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Medieval Democratic Ethiopia

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on January 3, 2009


Medieval Prosperous And Democratic Ethiopia

During Ethiopia’s isolation period, beginning in the 11th century, Ethiopians developed some of the most remarkable ecclesiastical architecture in the world. Between the 10th and 16th centuries churches carved from rocks became commonplace — the 13th century being the most remarkable. In the 12th century for instance Ethiopia’s King Lalibela oversaw the construction of 10 chapels and churches, dark-aisle and pillared, carved out of mountains near the capital of Roha. These skills had a long history, from the cutting of pre-Axumite subterranean tombs to the quarrying of the medieval rock-hewn churches and it seems reasonable to claim for them an indigenous origin. It should be no surprise that the inhabitants of an area as rocky as the Ethiopian Highlands should become expert in handling stone.

In the 15th century, when the Portuguese traveled to Ethiopia on their search for legendary Christian figure, Prestor John, whom they needed to help them against the Ottoman Turks, and who they believed ruled over a kingdom in Africa, they were surprised to find a kingdom much like there own. Ethiopia was closely linked with distant lands as far way as Europe, not only economically but also culturally. It was an Ethiopia very like the kingdoms of medieval Europe, a land ruled by proud and contumacious nobles bound in fealty to their king, with a hierarchy of lesser nobles and vassals below them and, at the bottom, land less peasants laboring for all
When in the 1520’s Europeans reached the Ethiopian highlands, they found and described a civilization at about the same level as their own.

By 1500 Ethiopia was at its peak. It was a rich, powerful, literate, and in many ways democratic Christian culture. The Ethiopian empire enjoyed the utmost tranquility at that time, order and security reigned everywhere.

Ethiopian priests and monks taught art, science, and other subjects. Ethiopia’s government in the middle ages was mostly democratic. The king was above the democratic process, but below him were district elections of the Tellek Sew (great man), who could be voted out of office or demoted to a lower government position with an assembly of the people in his district.

The Golden age of Ethiopian civilization, the well-being and peaceful coexistence of Ethiopians and the socioeconomic and religious advancement of Ethiopia was halted by the first Muslim Jihad that the country had to experience during the Muslim invasion lead by the Muslim militant, Ahmad ign Ibrahim al-Ghazi. In 1529, because of this devastating barbaric invasion, the Ethiopians lost an entire army and many of their ruling elite. Churches and monasteries were ruthlessly plundered and sacked and their treasures destroyed or given to the Islamic army…Many of the priceless treasures of Ethiopian literature and painting, miniatures in books or murals on church walls, were destroyed and such relics which by chance escaped destruction can today give only a rough idea of the achievements of those creative and productive centuries. In 1533 Ethiopia’s most holy place, Axum, was, razed to the ground. Almost half a Millennium has passed since that black spot has been painted in Ethiopian history, yet, Ethiopia and Ethiopians still do seem to have difficulties in recovering from the trauma. Until this time the Christian country had never been laid waste or overrun by the enemy.

By 1543, even though Ethiopians were able to defeat the Muslim army and take back their lost territory, many Ethiopians were already forced to convert to Islam, and the once great Ethiopian culture that had flourished for hundreds of years was gone. The well-planed, orchestrated and destabilizing attack on the sovereignty, dignity and peaceful life of medieval Ethiopians lead to the reign of new era, of barbarism and cruelty against all the people of color, as it opened doors to European and Arab powers to enslave and colonize other African populations in the African Continent.

Let’s remember 1533!

Posted in Ethiopia | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

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