The Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia) was first founded by Habesha people in the Ethiopian Highlands
The Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia) was first founded by Habesha people in the Ethiopian Highlands
From emergence as an empire under the Aksumites to its current form as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, as well as the history of other areas in what is now Ethiopia such as the Afar Triangle. The Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia) was first founded by Habesha people in the Ethiopian Highlands. Due to migration and imperial expansion, it grew to include many other primarily Afro-Asiatic-speaking communities, including Oromos, Amhara, Somalis, Tigray, Afars, Sidama, Gurage, Agaw and Harari, among others. One of the earliest kingdoms to rise to power in the territory was the kingdom of D'mt in the 10th century BCE, which established its capital at Yeha. In the first century CE the Aksumite Kingdom rose to power in the Tigray Region with its capital at Aksum and grew into a major power on the Red Sea, subjugating Yemen and Meroe and converting to Christianity in the early fourth century. The Aksumite empire fell into decline with the rise of Islam, forcing the Ethiopians to move south into the highlands for refuge. The Aksumites gave way to the Zagwe Dynasty who established a new capital at Lalibela, before giving way to the Solomonic Dynasty in the 13th century. During the early Solomonic period Ethiopia went through military reforms and imperial expansion that made it dominate the Horn of Africa. Portuguese missionaries arrived at this time. In 1529, a conquest of Abyssinia (Futuh al-Habash) by the Somali Muslim Adal Sultanate allied with the Ottoman Empire devastated the highlands, and was only deterred by a Portuguese intervention.
With both Ethiopia and Adal greatly weakened by the war, the Oromo people were able to invade into the highlands, conquering the remains of the Adal Sultanate and pushing deep into Ethiopia. The Portuguese presence also increased, while the Ottomans began to push into what is now Eritrea, creating the Habesh Eyalet. The Portuguese brought modern weapons and baroque architecture to Ethiopia, and in 1622 converted the emperor Susenyos I to Catholicism, sparking a civil war which ended in his abdication and an expulsion of all Catholics from Ethiopia. A new capital was established at Gondar in 1632, and a period of peace and prosperity ensued until the country was split apart by warlords in the 18th century during the Zemene Mesafint. Ethiopia was reunified in 1855 under Tewodros II, beginning Ethiopia's modern history. Ethiopia began to go through a slow modernisation process under a leadership of Yohannes IV, and defended itself from an Egyptian invasion in 1874. Emperor Yohannes fought and won wars against Egyptians, Italians and Mehadists to keep his people free from foreign invaders. He was killed in action in 1889. Under Menelik II Ethiopia defeated an Italian invasion in 1896 and came to be recognised as a legitimate state by European powers.
Wall relief depicting an Egyptian expedition to the Land of Punt during the reign of Hatshepsut.
A more rapid modernisation took place under Menelik II and Haile Selassie, however this was not enough to deter another Italian invasion in 1935. The Italian army managed to occupy parts of the country from October 1935-May 1940 under a military occupation. A joint force of British and Ethiopian rebels managed to drive the Italians out of the country in 1941, and Haile Selassie was returned to the throne. Ethiopia and Eritrea united in a federation, but when Haile Selassie ended the federation in 1961 and made Eritrea a province of Ethiopia, a war for Eritrean independence occurred, lasting until 1991. Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 and the militaristic Derg Regime came to power. In 1977 Somalia invaded to try and annex the Ogaden region, but were pushed back by Ethiopian, Soviet, and Cuban forces. In 1977 and 1978 the government tortured or killed hundreds of thousands of suspected enemies in the Red Terror. After a famine in 1984 killing 1 million people, the Derg fell in 1991 and the Federal Democratic Republic was established. Ethiopia remains impoverished, but its economy has become one of the world's fastest growing. It was not until 1963 that evidence of the presence of ancient hominids was discovered in Ethiopia, many years after similar such discoveries had been made in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania. The discovery was made by Gerrard Dekker, a Dutch hydrologist, who found Acheulian stone tools that were over a million years old at Kella. Since then many important finds have propelled Ethiopia to the forefront of palaentology.
The oldest hominid discovered to date in Ethiopia is the 4.2 million year old Ardipithicus ramidus (Ardi) found by Tim D. White in 1994. The most well known hominid discovery is Lucy, found in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar region in 1974 by Donald Johanson, and is one of the most complete and best preserved, adult Australopithecine fossils ever uncovered. Lucy's taxonomic name, Australopithecus afarensis, means 'southern ape of Afar', and refers to the Ethiopian region where the discovery was made. Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago. There have been many other notable fossil findings in the country. Near Gona stone tools were uncovered in 1992 that were 2.52 million years old, these are the oldest such tools ever discovered anywhere in the world. In 2010 fossilised animal bones, that were 3.4 million years old, were found with stone-tool-inflicted marks on them in the Lower Awash Valley by an international team, led by Shannon McPherron, which is the oldest evidence of stone tool use ever found anywhere in the world. East Africa, and more specifically the general area of Ethiopia, is widely considered the site of the emergence of early Homo sapiens in the Middle Paleolithic. In 2004 fossils found near the Omo river at Kibbish by Richard Leakey in 1967 were redated to 195,000 years old, the oldest date anywhere in the world for modern Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens idaltu, found in the Middle Awash in Ethiopia in 1997, lived about 160,000 years ago.
