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Home to ancient empires dating back to the waning centuries of the first millennium BC, Ethiopia has a storied history driven by the rule of great kings and emperors. As one of the few African nations to avoid the colonial ambitions of Europe, Ethiopia maintained its sovereignty well into the 20th century, remaining independent until the invasion of Italian forces led by Mussolini in 1935. It was during this period that noted Emperor Haile Selassie brought Ethiopia to the forefront of global affairs, as his nation endured the conflicts of World War II, and he strove to set Ethiopia on a path of modernization and progressive reform.

Geography and Climate[]

Ethiopia, Africa's tenth largest nation, covers the majority of the Horn of Africa, nestled along the continent's northeastern coast. Bisected by the Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia's geography is dominated by highly elevated plateaus and disjointed mountain ranges. Sitting atop the African tectonic plate, which has been in the process of splitting apart for millions of years, Ethiopia has found itself on the receiving end of frequent earthquakes throughout history. The country is also home to several dozen active and dormant volcanoes, including Erta Ale, one of the few volcanoes in the world with an ever-present lake of lava on its summit. The climate of Ethiopia varies greatly, although the nation as a whole is part of a tropical zone with heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon season followed by a dry, moderate winter.

Origins of Human Development[]

The Great Rift Valley cutting across central Ethiopia has long been considered the birthplace of human development. Numerous fossil remains have been discovered within the valley, in particular the famous skeleton known as "Lucy," which is estimated to be approximately three million years old. These early Hominids later developed into the earliest Homo sapiens, who lived throughout Ethiopia in small groups more than 100,000 years ago.


As early as the 10th millennium BC, Ethiopia was inhabited by tribal peoples who subsisted using early forms of agriculture and animal husbandry. Later during the height of the ancient Egyptian civilization, traders from both nations established routes for the exchange of gold, obsidian, ivory, and other precious materials. These early inhabitants of Ethiopia, who lived in what is known as the mysterious Land of Punt, developed many of the early agricultural practices that are still part of Ethiopian culture today.

Early Kingdoms[]

As the most advanced of the early Ethiopian kingdoms, the powerful Axumite Empire is well documented in history, but also steeped in legend. Founded in roughly the 4th century BC, Axum grew to become a powerful center of trade over the next five hundred years. The valuable commodities of frankincense and myrrh, harvested from trees prevalent in Ethiopia, brought great wealth to the city of Axum and its people. Through the exportation of these goods, plus lucrative trades in ivory and various precious metals, Axum became an integral part of the trade routes connecting Egypt, Rome, and India, enough so to facilitate the minting of currency within Axum to support the flourishing local economy.

However, after centuries of prosperity, legends say the expansive empire's downfall came at the hands of a rebellious queen named Gudit. As the story goes, Axum had long been a stronghold of Christianity, and the Jewish queen Gudit sought the throne by way of conquest, purportedly devastating the countryside before murdering the royal family of Axum. Although the story of Gudit's life and brief reign is mysterious and controversial, it can be said with certainty that the decline of Axum did coincide with her speculated arrival in the 10th century AD.

The Zagwe Dynasty, established in the early 12th century after the fall of Axum, was the first dynasty of the Ethiopian Empire, which would control the nation well into the 20th century. Although the Zagwe Dynasty was only in power for little more than a century, they contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity throughout Ethiopia, which would play a major role in the future of the country.

Return of the Solomonic Dynasty[]

In 1270 AD, the monarchy that would control Ethiopia for the coming centuries arose under the leadership of Emperor Yekuno Amlak, founder of the Solomonic Dynasty. The rulers of the Solomonic Dynasty attributed their lineage to the great biblical king Solomon and his queen, Makeda. As legend has it, in the 10th century BC, Queen Makeda traveled from her kingdom in Sheba (thought to have formed part of modern Ethiopia) to Israel in an effort to learn from the wisdom of revered king Solomon. Although accounts differ as to her relationship with Solomon, Makeda later gave birth to a son, Menelik. Said to have been educated in the court of Solomon before returning to Ethiopia, Menelik brought with him the legendary Ark of the Covenant as a gift from Solomon. Ruling sometime around 950 BC, Menelik I was the originator of the biblical ancestry held sacred by later Emperors of Ethiopia.

