INTRODUCTION TO THE ZAGWE DYNASTY
The Zagwe Dynasty (1000 -1270 CE) succeeded the Aksumite Empire (100 – 940 CE). It was located in what we know today as present-day northern Ethiopia. The name of the dynasty may have been derived from the Ge’ez phrase, ‘Ze-Agaw’ which means ‘Dynasty of the Agaw.’ The Agaw people were the ruling class of this dynasty. J. P Martin claims that dynasty was particularly important as it ‘ushered in the golden age in Ethiopia’s history.’
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ZAGWE DYNASTY
Queen Gudit/Yodit/Ga’wa/Esato (960 CE) was an Ethiopian Jewish Queen who attacked the Aksumite Empire by destroying its monuments and churches. Paul B. Henze argues that Queen Gudit ‘killed the emperor, ascended to the throne herself and reigned for 40 years.’
THE DYNASTY’S REIGN
The dynasty’s capital city was at Roha (known today as Lalibela). They ruled from Roha for nearly 300 years, with 11 kings. The most famous of these Kings was perhaps Emperor Lalibela (1185 – 1129 CE), who established countless buildings programmes in the Empire. He is said to have had a dream of building a New Jerusalem. This was apparently due to the capture of Old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. He dreamt of a ‘River Jordon’ alongside two churches, ‘Golgotha’ and ‘Bethlehem.’ Consequently, King Lalibela constructed 11 churches in Roha that aligned with his vision. These churches were all made from solid rock and some of these are still standing today. These Ethiopian Churches and the Christianity they developed were significant because their development was isolated from other Christian movements. This version of Christianity laid a great emphasis on the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Old Testament. Hence, the Zagawe Dynasty contributed a new type of Christianity to world history.
The history of this Dynasty is not well known. In fact, not much history is known about this Dynasty. There are currently many gaps in our knowledge. However, we do know of the Dynasty’s existence due to its material culture, the Churches, some of which are still around today. And we know about the Dynasty through the unique form of Christianity that it spread. We also know of the Dynasty’s existence through oral history, which has been passed down through generations. The Dynasty that succeeded the Zagwe Dynasty was the Solomonic dynasty and this dynasty was important because it lasted until 1975.