A Short History of the Ethiopian Empire

The Ethiopian Empire, also known as the Abyssinia, was one of several East African Kingdoms and covered what is now the northern half of Ethiopia. Established in the twelfth century and lasting until 1974, it is one of the longest running empires of all time, and one of only two countries in the world to have been independent for almost the entirety of its history.


The Empire is considered to have begun in around 1137, although no one knows exactly when, under the Zagwe dynasty. The name of the dynasty is derived from the Agaw people of northern Ethiopia, and therefore refers to them. The Zagwe kings and queens ruled for about 150 years, in which time many of Ethiopia’s famous rock-cut churches were constructed, such as the one at Lalibela.

In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming to be a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He was therefore believed to be a member of the traditional ruling house of Ethiopia. This dynasty reigned with only a few interruptions from 1270 until the late 20th century. It was under them that most of Ethiopia’s modern history occurred. During this time, the empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia.


In the early 15th century, the Ethiopian Empire sought to make diplomatic contact with European kingdoms for the first time since the ancient Aksumite era. A letter from Henry IV of England to the Emperor of Abyssinia survives. In 1428, diplomatic contact was made with the King of Aragon, in Spain. The first continuous relations with a European country began in 1508 with Portugal under Dawit II. Relations with Portugal were so good that the two nations allied in battle on several occasions, and successfully defeated an attempted invasion by the Adal Sultanate in 1529.

Between 1755 and 1855, Ethiopia experienced a period of isolation referred to as the Zemene Mesafint or “Age of Princes”. The Emperors became figureheads, but were really controlled by warlords. Ethiopian isolationism ended following a British mission but it was not until 1855 that Ethiopia was completely united and the power in the Emperor restored, beginning with the reign of Tewodros II. Upon his ascent, he began modernizing Ethiopia and recentralizing power in the Emperor. Ethiopia began to take part in world affairs once again.


The Ethiopian Empire successfully resisted Italian colonisation in the nineteenth century, defeating Italy in the first Italo-Ethiopian War under the rule of Menelik II. Ethiopia was one of only two African countries to retain its independence throughout this period. In 1935 Italy once again tried to invade, thus beginning the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Although partially occupied by the Italians until 1941, the Empire never officially surrendered, so cannot be considered a colony.

The Solomonic dynasty continued to rule the Ethiopian Empire with few interruptions until 1974, when the last emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed.




  1. Abadi 5 years ago November 17, 2016

    Ethiopian empire started around 500 BC. and continued till 1967 Ethiopian calendar. Solomonic dynasty and Zagwe dynasty were the best and rival dynasties with both claiming their roots from Israel led Ethiopia (Abyssinya) for so long time.

  2. saymen 5 years ago November 18, 2016

    Nice and true history! Thank you very much!

  3. gezahegn mitiku 5 years ago November 18, 2016

    “The Ethiopian Empire, also known as the Abyssinian empire, was one of several East African Kingdoms and covered what is now the northern half of Ethiopia. ” Two big history errors in just one sentence. “The Ethiopian Empire, also known as the Abyssinia, was one of several East African Kingdoms..”
    What were the other kingdoms in East Africa and they are several as per your statement? Can you substantiate this your claim with history documentation. But we just common knowledge of history there is you wouldn’t get a Kingdom to be mentioned as such, both in long and distant history of the entire region, other than Ethiopia or Abyssinia.
    The other is the Ethiopian empire in fact used to cover the whole area all the way from the north from Red Sea to coasts of Indian oceans now known as Somalia and Kenya at large. This, in fact, was based on early 16th C history of the Empire before the collapse of the Ethiopian Kingdom due to invasion of Turkish aided Muslim sultanates from south East Ethiopia who attacked and obliterated the kingdom and forced the King to retreat to the Northwest Ethiopia; until the king’s descendants fought back and reclaimed much of the areas that were already occupied by new settlers who drifted into the kingdom from Eastern central Africa. That disqualifies your assertion of Ethiopia’s kingdom was limited to what is now the northern half of Ethiopia; only established in 12 th C.
    Ethiopia is a place of very very ancient ancient civilization whose kingdoms ruled the entire Africa including Egypt in the more than 3000 years civilization of the country. In fact out of 50 Egyptian pharaohs 18 are Ethiopians.

  4. Doku Amos 5 years ago November 24, 2016

    I am proud to be an African because Africa is a blessed land with a rich culture and true history.

  5. ekow cobbina 5 years ago November 24, 2016

    great history

  6. Mohammed Hazard 5 years ago November 25, 2016

    Africa! Land of great history and culture

  7. Bob...Jnr 5 years ago November 29, 2016

    Thanks so much for taking me back to the memory lane!

    • Suzetta 5 years ago December 4, 2016

      Wow nice history I love it

  8. saudat yunusa hakimi 5 years ago December 8, 2016

    i am proud to be African also a Nigerian

  9. Godwin uganda 4 years ago July 25, 2017

    I had forgoten menerik,thanks for reminding me

  10. Abebe Abadi 4 years ago April 21, 2018

    I proud by the Habesha people


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