|Emperor Menelik II|
|Emperor of Ethiopia|
|Emperor of Ethiopia|
|Reign||10 March 1889 – 12 December 1913|
|Coronation||3 November 1889|
|Successor||Iyasu V (designated but uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia)|
17 August 1844|
|Died||12 December 1913(aged 69)|
|Burial||Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery
prev. Se'el Bet Kidane Meheret Church
|House||House of Solomon|
|Father||Haile Melekot, King of Shewa|
Emperor Menelik II GCB, GCMG (Ge'ez: ዳግማዊ ምኒልክ, Dagmäwi Menelik [nb 1]), baptised as Sahle Maryam (17 August 1844 – 12 December 1913), was Negus[nb 2] of Shewa (1866–89), then Emperor of Ethiopia[nb 3] from 1889 to his death in 1913. At the height of his internal power and external prestige, the process of territorial expansion and creation of the modern empire-state was completed by 1898, which expanded the Ethiopian Empire to the extent of the historic Aksumite Empire. Menelik was also remembered for leading Ethiopian troops against the Kingdom of Italy in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, where Melenik scored a decisive victory at the Battle of Adwa.
Ethiopia was transformed under Emperor Menelik: the major signposts of modernisation, with the help of key ministerial advisors, such as Gäbre-Heywät Baykädañ, were put in place. Externally, his victory over the Italian invaders earned him great fame: following the Battle of Adwa, recognition of Ethiopia's independence by external powers was expressed in terms of diplomatic representation at his court and delineation of Ethiopia's boundaries with the adjacent colonies. Menelik expanded his kingdom to the south and east, into Kaffa, Sidama, Wolayta and other kingdoms. He is widely called Emiye Menelik[nb 4] in Ethiopia for his forgiving nature and his selfless deeds for the poor.
Later in his reign, Menelik established the first Cabinet of Ministers to help in the administration of the Empire, appointing trusted and widely respected nobles and retainers to the first Ministries. These ministers would remain in place long after his death, serving in their posts through the brief reign of Lij Iyasu and into the reign of Empress Zauditu. They also played a key role in deposing Lij Iyasu.
Of the Amhara people, Abeto Menelik (Sahle Maryam) was born in Angolalla, near Debre Birhan, in the Amhara Region. He was the son of Negus Haile Melekot of Shewa and Woizero[nb 5] Ijigayehu. Woizero Ijigayehu was a lady in the household of Haile Melekot's grandmother, the formidable Woizero Zenebework, widow of Merid Azmatch Wossen Seged, and mother of King Sahle Selassie of Shewa. Most sources indicate that while no marriage took place between Haile Melekot and Woizero Ijigayehu, Sahle Selassie ordered his grandson legitimized.
Prior to his death in 1855, Negus Haile Melekot named Menelik as successor to the throne of Shewa. However, shortly after Haile Melekot died, Menelik was taken prisoner by Emperor Tewodros II who conquered Shewa, and had him transferred to his mountain stronghold of Magdala. Still, Tewodros treated the young prince well, even offering him his daughter Altash Tewodros in marriage, which Menelik accepted.
Upon Menelik's imprisonment, his uncle, Haile Mikael, was appointed as Shum[nb 6] of Shewa by Emperor Tewodros II with the title of Meridazmach[nb 7]. However, Meridazmach Haile Mikael rebelled against Tewodros, resulting in his being replaced by the non-royal Ato[nb 8] Bezabeh as Shum. However, Ato Bezabeh in turn then rebelled against the Emperor and proclaimed himself Negus of Shewa. Although the Shewan royals imprisoned at Magdala had been largely complacent as long as a member of their family ruled over Shewa, this usurpation by a commoner was not acceptable to them. They plotted Menelik's escape from Magdala; with the help of Mohammed Ali and Queen Worqitu of Wollo, he escaped from Magdala on the night of 1 July 1865, abandoning his wife, and returned to Shewa. Enraged, Emperor Tewodros slaughtered 29 Oromo hostages then had 12 Amhara notables beaten to death with bamboo rods.
