Empire of Ethiopia
Flag of Ethiopia (1897-1936; 1941-1974)

- Foundation of the Solomonic Dynasty

980 BCE
- Restoration of the Solomonic Dynasty


Selassie Era

- Italian occupation

- Selassie Era


Capital: Addis Ababa (Multiple Others)

Government: Monarchy


- c.980 B.C. Menelik I

The Empire of Ethiopia, historically known as Abyssinia, was located in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea. At its height, the Empire also included Southern Egypt, Eastern Sudan, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia and existed in various forms from 980 BCE until the present day. It was in its time the oldest continuously existing state in the world and the only African nation to successfully resist the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers during the 19th century.

Early History

Human settlement in Ethiopia is very ancient, and some of the earliest hominid ancestors have been discovered there. Together with Eritrea and the southeastern coast of the Red Sea in Sudan, it is considered the most likely location of the area known to the ancient Egyptians as the Land of Punt, whose first mention dates to the 25th century BCE. By 980 BCE, the beginnings of a state were evident in the area that would become Abyssinia. Though this date serves as its legendary date of establishment, it may have had more to do with dynastic lineage than the actual establishment of a state.

Aksumite Ethiopia

By the 4th century BCE, the Kingdom of Axum was established on the coast and made itself known as a seafaring people, active in the Indian spice trade. They became known to the Romans no later than the 30s BCE when Augustus conquered Egypt and it is believed by then that the square-rigged Axumite galleys were disdaining the long slow coastal trade route in favor of riding the monsoon winds to and from India. Having established trade with Rome for goods from inland Africa, the Ethiopians passed the trick on to Roman traders and probably carried some of their cargoes for hire. The sea route also connected with the Silk Road through what is now Pakistan, so the Axumites also aided Rome in obtaining Chinese silk. By the 3rd century CE, Rome had established trade entrepôts in India and the sea route carried virtually all the eastern trade, to the consternation of Roman statesmen who decried the flow of bullion out of Rome. Around 300 CE, Axum became Christian and conquered the neighboring ancient Kingdom of Kush. From that time on, others began to call them an Empire, and they themselves were by then using "Ethiopia" in correspondence. The Kingdom spread south and westwards and into the Arabian peninsula over the next few centuries, and generally flourished in trade with both the Western Roman Empire or the barbarians who supplanted it and the Byzantine Empire, until the Islamic conquest of Egypt in around 640 CE cut the Empire off from European markets. The evidence indicates that the Empire turned inland, locating its capital further west and expanding its territory in the uplands to the south and west. References to "Ethiopia" and "Ethiopian Christians" are sprinkled through European and Byzantine documents throughout the Early and High Middle Ages, but gradually dwindle, indicating there was some contact over the ensuing centuries after the Muslim conquest. In general, however, the Empire went into a slow decline, enduring until the last Axumite king was killed by the mysterious Queen Gudit around 960 CE.

Ethiopian Dark Ages, Zagwe & Solomonid Dynasties

After the conquest of Axum by Queen Gudit or Yodit, a period began which some scholars refer to as the Ethiopian Dark Ages. According to Ethiopian tradition, she ruled over the remains of the Axumite Empire for 40 years before transmitting the crown to her descendants. Very little is known about the queen or the state, if indeed there even was one, she set up. What is evident however, is that her reign marked the end of Axumite control in Ethiopia.

The last of Queen Yodit's successors were overthrown by Mara Takla Haymanot. He founded the Zagwe Dynasty in 1137, and married a female descendant of the last Axumite emperor to stake his claim as the legitimate heir to the long dead empire. The Zagwe were of the Agaw people, whose power never extended much farther than their own ethnic heartland. The capital was at Adafa, not far from modern day Lalibela in the Lasta mountains. The Zagwe continued the Christianity of Axum and constructed many magnificent churches such as those at Lalibela. The dynasty would last until its overthrow by a new regime claiming descent from the old Axumite Kings.

In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage with the Axumite emperors and thus that of Solomon (hence the name "Solomonid"). The Solomonid Dynasty was born of and ruled by the Habesha, from whom Abyssinia gets its name. The Habesha reigned with only a few interruptions from 1270 until the late 20th century. It is under this dynasty that most of Ethiopia's modern history is formed. During this time, the empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia and Eritrea. They successfully fought off Arab and Turkish armies and made fruitful contacts with some European powers.

From 1769 to 1855, the Ethiopian Empire went through the "Age of Princes" (Zemene Mesafint). This was a period in Ethiopian history when the country was rent by conflicts between warlords, the Emperor was reduced to little more than a figurehead confined to the capital city of Gondar, and both society and culture stagnated. Religious conflict both within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and with Ethiopian Muslims were often used as the pretext for the powerful to battle each other. The "Age of Princes" ended with the reign of Tewodros II.

Scramble for Africa & Modernization

The 1880s were marked by the Scramble for Africa and modernization of the Ethiopian Empire. In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, conflicts with the Kingdom of Italy resulted in the Battle of Adowa. In this battle, the Ethiopians under the rule of Menelik II surprised the world by defeating the colonial power and remaining independent. The Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia signed a provisional treaty of peace on October 26, 1896. During his reign, Menelik expanded the empire to include much of what is modern Ethiopia.

Haile Selassie Era

The early twentieth century was marked by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, who came to power after Iyasu V was deposed. It was he, who undertook the modernization of Ethiopia, from 1916, when he was made a Ras and Regent (Inderase) for Zewditu I and became the de facto ruler of the Ethiopian Empire. Following Zewditu's death he was made Emperor on 2 November, 1930. Haile Selassie was born from parents of the three main Ethiopian ethnicities of Oromo, Amhara and Gurage. He played a leading role in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity,

The independence of Ethiopia was interrupted by the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and Italian colonization (1936–1941). During this time of attack, Haile Selassie appealed to the League of Nations in 1935, delivering an address that made him a worldwide figure and the 1935 Time magazine Man of the Year. Following the entry of Italy into World War II, British Empire forces, together with patriotic Ethiopian fighters, liberated Ethiopia in the course of the East African Campaign in 1941. This was followed by British recognition of full sovereignty (i.e. without any special British privileges), with the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in December, 1944. During 1942 and 1943, there was an Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia. On 26 August, 1942, Haile Selassie I issued a proclamation outlawing slavery. The total number of slaves in early twentieth-century Ethiopia is estimated at between two and four million, in a total population of about eleven million.

In 1952, Haile Selassie orchestrated the federation with Eritrea, which he dissolved in 1962. This annexation sparked the Eritrean War of Independence. Although Haile Selassie was seen as a national hero, opinion within Ethiopia turned against him owing to the worldwide oil crisis of 1973, food shortages, uncertainty regarding the succession, border wars and discontent in the middle class created through modernization.

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