The Emperor of Ethiopia was referred to as Niguse Negest (King of Kings) and Atse (Emperor). He bore the title of Conquering Lion of Judah, and Elect of God (Seyoume Igziabiher). He was referred to as Janhoy, and as Girmawi (Imperial Majesty). A reigning Empress was referred to as Nigiste Negest (Queen of Kings) and bore all the other titles of a reigning Emperor except Atse. She would be commonly referred to as Nigist (Queen) or Girmawit (Imperial Majesty). An Empress Consort (wife of a reigning Emperor) bore the title of Itege (Empress), and was also referred to as Girmawit. Princes who were sons of the reigning monarch, or grandsons in the male line, are titled as Leul (Prince), and were referred to as Imperial Highnesses. Princesses who were daughters of the reigning monarch or granddaughters in the male line or sposes of Princes, are titled as Lielt (Princess) and refered to as Imperial Highnesses. Grandsons in the female line generally bore the title of Lij as did most of the sons of the upper aristocracy. All sons and grandsons of the monarch in both the male and female lines bore the additional honorific title of Abeto. This title of Abeto largely fell into disuse following the fall of Lij Eyasu (Eyasu V). Granddaughters in the female line were titled Emebet, but were generaly given the title of Lielt (Princess) upon marriage. Traditionally some Imperial concubines were granted the title of Emebet as well. The heads of the Houses of Tigrai and Gojjam, and certain important members of the House of Shewa are also Princes with the title of Leul (often in combination with the title of Ras which is equivalent to Duke), their wives are given the title of Lielt or Princess. There have been instances of Princes with the additional title of Dejazmatch (Leul Dejazmatch -equivalent to Royal Earl, or a French Royal Comte) whose wives have been generaly titled Emebethoi (Geat Lady). Lij Eyasu’s (Eyasu V) only legitimate offspring, his daughter Alem Tsehai Eyasu, was granted the title Emebethoi by Emperor Haile Selassie. The rulers of Shewa, Gojjam, Wollo and Beghemidir have at various times held the title of “Nigus” or King. Emperor Yohannis IV was the last Emperor to use the title “King of Zion”. Most Ethiopian titles were not hereditary, and were bestowed at the discresion of the Emperor. Although there were many noble and aristocratic houses in Ethiopia, there was no guarantee that a son would have the same or equivalent title as his father or other ancestors. This was probably done to encourage continued loyalty and service to the crown, and allowed for the rise of new noble families over the ages. There were a few exceptions. The title of Wagshum (lord of Wag) was reserved to the decendants of the old Zagwe dynasty and was strictly herediary. The title of Jantirar was another hereditary title reserved for the family that ruled the mountain fortress of Ambassel. The Sultans of the Afars (Ausa), Jimma, the rulers of Qellam, Leqemt, the kings of Wolaita, Janjero, Keffa and others were hereditary rulers. The vast majority of titles were only for life and did not pass on to an heir upon death. The son of a Ras might only reach the titile of Lij, or the son of a commoner might become a Ras. Emperor Menelik II started to award hereditary and non-hereditary European style noble titles much as the Emperors of Japan had following the Mejji restoration in that country. This practice continued with his successors. In Ethiopia however, the distribution of these titles was much more restricted and were seldom bestowed on Ethiopian nationals who showed a marked preferance for their traditional noble titles. One notable example is the awarding of the title Duke of Entoto to Leonce LaGarde, the minister of the Republic of France to the Court of Emperor Menelik II. Although he was named Duke of Entoto, the honor was strictly titular, and did not envolved governorship or rule over Entoto. Most of the traditional southern kingships (such as the kingships of, Leqemt and Qellam in Wellega, Wolaita, Janjero and Keffa) and other southern hereditary titles were phased out of existance by Emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie, but the families still retained their aristocratic status, and were awarded non-hereditary noble titles. The Christianized Oromo houses of Wollo and Wellega were a favorite source of spouses for the Imperial family. During the occupation of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy between 1936 an 1941, the King of Italy was proclamed “Emperor of Ethiopia”, and in that role, Vittorio Emanuelle III awarded several noble titles in Ethiopia in both the European and Ethiopian styles. Marshal Badoglio was made “Duke of Addis Ababa”, and his family continues to use this title. Marshal Graziani, Badoglio’s successor as Viceroy was made Marchese of Neghelli. The King of Italy renounced his Imperial title in 1943. Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa had been made “Ras” by the king of Italy, but Emperor Haile Selassie, upon his restoration refused to recognize this title as legitimate, and the former colaborator was refered to and recognized only as a Dejazmatch. In contrast, when the Eyasuist pretender to the throne, Lij Meleke Tsehai was proclaimed “Emperor” by some guerilla resistance leaders in 1937, he also granted titles. Emperor Haile Selassie chose to recognize some, but only by re-granting these titles himself, the most notable of which was the elevation of Balambaras Abebe Aregai to Ras. The Italians also briefly revived the Sultanate of Jimma under Sultan Abba Jobir Abba Jiffar. The Italians had long granted traditional Ethiopian titles in their Eritrean colony. The British also granted a few Ethiopian style titles in Eritrea after they expelled the Italians. For the most part they elevated some existing title holders from their titles to a higher one, but did not grant un-titled individuals new titles. After the federation of Eritrea to Ethiopia in 1951, the Emperor not only recognized titles granted to Eritreans by the Italian and British monarchs, but granted a huge number of titles not only to Unionists, but also to supporters of the Rabbita movement and other opponents of the federation. This was done in hopes of strengthening support for unification. Emperor Haile Selassie created the title of “Mesfin Harrar” (Duke of Harrar) for Prince Makonnen, his second son. The old Shewan title of Merid Azmatch was revived for Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen. Emperor Haile Selassie also followed a policy of granting high office and titles to many people of humble birth. This caused some considerable resentment in aristocratic circles. The Emperor believed that these men of humble origins, who owed him their modern education and high position, would be more loyal to him personally, and more in tune to the centralizing policy of his government, than would the heirs to old regionally based noble families. Indeed, the government of Prime Minister Aklilu Haptewold encouraged the distribution of titles in larger and larger numbers to a wide range of people from all walks of life, which in practice acted to make the titles of less significance. The nobility believed however, that although these non-noble technocrat officials might adhere more closely to the Emperor’s policy, and feel indebted to him personally, they would have less loyalty to the institution of the Monarchy, and feared what these officials would do once the Emperor had passed on. The revolution intervened and ended things in its own way.