Bezabeh's attempt to raise an army against Menelik failed; thousands of Shewans rallied to the flag of the son of Negus Haile Melekot and even Bezabeh's own soldiers deserted him for the returning prince. Abeto Menelik entered Ankober and proclaimed himself Negus. While Negus Menelik reclaimed his ancestral Shewan crown, he also laid claim to the Imperial throne, as a direct descendant male line of Emperor Lebna Dengel. However, he made no overt attempt to assert this claim at this time; Marcus interprets his lack of decisive action not only to Menelik's lack of confidence and experience, but that "he was emotionally incapable of helping to destroy the man who had treated him as a son." Not wishing to take part in the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, he allowed his rival Kassai to benefit with gifts of modern weapons and supplies from the British. When Tewodros committed suicide, Menelik arranged for an official celebration of his death even though he was personally saddened by the loss. When the British asked him why he did this, he replied "to satisfy the passions of the people ... as for me, I should have gone into a forest to weep over ... [his] untimely death ... I have now lost the one who educated me, and toward whom I had always cherished filial and sincere affection." Afterwards other challenges – a revolt amongst the Wollo to the north, the intrigues of his second wife Befana to replace him with her choice of ruler, military failures against the Arsi Oromo to the south east – kept Menelik from directly confronting Kassai until after his rival had brought an Abuna from Egypt who crowned him Emperor Yohannes IV.
Menelik was cunning and strategic in building his power base. He organized extravagant three-day feasts for locals to win their favor, liberally built friendships with Muslims (such as Muhammad Ali of Wollo), and struck alliances with the French and Italians who could provide firearms and political leverage against the Emperor. In 1876, an Italian expedition set out to Ethiopia led by Marchese Orazio Antinori who described King Menelik as "very friendly, and a fanatic for weapons, about whose mechanism he appears to be most intelligent". Another Italian writes of Menelik, "[he] had the curiosity of a boy; the least thing made an impression upon him ... He showed ... great intelligence and great mechanical ability". Menelik spoke with great economy and rapidity. He never became upset, Chiarini adds, "listening calmly, judiciously [and] with good sense ... He is fatalistic and a good soldier, he loves weapons above all else". The visitors also confirmed that he was popular with his subjects, and made himself available to them. Menelik had great political and military acumen, and made key engagements that would later prove essential as he expanded his Empire.
Eventually, Menelik acquiesced to the superior position of Yohannes and, on 20 March 1878, Menelik "approached Yohannes on foot. He was carrying a rock on his neck and his face was down in the traditional form of submission." Very aware of how precarious his own position was, Yohannes recognized Menelik as Negus of Shewa and gave him numerous presents which included four cannons, several hundred modern Remington rifles, and ammunition for both. Menelik's submission to Yohannes brought twin policies into play: to gain the imperial throne, Menelik had to increase his revenue for the purchase of expensive and modern weapons, and in the meantime he had to maintain peace with the emperor and accede to his demands.
On 10 March 1889, Emperor Yohannes was killed in a war with Mahdist Sudan during the Battle of Gallabat (Matemma). With his dying breath, Yohannes declared his natural son, Dejazmach Mengesha Yohannes, to be his heir. On 25 March, upon hearing of the death of Yohannes, Negus Menelik immediately proclaimed himself as Emperor.
Menelik argued that while the family of Yohannes IV claimed descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba through females of the dynasty, his own claim was based on uninterrupted direct male lineage which made the claims of the House of Shewa equal to those of the elder Gondar line of the dynasty. Menelik, and later his daughter Zauditu, would be the last Ethiopian monarchs who could claim uninterrupted direct male descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (both Lij Iyasu and Emperor Haile Selassie were in the female line, Iyasu through his mother Shewarega Menelik, and Haile Selassie through his paternal grandmother, Tenagnework Sahle Selassie).[unreliable source?]
In the end, Menelik was able to obtain the allegiance of a large majority of the Ethiopian nobility. On 3 November 1889, Menelik was consecrated and crowned as Emperor before a glittering crowd of dignitaries and clergy by Abuna Mattewos, Bishop of Shewa, at the Church of Mary on Mount Entoto. The newly consecrated and crowned Emperor Menelik II quickly toured the north in force. He received the submission of the local officials in Lasta, Yejju, Gojjam, Welo, and Begemder.
