The founder of Ethiopia (or Abyssinia) and the founder of the Imperial dynasty are held to be Menelik I, son of Solomon, King of Israel, and of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. According to legend, the brother Kings Ella Abrecha and Ella Asbeha, together with their mother, were converted to Christianity by the Coptic monk Frumentius of Alexandria in 330 AD. Their successor, King Kaleb, considerably expanded the kingdom to include parts of South Arabia. However, the state came under increasing pressure from the expanding Islamic world, gradually being pushed back into the interior of Ethiopia. The Solomonic dynasty lost power to the Zagwe dynasty of Lasta from 1117 until 1268. The former being confined to their traditional fiefs in Showa. According to legend, the Ethiopian Saint Takla Haymanot persuaded Emperor Nakuto Le-Ab to relinquish power in favour of Tasfa Iyasus, a descendant of the Solomonic dynasty. The settlement so engineered, granted the head of the Zewde dynasty the hereditary title of Wagshum together with rule over the Wag region and precedence immediately after the Emperor, together with the right to be seated in his presence on a silver throne one step below his and to the right. Tasfa Iyasus was crowned as Emperor Yekonu Amulak in 1270, and became the ancestor of a line of Emperors who ruled for six hundred years. They succeeded in strengthening the state and expanding their power under several able rulers, including Emperors Amda Seyun I and Zara Yakub. However, increasing threats from surrounding Islamic states prompted an alliance with the Portuguese and a reproachment with Rome. Although initially helpful in stemming the Islamic threat during the sixteenth century, by the early seventeenth century, rivalry between the Roman and Coptic churches had become acute. Emperor Susenyos [Malak Sagad III] was eventually forced to abdicate in favour of his son as a consequence. During the reign of Iyasu the Great, a shift in power at court resulted in the rise to prominence of a number of Galla nobles, eroding the powers of the traditional supporters of the dynasty from Tigray and Amhara. By the end of the eighteenth century, these Muslim Galla noble families were continuously competing for the important positions at court. The Emperors were gradually reduced to puppets. Princes of the dynasty being raised to the throne and deposed with the ebb and flow of military strength amongst the Gallas. This period being known in history as the Zamana Masafint or "Era of the Princes". The provinces regained much of their autonomy, but this resulted in increasing competition between the local rulers. Dejazmatch Kassa, a minor nobleman from Qwara, at the battles of Taqusa and Ayshal, defeated the Gallas in 1855. He did away with the practice of appointing a puppet Emperor, and assumed the Imperial mantle himself as Emperor Tewodros II. He came into conflict with most of his neighbours, and incurred British wrath by imprisoning several British representatives. A punitive expedition under General Napier resulted in Tewodros committing suicide in his mountain fortress at Magdala in 1868. A short period of chaos ended with the seizure of the Imperial crown by Wagshum Gobaze, of Lasta, as Emperor Takla Giyorgis II. He was in turn defeated in battle and imprisoned by another provincial lord, Kassa Mirtcha of Tigray, in 1871. Emperor Yohannes IV died in battle against the Mahdist invaders from the Sudan. His long-time opponent, Menelik II, King of Showa, stepped into the Imperial breach in 1889. As a direct descendant in the male line, from Emperor Lebna Dengel, Menelik's accession marked the restoration of the ancient Solomonic line.

The reigning Emperor designates his successor from members of his own family. Primogeniture is preferred, but is not necessarily followed. Candidates for the succession must be descendants of the Solomonic dynasty, in the male or female line. They must also be practising members of the Ethiopian Coptic Church ad their candidature must be approved by the Imperial Crown Council.

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The sovereign: Emperor (reign name), Elect of God, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and King of Kings of Ethiopia, with the style of His Imperial Majesty.
The consort of the sovereign: Itege (Empress), with the style of Her Imperial Majesty.
The Heir Apparent: Leul Meridazmatch (personal name) (father's reign name) Ye Ityopya Negusa Negusti Alga Worash, i.e. Crown Prince of Ethiopia, with the style of His Imperial Highness.
The younger sons of the sovereign, and other male descendants in the male line: Le'ul (Prince), with the style of His Imperial Highness.
The daughters of the sovereign, other female descendants in the male line, and the consorts of male descendants in the male line: Le'ult (Princess), with the style of Her Imperial Highness.
The grandsons of the sovereign in the female line: Lij.
The granddaughters of the sovereign in the female line: Immabet.