Wall relief depicting an Egyptian expedition to the Land of Punt during the reign of Hatshepsut. The earliest records of Ethiopia appear in Ancient Egypt, during the Old Kingdom period. Egyptian traders from about 3000 BC who refer to lands south of Nubia or Kush as Punt and Yam. The Ancient Egyptians were in possession of myrrh (found in Punt), which Richard Pankhurst interprets to indicate trade between the two countries was extant from Ancient Egypt's beginnings. Pharaonic records indicate this possession of myrrh as early as the First and Second dynasties (3407–2888 BC), which was also a prized product of the Horn of Africa Region; inscriptions and pictorial reliefs also indicate ivory, panther and other animal skins, myrrh-trees and ostrich feathers from the African coastal belt; and in the Fourth Egyptian Dynasty (2789–2767 BC) a Puntite is mentioned to be in the service of the son of Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid.J. H. Breasted posited that this early trade relationship could have been realized through overland trade down the Nile and its tributaries (i.e. the Blue Nile and Atbara).
The Greek historian and geographerAgatharchides had documented seafaring among the early Egyptians: "During the prosperous period of the Old Kingdom, between the 30th and 25th centuries B. C., the river-routes were kept in order, and Egyptian ships sailed the Red Sea as far as the myrrh-country." The first known voyage to Punt occurred in the 25th century BC under the reign of Pharaoh Sahure. The most famous expedition to Punt, however, comes during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut probably around 1495 BC, as the expedition was recorded in detailed reliefs on the temple of Deir el-Bahri at Thebes. The inscriptions depict a trading group bringing back myrrh trees, sacks of myrrh, elephant tusks, incense, gold, various fragmented wood, and exotic animals. Detailed information about these two nations is sparse, and there are many theories concerning their locations and the ethnic relationship of their peoples. The Egyptians sometimes called the Land of Punt, "God's-Land", due to the "large quantities of gold, ivory, and myrrh that could be easily obtained". Evidence of Naqadan contacts include obsidian from Ethiopia and the Aegean. Etymology Ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus used the word Aethiopia (Αιθιοπία) to refer to the peoples living immediately to the south of ancient Egypt, specifically the area now known as the ancient Kingdom of Kush, now a part of modern Nubia in Egypt and Sudan, as well as all of Sub-Saharan Africa in general. In ancient times the name Ethiopia was primarily used to refer to the modern day nation of Sudan based in the upper Nile valley south of Egypt, also called Kush, and then secondarily in reference to Sub-Saharan Africa in general.
Reference to the Kingdom of Aksum designated as Ethiopia dates only as far back as the first half of 4th century following the 4th century invasion of Kush in Sudan by the Aksumite empire. Earlier inscription of EzanaHabashat (the source for "Abyssinia") in Ge'ez, South Arabian alphabet, was then translated in Greek as "Aethiopia". The state of Sheba mentioned in the Old Testament is sometimes believed to have been in Ethiopia, but more often is placed in Yemen. According to the Ethiopian narrative, best represented in the Kebra Negest, the Queen of Sheba slept with King Solomon, resulting in a child, named Ebn Melek (later Emperor Menelik I). When he was of age, Menelik returned to Israel to see his father, who sent with him the son of Zadok to accompany him with a replica of the Ark of the Covenant (Ethiosemitic: tabot). On his return with some of the Israelite priests, however, he found that Zadok's son had stolen the real Ark of the Covenant. Some believe the Ark is still being preserved today at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia.
The tradition that the biblical Queen of Sheba was a ruler of Ethiopia who visited King Solomon in Jerusalem in ancient Israel is supported by the 1st century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who identified Solomon's visitor as a queen of Egypt and Ethiopia. The first kingdom known to have existed in Ethiopia was the kingdom of D'mt, with its capital at Yeha, where a Sabaean style temple was built around 700 BC. It rose to power around the 10th century BC. The D'mt kingdom was influenced by the Sabaeans in Yemen, however it is not known to what extent. While it was once believed that D'mt was a Sabaean colony, it is now believed that Sabaean influence was minor, limited to a few localities, and disappeared after a few decades or a century, perhaps representing a trading or military colony in some sort of symbiosis or military alliance with the civilization of Dʿmt or some other proto-Aksumite state. Few inscriptions by or about this kingdom survive and very little archaeological work has taken place. As a result, it is not known whether Dʿmt ended as a civilization before Aksum's early stages, evolved into the Aksumite state, or was one of the smaller states united in the Aksumite kingdom possibly around the beginning of the 1st century. The first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia was that of Axum in the 1st century AD.
