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Global encounters and a century of political transformation in a medieval African empire: the emergence of Gondarine Ethiopia 1529-1636
the African experience of early-modern globalization
The connection of the Indian ocean world to the Atlantic world in the 16th century was the arguably the most defining moment in human history, initiating an unprecedented explosion of cross-cultural exchanges of ideas, techniques and people, and stimulating states to think in global terms and to formulate political ideologies and practical strategies on the vast world stage.
The ancient states of Ethiopia (the Aksumite kingdom 100-700, the Zagwe kingdom 1100-1270 and the Solomonic empire 1270-1632-1974) had for long participated in the currents of Afro-Eurasian trade and politics, with Aksumite fleets sailing in the western Indian ocean, Zagwe pilgrims trekking to the holy lands and Solomonic ambassadors travelling to distant European capitals. But in a decisive break form the past, the arrival of foreign armies, priests and new weapons in the horn of Africa presented a cocktail of unique challenges to the then beleaguered empire which directly resulted in a radical metamorphosis of its intuitions, religion and military systems that enabled the emergence of a much stronger Gondarine state whose structures provided the foundation of Ethiopia's political autonomy.
The experience of early-modern globalization presented challenges and opportunities for the Solomonic state, but also provided it with flexible spaces for institutional growth and cultural accommodation, enabling it to defeat its old foe —the Adal kingdom, strengthen the Ethiopian orthodox church's theology and re-orient its foreign political and trade alliances.
This article explores the global and regional context in which the transformation of the medieval Solomonic empire into Gondarine era occurred, tracing events from the near annihilation of the Solomonic state in 1529 to the expulsion of the Jesuits and founding of a new capital at Gondar in 1636.
Map of the Solomonic empire in the early 16th century including its main provinces and neighbors
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The Solomonic global entanglement; from the Adal-Ethiopia war to the arrival of the Portuguese.
The Adal conquest of Ethiopia came after the Solomonic empire had been through nearly half a century of terminal decline, caused by succession disputes and other internal power struggles that undermined the centralizing institutions of the monarchy.
Between 1478 and 1494, the empire was ruled by regents on behalf of child-kings, and despite the crowing of a stronger ruler; the emperor Na'od in 1494, the centrifugal forces that had been set loose by his predecessors continued to weaken the empire; his battle with the now resurgent Adal kingdom ended in disaster, and his attempts to strengthen weak frontier territories (especially the Muslim-majority south-east), ultimately claimed his life in 1508 at the hands of the Adal armies.1
His successor Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl fared a little better, inflicting disastrous defeats on the Adal armies and forcing them to shift their capital from Darkar to the old city of Harar in 1519, Lǝbnä's military campaigns, which targeted the permanent settlements, enhanced the influence of the only partially governed nomadic groups on the frontier regions and drove both mercantile and agricultural communities into the arms of the Adal kingdom which itself was undergoing a transformation with the emergence of the war party. The latter, guided by a series of charismatic leaders, defined their goals in Islamic terms, they side-stepped the older aristocratic establishment, and declared holy war against Christian Ethiopia, the strongest of these was Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim (Gran) who ascended to the Adal throne in 1525 and moved his capital to Zeila.2
Only a year later, Gran's armies were skirmishing in Ethiopia's eastern provinces and in 1527, he launched a major campaign into the Solomonic provinces of Dawaro and Ifat, and in 1529, he struck in the Ethiopian heartland with his entire army which possessed several artillery and a few cannons, eventually meeting the vast army of Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl at Shembra koure where he inflicted a devastating defeat on ethiopian army that sent the king to flight, Gran's armies grew as many disgruntled Ethiopian groups joined its ranks and by 1531 he was pacifying most of the Solomonic state’s territories and bringing them firmly under his rule, completing the conquest of most of Ethiopia by 1533 when he subsumed the regions around Lake Tana.3
