The Battle of Shinbera Kure 2

It was at this moment of utter desperation, that Juan Bermudez was dispatched to Lisbon to plead for help from the King of Portugal. It is at this critical point that the seeds of future conflict were planted. Bermudez claimed that Libne Dingel had agreed that if the Portuguese could free his people from the moslem yoke, then he would proclaim the Roman Catholic Church to be the established faith of his Empire, that the Ethiopian church would submit to the Pope, and that Libne Dingel had removed the Coptic Bishop of Ethiopia, Abune Markos from his see, and had enthroned Bermudez as Bishop of the Ethiopian church in his place. Bermudez presented these claims to both the king of Portugal and to the Pope. The so called “Settlement of Libne Dingel” would for years be the basis of claims by the Vatican of hegemony over the Ethiopian Church. If this act was indeed carried out by a desperate Emperor, it was very ill advised considering the real and significant doctrinal differences between the Church of Alexandria, which Ethiopia was a daughter of, and the Church of Rome. Many European historians have maintained it’s authenticity, while Ethiopian sources reject it as an invention of the ambitious Bermudez. There are no surviving writen texts to prove that this Settlement did indeed take place. Never the less, rather than take the more conventional route to Portugal by trying to board a ship to India, Bermudez used the much more dangerous but less obvious route of Nubia, Egypt and Jerusalem to get to Rome with the Emperor’s plea. He was captured by the Turks, who perhaps didn’t realize that he was the ambassador of the Emperor of Ethiopia to the King of Portugal and to the Pope. He escaped and finally arrived at the Holy See in 1536. He was recieved in audience by Pope Paul III, and horrified the Pontiff with his eyewitness account of the burning of great churches and monasteries, of vast libraries of ancient texts put to the torch, of monks, nuns and deacons butchered and burned, of a fugitive Emperor and Imperial family who claimed decent from Solomon himself, hiding in caves and forests. He repeated his preformance for King John III of Portugal. King John was in the process of appointing a Esteban Da Gama as Vice-Roy of India, and ordered him now to send military aid to the Emperor of Ethiopia. Da Gama (Son of the famous navigator, Vasco Da Gama) prepared to send 400 troops armed with the best in Portuguese armor and firearms under the command of his brother Christophoro Da Gama to Ethiopia. It seemed that Christian Ethiopia was about to be saved from certain distruction, and Libne Dingel restored to the throne of his fathers. Fate had different ideas.

Following the departure of Bermudez, the Emperor had left the Amhara lands of Beghemedir and Amhara Sayint, and entered Tigrai to fight on. During his campaing here, an epidemic and a famine broke out and decimated his forces. On Good Friday, of 1536, the forces of Gragn’s general, Abu Bakr Kateem attacked the Emperor’s traveling party and after a long and bloody battle the Emperor found that his loyal generals, Azaj Tekle Giorgis, Azaj Amha, Azaj Michael Derese, and his confessor from the Debre Bizen Monastery, Abba Tinsae Christos were all dead. The devastated Emperor carried bravely on. Shortly there after, he recieved even worse news. The Imperial family had split up to make it harder for Gragn to eliminate them all, and his sons Fiqtor (Victor) and Minas had gone to Shewa with an army and had battled the moslems at Dewaro. The elder Prince, Fiqtor had been killed, and the younger, Minas had been captured. In an act of his supreme contempt for the House of Solomon, Gragn enslaved Minas, and sent him as a personal slave and servant to Zebid Pasha, the Turkish ruler of Yemen. The Emperor was a devastated and broken man when he recieved this last awful news. One son dead, another captured and enslaved, it seems that Libne Dingel, Wenag Seged, “He to Whom the Lions Bow” could take no more. The broken hearted Emperor traveled to the impregnable natural fortress of the monastery of Debre Damo, and encamped near by on an equally formidable mountaintop. The local ruler, Bahir Negash Yishaq, was a maternal cousin of the Emperor and so perhaps he fealt secure against betrayal. While there, the Emperor fell ill and weakened, giving up hope of saving his people, and devastated by the fate of his sons. Finally in November of 1540, Libne Dingel, Wanag Seged, King of Kings of Ethiopia died at Debre Damo. Athough Gragn had been unable to successfully assault Debre Damo due to the sheer cliffs that surround it. The monks were so affraid of his wrath that they refused to allow the royal retainers to bury the Emperor at the monastery. His body was taken to Debaroa, the seat of the Bahir Negash, and after some considerable time spent by Bahir Negash Yishaq pleading with the monks, the remains were finally taken to Debre Damo and buried with pomp. Libne Dengil is regarded by Ethiopians as a tragic figure who started out his reign with able and compitent regents, who then started ruling on his own as a foolish and rash youth, but who matured to become a pious, holy, prayerful, yet brave and resolute monarch who fought valiantly to protect his church and his Empire. He was unlucky.

