Emperors of Ethiopia,
Abyssinia

Menelik I204-179 BC,
legendary son of Solomon & the Queen of Sheba
Handadyo179-178
Auda Amat178-167
Auseyo167-164
Tzaue164-133
Gasyo133
Mawat133-125
Bahas125-116
Qawda116-114
Qanaz114-104
Haduna104-95
Wazba95-94
Hadir94-92
Kalas92-85
Satyo85-68
Filya68-42
Aglebu42-39
Ausena39-38
Beriwas38-9
Mahsi9-8
Besebazen8 BC-8 AD
Sartu8-35
Laas35-45
Masenh45-52
Setwa52-61
Adgala61-71
Agba71-73
Masis73-77
Hakla77-90
Demahe90-100
Autet100-102
Ella Auda102-132
Zagan132-136
Rema132-136
Gafale136-137
Bese Zarq137-141
Ella Azguagua141-218
Ela Herka218-239
Bese Tzawetza239-240
Wakana240
Hadaus240
Ella Sagal240-242
Ella Asfeha I242-256
Ezanas Ic.250 AD
Ella Tzegab256-279
Ella Samara279-282
Ella Aiba282-298
Ella Eskendi298-334
Ella Tzaham I334-343
Ella San343-356
Ella Aiga356-374
Ella Amida I374-404
Ezanas II Bisi Halen325-356
Frumentius first Coptic Bishop of Ethiopia, c.305; stela erected at juncture of Nile & Atbara, 350; Kush overthrown? 355
Shizana328-356
Ella Abreha356-370
Ella Asfeha356-370
Arfed370-374
Adhana I374-379
Rete'a379-380
Asfeh380-381
Asbeha381-386
Ameda I386-401
Abreha I401
Ella Shahel I401-402
Gobaz I402-404
Suhal404-408
Abreha II408-418
Adhana II418-424
Yo'ab424-434
Sahan434-436
Ameda II436-446
Shahel II446-448
Sabah448-451
Sahem451-463
Gobaz II463-474
Agabe474-475
Levi474-475
Ella Amida (IV?)475-486
Jacob I486-489
David486-489
Armah I489-504
Zitana504-505
Jacob II505-514
Caleb, Ella Asbeha, el-Eshaba514-542
At Roman urging, Ethiopians install a Christian king in Yemen, 523-525
Beta Israel542-550
Gabra Masqal550-564
Constantine564-578
Wasan Sagad578-591
Feresanay591-601
Adreaz601-623
Eklewudem623-633
Armah II, Ella Sahem, Ashama ibn Abjar615-630
traditional King who welcomed Muslim refugees from Mecca
Germa Safar633-648
Zergaz648-656
Michael656-677
Baher Ikela677-696
Hezba Seyon696-720
Asagum720-725
Latem725-741
Tulatem741-762
Adegos762-775
Ayzur775
Dedem Almaz775-780
Wedemdem780-790
Demawedem790-820
Rema Armah III820-825
Degnajan825-845
Gedajan845-846
Judith846-885
Degnajan II885-905
Del Nead905-c.950
Zagwe Dynasty
Mara Tekle Haimanot916-919
Tatadim919-959
Jan Seiyoum959-999
Germa Seiyoum999-1039
St. Yemrehana Christos1039-1079
St. Harbe1079-1119
St. Gebra Maskal Lalibela1119-1159
St. Na'akuto Le'Ab1159-1207
Yetbarek1207-1247
Mairari1247-1262
Harbe II1262-1270
Solomonic Dynasty
Yekuno Amlak, Tasfa Iyasus, or St. Tekle Haimanot1270-1285
Solomon I1285-1294
Bahr Asgad1294-1297
Senfa Asgad1294-1297
Senfa Ared IV1294-1295
Hezba Asgad1295-1296
Qedma Asgad1296-1297
Jin Asgad1297-1298
Saba Asgad1298-1299
Wedem Arad1299-1314
Amda Siyon (Seyoi) I1314-1344
Newaya Krestos1344-1372
Newaya Maryam1372-1382
Dawit (David) I1382-1411
Tewodros (Theodore) I1411-1414
Isaac1414-1429
Andrew1429-1430
Takla Maryam1430-1433
Sarwe Iyasus1433
Amda Iyasus (Jesus)1433-1434
Zara Yakob (Constantine I)1434-1468
Baeda Mariam I1468-1478
