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Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes
The Challenge of Islam and the Re-unification of the Christian Empire 1769 - 1855
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For a number of centuries Christian and Muslim principalities existed side by side in relative harmony. The Zagwe dynasty was hardly interested in the area beyond Lasta to the south, and Christian Ethiopia had very little to fear from the weak and divided Muslim kingdoms. Only after the rise of the new Solomonic dynasty with Yekune Amlak in 1270 was a new policy of containing the Muslim principalities adopted. Still, the motivation for this policy was to a large extent political and commercial rather than religious. The wars of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and even fifteenth centuries could be considered a struggle for authority, revenue and land between neighboring political units.
The idea of a jihad against the Christian Ethiopia began to emerge only at the end of the fifteenth century as a result of the overwhelming success of the wars carried out by the revived Solomonic dynasty against the Muslim principalities in the southern part of the highlands and on the coast. These wars, which may have started from purely political and commercial motives, quickly took on a religious character. The growing frustration and anger of the Muslims coupled with the appearance of the Ottomans in the Red Sea basin (1516) and the introduction of firearms into the area seriously aggravated the situation. Ahmad Gran, a minor chief of the Adal kingdom, provided the needed leadership and the masses of impoverished nomads, given an ideology and reinforced by a small number of Turks armed with firearms, united in a jihad which threatened the existence of Christian Ethiopia in the second quarter of the sixteenth century.
Probably only the timely intervention of the Portuguese, who landed a few hundred soldiers carrying firearms at Massawa in 1541, saved Christian Ethiopia. But it was, ironically, the invasion of Ethiopia by the Galla in about the middle of the century which finally ended the Muslim threat. Having invaded the country, the Galla unintentionally came between the Christian and Muslim rivals, gave the Christians a much-needed breathing space, and broke the Muslim attack. Once the drive of the Muslims was broken and the chances for easy loot in the highlands faded away, the nomadic Muslim tribes of the coastal belt returned to their temporarily interrupted internal wars, and the Muslim front threatening Ethiopia disintegrated.
I : The decline of the Muslim coast of Ethiopia
II: The growth of Galla power in northern Ethiopia
III: The revival of the highland trade
IV: The emergence of the Galla of the SouthWest
V: Egypt and Galla-dominated Ethiopia
VI: The collapse of Galla predominance, Ethiopia and Egypt-second stage
VIII: The rise of the Kingdom of Showa and the new Christian Empire
“We are indebted to Dr. Abir for leading us to this important analysis and for opening a whole period of Ethiopian history to the scrutiny of students and scholars.”––Harold G. Marcus, author of A History of Ethiopia
“It is a book of fundamental importance to Ethiopianists; useful for students of the slave trade and Islamicists; and a significant contribution to the understanding of a neglected aspect of African history in the early and mid-nineteenth century.”––Donald Crummey, author of Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia
“Abir provides a masterly account of the many conflicting tendencies of the period, drawing his analysis from a very wide selection of primary source materials. No region of Ethiopia is neglected in this story of regional strivings for domination over rival provinces. Abir has given those interested in African history one of the best studies yet written on Ethiopia’s past.”––Norman R. Bennett, author of Studies in East African History
“Abir’s study is a pioneering work. He set out to produce a chart of the endlessly fluctuating and deceptive events of the Zamana Mazafint – the Era of Judges, or Princes – of Ethiopian history... His formal learning and prolonged field research are based on a thorough knowledge of the country and of its people. Without these ingredients he could not have written his book.––Czeslaw Jesman, author of The Ethiopian Paradox
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