About Ethiopian Dynasties

WelcomeEthiopia’s earliest dynasties reigned when the pharoahs ruled Egypt, but few of these early kings and queens are known to us by name today. Historical tradition tells us the Imperial Family descends from Solomon and Sheba, but the same could be said of several other, extinct, Ethiopian lines. The actual recorded lineage of the Solomonic dynasty dates from 1268. A few Ethiopian dynastic practices remain unchanged over centuries.

Ethiopia is a land of kings. The title negus literally means king, but in Ethiopia there was traditionally, since medieval times, a king of kings, who Europeans referred to as an emperor. A negus was not a mere vassal; he was a sovereign ruler of a territory whose ethnic history was unique. In more recent times, the imperial families had an Amharic heritage, but an emperor could just as likely have been from Oromo. IfNational Imperial Palace we were to compare this aspect of Ethiopia’s royal tradition to those of other nations, we would find it quite similar to those of Germany, whose “imperial” family, the House of Prussia, was one of numerous German royal families, or pre-Norman Ireland, where the kings were united under the House of Connacht. India, with its numerous princes, united at first under a native emperor and finally under Queen Victoria as Empress, also comes to mind.

Imperial succession in Ethiopia requires the assent of a family council. One of an emperor’s sons might be designated heir apparent, but he could ascend the throne only with the consent of a council of princes (including his brothers and cousins) and high clerics. In recent centuries, this group of family members evolved into the Crown Council, whose place is well-defined by the Ethiopian Constitution promulgated in 1955. The origins of the family council are rooted in ancient tribal law in eastern Africa and the Arab states. The royal families of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have dynastic laws very similar to those of the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia (though certain of their principles are based on medieval practices influenced to some extent by Koranic law).

Dynastic succession based on election is sometives criticized for its seemingly tenuous nature; it occasionally prompts familial disputes and even civil war. Even under peaceful circumstances, subjects do not know who their new king will be until the family council takes its joint decision. However, it should be remembered that fratricidal dynastic wars had been known in Europe for centuries, while some of the longest-lived monarchies, including the Vatican and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, still elect a new sovereign upon the death of a former one.

Orders of Knighthood

The Ethiopian Crown has traditionally bestowed honours in several orders of chivalry. Awarded for merit, most were established in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on the model of the honours conferred by European monarchies. An exception is the older Order of Saint Anthony, distinctly religious in character.

Today, the Imperial Crown Council bestows decorations upon those who have made worthy contributions to Ethiopia, its people and culture, or, in certain instances, upon individuals who have contributed to the cause of African culture and unity. In keeping with Ethiopia’s multicultural heritage, most of these decorations Order of Menelik IIare bestowed without respect to the conferee’s religion or nationality. There are both male ranks (knights) and female ones (dames) in most of the orders.

Most of the orders are active (extant), though some are only rarely bestowed today. The ranks of some (but not all) Ethiopian orders conform to European norms, being: knight of the collar, knight grand cross, knight grand officer, knight commander, knight officer, knight, dame, companion.

Order of King Solomon. Founded in 1874 as part of the Order of Solomon’s Seal (see below) and bestowed in one rank (knight or dame), the Order of King Solomon is usually reserved to monarchs and heads of state. It is a rather ornate decoration suspended from a collar chain.

Order of King Solomon’s Seal. Established by Emperor John IV in 1874, the Order of Solomon’s Seal was at first bestowed in several ranks, though today it is usually conferred in the rank of knight grand cross. In 1922, it was divided to form the Order of King Solomon (see above) and the present Order of King Solomon’s Seal. The insignia, a cross within the Seal of King Solomon (’Star of David’), is suspended from a deep green ribbon.

Order of the Queen of Sheba. Empress Zawditu founded this order for ladies in 1922, but it was soon extended to gentlemen in several ranks. The insignia is a green and purple star of Solomon bearing, in the centre, the cipher of Queen Makeda suspended from a purple and pale green ribbon.

Order of the Holy Trinity. Established in 1930 on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie, this order was initially bestowed in several ranks but today is awarded almost exclusively in the grade of knight grand cross. The decoration is a gold medallion displaying the Holy Trinity on a sky blue enameled background, suspended from a red and gold ribbon.

Order of Menelik II. Founded in 1924 to honour the Emperor of the same name, this order was often referred to as the “Order of the Lion” for the noble beast depicted in the centre of its green and red cross. The insignia is suspended from a deep gold ribbon lined at its edges in red and green, thus representing the Ethiopian flag. The order is bestowed in several ranks.

