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date: 25 March 2019

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century

Summary and Keywords

The history of Ethiopia during the 19th century involved three fundamental processes: (1) the Zämänä Mäsafənt (Era of Princes) and its coming to an end under Kassa Häylu, later Emperor Tewodros II; (2) the repeated attempts by Egypt and Italy to colonize Ethiopia, culminating in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896; and (3) Mənilək’s territorial expansion and conquest of what is now southern Ethiopia during the last quarter of the 19th century in campaigns known as agär maqnat. These three distinct, yet related, processes laid the foundations for the making of modern Ethiopia.

The end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt was a key factor in centralizing state power in the hands of the emperors of Ethiopia. It enabled consolidating the power of the regional lords under the emperor, which in turn played a critical role in confronting Egypt and Italy’s colonial intrusions in the late 19th century. Mənilək’s territorial conquests in the south further strengthened the state, garnering vast human and material resources that played a critical role in the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa. All three processes worked in tandem: the end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt created a strong centralized state; such a state succeeded in nipping in the bud the colonial invasions of Egypt and Italy; and the successes of the agär maqnat campaigns added to the overall strength of the country. It also laid the ground for the problems of the 20th century, chief among them being the “national question.”

Keywords: Zämänä Mäsafənt, Tewodros II, Yoḥännǝs IV, Egyptian invasions, Italian invasions, Mənilək II, Battle of Adwa, agär maqnat

Ethiopia during the 19th century consisted of multiple forms of societal organizations. These included the highland agrarian societies of northern and central Ethiopia, as well as the southern regions with such kingdoms as Wälayta, Käffa, and the Gibe states. The pastoral/herder way of life was found mostly in the lowland regions of the east such as the Afar Sultanate, as well as some highland regions of southern Ethiopia. The foraging communities predominated along the border regions of the Sudan. There were few urban centers in Ethiopia, two of which were Gondar and the famous city-state of Härär. Härär had been the seat of various Muslim dynasties for centuries.1 Slavery was ubiquitous in the country, both internal slave-holding and the external slave trade to the Middle East and the larger Indian Ocean trade network.2 The Christian kingdom and the various Muslim states and communities constituted the largest entities in population and area. While there was a single Christian state that presided over Christian and non-Christian subjects, there were many Muslim states that did not fold into a single state.3


Zämänä Mäsafənt and the Rise of Kassa Häylu/Tewodros II

The period from 1769 to 1855 in Ethiopian history is referred to as the “Zämänä Mäsafənt”—a period during which the power of the emperors was much reduced and that of the regional lords much enhanced.4 Although the title and office of the Nəguśä Nägäśt (King of Kings) were not abolished, its former glory and prestige was compromised. Regional lords held sway in the power structure, with the emperor reduced to a figurehead. Various regional lords vied with each other to put their favorite emperor, acting as real power, behind the throne.

The city of Gondar was the capital of the Ethiopian Empire from the 17th to the 19th century, and during this time period, prominent emperors such as Fäsilädäs, Susəneyos, and Iyasu had their capital there. Gondar also served as the seat of the nominal emperors of the Zämänä Mäsafənt. Gondar’s decline as the capital city began with Emperor Tewodros in 1855 and ended with his death in 1868.

The term Zämänä Mäsafənt was taken from the biblical verse, “in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges, 17:6). Yet, as Shiferaw Bekele noted, “the Ethiopian Zämänä Mäsafent was not by any means like the one described in this verse.” According to Bekele, the term can be better understood as a contrast “to the term Zämänä Mängest. Zämänä Mängest is the period of rule of a king and by the same token Zämänä Mäsafent constituted a period of rule of the [Wärä Séh] mäsafent.”5

Bekele maintains that the Zämänä Mäsafent was not a time of chaos, divisiveness, and ungovernability, as is usually assumed.6 Rather, it was “an era in which the Wärä Séh lords or mäsafent ruled the country in the name of the Solomonic dynasty.” Although the emperor’s power was much reduced from what it was before, and his reign was “more nominal than actual, all the lords pledged their allegiance to him.”7 The ruling elites of the Zämänä Mäsafənt constituted one integrated “power elite,” “all interrelated either by blood or marriage. They shared common aspirations, value systems, perceptions and self-interests.” There was “no ruling house not related to them.”8 They shared the “common goal of ruling the country.”9

The man who ended the Zämänä Mäsafənt was Kassa Häylu. He rose in power and prestige from a lowly position, fighting his way up against powerful regional lords, many of whom were of Oromo lineage.10 Kassa Häylu was born in 1818 in a place called Qwara, in northwestern Ethiopia, close to the Sudanese border. He came from a family of nobility on both sides of his parents, but his upbringing was not that typical of the aristocracy. His relatively lowly upbringing drew contempt from the ruling lords of the times. At Qwara, he grew up in the family of Däğğač Kənfu Häylu, ruler of Dämbya. Later he settled at the house of the Däğğač Goshu Zäwde, the ruler of Goğğam.

Kassa made a claim to Qwara, but failed when Etege (Empress) Mänän Libän, mother of Ras Ali Alula, also known as Ras Ali II, took it for herself. During this period, Kassa gained fame as a brave warrior. His renown soon attracted the attention of Mänän and Ras Ali, who was the most powerful Wärä Séh lord of the Zämänä Mäsafənt. They decided to bring Kassa within their orbit and keep him up close. To cement the relationship, in 1847 Ras Ali gave his daughter Täwabäč to Kassa in marriage.

But despite his marriage into such an important family, Kassa was disdained for his lowly origins and as a result he became a rebel, becoming a šəfta (outlaw, bandit).11 One by one, Kassa humbled the most powerful lords of the Zämänä Mäsafənt on the battlefields, including Däğğač Wändyirad, one of Mänän’s war leaders, and later Mänän herself. At the Battle of Gur Amba fought on November 27, 1852, Kassa defeated Däğğač Goshu Zäwde, who died on the battlefield. On April 12, 1853, Kassa “defeated four of Ras Ali II’s and Dajjach Webe [Wube] of Semen’s vassals, each ranking as dajjazmach, two of whom were killed in battle.”12 Ras Ali ultimately amassed the largest army of the time against Kassa. At the Battle of Ayšal fought on June 29, 1853, Kassa defeated Ras Ali despite Ras Ali’s overwhelming superiority in number of troops. Kassa’s victory over Ras Ali closed the chapter on the Zämänä Mäsafənt.13

Kassa was now ready for his coronation as emperor of Ethiopia. For that to take place, he needed the blessing of the patriarch Abunä Sälama, who was residing with Däğğač Wube Häylä Maryam of Səmen. Because Däğğač Wube himself aspired to be emperor of Ethiopia, the only way Kassa could become emperor was to defeat Wube. At the Battle of Däräsge, fought on February 8, 1855, Kassa defeated Wube. Three days later, on February 11, 1855, Abunä Sälama crowned Kassa as Tewodros II, Nəguśä Nägäśt zä-Ityop.ya (King of Kings of Ethiopia) at the Däräsge Maryam Church. He took the name “Tewodros” because it had been prophesied that a ruler by that name would end all suffering in Ethiopia and bring peace and well-being to the people.14

At the time of Tewodros’s coronation, there were still two regional power houses that had not yet been placed under his control: Wällo and Šäwa. The fierce campaigns that were fought to bring these two under central rule took place after Tewodros became emperor. Unlike his fights against the prominent rulers of the Zämänä Mäsafənt before his ascension to the throne, the campaigns in Wällo and Šäwa lasted months, testing Tewodros’s patience and pushing him to extreme brutality. Terror became his weapon to overcome the stiff resistance in Wällo and Šäwa.

Tewodros believed that Ethiopia had twin enemies, one internal and the other foreign, both of which he defined in religious terms.15 In his letter to Queen Victoria on October 29, 1862, he stated,

Since my ancestors, the kings, have until now offended our Creator, he had handed their kingdom over to the Gallas [= Oromo] and the Turks. But now, ever since I was born my Creator has raised me from the dust and given me power and placed me over the kingdom of my ancestors. By the power of God, I have dislodged the Gallas [Oromo]. But when I told the Turks to relinquish the soil of my fathers, they refused; and so, by the power of God, here I am about to struggle against them.16

Tewodros was convinced that Christian European powers would support his struggle against the “Turks.” Henry Stern reported Tewodros’s bewilderment, “That a Christian nation like the English should tolerate idolatry in India, and uphold the power of Mohammedanism in Egypt and Turkey, he could not understand.”17 In line with his frequent appeal to religious sentiments, his favorite fukkära (war boast), Yä-Häbäša bal, Yä-Iyärusalem i͘č̣ona (meaning he was the husband of Häbäša, the fiancé of Jerusalem.)