Male Titles of Military origin and their European Equivalents
- Ras (literaly Head) = Duke
- Dejazmatch (literally commander of the door) = Earl
- Fitawrarri (literally commander of the vanguard) = Count
- Kegnazmatch (literally commander of the rightwing) = Marquess
- Grazmatch (literally commander of the leftwing) = Baron
- Balambaras (literally commander of the citadel) = Chevalier
- Shaleqa (commander of 1000)
- Metoaleqa(commander of 100)
- Hamsaleqa(commander of 50)
- Asiraleqa(commander of 10)
The above titles were all of military origin, and retained their military role up to the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. In the 1930’s, the military was reorganized along modern western norms and practices with the introduction of military ranks such as Lt. General, Br. General, Maj. General, Lt. Colonel, Captain, etc. This process was completed in the 1940’s in the post-occupation period. The titles of Shaleqa, Metoaleqa, Hamsaleqa and Asiraleqa were assigned the four lowest officer ranks and were not considered titles of nobility. The titles from Balbambaras and up became purely non-hereditary titles of nobility with no military role.
Male Titles of Imperial Court Origin
- Tsehafi Te’ezaz (literally, Scribe by Command) = Minister of the Pen (Powerful advisory and policy role later united to the Prime-Ministership under Aklilu Haptewold)
- Bitwoded (literally “Beloved”)= Granted traditionally to highly favored courtiers. Sultan Ali Mirah Hanfre of the Afars, and Asfaha Wolde Michael, last Chief Executive of Eritrea under the Federation, were both holders of this title. Emperors granted this title in combination with the title of Ras even more rarely. Only one “Ras Betwoded” held the title at a time. Emperor Haile Selassie awarded this title first to Makonnen Endalkatchew, his first Prime Minister, and then to his son-in-law, Andargatchew Messai.
- Liquemequas = Granted to two trusted courtiers whose role was to be doubles for the Emperor to confuse those who wished to assasinate him. They traditionally wore robes as magnificent as his.
- Afenigus(literally “Mouth of the King”)= Originally Imperial Herald or Spokesman, the title later was granted excusively to Justices of the Supreme Court.
- Blatangueta = Master of the Pages (Granted to a senior Imperial Court Functionary)
- Blata = Page (court officer)
- Basha = low ranking title that was inspired by the Turkish/Egyptian title of Pasha (although that would be considered a high title at those Courts)
Female Titles according to Precidence
- Itegue – Empress
- Lielt – Princess
- Emebethoi – Great Lady
- Emebet – Lady
- Woizerohoi and Woizerithoi( the later mostly given to widows)
- Woizero and Woizerit (now used as the regular titles for all married and single women respectively
Islamic Titles in the Ethiopian Empire
There were several hereditary Islamic titles recognized by the Emperor of Ethiopia. Among them were the Sultanates of Ausa (Afars) and Jimma. Of these, the only the Sultan of the Afars retains official recognition by the Ethiopian government today as a “traditional spiritual leader”. The city of Harrar had three lines of claimants to legitimate rulership of the city state, the Sultans (decendants of the Welassma dynasty that died out in the 15 hundreds), the Imams (decendants of Ahmed Gragn) and the Emirs who ruled Harrar until the assumption of direct rule from Addis Ababa replaced the on and off tributary relationship in the 1800’s. The family of the last Emir, Abdulahi, retained noble status, but both titular and actual rule of the city passed first to Ras Makonnen, later to his sons Dejazmatchs Yilma and Taffari, and when the later became Emperor Haile Selassie, to his son, Prince Makonnen, Duke of Harrar. The leaders of the Mammadoch clans in Wollo traditionally used the title of Imam. The rulers of the Bela Shangul people in the western borderlands of the Empire used the title of Sheik, as did many Islamic notables in Wollo, Tigrai and Eritrea. Many combined their hereditary Islamic titles with non-Islamic Imperial titles bestowed by the Emperor, such as Bitwoded Sultan Ali Mirah of the Afars.