Tewodros II

Tewodros II
ቴዎድሮስ
Emperor of Ethiopia
Tewodros II of Ethiopia in the 1860s.jpg
Emperor of Ethiopia
Reign11 February 1855–13 April 1868
Coronation11 February 1855
PredecessorSahle Dengel
SuccessorTekle Giyorgis II
BornKassa Hailegiorgis
c. 1818
Quara, Gondar, Amhara, Ethiopia
Died13 April 1868
(aged 49–50)
BurialMagdala Wollo, Ethiopia
Medhane Alem Church, Magdala (originally)
Mahbere Selassie Convent, Qwara (currently)
SpouseTewabech Ali
Tiruwork Wube
IssuePrince Alemayehu
HouseHouse of Solomon
FatherHailegiorgis Woldegiorgis
MotherWoizero Atitegeb Wondbewossen
ReligionEthiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Tewodros II (Ge'ez: ቴዎድሮስ, baptized as Sahle Dingil, English: Theodore II; c. 1818 – April 13, 1868) was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1855 until his death in 1868. He was born Kassa Hailegiorgis (Ge'ez: ካሳ ኃይሉ; English: "restitution" and "His [or the] power"). His rule is often placed as the beginning of modern Ethiopia, ending the decentralized Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes).

Tewodros II's origins were in the Era of the Princes, but his ambitions were not those of the regional nobility. He sought to reestablish a cohesive Ethiopian state and to reform its administration and church. He sought to restore Solomonic hegemony, and he considered himself the Elect of God.

Tewodros II's first task was to bring Shewa under his control. During the Era of the Princes, Shewa was, even more than most provinces, an independent entity, its ruler even styling himself Negus, a royal title denoting monarchy. In the course of subduing the Shewans, Tewodros imprisoned a Shewan prince, Menelik II, who would later become emperor himself. Despite his success against Shewa, Tewodros faced constant rebellions in other provinces.[1][2] He ultimately committed suicide at the Battle of Magdala, during the British Expedition to Abyssinia.

In the first six years of his reign, the new ruler managed to put down these rebellions, and the empire was relatively peaceful from about 1861 to 1863, but the energy, wealth, and manpower necessary to deal with regional opposition limited the scope of Tewodros's other activities. Tewodros II never realized his dream of restoring a strong monarchy, although he took many important initial steps. He sought to establish the principle that governors and judges must be salaried appointees. He also established a professional standing army, rather than depending on local lords to provide soldiers for his expeditions. He introduced the collection of books in the form of a library, tax codes, as well as a centralized political system with respective administrative districts.[3] He also intended to reform the church but he was confronted by strong opposition when he tried to impose a tax on church lands to help finance government activities. His confiscation of these lands gained him enemies in the church and little support elsewhere. Essentially, Tewodros was a talented military campaigner.[4][5]

Early life

Kassa was the son of a Christian nobleman of the Qwara district of the province of Dembiya named Hailegiorgis Woldegiorgis. His paternal grandfather, Dejazmatch Woldegiorgis, was a widely respected figure of his time. Dembiya was part of the large territory known as Ye Maru Qemas, or "the taste of the honey". It was the personal fief of Dejazmach Maru, a powerful warlord, and relative of Kassa Hailu (possibly a half-uncle). Kassa's mother, Woizero Atitegeb Wondbewossen, was of the upper nobility, and was originally from Sayint (Wollo).[6] Her mother Woizer Tishal was a member of a noble family of Begemder, while her paternal grandfather, Ras Wodajo, was a powerful and highly influential figure. Tewodros II, in his reign, claimed that his father was descended from Emperor Fasilides by way of a daughter.

When Kassa was very young, his parents divorced and Woizero Atitegeb moved back to Gondar taking her son with her. Not long after their departure, news reached them that Kassa's father had died. Popular legend states that Kassa's paternal relatives split up the entire paternal inheritance, leaving young Kassa and his mother with nothing and in very dire circumstances financially. In these hard times, his enemies came with a saying that his mother, Woizero Atitegeb, was reduced to selling "Kosso", a native herbal remedy used to purge patients of intestinal worms (a common occurrence because of the Ethiopian love of raw beef steaks). There is actually no evidence that Woizero Atitegeb was ever a Kosso seller, and several writers such as Paulos Ngo Ngo have stated outright that it was a false rumor spread by her detractors. Evidence indicates that Woizero Atitegeb was fairly well to do, and indeed had inherited considerable land holdings from her own illustrious relatives to lead a comfortable life.[1] Kassa's youth was probably not lived lavishly, but he was far from a pauper.[7][8]

Kassa was sent to school at the convent of Tekla Haymanot, between Gondar and Lake Tana. In this asylum he took refuge until it was sacked by a defeated Galla chief named Dejazmatch Maru, who by burning and cutting to pieces children, took cowardly vengeance on their victories parents! Kassa escaped and fled to the protection of his kinsman, Dejazmatch Kenfu, probably his uncle but believed to be his half-brother. He continued his formal education and became familiar with the Bible and Ethiopian literature. For his time, Kassa was a well-educated man; later he went on to acquire a knowledge of both ancient and modern European history, as well as some acquaintance with Shakespeare. He also received instruction on the techniques of Ethiopian warfare from Kenfu. When Kenfu died, and his two sons were defeated by another Dajazmach (earl), Dajazmach Goshu of Damot and Gojjam, Kassa was forced to make another start in life, and offered his services to Goshu.[9]

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