Tewodros did not invent the depiction of the “Galla” [Oromo] as the scourge of Ethiopia. Many European travelers to Ethiopia from the 16th century onward also had negative views about the Oromo.18 The idea that Ethiopia’s nemesis was portrayed as a two-headed hydra, one “Galla” and the other Muslim, was not Tewodros’s invention either. Such a paradigmatic image of the “other” became more entrenched during and after the dual upheavals of the 16th century, the war between the Christian kingdom and Imam Ahmad Ibrahim al-Ghazi, also known as Grañ (the left handed), and the Oromo territorial acquisitions in regions that were under the control of the Solomonic kingdom.19

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 1. Portrait of Emperor Tewodros II, around 1860. Creative Commons License (public domain).

Kassa Häylu fought his way to emperorship by subduing the key military overlords of the Wärä Séh elite, who were of Oromo lineage. Tewodros’s chronicler Däbtära Zännäb wrote in his Yä-Tewodros Tarik (History of Tewodros): “71 years after the disappearance of kings, God raised King Tewodros. As a result, Galla rule over Bäge Mǝdǝr, Goğğam, Lasta, Yäğğu, and Wällo came to an end.”20 Zännäb also stated that “Tewodros boasted prophetically that if he did not make Galla and Amara eat from the same plate, let others consider him not to be the slave of Christ by the new year.”21

Although Tewodros fought against the prominent lords of Zämänä Mäsafǝnt who were of Oromo lineage, he was also entangled in a series of unending military campaigns to subdue prominent Christian regional lords in Šäwa, Goğğam, Tǝgray, Bägemǝdǝr, Sǝmen, and Wällo.22 His construction of “Gallas” and Turks as his main enemies could have been a ploy to garner support from the most powerful Christian power of the time, Great Britain.

Tewodros, like Christians of his time, saw the Wärä Séh as “Galla” and/or Muslim who usurped power from the rulers of Christian Ethiopia and presided over the Zämänä Mäsafǝnt.23 But not all Christian chroniclers saw the Oromo rulers of the Zämänä Mäsafǝnt in such a negative light, nor did they call them “Galla.” The chronicler Abegaz Sa’una of Šäwa, writing his chronicle of Ras Ali during February–April 2, 1852, described him as “a new Constantinos, Ras Ali, chief of the commanders and leaders, who was after the likeness of the 1st Constantinos King of Kings of Constantenya [Constantinople].” Like Emperor Constantine, Ras Ali “was first a pagan, and afterwards became a Christian, and walked in the way of the Lord.” Abegaz Sa’una called Ras Ali “a steadfast apostle conqueror of the mighty ones and stout Christian that flattered not in the Faith. Truly an Israelite was Ras Ali that had no guile in his heart, full of wisdom; and many are the Churches that were built by his hand.”24

Colonial Transgressions

The 19th century witnessed the most concerted efforts by foreign powers to colonize Ethiopia. After the expulsion of the Portuguese and Jesuits from Ethiopia in the 17th century, Europeans scaled down their intrusions into the country. The Ottomans controlled the Red Sea region, ending Ethiopian authority there.

Ethiopia in the 19th century, as earlier, was not isolated from the outside world. Edward Gibbon made his famous statement, “Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Æthiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten.”25 Yet, Ethiopia maintained its relations with the outside world, including trade. Ethiopian Christians went to Jerusalem, much as Muslims went to the Hajj. Ethiopian leaders sent diplomatic missions to Europe long before the Portuguese entered Ethiopia in the 16th century.26 Emperors Fasilädäs and Iyasu I sent diplomatic missions to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to forge relations with the Muslim powers there, primarily to block off Catholic Europe’s takeover of the Red Sea region. Some of these missions were sent to meet the officials of the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia.27

The first European military intrusion into Ethiopia in the 19th century was that of the British against Emperor Tewodros in 1868.28 The British attack came when diplomacy failed to resolve the problem that arose when Tewodros jailed some British subjects and refused to set them free. Ironically, before this international incident, Tewodros had been keen to develop a close friendship with the British, the world’s most powerful empire. When his letters to Queen Victoria went unanswered, however, the proud Tewodros saw it as a slight, and in his rage, he ordered the detention of British subjects in Ethiopia.29 He may have thought he could use the detained British subjects as a bargaining tactic with the British Empire, but unfortunately, the British did not see it that way. Not surprisingly, they had no intention of bowing to pressures from a ruler of a country infinitely weaker than the British Empire. When Tewodros created a hostage crisis, the British were determined to solve the problem through force, if necessary. The British answer to Tewodros’s refusal to set the British detainees go free was the Napier expedition.

The expedition had “14,700 fighting men and about 27,000 camp followers . . . an invading army of some 42,000 men.” This massive force was supplemented by “17,943 mules and ponies, 2,538 horses, 1759 donkeys, 8075 bullocks, 5,795 camels, and even 44 elephants.”30 On October 26, five days before the first troops disembarked at Zulla, Napier issued the following proclamation:

To the Governors, the Chiefs, the Religious Orders, and the People of Abyssinia . . . bear in mind, People of Abyssinia, that the Queen of England has no unfriendly feelings towards you; and no design against your country or your liberty . . . All supplies required for my soldiers shall be paid for. No peaceable inhabitant shall be molested. The sole object for which the British Force has been sent to Abyssinia is the liberation of Her Majesty’s subjects. There is no intention to occupy permanently any portion of the Abyssinian territory, or to interfere with the government of the country.31

“The British policy of proclaiming Téwodros alone the enemy and dealing liberally with the population paid off.”32 Had the British come for a colonial conquest of Ethiopia, the attitude of the regional lords would have been quite different.

Interestingly, Tewodros did not have the full support of his country. Indeed, the three future emperors of Ethiopia after Tewodros—Wagšum Gobäze (later Aṣe Täklä-Giyorgis); Däğğač Kassa Mǝrč̣a (later Aṣe Yoḥännǝs IV); and Nəguś (King) Mənilək II (later Aṣe Mənilək II)—supported the Napier expedition and applauded its outcome. Their support for the British campaign was critical to its success. They, along with many other Ethiopian notables, were eager to see Tewodros gone. The regional nobilities resented Tewodros’s undermining their power, while for the Church he was anathema because of his hostile attitudes toward the Church establishment.

These three future emperors issued written support of the Napier expedition. In his letter of March 4, 1869, to Queen Victoria, Mənilək told her of his two attempts to march on Mäqdäla “to free your imprisoned people.” He said that he was “very happy” when he received the news that “the English had been victorious and that Tewodros had died.”33 This is contrary to local historical accounts which stated that Mənilək wailed and cried when he heard about Tewodros’s demise.34 As for Aṣe Tälklä-Giyorgis, he, too, wrote a letter to Queen Victoria as well as one to Robert Napier in June 1869, in which he recounted his support for Napier. “I showed you the road. I issued a proclamation saying, ‘Go to their [British] camp with grain, honey, sheep, and goats.’”35 And not to be outdone, Däğğač Kassa Mǝrč̣a wrote a letter to Robert Napier on August 10, 1869, in which he told Napier that he was to have a fight with Wagšum Gobäze. He asked Napier to send him “a rocket tube and some rockets, and if you can, a man to fire them.” He reminded Napier of Britain’s promise to him: “You sent me the queen’s proclamation, in which it was stated that those who assisted Her Majesty’s forces in saving the prisoners’ lives [in Ethiopia] would receive great rewards and assistance. When I received this proclamation, I did everything within my power [to help the British]. And now, look at [this] my letter [and] fulfill my wishes according to our agreement.” The letter further says, “I was going to revenge the blood of the English who were killed by the Shanqilla, but since the brother of the English wrote me a letter saying that he was coming to me, I am waiting until he comes. Then I will revenge the blood, for English blood is the same as my blood.”36

The British did not immediately leave Ethiopia even after Tewodros released all the prisoners. After Napier had all the prisoners in hand, he demanded the impossible: Tewodros’s hand.37 The mission to rescue British subjects turned into the humiliating demand of Tewodros’s surrender.38 Betrayed by his own people and confined to the Mäqdäla fortress, the once mighty Tewodros had one last heroic act to perform: take his own life instead of surrendering to Napier. In a statement before his suicide, Tewodros proclaimed that “a warrior who has dandled strong men in his arms like infants will never suffer himself to be dandled in the arms of others,” and he signed it, “Kassa, whose trust is in Christ.”39 On April 13, 1868, Tewodros committed suicide using his pistol. His body was laid to rest in Mäqdäla Mädhane Aläm Church in the presence of British troops.40

The Napier expedition was the largest military campaign in Africa that Britain conducted in the 19th century, until it was eclipsed by the South African War that began in 1899. The Napier expedition was a campaign to uphold British honor, whereas Tewodros’s suicide was an act to uphold Ethiopia’s honor. Thus, the Napier expedition was a war of honor between two proud nations. The British, successful in their mission, departed Ethiopia just as they had promised. But before they left, they helped themselves to priceless Ethiopian possessions, including books from Tewodros’s library.41 They also took Tewodros’s seven-year old son, Alämayähu Tewodros, to England.42 They set Mäqdäla on fire and reduced it to ashes.43

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 2. Alämayähu Tewodros at the age of the British campaign. Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868. Creative Commons License (public domain).

