The Zagwe Dynasty

Following the fall of the Solomonic Dynasty, the throne was assumed by a new royal house known as the Zagwe Dynasty, founded by Emperor Mara Tekle Haimanot. These Emperors were said to have been of Agew origin, and the name Zagwe is believed to be derived from the words Ze Agew (which means “of Agew”). Although what is known as Agew Midir (land of the Agews) is located in modern day Gojjam, the Agew are known to have occupied a much wider area in earlier times, and been a major ethnic group in the Empire. Over the centuries, they have assimilated more and more into the Amhara ethnicity which surrounded them and are now indistinguishable for the most part, except for the very few remaining Agew who still speak their distinct language. The new dynasty from it’s origins had difficulties with establishing it’s legitimacy. It is said to have claimed decent from King Solomon through the maid servant of the Queen of Sheba who according to the Kibre Negest was also impregnated by the Israelite king at the same time. They also claimed an even older lineage by claiming decent from Moses through his Ethiopian wife. None the less, they seem to have always suffered from a perception of a lack of legitimacy, especially since the Solomonic descendants of the Axumite Emperors continued in existence in Shewa. The Zagwe’s moved the capital of the Empire from Axum to the south, into the district of Lasta, to a town called Roha. This town would be renamed for the greatest of the Zagwe Emperors, Lalibella, who would build the great rock hewn churches that are still in use today as places of worship and pilgrimage. Below is a list of the Zagwe Emperors, and the dates of their reigns. Several of them would later be canonized by the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.
  • Emperor Mara Tekle Haimanot, reigned 916 – 919
  • Emperor Tatadim, reigned 919 – 959
  • Emperor Jan Seiyoum, reigned 959 – 999
  • Emperor Germa Seiyoum, reigned 999 – 1039
  • Saint and Emperor Yemrehana Christos, reigned 1039 – 1079
  • Saint and Emperor Harbe, reigned 1079 – 1119
  • Saint and Emperor Lalibela, reigned 1119 – 1159
  • Saint and Emperor Na’akuto Le’Ab, reigned 1159 – 1207
  • Emperor Yetbarek, reigned 1207 – 1247
  • Emperor Mairari, reigned 1247 – 1262 Emperor Harbe II, reigned 1262 – 1270

The Solomonic Dynasty was restored in 1270 when the founding Abbot of Debre Libanos Monastery, Saint Tekle Haimanot, convinced Harbe II to step aside and allow the Solomonic heir, Yekonu Amlak, to assume the Imperial Throne rather than face a humiliating military defeat. Legend states that Harbe II took religious vows and became a monk, and his heir was the one who received the settlement from the new Emperor and became the first Wagshum, with the district of Wag as his hereditary fief. The descendants of the Zagwe Emperors bore the title of Wagshum from the year 1270 right up to the revolution of 1974. The Abdication Settlement not only granted the district of Wag and the hereditary title of Wagshum, but also granted the Wagshums the right to be seated on a silver throne one step bellow the golden throne of the Emperor. They were entitled to have the great negarit drum beaten for them in salute on great occasions, and also during military campaigns just like the Emperor. They were also granted the privilege of being seated in the Imperial presence, so long as the Emperor was also seated. They were treated with princely deference by all, and deeply revered in Lasta and Wag. The Solomonic Emperors honored this agreement until the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy 804 years later.

Saint & Emperor Lalibela of the Zagwe Dynasty.