The Kingdom the Abyssinia was established in the 13th century CE and, transforming itself right into the Ethiopian realm via a series of armed forces conquests, lasted till the 20th century CE. It was established by the monarchs of the Solomonid dynasty who, claiming lower from no much less a figure than the Bible"s King Solomon, would dominion in one unbroken heat throughout the state"s lengthy history. A Christian kingdom which spread the belief via armed forces conquest and also the facility of churches and monasteries, its best threat came from the Muslim trading says of eastern Africa and also southern Arabia and the hike of the Oromo people from the south. The mix of its affluent Christian heritage, the cult the its emperors and the geography obstacles gift to intruders meant that the Ethiopian empire would be one of only 2 African states never ever to be formally colonised by a european power.

Origins: Axum

The Ethiopian Highlands, through their reliable yearly monsoon rainfall and also fertile soil, had been efficiently inhabited due to the fact that the rock Age. Farming and trade through Egypt, southerly Arabia, and other African peoples ensured the increase of the powerful kingdom the Axum (also Aksum), i m sorry was started in the first century CE. Growing from the 3rd to sixth century CE, and also then surviving as a lot smaller politics entity into the 8 hours century CE, the Kingdom of Axum to be the an initial sub-Saharan afri state to officially take on Christianity, c. 350 CE. Axum additionally created its very own script, Ge"ez, i beg your pardon is tho in use in Ethiopia today.

You are watching: This country was formerly known as abyssinia

Across this Christian kingdom, churches were built, abbeys founded, and also translations made of the Bible. The most essential church to be at Axum, the Church of Maryam Tsion, which, follow to later on Ethiopian medieval texts, housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, intended to contain the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments offered by God to Moses, is supposed to be still there, but as no one is ever allowed to see it, confirmation of its visibility is challenging to achieve. The most essential monastery in the Axum kingdom to be at Debre Damo, started by the 5th-century CE byzantine ascetic Saint Aregawi, among the commemorated Nine Saints who operated to spread out Christianity in the region by creating monasteries. The success of these endeavours supposed that Christianity would proceed to be practised in Ethiopia right into the 21st century CE.

The kingdom that Axum went into decline from the late sixth century CE, perhaps because of overuse of agricultural land, the incursion of west Bedja herders, and the raised competition because that the Red Sea profession networks indigenous Arab Muslims. The heartland of the Axum state shifted southwards while the city the Axum fared better than that namesake kingdom and also has never shed its religious significance. In the 8 hours century CE, the Axumite harbor of Adulis was destroyed and also the kingdom lost manage of regional trade come the Muslims. It was the end of the state but not the culture.

Kingdom the Zagwe

Bridging the gap in between Axum and also the Kingdom that Abyssinia was a third kingdom, that of Zagwe with its funding at Roha (300 km south the Axum). Established in 1137 CE by a command of Lasta in unsure circumstances, the new kingdom continued to promote Christianity in the region and still possessed numerous of the cultural and imaginative traditions of Axum. The kingdom broadened from the heartland in northern Ethiopia many thanks to a big and well-equipped army, particularly in the pagan west and also south. One renowned king, Lalibela, notified rock-cut churches to be built and such was their impact on the populace the the resources was change the name in his honour.


Christianity, quiet nominally led through the Patriarch of Alexandria, continued as a object linking the various political states of Ethiopia"s history. The country is dotted through over 1,500 churches sculpted out that rock. The designs typically follow the timeless Roman-Byzantine basilica kind with aisles, galleries and also a domed nave however there are countless variations such as the Church of Saint George in ~ Lalibela (11-12th century CE) through its distinctive cross shape. The largest example is Beta Madhane Alem, additionally at Lalibela. Many of the churches cannot be dated because of lack of engravings and perfect remains but they administer a convincing dispute that Ethiopia walk not endure a cultural Dark Age in between Axum, Zagwe, and also the Kingdom the Abyssinia.