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Menelik II was the actual founder of modern Ethiopia. Before the centralization process he completed, Ethiopia had been devastated by numerous wars, the most recent of which was fought in the 16th century. In the intervening period, military tactics had not changed much. In the 16th century the Portuguese Bermudes documented depopulation and widespread atrocities against civilians and combatants (including torture, mass killings and large scale slavery) during several successive Aba Gedas' Gadaa conquests of territories located north of Genale river (Bali, Amhara, Gafat, Damot, Adal). Warfare in the region essentially involved acquiring cattle and slaves, winning additional territories, gaining control over trade routes and carrying out ritual requirements or securing trophies to prove masculinity. Wars were fought between people who might be members of the same linguistic group, religion and culture, or between unrelated tribes. Centralization greatly reduced these continuous wars; minimizing the loss of lives, raids, destruction and slavery that had previously been the norm.
Menelik’s clemency to Ras Mengesha Yohannes, whom he made hereditary Prince of his native Tigray, was ill repaid by a long series of revolts. In 1898 Menelik crushed a rebellion by Ras Mengesha Yohannes (who died in 1906). After this, Menelik directed his efforts to the consolidation of his authority, and to a degree, to the opening up of his country to outside influences.
Menelik brought together many of the northern territories through political consensus. The exception was Gojjam, which offered tribute to the Shewan Kingdom following its defeat at the Battle of Embabo. Most of the western and central territories like Jimma, Welega Province and Chebo were administered by chiefs who allied their clan's army with the central government peacefully. Native armed soldiers of Ras Gobana Dacche, Ras Mikael Ali, Sultan Aba Jifar, Kumsa Mereda, Habtegyorgis Dinegde, Balcha Aba Nefso and Jote Tullu were allied to Menelik's Shewan army which campaigned to the south to incorporate more territories.
Beginning in the 1880s, Menelik set off from the central province of Shewa to "reunify" 'the lands and people of the South, East and West into an empire'. During his battles, he made tactical alliances with different groups and appointed Habte Giyorgis Dinagde as Minister of Defense, who was of mixed Gurage-Oromo ancestry. The people incorporated by Menelik through conquest were the unarmed southerners – Oromo, Sidama, Gurage, Wolayta and other groups. He achieved most of his conquests with the help of Ras Gobena's Shewan Oromos, who helped Menelik previously during his clashes with Gojjam.
In territories incorporated peacefully like Jima, Leka and Wolega the former order was preserved and there was no interference in their self-government; in areas incorporated after war the appointed new rulers did not violate the peoples' religious beliefs and they treated them lawfully and justly. However, the territories incorporated by military conquest, Menelik's army carried out atrocities against civilians and combatants including torture, mass killings and large scale slavery. Large scale atrocities were also committed against the Dizi people and the people of the Kaficho kingdom. Some estimates that the number of people killed as a result of the conquest from war, famine and atrocities go into the millions. According to Alexander Bulatovich, Menelik's Russian military aide, Menelik's armies "dreadfully annihilated more than half" of the Oromo (Galla) population down to 5 million people, which "took away from the Galla all possibility of thinking about any sort of uprising."
For a period Ethiopia lacked a permanent capital; instead, the royal encampment served as a roving capital. For a time Menelik's camp was on Mount Entoto, but in 1886, while Menelik was on campaign in Harar, Empress Taytu Betul camped at a hot spring to the south of Mount Entoto. She decided to build a house there and from 1887 this was her permanent base, which she named Addis Ababa ('new flower'). Menelik's generals were all allocated land nearby to build their own houses, and in 1889 work began in a new royal palace. the city grew rapidly, and by 1910 the city had around 70,000 permanent inhabitants, with up to 50,000 more on a temporary basis. Only in 1917, after Menelik's death, was the city reached by the railway from Djibouti.
During Menelik’s reign, the great famine of 1888 to 1892, which was the worst famine in the region's history, killed a third of the total population which was then estimated at 12 million. The famine was caused by rinderpest, an infectious viral cattle disease which wiped out most of the national livestock, killing over 90% of the cattle. The native cattle population had no prior exposure and were unable to fight off the disease.