Constantine II1478-1484
Amda Seyon II1494
Na'od1494-1508
Lebna Dengel (David II)1508-1540
Galawedos (Claudius)1540-1559
Moslems allied to Turkey defeated, with Portuguese help, Battle of Lake Tana, 1543
Menas1560-1564
Sarsa Dengel1564-1597
Jacob1597-1603,
1604-1607
Za Dengel1603-1604
Susneyos (Sissinios)1607-1632
Fasilidas (Basilides)1632-1667
Yohannes (John) I1667-1682
Iyasu (Jesus) I the Great1682-1706
Tekle Haimanot I1706-1708
Na'od II1708, d. 1722
Tewoflos (Theophilus)1708-1711
Yostos (Justus)1711-1716
Dawit (David) III1716-1721
Walda George1721
Asma George, Bekaffa1721-1730
Iyasu II1730-1755
Iyoas (Joas) I1755-1769
Yohannes II1769
Tekle Haimanot II1769-1777
Salomon (Solomon) II1777-1779
Tekle Giorgis (George) I1779-1784, 1788-1789, 1794-1795, 1795-1796, 1797-1799, 1800, d.1817
Jesus III1784-1788
Ba'eda Maryam I1788
Hezekiah1789-1794
Ba'eda Maryam II1795
Solomon III1796-1797,
1799
Jonah1797-1798, d. 1832
Demetrius1799-1800, 1800-1801, d.1803
Egwala Seyon1801-1818
Joas II1818-1821
Gigar1821-1826, 1826-1830, d.1831
Ba'eda Maryam III1826
Jesus IV1830-1832
Gabra Krestos1832, 1832
Sahla Dengel1832, 1832-1840, 1841-1845, 1845-1850, 1851-1855
Yohannes III1840-1841, 1845, 1850-1851, d.1868
Ali Alula1851-1853
Webe Haile Mariam1853-1855
Tewodros (Theodore) II1855-1868
takes diplomats hostage; British Expedition,
defeat & suicide of Tewodros, 1868
Tekle Giorgis II of Zagwe1868-1871
Yohannes IV of Tigre1871-1889
Egyptians defeated, driven out of Eritrea, Battle of Gundet, 1875, Battle of Gura, 1876
Menelik (Menilek) II1868, 1889-1913
Italians defeated, Battle of Adwa, 1896
Etege T'aytu Bet'ul regent, 1910
Ras Tesemmaregent, 1910-1911
Lij Iyasu (Joshua), Jesus Vregent 1912-1913, Emperor 1913-1916, d. 1935
Zawditu Empress 1916-1930
Haile Selassie (Sellassie) (Ras Tafari Makonnen)regent 1916-1930, Emperor, 1930-1936
Italian Occupation, 1935-1941
Victor Emmanuel
(III, of Italy)
"Emperor of Ethiopia"
1936-1941
Emilio de BonoHigh Commissioner
1935
Pietro Badoglio1935-1936
Rodolfo GrazianiGovernor-General
1936-1937
Amadeo,
Amadeus II
Duke of Aosta
1937-1941, surrendered & died in custody, 1942
Haile Selassie
(restored)
1941-1974, d. 1975
Asfa Wossen, Amha Selassie1974-1975, d. 1997
Aman Mikael AndomHead of State, 1974
Tafari Benti1974-1977
Mengistu Haile Mariam1977-1987
President,
1987-1991
Meles Zenawi1991-1995
Negasso Gidada1995-2001
Girma Wolde-Giorgis2001-present
A significant traditional empire that fits only imperfectly into the system of Empires discussed in the Index to Lists of Rulers is Ethiopia -- Latin Aethiopia (Æthiopia), from Greek , Aithiopía -- which had few pretentions to universality, but was in the Middle Eastern tradition of universalist titles, since the Ethiopian emperor was styled the Negus Negast, the "King of Kings," as were the Kings of Assyria (Shar Sharim) and the Shâhs of Persia and Iran (Xshayathiya Xshayathiyanam, Shâhanshâh).

