ETHIOPIAN MEDIEVAL HISTORY

 

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Transition to medieval history (1ooo- 1150 AD)

In the ancient/antiquity history of Ethiopia the last years were marked by a period of churches and monasteries built in remote locations and hard to reach destinations for protection against external threats. The most notable attack on chritianity however came from within. Yodit who is said to have been a muslim, was powerful enough to go after what remained of the axumite dynasty. Her main strategy of ensuring power was executing those who were known to be descendants of the Axumite Empire. After what can be seen as a clensing, Yodit devoted a good part of her 40 years reign in destroying christian churches and documents all over the country.

Yodits descendants filled her shoes after her death but lacked the strength and power that she displayed. The third generation of Yodits decendants was over thrown by a Lord of the time known as Mara Teklehaimanot. Thus began what is known as the Zagwe dynasty

 

Zagwe dynasty (1150-1270 AD)


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The Zagwe dynasty, begun by King Mara Teklehaimanot, saw a succession of kings that ruled Ethiopia. Perhaps the most notable was King Lalibela, known as the surviving child of Axumite decent who found refuge in Shewa during the slaughter period of Yodit..

The era of the Zagwe dynasty was marked by isolation from the external world. The internal threat posed by the likes of Yodit also had its toll on the Zagwe dynasty. King Lalibela who often claimed to have been lead by the vision of God mobilized his people to build one of the biggest wonders of the world: the rock hewn churches of Lalibela.

Designed to protect against any foreign attacks, Lalibela built a chain of churches in a process which took 23 years of hard labor. The churches had labyriths, massive water reservoirs and tunnels which made defense against external attacks relatively easier.

Gradually the isolation from the external world came to an end as the Zagwe dynasty joined its global coalition to protect its territory from the ever growing muslim attack. In particular during the reign of King Wedem Ar'ad of the Zagwe in the fourteenth century, Ethiopia was forging alliance with several european countries, especially Rome. This eventually lead to a parternship where European crusaders settled in Ethiopia.

 

Early Gondar period (1632-1769)


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The Tigray city that we know as Adwa today became the head quarter of the crusaders who at the time were strong allies of the Zagwe. The contrubution of these jesuits in Ethiopia was significant as they played an important role in building churches and infrastructures in different part of the country. However in the 17th century, the crusaders were no longer welcome. Upon the death of king Susenyos, his son Fassiledes became his successor. Fassiledes/ also known as Fasil/ made the city of Gondar his capital, where he built his wonderous castle named after him.

Fasil had little tolerance for the European crusaders who, among others, tried to preach a different version of Christianity: Catholic doctrine. He took the measure of expelling the Europeans which was not taken lightely and entailed resistance.

Meanwhile new developments were taking part in the south East of Ethiopia. Trade via the mediterannean sea had gradually entailed the introduction of Islam, particularly in areas around Harar. This stronghold of the new muslim governance was out of the control of the Zagwe, as both civilizations were weary of the other throughout the Zagwe dynasty.

The issue with the Crusaders however brought about a historic event where Fasiledes forged alliance with the south western parts of Ethiopia. It is a historic moment where two Ethiopian powers weary of each other joined hand to fight external threat. The tact of Fasiladas of bringing the Muslim Sultan on board showed his tact and the resistance of the Crusaders was easily broken

Zemene Mesafint (1769-1855 AD)

 

The line of kings that ruled since the imposition of the Zagwe dynasty governed much of Ethiopia by relying upon getting the submission or alliance of feudal lords, which shared the territories of the country as landlords. The feudal lords were fairly powerful and armed. Kings required tact, alliance, acceptance and most of all military might to subdue these feudal lords and maintain order in their kingdom..

Upon the death of king Eyasu the first however, no successor with the capacity to rule and manage these landlords was to be found. Ethiopia therefore came accross a century where there was no central government. The period was marked by internal strife among feudal lords who became war lords, and where the Ethiopia as we know it today was non existant.

This decentralization and also lawlessness which created a chaotic Ethiopia could have ended only if one of the lords was powerful enough to subdue the others. And after a dark century a new Ethiopia emerged, but the man who achieved in writing the first lines of modern Ethiopia was from an unlikely background.

 

Proceed to MODERN ETHIOPIAN HISTORY

 

Related links

 

- ANCIENT ETHIOPIAN HISTORY

- 21ST CENTURY ETHIOPIA

- HISTORICAL ATTRACTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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