On 2 May 1889, while claiming the throne against Ras Mengesha Yohannes, the "natural son" of Atse Yohannes IV (Yohanis), Menelik concluded a treaty with Italy at Wuchale (Uccialli in Italian) in Wollo province. On the signing of the treaty, Menelik said "The territories north of the Merab Milesh (i.e. Eritrea) do not belong to [Abyssinia] nor are under my rule. I am the Emperor of Abyssinia. The land referred to as Eritrea is not peopled by Abyssinians – they are Adals, Bejaa, and Tigres. Abysinnia will defend his territories but will not fight for foreign lands, which Eritrea is to my knowledge." Under the Treaty, Abyssinia and Kingdom of Italy agreed to define the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia. For example, both Ethiopia and Italy agreed that Arafali, Halai, Segeneiti and Asmara are "villages within the Italian border." Also, the Italians agreed not to harass Ethiopian traders and to allow safe passage for Ethiopian goods, particularly military weapons. The treaty also guaranteed that the Ethiopian government would have ownership of the Monastery of Debre Bizen but not use it for military purposes.
However, there were two versions of the treaty, one in Italian and another in Amharic. Unknown to Menelik the Italian version gave Italy more power than the two had agreed to. The Italians believed they had "tricked" Menelik into giving allegiance to Italy. To their surprise, upon learning about the alteration, Emperor Menelik II rejected the treaty. The Italians attempted to bribe him with two million rounds of ammunition but he refused. Then the Italians approached Ras Mengesha of Tigray in an attempt to create civil war, however, Ras Mengesha, understanding that Ethiopia's independence was at stake, refused to be a puppet for the Italians. The Italians therefore prepared to attack Ethiopia with an army led by Baratieri. Subsequently, the Italians declared war and invaded Ethiopia.
Menelik's disagreement with Article 17 of the treaty led to the Battle of Adwa. Before Italy could launch the invasion, Eritreans rebelled in an attempt to push Italy out of Eritrea and prevent its invasion of Ethiopia. The rebellion was not successful. However, some of the Eritreans managed to make their way to the Ethiopian camp and jointly fought Italy at the battle of Adwa. On March 1, 1896 the two armies met at Adwa. The Ethiopians came out victorious.
With victory at the Battle of Adwa and the Italian colonial army destroyed, Eritrea was Emperor Menelik’s for the taking but no order to occupy was given. It seems that Emperor Menelik II was wiser than the Europeans had given him credit for. Realizing that the Italians would bring all their force to bear on his country if he attacked, he instead sought to restore the peace that had been broken by the Italians and their treaty manipulation seven years before. In signing the treaty, Menelik II again proved his adeptness at politics as he promised each nation something for what they gave and made sure each would benefit his country and not another nation. Subsequently, The Treaty of Addis Ababa was reached between the two nations. Italy was forced to recognize the absolute independence of Ethiopia. (See Article III of the Treaty of Addis Ababa).
At the Battle of Adwa, Ethiopian fighters from all parts of the country rallied to the cause and took up positions on the battlefield that allowed them to come to each other's aid during combat. Armies who participated in the battle includes Negu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam's Amhara infantry and cavalary; Ras Mengesha Yohannes' and Ras Alula’s Tigrayan army; Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael’s Harar army that included Amhara, Oromo and Gurage soldiers; Ras Mikael’s mainly muslim Wallo cavalary; Fitawrari Tekle’s Wallaga Cavalary and infantry; Wag-shum Gwangul’s Agaw and Amhara from Wag and Lasta; and Ras Wolle Bitul’s Gondar army that also included Muslim-Christian cavalary from Yejju and Borana Wallo. The mehal sefari or central fighting unit included mostly Shewan Amhara, Mecha-Tulama Oromo cavalary, Gurage as well as Taytu Bitul’s Yejju armies. The Fitawrari’s army, normally the leader of the advanced guard, was commanded by Gebeyehu Gorra. The Ethiopian army at Adwa was, therefore, a mosaic of various ethnic groups and tribes that marched north for a common, national cause.
