Yekuno Amlak Founds the Solomonid Dynasty Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Yekuno Amlak overthrew the Zagwe Dynasty in 1270, proclaimed himself emperor of Ethiopia, and founded the Solomonid Dynasty, which produced a succession of illustrious monarchs. These monarchs built dynamic political and cultural institutions that allowed the Christian kingdom to overcome various internal struggles and to survive the incursion of Islam.

Summary of Event

After the reign of the Zagne Dynasty’s last great king, Lalibela Lalibela , the Zagwe Zagwe Dynasty hold over Ethiopia was weakened greatly by continuous succession struggles aggravated by the incursion of Islam toward the eastern border provinces. The weakening of central authority as well as the fear of Islamic resurgence galvanized the opposition to the Zagwe even in the core Christian areas. The anti-Zagwe movement was particularly strong among the Amharic-speaking Christian community of Shewa, which was on the forefront of the struggle against Muslim expansion in the east and was keen on dominating the trade routes that led to the port of Zeila on the coast. In 1268, Yekuno Amlak (also known as Tesfa Iyesus), one of the Amhara chiefs, succeeded in defeating Yitbarek Yitbarek , the last Zagwe king. Yekuno Amlak declared himself emperor in 1270 and founded what came to be known as the Solomonid Dynasty. [kw]Yekuno Amlak Founds the Solomonid Dynasty (1270-1285) [kw]Amlak Founds the Solomonid Dynasty, Yekuno (1270-1285) [kw]Solomonid Dynasty, Yekuno Amlak Founds the (1270-1285) Solomonid Dynasty Yekuno Amlak Africa;1270-1285: Yekuno Amlak Founds the Solomonid Dynasty[2480] Government and politics;1270-1285: Yekuno Amlak Founds the Solomonid Dynasty[2480] Yekuno Amlak Lalibela Yitbarek Iyasus Moa Tekle Haymanot Amade Tseyon Zera Yacob

In an apparent strategy to legitimize his military victory, Yekuno Amlak presented his rebellion not as an act of insurgency against the Zagwe but as a movement to restore the old Aksumite line. He claimed ancestry from the old Aksumite rulers, who in turn were believed to have descended from the legendary king and founder of Ethiopian dynasties Menelik I, the son of King Solomon of Israel and Queen Sheba of Ethiopia. The sources for this legend appear to have been the bits and pieces of information relating to Solomon and Sheba from the Bible (1 Kings 1-13) and other Judaic, Christian, and Islamic literature.

By the thirteenth century, a fully developed narrative on the origin of the Solomonid rulers was circulating in Ethiopia in the form of a royal chronicle called the Kebra nagast Kebra nagast , or the glory of the kings (fourteenth century; partial English translation, 1997). The chronicle narrates the story of how the union of King Solomon of Israel and Queen Sheba of Ethiopia resulted in the birth of Menelik I, the first Ethiopian emperor, from whom the rest of the Aksumite rulers and the later Solomonid kings were descended. By associating themselves with the House of David, the Ethiopian kings were clearly aiming at establishing a relationship with Christ himself, thereby creating an aura of divinity that arguably enhanced their legitimacy in the eyes of their Christian subjects. Christianity;Ethiopia Ethiopia;Christianity

Ethiopian legend maintains that on his return from a visit to his father in Jerusalem, Menelik I brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia. The Ark, which plays a central symbolic role in Ethiopian Christianity, is believed to still reside at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum. The coming of the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Ethiopia is said to symbolize the transfer of God’s Covenant from Israel to Ethiopia.

Yekuno Amlak appears to have been greatly aided by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Orthodox Church;Ethiopia in consolidating his rule over the Amharic- and Tigrigna-speaking areas of the northern and central highlands of Ethiopia. The church itself was eager to see the rise of a dynamic political leadership capable of challenging the Islamic threat and launching further campaigns against the pagan elements in the country to create favorable conditions for the further spread of Christianity. The highly venerated thirteenth century monk Iyasus Moa Iyasus Moa (abbot of the monastery of Debre Hayq in Wello) and his student Tekle Haymanot Tekle Haymanot (founder of the famous monastery of Debre Libanos in Shewa) were said to have played key roles in the rise of the Solomonid Dynasty and in cementing the church-state alliance that characterized the Ethiopian sociopolitical order until recent times. In return for its service and loyalty to the Solomonid Dynasty, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church enjoyed generous imperial patronage including extensive land grants. Church-state relationship[church state relationship];Ethiopia

Despite a brief period of political turmoil following the death of Yekuno Amlak in 1285, Solomonid rule in Ethiopia during the medieval period was characterized by remarkable political cohesion, territorial expansion, and cultural regeneration. The most famous of the Solomonid emperors, Amade Tseyon Amade Tseyon and Zera Yacob Zera Yacob , carried out sweeping reforms in the army and administration and conducted the greatest campaigns of territorial expansion that Ethiopian rulers had ever undertaken since the time of the Aksum king Ezana, who ruled in the fourth century.