Nearly 2,000 years after the reign of Menelik, Yekuno Amlak claimed to have traced his ancestry through a long line of relatives to establish a clear connection to the legendary emperor and his parents. This newly formed Solomonic Dynasty maintained its rule over Ethiopia for more than five centuries, lasting until the reign of Haile Selassie in the 1970s. Fully supported by the influential Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which to this day still claims to be holding the legendary Ark of the Covenant), the Solomonic emperors enjoyed relative stability during their reign, despite several attempted incursions from outside the country.

Islamic Invasion[]

During the mid-16th century, Ethiopia was bordered by the increasingly powerful Islamic Kingdom of Adal, led by Imam Ahmad Gargn, known colloquially as "The Conqueror." Initiating a holy war against the Christians of Ethiopia in 1529, Imam Ahmad spurred the great conflict that came to be known as the Ethiopian-Adal War. As battles raged for nearly 15 years, Ahmad was nearly successful in wiping out the entire kingdom, laying claim to vast swaths of Ethiopian territory.

After suffering such great losses, the Ethiopian Empire was forced to call on the assistance of Portuguese reinforcements to help in repelling the Islamic armies. Explorers and missionaries from Portugal had reached Ethiopia in the prior decades, intent on converting the populace to Roman Catholicism, and were fighting a war of their own against the Islamic Ottomans. After a prolonged conflict that eventually drew the Ottomans in to aid the Adals, the war was settled in 1543 following the deaths of both Imam Ahmad and the Portuguese general Cristovao da Gama. Ethiopia was left to recover from the war, but the rapid spread of Catholicism in the surrounding regions led to internal strife as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church struggled to maintain a firm grip on the nation.

Age of Princes[]

The period known as the Zamana Mesafent, or "Age of Princes" in the 18th century was marked by near constant turmoil within Ethiopia. The development of opposing religious factions, along with constant regional disputes, led to the collapse of central government control. As battles erupted between the princes, warlords, and nobility, each attempting to divide the region and increase their own power, the common people of Ethiopia were forced to endure the ravages of these futile conflicts.

The Emperor who finally brought an end to the Age of Princes, Kassa Hailu, first gained notoriety as an outlaw and highwayman. Assembling an army and amassing great wealth through his smuggling operations, Kassa Hailu gained popular support by sharing his riches with the poor. After uniting several of the decentralized provinces and gaining a strong following, Hailu was eventually crowned as Emperor Tewodros II in 1855. Following his coronation, Ethiopia as a whole stabilized, and his reign is considered by many to mark the beginnings of modern Ethiopia.

Haile Selassie[]

Perhaps the best remembered of Ethiopia's great emperors, Haile Selassie, ascended the throne in 1930 and quickly gained recognition throughout the world for Ethiopia and its people. During his reign he made a strong push for the abolition of slavery, a prospect that had been suggested, but never fulfilled, by his many predecessors. Emperor Selassie was also deeply concerned with modernizing his nation and ending many of the feudal policies that still held sway in Ethiopia.

Italian Occupation[]

In 1935, the Fascist Italian regime led by Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in an attempt to claim the territory as a province of Italy. Facing a superior military force, Ethiopia was unable to repel the invasion, and by 1936, Mussolini had declared the establishment of an Italian Empire including the occupied Ethiopian territory. During this period, Haile Selassie was forced into exile, taking refuge in Great Britain throughout the occupation. Selassie made his case for the defense of Ethiopia to the League of Nations, including a stern reproach of Italy's use of mustard gas against Ethiopian soldiers and citizens alike. Despite his plea, international assistance was not forthcoming, and years passed before the British East African Campaign of World War II was successful in ending the Italian occupation. Haile Selassie returned to his throne as Emperor of Ethiopia following Italy's defeat, and he would rule successfully for nearly 40 years before the arrival of a new threat.

The Derg[]

In 1974, a Communist-led military coup resulted in Haile Selassie's removal from power and imprisonment within the royal palace. The group deposing him, known as the Derg, formed the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia and ruled with an iron fist. Selassie died mysteriously while imprisoned, a controversial subject that continues to stir debate today. As the Derg and their communist ideals were not universally supported, their military coup also marked the beginning of the Ethiopian Civil War. This great conflict claimed the lives of several hundred thousand innocent bystanders as fighting continued for over 15 years. In 1991, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front was finally successful in overthrowing the government, leading to the creation of a new constitution and a democratically elected government.

