Ancient Ethiopia Tours
Ethiopia – ‘a journey back in time’
Brief History of Ethiopia
Cradle of Humanity
Ethiopia in terms of place and time emerged much earlier than the name itself. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. The formation of a geographical feature called the African Great Rift Valley. It cuts the country in to two parts, thanks to the openings and cracks, that Paleontologists have been able to unearth the earliest human-like species. At least 5 million years of human evolution has taken place before the naming of Ethiopia. Dinqnesh, Italdu, Garhi, ramidus or afarensis are names assigned within the last thirty years, even if they predate Ethiopia by a much longer time periods. The discovery of "Lucy", a 3.2 million year old skeleton beats all, being the most complete and identified as the earliest example of an upright walking hominid that was unearthed in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia in 1974. Many now consider this region of Ethiopia to be the true CRADLE OF MANKIND.
Around the 8th Century BC, a kingdom known as D'mt was established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, with its capital at Yeha in northern Ethiopia and believed to be existed till 5 century BC An imposing rectangular edifice still stands with precisely fitted dressed and polished limestone some 12ms in height.
After the fall of D`mt in the fifth century BC, the plateau came to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms, until the rise of one of these kingdoms during the first century BC, the Axumite Kingdom, ancestor of medieval and modern Ethiopia, which was able to reunite the area. 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.
In the second century AD, Axum acquired tribute states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, conquered northern Ethiopia, and then finally conquered Kush. The downfall of the Nubian powers led to the meteoric rise of Axumite imperial power. The Axumites controlled one of the most important trade routes in the world and occupied one of the most fertile regions in the world.
Aksumite was the first African civilizations who were issued their own Aksumite coins in gold, silver, and bronze, not including African cities under the Roman Empire to produce coins.
In the fourth century, Ezana, who converted to Christianity and declared Axum to be a Christian state, thus, making it one of the first Christian states in the history of the world who began actively, converting the population to Christianity.
Axum remained a strong empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD. However, because the Axumites had sheltered Muhammed's first followers, the Muslims never attempted to overthrow Axum as they spread across the face of Africa. Even though Axum no longer served as a center or hub of international trade, it nonetheless enjoyed good relations with all of its Muslim neighbors.
The Axumite Kingdom, denied the trade routes which were its lifeblood, declined during the 10th century, after which the balance of political and religious power shifted south of Axum to Lasta to the Zagwe Dynasty. Its most important ruler was King Lalibela, renowned for the cluster rock-hewn churches which he built at the capital which was later to bear his name.
The Zagwe kings ruled until the thirteenth century, when a famous priest, Tekla Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favor of a descendant of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty. However, according to legend before the throne of Ethiopia was restored to its rightful rulers, upon command of God and with the help of angels, Lalibela’s pious zeal converted the royal residence of the Zagwe in the town of Roha in to a prayer of stone.
By 1500 Ethiopia was at its peak. It was a rich, powerful, literate, and in many ways democratic Christian culture. Haberland wrote: "Internally, the empire enjoyed the utmost tranquility at that time."1 Francesco Alvares, writing after his visit in 1521, observed that "Order and security reigned."
In the sixteenth century Ethiopia was nearly overrun by the armies of the Muslim general Ahmed Gran who waged jihad on Ethiopia with great success. He took control of the country, but when he was killed by a Portuguese musket in an Ethiopian counter-attack in 1543 the incipient Muslim state in Ethiopia simply fell apart for lack of leadership. Portuguese military support was critical to the success of the counter-attack, though it had not been enough to prevent Ahmed Gran from overrunning Ethiopia in the first place.
A new threat to the Ethiopian empire arose in the mid-16th century, filling the power vacuum left behind by the weakened Muslims. The nomadic pastoralists and warrior horsemen of the Oromos began a great migration northwards from what’s now Kenya.
For the next 200 years intermittent armed conflict raged between the empire and the Oromos. For the empire, the Oromo expansion meant loss of territory and vital tax revenue. The Oromos also challenged the old Muslim state; the old city walls seen in Harar today were built in response to Oromo conflicts.
Early in the 17th century the Oromo threat led several Ethiopian emperors to seek an alliance with the Portuguese-backed Jesuits. Two emperors, Za-Dengel and Susenyos, even went as far as conversion to Catholicism.
With the rising Ottoman hold in the east, and the Oromo entrenchment in the south, the political authority of Shoa had become increasingly circumscribed. It was time to relocate the centre of power – again. The monarchy of Gondar, which had become a sophisticated and artistic city with its central Royal Enclosure of magnificent castles started by Emperor Fasiledes in the early 17th century and lost its authority in the 18th century when the feudal lords became independent of central control. A hundred years of near anarchy ensued, giving way eventually to major attempts at reunification in the second half of the 19th century, moves which were greater urgency as first France and England and then Italy began to cast covetous eyes on Ethiopia. The main work of unification was left to Menelik II, an enterprising, vigorous and imaginative young king from Shoa, who guided Ethiopia through the maelstrom of Europe’s Scramble for Africa. Menelik reigned as King of Shoa from 1865-89 and as Emperor of Ethiopia from that year until his death in 1913.
Revolution and Civil War
Menelik fought the Italian army at the Battle of Adowa and scored an overwhelming victory over the Italians. After the days of Menelik, Eyasu ascended the throne, only to stay in power for 2 years. In 1916, Menelik’s daughter, Zawditu came to power with the help of Haile Selassie who was then Regent to the throne. After the days of the Empress, in 1930 Haile Selassie came to power. Having established himself as a national hero during the campaigns against the Italians and having become a respected African statesman, Haile Selassie concentrated on international affairs, securing Addis Ababa as the headquarters of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). However, the Emperor governed Ethiopia like a medieval fiefdom, unable to understand or respond to the agricultural stagnation, inequitable distribution of land and general lack of development. A mass outbreak of resentment began and on September 12, 1974, against a background of strikes, student demonstrations and army mutiny, Haile Selassie was deposed.
The Derg eliminated its political opponents between 1975 and 1977 in response to the declaration and instigation of an Ethiopian White terror against the Derg by various opposition groups, primarily the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party which like the Derg was Marxist. Brutal tactics were used by both sides, including executions, assassinations, torture and the imprisonment of tens of thousands without trial, most of whom were innocent. The Ethiopian Red/White terror was the "urban guerrilla" chapter of the brutal war the government fought with guerrillas fighting for Eritrean independence for its entire period in power, as well as with other rebel groups ranging from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) to the far leftist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP).
At the same time, the Derg faced an invasion from Somalia in 1977, which sought to annex the eastern parts of Ethiopia, which were predominantly inhabited by Somalis. The Ethiopian army was able to defeat the Somali army, supported by the Western Somali Liberation Front, only with massive military assistance from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Ethiopia under the Derg became the Socialist bloc's closest ally in Africa, and became one of the best-armed nations of the region as a result of massive military aid chiefly from the Soviet Union, GDR, Cuba and North Korea.
The military situation deteriorated for Mengistu after 1988 as the Ethiopian People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) continued to make gains in Eritrea and the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) now controlled all of Tigray. Together these groups began to push South to Addis under the flag of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF.) On 28 May 1991, the EPRDF entered the capital and subsequently established an interim government. A 4-year transition period allowed the formulation of a new constitution. The first elections, in May 1995, for national and regional representatives, were won comfortably by the EPRDF.