Yekuno Amlak’s successors directed their efforts first against the Muslim principalities of Ifat, Hadya, Fatagar, Dawaro, Bali, and Adal. These Muslim sultanates had taken, by the thirteenth century, virtual control of much of the area, extending from the eastern edges of the Ethiopian plateau to the coast. This Islamic resurgence in the Horn of Africa posed a serious challenge to the Christian kingdom by threatening its access to the port of Zeila (the most strategic outlet for Ethiopia by then) and by undermining its control over the trade routes that branched out to the rich resource areas in the south. Through a series of forceful campaigns, the Solomonid rulers defeated the Muslim sultanates in the east and consolidated the Christian domain. Effective control over the vital trade routes that connected the country with its Red Sea outlets led to flourishing commerce and to remarkable literary and artistic revival in medieval Ethiopia. Islam;Ethiopia Ethiopia;Islam

Significance

The rise of the Solomonid Dynasty in the second half of the thirteenth century provided the Christian polity an effective political leadership and a strong ideology with which it was able to meet the challenges of Islamic resurgence in the Horn of Africa. Successive Solomonid kings, starting with Yekuno Amlak, exploited skillfully the myth of their descent from Sheba and Solomon to enhance their legitimacy. The fact that Solomonid rule in Ethiopia lasted until the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie (r. 1930-1974) in 1974 is a testimony to the profound influence of the legend of descent in Ethiopia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crummey, Donald. Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. A comprehensive historical survey of Christian Ethiopia and issues of land tenure and property from the time of the Solomonids through the twentieth century. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hausman, Gerald, ed. The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith from Ethiopia and Jamaica. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Presents translated selections with an introductory essay and chapters on the historical implications of the text, the ancestral tree, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Henze, Paul B. Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. New York: Palgrave, 2000. A readable general work that is especially useful in tracing the history of the country’s expansion southward during medieval times under the leadership of a series of capable Solomonid rulers. It also includes interesting information on daily life, art, architecture, religion, culture, and customs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Huntingfod, G. W. B., ed. The Glorious Victories of Amda Tseyon, King of Ethiopia. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1965. A good translation of the chronicle of the famous medieval Ethiopian emperor that details Amde Tseyon’s military exploits in the east against Muslim forces in the early decades of the fourteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Harold G. History of Ethiopia. New ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. A general survey of Ethiopian history from ancient times to the present. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Munro-Hay, Stuart. Ethiopia, the Unknown Land: A Cultural and Historical Guide. London: I. B. Tauris, 2002. A well-researched and comprehensive description of the major historical landmarks in Ethiopia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pankhurst, Richard K. P., ed. The Ethiopian Royal Chronicles. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Oxford University Press, 1967. A compilation of royal chronicles, including those of the medieval Solomonid rulers. Illustrations, maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tadesse Tamrat. Church and State in Ethiopia, 1270-1527. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1972. The definitive work on the history of medieval Ethiopia by a well-known authority in the field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tadesse Tamrat. “The Abbots of Dabr Hayq, 1248-1535.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 8, no. 1 (1970). A succinct account of the prominent role in religion and in the political sphere played by the leaders of the most famous monastery in Ethiopia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trimingham, J. Spencer. Islam in Ethiopia. New York: Clarendon Press, 1952. Useful study of the history of Islam in Ethiopia, with interesting analysis of the interaction between Christianity and Islam at the local level. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ullendorff, Edward. Ethiopia and the Bible. London: British Academy, 1968. Written by one of the foremost authorities in Semitic studies, the book examines Ethiopia’s responses to the Bible as well as the evolution of the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yaoh, John Gay, comp. Christianity in Ethiopia and Eritrea: An Annotated Bibliography. Amman, Jordan: Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, 1998. Provides an annotated source for the further study of Ethiopia and its history with Christianity.

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