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 3. Emperor Yoḥännǝs IV. Creative Commons License (public domain).

Tewodros, he became a permanent fixture in the Ethiopian psyche, having been immortalized by taking his life to preserve Ethiopia’s honor. His suicide in defense of Ethiopia’s honor went a long way to extirpating all the atrocities he had committed during his reign.44

Egypt was the first foreign power that sought to colonize Ethiopia in the 19th century. Egypt’s ruler Muhmmad Ali (r. 1805–1853), who began the modernization of Egypt, carried out military campaigns into the Sudan, including the capture of slaves for his army. Egyptian military incursions into Ethiopia took place when Tewodros was in power. With 8000 troops, Musa Pasha invaded the western frontier of Ethiopia in February/March 1863, with the declared intent “to create a wilderness with a depth of seven marches to prevent all incursions by the Abyssinians into Sudanese territory.”45 Musa’s plan “would have depopulated vast areas and brought the frontier with the Sudan all the way up to Lake Tana,” the heart of the Ethiopian highlands.46Musa’s incursions resulted in strengthening Egyptian administration along the Ethiopian-Sudanese frontier, and in temporarily weakening Ethiopian domination over the region of Mätämma.47

Under Khedive Ismail (r. 1830–1895), in 1875–76 Egypt sent troops to take over Ethiopia.48 Ismail used European and former Civil War American officers in his attempts to colonize Ethiopia. Among these officers were the Swiss adventurer Werner Muzinger, the English Charles George Gordon, and the Danish colonel Adolph Søren Arendrup who led the forces in the Battle of Gundät in 1875. Muzinger clearly explained Egypt’s intentions regarding Ethiopia: he wrote that Ethiopia, “with a disciplined administration and army, and a friend of the European powers, is a danger to Egypt. Egypt must either take over Ethiopia and islamize it, or retain it in anarchy and misery.”49 Ismail’s specific reason for attacking Ethiopia was to control the Red Sea coast, the western coast of Ethiopia along the Sudanese border, as well as the headwaters of the Nile. “One phrase could sum up the colonial work of the Khedive; he wanted to make the Nile an Egyptian river, annex to his country all the geographical area of its basin.”50 If control of the headwaters of the Nile was to be accomplished, “it goes without saying that Ethiopia would have to be included in his [Ismail’s] empire in some form or other. In that case, the real issue was not the borderlands but the existence of Ethiopia as an independent state.”51

Egypt carried out two separate invasions of Ethiopia, both of which took place during the reign of Emperor Yoḥännǝs IV (r. 1872–1889). He and his famous warrior, Ras Alula Engida, thwarted Egypt’s plans. At the battles of Gundät (November 16, 1875) and Gura (March 8–10, 1876), the Ethiopians annihilated Egyptian forces.52 Besides their total victory over the Egyptians at the Battle of Gundat, Ethiopian forces captured “about 2,000-2,500 Remingtons or other breechloaders of a quality earlier unknown to the Ethiopian soldier, and fourteen to sixteen cannon and rocket stands with ammunition, etc.”53 At the Battle of Gura, despite Egyptian superiority in weapons, which included “Remingtons, Krupp guns and rocket-stands,” the Ethiopian army defeated the Egyptians. Egyptian losses include “around 3, 500 dead and captured; all the cannon brought into action were abandoned to the Ethiopians who also captured thousands of rifles.”54 And so Egypt’s colonial ambitions in Ethiopia remained unfulfilled.55

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 4. Amharic text of the Adwa (Hewett) Treaty. Creative Commons License (public domain).

Italy was the next foreign power that attempted to colonize Ethiopia. The Italian Lazarist missionary Giuseppe Sapeto bought the port of Assäb for 6000 Maria Theresa Thalers from the sultans of the region, the brothers Hassan-Ben-Ahmad and Ibrahim-ben-Ahmad, on November 15, 1869. The purchase of Assäb marked the beginning of the Italian presence in the Red Sea region. On February 3, 1885, Italy, with British connivance, took possession of Məşəwa (Massawa). Rear-Admiral Pietro Caimi declared to the people of Məşəwa: “The Italian Government, in accord with the English and Egyptian, and without doubt also the Abyssinian, have ordered me to take possession of the Fort of Massawah this day, and to hoist the Italian flag by the side of the Egyptian.”56 The Italians signed a series of treaties with the Sultan of Aussa in the 1880s to control the entire Afar coast along the Red Sea.57

From Məşəwa, the Italians began to move to the highlands of Ethiopia (today’s Eritrea). On January 26, 1887, Ras Alula, the ruler of Märäb Mälaš (today’s Eritrea,) delivered a crushing defeat of the Italian forces at the Battle of Dogali, ten miles from the Red Sea coast. Augustus Wylde, the British vice consul at Jeddah, called Ras Alula “the best general and strategist that Africa has perhaps produced in modern times.”58 The Italians took over Məşəwa eight months after Great Britain, Egypt and Ethiopia signed the Hewett Treaty, also known as the Adwa Treaty, on June 3, 1884, at Adwa. A key article of the treaty was Ethiopia’s agreement to relieve Egyptian forces besieged in the Sudan and safely escort them out of the country through Məşəwa. In return, Emperor Yoḥännǝs IV demanded that Məşəwa return to Ethiopia, a demand that the British rejected. Instead, Ethiopia was to have free access through the port and get Bogos.59

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 5. Emperor Mənilək II. Pankhurst, Richard. Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and its People Taken Between 1867 and 1935, p. 52. Creative Commons License (public domain).

As per the treaty, Ras Alula invaded Sudan and relieved six garrison towns where Egyptian troops were besieged. He escorted them on their safe passage through Məşəwa. When Italy took over Məşəwa with British acquiescence, an enraged Ras Alula told Augustus Wylde, who was in Ethiopia at the time, “What does England mean by destroying Hewett’s treaty and allowing the Italians to take my country from me? . . . Did not I relieve the Egyptian garrison in the Bogos country? Did I not fight at Cassala when it was too late? Have I not done everything I could? You English used us to do what you want and then left us.”60

As Nəguś [King] of Šäwa, Mənilək signed treaties with Italy, including one on May 21, 1883, and another on October 20, 1887. The most consequential treaty he signed as emperor of Ethiopia was the Treaty of Wuč̣ale of May 2, 1889, in which Mənilək recognized Italian colonial sovereignty over what became Eritrea, leaving the monastery of Däbrä Bizän under Ethiopian control. Article VI of the treaty stated: “Commerce in arms and ammunition to and from Ethiopia shall be free to pass through Massawah only for King Menelek.”61 Mənilək intended to keep European firearms away from his regional rivals. Yet, the most controversial was Article XVII, in which Italy declared Ethiopia as its protectorate. Mənilək rejected the Italian claim, and he later repudiated the entire treaty, which eventually led to the Battle of Adwa.

Battle of Adwa

The Battle of Adwa was the last battle between Italy and Ethiopia in the 19th century. The Italians earlier had engaged the Ethiopian army at the battles of Dogali (1887), Koatit (January 1895), and Amba Alage (December 1895).

The Battle of Adwa was the most significant world-historical event of the 19th century in the fight against European colonial conquest.62 It halted the relentless European drive for colonial acquisition, with the all-too familiar scenarios of European successes and non-European defeats. European troops had suffered military setbacks before Adwa, for example, the Zulu victory over the British at the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, and the Mahdists against General Charles Gordon in 1885. Yet these setbacks were reversed soon after. In one reversal, Britain defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879, and captured the Zulu king Cetshwayo on August 8. 1879, ending the British-Zulu War. In the Sudan, the British won victories at the battles of Umdurman, on September 2, 1898, and Umm Diwaykarat, on November 25, 1899. Adwa, by contrast, crushed any possibility of reconquering Ethiopia. It would affirm Ethiopian sovereignty from 1896 until October 3, 1935, when Benito Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia. His mission was in part to write off the Italian humiliation at Adwa. Adwa became a beacon of hope in the global struggle against European colonial empires, as the Ethiopian patriotic resistance against the fascist occupation, 1936–1941, galvanized the global antifascist “Hands off Ethiopia” movement.63 Sven Rubenson wrote, “At the crucial moment,” Emperor Mənilək “commanded the loyalty of every important chief in the country.”64 The Italian plan of divide and conquer was not to be carried out. No major military chief in Ethiopia sided with Italy; instead they answered Mənilək’s call-to-arms and helped deliver a spectacular victory. “At Adwa, the Italians finally saw that they had underestimated the Ethiopian people.”65

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 6. Painting depicting the battle of Adwa, 1965-1975. Courtesy of National Museum of World Cultures, Leiden, TM-5956-2. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 7. Käffa king Tato Gaki Sherocho in chains after his defeat against Ras Wolde Giyorgis. Creative Commons License (public domain).

