Zagwe dynasty
The Zagwe dynasty was an historical kingdom in present-day Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

. It ruled large parts of the territory from approximately 1137 to 1270, when the last Zagwe King
- Centers of population :* King, Ontario, CanadaIn USA:* King, Indiana* King, North Carolina* King, Lincoln County, Wisconsin* King, Waupaca County, Wisconsin* King County, Washington- Moving-image works :Television:...

 Za-Ilmaknun was killed in battle by the forces of Yekuno Amlak. The name of the dynasty
A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family. Historians traditionally consider many sovereign states' history within a framework of successive dynasties, e.g., China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire...

 is thought to come from the Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

 phrase Ze-Agaw, meaning "Dynasty of the Agaw" in reference to the Agaw people that constituted its ruling class. Zagwe's best-known King was Gebre Mesqel Lalibela
Gebre Mesqel Lalibela
Gebre Mesqel Lalibela , also called simply "Lalibela", which means "the bees recognise his sovereignty" in Old Agaw, was negus or king of Ethiopia and a member of the Zagwe dynasty. He is also considered a saint by the Ethiopian church. According to Taddesse Tamrat, he was the son of Jan Seyum and...

, who is credited with having constructed the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia, known for its monolithic churches. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian...


David Buxton has stated that the area under the direct rule of the Zagwe kings "probably embraced the highlands of modern Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 and the whole of Tigrai
Tigray Province
Tigray was a province of Ethiopia. The Tigray Region superseded the province with the adoption of the new constitution in 1995. The province of Tigre merged with its neighboring provinces, including Semien, Tembien, Agame and the prominent Enderta province and towards the end of 19th century it...

, extending southwards to Waag
Wag is a traditional highland district in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, in the approximate location of the modern Wag Hemra Zone. Weld Blundell described the district as bounded on the south by the mountains of Lasta, on the east and north by the Tellare River, and the west by the Tekezé...

, Lasta
Lasta is a historic district in north-central Ethiopia. It is the district in which Lalibela is situated, the former capital of Ethiopia during the Zagwe dynasty and home to 11 medieval rock-hewn churches....

 and Damot (Wallo province
Wollo was a historical region and province in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, with its capital city at Dessie. The province was named after the Wollo Oromo, who settled in this part of Ethiopia in the 17th century...

) and thence westwards towards Lake Tana
Lake Tana
Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is the largest lake in Ethiopia...

Begemder was a province in the northwestern part of Ethiopia. There are several proposed etymologies for this name...

)." Unlike the practice of later rulers of Ethiopia, Taddesse Tamrat argues that under the Zagwe dynasty the order of succession
Order of succession
An order of succession is a formula or algorithm that determines who inherits an office upon the death, resignation, or removal of its current occupant.-Monarchies and nobility:...

 was that of brother succeeding brother as king, based on the Agaw laws of inheritance
Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies...



Around 960, Queen Gudit
Gudit is a semi-legendary, non-Christian, Beta Israel, queen who laid waste to Axum and its countryside, destroyed churches and monuments, and attempted to exterminate the members of the ruling Axumite dynasty...

 destroyed the remnants of the Aksumite Empire
Aksumite Empire
The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD...

, causing a shift in its temporal power centre that later regrouped more to the south. For 40 years she ruled over those remnants, eventually passing them on to her descendants. According to other Ethiopian traditional accounts, the last of her dynasty was overthrown by Mara Takla Haymanot
Mara Takla Haymanot
Mara Takla Haymanot was Nəgusä nägäst of Ethiopia, and the founder of the Zagwe dynasty. Some King Lists give his name simply as "Mararah", and other King Lists as "Takla Haymanot"....

 in 1137. He married a daughter of the last king of Axum
Aksumite Empire
The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD...

, Dil Na'od
Dil Na'od
Dil Na'od was the last negus of Axum before the Zagwe dynasty of Ethiopia. He lived in either the 9th or 10th century. Dil Na'od was the younger son of Ged'a Jan , and succeeded his older brother 'Anbasa Wedem as negus...