The devastation wrought by Gran's armies forever altered the psyche of the Solomonic state, the destruction of its literary works and its architectural and cultural heritage, and the horrors that the population experienced was recorded by many contemporary chroniclers : "nothing could be saved, from men to beasts: everything came under Gragn's rule. They carried off from the churches everything of value, and then they set fire to them and razed the walls to the ground. They slew every adult Christian they found, and carried off the youths and the maidens and sold them as slaves. The remnant of the Christian population were terrified at the ruin which was overtaking their country, nine men out of ten renounced the Christian religion and accepted Islam. A mighty famine came on the country. Lebna Dengel and his family were driven from their house and city, and for some years they wandered about the country, hopeless, and suffered hunger and thirst and hardships of every kind. Under these privations he was smitten with grievous sickness and died, and Claudius [GalawdewosJ ,one of his younger sons, became king in his stead."4
Soon after his ascension in exile, Gälawdewos re-established contacts with the Portuguese who coincidentally were wrestling control of the maritime trade in the western half of the Indian ocean from the Ottomans by attacking the latter's positions in the red sea. In the early 16th century Portuguese and Ottoman expansions had been on an inevitable collision course. The Ottomans had advanced into the Indian Ocean world after defeating Mamluk Egypt in 1517 and claiming hegemony in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf in the same decade. A few years earlier, the Portuguese had found their way into the Indian Ocean, sacking the Swahili cities and western Indian cities between 1500-1520s as they advanced northward, and in their attempts to monopolize the lucrative the Indian ocean trade out of Arab, Indian, Swahili and now Ottoman hands, the Portuguese blockaded access to the Gulf and the Red Sea while diverting traffic to the their colonial enclaves.
Following some skirmishes, war between the two empires began in earnest in 1538, when the Ottoman lay siege to Diu and quickly spread throughout the western Indian Ocean basin, involving a variety of client states, one of these was Yemen and this is when Gran took the opportunity to formalize relations between his now vast empire and the Ottomans.5 In 1541, a vast Portuguese fleet arrived in the red sea hoping to strike at the heart of the Ottoman naval enterprise in Suez, the battle ended in an Ottoman victory but fortunately for the Ethiopians, it had brought enough soldiers for Gälawdewos who had spent a year skirmishing with Gran's forces, turning what was until then a regional conflict, into a global conflict.
The first skirmishes between this Portuguese army of 400 arquebusiers ended with an initial defeat of Gran's forces, but this prompted Gran to seek more concrete Ottoman support in exchange for turning his empire into an client state as these small defeats had led to desertion in his army, its then that a large arsenal of artillery was given to Gran including 800-900 arquebusiers and 10 cannons6, and in 1542, Gran's forces crushed the Portuguese army and executed its commander Cristóvão da Gama, leaving less than 50 men of the original force who then retreated further inland, but disputes broke out between his Ottoman contingent and it was dismissed leaving only a few dozen behind.
In 1542, Galawdewos met up with the remnants of the Portuguese force and scored a few small but significant victories against Gran's armies, and On 22 February 1543 at Dembiya, Gran's army suffered an astounding defeat where he was killed, and Galawdewos ordered that "the head of the late King of Zeila should be set on a spear, and carried round and shown in all his country, in order that the people might know that he was indeed dead." the Adal army quickly disbanded and despite attempts to regroup, bereft of both the Gran's leadership and Ottoman support, they quickly retreated to their homeland. Gälawdewos spent the rest of his rule pacifying the empire and restoring the old administrative structures especially in the south-east which had been the weak link that Gran exploited, and by the mid 1550s, the Solomonic empire was united within its old borders.7
Ruins of the church of Däy Giyorgis built in 1430s, With walls of finely cut dressed stones adorned with an elaborate frieze in a rope pattern. Similar 15th century ruins are dispersed over a large area across the empire and were part of a "distinct Solomonic tradition of building prestigious royal foundations in richly ornamented dressed stone" confirming the contemporary accounts of their elegance before their destruction8
Letter of recommendation written in 1544 by Emperor Gelawdewos to King John III of Portugal on behalf Miguel de Castanhoso, a Portuguese soldier who fought in the Ethiopia-Adal war and wrote one of the most detailed accounts on it9
Transforming the Solomonic military system: Guns or Institutions?