The Ethiopian Army at the Battle of Adwa, 73,000 strong, was the largest and best equipped African army in the 19th century; indeed, it was one of the largest and best equipped armies to confront Western colonialism anywhere in that century. The defection of Ras Səbhat and Däğğač Hagos from the Italians to join Mənilək raised its numbers.66 As for the Italians, they had an army of 18,000 Italian and native levies. It was the second largest colonial army to invade Africa in the 19th century (the French sent 34,000 troops in their invasion of Algeria in 1830). In contrast to their numbers at Adwa, Italian troop strength during the invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1935–1941 stood at half a million, the same as the French during the Algerian War of Independence, 1954–1962.

The Battle of Adwa ended the same day it began. A total of 5000 Italian and 2000 Eritrean soldiers lost their lives, and about 2500 Italians were wounded, with 2400 men captured. Ethiopian losses were estimated at 10,000 dead and wounded.67 The Ethiopian Army at the Battle of Adwa was an unpaid, undrafted, volunteer army.68 This was not unique to the Battle of Adwa, but rather a pattern that was followed throughout Ethiopian history. Fiery nationalism brought Ethiopians to the battlefield, as to other battles before and after.

The Battle of Adwa totally mobilized Ethiopian society, with every segment of the society participating in the war effort, from Emperor Mənilək and Empress Ṭaitu Bəṭul to prominent regional lords, peasants, servants, and slaves; men, women and children; horses, donkeys, mules, and ponies. Ethiopia mobilized its entire war arsenal. Adwa was an all-Ethiopian war, resulting in an all-Ethiopian victory. Mənilək’s agär maqnat campaigns bore fruit at the Battle of Adwa: it provided the necessary manpower, as well as the resources for the war effort. Captives during the agär maqnat campaigns found themselves carrying the rifle of their masters heading for the war front. (See the next section for a discussion of agär maqnat.)

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 8. Alämayähu Tewodros. Photograph by Edward Hall Speight of Rugby. Digital image courtesy of Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

Emperor Mənilək did not push the Italians out of Eritrea after his Adwa victory. All kinds of explanations have been offered as to why he stopped at the Märäb border, leaving Italians in charge of the colony of Eritrea. Among these reasons were the betrayal of Ethiopia’s interest, lack of provisions for the army, and excessive caution of a possible Italian reinforcement. Yet one thing is certain, however: Had Mənilək pushed the Italians out of Eritrea, Ethiopian history would have been quite different. Instead, victorious Mənilək turned his back to Märäb and headed south. Defeated Italy kept the land it used as a station ground to invade the rest of Ethiopia. Forty years later, Mussolini repeated the same pattern of using colonial Eritrea to overtake Ethiopia. On July 10, 1900, at the Treaty of Addis Ababa, Mənilək officially signed off Eritrea as an Italian colony, with the Märäb line as boundary.

Agär Maqnat

In Ethiopian history, campaigns of territorial expansion and conquest carried out by the Christian kingdom are called agär maqnat. Agär means country, land, or region, and the word “maqnat” is derived from the verb, aqäna, which has many interrelated meanings: to make straight that which is crooked; to raise one head’s up; to occupy a country or region by force and rule over it; to make barren land productive and to cultivate it; to tame or domesticate, as in taming a bull for farming; to buy, sell, or exchange. Qən means straightened, subjected, willing to be ordered around, agreeable, gullible, humble, or good person. Maqnat means to make productive, to embellish, to whip, to exchange, to sell.69 Aqñi is one who carries out the process of maqnat. The first person who clears the bushes and turns the land for cultivation is called aqñi abat (lit. father of maqnat). Qäñə means right, as opposed to gəra (left). In Ethiopian culture, right is associated with positive, left with negative. Qän means day, as opposed to č̣äläma (night). Qän waṭa means dark times are gone, bright times are in.70 Hence, maqnat means to bring under cultivation, to govern, to subject, to enlighten, to bring light upon the darkness. Agär maqnat entails the three C’s: cultivation, culture, civilization. Many of the most powerful military leaders of the time participated in the agär maqnat campaigns, including Ras Gobäna, Ras Darge, Ras Mäkonnän, Ras Mikael, Ras Wäldä-Giyorgis, and Fitawrari Gäbäyähu.

Mənilək, both as Nəguś of Šäwa and Nəguśä Nägäśt of Ethiopia, along with his military leaders, carried out a series of military campaigns of expansion and conquest into the southern, western, and eastern regions of what became modern Ethiopia during the last quarter of the 19th century. The expansion began earlier with Šäwa rulers Marəd Azmač Asfa-Wäsän (r. 1775–1808), Marəd Azmač Wäsän-Sägäd (r. 1808–1812), and Nəguś Śahlä-Śəllaśe, Mənilək’s grandfather (r. 1813–1847).71 They took off from where previous Ethiopian emperors had left, failing to reincorporate those regions that used to be under the rule of the Solomonic state before they were cut off by the Oromo territorial conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the southern regions that were conquered by Mənilək included important Oromo kingdoms.72

Šäwa was the “command center” of the agär maqnat campaigns, and Šäwans were its chief architects and source of manpower.73 Šäwan was a regional and not an ethnic identity.74 Some of the most prominent architects of the agär maqnat campaigns came from diverse ethnic backgrounds. For example, Ras Gobäna was a Šäwa Oromo; Ras Mikael, who took part in the 1894 Wälayta campaign, was of Wällo Muslim Oromo lineage; and Dağğač Balča Safo and Fitawrari Häbtä-Giyorgis Dinägde were of Oromo and Gurage lineages, respectively. Häbtä-Giyorgis Dinägde was minister of war during Empress Zäwditu’s reign.75

In the aftermath of agär maqnat conquests, soldiers were stationed in strategic places, kätämma (settlements), in order to police and control the newly incorporated subjects of the Ethiopian empire.76 The gäbar system was introduced as the means of extracting tribute. Kidanä-Wäld Kəfle defined the word gäbar as follows: “Farmer; laborer; one who provides forced labor; one who spends his labor and money to a government official; one whom officials treat as they want; one who is a rəst-holding slave.”77 This definition applies to Christian peasants who had customary hereditary rights to land called rəst. Yet, rəst-holding peasants had to pay various forms of tribute to the gult holder, that is, the lord of the region where they resided.78 The situation with the newly conquered gäbar of the agär maqnat was much worse, as they were dispossessed of their land rights by the new conquerors, dubbed näfṭaña (lit. gun holder). They had no rəst-holding rights and were non-rəst-holding slaves. In many cases, defeated leaders kept their former positions provided they paid tribute and proved loyal to the new rulers. This was the case in regions where local leaders submitted to Mənilək without a fight. Examples include Oromo rulers such as Aba Jiffar II of Jimma and those in Wälläga.79 In regions where people put up stiff resistance against Mənilək’s forces, their land was confiscated after their defeat, soldiers were billeted upon the subjected peasantry, and new rulers were appointed. Such was the case with the Arsi Oromo who maintained one of the most sustained resistances against Mənilək’s forces. The campaign to defeat the Arsi Oromo lasted four years, from 1882 to 1886, and Mənilək himself participated in the campaign. Led by Mənilək’s uncle, Ras Darge Śahlä-Śəllaśe, the Arsi were defeated at the Battle of Azule in September 1886.80 The Gibe states of Limmu-Enarya, Guma, Goma, Jimma-Kakka, and Gera, except for Jimma, “lay in dust” during the conquest.81 The city-state of Härär was subdued after the Battle of Č̣älänqo on January 6, 1887. The Häraris, led by Amir Abdullahi, were “outgunned, outnumbered and outmanoeuvred.”82

One of the bloodiest campaigns of conquest was directed against the kingdom of Wälayta in 1894. J. G. Vanderheym, who accompanied Mənilək during the campaign, wrote: “It felt like some infernal beat where the game was replaced by human beings. It was an unequal fight between armed men in great number and others who were scattered and weakened by defeat, who had only primitive javelins to counter the firearms of their enemies, and were unable even to use these, as they were pierced right through by twenty bullets as soon as they prepared to defend themselves.”83 Vanderheym witnessed the zäräfa (pillage) carried out by Mənilək’s troops, “the plunder of the houses and plantations, slaughter of livestock, the sack of the country, the fire.”84 As he further noted, “This expedition stands out among Ethiopian wars for its horror and the amount of bloodshed within so short a time. An old ras who had witnessed all the combats for very many years, told me he had never before seen such a massacre.” Regarding the number of dead Wälayta, he wrote, “The negus, whom I had asked about the number of dead, had a count made by his minister of justice; each leader said how many casualties his men had produced. Finally, I obtained the figure of 96,000 men dead and taken prisoner, but my estimate is that 20,000 would be closer to the truth.”85 The Wälayta King Ṭona was captured and taken to Addis Ababa in chains.

