Ethiopia Old History

By | January 2, 2023

Ethiopia is an independent nation in Eastern Africa. With the capital city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 2020 population is estimated at 114,963,599 according to countryaah. Some of the oldest known traces of human beings have been found on the Horn of Africa. At the beginning of our era, Aksum emerged as a regional great power, with its center in the northern parts of present-day Ethiopia. In the 300s it became a Christian kingdom. An independent state formation with a core of Amharas and Tigreans has since existed in the area, albeit with varying degrees and with a brief break for Italian occupation in 1936-1941.

  • Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Ethiopia, covering history, economy, and social conditions.

In Ethiopia – or Abyssinia, as it has also been called throughout history – more than four million-year-old finds of hominids, hominids, have been made in several places. The most famous is the skeleton of “Lucy” found in 1974 in the Awash Valley in the northeastern state of Afar. Remains have been excavated  in the same area from around 7000 BC, which shows that primitive agriculture was practiced at that time. For Ethiopia political system, please check cancermatters.

Already a few millennia before our era, trade with Egypt occurred. Around the year 700 BC, a high culture emerged in northern Ethiopia that grew cereals, built irrigation facilities and manufactured iron utensils and ceramics. Trade was conducted with Greeks, Romans, Arabs and other peoples around the Red Sea. Among the goods exported were ivory, rhino horn, gold, silver and slaves. Perhaps it was this people who the ancient Greeks called aithiopiai (burnt faces).

The Aksum kingdom becomes Christian

Among several small states along the Red Sea coast and the surrounding highlands, the Aksum kingdom gradually grew. Aksum had its center in Eritrea and Tigray and experienced a heyday between the 300s and 600s AD, when the kingdom ruled large parts of present northern Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen. During King Ezana’s reign (c. 325–350), the empire extended to the Nile. Ezana was converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the country.

Through the spread of Islam in the 600s and 700s, Aksum was isolated, not least in religious terms. The only contact with other Christianity was with the Coptic Church in Egypt. Aksum shrank to a small state, but the cultural heritage remained. The capital was moved south to Lalibela. In connection with a religious renaissance during the 12th century, the church and monastery buildings were concentrated and during this period the rock churches in Lalibela were added (see Culture).

Ethiopia’s political center of gravity was shifted further south since a new dynasty took over in 1270. The new emperor, called Negus Nagast (King of Kings) claimed his ancestry from the Jewish king Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which lacks historical coverage. The emperor centralized power and a feudal state of society developed with military aristocracy at the top and peasants at the bottom.

European missionaries

Two “siblings”, Amharas and Tigers, constituted the ethnic core of the kingdom. The country’s territory was expanded during fierce fighting with Muslim neighbors until 1468 when Ethiopia reached its greatest extent in history to date. In the 1520s, the divided Muslims succeeded in uniting a holy war against Christian Ethiopians, but with Portuguese help, the Ethiopians were able to defeat the Muslims in 1543. At the same time, Portuguese Catholic missionaries arrived, trying to get the Ethiopians to accept Rome’s supremacy.

For almost a century, pro and anti-Catholic groups fought for power. Then the Jesuits and all other Catholic missionaries were expelled. This religious struggle left a hostility to Christian foreigners and Europeans that lasted until our days. It also contributed to a few centuries of isolation from the outside world. The imperial family retreated to Gondar, which became a new capital.

Up to the middle of the 19th century, Ethiopia was divided into a series of warring kingdoms. The country was united during the reign of Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913), when Ethiopia largely reached its present borders. At the battle of Adwa in 1896, Menelik defeated an Italian force. Italy, which had occupied Eritrea, was thus stopped from further expansion into the country. Menelik’s army also conquered areas in the south inhabited by livestock oromos, Somalis and a number of agricultural peoples.

Multicultural empire

The conquests made Ethiopia multicultural. Amharas and Tigers became a minority in their own empire but retained their political and economic power. In the fertile areas of the south, the Amharic conquerors seized large estates whose lands were leased to the defeated local population. Thus, a profound contradiction was established between wealthy landowners, often living in cities, and their poor tenants.

In 1930, Tafari Makonnen was proclaimed emperor by the name of Haile Selassie I. Five years later, Ethiopia was attacked by Italy, which in 1936 captured Addis Ababa without a fight. Eritrea and Italian Somaliland merged with Ethiopia into Italian East Africa. But as early as 1941, in connection with the Second World War, British troops liberated Ethiopia and the emperor was able to return from his country flight.

The British reestablished the borders Ethiopia had before 1935. Therefore, Eritrea was separated, which, however, Ethiopians demanded to retain. Following a UN decision in 1950, Eritrea became an autonomous unit in federation with Ethiopia, but in 1962 Ethiopia annexed the area.



Several opposition leaders are sentenced

Two opposition leaders, Olbana Lelisa and Bekele Gerba, are sentenced to 13 and 8 years in prison respectively, accused of ties to Oromo’s liberation front, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by the authorities. Seven others are sentenced to imprisonment for between 3 and 12 years for rebel activity.


The government is being reformed

A government reshuffle occurs after Hailemariam Desalegn becomes new prime minister.


New Prime Minister

After a period of uncertainty about the position of the provisional leader Hailemariam Desalegn, the ruling EPRDF people elected him as new leader after Meles Zenawi. A few days later he also takes the oath as ordinary prime minister.

Mausoleum will be built

The government announces that a mausoleum will be erected over the recently deceased Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The building will also house a museum of the life and deeds of the deceased leader and a library.


Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies at a hospital in Brussels after not appearing in public for a couple of months. The death toll is feared to trigger a power struggle that could threaten the stability of the country, where a number of ethnic conflicts have been suppressed under Meles Zenawi’s hard-line rule. Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn takes over the leadership of the country.


Dozens are convicted of conspiring with Ginbot7

Twenty-four people are sentenced to long prison terms, up to life, for conspiracy with the US-based opposition movement Ginbot 7 (see April-May 2009), which is classified by the authorities as a terrorist organization. The well-known journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who was awarded the American Pen Club in May, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.


Violent in Oromia

At least ten people are killed in an outbreak of violence in the central state of Oromia. Violence erupts when authorities seize a Muslim minister.

Troops enter Eritrea

Ethiopian forces are said to have entered Eritrea to strike against a “subversive group” that must have been trained by Eritrea to attack Ethiopia. At least 50 people must have been killed in attacks against three camps.


Tens of thousands are said to have been forcibly removed

Human Rights Watch claims that around 70,000 people in Gambella have been forcibly moved to new villages where they have not been given sufficient access to food, farmland, healthcare and schools. They must have been relocated so that their home areas would be leased to foreign investors (see also Agriculture and Fisheries).

Jail against journalist

Journalist Woubshet Taye, who has been detained for six months, is sentenced to 14 years in prison, in accordance with anti-terrorism laws. He was arrested after writing a critical chronicle in the Awramba Times about the EPRDF’s two decades in power.

Ethiopia Old History