Ethiopia’s Geography Through History

The first records of Ethiopia come from Egyptian traders from 5000 years ago. They refer to the lands south of Nubia as Cush, Punt, and Yam. Almost 3000 years ago, Ancient Greeks wrote of Abyssinians, a sacred people loved by the Gods. Yet no matter what name the region goes by — Cush, Axum, Abyssinia — Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world and the second Christian kingdom after Armenia. Today, a cartographic history.

The first demarcated borders of modern records are those of the nation of Axum, which emerged as a regional power with its own written language and distinctive architecture.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

King Ezana was baptized a Christian in 330, and Ethiopia then waged war on Yemen and expanded along the Arabian coast of the Red Sea, launching one abortive invasion of pre-Muslim Mecca.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

Islam and Axum originally had good relations — Muhammed told his followers, “Leave the Ethiopians in peace as long as they do not take the offensive.” But when Arabs invaded North Africa a clash with Ethiopia was invitable, and the two sides fought several wars in the 8th century. Eventually, Muslims occupied the coast and converted the natives.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

From thereafter, Christian Ethiopia became a hermit kingodm and was confined to the highlands. Cut off from trade routes and the rest of the world (the nation had diplomatic relations with Byzantium until the Arab invasion), the country stagnated was mired in isolation and poverty for centuries.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

The country gained a brief rise when it allied with Portugal against the Arab traders from 1400-1650. The alliance did little for both sides, as each had unrealistic expectations of the other.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

When the Portugese left, Ethiopia returned to its state of isolationism until European colonialism. Exact borders cannot be confirmed — some maps show the nation barely more than a city-state, others show it controlling large chunks of central Africa.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

Ethiopia is the only state in Africa, along with American colony Liberia, never colonized by European powers. This had much to do with its exalted status in Western legend as one of the oldest Christian kingdoms. Neighboring Eritrea was occupied by Italy while Ethiopia was given Muslim territory to the east of the highlands in 1896 (which it still holds today and which upsets the demographics of Ethiopia as a Christian nation).

Mussolini invaded in 1935 and annexed the territory for five years. After colonialism ended, Ethiopia was given Eritrea (in Green) but lost the region after the Mengistu regime and civil war.

Ethiopia/Axum/Abyssinia's Geography Through History

Today, Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world with the second largest population in Africa (after Nigeria).

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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11 Responses to Ethiopia’s Geography Through History

  1. lirelou says:

    Interesting post. Back in the 1970′s I knew a special forces major named Bruno Rizzato whose listed place of Birth was Addis Abbaba. His father had been stationed there in the Italian Army.

  2. Adamu says:

    Interesting history, but if Mussolini invaded doesn’t that mean it was actually annexed by a Western power for a little while?

  3. Good maps. To add a sidenote, Ethiopa had a brief period as an imperial power itself prior to Islam, and its actions in Arabia, as an ally of Byzantium, led to Persian control.

    A brief excerpt from chapter one of my book:

    …The Himyar [an important south Arabian tribe that predated the Christian era and reached its peak beginning circa 299 AD] then began enlarging their power, to the point of being able to claim the title of kingship over both central and coastal Arabia. They used the Hujr clan of the tribe of Kinda as a satellite to control the center, and lesser tribes elsewhere, including the area north of the trading city of Mecca. This expansion naturally brought them within the realm of international politics. Byzantium began cultivating Kinda as a satellite, and through its influence with Ethiopia, began to intervene in Arabia itself in order to protect Christian missionaries and communities. Kinda was key because it controlled the territory containing trade routes linking south and eastern Arabia with Iraq (itself and old Arabic word for Mesopotamia). The Himyar established formal relations with major cities in Iraq and Persia, and in the fourth century concluded a formal peace treaty with Ethiopia. By the early sixth century, however, Christianity was perceived to be an extension of Byzantine imperial power, and war broke out between the Himyar and Ethiopia. Ethiopia was victorious, and successfully installed a Christian king over the Himyar. Around the same time the strength of the Jewish tribes was increasing, and with his death they were able to take power.

    Reports of aggressions against Christian communities again brought Ethiopian intervention, who again installed a Christian King, Esimiphaeus, a Himyarite by birth, over the tribe. His Christian successor was one Abraha, a slave of a Roman merchant, whose power was sufficiently secure to quell a revolt among the Kinda and orchestrate two campaigns to subdue rebellious elements in central Arabia. One of the latter appears to be the Attack of the Elephant referred to in the Quran (105), which may have taken place the year of Muhammad’s birth. The growth of Byzantine and Jewish power increased monotheistic influence in a region that had been overwhelmingly polytheistic.

    The final chapter in the story of the Himyar prior to the rise of Islam was that of Persian conquest. By AD 559 resentment toward Ethiopian rule became so great that one Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan appealed to Persia for help. The Persian ruler Khosro agreed to send an army in exchange for annual tribute. After Yazan was installed as king he was killed by Ethiopian slaves, and the Persian army returned, this time bringing southern Arabia under formal Persian rule. And so it remained an adjunct of the Persian Empire until the time of Muhammad.

  4. Dan says:

    Fascinating Kirk! Thanks!

  5. BillyBob says:

    Excellent stuff Kirk, thks for sharing.

  6. Candle says:

    What do you know Guys about Prester John and thiopia?

  7. Demeke says:

    Good illustrative history explanation and map I like it. I would like to answer some of the question of Adamu, there is a difference between being in war and being colonized. When one country is a colony of another country the international and domestic affairs of the country will be governed by the colonizer; on top of that the world will be notified that such country is under colony and all international diplomacy affairs of the country will be managed by Italy. The good current example would be the invasion of Iraq by USA vs. the international community.

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