Order of the Star of Ethiopia. This order was founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1885 based on an older decoration. Bestowed in several ranks, the Order of the Star is a multi-pointed gold filigree star set with jewels, suspended from a ribbon of red, gold and green.

Order of the Ethiopian Lion. This is actually a newer order, founded in 1996 in the tradition of the Order of Menelik II, which was often referred to as the “Order of the Lion.” The decoration of the Order of the Ethiopian Lion is a circular medallion bearing, in its centre, the lion of Ethiopia. The ribbon is red, yellow and green. As it is not based on a cross, this order’s design is not considered offensive to Muslims. It is bestowed in several ranks.

Order of Haile Selassie I. Founded by Emperor Amha Selassie I in 1992, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of his august predecessor, this order is bestowed upon Africanists and others in several ranks. The decoration is a cross enameled white bearing in its centre a likeness of Haile Selassie, suspended from a blue ribbon edged in the Ethiopian colours.

Order of Saint Anthony. This is the oldest Ethiopian order of chivalry, bestowed exclusively on clerics, usually in the ranks of knight grand cross or companion. The decoration is a deep purplish blue Latin cross formy suspended by a striped ribbon of similar colours. The Order of Saint Anthony was bestowed in the latter Middle Ages by Ethiopia’s kings and archbishops, and implied membership in an elite confraternity.

The Land and Its People

WelcomeHer geography is unique. Covering well over a million square kilometers, Ethiopia is about twice as large as Kenya or Texas, or about five times as large as the United Kingdom. Its magnificent landscape ranges from desert areas to forested highlands. At 4,620 meters, Mount Ras Deshen is Ethiopia’s highest peak, and Africa’s fourth highest, but twenty mountains rise to more than 4,000 meters. The waters of the Abay River, or Blue Nile, feed Lake Tana and flow into the Nile. Most of the Nile’s waters originate in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is generally considered Africa’s oldest continuously identifiable nation, though Egypt’s written history is older and more complete. Ethiopia is landlocked today. Eritrea (independent since 1993), Djibouti and parts of Somalia, share much of their ancient, medieval and modern histories with Abyssinia, as Ethiopia was formerly known. Yemen is nearby. Across the Red Sea is the mountainous Asir Province of Saudi Arabia. Asir, which lies in Asia, has a rugged topography not unlike that of Ethiopia’s uplands, and EthiopiansMap are one of the province’s larger ethnic minorities. In times past, Ethiopia bordered Egypt, encompassing parts of what is now Sudan.

Ethiopia is home to the lion, leopard and cheetah, but to many other species as well. A short list would include the giraffe, elephant, rhinoceros, bushpig, warthog, and various varieties of ibex (including the rare walia), duiker, antelope, gazelle, zebra, buffalo, monkey, baboon, hyena, jackal and wolf. Some of these creatures exist in larger populations in neighboring Kenya, but Ethiopia probably boasts more wild mammal species than any other country in the world. Many are dwarfed by the ostrich, one of Ethiopia’s 800 bird species. Some of these animals are unique to Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s plant life is equally diverse.

The first Ethiopians had names like Lucy Australopithecus Afarensis, Australopithecus Africanus and Homo Habilis. They were the predecessors of homo sapiens, our species. Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley and other regions have yielded finds which indicate that this nation may well be the birthplace of the human race.

There are two possible origins of the name Ethiopia. Tradition says it derives from the name of Etiopik, descendant of the Biblical Noah. Linguists believe it comes from the Greek expression for “sunburned faces.” Abyssinia, another ancient name for this land, probably comes to us from the Arabic habishat, which in this context refers to the country’s “mixed” population.

Early History

There is no doubt that humans have inhabited Ethiopia since the dawn of recorded history, as indicated in early cave drawings. The more modern Ethiopians are not a single racial or ethnic group, a fact reflected in the diversity of Lioness and cubtheir languages. Despite some twentieth-century European attempts to present them as dark Caucasians, Ethiopians are predominantly Negroid.

Some Ethiopian peoples, such as the Surma, were clearly tribal and semi-nomadic, while others were more reliant on agriculture. It’s difficult to generalize about such a complex ethnic mix of peoples.

Yet, Ethiopia is the only sub-Saharan African nation with clear historical and cultural ties to the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Perhaps based on their naval explorations of “Punt” (probably a coastal city on the Red Sea), the Egyptians themselves believed that their forebears were Ethiopian, and an Ethiopian dynasty was established in Egypt in 720 BC (BCE). Various inscriptions and other records indicate that the earliest Egyptians clearly knew of Ethiopia’s existence, but at that time the latter was little more than a loosely allied network of kingdoms.