Menelik thought only Russia would be the main ally of his policy of centralisation of territories under Shewan government because of its interest in counteracting British colonial expansion, which had begun with Britain's 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, theft of Kebra Nagast and death of Tewodros II. During the visit of a Russian diplomatic and military mission in 1893, Menelik II concluded a strong alliance with that country. As a result, from 1893 to 1913 Russia sponsored the visits of thousands of advisers and volunteers to Ethiopia. Friendships grew from these visits between Menelik II and both Alexander Bulatovich and Nikolay Gumilyov the great poet. Russian support for Ethiopia led to the advent of a Russian Red Cross mission as medical support for Ethiopian troops. It arrived in Addis Ababa some three months after Menilek's Adwa victory, and established the first hospital in Ethiopia.
By the mid-1890s, Menelik was actively suppressing slave trade, destroying notorious slave market towns and punishing slavers with amputation. Both Tewodros II and Yohannes IV had previously outlawed slave trading but since all tribes were not against it and the country was surrounded on all sides by slave raiders and traders, it was not possible to entirely suppress this practice even by the 20th century. While Menelik actively enforced his prohibition, it was beyond his capacity to change the mind of his people regarding this age-old practice.
Menelik II was fascinated by modernity, and like Tewodros II before him, had a keen ambition to introduce Western technological and administrative advances into Ethiopia. Following the rush by the major powers to establish diplomatic relations following the Ethiopian victory at Adwa, more and more westerners began to travel to Ethiopia looking for trade, farming, hunting and mineral exploration concessions. Menelik II founded the first modern bank in Ethiopia, the Bank of Abyssinia, introduced the first modern postal system, signed the agreement and initiated work that established the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railway with the French, introduced electricity to Addis Ababa, as well as the telephone, telegraph, the motor car and modern plumbing. He attempted unsuccessfully to introduce coinage to replace the Maria Theresa thaler.
In 1894 Menelik granted a concession for the building of a railway to his capital from the French port of Djibouti but, alarmed by a claim made by France in 1902 to control of the line in Ethiopian territory, he ordered a stop for four years on the extension of the railway beyond Dire Dawa. In 1906 when France, the United Kingdom and Italy came to an agreement on the subject, granting control to a joint venture corporation, Menelik officially reaffirmed his full sovereign rights over the whole of his empire.
According to one persistent tale, Menelik heard about the modern method of executing criminals using electric chairs during the 1890s, and ordered 3 for his kingdom. When the chairs arrived, Menelik learnt they would not work, as Ethiopia did not yet have an electric power industry. Rather than waste his investment, Menelik used one of the chairs as his throne, sending another to his "second" (Lique Mekwas) Abate Ba-Yalew. Recent research, however, has cast significant doubt on this story, and suggested it was invented by a Canadian journalist during the 1930s.
In addition to Ethiopian languages of Amharic, Oromiffa, Afar and Tigrigna, Menelik reportedly spoke French, English and Italian fluently. He read many books and was educated in finance, getting involved in various investments, including in "American railroads" and "American securities and French and Belgian mining investments." 
In 1864, Menelik married Woizero Altash Tewodros, whom he divorced in 1865; the marriage produced no children. Altash Tewodros was a daughter of Emperor Tewodros II. She and Menelik were married during the time that Menelik was held captive by Tewodros. The marriage ended when Menelik escaped captivity, abandoning her. She was subsequently remarried to Dejazmatch Bariaw Paulos of Adwa.
In 1865, Menelik married Woizero Befana Wolde Michael, whom he divorced in 1882; the marriage produced no children. Her brother was Dejazmatch Tewende Belay Wolde Michael. Woizero Bafena was implicated in a plot to overthrow Menelik when he was King of Shewa. She was widely suspected of being secretly in touch with Emperor Yohannes IV in her ambition to replace her husband on the Shewan throne with one of her sons from a previous marriage. With the failure of her plot, Woizero Befana was separated from Menelik, but Menelik apparently was still deeply attached to her. An attempt at reconciliation failed, but when his relatives and courtiers suggested new young wives to the King, he would sadly say "You ask me to look at these women with the same eyes that once gazed upon Befana?", paying tribute both to his ex-wife's great beauty and his own continuing attachment to her.