Three years after the defeat of Wälayta, another kingdom, Käffa, shared the same fate.86 Led by Ras Wäldä-Giyorgis, the kingdom of Käffa was subjugated and incorporated into the Ethiopian empire in 1897.87 The king of Käffa, Tato Gaki Sherocho, was taken to Addis Ababa in chains.88 In the same year 1897, Ras Mäkonnän (Emperor Ḫäylä-Śəllaśe’s father), with the alliance of Oromo leaders Dağğač Jote and Dağğač Gäbrä-Egziabher, led a successful campaign of expansion in the Wälläga region bordering the Sudan by “incorporating the shiekhdoms of Bela Shangul (Beni Shangul), Aqoldi (Asosa) and Khomosha.”89

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 9. Ṭaitu Bəṭul, heroine of the Battle of Adwa, spouse of Emperor Mənilək II. Creative Commons License (public domain).

The struggles against Italian colonialism and the agär maqnat campaigns took place in the midst of one of the most debilitating famines in Ethiopian history. The “great famine” of 1888–1892, known in Ethiopia as kəfu qän (evil times), ravaged the cattle population, as well as human lives. In many places, over 90 percent of the cattle died.90 The famine was part of an African famine that stretched from the Red Sea to Southern Africa.

Mənilək was not the first emperor of the 19th century to entertain plans to expand Ethiopia’s boundaries; his predecessor, Emperor Yoḥännǝs, held similar ambitions. In his letter to the Kaiser, Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, dated February 17, 1881, Yoḥännǝs declared Ethiopia’s territorial boundaries:

To the east and the south [east] the boundary is the sea. To the west and north, where there are not seas, it is bounded by Nuba, Suakin, Khartoum, Berber, Sennar, Ennaria, Sudan, and then Dongola, Haren Dawa, Gash, Massawa, Bedun, Shoho, and Tiltal, Further, the regions inhabited by Galla, Shankilla, and Adal is [sic] all mine, and yet recently in the middle of Shoa, a place known by the name Harar, was taken [from us]. All the same I listed these places so that my country’s boundaries be known.91

Yoḥännǝs’s appointment of Ras Adal Tässäma of Goğğam as Täklä-Haymanot, Nəguś (King) of Goğğam and Käffa, before Käffa came under Ethiopian rule in 1897, shows his ambitions to expand Ethiopia’s borders in southerly directions. Yet, because he was consumed in struggles against Egypt, Italy, and the Sudan, he did not live to realize his dream of an aggrandized Ethiopia. He died on March 10, 1889, at the Battle of Mätämma fighting against Sudanese forces.

A decade after Yoḥännǝs’s letter delineating Ethiopia’s boundaries, Mənilək sent out his famous letter, also called a circular, written in Addis Ababa on April 10, 1891. It was addressed to major European powers of the time: Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. In the letter, Mənilək identified Ethiopia’s international boundaries and expressed his wish to restore Ethiopia’s ancient borders:

While tracing today the actual boundaries of my Empire, I shall endeavour, if God gives me life and strength, to reestablish the ancient frontiers (tributaries) of Ethiopia up to Khartoum, and as Lake Nyanza with all the Gallas . . . Formerly the boundary of Ethiopia was the sea. Having lacked strength sufficient, and having received no help from Christian Powers, our frontier on the sea coast fell into the power of the Muslim-man . . . At present we do not intend to regain our sea frontier by force, but we trust that the Christian Power, guided by our Saviour, will restore to us our sea-coast line, at any rate, certain points on the coast92

In this statement, Mənilək was expressing his wish that Christian European powers would assist him in regaining the sea frontier lost to Ethiopia since the 16th century. In making this plea, he invoked Ethiopia’s status as a historic Christian state. “Ethiopia has been for fourteen centuries a Christian island in a sea of pagans.”93

The most controversial sentence in Mənilək’s statement was his declaration that “[i]f powers at a distance come forward to partition Africa between them, I do not intend to be an indifferent spectator.” Many critics of Mənilək’s agär maqnat campaigns cite this sentence as evidence that Mənilək intended to participate in the scramble for Africa.94 His admirers, in refutation, claim that Mənilək saw the need to expand Ethiopia’s borders only so that his nation could better defend itself. Moreover, the regions Mənilək conquered used to be part of the Ethiopian empire prior to the upheavals of the 16th century.95 The controversy surrounding his problematical declaration can best be addressed by reading Mənilək’s circular further, “As the Almighty has protected Ethiopia up to this day, I have confidence He will continue to protect her, and increase her borders in the future. I am certain He will not suffer her to be divided among other Powers.” Clearly, here Mənilək was expressing his concern that Ethiopia might become a victim of the European scramble for Africa.

Of the four post-Zämänä Mäsafǝnt emperors of Ethiopia during the nineteenth century, only Tewodros came to power without help from a foreign power. Emperors Täklä-Giyorgis and Yoḥännǝs became emperors in part by using the weapons acquired from the British, and Mənilək amassed military hardware from his close association with Italy. By contrast, Tewodros fought against the formidable powers of the Zämänä Mäsafǝnt by pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. His thirteen-year reign as emperor was marked by constant warfare, causing Tewodros to move hither and yon to quell one revolt after another. No foreign power came to his aid, and his attempt to forge an alliance with England, the mightiest global power of the time, ended in total failure.

Of the three prominent emperors of Ethiopia in the 19th century, two lost their lives on the battlefield: Tewodros killed himself at Mäqdäla, and Yoḥännǝs was killed at Mätämma. Only Mənilək lived long enough to see the fruit of his handiwork—the creation of modern Ethiopia through victory at Adwa, and territorial expansion and conquest.96

On the one hand, Tewodros framed his struggles and ascent to power as one of liberating Ethiopia from Oromo (“Galla”) domination. On the other hand, Mənilək’s stated goal was to bring Oromos under his rule. But these two emperors were referring to two distinct Oromo entities. Tewodros was referring to Oromo paramountcy at the heart of Christian Ethiopia, the Wärä Séh elite of the Zämänä Mäsafənt. For him, the Wärä Séh were the embodiment of the dreaded two-headed hydra, Muslim and Oromo. Mənilək, in contrast, was referring to Oromos in the south who had been outside control of the Ethiopian state since it lost the southern provinces in the aftermath of the dual upheavals of the 16th century. Tewodros described his campaign as one of “liberation” from Oromo domination, while Mənilək’s saw his mission as a campaign of incorporation of Oromos, dubbed “reunification.”97 Yoḥännǝs’s visions were closer to Mənilək’s than to those of Tewodros, as he intended to expand Ethiopia’s frontiers. Tewodros had no time to think of expanding Ethiopia’s borders: his main preoccupation was the struggle to bring the regional lords under one rule.

In the history of the struggle against Western imperialism, the 19th century witnessed two outstanding victories by “people of color.” These victories took place at the beginning and end of the 19th century: Haiti’s declaration of independence on January 1, 1804, and Ethiopia’s victory over Italy at the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896. Haiti triumphed over the military might of Napoleonic France, Great Britain, and Spain. Haiti’s enslaved snatched their independence from the jaws of the mightiest powers of the time, while Ethiopia maintained its sovereignty by defeating a formidable colonial force. These two victories would serve as role models for anticolonial movements around the world in the 20th century.

The 19th century closed with a double triumph for Emperor Mənilək II’s Ethiopia: Adwa and agär maqnat. The heated debate that ensued from this triumph centered on two questions: Did the agonies of agär maqnat cancel the glory that was Adwa? Or did the two have distinct historical significance?: Adwa, as a glorious global triumph over European colonialism and agär maqnat, as a local process of state expansion. The controversy continues.

Discussion of the Literature

The historiography of Ethiopia on the 19th century is quite thin, with many of the writings being European travel writings and local chronicles. Academic history was written mostly in the 20th century. Until the 1970s, the historiography on Ethiopia focused on its political history and its “big men” and concentrated mostly on “historic Ethiopia,” the domain of the Christian kingdom. Many scholarly publications neglected the non-Christian regions of the country. Some of the most prominent European Ethiopianists were philologists, with knowledge of Geez and Amharic. E. A. Wallis Budge, Conti Rossini, Enno Littmann (see notes), included some of them.

The study of Ethiopian history took a turn toward social history in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Examples include Donald Crummey’s, Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), and Teshale Tibebu’s The Making of Modern Ethiopia (1995).

