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Ethiopia (ēthēōˈpēə), officially Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, republic (2021 est. pop. 119,032,081), 471,776 sq mi (1,221,900 sq km), NE Africa. It borders on Eritrea in the north, on Djibouti in the northeast, on Somalia in the east and southeast, on Kenya in the south, and on South Sudan and Sudan in the west. Addis Ababa is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Ethiopia falls into four main geographic regions from west to east—the Ethiopian Plateau, the Great Rift Valley, the Somali Plateau, and the Ogaden Plateau. The Ethiopian Plateau, which is fringed in the west by the Sudan lowlands (made up of savanna and forests), includes more than half the country. It is generally 5,000 to 6,000 ft (1,524–1,829 m) high but reaches much loftier heights, including Ras Dashen (15,158 ft/4,620 m), the highest point in Ethiopia. The plateau slopes gently from east to west and is cut by numerous deep valleys. The Blue Nile (in Ethiopia called the Abbai or Abbay) flows through the center of the plateau from its source, Lake Tana, Ethiopia's largest lake. The Great Rift Valley (which in its entirety runs from SW Asia to E central Africa) traverses the country from northeast to southwest and contains the Danakil Desert in the north and several large lakes in the south. The Somali Plateau is generally not as high as the Ethiopian Plateau, but in the Mendebo Mts. it attains heights of more than 14,000 ft (4,267 m). The Awash, Ethiopia's only navigable river, drains the central part of the plateau. The Ogaden Plateau (1,500–3,000 ft/457–914 m high) is mostly desert but includes the Webe Shebele, Genale (Jubba), and Dawa rivers.

Ethiopia's population is mainly rural, with most living in highlands above 5,900 ft (1,800 m), though the government's emphasis in the 21st cent. industrialization has resulted in increasing urbanization. Almost half the people are Muslim, while over a third belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; about 12% practice traditional religions. There are a great number of distinct ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The Amhara and Tigreyans, who together make up about a third of the population, live mostly in the central and N Ethiopian Plateau; they are Christian and hold most of the higher positions in the government. The Oromo, who make up about a third of the country's people, live in S Ethiopia and are predominantly Muslim. The pastoral Somali, who are also Muslim, live in E and SE Ethiopia. Violence between ethnic groups has at times been a problem.

Until the 1980s a small group of Jews, known as Beta Israel or Falashas, lived north of Lake Tana in Gondar. In the midst of famine and political instability, 10,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted (1984–85) to Israel, and another 14,000 were airlifted out in 1991. By the end of 1999 virtually all the Falashas who were practicing Jews had been flown to Israel; a number of Falash Mura, Falashas who had converted to Christianity in the 19th cent., also were allowed to immigrate to Israel in subsequent years.

Amharic is the country's official language, but a great many other languages are spoken, including Tigrinya, Oromo, Somali, and Arabic. A substantial number of Ethiopians speak English, which is commonly taught in school.


Ethiopia is overwhelmingly agricultural developing country, with agriculture employing some three fourths of the people. Although services now account for the largest portion of the country's GDP, farm products remain significant and form a large portion of exports (particularly coffee). The great majority of the population is engaged in subsistence farming. The chief farm products are cereals, pulses, coffee, oilseed, cotton, sugarcane, potatoes, khat, and cut flowers. Large numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats are raised, and there is a fishing industry. Because of its degraded lands, poor cultivation practices, and frequent periods of drought, Ethiopia has to rely on extensive food imports.

Industry is still mostly restricted to agricultural processing and the manufacture of consumer goods, but the government's emphasis in the 21st cent. on developing infrastructure and manufacturing as well as other sectors has led to steady and significant economic growth. The main industrial centers are Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Nazret. The leading manufactures include processed food, beverages, textiles, leather and leather goods, chemicals, and metal products. No large-scale mineral deposits have been found in Ethiopia; gold, platinum, copper, potash, and natural gas are extracted in small quantities. The country is developing its hydroelectric capacity, which is significant; the electricity being produced is for both domestic use and export.