The presumed superiority of guns in military technology, their effects in transforming pre-modern African warfare and their centrality in Africa’s foreign diplomacy is a subject of heated debate among Africanists. Its instructive however to note that guns, especially the matchlock, arquebuses and muskets that were used in 16th- 18th century warfare, were much less decisive in battle as its often assumed (especially after the initial shock wore off), they also didn't offer an overwhelming advantage in war (as both European colonist armies in the 16th century and Atlantic African states came to discover when both were defeated by inland states armed with traditional weapons). But they did offer a slight advantage relative to the weapons that were available at the time and units of soldiers with fire-arms were incorporated in many African armies during the 16th century onwards.
Initially, these soldiers came from the “gun-powder empires” such as the Ottomans and the Portuguese who were active in the army of King Alfonso (d. 1543) of Kongo, in the army of Oba Esige (d. 1550) of Benin, in the army of Gälawdewos (d. 1559) of Ethiopia, and in the army of Mai Idris Alooma (d. 1602) of Kanem-Bornu, in time, African soldiers across most parts of Atlantic Africa and the Horn of Africa were soon trained in their use especially in regions where guns could be easily purchased, soon becoming the primary weapon of their armies.10
The Solomonic empire had for over a century prior to Gran's invasion been in contact with parts of western Europe, while scholars had for long claimed that the intention behind these embassies was to acquire European technology and military alliances, this "technological gap" theory has recently been challenged as a more comprehensive reading of the literature shows little evidence of guns or it especially not in the early 15th century when the Solomonic empire was at its height and required little military assistance, but instead points to a more symbolic and ecclesiastical need to acquire foreign artisans (eg builders, carpenters, stonemasons, goldsmiths, painters) as well as religious relics from sacred places, all of which was central to Solomonic concepts of kingship and royal legitimacy.11
bas-relief showing the arrival of the Ethiopian and (Coptic) Egyptian delegations in Rome in October 1441, ("Porta del Filarete" at the St. Peter's Basilica, Italy c.1445)12
Nevertheless, Solomonic monarchs soon recognized the advantage fire-arms would offer in warfare however slight it was, the earliest definitive diplomatic request for arms was in 1521 from emperor Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl who was interested in their use by both the Portuguese and Ottomans and acquired a few of them from the former, but these weren’t used in his military at the time13 and there is also a much earlier mention of firearms during the reign of Yeshaq I (r. 1414-1429) who is said to have employed a former Mamluk Egyptian governor to train his troops14(although this comes from an external source).
However, it wasn't until after the campaigns against Ahmad Grañ were over, that the Solomonic rulers permanently incorporated the use of fire-arms into their armies. The first firearms corps comprised of Portuguese soldiers in the service of Gälawdewos (r. 1540-1559), most of whom were the remnants of the 1541 group, he is reported to have “ordered the Portuguese to protect him and follow him wherever he went to with two squadrons.” and by 1555, he is said to have had 93 Portuguese soldiers at his court.15 This fire-arms army unit was maintained by his successors but the use of fire-arms didn't greatly transform the Solomonic army nor alter the balance of military power away from the center until the the late-18th century when provincial nobles started amassing significant arsenals.16
The real transformation occurred in the centralization of the army, which shifted away from the reliance on feudal levies to a standing army under the King’s command, this process had been started by Zä-Dəngəl (r. 1603-1604) but it was Susənyos (r.1606-1632) who developed it fully, first with corps of bodyguard battalions that incorporated both Portuguese and Turkish musketeers, a largely Muslim cavalry from his battles in the south-east, and an infantry that now included soldiers from several groups he had been fighting on the frontier such as the Oromo, the royal army thus rose from 25,000 men to around 40,000 in the 1620s17 and most of it was maintained by his successors.
Detail of an early 18th century ethiopian miniature from the Gondarine era showing a soldier loading his gun through the muzzle18
Transforming the society; the Oromo expansion and establishing a symbiotic equilibrium on the Solomonic frontier.
