Hamasien (Ge'ez ሓማሴን) was a historical province including and surrounding Asmara, part of modern Eritrea. In 1996 the province was divided and distributed largely to the modern Maekel region, with smaller parts being distribured amongst the Debub, Northern Red Sea, Gash-Barka, and Anseba regions.
Hamasien's population predominantly follow Oriental Orthodox Christianity and are members of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, with a considerable minority from the Sunni Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran communities. Traditionally being the center of the Kebessa (the Eritrean Highlands), it was the locality of the old palace town of Debarwa (the capital of Bahr Negus Yeshaq). The border was changed further to place Debarwa in the province of Seraye before its present status of being the capital of the Tselema district in the Debub (Southern) region.
The former province republic of Hamassien was the political and economic center of Eritrea; judging from excavations in the Sembel area outside Asmara, it has been so since at least the 9th century BC. The earliest surviving appearance of the name "Hamasien" is believed to have been the region ḤMS²M, i.e. ḤMŠ, mentioned in a Sabaic inscription of the Axumite king Ezana. The region may have been mentioned as early as Puntite times by Ancient Egyptian records as 'MSW (i.e. "Amasu"), a region of Punt.
During the early medieval centuries, it was ruled by the Raesi`s of the Hazega and Tseazega and the Bahri negasi making their center of administration in Debarwa. According to Francisco Alvares, writing in the early 16th century, the Bahri negasi of Debarwa had been able to collect tax by extending their authority almost as far as Suakin in modern Sudan. With the decline of the importance of the Midri Bahri in the 17th to 19th centuries, the province enjoyed a period of communal rule under councils of village elders, the so-called shimagile who enforced traditional laws which had prevailed uniquely in the region alongside feudal authority since ancient times. The region appeared in European maps as 'The Republic of Hamasien'. In the late 19th century, Hamasien was briefly invaded and occupied by the Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV who granted control of the region to Ras Alula. Ethiopian forces wrestled for control over the region with Ottomans initially and later with Italian colonialists. Following the death of Emperor Yohannes at the Battle of Gallabat, Hamasien was occupied by the Italians, who incorporated it into their colony of Eritrea and making one of its villages, Asmara, the capital of the colony, a status it retains today as the capital of the sovereign country of Eritrea.
- Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopian Borderlands (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1997), p. 21.
- Wolbert Smidt: "Ḥamasen," in Siegbert Uhlig, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005).
- With further detailed references see Wolbert Smidt: "Law: Traditional Law Books", in: ebd., 516-18. See also the article on the law of Ḥamasen: Wolbert Smidt: "Ḥəggi Habsəllus Gäräkəstos", in: Siegbert Uhlig (ed.): Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2007, vol. 3 (He-N), p. 10f.
- Haggai Erlich, Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa (Lawrenceville: Red Sea,1996), chapters 11-13