The Solomonid Dynasty

The middle ages Kingdom of Abyssinia was founded by the Solomonid dynasty c. 1270 CE. Their first ruler gift Yekuno-Amlak (r. 1270-1285 CE), a local leader in ~ Amhara. The is most likely that the Solomonids saw the majesties of Zagwe as usurpers, an interruption to the dynasty that had ruled Axum, and they gathered the support of anti-Zagwe factions which had actually presented a constant opposition throughout the 12th and also 13th century CE. The Zagwe dynasty added to its own downfall by always having conflicts over who had the ideal of succession - even the great Lalibela had actually been briefly deposed through his own nephew.

Yekuno-Amlak and his successors, according to both oral and written medieval heritages (which were largely compiled in the 13th or 14th century CE like the Kebra Negast but possibly utilizing older sources), claimed direct lower from the biblical King Solomon the Jerusalem and also Makeda, the Queen of Sheba (equated with Ethiopia in this heritage but much more likely to be southerly Arabia), hence their dynastic surname of "Solomonid". The story goes that the Queen that Sheba checked out King Solomon in Jerusalem after hearing the his great wisdom. The royal couple enjoyed an amorous encounter, the fruit that which was a son referred to as Menelik. Once reaching adulthood, Menelik also went to Jerusalem and, many thanks to among his travelling companions, that came back to Axum with fairly a prize, the Ark of the Covenant.

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


The case may have actually been fabricated and was certainly perpetuated in order to give legitimacy come the Solomonid line. Countless Solomonid kings held their coronation in ~ Axum because of the Ark of the Covenant link there. It is also interesting to keep in mind that in Ethiopian literary works on what constitutes good kingship two things are organized as critical - descent from a person, choose Solomon, who had actually made a holy commitment with God and also possession of the spiritual Ark the the Covenant. Ethiopian monarchs were fortunate to case both and, by association, the people of Ethiopia to be able to also claim they to be God"s favored people, a allude reinforced by the Christian kingdom"s isolation in eastern Africa, surrounded as it to be by states which were primarily Muslim, Jewish, or practised timeless African beliefs. For the Ethiopian people, they were the "second Israel". The is no to say classic African religious beliefs was wholly eradicated in Abyssinia, also the king perform a routine sacrifice that a buffalo and also a lion as soon as he to be crowned.

The Solomonids had their resources at Amhara, near Ethiopia"s contemporary capital, Addis Ababa. Although efforts to control coastal trade had actually some success, land trade routes and those along the Blue Nile confirmed more profitable for the Ethiopians. Are was likewise disputed between the Solomonids and also Muslim traders that the Red Sea who created such small states together Harar, Dawaro, Bale, and also Adal. In ~ the exact same time, the Solomonids broadened their kingdom in as numerous directions as feasible to ultimately carve out an empire which spanned from Shoa in the southern to the lands north of Lake Tana at the other end of the compass.

The Ethiopian Empire

The Solomonid emperors used several means to broaden their territory: warfare, religion, and also diplomacy as right here summarised through the historian P. Curtin:

It to be the case also in Solomonid Ethiopia where…the kingdom spread out to locations where believer did not type a majority of the population. Little colonies that Christians that lived beyond the kingdom"s borders served as the advance guard of royal expansion. They remained on after ~ conquest, and also were joined by extr colonies that the king"s soldiers. In the very first stages of occupation a beat ruler, a non-Christian who had actually been independent, can remain in office, yet now together a topic of the king and now ruling over Christian negotiations that were in touch v the king. There were numerous royal strategies for keeping regulate of this territory. The king often required the tributary chief come send a number of his children and also other loved ones to live in ~ his court. They served as hostages in case of rebellion, and also they also came to learn how to behave as Solomonid courtiers. (147)

To entice colonists to resolve in the new territory, prize administrators, and also further cement Solomonid control, land grants were awarded understand as gult. Recipients then had actually the ideal to extract an individual tribute indigenous the farmer who functioned that land. These merged strategies were an especially successful in overcoming the Shoa mountain area.

One that the most successful Solomonid rulers in regards to empire-building to be Amda Seyon ns (r. 1314-1344 CE) who doubled the dimension of his region which now spread under from the Red Sea come the Rift Valley. Amda Seyon also had the clever idea the confining every his male relatives - other than his young - within a monastery at Gishen. The king"s successors followed the exact same strategy and thus succession disputes, or at the very least all-out polite wars, were mainly avoided until the mid-16th century CE.

Another good king was Zera-Yakob who found time not only to write several treatises on Christianity but additionally to deal crushing defeat on the seaside Muslim states in the mid-15th century CE. Dispersing Christianity through holy War was a significant aim the the kingdom"s campaigns. Fortunately for posterity, Amda Seyon guarantee he always had through him on project a priest who wrote down selection episodes. This anonymous priest videotaped the events he saw in his work The Glorious win of Amda Seyon. Here is one extract from it:

Now be no afraid in confront of the rebels; be no divided, because that God is fighting because that us…For lengthy you have actually made yourselves ready to fight for me; now be ready to fight because that Christ, together it is claimed in the book of Canons, "Slay the infidels and renegades v the sword of iron, and draw the knife in instead of of the perfect faith." Gird on then her swords, make ready your hearts, and also be not fearful in spirit, but be valiant and also put her trust in God. (quoted in von Sivers, 459)

In the mid-15th century CE, the influence of Coptic Egypt ongoing in Abyssinia v Solomonid queens adopting and adapting a Christian version of the old roman law, The law of the Kings (Fetha Nagast), i beg your pardon Egyptian Copts had codified right into a solitary volume of laws which used to everything from church matters to criminal punishments. It would remain in impact in Ethiopia until the 20th century CE. In addition, over there were various other contacts v the broader Christian civilization such together an Ethiopian embassy come the Pope in Rome in the at an early stage 14th century CE and exchanges that embassies with several European powers together the campaigns proved ever more disappointing in your attempt to regain regulate of Jerusalem from the Muslims. Indeed, because that a time, europe Christians, and specifically the Portuguese, believed that the legend the Prester John, a mythical Christian king assumed to dominion a fabulous kingdom in the midst of the Muslim world, referred to the king the Abyssinia who would surely come and also rescue the divine Land indigenous the infidels. Next from sending a secure stream that pilgrims to Jerusalem, however, Abyssinia did no involve itself in the significant crusades.


Later History

The Ethiopian Empire"s imperialism in the lengthy term just ensured the Muslim claims of east Africa and Southern Arabia at some point organised themselves into a more collective and also efficient opposition. In ~ the same time, internal rivalries in between the Solomonids and also their distinctive lack of any centralised state apparatus (despite the do the efforts of several detailed rulers) dilute Abbysinia"s capacity to respond. The Solomonids would suffer greatly at the hands of Adal in the an initial half that the 16th century when its leader, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (aka Ahmed Gragn, r. 1506-1543 CE), formed a coalition of other Muslim states and Somali chiefs. Numerous Christian churches to be torched, the monastery that Debra-Libanos to be destroyed and even Axum to be sacked. Footrest Egypt and also Portuguese traders became associated in eastern African affairs, only including to the disruption in profession networks and also general political chaos.

The genuine winners, though, that the incessant Muslim-Christian wars were the Oromo (aka Galla) people, who had their own classic religion and also who took end the southern component of Abyssinia. The Solomonid line would continue however the empire they had developed really exist in name just until a resurgence in the mid-19th century CE. In the meantime, the state was quite a arsenal of quarrelsome principalities. The relocate of the resources to the an ext centrally-placed and secure Gondar in 1636 CE to be a have fun of the brand-new geopolitical reality. There would still be part Ethiopian highpoints come come such together the defeat of one Italian intrusion in 1896 CE, the unification and expansion under Menelik II (1889-1913 CE), and also managing to remain the just African country together with Liberia no to be formally colonised by a european power, but the long line that Solomonid rulers eventually ended with possibly their most well known of emperors, Haile Selassie ns (r. 1930-1974 CE).

See more: When A Light Switch Is Turned On, The Light Comes On Immediately Because

Editorial ReviewThis post has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards before publication.


We want civilization all over the civilization to learn around history. Help us and translate this an interpretation into another language!

Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His unique interests include pottery, architecture, civilization mythology and also discovering the concepts that all people share in common. That holds one MA in politics Philosophy and is the publishing Director at WHE.