Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

ICES20 logo

Use the "back" button of your browser to return to the list of abstracts.


DERESSE Ayenachew, Debre Berhan University - IEA France

The medieval Katamā (town) of Ethiopia was itinerant throughout the period. The king moved around his kingdom with more than thirty thousand people, including soldiers, civil servants, merchants, diplomats, artisans, etc. A medieval Ethiopian king could travel a thousand kilometers from the north to south of the kingdom for military and religious reasons, or to collect tribute. Ethiopian sources left accounts of King Amda Ṣeyon (1314-1344) travelling from Šawā through Təgray to Massawa on the Red Sea, and then moving on to Goğğam, Damot, and Hadyā in 1316. It is evident that this king travelled with his huge military contingent and civil servants during his military campaigns. King Zar’a Ya’eqob (1434-1468) voyaged from Amhara province (most of Western South Wollo) to Aksum in 1436. After three years, in 1439, he moved his court southward, passing through Lāstā, Angot, Amhara and on to Šawā, Ifāt, Faṭgar, before descending to the province of Dawaro (part of Eastern Harar) in 1445. In the same year, he probably returned to Dabra Bərhān, in Šawā. These medieval court displacements were associated with the custom of moving capital, as recounted in the Chronicle of King Galawdewos (1540-1559). Our study reveals that the rules of displacement were instituted during the reign of king Amda Ṣeyon. The Sər’āta Gəbr recalls that Amda Ṣeyon first established the regulations for the Gwu’ezo. The chronicle of King Zar’a Ya’eqob set the rules for the relocation of the king's court. Article 24 of the Sər’āta Mangəst details the rules for the movement of the court, particularly the king, nobilities and the army. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese traveller F. Alvarez was candid in his impressions of the official displacement orders for the court of King Ləbna Dəngəl (1508-1540). The Sər’āta Gwu’ezo provided the layout of the Katamā (town), where the king was in the center, surrounded by nobility, clergy, even diplomats and other inhabitants. It provides a picture of the social order of the medieval society in movement. The aim of this study is to cast light on the role of Sər’āta Gwu’ezo in forging the process of interaction and integration in mediaeval Ethiopia. It also analyses the importance of a two-century-old institution as the key political administration system of the medieval kingdom of Ethiopia.