Ethiopian Treasures

Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868)

Between 1769 and 1855, Ethiopia was divided into a number of small kingdoms and ruled by regional princes and feudal lords is known in Ethiopian history as the "Era of Princes and Wealthy Feudal Lords (Zemene Mesafint)". The central govenment was abolished and the regional princes took control of their own affairs until 1855.

In 1855, Lij Kassa Hailu, the son of Dejezmach Hailu Wolde Giorgis (Governor of Kawara district of Dembia, western Beghemider province), declared himself "King of Kings" and was crowned under the name of Emperor Tewodros II. Tewodros began to re-unify Ethiopia by subjugating regional Princes to his rule. He imprisoned prince Menelik of Shewa who refused to recognise Tewodros as Emperor. Tewodros lacked diplomatic skills and used force to pursue his goal of re-uniting the country. Because of this, Tewodros became unpopular among many regional princes and feudal lords. He successfully overthrew feudal lords and distributed land to the peasants and ordinary people. His efforts led to the abolition of the slave trade and won him the hearts and minds of many ordinary people.

Tewodros efforts were to modernise his army, and to re-unite and established an independent and sovereign Ethiopia. To fulfil his ambitions, Tewodros contacted a few European countries, specifically Great Britain for support. He encountered a set back when he failed to get the support he had asked for. The final straw for Tewodros came when the British did not respond his request of support. He became very angry and he took several British people prisoners in a final desperate attempt to get support. Queen Victoria wrote to him asking for the release of the prisoners but Tewodros refused to release the prisoners and this led to the expedition of British troops to Meqdala in 1868.

Geographically, Ethiopia was and still is a very difficult country to travel in without inside co-operation so the British contacted Dejezmach Kassa of Tigray who was unhappy with the way he had been treated by Tewodros. Kassa of Tigray made a deal with the British. They promised him that he would get weaponry in exchange for his support against Tewodros. In 1868, The British troops and Kassa of Tigray marched on Meqdala and defeated Tewodros army. Tewodros shot and killed himself rather than surrender to the British army. After Tewodros death, the British army looted the country's precious manuscripts and religious artefacts from Megdala.

Today these priceless treasures of Ethiopia can be seen in many museums in the UK including the British Museum. The British army also took Tewodros's son, Alemayohu, to Britain where he grew up under the protection of Queen Victoria until he died at the age of 18. His memorial is now in the chapel at Windsor Castle.

Tewodros is remembered by Ethiopians as the founder and moderniser of Ethiopia's Re-unification. He is now one of the most revered historical figure.


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