Ethiopia was its own kind of cultural island universe for centuries, a beleaguered bastion of Christianity in an isolating sea of Islâm, a successor, not just to the Middle Eastern traditions through Yemen, but to the original Ethiopia of the Greeks, the sub-Egyptian kingdom of Kush, , which began with the Egyptian 25th Dynasty (751-656 BC), from Piankhy to Tanuatamun, and which, although driven out of Egypt by the Assyrians, flourished at Napata (where pyramids were actually built) and Meroë for many centuries. Indeed, the highland Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, itself may have brought the kingdom of Meroë to an end, around 355 AD.

The Abyssinian kingdom of Aksum (or Axum) had already existed for some time. It left enduring monuments in the obelisk-like stone stelae, with Stela 3 (at left, and in background photograph) still standing at 67 feet tall, which reproduce the "skyscraper" architecture of ancient Yemen. A few kings of Aksum are barely known from their coins, as is also the case with ancient Yemen. As Kush came to an end, Abyssinia had recently converted to Christianity, in communion with the Coptic Egyptian Church. It is not hard to see the reign of the Emperor Ezanas II, under whom this all happened, as the real beginning of classic Ethiopian civilization. The torch of Meroë had been passed, but since the Meroë writing has not been deciphered, Ethiopia becomes the first sub-Saharan African civilization fully open, despite all its uncertainties, to the light of history. Indeed, the ancient language of Axum, Ethiopic or Ge'ez, is still actively used in the Ethiopian Church.

After centuries of isolation by Islâm, an important chapter in the history of Ethiopia came when the Portuguese appeared in the Indian Ocean. They had heard rumors of a mythical Christian kingdom, in Asia or Africa, ruled by the saintly "Prester John," surrounded and isolated by enemies of Christianity. One possible source of this story was the Empire of Black Cathay (the Qara-Khitaï or Western Liao Dynasty) in Central Asia, whose rulers, with names like "David" and "Elias," for a time were Nestorian Christians. But when the Portuguese arrived in East Africa, they soon heard of a place there that seemed to fit the description:  Ethiopia. Contact, once established, came at a critical moment. Portuguese influence stimulated and aided Ethiopia when it was under serious threat from the triumphant Ottoman Empire, who control extended all the way to Yemen and whose powerful influence crossed the Strait to Africa. Portuguese firearms, delivered after an appeal for help by the Emperor Lebna Dengel in 1535, enabled the Emperor Galawedos to defeat the Imam of Harer, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, leader of Moslem forces, who was killed in a great battle in 1543. The Portuguese presence included attempts to convert the country to Roman Catholicism, and for a time there were rival Metropolitans of Ethiopia. Portuguese influence, however, was ultimately rejected, since Ethiopia was religiously Coptic and Monophysite, not Roman Catholic; and the Catholic challenge stimulated a literary and theological response.

Ethiopia was finally only conquered, briefly, between 1936 and 1941, by Italy, not, significantly, in the 19th century "scramble for Africa," but in the age of totalitarian conquest in the 1930's. This was Mussolini's revenge for what had happened in the 19th century:  That was the Emperor Menelik II's extraordinary defeat of an Italian army in 1896. Ranking with the later defeat of Russia by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War as one of the great setbacks of European imperialism, the Battle of Adwa is often misrepresented as an army of Africans with spears somehow beating the Italians. This overlooks a number of facts:

  1. Ethiopia may have been backward, but it was a vastly more sophisticated state than anything else in sub-Saharan Africa. Menelik was able to mobilize an army of 100,000 men. As it happened, the Italian force, largely Eritreans trained by Italy, was only 35,000.

  2. This army was equipped with modern weapons thanks to Ethiopia's relationship with France. The Italians seem to have been unaware, out of a not uncommon European arrogance at the time, that the Ethiopians could put so many men in the field, or that they could be so well equipped.

  3. The Italians made one final miscalculation. They unfortunately scheduled an early morning surprise attack on the Ethiopian force for a Sunday, not realizing that Coptic Mass was held at 4 AM!

Fully awake and informed, Menelik attacked first, at 5:30 AM, and killed, wounded, or captured fully 70% of the Italian army. This preserved Ethiopia from foreign conquest until, in the 1930's, the confused Allies of World War I determined to appease Fascism rather than oppose it.

