The military history of Ethiopia is closely tied to political and commercial relations of the highland regions to those in the surrounding lowlands.
The military history of Ethiopia is closely tied to political and commercial relations of the highland regions to those in the surrounding lowlands. It is also tied to the caravan trade in Nubia and to sea-based trade along the Red Sea coast, and thus to the Arabian Peninsula. Related to these geopolitical factors are religious ones: first the fourth century spread of Christianity into areas dominated by animistic and pagan religious practices, and later the seventh century introduction of Islam in the lowlands. The areas to the east, north, and west of the Ethiopian highlands retained a lively Christian religious tradition and came to view themselves as isolated island bastions of Christianity surrounded by a sea of Islam.
The formation of states in the Ethiopian highlands, financed by thriving commerce, dates back to several centuries before the common era. These states were increasingly influenced by
Ethiopia, c. 1500.
The cross-fertilization of Aksum with the Agau produced a new dynasty, the
From the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, the greatest threat to Ethiopia proved to be the Islamic peoples of the northern and eastern lowlands and the Oromo
Two ancient Ethiopian warriors spar with each other.
Lebna Dengel died in 1540, still in control of the highland region of his country. His appeal to
Throughout the history of Ethiopia, military activity tended in its tactical and technological dimensions to lag behind that of other regions. Although Ethiopia was not known for its military innovation, military leaders of both the Ethiopian state and of rebel groups along its periphery were quick to adopt tactics and methods of warfare suited to their immediate needs. Their tactics were further reinforced by changing economic conditions over time. When the central state was stable and encouraging to economic growth and commerce, more revenues were available to maintain larger armies. Tactics for maintaining control of an expanding state included the garrisoning of soldiers in hinterland regions. The interconnection of military policy with that of religious evangelization was critical to the expansion of his empire during the reign of Amda Tseyon. Appeals by contending forces to external assistance and to the latest weaponry were hallmarks of warfare in the region during the sixteenth century, as each side sought to increase its firepower.
Military organization varied significantly throughout Ethiopian history. Feudal and clan warfare marked by temporary and shifting alliances of small militia-like forces were perhaps the most common and persistent manifestations of warfare during most of the period from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries. During periods of expansion of the central state such as those of the Aksum Dynasty from 300 to 500 and the Solomonid Dynasty of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, larger armies were maintained. During periods of central governmental weakness, the various isolated areas broke down along lines of feudal lordship, as did the armies. Under stronger emperors, greater unity of command and control over the military forces were in evidence.
As in the area of military organization, so in the areas of military doctrine, strategy, and tactics, a great deal of variation is exhibited in Ethiopian military history, and this variation was itself the result of changing circumstances and necessity. For example, when Amda
The history of East Africa is based in several different types of sources: African oral tradition; African, Arabic, and European writings; archaeological artifacts such as the stelae at Aksum and the inscription of King Ezana of Aksum (c. 325
Classical accounts of ancient Ethiopia can be found in the third book of
A sense of what East Africa and the region that came to be known as Ethiopia were like during the fourteenth century can be gained from reading book 4 of
Abir, Mordechai. Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes: The Challenge of Islam and the Reunification of the Christian Empire. New York: Praeger, 1968. Adejumobi, Saheed A. The History of Ethiopia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007. Greenfield, Richard. Ethiopia: A New Political History. New York: Praeger, 1965. Henze, Paul B. Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Keys, David. “Medieval Houses of God, or Ancient Fortresses?” Archaeology 57, no. 6 (November/December, 2004): 10. Levine, Donald. Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Marcus, Harold G. A History of Ethiopia. Updated ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Nicolle, David. Armies of the Caliphates, 862-1098. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1998. Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians: A History. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001. Phillipson, David W. Ancient Ethiopia: Aksum–Its Antecedents and Successors. London: British Museum Press, 1998. Ethiopia: The Kingdom of Judas Lion. Documentary. Ambrose Video, 1998. Explore Ethiopia: Land of Sheba/Sanctuaries of Stone. Documentary. Esicma, 1995.
Armies of Muḥammad and the Caliphate
Armies of the Seljuk Turks
The Ottoman Armies
West African Empires