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History of Ethiopia

About 4.2 million years ago, some of the first hominids wandered around the hills and valleys of a magnificent, mysterious, and marvellous land – today known as Ethiopia. One of these hominids was escavated in Hadar or Afar region in northern Ethiopia by the American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and she was named “Lucy”.

Obelisk, stone, inscription, ethiopia, history

Ancient historic stones with inscriptions from northern Ethiopia near Axum relocated to Haile Selassies palace gardens, now Addis Ababa University

In addition to the skeleton remains of Lucy there have been many stone tools discovered, along with the fossilized bones of numerous animals that date back 3.4 million years. Indeed this is an ancient land, rich with history and and today Ethiopia boasts an amazingly diverse cultural heritage.

smiling ethiopian girl

Ethiopian girl by lake Awasa in Ethiopia

Scientists suggests that there has been a drastic climate change taking place in Africa and so Ethiopia was probably more fertile when the first hominids evolved. Yet Ethiopia is now home to over 82 million people but ranks amongst the lowest GDP’s in the world and poverty is widespread.

construction, scaffold, wood

A house under construction in Hawassa

Kingdom of Aksum

The Kingdom of Aksum prospered and grew to attain the status of one of the most dominating kingdoms across the entire ancient world. This land was written about in early history in the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea and indicated that the influence of this land was widespread and far flung.

Geographically situated next to Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, Aksum became an abundant trading route including exports of ivory, frankincense, rhinoceros horns, and exotic animals that were in demand. Their flourishing trade allowed them to import dyed fabrics, iron, glass, swords, wines and a variety of foods.

The people of Aksum had abundant agricultural territory in which they designed an abundant supply of wells, dams, and reservoirs. Their population was an advanced civilization when it came to artistry, technology, organization, and achievement. “Lucy” watched silently as they fashioned coins in gold, silver, and bronze and built monuments that were a testimony to the ingenuity of her people.

The people of Aksum had access to a vast agricultural territory in which they designed an abundant supply of wells, dams, and reservoirs. Their population was an advanced civilization when it came to artistry, technology, organization, and achievement. In the Aksum kingdom they fashioned coins in gold, silver, and bronze and built monuments that were a testimony to the ingenuity of their people. It was founded by Aksumawi who was Noah’s great grandson and the kingdom flourished for hundreds of years before going into a dark period for 400 years.

Early Historical Trade

The lands that stretched just south of Egypt, and beyond Nubia, were referred to as the land of Punt, where many ancient treasures originated and were brought to Egypt upwards along the mighty River Nile. It was under the rule of the notable Queen Hatshepsut around 3500 years ago that the expedition to the land of Punt is really told on her mortuary temple at Dier el-Bahri near Luxor’s Valley of the Queens. In these reliefs on the temple walls, there are stories of great expeditions to the land of Punt, where they returned with not only myrrh, but incense, ivory from the elephant’s tusks, bags of gold, assorted fragrant wood, unusual gemstones, and a variety of exotic animals.

Water and life

An ibis wades through the shallow waters of lake awasa while a girl collects water in a jar for drinking and cooking

The Egyptians frequently called this land Ta-Netjeru which literally means “Land of the Gods”, because they believe the Gods must have originated in this amazing region for it to have been blessed with so many unique and wonderful treasures.

marabou storks

Marabou storks at lake Awasa at sunset

It wasn’t only Queen Hatshepsut who sent expeditions to Ethiopia in her early days, but the Old Testament of the Bible with King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba also talk about this fascinating land. From the Biblical story, the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba resulted in a child named Menelik I, who became Emperor, and he journeyed to Israel to see his father King Solomon and later returned to Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant.

Christianity and jesus in Ethiopia

An image of Jesus hanging in the window in a taxi in Addis Abeba in Ethiopia

In these times, Ethiopia is identified by the Hebrew references as the land of “Kush” and is also written about in other assorted books of the Holy Bible throughout the Old and the New Testaments.

Inscriptions that were found in the southern part of Arabia talk about victories over “Axum” yet another name for Ethiopia at the beginning of the third century and the story of the bronze scepter that was found near Atsbi Dera as well as a number of coins that were forged with the likeness of King Endubis.

lake awasa

An almost biblical scene at lake Awasa in southern Ethiopia in 2012 where fishermen still are using boats made of papyrus

Christianity was brought to this land by Frumentius in the fourth century around 330 A.D. and the first Bishop of Ethiopia was consecrated as Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. King Ezana was the first King to convert to Christianity.

Christianity was brought to this land by Frumentius in the fourth century around 330 A.D. and the first Bishop of Ethiopia was consecrated as Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. King Ezana was the first King to convert to Christianity, and there have been many coins and stories that “Lucy” would be able to tell of this period in their rich history.

motorcycle at crossroad in the night

Ethiopia anno 2012 where young men in Hawassa rides a motorcycle, keeping hold at a crossroad

Middle Ages and the Crusades

During the Middle Ages numerous monarchs reigned, many battles were fought, trade with other lands progressed, and life continued on in Ethiopia. But even though Ethiopia was a far distance from the Holy Lands, they continued to have a connection there even after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187.

Priest in the street

A priest walking in the streets of Addis Abeba

Saladin invited the Ethiopian monks to come back to the Holy Lands and even waived the pilgrim’s tax. It was during this time that King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela began building the rock churches that includes the famous Church of Saint George that was carved into the rocky hills of Lalibela.

dramatic history of Ethiopia

Paintings of war and killings on display in Haile Selassies former palace that now hosts a fine exhibition on the grounds of Addis Ababa University, showing the cruelty of ancient battles in Ethiopia

As the crusades were coming to an end during the early 1300s, King Wedem Ar’ad sent a group to meet with the Catholic Pope in Rome and the Antipope in Avignon and they continued their journey into Spain, Portugal, and then into France with the intention of building an alliance against the Muslim states that began to threaten Ethiopia, but the alliance didn’t go quite as planned when the Portuguese travellers began to arrive in Ethiopia with the intention of conquering the country rather than being in an alliance with it.

Children with firewood at lake Awasa

Still in 2012 the majority of the people of Ethiopia live a traditional life where collecting firewood is a daily activity for the kids

The Abyssinian-Adal War followed that lasted approximately 14 years in the mid-1500s as armies of Muslims overran the country, causing the Emperor had to seek safety in the mountain regions. The fighting continued and eventually the Jesuits priests arrived on the scene in the early 1600s. One great priest, Father Pedro Páez arrived in Ethiopia and eventually rose to great favor with the Emperor and again, churches began to be built along with many palaces throughout the country. Their successors fell out of favour and the Jesuits were barred from the land as many before them had fallen out of favour.

Headdresses on kids

Children in Hawassa reflecting some of the cultural and ethnic diversity in Ethiopia wearing different headdresses - one of them made of plastic

Successions of Dynasties

Many dynasties came in with great hope and change and later discovered that their positions led the people to great abuses and destruction of the people and their villages. Another came along built up the country, only to have it torn to shreds again during war after war.

Thimkat in Ethiopia

A mother dressed in white and her daughter holds a torch to celebrate Thimkat or Epiphany in Addis Ababa

Throughout history though, the people of Ethiopia have endured throughout the succession of rulers, peace, trade, and wars across the ages. Prior to the First World War and long after the Second World War they have continued to struggle for independence, political and economic reform, through corruption, famine, and eventually revolution. From the Communist period in the early 1970s through the Federal Democratic Republic that they are today, this country has a rich and fascinating history.

A woman walking in a narrow street in Harar

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