In the face of Italian aggression, France abandoned its diplomatic and material support of Ethiopia. France and Britain decided that an arms embargo on "all belligerents" was the moral response to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia; and the Italians, who of course made their own arms, actually used poison gas against Ethiopian forces. Thus, Ethiopia fell to Mussolini, not because it was backward, like the Congo (although it was pretty backward relative to Italy), but because it was abandoned, like Czechoslovakia. After Italy entered World War II, however, the liberation of Ethiopia was set in motion, and the Italians, who had committed many atrocities against the constant resistance of the Ethiopian people during the occupation, were easily defeated by the British in 1941, but with some resistance continuing until 1943.


One traditional duty of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria was appointing the Archbishop and Primate of Ethiopia, the Abune or Abuna (Arabic for "Our Father"). The first such appointee was Frumentius (Abune Selama I Kesatay Birhan), a Syrian who had been living at the Ethiopian court for some time and journeyed to Alexandria in order to ask for a Bishop to be appointed. Traditionally, it is supposed to have been St. Athanasius himself who then appointed Frumentius to the post. However, the known dates of Athanasius (328-373) are a bit late for a traditonal date of Frumentius's trip (c. 305 AD), although all the dating of the period is very uncertain; and we also see a chronology where Frumentius did not journey to Ethiopia until after 316 AD and was not consecrated, by Athanasius, until between 340 and 346, dying around 383. Given such uncertainties, it is possible that Ethiopia, rather than Armenia, which is often given the credit, was the first officially Christian country in the world. Or it may simply be that Constantine's Rome was, after all, the first Christian country. But Ethiopia, despite its apparent remoteness, is definitely part of the ferment of the times.

The Ethiopian practice of carving churches out of the living volcanic rock produced monuments that are close to unique in the world. There is a fair amount of this done in India, but nothing like it elsewhere in Christendom.

After the advent of Islâm, communication between the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria and Ethiopia was unreliable and often interrupted; but in the 12th century, regular appointments were resumed. Also, the See was often vacant at least because of the time necessary to procure an appointment from the Patriarch. I have not indicated these gaps because of their frequency, but they can be inferred once the dating becomes more definite. It was always an Egyptian Coptic monk who was appointed; and by the 20th century, Ethiopians were beginning to think that maybe it was time for an Ethiopian to be Primate of Ethiopia. Negotiations over this in 1929 still resulted in an Egyptian monk as Archbishop and Primate, the Abuna Kerlos (Kyrllos, Qerellos), but with four Ethiopians concecrated as Bishops. A full transition would be delayed until after World War II.

Primates and
Patriarchs of Ethiopia
Abune Selama I Kesatay Birhan, Abba Sälama Käsaté-Berhan, Frumentiusc.305, 328/346-c.383
Minas4th-5th century
Abreham = Petros?
Abba Afse, of the Nine Sages5th-6th century
Qozmos6th century
Euprepius
Metropolitan See of the Coptic church
Qerellos, Kerlos620's-?
Yohannesc.820-840
Ya'eqob I9th century
Sälama Zä-'Azéb
Bärtäloméwos10th century
Petros
Minas
Fiqtor
Daniel
Fiqtor11th century
Sawiros1077-1092
Giyorgis I1090's
Mikael I12th century
Ya'eqob II
Gabra Krestos
Atnatewos
Mikael II of Fuwa1206-1209
Hirunrival
Yeshaq1210-?
Giyorgis IIc.1225
St. Tekle Haimanot13th century
Yohannes XIIIc.1300
Yaqob IIIc.1337-1344
Salama II1348-1388
Bartalomewos1398/9-1436
Mikael1438-1458
Gabriel1438-1458
Yeshaq1481-c.1520
Marqos VIII1481-c.1530
Portuguese presence, rival Metropolitans
John Bermudez, João BermudesCatholic, c.1536-c.1545
Endyrasc.1545-?
Andre de OviedoCatholic, 1557-1577
Marqos VII?c.1565
Krestodolos Ic.1590
Petros VI1599?-1606
Simon1607-1622, d.1624
Afonzo MendesCatholic, 1622-1632
Rezekc.1634
Marqos IX/VIII?c.1635-1672
Krestodolos IIc.1640-1672
Sinoda1672-1687
Marqos IX1689-?
Abba Mikael1640-1699
Marqos X1694-1716
Krestodolos IIIc.1718-1745
Yohannese XIVc.1747-1770
Yosab III1770-1803
Makariosc.1808
Kyrillos III1816-1829
Selama III1841-1866
Atanasios, Atnatewos II1868-1876
Petros VII1876-1889,
d.1918
Mattheos X1889-1926
Abuna Kerlos, Kyrllos, Qerellos IV1926-1936, 1945-1950
Italian Occupation, 1936-1941
Abuna Abraham1936-1939
Abuna Yohannis XV1939-1945
Abuna Basilos, Basil1948-1951
Primate,
1951-1959
Patriarch,
1959-1970
Abuna Tewophilos1971-1976,
executed,
1979
Abuna Tekle Haimanot1976-1988,
imprisoned,
1986
Abuna Merkorios1988-1991,
deposed
Abuna Poulos, Paul1992-2012
Abune Mathias, Mattias2013

