Seyoum Mengesha

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Seyoum Mengesha addressing his troops during the Battle of Amba Alagi.

Seyoum Mengesha KBE (Amharic: ሥዩም መንገሻ ; 21 June 1887 – 15 December 1960) was an army commander and a member of the Royal family of the Ethiopian Empire.[1]


Leul[nb 1] Leul Ras (Prince Ras) Seyoum Mengesha was born on June 24, 1886 (1879 EC) in the town of agawmedir (Zimbriee), in the province of Godjam to his mother Woizero Kafay, daughter of Ras Wale Betul Abba Tattan, Viceroy of Tigray. His father Ras[nb 2] Mangasha Yohannes the son of Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, from the royal house of Tigray. It is known that in his teenage years (1902-1910), Leul Ras Seyoum moved with his family from Godjam to Tigray. (GebreSellasie 2000). His father, Ras Mangasha Yohannes was the "natural" son and heir of Emperor Johannes IV. Because of his descent, Leul Ras Seyoum Mangasha was a rival to Emperor Menelik II, who had risen from rule of Shewa Province to become the Emperor upon Yohannes' death.[2]

Leul Ras Seyoum wed Woizero[nb 3] Tewabech. Tewabech was the daughter of Negus Mikael of Wollo and the sister of Lij[nb 4] Iyasu. Mikael was later honored with the title of Negus[nb 5] and Iyasu was the uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia.

Ras Seyoum fathered several children from various wives. With his first wife, Woizero Tewabech he had Leult[nb 6] Wolete Israel Seyum who herself married the Crown Prince, Asfaw Wossen. By a previous marriage he had Woizero-Hoy[nb 7] Kebbedech Seyum. By a subsequent marriage he had Leul Mangasha Seyum. In the period 1928-1929 following a long and romantic coutrship with Princess Atsede Asfaw Darge from the Royal house of Shoa, the couple married and remained devoted until Leul Ras Seyoum's death during the coup of 1960.

From 1910 to 1935, Leul Ras Seyoum Mengesha was the Shum[nb 8] of western Tigray Province. Traditionally the governors of the provinces commanded the provincial Sefari[nb 9] in battle.

In the spring of 1924, LeulRas Seyoum Mengesha, Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam Province, Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu of Illubabor Province, Ras Makonnen Endelkachew, and Blattengeta Heruy Welde Sellase accompanied Ras Tafari Makonnen of Shewa Province on his European tour. Tafari Makonnen was the Crown Prince and Enderase[nb 10] of Ethiopia and was not yet crowned as Emperor Haile Selassie I. The group of Ethiopian royalty visited Jerusalem, Cairo, Alexandria, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Geneva, and Athens. With them they took six lions which were presented to various zoos and dignitaries.[3] In the same year, Seyum Mangasha was awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).

Commander of the Army of Tigre[edit]

From October 1935 to February 1936, as Ras[nb 11] during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, Leul Ras Seyoum Mengesha commanded the Army of Tigre. When General Emilio De Bono initially invaded Ethiopia, he was ordered to stay a day's march away from the advancing Italians. Leul Ras Seyoum and forces under his command played significant roles in the Ethiopian Christmas Offensive, the First Battle of Tembien, and the Second Battle of Tembien. For seven long months, Leul Ras Seyoum and his army from Tigray were the only force preventing the Italians from invading Ethiopia from Eritrea, and it was not until 1936 when the fighting moved to Maitcho that the emperor sent reinforcements to assist Leul Ras Seyoum and his men. The subsequent failure of the Ethiopian forces to prevent the Italians from invading, resulted in Leul Ras Seyoum and a small contingent of Ethiopian nobility being taken to Italy as prisoners of war.

Leul Ras Seyoum, his wife Princess Atsede Asfaw and youngest child, son Dejasmatch Mengesha Seyoum were accompanied by close family members during their two-year captivity as Prisoners of War. Their Italian captors accorded the family decent treatment and it was during this time that Leul Ras Seyoum and the Duke of Aosta developed a friendship that would later aid the return of Leul Ras Seyoum and his family to Ethiopia upon the appointment of the Duke as Viceroy to Ethiopia. Furthermore, his friendship with the Viceroy enabled Leul Ras Seyoum to play an influential role in securing the release of 3,000 Ethiopian POWs being held in Italian Somaliland.

