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Ethiopia (Menelik II)



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.

Menelik II[]



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.


The Sebastopol was a large mortar commissioned by Tewodros II (1818 – 1868), the Emperor of Ethiopia as part of his efforts to industrialise his realm. Ironically these very same efforts would lead to one of the only military engagements that the Sebastopol was intended to take part in. The Battle of Magdala (April 1868) was caused, in a large part, by Tewodros’ decision to imprison a number of British and German missionaries with the intention of ransoming them back for weaponry and other equipment.

The result of this battle was a decisive British victory, with the main Abyssinian resistance ceasing once Tewodros was found to have committed suicide (using, curiously, a pistol which had been a gift from Queen Victoria) – resulting in the destruction of the Fortress of Magdala and widespread looting (some of this loot would later be returned to Haile Selassie by George V). There is little concrete evidence suggesting that the Sebastopol Mortar itself was used in this battle, despite the fact that the cannon itself was found, and still remains half-buried at Amba Mariam. A replica of the original Sebastopol was cast to serve as a monument, being placed in Tewodros Square, Addis Ababa.