In the table, Primates appointed under the authority of the Coptic Patriarch are in green. The Abuna Kerlos (Qerellos IV) was deposed by the Italians after he fled to Egypt and denounced the Italian occupation. However, previous to that he had negotiated with the Italians, even in Rome, and many people thought of him as compromised and a collaborator because of this. His successor, appointed by the Italians, Abuna Abraham, was excommunicated by the Coptic Patriarch. When Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia he was not accompanied by Kerlos, who remained in exile in Egypt, but by Gebre Giyorgis, who would be consecrated Abuna Basilos in 1948. After Kerlos died in 1950, Basilos became the Primate. In 1959 the Ethiopian Church was reestablished as an autocephalous Patriarchate, although still in communion, of course, with Alexandria.

The next problem for the Church was the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. In 1976 the Patriarch was arrested and then executed. The Church was disestablished as the State Religion and, like in the Soviet Union, the government began its propaganda campaign against all religion. A quiet monk, Abba Melaku, was made the new Patriarch, as Abuna Tekle Haimanot, and he ended up resisting the regime as much as he could, with the result that he was well thought of despite his official position. His successor, however, Abuna Merkorios, was deposed once the dictatorship ended in 1991. Unfortunately, this resulted in a schism, with Merkorios founding his own Church in exile, while the new Abuna Poulos (at left) reigned in Ethiopia. With all the political upheaval in the recent history of Ethiopia, it is perhaps surprising that something like this hadn't happened already.

The period of the strongest Portuguese presence in Ethiopia also meant that there were attempts by the Portuguese to convert the country to Catholicism. The result was at least three Portuguese Catholic Primates, either, briefly, in undisputed possession of the See or as rivals to Coptic Primates. As the immediate threat of the Turks began to pass, both the help and the interference of the Portuguese could be rejected.

There has long been a presence of the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem. This includes a monastery on the actual roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Ethiopian institution is called the Ethiopian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, but there have never been actual Ethiopian Patriarchs in residence.

Another feature of Ethiopian religion is the claim that the Church possesses the actual Ark of the Covenant, which is kept in a small sanctuary in Axum. The traditional story is that the Queen of Sheba took the true Ark from Jerusalem, leaving behind a replica. Menelik I then transferred the Ark to Abyssinia. Because of the problems of chronology and believability that go with this story, some modern writers have helpfully supplied alternative explanations. Reports of Greek historians of a Jewish community at Elephantine Island (Aswan) in Egypt have led to the suggestion that the Priesthood of Jerusalem sent the Ark to them for safekeeping. But Jewish mercenaries then subsequently left for Kush, taking the Ark with them. I am not clear what is then supposed to have happened, since the account seems to jump directly to keeping the Ark on an island in Lake Tanis. But the possession of the Ark by the Kings of Kush is one thing, its sudden appearance in the heart of pre-Christian Abyssinia is something else. I sometimes wonder if there is an awareness of the deep historical, cultural, and political differences between Kushite Ethiopia and Abyssinian Ethiopia. Of course, anyone is free to speculate that the Emperor Ezanas fetched the Ark when he invaded and perhaps overthrew Kush around 355 AD, but this adds no more than another speculative element to an entirely speculative fantasy. Since the Ark in Axum has been been inspected by no outsiders, and in fact is closed to all except its particular guardian, there is no way of knowing if it matches Biblical descriptions of the Ark or if it is composed of materials that can be dated to the appropriate era. It is remarkable that such an object is given as much credit as it has by enthusiastic, or credulous, Europeans.