Ethiopia has a poor transportation network, with few year-round roads. The country's one rail line links Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The chief ports serving Ethiopia, which became landlocked with Eritrean independence, are in other countries: Djibouti, in the country of Djibouti, and Aseb and Massawa, in Eritrea. The border war that began in 1998 ended Ethiopian use of Eritrea's ports.

The annual value of imports into Ethiopia is usually considerably higher than the value of its exports. The principal imports are food and live animals, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, machinery, motor vehicles, cereals, and textiles. The main exports are coffee, khat, gold, leather products, live animals, and oilseeds. The leading trade partners are China, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Italy.


Ethiopia is governed under the constitution of 1994, which provides for a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. The bicameral Parliament consists of the 108-seat House of Federation, whose members are chosen by state assemblies to serve five-year terms, and the 547-seat House of People's Representatives, whose members are popularly elected and who in turn elect the president for a six-year term. The prime minister is designated by the party in power following legislative elections. Administratively, the country is divided into nine ethnically based regions and two self-governing administrations (the capital and Dire Dawa).


Early History

Cushitic language speakers are believed to have been the original inhabitants of Ethiopia. They were driven out of the region by the Cushites in the 2d millennium B.C. The Cushites founded a new civilization which probably traded with the Egyptians, according to ancient Egyptian texts. The Egyptian name for Ethiopians was Habashat, which is the probable origin of the name Abyssinia.

According to tradition, the Ethiopian kingdom was founded (10th cent. B.C.) by Solomon's first son, Menelik I, whom the queen of Sheba is supposed to have borne. However, the first kingdom for which there is documentary evidence is that of Aksum (Axum), a kingdom which probably emerged in the 2d cent. A.D., thus making Ethiopia the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the most ancient in the world. Immigrants (mainly traders) from S Arabia who had been settling in N Ethiopia since about 500 B.C. influenced the economy and culture of Ethiopia. Aksum controlled much of the Red Sea coast and had links with the Mediterranean world.

Under King Ezana, Aksum was converted (4th cent.) to Christianity by Frumentius of Tyre. Closely tied to the Egyptian Coptic Church, the established Ethiopian church accepted Monophysitism following the Council of Chalcedon (451). In the 6th cent., Jewish influence penetrated Aksum, and some Ethiopians were converted to Judaism.

With the rise of Islam in the 7th cent. Aksum declined, mainly because its land contacts with the Byzantine Empire were severed and its control of the Red Sea trade routes was ended. Thereafter, the focus of Aksum was directed inward toward the center of the Ethiopian Plateau (mainly the regions of Amhara and Shoa), and it was largely cut off from the outside world. Aksum soon lost its cohesion, and Ethiopia lapsed into a period of competition among small political units.

In 1530–31, Ahmad Gran, a Muslim Somali leader, conquered much of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian emperor Lebna Dengel (reigned 1508–40) appealed to Portugal for help against the Somalis (a Portuguese embassy had reached the Ethiopian court in 1520). The Somali war exhausted Ethiopia, ending a period of cultural revival and exposing the empire to incursions by the Oromo. For the next two centuries the Ethiopian kingdom, centered at Gondar near Lake Tana, was beset by ruinous civil wars among princes (especially those of Tigray and Amhara), was menaced by the Oromo, and was again isolated from the outside world.

Nineteenth-Century Ethiopia

The reunification of Ethiopia was begun in the 19th cent. by Kasa (Lij Kasa; c.1818–68), who conquered Amhara, Gojjam, Tigray, and Shoa, and in 1855 had himself crowned emperor as Tewodros II (Theodore II). He began to modernize and centralize the legal and administrative systems, despite the opposition of local governors. Tensions developed with Great Britain, and Tewodros imprisoned (1867) several Britons, including the British consul. A British military expedition under Robert (later Lord) Napier was sent out, and the emperor's forces were easily defeated near Magdala (now Amba Mariam) in 1868. To avoid capture, Tewodros committed suicide.

