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The dynasty of Solomon: from1270

Various dynasties follow each other on the Ethiopian throne in the unsettled centuries of the early struggle with Islam. Then, in 1270, a warlord by the name of Yekuno Amlak wins power and establishes a royal line which survives until the late 20th century. He provides his descendants with the best possible Ethiopian pedigree, for he claims to be descended from Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

At first this royal line of Solomon exercises little real control over the region now thought of as Ethiopia. The position of the king is more akin to that of a medieval European monarch, presiding at the peak of an unruly feudal pyramid.

There are three major provinces within Ethiopia, in each of which the ruler usually enjoys virtual independence. Each of these regions, moving southwards, is in its turn the centre of the developing realm of Ethiopia.

The north is the area where the first rulers establish themselves, arriving from across the Red Sea. Comprising at times both Eritrea and Tigre, this province contains Aksum, the original centre of Ethiopian civilization. Next is Amhara, in the northern highlands, with Gondar as its capital. Here are to be found the great medieval monasteries of Ethiopia. And this is the home territory of the supposed dynasty of Solomon, helped to power in the 13th century by the support of rich abbots and their feudal vassals.

Further south again, in the central highlands, is the kingdom of Shewa. This is the natural site from which to rule the entire region. Addis Ababa is founded here in 1886 by Menelik II, who is subsequently the first man to establish control over the modern nation of Ethiopia.

When Menelik comes to the throne in 1889 he restores the line of Solomon (recently displaced by a powerful usurper) and he brings back to international prominence Ethiopia's own brand of Christianity. This has survived not only the assault of Islam but also the attentions of Catholic Rome, determined to put an end to this isolated survival of the monophysite heresy.

Links with Rome: 1441-1622

In 1441 some Ethiopian monks travel from Jerusalem to attend the council in Florence which is discussing possible union between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.

The arrival of the Ethiopian monks causes something of a sensation. It begins two centuries of contact in which Rome hopes to bring the Ethiopians into the Catholic fold (the doctrinal problem is that they incline to the monophysite heresy associated with the Coptic church of Egypt). In 1554 Jesuits arrive in Ethiopia - to be joined in 1603 by Pedro Páez, a Spanish missionary of such energy and zeal that he has been called the second apostle of Ethiopia (Frumentius being the first).

Páez learns Amharic, the Ethiopian language, and prepares in it a catechism. He also writes a treatise on the theological errors of the Ethiopian church, armed with which he persuades the king, Susenyos, to abandon his monophysite heresy and to declare that Christ has two natures. But Páez dies in 1622. Ten years later, under strong local pressure, the king reverts to Ethiopia's traditional version of Christianity.

The departure of the Jesuits is followed by two centuries in which Ethiopia survives once more in precarious isolation - until the second half of the 19th century, when the colonial interest in Africa again involves the kingdom in the affairs of the wider world.

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