The list of Emperor and Primates of Ethiopia is largely based on Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies, with some modification based on lists at Wikipedia. Some alternative dates and Ethiopian readings of names are gleaned from A History of Ethiopia, by Harold G. Marcus [University of California Press, 1994], from Ancient Ethiopia, by David W. Phillipson [British Museum Press, 1998], and from a History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church website. The photographs of Aksum Stela 3 are from Phillipson. With so many uncertainties in the chronology, very different lists of Emperors, with different dates, may be seen. Gordon gives no less than three lists on his webpage, and one is left with the impession that these may actually reflect different lineages at different locations. I have mixed the lists, beginning with the traditional one that starts with Menelik I but then shifting away when that list doesn't feature Ezanas II. Lists exist that trace the genealogy of the Emperors all the way back to Adam and Eve, with a span of 6500 years. Many people take this sort of thing seriously, and one correspondent has objected to the characterization of Menelik I as "legendary." However, Adam and Eve are not historical persons and much of Ethiopian history even since Ezanas II is not well attested or dated. Even with Melelik I, traditional dates, e.g. 204-179 BC, are far too late for him to have been a son of King Solomon, who now is dated to 970-931 BC. Ethiopia is certainly interesting and important enough without giving credence to pious or nationalistic exaggerations. The uncertainties and gaps are as great with the Primates as with many of the Emperors of Ethiopia.

One curious feature about Ethiopia in the 20th Century is that, although its national religion remained confined to its homeland and to expatriot communities, the existence of the Empire, at a time when only one other black state in Africa was independent, inspired relgious developments elsewhere. In distant Jamaica a movement began that exalted Ethiopia to heavenly and the Emperor of the time, Haile Selassie, to divine status. This movement came to be known as Ras Tafarianism, after Haile Selassie's pre-Imperial name and title (Ras). A long, ropy hairdo, "dreadlocks," and marijuana (ganja) smoking became associated with the movement, which seemed threatening to many, with little back-to-Africa or self-improvement overtones, but a great deal of what seemed at the time threatening behavior and rhetoric. Late in his life, Haile Selassie actually visited Jamaica. He had previously not heard of this movement and was exceedingly puzzled, if not unsettled, by it, as a man might be whose name means "Faith in the Trinity" -- though a correspondent has disputed this, saying that the Emperor was actually invited to Jamaica by visiting Rastafarians and knew about them. Be that as it may, he cannot have endorsed the heretical tenets and practices of such a faith. The movement came to international attention mainly through the success of the splendid Reggae music in the 1970's, when musicians like the late Bob Marley (sporting dreadlocks) and Jimmy Cliff found success and celebrity all over the world. As a result of Haile Selassie's visit and local contact with Ethiopia, Ethiopian Coptic churches did open in Jamaica and the West Indies, attracting converts and Rastafarians who either understood that Haile Selassie was not God in Ethiopian Christianity, were disillusioned, or who determined to join the historic Church whatever its teaching.

If Ras Tafarianism might have seemed confused to Ethiopians, the popularity of Islâm among black nationalists in the United States and elsewhere must be positively galling. While Ethiopia had preserved its independence and Christian religion for centuries against Islâm, constantly enduring the depredations of Arab slavers, many, or most, of whose male victims were castrated, many foreign blacks now blame and reject Christianity for the Atlantic slave trade which took their ancestors to the New World. Bill Clinton's attempt on a trip to Africa to even apologize for the slave trade was actually rebuked by the President of Uganda, who said that the African chiefs who sold their people to the slavers were really the ones at fault (and still at fault, since it turns out that the West African slave trade still exists, at least in children). Indeed, the Atlantic slave trade simply meant that native West African slavers sold their wares south to the coast rather than north to the trans-Saharan trade, which had already been going on for centuries, probably exacting as great a human toll as the Atlantic trade and noticeably leaving few suriviving blacks, of all those imported, in the Middle East. Although himself a political radical of a harsh, Marxist sort, it is noteworthy that Princeton professor Cornell West (advisor of Democrat Presidential hopeful Bill Bradley in the 2000 campaign) retains his own Christianity, was married to an Ethiopian woman, and avoids the pro-Islâmic idealizations (and anti-Semitism) of many other American black radicals. Ethiopia and her religion thus receive some respect from a source that, in general, one might have expected to be relatively unaware of the country and relatively hostile to the religion.