A brief civil war followed, and in 1872 a chieftain of Tigray became emperor as John (Yohannes) IV. John's attempts to further centralize the government led to revolts by local leaders; in addition, his regime was threatened during 1875–76 by Egyptian incursions and, after 1881, by raids by followers of the Mahdi in Sudan. The opening (1869) of the Suez Canal increased the strategic importance of Ethiopia, and several European powers (particularly Italy, France, and Great Britain) sought influence in the area. In 1889, John was killed fighting the Mahdists, and, following a short succession crisis, the king of Shoa (who had Italian support) was crowned emperor as Menelik II.

Menelik signed (1889) a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Italy at Wuchale. Due to a dispute over the meaning of the treaty (Italy claimed it had been given a protectorate over Ethiopia, which Menelik denied), Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1895 but was decisively defeated by Menelik's forces at Adwa on Mar. 1, 1896. By the subsequent Treaty of Addis Ababa (Oct., 1896), the Treaty of Wuchale was annulled, and Italy recognized the independence of Ethiopia while retaining its Eritrean colonial base. During his reign, Menelik also greatly expanded the size of Ethiopia, adding the provinces of Harar (E), Sidamo (S), and Kaffa (SW). In addition, he further modernized the military and the government, made (1889) Addis Ababa the capital of the country, developed the economy, and promoted the building of the country's first railroad (financed by French capital).

The Twentieth Century and the Rule of Haile Selassie

Menelik died in 1913 and was succeeded by his grandson Lij Iyasu, who alienated his fellow countrymen by favoring Muslims, and antagonized the British, French, and Italians through his support of the Central Powers (which included the Muslim Ottoman Empire) in World War I. Lij Iyasu was deposed in 1916 and Judith (Zawditu), a daughter of Menelik, was made empress with Ras Tafari Makonnen as regent and heir apparent. In the 1920s, there was tension with Italy and Great Britain, as each tried to extend its influence in Ethiopia. Ras Tafari was given additional powers by the empress in 1928, and on her death in 1930 he was crowned emperor as Haile Selassie I.

Almost immediately he faced threats from Italy's ruler, Mussolini, who was determined to establish an Italian empire and to avenge the defeat at Adwa. A border clash at Welwel in SE Ethiopia along the border with Italian Somaliland on Dec. 5, 1934, increased tension, and on Oct. 3, 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The League of Nations (which Ethiopia had joined in 1923) called for mild economic sanctions against Italy, but they had little effect, and an attempt by the British and French governments to arrange a settlement by giving Italy much of Ethiopia failed. The Italians quickly defeated the Ethiopians and in May, 1936, Addis Ababa was captured and Haile Selassie fled the country. On June 1, 1936, the king of Italy was also made emperor of Ethiopia. The country was combined with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form Italian East Africa.

In 1941, during World War II, British and South African forces easily conquered Ethiopia, and Haile Selassie regained his throne. Britain had considerable influence in Ethiopian affairs until the end of the war and administered the small Haud region in the southeast (adjacent to present-day Somalia) until 1955. In 1945, Ethiopia became a charter member of the United Nations. Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952, and in 1962 it was made an integral part of the country; Ethiopia thus gained direct access to the sea. In 1955 a new Ethiopian constitution came into force, and in 1958 the Ethiopian church became independent of the Coptic patriarch in Egypt.

Despite considerable aid from the United States and other countries, Ethiopia remained economically underdeveloped, with its wealth concentrated in the hands of a small number of large landlords and the Ethiopian church. A coup in 1960 lasted only a few days before Haile Selassie was returned to power. Between 1961 and 1967 there were border skirmishes between Ethiopia and Somalia, and in the late 1960s and early 70s there was considerable fighting between the government and a guerrilla secessionist movement in Eritrea. In 1966, Haile Selassie instituted several reforms, including the granting of more power to the cabinet. Nevertheless, unrest continued among groups seeking more far-reaching reforms.

Ethiopia after Haile Selassie

In a gradual coup that began in Feb., 1974, and culminated in September with the ouster of Haile Selassie, a group of military officers seized control of the government. Haile Selassie's failure to deal adequately with the long-term drought in N Ethiopia in 1973–74 was reportedly a major reason for his downfall. The constitution was suspended, parliament was dissolved, and Lt. Gen. Aman Michael Andom became head of a newly formed Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC). In 1977 Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam became head of the PMAC, which soon diverted from its announced socialist course. A popular movement, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party, began a campaign of urban guerrilla activity that was contained by government-organized urban militias in 1977. Under the Mengistu regime, thousands of political opponents were purged, property was confiscated, and defense spending was greatly increased.

In 1977, Somalia invaded disputed territory in the Ogaden Desert and Bale Province. In addition, Eritrean nationalists were able to gain control of most of Eritrea. However, with massive amounts of military aid from the USSR and troops from Cuba, the government drove the Somalis out of the country (1978) and also retook land in Eritrea. Severe droughts throughout the 1980s resulted in devastating famine and led to widespread flight to Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan. In 1987 a new, Marxist-based constitution was approved. Ethiopia and Somalia signed a peace agreement in 1988, but internal strife worsened as bitter fighting occurred (1989) in Tigray and Eritrea. Diplomatic relations with Israel, which had been severed in 1974, were restored in 1989 as aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba declined and Ethiopia looked for other potential investment sources.

In 1991 the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel organizations (led by Tigrayens) under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, began to achieve real successes and ultimately routed the Ethiopian army, forcing Mengistu to resign and flee the country. The EPRDF organized an interim government with Meles as president. A new constitution, drafted by an elected constituent assembly and approved in 1994, divided the country into ethnically based regions, each of which was given the right of secession. Eritrea had established its own provisional government in 1991 and became an independent nation in 1993.

In 1995, Negasso Gidada became president, a largely ceremonial post. Meles became prime minister after elections that were boycotted by most opposition parties. In early 1996, some 70 figures from the Mengistu regime went on trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity; many of them, including Mengistu himself, were tried in absentia. Ethiopia, despite work toward reforming the nation's agriculture, continues to face problems of famine and widespread poverty. Elections held in May, 2000, resulted in a landslide for the EPRDF.

A border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea broke out in 1998 when Eritrean forces occupied disputed territory. Fighting was largely inconclusive until May, 2000, when Ethiopian forces launched a major offensive, securing the disputed territory and driving further into Eritrea. A cease-fire agreement signed in June called for a truce, the establishment of a 15.5 mi (9.6 km) UN-patrolled buffer zone (in Eritrean territory), and the demarcation of the border by a neutral commission. An estimated 70,000 to 120,000 Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers and civilians died in the conflict. A treaty was formally signed in Dec., 2000, and there was slow progress toward the goals of the treaty in the subsequent months. The border was established in Apr., 2002, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The ruling generally favored neither country, but some decisions in favor of Eritrea led Ethiopia to fail to finalize the border.

Ethiopia, despite work toward reforming the nation's agriculture, continues to face problems of famine and widespread poverty. The country is dependent on rainfall to raise its crops, and a drought in 2000–2001 affected some 10 million Ethiopians, with perhaps as many as 50,000 dying from starvation. A new famine threatened the country in 2003 as a result of a drought that began in 2002. The situation improved somewhat by 2004, but several million people were still dependent on food aid. Girma Wolde-Giorgis was elected president in Oct., 2001; he was reelected in 2007. In 2003–4 there was ethnic violence in the Gambela region (W central Ethiopia); there were accusations that the army was involved in some of the attacks.

Parliamentary elections in May, 2005, resulted in substantial gains for the opposition in the lower house, where they won more than 170 seats, but opposition parties accused the government of irregularities in many constituencies; the government also accused the opposition of irregularities in others. When opposition protests occurred in the capital in June despite a ban on demonstrations, a number of demonstrators were killed, several thousand were arrested, and the unrest spread to other areas. Although election board investigators visited constituencies where the results were strongly in dispute, the board ultimately ruled largely in favor of government candidates, awarding Meles's coalition a parliamentary majority. Foreign observers called the vote generally free and fair, but noted that it was marred in some respects and criticized the slowness of the count and the handling of charges of irregularities. Government opponents protested the result through a parliamentary boycott and, in November, street demonstrations; the police killed some 200 protesters. The government arrested hundreds, eventually releasing most of them, but many opposition leaders were not released and were charged with treason and genocide. In response, a number of nations and international organizations suspended (Dec., 2005) foreign aid to the government. The charges of genocide and treason were dropped in Apr., 2007, but more than 80 opposition figures remained accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Many of them were sentenced (July, 2007) to life in prison, a verdict that was denounced internationally; they and most of the rest of the 80 were subsequently pardoned. The government subsequently has continued to suppress the politicial opposition and criticism of its policies.

