The Ethiopian Empire, also known as Abyssinia, was in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea. At its height the empire also included Northern Somalia, Djibouti, Southern Egypt, Eastern Sudan, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia and existed from approximately 1137 (beginning of Zagwe Dynasty) until 1974 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'etat. It was in its time the oldest state in the world, and the only native African nation to successfully resist the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers during the 19th century.
Human settlement in Ethiopia is very ancient with earliest ancestors to the human species discovered. Together with Eritrea and the southeastern part of the Red Sea coast of Sudan, it is considered the most likely location of the land known to the ancient Egyptians as Land of Punt whose first mention dates to the 25th century BC. The beginnings of a state were evident in the area that would become Abyssinia by 980 BC, which also serves as its legendary date of establishment. This date may have more to do with dynastic lineage than the actual establishment of a state.
By the 400s BC, the Kingdom of Axum was established on the coast and made itself known as a seafaring people active in the spice trade to India. They became known to the Romans no later than the 30s BC when Augustus conquered Egypt, and it is believed by then the square-rigged Axumite galleys were disdaining the long slow coastal trade route and riding the Monsoon winds to and from India, moreover, having established trading 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, and by the third century Rome had established trade entrepots 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 both became Christian, and conquered the neighboring ancient kingdom of Kush. References to that time thereafter began referring to them as 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 trading with both the Western Roman Empire or the barbarians who supplanted it and the Byzantine Empire until the Islamic conquest of Egypt ca 640 CE cut the Empire off from European markets. Indications are the Empire turned inland, locating its capital for example further west and expanding its territory in the uplands both to the south and west. References to "Ethiopia" and "Ethopian 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, but in general, the Empire went into a slow declining spiral but endured until the last Axumite king was killed by the mysterious Queen Gudit around 960.
Ethiopian Dark Ages
After the conquest of Aksum 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 Aksumite 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 Aksumite 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 Aksumite 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 Aksum 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 Aksumite kings.
In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage with the Aksumite 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.
Scramble for Africa and Modernization
The 1880s were marked by the Scramble for Africa and modernization of Ethiopia. In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, conflicts with Italy resulted in the Battle of Adowa. In this battle, the Ethiopians surprised the world by defeating the colonial power and remaining independent under the rule of Menelik II. Italy and Ethiopia signed a provisional treaty of peace on October 26, 1896.
Italian Invasion and WWII
In 1935 Italian soldiers commanded by Marshal Emilio De Bono invaded Ethiopia starting the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The war lasted seven months before an Italian victory was declared. The invasion was condemned by the League of Nations, though not much was done to end the hostility. Ethiopia became part of Italian East Africa until its liberation in 1941 by Ethiopian partisans strongly supported by Allied forces in North Africa.
Ethiopia received Eritrea after World War II, which remained within it after the dissolution of the monarchy until Eritrea's separation in 1993.
Rise of Derg
In 1974 a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg", led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, deposed Haile Selassie and established a one-party communist state. Haile Selassie was imprisoned and died under unclear circumstances, the most likely known rumour being that he was suffocated with an ether-soaked pillow.
- Adekumobi, Saheed A. (2007). The History of Ethiopia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 219 Pages. ISBN 0-31332-273-2.
- Pankhurst, Richard (2001). The Ethiopians: A History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 299 Pages. ISBN 0-63122-493-9.
- Shillington, Kevin (2004). Encyclopedia of African History, Vol. 1. London: Routledge. pp. 1912 Pages. ISBN 1-57958-245-1.