Select Page

This video is the pictorial history of Emperor of Ethiopia King Tewdros 1855-1869 birth name Kassa Hailu. The times were known as the Zemene Mesafint or “Age of the Princes”. During this era, warlords, regional princes, and noble houses were fighting to control power. Tewodros sought to unify and fought the enemies and crushed them all. He was nearly always away on campaign during his tenure as Emperor. He had also a threat from external sources; fearful of these northerly Muslim powers, he wrote a letter to a fellow Christian monarch, Queen Victoria asking for British assistance. Tewodros asked the British Consul in Ethiopia, Captain Charles Duncan Cameron, to carry a letter to Queen Victoria requesting skilled workers to come to teach his subjects how to produce firearms. Cameron had not taken the letter to London personally as a result the latter took 2 years to reach to Queen Victoria.

Learning Cameron did not delivered the letter and spent time in enemy Egypt The king imprisoned Cameron, together with all the British subject. To secure release of its citzin the queen sent delegation and the delegate brought with them no skilled workers as Tewodros had requested. The king felt insulted and imprisoned the members of the mission as well. The queen sent army 30,000 and strong led by Robert Napier, came from the British India. In his efforts to keep skilled Europeans in Ethiopia, Tewodros arranged a marriage between one of his daughters and a Swiss military engineer. That branch of Tewodros’s family ended up in Russia; as a consequence, the late British actor Peter Ustinov could claim to be Tewodros’s great-great-grandson. Tewodros and Napier’s army fought at agdala. With the support of war lords the British army closed to the kings forters. At this moment the king declared that “I will never teach surrender for Ethiopians” and he committed suicide.

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 1869.

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 1869, 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.


  • Roderick Grierson and Stuart Munro-Hay, The Ark of the Covenant, 2000, published by Phoenix, London, UK, ISBN 0753810107
  • Stuart Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, The Unknown Land a Cultural and Historical Guide, 2002, published by I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., London and New York, ISBN 1 86064 7448
  • Jenny Hammond, Fire From The Ashes, A Chronicle of the Revolution in Tigray, Ethiopia, 1975-1991, 1999, published by The Read Sea Press, Inc., ISBN 1 56902 0868
  • Philip Briggs, Ethiopia, The Bradt Travel Guide, Third Edition, 2002, published by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, England, UK, ISBN 1 84162 0351
  • Binyam Kebede (2002). (4ladies.jpg, Afar-lady.jpg, Afar-girl.jpg, lady-artful-lips.jpg, Man-face-art.jpg, Man-face-art2.jpg, Somal-lady.jpg, Debra-Damo.jpg, Buitiful-girls.jpg, lady-face-art.jpg, man-hair-style.jpg, yeha.jpg, harar.jpg,). Many thanks to Binyam Kebede for his permission to copy and use these pictures from his website.
  • Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Office of Population and Housing Census Commission Central Statistical Authority, November 1998, Addis Ababa
  • Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and The Bible, The Schweich Lectures, The British Academy, Published by The Oxford University Press, first published 1968, Reprinted 1989, 1992, 1997, Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, United Kingdom, ISBN 0-19-726076-4
  • Mr. Solomon Kibriye (2003). Imperial Ethiopia Homepage, Many thanks to Mr. Solomon Kibriye for the contribution and comments he has made to this website.


Source: Ethiopian Treasures