Tensions with Eritrea escalated in 2005 as both nations bolstered their forces along the disputed border. The United Nations called (Nov., 2005) for Eritrea and Ethiopia to reduce their forces along the border, and expressed concern over Ethiopia's failure to finalize the border; UN sanctions were threatened for noncompliance. A year later the boundary commission said that it would demarcate the border on maps and the two nations would have a year to demarcate the border on the ground, but the 2007 deadline passed with the issue unresolved. In Dec., 2005, a Permanent Court of Arbitration claims commission ruled that Eritrea had violated international law in attacking Ethiopia, and that Ethiopia was entitled to compensation. The UN ended its peacekeeping mission along the border in mid-2008, blaming both Ethiopia (for its failure to adhere to the boundary commission's ruling) and Eritrea (for limiting and interfering with the operations of peacekeeping forces); the last peacekeepers were withdrawn in Oct., 2008. Since then there have been sporadic border-related violence involving the two nations' armies or rebels they support.

In Apr., 2006, Ethiopian soldiers fought with Kenyan forces when the soldiers pursued Oromo rebels across the border into Kenya. Somali Islamists accused Ethiopia of invading Somalia in June after the Islamists secured control of much of S Somalia. Although Ethiopia denied the charge, Prime Minister Meles denounced Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who became leader of the Somali Islamists' shura [council], as a threat to Ethiopia; the sheikh accused Ethiopia of “occupying” the Ogaden.

In July, 2006, there were more credible reports of Ethiopian troops entering Somalia in support of the beleaguered government based in Baidoa, but Ethiopia did not acknowledge this until October, when it said the Ethiopian forces in Somalia were military trainers. In December the Somali Islamists demanded that Ethiopian troops leave or face attack. When fighting erupted, Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian forces drove the Islamists from their Somalia strongholds. Warfare ended in early 2007, but insurgent attacks continued, preventing Ethiopia from withdrawing its forces. In 2008, Ethiopia stated that its forces would remain until stability is assured or a credible peacekeeping force was in place. After a peace agreement was signed between moderate Islamists and the interim Somali government, however, Ethiopia agreed to withdraw, and removed its troops from Somalia in Jan., 2009. Ethiopian forces, however, did occasionally make incursions into Somalia in subsequent months. Flooding in Aug.–Sept., 2008, and again in October, afflicted several Ethiopian regions; several hundred thousand people were affected.

Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia reinvigorated a long-simmering indigenous Somali insurgency in the Ogaden in 2007, and Ethiopia responded with a military crackdown. It also employed local militias against the rebels, leading to accusations of Darfur-like tactics. In addition, the government was reported to have blocked food aid to the region.

In June, 2009, the government charged more than 40 people with conspiring to overthrow the government and assassinate public officials. Most of the accused were current or former military officers; 12 accused were in exile. Berhanu Nega, an exiled opposition leader and alleged mastermind, called the conspiracy charges a fabrication. Most were subsequently convicted; Berhanu (in absentia) and several others were sentenced to death. In Aug., 2009, the Permanent Court of Arbitration claims commission issued its final war damages awards; Eritrea was assessed roughly $174 million to cover Ethiopian claims while Ethiopia was assessed $164 million for Eritrean claims.

The May, 2010, parliamentary elections resulted in a landslide for the EPRDF, which won nearly all the seats, but the campaign was criticized as unfair and marred by intimidation of opposition politicians and their supporters; the opposition also accused the EPRDF of vote rigging. In late 2011, Ethiopian forces again entered Somalia, in a concerted effort in support of the transitional government forces there that continued into 2012. Ethiopian forces in Mar., 2012, also attacked what Ethiopia described as several Eritrean military bases that were used to train Ethiopian antigovernment militants.