The Old Testament makes no fewer than thirty references to Ethiopia (”Cush” to the Hebrews). Moses wed an “Ethiopian” woman (Numbers 12:1). According to tradition, the Ethiopian nation was founded by Etiopik, great grandson of Noah, and Axum (Aksum) was founded by Etiopik’s son, Aksumai. Queen Makeda of Sabea (Sheba) would have been a member of this dynasty; she ruled a vast area that included Yemen, and in her reign Ethiopians traded with peoples as far as Palestine and India. Makeda ventured to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon, by whom she bore a son,Zebra Menelik (from Ibn-al-Malik, Son of the King). Thus was established the Solomonic dynasty, which tradition identifies with various lines amalgamated into the dynasty that ruled until 1974. It is believed that Menelik visited his father in Jerusalem for three years as a young adult, learning the Mosaic law, and returned to Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant. There is, however, no conclusive evidence of this, or of the Jewish Felasha peoples being descended from Jews of Solomon’s time, and some scholars identify Queen Makeda with Queen Bilkis of Sabea (Yemen).

Ethiopia has existed in some form as an identifiable state since the 10th century BC. Much more recently, the ancient Greeks and Romans knew of the Ethiopians and traded with them.

Axum (Aksum), in the northern Tigray region near Adwa, was founded around 500 BC. Its economic importance, based on trade, was born during the Ptolemaic period of Egypt (330 BC) and flourished with the expansion of the Roman Empire. Roman civilization outshone Greek culture for a time, but with the rise to prominence of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire and the arrival of Christianity, the Greeks again made their influence felt. King Ezana was famous for Christianizing Axum.

The Axumite Empire is described in the Greek chronicle Periplus of the Ancient Sea, written in the first century, and by the Persian author Manni, who two centuries later considered it one of the world’s great empires, in the company of Persia, China and Rome. Axum traded with Arabia, India, Rome and Persia. The Axumites spoke a language called Ge’ez, written with the Sabaean alphabet. Their greatest architectural legacy is their distinctive monolithic granite towers.

Though Greek influences were certainly evident, Axum gradually developed into a civilization in its own right. With the support of the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Axumite emperor Caleb fought a war against Jewish traders and colonists in Yemen in AD 523 (523 CE) in response to the persecution of Christians there, imposing Ethiopian administration for a time.

By the eighth century, with Muslim influence growing, Ethiopian political influence on the Arabian Peninsula gradually diminished, though Ethiopian traders continued to reside there. The Axumite Empire itself spread southward into the Agew region and then to Lasta, and this led to squabbles with the peoples of these areas.

. “And Ethiopia shall reach her hand unto God”The majority of Ethiopian believers are Christian, with a large Muslim minority. There are still a few small Felasha Jewish communities in Ethiopia, as well. Animists are rare in Ethiopia today.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Psalm 68, written for King David around 1000 BC (BCE), says that “Ethiopia shall reach out her hand unto God.” The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded by the monks Frumentius and Aedissius in the early fourth century, during the reign of King Ezana of Axum (Aksum), who converted toEthiopian Cross Christianity along with many of his people. Frumentius was consecrated bishop in Alexandria, returning to Ethiopia to be its first bishop. In fact, the Ethiopian Church exists today as self-governing, though it traditionally shares the same faith with Egypt’s Coptic Church. Until 1955, its Patriarch was a Coptic bishop sent from Alexandria, though since that time a native Ethiopian has been the Abuna, or Patriarch. The second ranking hierarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the Abbot of the Debre Libanos Monastery, reflecting the importance of monasticism in Ethiopia.

In terms of doctrine, the Coptic Church separated from the early Orthodox Church in AD 451 after the Council of Chalcedon over the former’s adherence to the Monophysite doctrine. This issue concerned the Person of Christ –obviously an important matter to Christians– which Orthodox Christians believe to have two distinct natures, one divine and one human, whereas the Monophysites believed Christ has a divine nature in which the human nature is contained. At that time, most Christians were Orthodox; the Patriarchate of Rome was not yet separated from the Eastern patriarchates. Coptic liturgical and sacramental practices remain similar to Orthodox ones, though the usage follows the ancient Alexandrian rite rather than the Byzantine rite.

The Ethiopian Church was the state religion of imperial Ethiopia, and is in communion with the other Non-Chalcedonian Churches, namely the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Syrian Church (the so-called Jacobite), the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Syrian Church of India.

