Kingdom of Ethiopia (Abyssinia)

Kingdom Of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) was the successor Kingdom of the Axumite Empire. The kingdom expanded Ethiopia's borders in a more southernly trajectory.

Zagwe Dynasty (1150-1270)

More Info: List of Zagwe Kings


With the emmigration of the Axumite ruling elites to the interior of Ethiopia, due to decline in trade and environmental degradation, the Ethiopian kingdom engaged in massive expansion south, to the Shoan Plateau. This expansion came with the Zagwe Dynasty in 1150, who overthrew the old Axumite elites. Expansion was achieved with a massive military force.


With territorial conquest, local leaders were replaced with members of the royal family, friends, and military leaders. Awarding large estates to those loyal to the royal house, expanded the feudal system in Ethiopia. In exchange for property, estate nobles taxed the peasantry. They were to raise soldiers to defend their province and defend the Ethiopian Kingdom. 

The latter political arrangements were backed by missionaries, which proselytized conquered peoples. Numerous monasteries were established in territories, perpetuating Ethiopian Christian culture. At this time rock carved churches were constructed. The latter were carved under Emperor Lalibela, who ruled from 1200-1250. The rocked-carved churches expressed the deeply religious mindset of the Ethiopian Kingdom from its reconnected ties with Jerusalem via Fatimid Egypt.

Economic Revival

During the Zagwe Dynasty, the Ethiopian Kingdom experienced economic revival. Contacts with the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt, renewed trade with the muslim world. Ethiopia exported gold, ivory, and the very important frankincense. Slaves especially female slaves were sold to Yemen and south-western Arabia as concubines and domestics taken from Lake Tana. Male slaves would be exported to be used as slave soldiers in India.  Some of these slave would acquire great power, status like Malik AmbarAbram Hannibal, an Eritrean/Ethiopian, servant of Tsar Peter the Great and great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin. Abyssinian law forbade the export of Christians to be used as slaves in muslim lands.

Solomonid (1270-1550)

Dynastic Disputes

In 1270, the Zagwe rulers were overthrown by the Solomonid. They claimed descent from the union of Solomon and Queen of Sheba. The Solomonid came about with a fusion of Geez and Cushitic speaking people, birthing the Amhara people, who remain culturally dominant in modern day Ethiopia. Initially with numerous dynastic disputes, a novel solution to dynastic rivalry was introduced. When the king was selected, all rivals were locked up in the mountain fort of Gishen.


Under the Solomonid Dynasty, the Ethiopian Empire expanded further south to Bali and north to Massawa. The expansion was partially by conquest and partially by proselytizing, with the building of monasteries. Conversion was not deeply embedded. During this phase, the kingdom stopped building in stone and began building with more perishable items. The Axumite architectural traditions were abandoned.

With the selling of thousands of slave victims to the Ottoman Empire and to south-eastern Arabia, a population decline in the southwest of Lake Tana occured. The population decline caused a great influx of Oromo pastoralist into the Ethiopian Kingdom. Tigray to the north was also integrated into the kingdom. The capital was moved to Gondar. Under the Solomonid, Ethiopia became decentralized. Nobles controlled the provinces. 

War with Adal

The expansion brought the kingdom in conflict with the Sultanate of Adal, at the Shoan Plateau. The military of Adal was more up to date than the Ethiopian. At the battle of Shimba-Kure, the Ethiopian was defeated. The Ethiopian hold on the southern region was weakened. Adal never consolidated its victories, so hold on conquered territories was also weak. Ethiopia requested assistance from Christian Europe. With assistance from Portugal, in 1543, Ethiopia was able to regain parts of her territory. By 1559, Ethiopia had regained all her territory, loss to Adal.

Tewodros and Menelik

In the 1850s, the province of Qwara, Lij Kassa from wars with the Ottoman Egypt upgraded his army unit with artillery and fire-arms. In 1855, he invaded the central highlands and took over the throne. He proceeded to consolidated his authority by replacing hereditary provincial nobels with salaried administrative servants. He also confiscated church lands, alienating the church and the broader populace.  In 1868, the British invaded Ethiopia, to free a British consular arrested by Tewodros. At the Battle of Magdala, Tewodros was defeated and commited suicide rather than risking capture. The British abandoned the region.

Johannes IV took over the throne. He restored traditional hereditary provinces. Under Johannes, Italy invades what would be Eritrea. In 1885, at the Battle of Dogali, Johannes defeated Italian forces, preventing further Italian incursions on Ethiopian land. Menelik a rival to Johannes solidified his influence in the south. At the death of Johannes, he took over the throne. Menelik established the capital at Addis Ababa. Occupying Eritrea, the Italians still posed a threat. In 1896, Italy invaded Ethiopia and was defeated at the Battle of Adawa, keeping Ethiopia independent, during the Scramble for Africa by Europeans.

Works Cited