The volume of scholarship on Muslims and marginalized communities also picked up in the 20th century. In Islamic studies, the pioneering work of John Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (1952) was not followed up by others for a long time. In his Islam in 19th-Century Wallo (2001), as well as his many articles, Hussein Ahmed provided excellent additions to the history of Islam in Ethiopia. Patrick Desplat and Terje Østebø, eds. Muslim Ethiopia (2013) is another critical addition to the field. Just as Ethiopian Christendom expressed itself through Geez, Ethiopian Islamdom did so in Arabic.

The recent writings on Islam in Ethiopia, including the works of Hussein Ahmed, point out the marginalization and neglect of the study of Islam in Ethiopian history and show how Ethiopia’s long identification with Christendom led to this marginalization. They discuss the vibrant history of Ethiopian Islam by delving into the written Arabic accounts of Ethiopian Muslims. Ethiopian Islam is not the negative “other” depicted in mainstream Ethiopian historiography; rather, it is an integral part of Ethiopia’s long recorded history.

The historical scholarship on marginalized communities also began to show strength in the 20th century. Mohammed Hassen’s The Oromo of Ethiopia (1990) is one such example. Perhaps the most important topic addressed in the history of marginalized communities was the creation of modern Ethiopia, together with the legacy of Emperor Mənilək. There are two opposite approaches to this topic. The first sees Mənilək’s agär maqnat campaign that doubled the size of the country as a “reunification” of Ethiopia, the reappropriation of provinces from the Solomonic dynasty that were lost during the 16th century as a result of the Oromo conquests. Such was the view of nonacademic Ethiopian historians such as Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya and Aläqa Tayä Gäbrä Maryam.98 Academic historian Bahru Zewde provided a comprehensive survey of 19th- and 20th-century Ethiopian history in his The History of Modern Ethiopia (2002).

The view from the perspective of marginalized communities of southern Ethiopia is that Mənilək’s agär maqnat was a colonial conquest. Abbas H. Gnamo’s Conquest and Resistance in the Ethiopian Empire (2014) and Donald L. Donham and Wendy James eds., The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (2002) are examples.99 The Battle of Adwa was thus a contest between two colonizing forces, one black, one white. For the colonized people of southern Ethiopia, it made no difference which colonizer won. The meaning of Mənilək’s agär maqnat is one of the key topics of the history of 19th-century Ethiopia.

Primary Sources

There are two kinds of primary sources: indigenous written sources, such as chronicles of emperors and other great men, as well as letters written to foreign powers, and archives; and travel literature written by foreigners (mostly Europeans).

Some of the letters written by Ethiopian dignitaries to foreign powers during the 19th century are available in D. A. Appleyard and A. K. Irvine, trans., and Richard Pankhurst ed., Letters from Ethiopian Rulers (Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century).100 More are found in Sven Rubenson, ed., Internal Rivalries and Foreign Threats, 1869–1879.

European travel literature provided detailed information about Ethiopia. Most of the information deals with the northern and central parts of the country, as many of the travelers came as emissaries of their governments to forge alliances with Ethiopian leaders. Some of the travel literature is now digitized and available online. Some of the most important travel literature includes Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa, or an Exploration of Harar; Henry Dufton, Narrative of a Journey Through Abyssinia in 1862–3; Charles Johnston, Travels in Southern Abyssinia Through the Country of Adals to the Kingdom of Shoa During the Years 1842–43; Mansfield Parkyns, Life in Abyssinia; Walter Plowden, Travels Through Abyssinia and the Galla Country with an Account of a Mission to Ras Ali in 1848; and Hormuz Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia.101

Two primary sources by the British who accompanied the Napier expedition are Clements Robert Markham, A History of the Abyssinian Expedition; and William Simpson, Diary of a Journey to Abyssinia, 1868, With the Expedition Under Sir Robert Napier, K.C.S.I.102

The Institute of Ethiopian studies at Addis Ababa University contains the largest collection of primary sources. The National Archives and Library of Ethiopia also has large collections of primary sources on Ethiopian history, including the 19th century. In addition, the “Inventory of Libraries and Catalogues of Ethiopian Manuscripts” undertaken by Anais Wion, et al. provides valuable sources of manuscripts. The “Endangered Archives Programme” of the British Library has digitized sources, the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Collection of Ethiopian Manuscripts [14th century–21st century].

Further Readings

Abubaker, Abdulmalik. “Taxes, Tax Payers and Collectors–Pre and post Menelik: Harari Experience.” Journal of Accounting and Taxation 9, no. 3 (March 2017): 23–25.Find this resource:

Ben-Dror, Avishai. Emirate, Egyptian, Ethiopian: Colonial Experiences in Late Nineteenth-Century Harar. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Berkeley, George Fitz-Hardinge. The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.Find this resource:

Taddese Beyene, Richard Pankhurst, and Shiferaw Bekele, eds. Kasa and Kasa: Papers on the Lives, Times and Images of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV (1855–1889). Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 1990.Find this resource:

Caulk, Richard. “The Occupation of Harar: January 1887.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 9, no. 2 (1971): 1–20.Find this resource:

Caulk, Richard. “Religion and State in Nineteenth Century Ethiopia.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 10, no. 1 (1972): 23–41.Find this resource:

Kebede, Messay. “Menelik and Southern Ethiopia: Colonization, Reunification, or Expansion?

Marcus, Harold. The Life and Times of Menilek II, Ethiopia 1844–913. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Matthies, Volker. The Siege of Magdala: The British Empire Against the Emperor of Ethiopia. Translated from the German by Steven Rendall. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2012.Find this resource:

McCann, James. People of the Plow: An agricultural History of Ethiopia, 1800–1990. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Miftah, Mukerrem. “At Issue: The ‘Muslims in Ethiopia Complex’ and Muslim Identity: The Trilogy of Discourse, Policy, and Identity.” African Studies Quarterly 16, no. 1 (December 2015): 71–91.Find this resource:

Omer, Ahmed Hassen. “Emperor Menelik’s Attempts towards Political Integration: Case Study from North-Eastern Shoa (Ethiopia), 1889–1906.” Annales d’Ethiopie 18 (2002): 231–243.Find this resource:

Pankhurst, Richard, and Denis Gerard. Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and Its People Taken Between 1867 and 1935. New York: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:

Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians. A History. London: Blackwell, 2003.Find this resource:

Pankhurst, Richard. A History of Ethiopian Towns from the Middle Ages to the Early Nineteenth Century. Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1982.Find this resource:

Pankhurst, Richard. A History of Ethiopian Towns from the Mid-Nineteenth Century TO 1935. Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner, 1985.Find this resource:

Tafla, Bairu, ed. A Chronicle of Emperor Yohannes IV (1872–89). Weisbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1977.Find this resource:

Tafla, Bairu, ed. Asma Giyorgis and his Work: History of the Gāllā and the Kingdom of Šawā. Stuttgart, Germany: F. Steiner Verlag, 1987.Find this resource:

Triulzi, Alessandro. Salt, Gold and Legitimacy: Prelude to the History of a No-man’s Land: Bela Shangul, Wallaga, Ethiopia (ca. 1800–1898). Naples, Italy: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1981.Find this resource:

Tsehai Berhane Selassie. The Political and Military Traditions of the Ethiopian Peasantry (1800–1941). PhD diss., Saint Anne’s College, Oxford University, 1980.Find this resource:


(1.) Sidney Waldron, “Harer: The Muslim City in Ethiopia,” in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Ethiopian Studies, ed. Robert Hess (Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1979).

(2.) For a discussion of internal slavery and external slave trade from Ethiopia, see Teshale Tibebu, The Making of Modern Ethiopia (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1995), Chapter 3. Säifu Mätafäria, “Yä-Barya Səm Bä-Amaraw Bahəl,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 10, no. 2 (1972): 127–200 (in Amharic). Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800–1935 (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie University Press, 1968), 74, 76; Käffa in 1897 had no less than 80,000 slaves, while Jimma’s Abba Jiffar owned thousands of slaves (Pankhurst, Economic, 75); Abdussamad Ahmed, “Ethiopian slave Exports at Matamma, Massawa and Tajura, c. 1830–1885,” in The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century, eds. William Gervase and Clarence-Smith (New York: Routledge, 2103); Timothy Fernyhough, “Slavery and the Slave Trade in Southern Ethiopia in the 19th Century,” in The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century, eds. William Gervase and Clarence-Smith (New York: Routledge, 2013); and Major Darley, Slaves and Ivory in Abyssinia (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969).