, putting control of Ethiopia in Agaw hands.

The Zagwe period is still shrouded in mystery; even the number of kings in this dynasty is disputed. Some sources (such as the Paris Chronicle, and manuscripts Bruce 88, 91, and 93) give the names of eleven kings who ruled for 354 years; others (among them the book Pedro Páez
Pedro Páez
Pedro Páez Jaramillo was a Spanish Jesuit missionary in Ethiopia. Páez is considered by many experts on Ethiopia to be the most effective Catholic missionary in Ethiopia...

 and Manuel de Almeida
Manuel de Almeida
Manuel de Almeida was a native of Viseu, who entered at an early age into the Society of Jesus, and went out as a missionary to India...

 saw at Axum
Axum or Aksum is a city in northern Ethiopia which was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. Population 56,500 . Axum was a naval and trading power that ruled the region from ca. 400 BC into the 10th century...

) list only five who ruled 143. Paul B. Henze reports the existence of at least one list containing 16 names.

According to Carlo Conti Rossini, the shorter length of this dynasty was the more likely one. He argues that a letter received by the Patriarch of Alexandria
Patriarch of Alexandria
The Patriarch of Alexandria is the Archbishop of Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt. Historically, this office has included the designation of Pope , and did so earlier than that of the Bishop of Rome...

 John V
Pope John V of Alexandria
Pope John V of Alexandria was the 72nd Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark .He was initially a monk in the Monastery of Saint John the Dwarf in Scetes. He was enthroned as a Pope of Alexandria on the second day of Pi Kogi Enavot, 863 A.M...

 shortly before 1150 from an unnamed Ethiopian monarch, in which the Patriarch is asked for a new abuna
Also see Leaders of ChristianityAbun is the honorific title used for any bishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church as well as of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church...

because the current office holder was too old, was from Mara Takla Haymanot, who wanted the abuna replaced because he would not endorse the new dynasty.

The mystery of the Zagwe dynasty is perhaps darkest around its replacement by the revived Solomonic dynasty
Solomonic dynasty
The Solomonic dynasty is the Imperial House of Abyssinia. Its members claim lineal descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the latter of whom tradition asserts gave birth to the first King Menelik I after her Biblically described visit to Solomon in Jerusalem .-Overview:The dynasty, a...

 under Yekuno Amlak. The name of the last Zagwe king is lost -- the surviving chronicles and oral traditions give his name as Za-Ilmaknun, which is clearly a pseudonym (Taddesse Tamrat translates it as "The Unknown, the hidden one"), employed soon after his reign by the victorious Solomonic rulers in an act of damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning "condemnation of memory" in the sense of a judgment that a person must not be remembered. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State...

. Taddesse Tamrat believes that this last ruler was actually Yetbarak
Yetbarak was of Ethiopia, and a member of the Zagwe dynasty. According to Taddesse Tamrat, he was the son of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela.-History:...

. The end of the Zagwe came when Yekuno Amlak, who proclaimed himself the descendant and rightful heir of Dil Na'od, and acting under the guidance of either Saint Tekle Haymanot
Tekle Haymanot
Tekle Haymanot or Takla Haymanot was an Ethiopian monk who founded a major monastery in his native province of Shewa...

 or Saint Iyasus Mo'a
Iyasus Mo'a
Iyasus Mo'a is a saint of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church; his feast day is 26 Hedar . In life he was an Ethiopian monk and abbot of Istifanos Monastery in Lake Hayq of Amba Sel.He was born in Dehana, which may have been the woreda in the Wag Hemra Zone, although G.W.B...

, pursued the last king of the Zagwe and killed him at the church of St. Qirqos in Gaynt on the north side of the Bashilo River
Bashilo River
The Bashilo River is located in Ethiopia. Known for its canyon, which one source describes as almost as extensive as the canyon of its parent the Abay, also known as the Blue Nile, the river originates just west of Kutaber in the Amhara Region, flowing first to the northwest to where the Tergiya...


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