It was one of many successor kingdoms to Dʿmt and was able to unite the northern Ethiopian Highlands beginning around the 1st century BC. They established bases on the northern highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau and from there expanded southward. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Axum with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time. The origins of the Axumite Kingdom are unclear, although experts have offered their speculations about it. Even whom should be considered the earliest known king is contested: although Carlo Conti Rossiniproposed that Zoskales of Axum, mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, should be identified with one Za Haqle mentioned in the Ethiopian King Lists (a view embraced by later historians of Ethiopia such as Yuri M. Kobishchanov and Sergew Hable Sellasie), G.W.B. Huntingford argued that Zoskales was only a sub-king whose authority was limited to Adulis, and that Conti Rossini's identification can not be substantiated. Inscriptions have been found in southern Arabia celebrating victories over one GDRT, described as "nagashi of Habashat [i.e. Abyssinia] and of Axum." Other dated inscriptions are used to determine a floruit for GDRT (interpreted as representing a Ge'ez name such as Gadarat, Gedur, Gadurat or Gedara) around the beginning of the 3rd century. A bronze scepter or wand has been discovered at Atsbi Dera with an inscription mentioning "GDR of Axum". Coins showing the royal portrait began to be minted under King Endubis toward the end of the 3rd century. Christianity was introduced into the country by Frumentius, who was consecrated first bishop of Ethiopia by Saint Athanasius of Alexandriaabout 330. Frumentius converted Ezana, who left several inscriptions detailing his reign both before and after his conversion. One inscription found at Axum, states that he conquered the nation of the Bogos, and returned thanks to his father, the god Mars, for his victory.
Later inscriptions show Ezana's growing attachment to Christianity, and Ezana's coins bear this out, shifting from a design with disc and crescent to a design with a cross. Expeditions by Ezana into the Kingdom of Kush at Meroe in Sudan may have brought about its demise, though there is evidence that the kingdom was experiencing a period of decline beforehand. As a result of Ezana's expansions, Aksum bordered the Roman province of Egypt. The degree of Ezana's control over Yemen is uncertain. Though there is little evidence supporting Aksumite control of the region at that time, his title, which includes king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan (all in modern-day Yemen), along with gold Aksumite coins with the inscriptions, "king of the Habshat" or "Habashite," indicate that Aksum might have retained some legal or actual footing in the area. Toward the close of the 5th century, a great company of monks known as the Nine Saints are believed to have established themselves in the country. Since that time, monasticism has been a power among the people, and not without its influence on the course of events.
The Axumite Kingdom is recorded once again as controlling part – if not all – of Yemen in the 6th century. Around 523, the Jewish king Dhu Nuwas came to power in Yemen and, announcing that he would kill all the Christians, attacked an Aksumite garrison at Zafar, burning the city's churches. He then attacked the Christian stronghold of Najran, slaughtering the Christians who would not convert. Emperor Justin I of the Eastern Roman empire requested that his fellow Christian, Kaleb, help fight the Yemenite king, and around 525, Kaleb invaded and defeated Dhu Nuwas, appointing his Christian follower Sumuafa' Ashawa' as his viceroy. This dating is tentative, however, as the basis of the year 525 for the invasion is based on the death of the ruler of Yemen at the time, who very well could have been Kaleb's viceroy. Procopius records that after about five years, Abraha deposed the viceroy and made himself king (Histories 1.20). Despite several attempted invasions across the Red Sea, Kaleb was unable to dislodge Abreha, and acquiesced in the change; this was the last time Ethiopian armies left Africa until the 20th century when several units participated in the Korean War. Eventually Kaleb abdicated in favor of his son Wa'zeb and retired to a monastery, where he ended his days.
Abraha later made peace with Kaleb's successor and recognized his suzerainty. Despite this reverse, under Ezana and Kaleb the kingdom was at its height, benefiting from a large trade, which extended as far as India and Ceylon, and were in constant communication with the Byzantine Empire. Details of the Axumite Kingdom, never abundant, become even more scarce after this point. The last king known to mint coins is Armah, whose coinage refers to the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614. An early Muslim tradition is that the Negus Sahama offered asylum to a group of Muslims fleeing persecution during Muhammad's life (615), but Stuart Munro-Hay believes that Axum had been abandoned as the capital by then – although Kobishchanov states that Ethiopian raiders plagued the Red Sea, preying on Arabian ports at least as late as 702. Some people believed the end of the Axumite Kingdom is as much of a mystery as its beginning. Lacking a detailed history, the kingdom's fall has been attributed to a persistent drought, overgrazing, deforestation, plague, a shift in trade routes that reduced the importance of the Red Sea—or a combination of these factors. Munro-Hay cites the Muslim historian Abu Ja'far al-Khwarazmi/Kharazmi (who wrote before 833) as stating that the capital of "the kingdom of Habash" was Jarma. Unless Jarma is a nickname for Axum (hypothetically from Ge'ez girma, "remarkable, revered"), the capital had moved from Axum to a new site, yet undiscovered.
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