(3.) The closest Islam came to create a single, unified Muslim state in Ethiopia was during Ibrahim al-Ghazi’s jihad during the 16th century. See Sihab ad-Din Ahmad, The Conquest of Abyssinia, trans. Paul Stenhouse (Hollywood, CA: Tsehai Publishers, 2003), 153–154. Two centuries earlier, Sabr ad-Din, the governor of the Ifat Sultanate during the reign of Amdä-Ṣǝyon in the 14th century, declared: “I wish to be King of all Ethiopia.” Richard Pankhurst, ed. The Ethiopian Royal Chronicles (Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press, 1967), 15.

For discussions of Islam in Ethiopian history, see John Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952); Patrick Desplat and Terje Østebø, eds., Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Merid Wolde Aregay, Southern Ethiopia and the Christian Kingdom, with Special on the Galla Migrations. PhD thesis (London: University of London, 1971). Ulrich Braukmaper, Islamic History and Culture in Southern Ethiopia: Collected Essays (Hamburg, Germany: LitVerlag, 2002). Mordechai Abir, Ethiopia and the Red Sea: The Rise and Decline of the Solomonic Dynasty and Muslim-European Rivalry in the Region (Totowa, NJ: Biblio Distribution Centre, 1980). Abdussamad Ahmed, “Muslims of Gondar 1864–1941,” Annales d’Ethiopie 16. no. 1 (2000): 161–172. Hussein Ahmed. Islam in 19th-Century Wallo, Ethiopia. Revival, Reform and Reaction (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001). Hussein Ahmed. “The Historiography of Islam in Ethiopia,” Journal of Islamic Studies 3, no. I (1992): 15–46.

(4.) Shiferaw Bekele, “Reflections on the Power Elite of the Wärä Seh Mäsfenate (1786–1853),” Annales d’Ethiopie 15 (1990): 157–179. Mordechai Abir, The Era of the Princes: The Challenge of Islam and the Reunification of the Christian Empire, 1769–1855 (New York: Praeger, 1970).

(5.) Bekele, “Reflections,” 161–162.

(6.) Donald Crummey, “Abyssinian Feudalism,” Past and Present 89 (November 1980): 124–125.

(7.) Bekele, 158–159.

(8.) Bekele, 162–163.

(9.) Bekele, 167.

(10.) The Oromo are now the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. In Ethiopian historiography, they were known as “Galla,” and depicted mostly in the negative, as “uncultured” and “unchristian” multitude.

(11.) Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1991. Second Edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), 28–29.

(12.) Zewde, History, 29–30.

(13.) Zewde, History, 30.

(14.) See James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, J. Ruthven, 1790), 129.

(15.) Tewodros’s view of Ethiopia’s identity was not different from the centuries-old ideology that defined Ethiopia in religious terms. Ethiopian Orthodox Christendom identified the religious “others” as Muslims, Beta Israel (called “Fälaša” by others), and arämäne (“pagans”). They were “Yaltäṭämäqu Ahzab” (unbaptized heathens).

(16.) Girma-Selassie Asfaw, David L. Appleyard, and Edward Ullendorff, trans. and ed., The Amharic Letters of Emperor Theodore of Ethiopia to Queen Victoria and Her Special Envoy (Oxford University Press, 1979), 3b. Oromos do not call themselves “Galla” because the term is offensive to them. Its use here is only in citations from original sources.

(17.) Henry Stern, Wanderings Among the Falashas in Abyssinia Together with a Description of the Country and its Various Inhabitants (London: Wertheim, Macintosh and Hunt, 1862), 56.

(18.) Pedro Pά‎ez called the Oromo “black heathens, whom they [Ethiopians] call Galas, cattle herders, very cruel and wild people.” He called them the “plague of Ethiopia.” Isabel Boavida, Hervé Pennec, and Joāo Ramos, eds., Christopher Tribe, trans., The History of Ethiopia, 1622, vol. 1 (London: Hakluyt, 2011), 76–77. Manoel de Almeida called them “crueller scourge” than Grañ, the “plague and scourge of God.” They brought about the “almost the total ruin of that contumacious empire.” He wrote that during Susnəyos’s reign; “the Emperor now probably has at most the half of what his predecessors possessed. The Gallas have taken the other half” (C. F. Beckingham, G.W.B. Huntingford trans. and ed., Some Records of Ethiopia, 1593–1646 [London: Hakluyt, 1954], 134–135, 13). Bermudez depicted Oromos as “fierce and cruel people, who make war on their neighbours, and on all, only to destroy and depopulate their countries.” Richard Stephen Whiteway trans. and ed., The Portuguese Expedition to Abyssinia in 1541–1543 (London: Bedford, 1892), 228–229. Bermudez was in Ethiopia during the 16th century, Pά‎ez and Almeida during the 17th century. The British W. C. Harris who came to Šäwa in 1841 to sign a “treaty of amity and commerce” with Nəguś Śahlä-Śəllaśe, described the Oromo as “barbarian hordes who brought darkness and ignorance in their train.” The Highlands of AEthiopia, vol. 3 (London: Longman, 1844), 72–73.

(19.) Merid Wolde Aregay, Southern Ethiopia.

(20.) Enno Littmann, ed. and trans. with notes, The Chronicle of King Theodore of Ethiopia, Part I. Amharic Text (Princeton, NJ: University Library, 1902), 15. The translation from the Amharic is mine.

(21.) Littmann, Chronicle, 21.

(22.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Aṣe Tewordosna Yä-Ityop.ya Andənät (Addis Ababa: Kuraz Publishers, 1986, Eth. Calendar). In Amharic.

(23.) Bekele, (“Reflections,” 166–167.

(24.) H. Weld Blundell, ed., Royal Chronicles of Abyssinia, 1769–1840 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1922), 358. Zännäb, by contrast, depicted Ras Ali in a very negative way. Littmann, Chronicle, 3.

(25.) Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. II: 395A.D–1185 A.D (New York: Modern Library, 1977), 863. For a critique of the isolation thesis, see Teshale Tibebu, “Ethiopia: The ‘Anomaly’ and ‘Paradox’ of Africa,” Journal of Black Studies 26, no. 4 (1996): 414–430.

(26.) Matteo Salvadore, The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402–1555 (London: Routledge, 2017).

(27.) E. J. van Donzel, ed., Foreign Relations of Ethiopia 1642–1700: Documents Relating to the Journeys of Khodja Murad (Leiden, The Netherlands: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Institutt te Istanbul, 1979).

(28.) Darrell Bates, The Abyssinian Difficulty: The Emperor Theodros and the Magdala Campaign, 1867–68 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979); and Volker Matthies, The Siege of Magdala: The British Empire Against the Emperor of Ethiopia (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2011).

(29.) For a detailed account of the British captives of Emperor Tewodros, see Charles T. Beke, The British Captives in Abyssinia. Second Edition (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867). The British Library, Historical Print Editions, has reprinted the book in 2011.

(30.) Sven Rubenson, The Survival of Ethiopian Independence (Hollywood, CA: Tsehai Publishers and Distributors, 2003), 256–257.

(31.) Cited in Rubenson, Survival, 259.

(32.) Rubenson, Survival, 259.

(33.) Sven Rubenson, ed., Internal Rivalries and Foreign Threats, 1869–1879 (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2000), 9.

(34.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Aṣe Məniləkna Yä-Ityop.ya Andǝnät (Addis Ababa: Kuraz Publishers, 1983, Eth. Calendar). In Amharic.

(35.) Rubenson, Internal Rivalries, 17.

(36.) Rubenson Internal Rivalries, 19.

(37.) Rubenson gave the figure of the released British captives as “59 to 67 depending on the inclusion or not of non-Ethiopian servants, and some confusion as to whether Bell’s and Parkyn’s children in particular were to be regarded as foreigners” (Survival, 267).

(38.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Aṣe Tewordosena, 407.

(39.) Rubenson, Survival, 265.

(40.) For eye-witness accounts of the desecration of Tewodros’s corpse by British troops, see Henry Morton Stanley, Coomassie and Magdala: The Story of two British Campaigns in Africa (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1874), 459; Clements Robert Markham, A History of the Abyssinian Expedition. First published in 1869. (Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2011), 353

(41.) Stanley, Coomassie and Magdala, 470.

(42.) Alämayähu Tewodros was born on April 23, 1861. He died on November 14, 1879 at the age of eighteen. He was buried at Windsor Castle.

(43.) One week after Tewodros’s death, Napier boasted: “Magdala, on which so many victims have been slaughtered, has been committed to the flames, and remains only a scorched rock” (Stanley, Commassie and Magdala, 469).

(44.) Rubenson wrote, “When Tewodros preferred self-inflicted death to captivity, he deprived the British of this ultimate satisfaction and laid the foundation for his own resurrection as a symbol of the defiant and independence of the Ethiopian” (Survival, 268).

(45.) Cited in Rubenson, Survival, 222.

(46.) Rubenson, Survival, 222.

(47.) Rubenson, Survival, 222.