The Oromo were autochthonous to most regions of what is now central and south eastern Ethiopia, and they were until the 16th century mostly on the fringes of the Solomonic heartlands (in north-central Ethiopia). Internal political process within several independent Oromo polities had transformed their political and social structures, as the growth of long distance trade and the centralization of power under increasingly patrimonial rulers resulted in changes in Oromo concepts of land tenure and military ethos, leading to a period of expansion and migration across eastern Africa that brought them in contact and direct conflict with the Solomonic empire.19
Some of the most notable among the disparate Oromo groups from this period of expansion were; the Yajju who are mentioned by the time of Amhad Gran in the early 16th century and became prominent elites in the Ethiopian royal court over the century; the Mammadoch who expanded into the north-central Ethiopia in the 16th century, carving out the province of Wallo and playing an integral role in Solomonic politics of the later periods by forming strategic alliances and marriages; the Barentuma who expanded to the province of Gojjam and extended their reach north into Tigre, as well as the Mäch’a and the Tulama (Borana) who expanded into the provinces of Shäwa and Damot.20
Initially, the Solomonic armies won their first skirmishes in their battles against these various Oromo armies in 1572 and 1577, but their victories were reversed by 1579 following several Oromo victories and by the 1580s they constituted the only major military threat to the empire. Särsä Dəngəl thus begun employing contingents of some of them into his army by 1590, and many of the provincial rulers begun integrating Oromo elites into their administration --just as many of the Oromo polities were integrating former subjects of the Solomonic state including some of the nobility with the most notable example being the future emperor Susənyos who was their captive in his youth and fought alongside them in many of their battles21.
After several decades of warfare between the Solomonic and Oromo armies, an equilibrium was established as the integrated groups in either states became important middlemen in the trade between the Solomonic state and the Oromo kingdoms in its south-west, these later evolved into lucrative trade routes that extended upto the Funj kingdom (in Sudan) and became important to later Gondarine economy and its prosperity.22
The Oromo courtiers at the Gondarine court became very influential in the 18th century, marrying into the nobility and become the most powerful group in mid-18th century Gondarine politics, the Oromo cavalrymen also constituted an important unit of the Gondarine military.23
Ruins of a 19th century palace in Jiren, capital of the Oromo kingdom of jimma, founded In the late 18th century, it interacted with the Gondarine state and its successors24
Transforming the church: the Jesuit episode in Ethiopian history (1555-1634), rebellions and the reaffirmation of the Ethiopian orthodox church.
Shortly after Gran's defeat, Gälawdewos tried to restore the now ruined Orthodox church institutions, importing two abuns (head of the Ethiopian church) who were needed to ordain the thousands of priests needed to replace those killed during the invasion. He also strengthened the philosophical foundations of the Ethiopian church, clarifying its basic tenets and defending it in several of his own treatises that were written in response to accusations of Ethiopian orthodox “heresy” by the Portuguese missionary order of the Jesuits which had arrived in the country shortly after the defeat of Gran.25
The Jesuit's arrival came at a critical time when many Solomonic subjects, especially those who hadn’t fully adopted Christianity and had been forcefully converted to Islam by Gran, were only then returning to their old faith. The orthodox church therefore faced an existential challenge in this new theater of religious competition and the Jesuits’ aggressive proselytization worsened its already precarious position.
The leader of the Jesuits was Joao Bermudez and he claimed the late king Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl had promised to convert to Catholicism in a letter which the latter sent to Pope Clement VII in 1533, Bermudez thus openly challenged the royal court and the established orthodox clergy to convert to Catholicism. In truth however, Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl's letter was only an expression of interest for a closer association, but Bermudez, a barber with no theological training, had appointed himself as “catholic abun” of what he considered the new Ethiopia church during one of the embassies that Dǝngǝl sent to Portugal and Rome in 1535.26
Within a few years, his aggressive proselytization, disrespect for Ethiopian traditions, orthodox customs and imperial authorities was sparking rebellions in parts of the country, and after tolerating his insolence for as long as he could, Gälawdewos was forced to exile Bermudez. But the damage to Solomonic-Portuguese relations had been done and the incongruity between either states' understanding of their relationship only widened.27
The Jesuit mission had been doomed from the start, even Goncalo Rodrigues, one among the first priests, wrote in 1555 that "the notables of the empire would prefer to be subjects to Muslim rule rather than replace their customs with ours." nevertheless, after several initial setbacks in which the Jesuits took sides in the war between king Mēnās (r. 1559-1563) and the rebel Yéshaq, they later gradually influenced their way through the upper strata of the Solomonic system, continuing through Särsä Dəngəl’s rule (r. 1565-1597) but eventually lost their influence and the mission nearly ended in 1597.
This was until the priest Pedro Perez took the office in 1603 and proved rather successful in converting some of the Ethiopian elites and re-establishing a Jesuit influence in the Solomonic court by presenting himself as a “purveyor of technological progress” and limiting the conversion efforts to the emperor and his immediate family, he weathered the succession disputes and endeared himself to the newly crowned Susənyos (r. 1606-1632) whom he impressed with the workings of Iberian absolutism and showed him how Catholicism would further centralize his rule, leading Susənyos and his brother Sela Christos to convert to Catholicism by 1621.28
portrait of Pedro Perez
“fortress” walls of Fǝremona, the 17th century Jesuit residence (in Tigre). Jesuit residences in Ethiopia were often constructed to resemble fortresses without serving any real defensive purposes.29
Both Susənyos and Christos then proceeded to violently repress all Ethiopian traditions and state institutions opposed to the new religion, issuing edicts that made Catholicism the state religion and greatly undermining the ethiopian orthodox church. "the Catholic presence in Ethiopia, far from being a simple matter of converting elites and commoners, entailed establishing a Catholic space that was increasingly expanded at the expense of Ethiopian Christianity".
The Catholic inquisitions of the 1620s destroyed countless books, led to the arrest of defiant Ethiopian clergy and purged the administration of orthodox sympathizers. The Jesuit penchant for building their residences as fortresses such as at Fǝremona which were often well guarded with garrisoned soldiers, was viewed with great suspicion by the Solomonic elites and subjects as first step to colonization —as one priest wrote “the missionary residences were seen as true fortresses rather than as praying centers”30
The Solomonic nobility including Susənyos’s immediate family (especially his kinswomen31) were split between cooperating with the new emperor's religion or rebelling against it, and many chose the latter option. In 1620 a large rebellion led by Yonael broke out that included many clergymen and monks but it was brutally suppressed by Susənyos’s army with the help of Christos. In 1622, the Ichege (the second most powerful figure in the Ethiopian church) reprimanded Susənyos publicly, and in 1623, a general rebellion led by Wolde Gabriel that was later suppressed. In 1628 another large rebellion led by Tekla Girogis was put down, and finally the largest rebellion broke out in 1629 led by Malkea Christos.
The rebellion of Malkea lasted upto 1632, it defeated the royal army in several battles and conquered many provinces, promoting Susənyos to take command of his army and ultimately defeat the rebellion but incurring a great cost with tens of thousands of killed in the battle. Disillusioned by the failure to centralize his empire, and the failure to establish a new religion, Susənyos revoked all edicts of forceful conversion to Catholicism and abdicated in favor of his anti-Jesuit son Fasilädäs.32
Susənyos's palace at Dänqäz commissioned by the emperor in 1625 and completed in 1631, construction was directed by an Ethiopian architect, Gäbrä Krǝstos, with the help of a Banyan stonecutter ‘Abdalkarīm and an Egyptian carpenter Sadaqa Nesrani, it served as the model for the later gondarine castle-palaces, Some of the palace’s mansons had worked on nearby Jesuit constructions at Faremona but the overall fashion of the palace departed from their styles and was largely of Mughal influence33
Transforming the empire; the Jesuit expulsion and the start of a new, Gondarine era.
In 1634, Fasilädäs ordered all the Jesuit missionaries to leave the country, following this decision, a large group of Jesuit priests accompanied by a few hundred Ethio-Portuguese Catholics, went into exile to India34 Sela Christos was imprisoned and later killed and the Ottoman governor of the Red sea port of Massawa were instructed by Fasilädäs to kill any Jesuit that arrived in their city; a policy which for a time extended to almost any western ("non-orthodox") European as some unfortunate capuchin priests came to find out.
Following Fasilädäs’s restoration of Ethiopian orthodox church faith in the early 1630s, a handful of defiant Jesuits continued to operate on the highlands and found refuge in Tigre while their brothers left the region entirely. One by one, the remaining Jesuits were either executed by the authorities or killed by angry crowds, while Catholic books—in an ironic turn of events to the Catholic inquisition—were burned. Deprived of its clergy, the Luso-Ethiopia’s Catholic community slowly died out as Fasilädäs’s successors continued this anti-Catholic policy, and in 1669 two of the five missionaries who had succeeded in reaching Ethiopia were identified and faced death by crucifixion and in the same year, the remaining Luso-Ethiopian Catholics faced the choice of either leaving for the Funj kingdom capital Sinnar (in Sudan) or embracing orthodox Christianity35.
The long list of missionary failures turned the entire region into the ultimate destination for martyrdom-seeking missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries, it also convinced European commentators that the country and its rulers were content in their “xenophobic” isolation leading to the now infamous quip about by the English historian Edward Gibbons: “encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Aethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world by whom they were forgotten.” In truth however, the empire was now actively courting the supposed “enemies of its religion” with the sole exception of the Iberian and Italian Catholics. Fasilädäs was implementing a cautious anti-Catholic policy while exploring strategic economic and political alliances with the Muslim world (such as the Ottomans, the imamate of Yemen, the Mughal empire and the Funj kingdom) as well as the Dutch protestants.
The Ottomans in particular were interested in developing new relations with what had previously been their primary antagonist in the red sea region. Fasilädäs initiated relations with Yemen in 1642, with the Ottoman caliphs in 1660 and the Mughal empire in 1664, as well as across the Indian ocean world through his ambassador Murād who travelled to the cities of Delhi, Batavia, Malacca, Surat, Goa, and Ceylon almost always on official capacity36. And rather than a “xenophobic isolation”, Fasilädäs established the city of Gondar in 1632, turning into one of the biggest African capitals of the era with a population of nearly 80,000, it housed diverse communities of Ethiopians (Christians, Muslims, Jews, traditionalists) as well as Indians, Greeks, Armenians and Arabs.
the first two miniatures are from a late 17th century Ethiopian manuscript with the earliest illustrations of a gondarine castle, most likely Fasilädäs’s “fasil ghebbi”37 The third miniature is from an early 18th century manuscript depicting the construction of a gondarine-type castle.38(the turbans on the masons heads are an interesting detail)
In a decisive break from the mobile camp of his predecessors, Fasilädäs established a permanent capital at Gondär in 1636 which was located at the crossroads of the most important caravan routes linking the Ethiopian-Sudanese borderlands with the Red sea ports, he then started the construction of his fortified royal quarters (the Fasil ghebbi).
Over the following decades, Gondär turned into a thriving city and witnessed the largest scale of construction in the region since the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibäla in the 12th century. The cosmopolitan capital reflected the new Gondarine state’s character with its melting pot of communities, including the Ğäbärti Muslims who brokered trade between the state and the Red Sea ports, the Betä Ǝsraᵓls who provided most of the city’s artisanal services, along with growing communities of Indians masons, Armenian and Greek merchants and craftsmen, and the Oromo soldiers and nobility who where incorporated in all levels of the state’s social order.39
Fasilädäs retained a number of institutions and influences from Susənyos' era including the Ethio-Portuguese fire-arms corps who remained serving in his army while his own troops continued adopting firearms, and they wouldn't be expelled until the reign of his successor Yohannis I (1667-1682)40. Fasilädäs also retained and employed the indian masons that had been used by the Jesuits to build a number of structures in Susənyos' era, these masons were primarily influenced by the Mughal empire’s Indo-Islamic architecture especially the so-called “palace gardens” built by Akbar and Jahangir . The Indian stonecutter Abdalkarīm who was directed by the Ethiopian architect Gäbrä Krǝstos to build Susənyos' palace at Danqaz, was retained to build Fasilädäs's castle in 1638-48 where he worked with several Ethiopian architects (they also built the Guzara castle and several bridges). Despite these foreign influences, the Gondarine palaces retained the spatial layout of the mobile Solomonic royal camp with its concentric structure.41
The adoption of these new architectural styles was part of a reformulation of concepts of power and kingship made by Fasilädäs, "unlike his forbears, the king no longer defined his attributes by waging war and expressing his religious devotion alone, but also by indulging in aesthetic, “elevated” experiences”; along with the hybridized art styles and textile fashions that characterized the Gondarine era, this new architecture underscored the ruler’s sense of refinement.42 Over the reigns of his successors, there was a marked increase in construction works of Gondarine style including several castles, churches and libraries some of which were reconstructions of older churches ruined during Gran’s invasion; the new architecture of power, had become firmly established and would last through the entire Gondarine era; a nearly two century long period of artistic and cultural renaissance in Ethiopia.
Fasilädäs’ castle inside the royal palace complex at Gondar
The Guzara castle and bridge located a few kilometers north of Gondär, is often misattributed to Śärṣ́ä Dǝngǝl in 1586, but was built by Fasilädäs and is a virtual copy of his palace at palace Gondär, albeit smaller.43
In 1743, empress Mentewwab completed the construction of what came to be the last of the Gondarine monuments, with richly decorated interior, its clergy clad in the finest clothes and its library crammed with manuscripts it represented the glory of the monarchy,44 a glory that would unravel in the decades following her demise, when the great city was sacked and gradually abandoned leaving nothing but the crumbling ruins of towering castles that still retained an air of authority, a relic born from Ethiopia’s tumultuous global encounter.
sections of empress Mentewwab's dabra sahay Qwesqwam complex, outside Gondar.
18th century Ethiopian manuscript miniature depicting a long battlemented building similar to Mentewwab's palace45
Global encounters and transformation of African societies.
The arrival of the Portuguese in the Ethiopian highlands was admittedly one of the most pivotal moments in the Solomonic empire's history but not for the reason most historians have come to understand.
Instead of a Portuguese directed overhaul of the feudal Ethiopian institutions as its commonly averred, the empire’s institutions underwent a metamorphosis in response to the enormous political and cultural strains it faced, of which the Portuguese presence was but one of several challenges that the Solomonic monarchs had to contend with. Rather than a technology/gun revolution transforming a feudal military, the empire’s army underwent an orderly centralization that despite breaking down two centuries later, provided the blue-print for the restorers of the empire in the 19th century (Tewodros, Yohannis and Menelik). Rather than the decline of Ethiopian orthodox in the face of Catholicism and Islam, the church revitalized itself, and Ethiopian clerics, monarchs and people fiercely defended their faith with words and later, with their lives. Ethiopian clerics engaged in passionate debates defending their Ethiopian orthodox theology in writing (eg Zags Za'ab’s “The Faith of the Ethiopians” printed in 1540 and circulated in European capitals, as well as king Gälawdewos’ treatises addressed to his Portuguese guests), and Ethiopians defended their faith on the battlefields where their own emperor had turned his armies against them, winning the battle but ultimately losing the theological war. Lastly, rather than a superimposition of new architectural styles and aesthetics by the Portuguese, Gondarine patrons consciously adopted a range of construction styles that came to define their new concepts of power, building the vast majority of the iconic Gondarine edifices long after the Jesuits had been expelled.
The evolution of Gondarine Ethiopia’s foreign relations and their transformative effects on its internal institutions mirror the changes occurring in other contemporaneous African states in which their old military systems, religious institutions and concepts of power underwent a metamorphosis that enabled them to respond better to the challenges the rapidly globalizing world presented46.
Africa’s global encounter, rather than triggering the precipitous decline of its medieval civilizations, allowed the continent to enter the early-modern era with full political and economic autonomy, beginning a new golden age.
“泰西王侯騎馬図屛風” (Equestrian Kings of Taixi Folding Screen), a Japanese painting from the early 17th century at the Aizuwakamatsu Castle, depicting “King Abyssinia” with four others, by a local painter based off Jesuit descriptions, the identity of the ruler has been suggested as king David (ie: Dawit II/Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl)47
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Church and State in Ethiopia by Taddesse Tamrat pg 268, 285-301)
The History of Islam irica by Nehemia Levtzion pg 229)
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 86-90)
Layers of Time by Paul B. Henze pg 87
The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402-1555 by Matteo Salvadore pg 181-182
The Portuguese expedition to Abyssinia in 1541-1543 as narrated by Castanhoso By J. Bermudez pg 55)
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 100-102)
Medieval Ethiopian Kingship, Craft, and Diplomacy with Latin Europe By Verena Krebs pg 212
see J. K. Thornton’s “Warfare in Atlantic Africa” and Rory Pilossof’s “Guns don't colonise people…”
Medieval Ethiopian Kingship, Craft, and Diplomacy with Latin Europe by verena krebs pg 185-189)
“Ethiopians at the Council of Florence” in : The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations by M. Salvadore
The Jesuit Mission to Ethiopia (1555-1634) and the Death of Prester John by Matteo Salvadore pg 147)
Linguistic and Cultural Data on the Penetration of Fire-Arms into Ethiopia by Richard Pankhurst pg 47
Early Portuguese Emigration To The Ethiopian Highlands by Andreu Martínez d'Alòs-Moner pg 10)
Firearms and Princely Power in Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century by RA Caulk pg 609
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg pg 198)
The Other Abyssinians by Brian J. Yates pg 20-25)
The Other Abyssinians by Brian J. Yates pg 33-34)
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 164-167)
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 190)
The Ethiopian Borderlands by Richard Pankhurst pg 322-316
The Political Economy of an African Society in Tranformation by Tesema Ta'a pg 61
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 103)
The Jesuit Mission to Ethiopia (1555-1634) and the Death of Prester John by Matteo Salvadore pg 151)
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 104)
The Jesuit Mission to Ethiopia (1555-1634) and the Death of Prester John by Matteo Salvadore 138-150)
The Archaeology of the Jesuit Missions in Ethiopia (1557–1632) by Víctor Manuel Fernández pg 101
Envoys of a Human God By Andreu Martínez d'Alòs-Moner pg 304
Sisters Debating the Jesuits by WL Belcher
Ethiopia and the Red Sea by Mordechai Abir pg 216-222)
The Archaeology of the Jesuit Missions in Ethiopia (1557–1632) by Víctor Manuel Fernández pg 304
Early Portuguese Emigration To The Ethiopian Highlands by Andreu Martínez d'Alòs-Moner pg 24)
Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondarine Ethiopia by Matteo Salvadore pg 54)
Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondarine Ethiopia by Matteo Salvadore pg 62-63)
Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondarine Ethiopia by Matteo Salvadore pg 53-54
Envoys of a Human God by Andreu Martnez D'als-moner pg 321
The Archaeology of the Jesuit Missions in Ethiopia (1557–1632) by Víctor Manuel Fernández pg 31-35, 471-472
The Archaeology of the Jesuit Missions in Ethiopia (1557–1632) by Víctor Manuel Fernández pg 34
The Archaeology of the Jesuit Missions in Ethiopia (1557–1632) by Víctor Manuel Fernández pg 334, 354
Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia by Donald Crummey pg 108
On the transformation of Atlantic african military systems, religions and concepts of power, see the topics “On a War Footing: The ‘Fiscal- Military State’ in West African Politics” and “Feeding Power: New Societies, New Worldviews” in Toby Green’s “A fistful of shells”