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Zemene Mesafint War

zemene mesafint war

Zemene Mesafint War

The Background

The "Age of Princes" (1769- 1855) as it is also called was a period in Ethiopian history when the country was divided within itself into several regions with no effective central authority.

It was a period in which the Emperors were reduced to little more than figureheads confined to the capital city of Gondar.

The Zemene Mesafint, which in a span of eighty-six years saw twenty-three emperors occupy the throne (some were placed on and removed from the throne numerous times) came to an end with the rise of Kassa Hailu or better known by his later throne name of Tewodros II of Ethiopia.

With imperial power once again in the hands of a single man, the Zemene Mesafint is considered to have ended, and the history of Modern Ethiopia to have begun.

The Battles

The most powerful lords during this period were Ras Ali I, Ras Aligaz, Ras Hailu Yosedeq, Dejazmach Wube Hailemariam, Ras Wolde Selassie, Ras Gugsa, Ras Ali II, and King Sahle Selassie of Shewa.

These lords constantly fought against each other for enlargement of their territory and to become the guardians of the kings of kings of Gonder.

The monarchy continued only in name because of its sacred character. This so-called but divinely ordained monarchy preserved the dynasty from actual extinction.

During the Zemene Mesafint, various lords came to abuse their positions by making Emperors, and encroached upon the succession of the dynasty, by candidates among the nobility itself: for example, on the death of Emperor Tewoflos, the chief nobles of Ethiopia feared that the cycle of vengeance that had characterized the reigns of Tewoflos and Tekle Haymanot I would continue if a member of the Solomonic dynasty were picked for the throne, so they selected one of their own, Yostos, to be King of Kings (Negusa Nagast).

However, the tenure of Yostos was brief and the throne came into the hands of the Solomonic house once again.

The reign of Iyasu II had brought the empire once again to disaster. He ascended the throne as a child, allowing his mother, Empress Mentewab to play a major role as his Regent.

Mentewab had herself crowned as co-ruler, becoming the first woman to be crowned in this manner in Ethiopian history. Beyond the capital of Gondar, the Empire suffered from regional conflict between nationalities that been part of the Empire for hundreds of years: the Agaw, Amharans, Showans, and Tigreans and the Oromo newcomers.

Mentewab's attempt to strengthen ties between the monarchy and the Oromo by arranging the marriage of her son to the daughter of an Oromo chieftain from Yejju backfired in the long run.

Her attempt to continue in this role after the death of her son (1755) into the reign of her grandson Iyoas brought her into conflict with Wubit (Welete Bersabe), Iyasu's widow, who believed that it was her turn to serve as regent.

When Iyoas assumed the throne upon his father's sudden death, the aristocrats of Gondar were stunned to find that he preferred to speak in the Oromo language rather than in Amharic, and favored his mother's Yejju relatives over the Qwarans of his grandmothers family.

Iyoas further increased the favor given to the Oromo when adult. On the death of the Ras of Amhara, he attempted to promote his uncle Lubo governor of that province, but the outcry led his advisor Wolde Leul to convince him to change his mind.

The conflict between these two queens led to Mentewab summoning her relatives with their armed supporters from Qwara to Gondar to support her.

Wubit responded by summoning her own Oromo relatives and their considerable forces from Yejju. Fearing that the power struggle between the Qwarans and the Yejju led by the Emperor's mother Wubit would erupt into an armed conflict, the nobility summoned the powerful Ras Mikael Sehul to mediate between the two camps.

He arrived and shrewdly maneuvered to sideline the two queens and their supporters making a bid for power for himself. Mikael settled soon as the leader of Amharic-Tigrean (Christian) camp of the struggle.

Finally, Kassa Hailu won his way to control the imperial throne first by occupying Dembiya, then following a series of battles beginning with Gur Amba (27 September 1852) and ending with Battle of Derasge (1855), came to control all of Ethiopia.

More importantly, with his triumph over Ras Ali II at the Battle of Aysal, Kassa Hailu ended the Wara Seh Dynasty, and opened a new era for Ethiopia.

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