In Aug., 2012, Meles died in office; Hailemariam Desalegn, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, succeeded him as prime minister. Mulatu Teshome, Ethiopia's ambassador to Turkey, was elected president in Oct., 2013. The EPRDF won every seat in the parliamentary elections in May, 2015; the opposition again criticized the vote as rigged and unfair.

In 2014 and 2015 plans to transfer portions of Oromia state into Addis Ababa's administrative area led to antigovernment protests in Oromia that were violently suppressed by security forces; the plans were abandoned in early 2016. Driven by economic and human-rights issues, protests against the government continued and spread to the Amhara region as well during 2016; foreign-owned enterprises became increasingly subjected to violent attacks. In October the government declared a state of emergency (continued into 2017) in a move to suppress the protests, and subsequently thousands were arrested, though most were released by the end of the year after being held in reeducation camps.

Protests continued into 2018, despite the release of thousands of political prisoners that year. In February the prime minister resigned and a state of emergency was again declared. Abiy Ahmed Ali, an Oromo who was a former minister of technology and former army and security officer, became prime minister in April; the state of emergency ended in June, and economic reforms were announced. Also in June, Abiy was the subject of an apparent assassination attempt; in July, he reestablished diplomatic relations with Eritrea after moving to resolve their border dispute, but resolution of the dispute proved slow. Ethiopia subsequently signed peace agreements with Oromo and Ogaden rebels, and more than 13,000 people who had been accused or convicted of terrorism or treason were pardoned, but at the same time the government faced a new surge in ethnic violence. Mulatu resigned as president in October, and Sahle-Work Zewde was elected to the office; she became Ethiopia's first woman president.

In June, 2019, there was attempt to seize control of Amhara region in which the head of the army and the governor of Amhara were killed. Significant violence also occurred in Oct., 2019, in Adama and surrounding Oromia after an Oromo activist accused security forces of plotting to attack him. In November, members of the Sidama ethnic group voted in favor of a state of their own; the process to establish a new state, however, would require a change to the constitution. That same month, three of the four parties in the EPRDF voted to merge to form the Prosperity party; the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which had formerly dominated the EPRDF, did not participate.

In June, 2020, Ethiopia's parliament voted to extend its term due to the COVID-19 pandemic and delay elections until after health authorities determined it would be safe. That month a popular Oromo activist and singer was killed, sparking a new rounds of protest and violence in the region and the capital. In August the TPLF held regional elections in Tigray, which increased tensions with the central government. The government moved militarily against Tigray in November after Tigrayan forces seized a regional army base, and Eritrean troops entered Tigray in support of Ethiopian government forces; both sides were accused of attacks on civilians.The government captured the region’s largest town, Mekelle, and installed an “interim president,” Mulu Nega. Fighting continued into 2021, with Tigrayan rebels approaching the country's capital in early November. Abiy declared a state of emergency and government soldiers targeted Tigrayans in the city for detention.


See C. Clapham, Haile Selassie's Government (1969); E. Ullendorff, The Ethiopians (3d. ed. 1973); J. Markakis, Ethiopia (1974); P. Schwab, Ethiopia (1985); C. Clapham, Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia (1988); E. J. Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia (1989); A. Dejene, Environment, Famine and Politics in Ethiopia (1991); G. Takeke, Ethiopia: Power and Protest (1991); S. Uhlig, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (5 vol., 2003–).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Socialist Ethiopia).

Ethiopia, a state in northeastern Africa, is bounded on the west by the Sudan, on the south by Kenya, on the southeast by Somalia, and on the east by Somalia and Djibouti; on the northeast it is washed by the Red Sea. Area, 1,221,900 sq km. Population, 29 million (1977). The capital is Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is divided into 14 provinces (see Table 1).