The historical heritage and theology of the Ethiopian Church traditionTraditional Ethiopian Icon has had its own interesting developments. Many practices related to ancient Judaism –such as veneration for a representation of the Ark of the Covenant in every Church– are unique to the Ethiopian Church. On the altar of Ethiopian churches there is a miniature facsimile of the tabot, one of the tablets of the Ark of the Covenant, which Ethiopians believe is preserved in their country. Ethiopian icons are colorful works of art depicting traditional Orthodox saints, such as early martyrs, but Ethiopian saints as well, and have their own distinctive style.

Most of the Christian churches of the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean are Orthodox, rooted in the early Christian church, whose liturgical and sacramental practices are unchanged in twenty centuries. The Patriarchate of Rome (the Papacy) was in communion with other Orthodox, but separated from the Eastern Churches in the eleventh century over political as well as theological issues. Today, the Orthodox Church exists without the changes of Catholicism or the subsequent deletions of Protestantism.

The Ethiopian Church enjoyed a great deal of autonomy even when its Patriarch was sent from the Coptic Church of Egypt. While the Ethiopian Orthodox are not in direct canonical communion with the Orthodox of Greece, Constantinople, Russia, Ukraine, Antioch, and other jurisdictions, they are embraced fraternally to the extent that some of these churches allow their priests to administer the sacraments to the Ethiopian Orthodox. Outside Ethiopia, it is not unusual for Ethiopian Orthodox to attend services at these other Orthodox churches.

Great strides have been made in recent years of reconciliation between the Non-Chalcedonian Churches and the Orthodox Church. In the 1970s the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria stated that his Church accepted that Christ is fully human as well as divine, which is an important statement. This has not yet resulted in the healing of the schism, but dialogue continues, and representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople have recently visited the Ethiopian Church.

There exist in certain countries, particularly in the United States, “Ethiopian” or “Abyssinian” churches which attract African-Americans. The theological heritage of these churches is essentially Baptist or, in some cases, Pentecostal. These congregations have no connection with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Their name reflects the fact that in times past ‘Ethiopian’ was often synonymous with ‘African.’

Islam in Ethiopia

Most of Ethiopia’s Muslims are Sunnis, members of the largest sect of Islam. Islam arrived early in Ethiopia. The Prophet himself instructed his followers to respect and protect Ethiopians. In 615, Muhammed’s wife and cousin sought refuge at Axum (Aksum) with a number of these followers. This group was fleeing from Mecca’s leading tribe, the reactionary Kuraysh, who sent emissaries to bring them back to Arabia, but the Negus Armah protected them.

An influx of immigrants and traders from Oman and Yemen during the following centuries increased the number of Muslims in Somalia, Eritrea and what is now Ethiopia. In the coastal areas, Islamic law gradually took root, and by the fourteenth century it was the basis for the official juridical code of some regions. This reflected political realities; most of the inhabitants of these eastern regions were now Muslims. Their coexistence with Christianity was not always an easy one, and the sultans who ruled over parts of Ethiopian territory sometimes came into open conflict with the Christian kings.

Yet, historians generally agree that the Muslim sultans in Ethiopia were tolerant of their Christian subjects; forced conversions were rare.

In 1668, an imperial decree was issued declaring that the Muslims (Jabarti) and Jews (Felasha) of Gonder would henceforth have to live apart from Christians, but they were allowed to practice their religion freely in their own quarter. Religious squabbles did not end there, but by the nineteenth century peaceful conditions were established which finally placed religious differences on a level secondary to peace and the popular interest. Political conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia, and, more recently, between Ethiopia and Eritrea, are not based on religious differences per se.

Its Muslim Arab population has never been large, but Ethiopia has had historically close contact with Yemen and the Asir region of Saudi Arabia. Most of the Ethiopians in these countries are Muslims.

Estimates vary, but from 25 to 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population is Muslim. Islam can no longer be considered a “minority” religion in Ethiopia.

The children and grandchildren of Haile Selassie are descended from the Prophet. A number of Ethiopian princes have been Muslim, and though this precluded their ascending the Imperial Throne it did not prevent them from ruling in their own dominions. Empress Menen, consort of Emperor Haile Selassie, bore a descent from the Prophet through her mother, Sehin, daughter of Negus Mikael (Muhammad Ali) of Wollo. Male descendants of the Prophet are sharifs.

One response

29 02 2008

i can see that have done a lot.Keep it up.

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