Brief History of the Ethopian Empire



When I run in Ethiopia, I look out and see eucalyptus trees and rivers. – Haile Gebrselassie


The Ethiopian Empire, at one time known as Abyssinia, has been considered to have been in existence from 980 B.C. until 1974, when it was overthrown.  Since that time, the area has been referred to as Ethiopia and Eritrea (Eritrea having separated from Ethiopia in 1991).  The form of government has shifted into what is now considered a federal parliamentary republic or Constitutional monarchy.

At its peak, the Ethiopian Empire consisted of not only Eritrea, but also Yemen, Southern Egypt, Eastern Sudan and Western Saudi Arabia. While it is no longer this size, Ethiopia’s only rival in the power ranking of African states is the United Arabian Republic.


Early Beginnings

The Kingdom of Axum had established itself as a Northeast African trading nation by the 4 B.C.  By 30 B.C., it had earned a vital role in the trading of Indian spices, and helped Rome acquire Chinese silks as well as trading in goods from inland Africa.

The Kingdom of Axum eventually converted to Christianity, conquered Kush and was known to refer to itself as “Ethiopia” in correspondence. By this time others considered them an Empire. The Empire spread south, west and into the Arabian Peninsula.

Their trade with the Western Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire continued to thrive until Egypt was conquered by Islam around 640 B.C.  By 690 B.C., the Axumite Empire was taken over by Queen Gudit.  This led to what is known as the Ethiopian Dark Ages. In 1137, the last of Queen Gudit’s line was ousted by Mara Takla Haymanot, founder of the Zagwe dynasty.  This dynasty followed in the footsteps of Axum by carrying on with Christianity.  After this came the Solomonid Dynasty, in 1270.

The Habesha, who ruled this dynasty, gave the empire the name Abyssinia.  As this dynasty lasted until late in the 20th century, most of the modern history of Ethiopia was formed under it.  In the 1880s, Italy’s successful invasion of some of Ethiopia’s coastal regions resulted in the formation of the colony, Eritrea.  In 1896, Italy was forced to acknowledge Ethiopia’s independence and the borders of Eritrea were clearly mapped out.

In 1935, Ethiopia was invaded by Italy.  Italy’s victory through mustard gas resulted in Ethiopia being appropriated into the new colony of Italian East Africa.  After 5 years, Italy was withdrawn from the region.  In 1974, a single party communist state was imposed upon the region by the “Derg.”  This ended what was officially known as the Ethiopian Empire.  After a period of bloody civil unrest, severe drought and a surplus of refugees, the Ogaden War came about.  Fellow Communist nations helped Ethiopia oust Somalian troops from the area.  The period of famine in the 1980s eventually led to a break from the fellow Communist nations.

By 1994, a bicameral legislature and judicial system was adopted and multiparty elections began.  Now Ethiopia has a government that is run by an executive branch that consists of a president, Council of Ministers and Council of State.  The prime minister has executive power.  The judicial branch covers both regional and federal courts.


The most recent elections were held in 2010.  Following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was appointed to lead the nation.  He will remain as prime minister until the elections in 2015.



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