Table 1. Administrative divisions of Ethiopia
ProvinceArea (sq km)Population (1975)Capital
Arusi ...............23,500954,100Asela
Bale ...............124,600767,500Goba
Eritrea ...............117,6002,124,700Asmara
Gemu Gofa ...............39,500875,900Arba Minch
Gondar ...............74,2001,797,400Gondar
Gwojam ...............61,6001,784,000Debre Markos
Harerge ...............259,7002,735,500Harer
llubabor ...............47,400681,200Metu
Kefa ...............54,6001,413,700Jima
Shewa ...............85,4005,565,400Addis Ababa
Sidamo ...............117,3002,457,100Awasa
Tigre ...............65,9001,892,000Mekele
Welega ...............71,2001,767,900Nekemte
Welo ...............79,4002,285,700Dese

In 1974 all power passed to the Provisional Military Administrative Council. The supreme body of the PMAC is the PMAC Congress, which elects a Central Committee of 32 members and a Standing Committee of 16 members. The Congress determines the basic directions of domestic and foreign policy, approves budgets and development plans, sets the tasks of defense and state security, ratifies treaties, and adopts resolutions on the creation and elimination of state agencies and public organizations. In addition, the Congress is empowered to declare war or a state of emergency, and it may appoint or dismiss members of the PMAC.

The Central Committee of the PMAC provides overall direction for domestic and foreign policy; the Standing Committee of the PMAC exercises political and ideological leadership and monitors the implementation of the program of the national democratic revolution. The chairman of the PMAC is the head of state and government. In September 1975, Ethiopia adopted a new coat of arms and flag.

Ethiopia is located between 4° and 18° N lat.; most of the country lies in the subequatorial belt, in a zone of savannas, thin forests, and shrubs. The northern part of the country, which lies in the tropical belt, is a region of semidesert and desert.

Ethiopia has a fault-line coast that runs in a straight line and is margined by coral reefs. The Dahlak Islands lie offshore.

Terrain. Most of Ethiopia is occupied by the Ethiopian Plateau, a tableland with elevations of 2,000–3,000 m; the highest elevations are found in the Simen (Semien) Mountains, where Mount Ras Dashan (4,623 m), the highest peak in Ethiopia, is located. In the northeast the tableland adjoins the Danakil (Afar) Depression, which is separated from the Red Sea by the Danakil Mountains. The northern part of the depression is occupied by clayey and sandy plains with salt bottoms and by low-lying lava and tuff plateaus; along the periphery are low volcanoes, some of which are active, notably Mount Gabuli (690 m). The axis of the depression is below sea level, descending to -116 m at Lake Asale (Assal).

In the south are low-lying lava plateaus that surround closed basins. In the southeast the Ethiopian Plateau descends abruptly to the Rift Valley, a deep cleavage whose floor is divided into several basins that form closed lakes. Beyond the valley lies the Somali Plateau. The northwestern periphery of the plateau, which bounds the Rift Valley, is high (approximately 3,000 m) and built up with accumulated lavas. The remaining part of the plateau gradually descends to the southeast.


Geological structure and mineral resources. Ethiopia is located in the eastern part of the African craton (African platform), whose folded crystalline basement is exposed primarily in the northern and western parts of the country (seeAFRICA: Geological structure and mineral resources). The underlying basement complex is composed of archean gneisses and granite-gneisses, which form several large massifs; an upper complex of Lower and Upper Proterozoic sandstones, schists, and phyllites occupies the graben-like depressions in granite-gneiss blocks. The Upper Proterozoic basement complex is formed of andésites, graywackes, quartzites, limestones, dolomites, and amphybolite, chlorite, graphitic, and mica schists, with intrusions of such rocks as dunites, gabbros, and granites; it forms a system of folded belts, with a width reaching 50–100 km, that are part of the Mozambique mobile belt.

The sedimentary mantle, with a thickness of about 7 km, is composed of marine and continental deposits of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Glacial formations of the Upper Paleozoic are found sporadically. Extensive areas of the Ethiopian Plateau are covered by traps of alkaline basalts from the Paleocene and Miocene; Pleocene and Quaternary basalts and their tuffs developed in the Afar and Ethiopian rifts. The axial zones of the rifts widen toward the Danakil Depression in the northeast, where oceanic crust is formed; they are characterized by seismicity and recent volcanism.

