Zagwe dynasty

Zagwe dynasty

The Zagwe dynasty ruled Ethiopia from the end of the Kingdom of Axum at an uncertain date in the 9th or 10th century to 1270, when Yekuno Amlak defeated and killed the last Zagwe king in battle. The name of the dynasty is thought to come from the Ge'ez phrase "Ze-Agaw", meaning "of Agaw" and refer to the Agaw people. Its best-known king was Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who is given credit for the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

David Buxton has stated that the area under the direct rule of the Zagwe kings "probably embraced the highlands of modern Eritrea and the whole of Tigrai, extending southwards to Waag, Lasta and Damot (Wallo province) and thence westwards towards Lake Tana (Beghemdir)." [David Buxon, "The Abyssinians" (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 44] Unlike the practice of later rulers of Ethiopia, Taddesse Tamrat argues that under the Zagwe dynasty the order of succession was that of brother succeeding brother as king, based on the Agaw laws of inheritance.


The number of kings of the Zagwe dynasty is uncertain: Ethiopian King Lists provide from five to 16 names belonging to this dynasty, who ruled for a total of either 133 or 333 years (other possibilities include 137 years, 250 years, and 373 years). All agree that the founding king was Mara Takla Haymanot, son-in-law of the last king of Axum, Dil Na'od. However the name of the last king of this dynasty is lost -- the surviving chronicles and oral traditions give his name as "Za-Ilmaknun", which is clearly a pseudonym (Taddesse Tamrat translates it as "The Unknown, the hidden one"), employed soon after his reign by the victorious Solomonic dynasty in an act of damnatio memoriae. Taddesse Tamrat believes that this last ruler was actually Yetbarak.

The Ethiopian historian Taddesse Tamrat follows the theories of Carlo Conti Rossini concerning this group of rulers. Conti Rossini believed that the shorter length of this dynasty was the more likely one, as it fit his theory that a letter received by the Patriarch of Alexandria John V from an unnamed Ethiopian monarch, requesting a new "abuna" because the current office holder was too old, was from Mara Takla Haymanot, who wanted the "abuna" replaced because he would not endorse the new dynasty.

ee also

* History of Ethiopia
* Rulers and Heads of State of Ethiopia
* Kings of Axum



* Taddesse Tamrat. "The Legacy of Aksum and Adafa" in "Church and State in Ethiopia". Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972

External links

* [ Ethiopian History]
* [ Zagwe Genealogy] (Royal Ark website)
* [ Tekeste Negash, "The Zagwe period re-interpreted: post-Aksumite Ethiopian urban culture"]

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