first time an African nation dfeated a European one. This victory humbled the colonizers and brought Ethiopia preistige.
The Adwa victory also sparked a nationalistic fervor and African pride among the colonised people in Africa and the black Americans in the United States. After the victory of Adwa Menelik's Ethiopia strengthned its borders and unified the country in more concrete way than the Emperor Theodros. The next site provides an elaborate account of the life and work of the Emperor Menelik, "The Beginnings Of Ethiopia's Modernization".

Lij Iyassu ( 1913-1916)

Click here to read Empress Zewditu's History

Click here to read Empress Zewditu's History

The Emperor Haile Silasie(1930-1976)

Another king from the Amhara tribe was the Emperor Haile Sillasie. The Emperor Haile Sillasie was born in the province of Hararge in south eastern part of Ethiopia. He was born in the house of aristocrats who had lineage from the Solomonic Line of the Ethiopian Monarchy.Haile Sillasie is the most renowned Ethiopian monarch in modern times. This is because of his role in shaping the history of Ethiopia as its King and statesman who brought development and prestige to his country while defending its integrity from any would be intergressor.

Through out his reign Haile Sillasie had to struggle with treaties that were signed by privious kings and which were hindering the country from developing as H. Sillasie wanted it. More thatn this just like his predecessor the Emperor Menelik Haile Sillasie had to confront colonial transgresors. As they say history repeats itself and this time it was again Italy who had colonized most of Somalia that made it the neighbour of Ethiopia. Not before long there was a border clash between the Ethiopian and the Italian soldiers and the problem was put infront of the then League Of Nations. The league, after some deliberation, decided both Ethiopia and Italia are not to blame. But Italy did not stop with this and after putting forth pretext after pretext Fascist Italy led by Bennito Mussolini declared war on Ethiopia.On the face this proceedings the League imposed imbargo on both Ethiopia and Italy which did not have much effect on Italy while it crippled the Ethiopian ability to aquire armaments.

While Ethiopia was preparing itself for war with outdated weaponary, fascist Italy inflitrated Northern Ethiopia backed by every modern weapon possible. The Ethiopians faced with such difficulty faced the Italians and fought as much as their weapon could hold the Italians back. But this proved futile and the Italians were able to reach the capital and the Emperor of Ethiopia was obliged to go into exile. The Emperor went first to Palestine and then to England. He also went to the League's headquarter in Geneva and asked for help from the League. According to the laws of the League if a country is a member of the League no other member can commit an act of aggresion on it.Reminding the Legue about its own rules and asking for help from the side of the Emperor fell on deaf ears and Italy started to occupy Ethiopia unoppoed from anybody apart from the Ethiopian patriots. It was apparent hat the League did not to alieniet Italy by complicating things on Italy's agression on Ethiopia. What the League was trying to accomplish was to placate the Italians by granting Ethiopia as an appeasment which keeps Italy on the side of the Allies rather than on the side of the Enemy( Nazi Germany). This the League failed to achieve for not long after that the Italians joined the enemy camp with Nazi Germany.

Forsaken by the League the Ethiopians resorted to one alternative that they had, fighting the Italians alone however long it is going to take. Thus started the war between the Patriots of Ethiopia and the Italian soldiers who romed all over the country. The patriots fought over mountains and gorges, over cities and country villages. Their persistance weakened the will of the Italians and their officials,one of whom was the notorious Graziani , and revived even more the patriotism of the citizens. Afetr realizing that the League or any other body of government won't be of any help the Emperor Haile Sillasie came to Sudan and started to build an army inorder to reclaim what belongs to him and Ethiopian soldiers who heared this went to join their Emperor.After five years that the Italians enterd the land of the Abyssinians the Emperor Haile Sillasie helped by the British reclaimed his land and country and the Italians were ignominuosly defeated and their dream of an Ethiopian colony was thwarted. To read more about this incident in the history of Ethiopia go to the next URL "Italo-Ethiopian War".

The clash between Ethiopia and Italy and his trips to foreign land to condemn the Italian agression made the Emperor Haile Siallsie famous and made his name a household name in the western world. He was even"Man Of the Year" on the cover of the Time in 1935. In Jamaica the Ras Tafarian cult followers see the Emperor Haile Sillasie as a diety. The name of the Jamaican cult "Ras Tafarian" was derived from the name of the Emperor Haile Sillasie prior to his Kingship, which was Ras Tafari.

The Tigreans

Tigrean Women

As it was discussed at the beginning of this home page the Tigreans are one of the tribes alongside the Amharas, Harari( Adere) and Gurage who descended from the semites of the Axumite Empire. Unlike the other semetic tribes described above the Tigreans were the only ones who stayed confined in the original geographical location of the Axumite Empire, whose core area was the highlands of Tigre, Lasta( Welo),Eretria and Angot(welo). The Tigreans are still living in the original location of ancient Axum while their semetic brothers the Amharas, Harari and Gurage can be found in various parts of Ethiopia. The migratory tendency of the Amhara, the Harari and the Gurage tribes has introduced a speculation as to the original purpose of this tribes' migration, which some historians suggest is conquest.

The Tigreans resemble the other semetic tribes in feature and their culture is closely related with the Amhara tribe. Except the Harari tribe most members of the semtic tribes of Ethiopia are christians who follow the Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox Church. Especially for the Tigreans and the Amharas the church is the integral part of their culture. Although the Amhara tribe has plyed a major role in building the modern state of Ethiopia they have always had the help of the Tigreans. Aside from helping in military campaigns leaders had came out from the tribe of Tigre in the form of a King and numerous Rases. Next we will see the most renowned Tigrean personalities in the history of Ethiopia.