A Brief History of Ethiopia

By Tim Lambert

Early Ethiopia

By 100 AD a kingdom called Axum arose in Ethiopia, influenced by Southern Arabia. Axum traded with Rome, Arabia, and India. Axum became Christian in the 4th century AD.

In 642 the Arabs conquered Egypt. In 698-700, they took Tunis and Carthage and soon they controlled all of the coasts of North Africa. The Arabs were Muslims, of course, and soon the whole coast of North Africa converted to Islam. Ethiopia remained Christian but it was cut off from Europe by the Muslims.

In the Middle, Ages Ethiopia flourished. The famous church of St George was built about 1200. However, in the 16th century, Ethiopia declined in power and importance although it survived. At that time the Portuguese reached Ethiopia by sea.

Modern Ethiopia

In 1848 the emperor of Ethiopia imprisoned British subjects and the British sent an expedition to rescue them. The British then withdrew.

However, in the late 19th century the Europeans divided Africa between them. Soon all of Africa was in European hands except Liberia and Ethiopia. The Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1896 but they were defeated by the Ethiopians at the Battle of Adwa.

In 1923 Ethiopia joined the League of Nations. Then in 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The Italians behaved with great brutality using weapons like poison gas. They soon overran Ethiopia. However in 1941, the British liberated Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie was restored to his throne.

However, in 1974 Communists seized power in Ethiopia, and the emperor was deposed and murdered. Led by Mengistu the Communists introduced a tyrannical regime. They murdered thousands of their opponents (although resistance continued in Eritrea). They also cause great suffering by forced deportations. Ethiopia also suffered terrible famines during the Communist era.

Fortunately, the Communist regime in Ethiopia was overthrown in 1991. In 1993 Eritrea became independent. In Ethiopia, a new constitution was introduced in 1994, and elections were held in 1995. Today Ethiopia remains a poor and overwhelmingly agricultural country. In 2024 the population of Ethiopia was 128 million.

Last Revised 2024