Eskender

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Eskender
Reign 1478 to 1494
Predecessor Baeda Maryam I
Successor Amda Seyon II
Dynasty Solomonic dynasty

Eskender (or Alexander, Ge'ez: እስክንድር iskindir) (15 July 1471 – 7 May 1494) was Emperor (nəgusä nägäst) (1478–1494) of Ethiopia (throne name Kwestantinos II Ge'ez ቈስታንቲኖስ qʷastāntīnōs or Constantine II), and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was the son of Emperor Baeda Maryam I by Romna.

Reign[edit]

Due to his young age, his authority required a regent; a council was formed of his mother Queen Romna, Tasfa Giyorgis (the abbot of the monastery of Lake Hayq), and the Bitwoded Amda Mikael. However, Queen Romna withdrew from this arrangement early on, entering a convent near Debre Libanos where she lived until her death; Abbot Tasfa Giyorgis proved no match for the experienced Bitwoded, and according to Taddesse Tamrat Amda Mikael "ruled the kingdom almost single handed."[1] Betwoded Amda Mikael's rule came to an end around 1486 when a palace coup led by the Emperor's step-grandmother Queen Mother Eleni resulted in his deposition and execution. Queen Eleni thereafter played a leading role in the Emperor's government.

Eskender's most significant military accomplishment was sacking Dakkar, the capital of the Adal Sultanate, in 1478; despite this achievement, as he led his army back home, the larger Adal army under amir Muhammad ibn Azhar ad-Din overtook them, killing many of his men and taking many prisoners. Eskender was said to have escaped capture only through the assistance of angels, and afterwards he built a church named Debere Meshwa'e, "Place of Sacrifice".[2] There is some disagreement over the context of this campaign. One view is presented by James Bruce, who adds that Zasillus, governor of Amhara, had been commanded to mobilize the forces in the south while Eskender himself raised levies from Angot and Tigray; according to Bruce, Eskender was responding to the predations of Mahfuz of Zeila.[3] More recent scholars, such as Richard Pankhurst, hold that Eskender's sack of Dakkar led to Amir Muhammad to seek peace with the Ethiopians, but he was outmaneuvered by Mahfuz.[2]

There are also conflicting versions of Emperor Eskender's death, which occurred when he was only 22. One source holds he was killed fighting the Maya, a vanished ethnic group known for using poisoned arrows, east of Enderta.[4] On the other hand, both Bruce and the explorer Richard Burton writes that Eskender was assassinated at Tegulet: Bruce stating that Zasillus of Amhara was responsible,[5] while Burton claiming that Mahfuz had him assassinated.[6] He was buried in the church of Atronsa Maryam, which his father had begun construction on.[7] His early death immediately led to civil war. While the court kept the Emperor's death a secret, one major noble, Zasillus, immediately marched to the royal prison of Amba Geshen, freed Na'od, and proclaimed him Emperor. Another noble Tekle Kristos, who had remained at the Imperial court, championed Eskender's son Amda Seyon II as emperor. Although Tekle Kristos' forces defeated the followers of Zasillus, warfare continued through the realm.[8]

European influence[edit]

European influence was noticeable during his reign. In a manuscript written by Francesco Suriano (dated to 1482 by Somigli), Suriano describes finding 10 Italians "of good repute" residing at Eskender's court, some who had been living there for 25 years. Suriano adds that since 1480, seven more had travelled to the Ethiopian court. They had travelled there "to seek jewels and precious stones", but "since the king did not allow them to return, they were all ill content, although they were all well rewarded, each in accordance with his rank."[9]

It was in the last years of Eskender's reign that Pedro de Covilham arrived in Ethiopia, as an envoy from king John II of Portugal. However, da Covilha was not allowed to return to Portugal, and was forced to live out his days in Ethiopia—although as a trusted advisor to the Emperors.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 286.
  2. ^ a b Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopian Borderlands (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1997), pp. 121f
  3. ^ Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), vol. 3, pp. 144f
  4. ^ G.W.B. Huntingford, The historical geography of Ethiopia from the first century AD to 1704, (Oxford University Press: 1989), p. 109.
  5. ^ Bruce, Travels, vol. 3 pp. 145f
  6. ^ Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa [New York: Praeger, 1966], p. 179)
  7. ^ "Local History in Ethiopia" The Nordic Africa Institute website (accessed 28 January 2008)
  8. ^ Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State, p. 292.
  9. ^ O.G.S. Crawford, Ethiopian Itineraries, circa 1400-1524 (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1958), pp. 40-54.
Preceded by
Baeda Maryam I
Emperor of Ethiopia
1478–1494
Succeeded by
Amda Seyon II