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Sabagadis (baptismal name "Za-Manfas Qedus"; c. 1770–1831) was a Dejazmach or governor of Tigray, a province in northern Ethiopia. He was the son of Shum Waldu of Agame, and a member of the Irob people.


Sabagadis gained some notoriety in the first decade of the 19th century for rebelling a number of times against his overlord, Ras Wolde Selassie. But just before the death of Wolde Selassie it seems that he made up with his master and became one of his loyal lieutenants. Following Wolde Selassie's death in 1816, he defied the authority of Wolde Selassie's son, and became the most powerful warlord in Tigray. Making Adigrat his capital, he ruled Tigray, Semien, and a small strip of the coastal plains of Eritrea by 1818.[1] His rule also extended to the Eritrean highlands (Hamasien, Akele Guzay, and Seraye).[2]

Dejazmach Sabagadis believed that firearms were vital to neutralize the power of the Yejju cavalry, so he devoted much time and effort to both collecting them, and seeking European help in buying them; this included seeking British help—or at least permission—to capture the port of Massawa. As a consequence, Sabagadis was one of the first Ethiopians to attempt building peaceful relationships with other countries in modern times. As a result of these things, by the 1820s he was seen both in Europe—and in Ethiopia—as the champion of Christianity.[3]

Three of his letters have survived. One to the Patriarch of Alexandria Peter complains of the behavior of Abuna Qerellos, sarcastically asking, "Was it because you hated Ethiopia that you sent him? Did you not know his conduct before, [and] so you sent him?" Another one is addressed to King George IV of Great Britain, asking for "one hundred cavalrymen, a carpenter, [and] a church builder who will build the way [you do] in your country".[4]

Sabagadis maintained constant communication with the most important Christian lords in Ethiopia. Building upon his reputation, he formed a coalition with the warlords of Gojjam, Lasta and Semien against Ras Marye of Yejju, the Enderase or regent of the Emperor. Marye defeated Dejazmach Goshu in Gojjam, marched the bulk of his army to Lasta, then quickly turned to Semien Province and attacked Wube Haile Maryam. Subagadis watched the battle on the border of Lasta, and subsequently did not come to the aid of Wube. Wube preferred to submit to Marye rather than have to face him alone. Marye decided to put an end to the Tigrayan threat. At the head of contingents from Wollo, Yejju, Begemder and Amhara, and now (forcibly) supported by the armies of Wube and Goshu, Marye advanced beyond the Tekezé River into Tigray.[5]

The armies of Dejazmach Sabagadis and Ras Marye met on the 14 February 1831 and the Battle of Debre Abbay began. Although the Tigrayans had by far the greater number of firearms, the matchlockmen were poorly employed and the Yejju cavalry won the field after a bloody fight. Ras Sabagadis would surrender only to Ras Wube, his son-in-law. Wube dutifully handed him over to Marye's followers. On the 15th of February they beat Dejazmach Hagos Subagadis to death, and executed Sabagadis in retaliation for Marye's death.[6] His remains reportedly were later interred at the monastery of Gunda Gunde.[7]

Nearly a year after his death, although he was a Tigrayan, people all over the Amhara provinces lamented Sabagadis:

Alas! Sabagadis, the friend of all,

Has fallen at Daga Shaha, by the hand of Aubeshat [i.e. Wube]!
Alas! Sabagadis, the pillar of the poor,
Has fallen at Daga Shaha, weltering in his blood!
The people of this country, will they find it a good thing
To eat ears of corn which have grown in the blood?
Who will remember [St] Michael of November [to give alms]?
Mariam, with five thousand Gallas, had killed him
[him, i.e., who remembered to give alms]:
For the half of a loaf, for a cup of wine,

The friend of the Christians has fallen at Daga Shaha.[8]


Sabagadis was survived by two sons: Aregawi, (the father of Ras Sebhat Aregawi), who continued to rule in Agame; and Wolde Mikael.[9] A number of other children are claimed for him: Kassa, Balgada-Ar'aya (who rebelled against Wube and his older brother Wolde Mikael in 1838, and was defeated by them), and several daughters including Dinqinash, who was married by her father to Ras Wube three years before the Battle of Debre Abbay.[10]


  1. ^ Richard K.P. Pankhurst, History of Ethiopian Towns (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982), vol. 1 p. 210.
  2. ^ Coulbeaux, Jean-Baptiste, Histoire Politique et Religieuse d’Abyssinie: Depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à l’avènement de Ménélik II, 3 vols. (Paris, Geuthner, 1928), pp.381-382.
  3. ^ Nuovi documenti, p. 376; Abba Tekla Haimanont: Abouna Yacob, Paris, 1914, p.91
  4. ^ All three are translated with facsimiles of the original text in Sven Rubenson (editor), Correspondence and Treaties (1800-1854) (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987), pp. 24–9.
  5. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 123.
  6. ^ Mordechai Abir, The Era of the Princes: the Challenge of Islam and the Re-unification of the Christian empire, 1769-1855 (London: Longmans, 1968), p. 35.
  7. ^ A. Devlin, Abyssinia and its Apostle, May Lady Herbert translator (London, 1867), p. 78
  8. ^ Quoted in Samuel Gobat, Journal of Three years' Residnce in Abyssinia, 1851 (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), p. 401
  9. ^ Genealogical information provided courtesy by the board of the "Association for the Preservation Of Ras Sebhat" Adigrat, Ethiopia.
  10. ^ Pankhurst, pp. 212f.