(48.) John Dunn, Khedive Ismail’s Army (London: Routledge, 2005).

(49.) Cited in Rubenson, Survival, 290.

(50.) Cited in Rubenson, Survival, 311.

(51.) Rubenson, Survival, 311.

(52.) Rubenson, Survival, 318–329.

(53.) Rubenson, Survival, 323.

(54.) Rubenson, Survival, 328. The Egyptian army during the Battle of Gura had forty cannons and ten rocket-stands in the forts of Gura and Kayakor.

(55.) Alhough Egypt’s efforts to colonize Ethiopia faltered, they succeeded elsewhere in the region. An Egyptian military force led by Muhammad Rauf Pasha occupied Harar on October 11, 1875, and ruled it for ten years, 1875–1885. Two years after the departure of the Egyptians, Mənilək took over Harar.

(56.) Edward Hertslet, The Map of Africa by Treaty, vol. 1: Abyssinia to Great Britain (London: Harrison and Sons, 1894), 8.

(57.) Hertslet, Map of Africa, vol. 1, 5, 8–9, 11–12, 18.

(58.) Augustus Wylde, The Manchester Guardian, 1901, 20.

(59.) Hertslet, Map of Africa, vol. 1, 3.

(60.) Quoted in Haggai Erlich, Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa: A Political Biography: Ethiopia & Eritrea, 1875–1897 (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1996), 74.

(61.) Hertslet, Map of Africa, vol. 1, 13–15.

(62.) Raymond Jonas, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011).

(63.) Joseph Fronczak, “Local People’s Global Politics: A Transnational History of the Hands of Ethiopia Movement of 1935,” Diplomatic History 39, no. 2 (2015): 245–274.

(64.) Rubenson, Survival, 405.

(65.) Rubenson, Survival, 405.

(66.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Yä-Ityop.ya Tarik: Kä-Ae Tewodros Ǝska Qädamawi Häylä-Śəllaśe (Addis Ababa: Täsfa Printing Press, 1952 Eth. Calendar), 79.

(67.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Yä-Ityop.ya, 81.

(68.) Jonas, Battle, 211.

(69.) Dästa Täklä-Wäld, Yä-Aamarña Mäzgäbä Qalat (Addis Ababa: Artistic Press, 1962 Eth. Calendar), 1078. The translation from the Amharic is mine.

(70.) Dästa Täklä-Wäld, Yä-Aamarña, 1079.

(71.) R. H. Kofi Darkwah, Shewa, Menelik and the Ethiopian Empire, 1813–1889 (London: Heinemann, 1975).

(72.) Mohammed Hassen, The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History, 1570–1860 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Zewde, History, 18–19.

(73.) The victory of Nǝguś Mənilək over Nǝguś Täklä-Häymanot at the Battle of Embabo, June 6, 1882, ended Goğğam’s bid to carry out agär maqnat campaigns.

(74.) See Jerry Salole, “Who Are the Shoans,” Horn of Africa 2, no. 3 (1979): 20–29.

(75.) For a detailed discussion of the role of Oromo elites in the making of modern Ethiopia, see Brian James Yates, Invisible Actors: The Oromo and the Creation of Modern Ethiopia (1855–1913), PhD diss. (Urbana-Champagne: University of Illinois, 2009).

(76.) Donald Donham and Wendy James, eds., The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (Oxford: James Currey; Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press; Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2002). Addis Hiwet, “Ethiopia: From Autocracy to Revolution,” Review of African Political Economy. Occasional Publications, 1 (London, 1975).

(77.) Kidanä-Wäld Kəfle, häfä Säwasäw Wäg’es, Wämäzgäbä Qalat Häddis (Addis Ababa: Artistic Press, 1948 Eth. Calendar), 297. The translation from the Amharic is mine.

(78.) Tibebu, Making, 73–90.

(79.) Zewde, History, 19.

(80.) Zewde, History, 62–63. See also Abbas H. Gnamo, Conquest and Resistance in the Ethiopian Empire, 1880–1974: The Case of the Arsi Oromo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014).

(81.) Hassen, The Oromo of Ethiopia, 200. Jimma was the seat of Abba Jiffar, rich in trade, including gold, slaves and ivory. Herbert S. Lewis, A Galla Monarchy: Jimma Abba Jiffar, 1830–1932 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965).

(82.) Zewde, History, 63–64.

(83.) Jacques-Gaston Vanderheym, An Expedition with Negus Menilek: Twenty Months in Abyssinia. Trans. by Dominique Lussier (Oxford, UK: Bardwell Press, 2012), 103. Vanderheym reported that Mənilək’s share of livestock confiscated from the Wälayta was “18,000 cows or oxen” (105). He took his share of 1800 slaves, one-tenth of the 18,000 captured, choosing the “most vigorous.” He had them branded with a cross sign. The rest were distributed among his soldiers. Vanderheym himself took eleven slaves (106). Elsewhere, 40, 000 Gimira were enslaved. Richard Pankhurst, Economic History, 107.

(84.) Vanderheym, Expedition, 98.

(85.) Vanderheym, Expedition, 99. Chris Prouty wrote that 119,000 men, women, and children lost their lives during the Wälayta campaign. Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethioipia, 1883–1910 (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1986), 115.

(86.) George Huntingford, The Galla of Ethiopia: The Kingdoms of Kaffa and Janjero (London: Hazel Watson and Viney, 1955). Amnon Orent, “Refocusing on the History of Kaffa Prior to 1897: A Discussion of Political Processes,” African Historical Studies, 3, no. 2 (1970): 263–293.

(87.) Alexander Bulatovich, Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes: Country in Transition in 1896–1898, trans. Richard Seltzer (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2000).

(88.) Zewde, History, 65–66.

(89.) Zewde, History, 66.

(90.) Richard Pankhurst, “The Great Ethiopian Famine of 1888–92: A New Assessment.” In two parts. Journal of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 21.2, April 1966: 21.3, 95–124; July 1966: 271–294.

(91.) Cited in Zewde Gebre Selassie, Yohannes IV: A Political Biography (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1975), 258.

(93.) A letter by Emperor Menelik that defines Ethiopia’s borders.

Samuel Rubenson saw Mənilək’s statement that Ethiopia was a Christian island surrounded by a sea of pagans as a diplomatic ploy to get European support, and not as anti-Muslim bigotry. “A Christian Island? The Impact of Colonialism on the Perceptions of Islam and Christianity in Nineteenth Century Ethiopia.” The Fuzzy Logic of Encounter: New Perspectives on Cultural Contact, 117—26, eds. Sünne Juterczenka and Gesa Mackenthun (Münster, Germany: Waxmann, 2009).

(95.) See Bäjerond Täklä-Hawaryat Täklä-Maryam cited in Mahtämä Śəllaśe Wäldä Mäsäqal, Zǝkrä Nägär (Addis Ababa: Näṣanät Printing Press, 1942 Ethiopian Calendar), 836–839.

(96.) Zewde, History, 60.

(97.) Getahun Dilebo, Emperor Menelik’s Ethiopia, 1865–1916: National Unification or Amhara Communal Domination. PhD diss. (Washington, DC: Howard University, 1974).

(98.) Täklä-Ṣadeq Mäkurya, Aṣe Məniləkna; [for full citation, see endnote 34]; and Aläqa Tayä Gäbrä-Maryam, Yä-Ityop.ya Həzb Tarik (Asmara, 1920. Eth. calendar).

(99.) Abbas H. Gnamo, Conquest and Resistance in the Ethiopian Empire, 1880–1974: The Case of the Arsi Oromo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014). Donald L. Donham and Wendy James, eds., The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (Oxford: James Currey; Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press; Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2002).

(100.) David A. Appleyard and A. K. Irvine trans., and Richard Pankhurst ed., Letters from Ethiopian Rulers (Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(101.) Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa, or an Exploration of Harar, ed., Isabel Burton (New York: Dover, 1987); Henry Dufton, Narrative of a Journey Through Abyssinia in 1862–3 (London: Chapman & Hall, 1867); Charles Johnston, Travels in Southern Abyssinia Through the Country of Adals to the Kingdom of Shoa During the Years 1842–43 (London: J. Madden & Co., 1844); Mansfield Parkyns, Life in Abyssinia (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1854); Walter Plowden, Travels Through Abyssinia and the Galla Country with an Account of a Mission to Ras Ali in 1848 (London: Longman, Green & Co. 1868); and Hormuz Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia (London: John Murray, 1869).

(102.) Clements Robert Markham, A History of the Abyssinian Expedition. First published in 1869 (Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2011); and William Simpson, Diary of a Journey to Abyssinia, 1868, With the Expedition Under Sir Robert Napier, K.C.S.I., eds. Richard Pankhurst, Peter Harrington, and Frederic Sharf (Hollywood, CA: Tsehai Publishers, 2002).