Present-day Ethiopia[]

Known today as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the nation faces a number of major socio-economic issues as the second most populous country in Africa. The wide-ranging geographic isolation facing some groups within the country has made it increasingly difficult to provide education, healthcare, and, in many cases, the basic necessities of life. Although the nation currently holds multiparty elections, corruption within the government is a constant concern, and crackdowns in recent years have led to international condemnation over the killing of protesters and opposition party members.

Ethiopian Trivia[]

The calendar used in Ethiopia, known as the Ge'ez, is based on the Coptic calendar developed in ancient Egypt. Thanks to the Ge'ez, Ethiopia is the only nation in the world with a 13th month.

Legend has it that the stimulating effects of coffee were first discovered in Ethiopia, when a goatherd named Kaldi observed his goats bucking wildly after eating the berries of a coffee plant.

Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa is one of the highest capitals in the world, sitting at an elevation nearly 8000 ft (2400 m) above sea level.

Haile Selassie[]


Known as the "Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah," "King of Kings," and "Elect of God," Haile Selassie ruled Ethiopia as emperor for nearly 40 years in the 20th century. Born as Lij Tafari Makonnen in 1892, the man who came to be known as Haile Selassie spent his life serving the interests of Ethiopia and bringing his nation to the forefront of African politics. Best known for reforming the ancient feudal practices of Ethiopia through his attempts at modernizing the nation, Haile Selassie worked tirelessly to gain international recognition for Ethiopia on the world stage. His legacy in global politics has been surpassed only by his role as the messiah of the Rastafari religion, among whose followers he is venerated as the god who will lead the Rastas back to their homeland of Ethiopia.

Early Life and Politics[]

As the son of a provincial governor, Haile Selassie spent his formative years under the tutelage of several mentors selected by his father, including an influential monk named Abba Samuel. As his education continued, Selassie was seen fit to rule as governor of several minor provinces, and by age 17, had already established himself as a rising political star. During his time as governor, Selassie emerged as a progressive thinker among his peers, introducing policies that reduced the feudal control of the nobles by increasing the authority of the central government.

In 1916, Haile Selassie was named Regent Plenipotentiary, serving under Empress Zewdito, placing him in the position of heir apparent to the throne. With both conservative and progressive supporters alike, Selassie was the ideal regent. However, over the course of his appointment, Selassie's support among the progressives throughout Ethiopia continued to grow, much to the chagrin of the conservative Empress. Although Empress Zewdito was the nominal leader of Ethiopia, as regent, Selassie handled much of the government's administration himself. During this period, Selassie is credited with ensuring Ethiopia's membership in the League of Nations, an inclusion that came about as a result of his efforts to abolish slavery in Ethiopia.

Emperor to Exile[]

As Haile Selassie's influence and popular support continued to climb, the Empress was forced to confront the would-be ruler. In 1928, Empress Zewdito attempted to remove Selassie from office by accusing him of treason, but her efforts found little backing. Selassie's popularity at this point was widespread, and he garnered a great deal of support from within the military, leaving Zewdito with little means to assert her claims. As a result of the confrontation, Zewdito was forced to name Haile Selassie King of Ethiopia, a title beneath her own, but still acknowledging his increasing authority within the nation. Less than two years later, the Empress died of unexplained causes, leaving the throne of Ethiopia vacant for Selassie to claim as his own. It was following his coronation as emperor in 1930 that he first came to use the name Haile Selassie, which meant "Power of the Trinity" in the Amharic language used in Ethiopia. Soon after taking the throne, Selassie was instrumental in the creation of the first written constitution of Ethiopia, a task he would later mention in his autobiography as having planned since his time as regent.

In 1935, the Italian regime led by Benito Mussolini declared war on Ethiopia, invading in the fall. This conflict came to be known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War (the first having occurred in the late 1800s). After brief fighting between the Italian and Ethiopian forces, including several battles led by Selassie himself, Italy succeeded in occupying and eventually annexing the African nation.

