King Lalibela

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The Zagwe dynasty

11,137 Comments · Zagwe dynasty

The Zagwe dynasty ruled Ethiopia from the end of the Kingdom of Axum at an unsure date in the 9th or 10th century to 1270.

It is noted to derive its name from the Agaw people, meaning “Agaw” or literally “of Agaw” (ze meaning “of” in Ge’ez). Its famous king was Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (King Lalibela), who is accountable for the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

David Buxton has affirmed that the area under the direct rule of the Zagwe kings probably embraced:

• the highlands of modern Eritrea 
• the whole of Tigrai
• extending southwards to Waag
• Lasta
• Damot (Wallo province) and 
• westwards towards Lake Tana (Beghemdir)

King D’il Nead (the last Axumite king) was overthrown by one of his generals, Tekle Haymanot, who took the regal name of Zagwe and established the dynasty of the same name.

This tradition doesn’t compute with the most likely dates of Yodit’s rule. It has been thought that the Zagwe Dynasty followed straight from Yodit, and was founded by Jews who later converted to Christianity.

This idea is supported by the fact that the Zagwe based themselves in Lasta, which at the time was a strongly Jewish area and was almost likely the birthplace of Yodit.

Nevertheless, the dating of the Zagwe Dynasty is itself rather ambiguous. Various sources date their usurpation of the throne from as far apart as AD922 and 1150, with the latter date favored by more plausible sources.

Among everal traditional lists of Zagwe rulers only seven kings appear on all versions and, rather improbably, all but the last are said to have ruled for exactly 40 years.

Despite the vagueness surrounding dates, the Zagwe leaders appear to have exercised a new stability and unity in Ethiopia.

It also was under the most famous Zagwe king, Lalibela, that Ethiopian Christianity got to the pinnacle of its physical expression in the form of the cluster of rock-hewn churches carved at the Zagwe capital of Roha.

It is widely agreed that the Zagwe period of rule ended when a Solomonic descendant called Yekuno Amlak took the throne in 1270.

Even here, nevertheless, some sources claim that the last Zagwe monarch abdicate of his own free will, other that he was killed in a battle by his Solomonic successor.

Keywords: Kingdom of Axum, Agaw people, King Lalibela, rock-hewn churches, Tekle Haymanot , Eritrea, Tigrai, Lasta, Damot, Wallo, Lake Tana, Beghemdir, D’il Nead,


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