In its long isolation, Ethiopia produced from the old South Arabian alphabet a unique and beautiful syllabary, which is still used to write modern languages like Amharic. This contributed one rich aspect to the island universe of Ethiopian civilization.

Since there are now "afrocentrist" claims current that the Ethiopic alphabet was not based on the old South Arabian alphabet, it is worth comparing the two in the table at right. Not only are many of the letters obviously identical, but Ethiopic even preserves most of the South Arabian alphabetical order, which is distinct from the one that we find in Hebrew, Greek, or Arabic. Ethiopic also made some of the same slight alterations in the ancient letters as Greek, producing recognizable counterparts to lambda, omicron, and theta.

Why it is thought necessary to take something already splendid and extraordinary and trivialize it with exaggerated claims is sad but not surprising, since it is of a piece with many examples of inflated ethnic (in this case racial) self-importance, as I have noted elsewhere in regard to the the Greeks and India. The splendor of Ethiopia in its history, geography, architecure, and language is little enough known as it is, even as its long struggle against Islâm is ignored in the assault of Western secularists against Christianity and the sympathy of the Left for Islamic Fascism. Until the world is even aware of the Ethiopic syllabary, strange claims about it only obscure the struggle for that awareness.

The isolation of Ethiopia, which for so long protected and preserved its civilization and religion in the Abyssinian mountain fastness, also served to keep it, as with many areas in Africa, out of the mainstream of international economic development. It has long been one of the poorest countries in the world. As of 2008, Ethiopia still had the third lowest annual GDP per capita in the world, only $140 [The Economist Pocket World in Figures 2008, p.28]. This meant that the average Ethiopian, 80% of whom were engaged in subsistence agriculture, was living on only 38¢ per day. With prices adjusted for Purchasing Power Party (PPP), the picture improves, with Ethiopia rising to only the 14th poorest; but this is still with only 2.4% of of the per capita GDP of the United States [p.29]. At the same time, the Ethiopian economy has been growing rapidly, at as much as 10% per year; and in PPP the per capita GNP may now be up to $1000 or $1500. But this is a lot of ground to make up. One advantage the country has now is its relative remove from the turmoil of Islamic countries, which, with the majesty of the land and the splendor of its monuments, should make the country relatively attractive both for tourism and for investment.

One irony of Ethiopia's isolation and poverty is that it has contributed to world culture one of the prinicpal, indeed signature, products of modernity:  coffee. The legend is that in the 9th-century a goatherder named Kaldi noticed that his goats became excited after eating the beans of the Coffea arabica plant. This account, however, is not attested before 1671; and no evidence appears to exist for coffee drinking until the 15th century in Yemen, whence the beans had been brought from Ethiopia. We get the name of the substance from Yemen, , qahwah. This is of uncertain etymology, and may be of African or purely Arabic origin. As the Arabic "w" becomes a "v" in Turkish (to modern kahve), and the syllable final "h's" become silent, the pronunciation begins to approach what is familiar in European languages, such as caffè in Italian or "coffee" in English. From Yemen, ground coffee and then beans were exported (initially smuggled) to India, Turkey, and finally Europe. The first reference in English to coffee is from 1598 and the oldest coffee house in London was established in 1654.

Coffee represented the first non-alcoholic processed beverage intoduced in English culture. Since coffee (like tea, introduced later) involved boiling water, this was also the first non-alcoholic beverage that involved the regular consumption of sterilized water. When people, including Prince Albert, were still dying of water-born diseases in the mid-19th century, a preference for coffee or tea was salutary. This was missed by Benjamin Franklin, who told his co-workers to drink water rather than alcohol when he was a young man in London, not realizing the danger he faced, and was recommending.

The best coffees are still grown in tropical highlands that mimic the climate of Ethiopia and Yemen, namely places like Indonesia, Hispaniola, Columbia, Hawaii, etc. This is therefore an area where Ethiopia might devote some effort in its economic development, with the chance to advance its claim as the original coffee producer and to cultivate and market the best coffees that can be made.

Kings of Kush (Ethiopia), XXV Dynasty of Egypt

Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved