Emperor Menelik II and Ethiopia's Imperial Succession

Photo of  Negus (King) Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia 
In 1844, Menelik II, the son of King (Negus) Haile Melekot, was born in Ankober, Ethiopia. When King Melekot died in 1855, Menelik II was imprisoned at Magdala by Emperor Tewodros II, a noble who usurped the Imperial throne of Shewa. The royal family of the Shewa region throne traces its lineage to the union of King Solomon of ancient Israel and Queen of Sheba of Abyssinia, which goes back into the history of the Kush and Nubia ancient royal kingdoms. A young Menelik II would eventually escape his Magdala capture and return to the region of his father in Shewa where he claimed title to its Imperial throne. 

Emperor Menelik II was a federalist that believed that the region would be strongest under a consolidated central Imperial crown at Addis Ababa (aka Addis Abeba or "new flower"), a location that would be chosen in 1886 by his Empress Taytu Betul, a city-state like London and Washington D.C. Menelik II's leadership efforts focused on consolidating the Ethiopian empire under royal patriarchal Imperial rule. During his reign, the British had heavily armed Emperor Yohannes IV (aka King John of Abyssinia) against Emperor Tewodros II. In 1863, Emperor Tewodros II reportedly committed suicide after being defeated by the British at Magdala.

By 1880, Menelik II was signing a treaty with the Italians in the Wollo province at Wuchale, acknowledging the establishment of the Italian colony of Eritrea and its capital at Asmara. Eritrea is in the northern Tigrean region. As a result, this treaty signing weakened the rule of Ras Mengasha, the son of the late Emperor Yohannes IV, over the region. When Menelik II signed the treaty with the Italians, he did not know that the Amharic version was different than the Italian version (Uccialli), a common trickery used by many European colonialist against native populations. When Menelik II discovered the deception, he denounced the Italian treaty. Italy declared war against Menelik II and invaded Ethiopia from Asmara.

Map of Ethiopia

Menelik II defeated the Italians at Amba-Alagi and Mekele. On March 1, 1896, Menelik II inflicted a decisive blow against Italian soldiers at the Battle of Adwa, forcing Italy to recognize Ethiopia's national sovereignty. Ras Mengesha was able to eventually secure Emperor Menelik II's recognition of his position as Prince of Tigray (aka Tigrai). Ras Mengesha had supported Menelik II's efforts to defeat the Italian invasion in 1896 in the Battle of Adwa. Menelik, however, refused to crown Ras Mengesha as King of Zion, which led to his rebellion against Menelik. In 1898, Menelik II defeated a rebellion by Ras Mangasha, further consolidating Imperial authority over Ethiopia, unifying the Ethiopian highlands. Ras Mengesha was defeated and placed under house arrest until his death. Menelik also signed agreements with the French settling the limits of French establishments on the Somali coast and at Jibuti (Djibouti). 


Photo of Lil Iyasu on horse mounted left.
In 1883, Menelik II consolidated his power further through marriage to Empress Taytu Betul, an influential noblewoman of Imperial lineage whose uncle ruled Tigrai and much of northern Ethiopia. While Menelik II would have no children with Taytu, he did have two daughters, then Princesses Zewditu and Shoaregga, and a son who died as a child, Prince Wossen Seged. In May 1909, Lij Iyasu (aka Lij Yasu), Menelik II's grandson by his daughter Shoaregga, was married to Romanework Mangasha, the daughter of Ras Mengasha and niece of his wife Empress Taytu. Lij Iyasu was 13 years old at the time of this political marriage. 

 In March 1910, after Negus Menelik II became ill, the Imperial Crown Council of Ethiopia was formed, headed by Fitawrari Habtegiorgis Dinagde. Lij Iyasu was designated by Menelik II as his patriarchal Imperial successor. Lij Iyasu's allegiance to the Islamist, however, precipitated a domestic crisis in Ethiopia. Iyasu had aligned himself with Ethiopia's traditional enemies, the Somalis and the Gallas, and converted to Islam -- proclaiming that Ethiopia would join the Turks' Holy War under his leadership. 

On December 12, 1913, Emperor Menelik II died and was buried at the Baeta Le Mariam Monastery Church of Addis Ababa. Lij Iyasu was excommunicated by Marrheos X, Abuna of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, who feared that he might turn Ethiopia into a Muslim state. The Shewa nobility was not content with what has been described as Lil Iyasu's colorful lifestyle, including taking several Muslim wives. He also exiled Princess Zewditu Menelik and her husband to the countryside, as a threat to his rule. 

Photo of Nigiste Negaste Empress
Zewditu of Ethiopia
Iyasu ruled for about three years but was never officially crowned. He was deposed in 1917 by the Imperial Crown Council and his royal cousin Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Emperor Haile Selassie through the Imperial matriarchal lineage, was elevated as regent. Menelik II's daughter Zewditu Menelik, was crowned Nigiste Negast (Queen of Kings) and reigned as Empress from 1917 to 1930 by the ancient Abyssinian-Kushitic code of the Fetha Negast (Law of the Kings), as discerned by the Imperial Crown Council of Ethiopia.

Ras Tafari was made heir apparent to Empress Zewditu. Lij Iyasu was placed under house arrest in Sellale. To the end of her life, Empress Zewditu referred to her deposed nephew as "Getaye (my lord master) Iyasu". None of Zewditu's children survived to adulthood and the facts surrounding her death in 1930 has always left question of whether it was by natural cause.


  1. Hey,There is nothing more tragic than considering and treating another human being as sub-human because they are of a different ethnic group.”
    To say there is no grave humiliating discrimination against other ethnic groups is to insult the hurting people once more. It is like telling them that they are liars for crying out. No wonder the saga continues. What good this denial has gotten us so far? Why are we so obsessed to be right to the point that we are losing our brothers and sisters? How can we speak of loving Ethiopia and such absurd denial using the same mouth?Thank you!!!
    Africa Current News

  2. They try to make nigga a bad thing its a wonderful thing its not even a thing its a king correct word and spelling Negus!!!

    1. ንጉስ(ንግስት) nigus or nigers is a king of kings in my country Ethiopia for lad nigist and proud to be African

  3. I am a mentor and I volunteer at grade schools, and never ever do they teach our children these things.
    But I am making sure that I teach them.


  5. hey guys o you know any traditional institutions that were under Menelik time, its urgent please

  6. Are there any ethiopians that came to Southern Africa. Has someone done geneology of groups living around great Zimbabwe in particular the Manwa clan

  7. This is Commendable. They are our worthy heroes.Ethiopia extended to Carthage (North of Africa) but Islamic murderers and enslavers killed millions of our people by selling them to foreign lands


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