Finally, in 1883, he married Taytu Betul, who remained his wife until his death. Empress Taytu Betul was a noblewoman of Imperial blood and a member of one of the leading families of the regions of Semien, Yejju in modern Wollo, and Begemder. Her paternal uncle, Dejazmatch Wube Haile Maryam of Semien, had been the ruler of Tigray and much of northern Ethiopia. She had been married four times previously and exercised considerable influence. Taytu and Menelik were married in a full communion church service and thus fully canonical and insoluble, which Menelik had not had with either of his previous wives. Menelik and Taytu would have no children. Empress Taytu would become Empress consort upon her husband's succession, and would become the most powerful consort of an Ethiopian monarch since Empress Mentewab. She and her uncle Ras Wube were two of the most powerful people among descendants of the great Ras Gugsa Mursa. Emperor Yohannes was able to broaden his power base in northern Ethiopia through Taytu's family connections in Begemider, Semien and Yejju; she also served him as his close adviser, and went to the battle of Adwa with 5,000 troops of her own. From 1906, for all intents and purposes, Taytu Betul ruled in Menelik's stead during his infirmity. Menelik II and Taytu Betul personally owned 70,000 slaves. Abba Jifar II also is said to have more than 10,000 slaves and allowed his armies to enslave the captives during a battle with all his neighboring clans. This practice was common between various tribes and clans of Ethiopia for thousands of years.
Taytu arranged political marriages between her Yejju and Semien relatives and key Shewan aristocrates like Ras Woldegyorgis Aboye, who was Governor of Kaffa, Ras Mekonen who was governor of Harar, and Menelik's eldest daughter Zewditu Menelik who became Nigeste Negestat of the empire after the overthrow of Lij Iyasu. Taytu's step daughter, Zewditu, was married to her nephew Ras Gugsa Welle who administered Begemider up to the 1930s.
Previous to his marriage to Taytu Betul, Menelik fathered several "natural" children. Three natural children that Menelik recognized were Woizero Shoaregga Menelik, born 1867,[nb 9] Woizero (later Empress) Zauditu Menelik, born 1876,[nb 10] and Abeto Asfa Wossen Menelik, born 1873.
In 1886, Menelik married his ten-year-old daughter Zauditu to Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes, the fifteen-year-old son of Emperor Yohannes IV. In May 1888, Ras Araya Selassie died. Woizero Shoaregga was first married to Dejazmatch Wodajo Gobena, the son of Ras Gobena Dachi. They had a son, Abeto Wossen Seged Wodajo, but this grandson of Menelik II was eliminated from the succession due to dwarfism. In 1892, twenty-five-year-old Woizero Shoaregga was married for a second time to forty-two-year-old Ras Mikael of Wollo. They had two children, a daughter Woizero Zenebework, and Menelik's eventual successor, Lij[nb 11] Iyasu. Woizero Zenebework Mikael eventually married at age twelve, the much older Ras Bezabih Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, and died in childbirth a year later. Abeto Asfa Wossen Menelik died when he was about fifteen years of age. Only Shoaregga has present day descendants.
Rumoured natural children of the Emperor include Ras Birru Wolde Gabriel and Dejazmach Kebede Tessema. The latter, in turn, was later rumoured to be the natural grandfather of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, the communist leader of the Derg, who eventually deposed the monarchy and assumed power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991.
On 27 October 1909, Menelik II suffered a massive stroke and his "mind and spirit died". After that, Menelik was no longer able to reign, and the office was taken over by Empress Taytu. as de facto ruler, until Ras Bitwaddad Tesemma was publicly appointed regent. However, he died within a year, and a council of regency – from which the empress was excluded – was formed in March 1910.
In the early morning hours of 12 December 1913, Emperor Menelik II died. He was buried quickly without announcement or ceremony at the Se'el Bet Kidane Meheret Church, on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. In 1916 Menelik II was reburied in the specially built church at Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery of Addis Ababa.
After the death of Menelik II, the council of regency continued to rule Ethiopia. Lij Iyasu was never crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, and eventually Empress Zewditu I succeeded Menelik II on the 27 September 1916.
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Menelik IIBorn: 17 August 1844 Died: 12 December 1913
|Emperor of Ethiopia
with Taytu Betul (1906–1913)
|King of Shewa
|Joined to Ethiopian crown|
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