The Battle of Shinbera Kure 1

The Battle of Shinbera Kure 1

The Battle of Shinbera Kure
The Battle of Shinbera Kure via: http://www.hobbylinc.com/

The Emperor of Ethiopia marched from his capital at Bokan with 16 thousand horsemen, and 200,000 foot soldiers. So in late 1526 or early 1527, the forces of the King of Kings of Ethiopia met with with army of the Imam of Harrar and the Adal, Ahmend Ibn Al Ghazi at Shinbera Kure, in Shewa. It’s exact location is not know today, but it is sometimes said to be near Mt. Ziquala in the vicinity of the modern towns of Debre Zeit and Modjo. After a vicious battle in which victory seemed to move back and forth between the two sides, towards the end of the day, the Imperial forces broke and began to flee. Although the Emperor tried to rally his troops, recieved re-enforcements, and tried to fortify the town of Antsokia and the mountain fortress at Aiyfer Amba, his forces had been crushed. All of south western Shewa had fallen to the Imam. The battle of Shinbera Kure had been a death knell for the old Empire of Ethiopia. Gragn, armed with the latest weaponry from the Turks found that the Emperor with his thousands of troops could not match him. His victory turned into a route of the Emperor’s army and he began to sweep forward. At this point, the “Gojjam Negash” Wossen Seged, who had once served as a regent for the Emperor heard of the defeat of the Imperial army. He assembled his own Gojjame forces and marched into Shewa, and sent a message to Gragn saying simply ” Do not mistake me as being like the nobles that you have fought thusfar, for I am Wossen Seged, so it would be better for you if you were to return to your lands.” Gragn’s reply was simple in it’s scorn for this most feared of the Emperor’s princes. Gragn ordered parties of his troops to spread out into Shewa and began to loot the entire land. The moslem troops marched through the country and burned down the town of Ankober. They marched on and set fire to every church and monastery they could find, beheading preists and nuns as they went. The great church of Astit Kidane Mehret (dedicated to Our Lady Covenant of Mercy), the Church of Misalle Mariam were sacked and distroyed. Most significantly, the Monastery of Debre Libanos, the leading seat of eclessiastical learning in the Ethiopian Church, was burned to the ground, it’s manuscrips, it’s clergy, it’s relics distroyed. It is said that the commander of the troops that captured Debre Libanos was named Abu Bakr, and that he knew how deeply Ethiopian Christians revered Debre Libanos, and had tried to start negotiations with the monks on them handing over valuable vessles, robes gold and jewels in exchange for the monastery being spared. While he was engaged in the talks with the willing clergy, one of his soldiers, in violation of orders, entered the knave of the church and set it on fire. In the confusion that followed, the clergy were butchered by the army of Gragn. Shortly afterwards, in 1530, Ahmend Gragn led his forces agains the Gojjam Negash, Wossen Seged. Wossen Seged and his army were able to repel three attacks by the Moslems. On the fourth attack, Wossen Seged began a vicious hand to hand duel with Garrad Abid, a general in Gragn’s army. Garrad wounded and disarmed the Gojjam Negash, and even though he knew he would recieve much glory for capturing the kinsman of the Emperor and a former Regent, he went ahead and killed Wossen Seged. When news of the death of Wossen Seged and the fall of Debre Libanos reached them, Imperial officers and soldiers began to defect to the moslems by the hundreds. The Emperor saw that all was futile. Together with his sons Gelawdewos (Claudius), Yaqob (Jacob), Fiqtor (Victor), Minas, his daughters Amete Giorgis, Sebene Giorgis, Welete Kidusan, Taodra (Theodora), his wife Empress Seble Wongel and the aged Dowager Empress Eleni, and the extended Imperial family, he fled Shewa. However, when the Imperial family reached the district of Menz, he left behind his son Yaqob to be protected by the loyal people there in hiding. This was done in the event that the family were captured and massacred, there would at least be one prince in hiding to re-establish the dynasty. Yaqob would father Fasil (ancestor of the elder Gondar line of the Imperial dynasty), Sigwe Qal ( ancestor of the Shewa line of the Imperial dynasty), Teskaro and a daughter Welete Mariam. He is thus the ancestor of all Ethiopian monarchs after the coronation of Susneyos the Catholic in the Gondar, Shewa and Tigrean lines.