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The Ethiopian nobility was largely based on military, civil or ecclesiastical office. For an explanation of the various titles, please follow the link to "glossary" below. The ancient order of precedence, as revised in 1690, stood as follows:
  1. Ras Bitwodad of the right.
  2. Ras Bitwodad of the left.
  3. Tallalaq Blattengeta.
  4. Aqaba Sa'at.
  5. Nebura Id of Axum.
  6. Tigray Makonnen.
  7. Agafari of Simien.
  8. Archpriest of Warwar.
  9. Azmatch of Begameder.
  10. The Patriarch.
  11. Sahafalam of Amhara.
  12. Nagus of Gojjam.
  13. Sahafalam of Damot.
  14. Dajazmatch.
  15. Basha.
  16. Raq Masara.
  17. Za-West Azzaz.
  18. Sahafa Te'zaz.
  19. Kagn Azzaz (two in number).
  20. Gara Azzaz (two in number).
  21. Tarasemba Azzaz.
  22. Zandaraba Azzaz.
  23. T'eqaqen Blattengeta.
  24. Kagnazmatch.
  25. Garazmatch.
  26. Fitawrari.
  27. Negadras.
  28. Bejirond of the Zefan-bet.
  29. Bejirond of the Anbasa-bet.
  30. Balambaras.
  31. Liqa Makas (two in number).
  32. Sagazzaz.
  33. Yashalaqa of the City (of Gondar).
  34. Yashalaqa of the Dal Cefra troops.

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Clair Bosc-Tiessé. "How Beautiful She Is!" in her mirror: Polysemic Images and Reflections of Power of an Eighteenth-Century Ethiopian Queen. Journal of Early Modern History, Volume 8, Numbers 3-4, 2004, pp. 294-318 (25). Brill Academic Publishers.
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I. Guidi (translator). Annales Iohannes I, Iyasu I, Bakaffa interpretatus est Ignatius Guidi. Scriptores Aethiopici, Versio Series Altera - Tomus V. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. E typographeo reipublicae, Parisiis, MDCCCCIII-MDCCCCV.
I. Guidi (translator). Annales regum Iyasu II et Iyo'as interpretatus est Ignatius Guidi. Scriptores Aethiopici, Versio Series Altera - Tomus VI. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Excudebat Karolus de Luigi, Romae, MDCCCCXII.
G.W.B. Huntingford (trans. & ed.). The History of King Sarsa Dengel (Malak Sagad) 1563-1597. MSS. 1976.
G.W.B. Huntingford (trans. & ed.). The Land Charters of Northern Ethiopia. Faculty of Law, Haile Sellassie I University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1965.
Imperial Ethiopian Government Insignia Regulations. Tsahafe Tezaz Wolde Guiorgius, Minister of the Pen, Addis Ababa, 20th April 1954.
Aida Kidane. The Zaul People. Eritrean News Wire. 19 Mar 2004.
Johannes Kolmodin. Traditions de Tsazzega et Hazzega. Textes Tigrigna. Archives d'Études Orientales. Vol. 5:1. Upsala, 1912.
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Manfred Kropp. Petite Histoire de Yohannes Ier: "Retrouvée dans un autre Pays". Annales d'Ethiopie, Tome Quinzième, Annee 1990, pp. 85-111.
Tekle-Tsadik Mekouria. Histoire Abregée de Haylou Esheté (Degiazmatche). Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, University of Addis Ababa, 1984, Volume 2, pp. 189-213. Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, 1989.
Tekle-Tsadik Mekouria. Les noms propres, les noms de baptême et l'étude généalogique des rois d'Ethiopie (XIII-XXo [sic] siècles) à travers leurs noms patronymiques. Étude d'Éthiopie, Belgrade, Septembre 1966.
Reidulf K. Molvear. Black Lions: The Creative Lives of Modern Ethiopia's Literary Giants and Pioneers. The Red Sea Press., Inc. Lawrenceville, NJ, 1997.
L.-J. Morié. Histoire de l'Éthiopie (Nubie et Abyssinie). Augustin Challamel, Paris, 1904.
Dr. Richard Pankhurst. Life and Adventures in Abyssinia by Nathaniel Pearce. Sasor Publisher, London, 1980.
J. Perruchon. Vie de Lalibala, roi d'Ethiopie. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1892.
Bairu Tafla (ed.). Asma Giyorgis and his work: History of the Galla and the Kingdom of Sawa. Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, Stuttgart, 1987.
Bairu Tafla (ed.). A Chronicle of Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-89). Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaden, 1977.
Bairu Tafla. Four Ethiopian Biographies: Däjjazmatch Gärmamé, Däjjazmatch Gäbra Egzi'abhér Moroda, Däjjazmatch Balcâ and Käntiba Gäbru Dasta. Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Vol. VII, No. 2, July 1969. Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Haile Sellassie I University, Addis Ababa.
Taddase Tamrat. Problems of Royal Succession in 15th Century Ethiopia: A Presentation of the Documents. Accademica Nazionale dei Lincei. Q.N. 191. IV Congresso Internazionale di Studi Etiopici, Tomo I (Seziono Storica), Roma, 1974, pp. 501-535.
H. Weld Blundell. The Royal Chronicle of Abyssinia 1769-1840. The University Press, Cambridge, 1922.
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H.I.H. Princess Adey Makonen
Lij Abayneh Mikyas
Dr Morris L Bierbrier, FSA
Cdr. Joseph L. Brumit, USNR-Ret.
Tesfa Mike.

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Copyright© Christopher Buyers, May 2001 - January 2013