In the period leading to the Italian withdrawal from Ethiopia, when Britain had committed forces to assist Ethiopia to liberate herself from Italian occupation, Leul Ras Seyoum led an army of 70,000 from Tigray in the fight to free the northern provinces from Italian forces. In 1938, following the complete liberation of Ethiopia from Italian occupation, he returned to the Capital Addis Abeba where he was formally re-appointed 'Teklay Gejee of Tigray' (Governor of Tigray Province), and remained in Addis Abeba until 1941 when he was given leave to return to Tigray until the 'Woyane Rebellion' which resulted in his return to the capital, Addis Abeba where he resided under a form of 'house arrest'.

Italian occupation of Ethiopia. He spent much of his time under "house arrest" in Addis Ababa. Tigray Province. Emperor Haile Selassie held Ras Seyum in very deep regard, and depended on him as a senior advisor. He was a member of the Crown Council from 1945 until his death.

Woyane Rebellion[edit]

In 1943, the "Woyane Rebellion" broke out in southern and eastern Tigre Province and Ras Seyoum was suspected of supporting the rebels. As a consequence, he was recalled to Addis Ababa and replaced by Fitawrari[nb 12] Kifle Dadi and Dejazmach[nb 13] Fikre Selassie Ketema as well as General Tedla Mekeonen and General Isayas Gebre Selassie as the Commander of the Army in Tigray.

In 1947, Leul Ras Seoyum Mengesha was made Shum of eastern Tigray as well as western Tigray. This was because of the treason of the son of the late Ras Gugsa Araya Selassie, Dejazmach Haile Selassie Gugsa. In 1935, Haile Selassie Gugsa had defected to the Italians during the early days of the war. The Italians had made much propaganda use out of the fact that Haile Selassie Gugsa was the husband of Leult Zenebework Haile Selassie and therefore Haile Selassie's son-in-law. As a result, Ras Seyoum Mangasha was Shum of all Tigray Province, which he held until 1960.[4]


In December 1960, the Imperial Guard (Kebur Zabangna) launched a coup d'état and seized power in Ethiopia while the Emperor was on a visit to Brazil. The coup leaders compelled the Crown Prince to read a prepared radio statement. In the statement, he accepted the crown in his father's place and announced a government of reform. However, the regular Army and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church both refused to accept the new government. The leader of the church, Patriarch Abuna Basilios, issued an anathema against all those who cooperated with the coup leaders. The Emperor returned to Ethiopia and the Army stormed the palace where members of the government were being held prisoner by the Imperial Guards. The Guards fled, but not before killing many members of the government and the nobility that had been held prisoner in the Green Salon of the palace. Leul Ras Seyoum was among those who were machine gunned to death, he was 74 years old and was buried in Axum.


'Leul 'Ras Mengesha Seyoum, as son and heir of the late 'Leul Ras Seyoum Mengesha, inherited his father's legacy in representing the Tigrean Royal House of Yohannes IV. Leul Ras Mengesha has earned the respect and admiration of Emperor Haile Selassie as well as the thousands of people he feels privileged to have served a Governor of various provinces and incumbent of several State Posts. He was married to Emperor Haile Selassie's granddaughter, his late wife Princess Aida Desta for over 60 years, and continues to support the development of his beloved Nation State.


National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roughly equivalent to Prince.
  2. ^ Roughly equivalent to Duke.
  3. ^ Roughly equivalent to Lady.
  4. ^ Roughly equivalent to Child.
  5. ^ Roughly equivalent to King.
  6. ^ Roughly equivalent to Princess.
  7. ^ Roughly equivalent to Great Dame.
  8. ^ Roughly equivalent to Governor.
  9. ^ Roughly equivalent to Armed Forces.
  10. ^ Roughly equivalent to Regent.
  11. ^ Roughly equivalent to Commander of the Army.
  12. ^ Roughly equivalent to Commander of the Vanguard.
  13. ^ Roughly equivalent to Commander if the Gate.
  1. ^ Royal Ark
  2. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War, p. 396
  3. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War, p. 3
  4. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War, p. 396


  • Marcus, Harold G. (1994). A History of Ethiopia. London: University of California Press. p. 316. ISBN 0-520-22479-5.
  • Mockler, Anthony (2002). Haile Sellassie's War. New York: Olive Branch Press. ISBN 978-1-56656-473-1.