The Imperial family fled into Wollo and Amhara Sayint. Gragn marched into Wollo in pursuit of the Emperor and his family, but his forces were repulsed by Ras Degelhan and his forces. In a crafty scheme to capture the Emperor and his family, Gragn then instructed his troops to speak only in Amharic rather than Harrari and Arabic, and to tell the country fold that they were the men of Ras Degelhan, and forbade them from firing any guns so as to allay all suspicion. Thus disguised, the forces of Gragn were able to approach the mountain citadel that Libne Dingel and his family were hiding. However, a renegade moslem soldier set fire to a church and alerted the population of the arrival of Gragn. As panic set in, a furious Gragn leading a force of his best soldiers himself, rushed forward on the Emperor’s tent to capture him personally. The Imperial guards however fought fiercely and Gragn was unable to approach the Imperial tent. Under cover of darkness and heavily disgused, the Emperor fled the scene. Gragn finally was able to overwhelm the guards and entered the tent to find the magnificent throne, and large quantities of precious metals and stones, but not the Heir of Solomon. Gragn realized, that although a large part of the Empire was now his, he would never be aknowledged as the ruler of Ethiopia as long as Libne Dingel lived. He gave the order to his soldiers to burn every church they could find, and personally oversaw the burning of the church of Mekane Silassie (House of the Trinity). He then went on to Atrons Mariam church and demanded that the monks give him the Arc, relics and treasure of the church which they refused. He had them massacred and burned down the church, and recoverd the treasure with the help of informants. When he went on to burn the Church of Bete Semayat (House of Heaven), many monks were so distraught at this, that they threw themselves into the flames and burned themselves to death along with their great church. He also distroyed the ancient monastery of Bete Negedguad (House of Thunder). In 1531, the now fugitive Emperor fled the overrun Amhara Sayint and crossed the Beshilo river into Beghemidir. Gragn ordered his General and In-law, Garrad Ahmishu, to pursue the Emperor. He could not find him. Instead, he found what was left of the Emperor’s advance guard holed up in the monastery of Our Lady on Amba Gishen. The Gishen Mariam Monastery is reveared by Ethiopian Christians emensely as it is said that a fragment of the true cross is kept at the church. The Church and monastery crowns a formidible mountain with sheer sides that is virtually impregnable. When Garrad Ahmishu and his troops attempted to assault the mountain monastery, the Imperial soldiers would send down avalanches of rock and caused significant losses to the Moslems. More significantly, when the Christian population of the area heard that the Emperor’s men were besieged on Gishen, there was a huge uprising in defence of the fragment of the True Cross, and peasants young and old, male and female rushed out to become martyrs of the Cross and protectors of the monastery of the Holy Virgin. Garrad was overwhelmed. His forces were beaten back from Gishen, and he himself was captured. Dragged before the Emperor in his place of hiding, Garrad was brutally executed as Libne Dingel watched. Gragn began to pursue Libne Dingel through the land. Trying to capture the King of Kings was not easy. Even though many local moslems, jews and even christians rallied to the vitorious Gragn, and tried to help him find the Emperor, Libne Dingel evaded him for months. Gragn entered the town of Axum and burned down St. Mary of Zion Cathedral and looted much of the treasure there, although the monks had already taken away and hidden the great relic which they claim to this day, is the Ark of the Covenant. Gragn’s Vizier, Abdel Lenim fought a brutal battle with Tesfa Leul, ruler of Hamasein, and was defeated. Tesfa Leul ordered the beheading of the vizier, and the head was presented to the Emperor Libne Dingel. The triumph was short lived, for Gragn marched into Hamasein himself and crushed Tesfa Leul, and had him killed brutally. The Emperor and his family continued to flee from hiding place to hiding place pursued by Gragn, as the moslems laid waste to the ancient Ethiopian Empire and it’s Orthodox Christian church. At the height of his power, Gragn decided that perhaps he could negotiate an end to the conflict with Libne Dingel. He sent an emissary to the Emperor saying “To battle against Gragn has become equivalent to doing battle against God, so be reasonable and send your daughter to be my wife, and let us be reconciled.” The Emperor replied that “Rather than give my child to a non-Christian, to a man whose religion is not known, and achieve re-conciliation, I would rather fall dead at the hands of Almighty God, the punisher of sinners. As He is merciful forevermore,, he will one day weaken the strong and strengthen us the weak.” He thus proudly refused the gesture, and further insulted Gragn by not even aknowledging him as a muslim, but refering to him as a pagan, using the term “a man whose religion is not known”. The insult would have stung deeply.

The Battle of Shinbera Kure 2