With Italy's successful campaign against Ethiopia, Haile Selassie was forced into exile, but not before pleading the case for Ethiopia's defense at the League of Nations. Despite his galvanizing speech that railed against the Fascist movement of Italy, his plea fell on deaf ears, and Selassie was left to bide his time. He would spend the next five years residing in England, where he continued to speak out against the Italian occupation and attempted to garner support from the international community for a movement to reclaim his country.

Return to Power[]

With the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, efforts were finally undertaken to liberate Ethiopia from the Italian regime, spearheaded by the British during the East African Campaign. Joined by selected units of the Ethiopian military, this liberation army came to be known as the Gideon Force and was instrumental in the fight to retake the Ethiopian homeland. By 1942, the Italians had surrendered and were forced to acknowledge the renewed sovereignty of Ethiopia, with Haile Selassie returning to the capital city of Addis Ababa. Having found little solidarity in the League of Nations, Selassie became a major proponent of the United Nations, with its increased provisions for international security, and secured Ethiopia's position as a founding member in 1948.

Decades of Rule[]

Over the following years, Selassie continued his quest to modernize Ethiopia through reform while also improving his nation's foreign affairs and international recognition. In the 1960s Selassie led the Organization of African Unity, predecessor to the modern African Union. With the goal of creating solidarity between the independent states of the African continent, Selassie believed that a unified voice would strengthen the people of Africa. Although Selassie tried to establish the organization as more than just an ideological entity, the organization was left with little authority or actual power without the backing of a military force.

While working with the international community, Selassie was also focused on improving the welfare of his people at home. Although his efforts to break the nobility's hold on land ownership were met with limited success, the initiative sparked a movement that carried on past his reign. Reforms were also made to provide greater access to educational facilities, while economic programs ensured a just system of taxation. Despite the goodwill generated by these domestic programs, Selassie's efforts to increase his own authority through modifications to the constitution resulted in an increasingly visible dissident movement.

Late in the 1960s, Marxist ideologies took root in Ethiopia, and as the people suffered through a famine and drought in the early 1970s, Selassie's popularity dwindled. An economic crisis that led to soaring inflation would be the final straw, as Selassie tenuously maintained his position until 1974, when he was deposed and arrested by a Marxist military group known as The Derg.

Imprisonment and Death[]

While living under house arrest, Haile Selassie died mysteriously in 1975, with conflicting reports as to the exact cause. While the official account from the military stated that he died as a result of illness, many still believe that he was assassinated by his captors. It wasn't until some 25 years later, in November of 2000, that Haile Selassie was finally given a proper funeral befitting his status.

Rastafarian God[]

The Rastafarian Movement came about through the words of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, whose philosophical views created the foundations for the religion as it is known today. Garvey's words "Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer" were seen as a prophecy fulfilled by the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930. Although Selassie was himself an Orthodox Christian, he never confirmed nor denied his position as the Rastafarian messiah, and he visited Jamaica in 1966 to be met by tens of thousands of Rastafarian believers.

Judgment of History[]

Haile Selassie is widely viewed today as both an eloquent statesman and a passionate leader who faced a number of difficulties during his reign, yet continually sought only to improve his people's welfare and his nation's stability. Selassie's views on international cooperation and diplomacy were influential not only in the future of Ethiopia, and Africa as a whole, but also throughout the international community.

Unique Components[]

Mehal Sefari[]

The Mehal Sefari was an elite unit of Imperial guardsmen who protected the emperors of Ethiopia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Originally serving as the personal bodyguards for the emperors of Ethiopia, the Mehal Sefari grew to become a formidable brigade of the Ethiopian military. Consisting of specialized units of infantry, cavalry, artillery and marksmen, the Mehal Sefari's status as the elite force of Ethiopia was ensured by the rigorous training and modern equipment provided to them.


A Stele is a large, upright slab of stone or wood used as a monument to commemorate great leaders, victories in battle, or occasionally to mark territorial boundaries. Found throughout Ethiopia and the surrounding regions, the stelae were often intricately inscribed with the details of the person or event being memorialized. The Obelisk of Axum, one such stele, was constructed in the mid-4th century AD in the Ethiopian city of Axum, but was later broken down and shipped to Italy during the occupation of Ethiopia by Mussolini's forces. Standing over 23 meters (75 feet) tall and weighing 150 tons, the great stele was returned to Ethiopia and reassembled in 2008 as part of an effort by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.