A History Of The Ethiopian Empire – The Only African Nation That Was Not Colonized

A History Of The Ethiopian Empire – The Only African Nation That Was Not Colonized
A History Of The Ethiopian Empire – The Only African Nation That Was Not Colonized

Ethiopia, located in what in the Horn of Africa, is the only country in the continent that has never been colonized by European imperialists. The Ethiopian Empire, or Abyssinia, as it was previously called, was located in what is present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea, and existed roughly from 1270, which was the beginning of the Solomonid Dynasty, to 1974, when a coup d’état led to the overthrow of the Emperor Halle Selassie 1-led monarchy.

Before its founding, the Aksumite Empire had grown and flourished in the region, sprawling from about the 4th century BC to the 10 century CE. Thereafter, the Zagwe Dynasty assumed rulership until 1270, when the Solomonic dynasty saw its overthrow.

One of the oldest states in the world, Ethiopia is the only indigenous African nation that successfully thwarted the scramble for Africa by imperial colonial powers during the 19th century. It was only briefly invaded by the Italians from 1935 until its liberation during World War 11. The Ethiopians, in 1896, inflicted a terrible blow to the occupying Italian army and limited their invasion to present-day Eritrea, to which they later added Italian Somaliland.

Ethiopia is home to an ancient African Christian church and has one of the oldest continuous civilizations and cultural history that dates back to millennia. It is mentioned about 50 times in the bible, and for slaved Africans and their descendants in the USA, it has since come to symbolize black pride and dignity.

At the turn of the 20th century, the last Ethiopian emperor assumed much significance for many people of African heritage, seen as the messiah that will lead the black race to the Promised Land and free them from colonial oppression. Pitted against the Anglo-American stereotype that Africa was bereft of any form of civilization, and as such in need of supervision to embrace modernization, Ethiopia symbolizes an ancient nation that predates European civilization.

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This pride was to, however, lead to the fall of the last emperor in 1974. He had moved to effect constitutional monarchy in the face of apparent indifference to the plight and suffering of the famine-struck kingdom between 1972 and 1974.

Early History

From archaeological discoveries, human settlement in what is today known as Ethiopia is very ancient, with remains of earliest ancestors of the human species found in archaeological sites. Coupled with Eritrea and the southernmost region of the Red Sea coast of Sudan, this area is seen as the most likely location for the land the ancient Egyptian referred to as Punt, first mentioned around the 25th century BCE. It morphed into a state from 980 BCE in what was later known as Abyssinia. However, it should be noted that the dates may be associated more with dynastic lineage than actual dates of the establishment of the state.

Zagwe Dynasty

Ethiopia was ruled by the Zagwe dynasty from the end of the kingdom of Axum roughly from the 9th or 10th century to 1270, when Emperor Yekuna Amlak defeated and annihilated the last king of Zagwe at the battlefield. Zagwe is thought to come from the Ge’ez phrase ‘Ze-Agaw’, which means ‘of Agaw’ and was in reference to the Agaw people. Present-day Eritrea was conquered by the Umayyads around 710 but historically Ethiopia was shielded from Muslim attack because of the hospitality the Muslims enjoyed during the time the prophet Muhammad spent there.


It’s largely uncertain how many of the Zagwe kings they were. Documents provide a list of kings ranging from five to 16 which belong to the dynasty, ruling for a total of between 133 to 333 years (there are other possibilities, including 137 years, 250 years, and 373 years). There is a general consensus among historians and scholars that the founding king was Mara Takla Haymanot, who was the son-in-law to the last king of Axum, Dil Na’od.

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Solomonid Dynasty

In the year 1270, the Zagwe dynasty fell, overthrown by a king who claimed lineage with Aksumite emperors and thus of Solomon (hence the reason for the name ‘Solomonid’). The dynasty was born of and then ruled by Habesha, from where we have the name Abyssinia. The Solomonic dynasty assumes the role of the traditional royal house of the Ethiopian empire, as it claimed lineage from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who history says gave birth to the first king Menelik described in the bible to have visited Solomon in Jerusalem. Menelik 11 and then his daughter, Zewditu, would later become the last Ethiopian monarchs with an uninterrupted direct male descendant from King Solomon and the queen of Sheba. The last emperor, Haile Selassie was in the female line, through his paternal grandmother.

The Solomonic dynasty continued to rule Ethiopia until 1974 when Haile Selassie was deposed, with some members of the royal family imprisoned while others went into exile. In recent years, members of the royal family have since returned to live in the country.

Italian invasion and WW11

Italian soldiers, commanded by Marshal Emilio De Bono, invaded Ethiopia in 1835, leading to the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. It lasted for seven months before Italy declared victory. It was unanimously condemned by the then League of Nations (which was later to become the United Nations), though not much was done to rein in Italian aggression. In 1941, Ethiopia was liberated by Allied Forces in North Africa. In 1951, Eritrea, hitherto under the Italian colonial mandate, was ceded to Ethiopia by the UN, with condition that it will retain a special status as an autonomous province.

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However, in 1961, that arrangement was revoked by emperor Selassie, leading to a 30-year war of independence. After his deposition, the war continued, until the international community recognised Eritrea as a sovereign state in 1993.

In 1974, a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military regime, the ‘Derg’ which was led by Mengistu Haile Miriam, deposed Haile Selassie, abolished the monarchy and established a one-party communist state. Subsequently, Selassie was imprisoned, and later died under ambiguous circumstances, ostensibly from being denied medical treatment. This formally led to the end of the Ethiopian Empire and the end of an ancient historical regime.

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