Truly a land of contrasts, from the cool peaks of the Simien Mountains to the searing desert of the Danakil Depression, from the historical northern highlands to the wild free-roaming southern regions, Ethiopia remains a unique destination within Africa and the world.
History in Ethiopia begins with her most famous ancestor, Lucy, who roamed these lands some 3.2 million years ago. The rise of the Axumite Empire in the 1st century BC usually marks the beginning of relatively modern Ethiopian history.
With Christianity introduced to this geographically and culturally isolated country in the 4th century, one can’t help while watching the colorful Orthodox celebrations to realize that these acts of faith and devotion are likely as close to the most original form of Christianity as is present in the world today.
Along with a vibrant history come magical stories and legends that define Ethiopia’s legacy. Join us and discover the richness of Ethiopia’s tradition.
3.2 million years ago
A female being of the species Australopithecus afarensis walks the lands of Ethiopia. Her bones will be discovered by her evolutionary descendants and she will be known by the world as Lucy or, in Ethiopia as Dinkenesh, meaning “You are wonderful”.
1.5 million years ago
Homo erectus creates stone tools at the site known today as Melka Kunture.
8th century BC
Pre-Axumite empire called D’mt exists, with the capital likely at Yeha. The Temple of Yeha is constructed in typical Sabaean style.
1st century AD
The Axumite empire, with its capital at Axum, is one of the four major civilizations of the world, along with Persia, Rome and China.
4th century AD (c. 340)
King Ezana embraces Christianity, and Ethiopia becomes one of the first Christian nations in the world.
Followers of Mohammed flee Mecca and seek refuge in the Kingdom of Axum. The King grants them refuge in the town of Negash, which becomes the first Muslim settlement in Africa.
10th century AD (c. 980)
Falasha Jewish Queen Yodit leads the destruction of many Christian churches and settlements as revolt against Christian expansion.
Inspired by Jerusalem in Israel, King Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty hews 11 churches out of the bedrock.
Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn (Ahmed the Left-Handed) takes control of Harar and begins a bloody campaign against the Christian highlanders. Emperor Lebna Dengal calls upon the Portuguese for assistance before his death. Ahmed Gragn is defeated in 1543.
Under Portuguese influence, Emperor Susenyos converts to Catholicism and is met with great resistance by his Orthodox Christian subjects. In 1632 he abdicates the throne to his son, Fasilidas who reinstates Orthodox Christianity and banishes foreigners from the country.
King Fasilidas establishes Gondar as the capital of Ethiopia, a title is keeps for more than 200 years.
1784 – 1855
After a steady period of decline, Gondar loses its influence and Ethiopia is ruled by regional leaders. This is known as the “era of the princes”.
Emperor Tewodros attempts to unite Ethiopia during his 14-year rule. He eventually takes his own life when surrounded by British forces at Makdala Hill.
Emperor Menelik moves the capital of Ethiopia to Entoto.
1 March 1896
Emperor Menelik defeats the Italian invaders at Adwa, staving off colonization and ensuring Ethiopia remains one of the only independent countries in Africa. This marks the proudest day in Ethiopian history.
Ras Tefari Mekonnen is crowned Emperor Haile Selassie (meaning “Power of the Trinity”). He will be the last emperor of Ethiopia.
31 March 1936
Italians defeat Ethiopians at the Battle of Maychew, marking the beginning of Italy’s 5-year occupation of Ethiopia.
The British leads the Allied liberation campaign and drives the Italians from Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie returns to his throne.
10 September 1960
Abebe Bikila wins the gold medal for the marathon at the Olympics in Rome with a time of 2:15:16.2, becoming the sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal. He ran the entire race barefoot after Adidas, the shoe sponsor, did not have shoes in his size. When asked why he ran the race barefoot he said “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”
12 September 1974
Emperor Haile Selassie is deposed by the “Derg”, a Marxist military junta officially named the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia. The Derg was led by Mengistu Hailemaryam, a brutal leader who led Ethiopia into a civil war and the Red Terror, when an estimated half a million people were killed.
24 November 1974
The fossil skeleton of Lucy is discovered in the Hadar in the Danakil Depression by Donald Johanson, offering deeper insight into the evolution of human beings. She is named after The Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” which was playing in the background when she was discovered.
One of the worst famines in history afflicts Ethiopia, exacerbated by a time of war and conflict. People worldwide join together to bring aid to Ethiopia through songs like “We are the World” and “Do They Known It’s Christmas?” and events like LiveAid. Due to the widespread media coverage, Ethiopia still today struggles to overcome these images despite great developmental strides forward.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Movement (EPRDM) overthrows the Derg regime and takes control of Ethiopia, headed by President Meles Zenawi. Meles was voted at the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in May 1995.
Eritrea secedes from Ethiopia and gains international recognition as an independent state.