Some Medieval Emperors

  • Emperor Yigba Tsion

    Upon the death of Yekonu Amlak, he was succeeded by his son Yigba Tsion who speant much of his reign fighting various sons and grandsons of Yekonu Amlak for the succession. After a brief reign that ended with his death in 1294, the fighting intensified among his brothers and nephews until 1300 or so when it was decided to return to the old custom of imprisoning all male heirs of the House of Solomon to prevent wars of succession. Instead of the old royal prison on Debre Damo monastery, they royal men were taken to the new monastery prison built on Amba Gishen.

  • Emperor Amde Tsion

Amde Tsion was crowned in 1313 and brought all the Christian districts of the northern highlands under his firm control. He expanded his power deeper into Shewa, Gojjam, Damot and Agew Midir. He established stronger control of the Lake Tana area, establishing a strong base on the Zegey peninsula where he built the beautiful St. Mary’s church which still stands today with it’s magnificent murals. He also expanded deep into the south into Hadiya, which is in modern Sidama (Sidamo), and spread Christianity throughout the south. He strengthened the monarchy and established a more stable system of government. Emperor Amde Tsion died in 1344.

During the reign of Emperor Tekle Giorgis I, in an attempt at consolidating declining Imperial power, the Emperor proclaimed the imposition of new taxes on the population of Beghemidir, (in particular a tax on honey produced) the Province in which the capital, Gondar, was located. The nobles of the province appealed to the Emperor, stating that they had long been exempt from such taxes. He refused to accommodate them. The “Enderase” was a noble who was appointed to serve as a type of Grand Vizier or PrimeMinister. At this time, it was the Yejju Oromo nobleman, Ras Gugsa the Great. The nobles assembled at Debre Tabor, and summoned him to them. They told him that they no longer wanted to be ruled by the Emperor, and if he stood with them, and agreed to act only in consultation with them, he could assume power and relegate the monarch to a powerless symbolic role confined to the Castle compound in Gondar. The Enderase swiftly agreed. Emperor Tekle Giorgis I was informed that he was to refrain from participating in affairs of state, and symply reign from his thone as the supreme source of legitimacy, and a symbol of sovreignity, but devoid of all power. Stripped of all their traditional power, the Emperors became mere puppets of whomever could assume the Enderaseship. The people contemptuously refered to the successive monarchs as Our Ladies the Castle Keepers (Woizazir Ye Gimb Tebakioch). The loss of Imperial prestiege had begun with the murder of Eyasu the Great by his son Tekle Haimanot I, but probably the greatest blow to Imperial power was the killing of Emperor Eyoas I on the orders of the Enderase, Ras Michael Sihul. The emasculating of Tekle Giorgis I’s power was simply the final straw. The Emperors struggled to maintain their role, but Tekle Giorgis I was the last of the elder Gondar branch of the Imperial dynasty to excersize any real authority. The era that followed was the Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes) in which regional leaders governed with little oversight from the capital. They fought each other for power and territory, and struggled to sieze the position of Enderase for themselves. Athough others did manage to sieze the Enderaseship from time to time, it was usually held by members of Ras Gugsa the Great’s family, a noble family of Oromo origin from Yejju and Wollo. Each Enderase would choose a prince of the Imperial House and place him on the throne as his puppet, but when another Enderase seized power, or the incumbent monarch displeased the Enderase, the puppet Emperor would be replaced by another. Some monarchs would be deposed and restored several times in their lifetimes. Although they held the strings of power and authority the House of Yejju never presumed to seize the throne for themselves, always aknowledging the right of the House of Solomon to occupy the Imperial throne even if only symbolically. Often referred to by foriegnors as princes, the Yejju rulers of Ethiopia were in fact nobles and not princes. The following is a list of the monarchs of this era who had no power, but were legitimate monarchs in whose names the nation was ruled by its many warlords. Many were contemporaries of each other, and found themselves switched on and off the throne at the whim of the Enderase. They followed Emperor Tekle Giorgis I.
  • Emperor Eyasu III
  • Emperor Hizkias
  • Emperor Beide Mariam II
  • Emperor Solomon II
  • Emperor Yonas Emperor
  • Dimitros Emperor Igwale Tsion (Gwalu)
  • Emperor Eyoas II
  • Emperor Gigar
  • Emperor Beide Mariam III
  • Emperor Eyasu IV
  • Emperor Gebre Christos
  • Emperor Sahle Dingil
  • Emperor Yohannis III

With the deposing of Emperor Yohannis III in 1851 by Kassa of Kwara, who usurped the throne as Tewodros II, the elder line of the Solomonic Dynasty, the Gondar Branch, came came to an end. Emperor Yohannis III was deposed and expelled from the Palace compound in Gondar and went to live in another house in the city. He apparently fell on hard times, and would write a pitiful letter to Emperor Napoleon III of France, pleading for funds because he had become destitute. There are stories that he converted to Catholicism. Following Tewodros II’s death, three branches of the dynasty, the Tigrai Branch, the Gojjam Branch, and the Shewa Branch became the leading representatives of the House of Solomon. They were challenged by Wagshum Gobeze who set forth claims as both the Zagwe heir, and also by virtue of Solomonic blood on his mother’s side. Emperor Yohannis IV was the only member of the Tigrai Branch to reign, but his decendants were recognized as the hereditary princes of Tigrai. The Shewan Branch eventually became the reigning branch of the family, and recognized as the senior one of the three lines. The head of the Gojjam Branch became King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam, and his decendents ruled Gojjam as it’s princes for many decades afterwards. The family trees are extensive.