Known deposits of gold ore, located in the Kibre Mengist (Adola) region of Sidamo Province, are associated with rocks of the upper complex of the Precambrian. The platinum deposit at Youbdo, in Welega Province, is an eluvial placer formed from Precambrian dunites. Ethiopia has deposits of copper ore— primarily pyrite ores—at Debarwa, Adi Nefas, Adi Rassi, and Embadero, and nickel ores have been found in a weathered mantle of ultrabasites. In addition, there are deposits of such minerals as manganese ores, natural gas, potasium salts, and native sulfur.


Climate. Ethiopia has a tropical desert and semidesert climate in the north and east, where the annual precipitation is less than 50 mm; the rest of the country is hot and seasonally wet. Climatic zones and differences in exposure are quite distinct. Precipitation falls in northern and central Ethiopia during the summer and in the south during the spring and autumn; on the eastern slopes of the Ethiopian Plateau a small amount of rain falls in the winter.

In the mountains, the lowest zone—the quolla (up to 1,700–1,800 m)—is hot; the western and southwestern slopes are wet, with an annual precipitation of about 2,000 mm. The woina dega (up to 2,400 m) has a temperate climate, with an average monthly temperature that ranges from 13°C to 16°–18°C. In the cool zone—the dega (up to 4,000 m)—average monthly temperatures range from 13.4°C to 16.8°C, and there is less rainfall. Higher still is the cold zone—the choke— which has a winter snow cover on the mountain peaks. The Danakil Depression, which is cut off from moisture-bearing winds, is one of the hottest places on earth: the average maximum temperature is 35°C, and the average minimum temperature is 25°C. On the Somali Plateau the climate is hot, becoming arid on the border with Somalia.

Rivers and lakes. Ethiopia has a dense network of rivers on the Ethiopian Plateau; the most important of the few rivers on the arid lava plateaus are the Webi Shebeli and the Juba. The rivers in the Danakil Depression, notably the Awash, periodically become dry. The country’s principal rivers belong to the Nile basin and play an important role in feeding the Nile. The Blue Nile flows from Lake Tana. The Blue Nile, which receives numerous tributaries in the mountains, and the Atbara provide 69 percent and 22 percent, respectively, of the Nile’s water during the summer rainy period. In addition to Lake Tana, Ethiopia has many lakes that are either water-filled depressions in the lava or fault basins, such as the one occupied by Lake Ziway in the Rift Valley. The Danakil Depression has numerous salt lakes.

Soils. On the slopes of the Ethiopian Plateau in the hot zone are reddish-brown soils and mountain dark-red humus fersiallitic soils. On the basaltic plateaus are black montmorillonite soils. In the woina dega zone are humus dark-red ferrallitic and fersiallitic soils; the mountain chernozem-type soils of this zone, which have a high humus content and are fertile, have long been cultivated. Leached chernozem-type soils are found in the dega zone. On the arid eastern and southern peripheries of Ethiopia are brown and reddish-brown soils, which are often stony.

Flora. Northern, eastern, and southern Ethiopia, where a dry, hot climate prevails, are occupied by shrub deserts and semideserts, as well as by dry savannas, on most of which the principal type of vegetation is the acacia. The western and southwestern slopes of the Ethiopian Plateau have a clearly distinguishable altitudinal zonation. In the quolla zone, as one proceeds from north to south, dry, typical, and wet savannas succeed one another; evergreen forests grow in the river valleys. On the very wet southwestern slopes, at elevations of 1,200–2,000 m, there are evergreen forests and coffee trees.

In the woina dega zone, mountain savannas are widespread on the plateaus; in the mountains, at elevations of 1,500–2,000 m, are coniferous forests of Podocarpus. Mountain steppes are found in the dega zone, but on the mountain slopes juniper forests grow at elevations of 2,000–3,000 m above sea level. The juniper forests are preserved in the Menagasha National Park west of Addis Ababa.

Fauna. Ethiopia belongs to the East African subregion of the Ethiopian zoogeographie region. The fauna exhibits a diversity and abundance of species. There are found such large mammals as antelope, giraffes, buffalo, hippopotamuses, elephants, zebras, and mountain goats. The numerous predators include lions, leopards, leopard cats, and civets. Widely encountered Anthropoidea include green monkeys, anubis baboons, and gelada baboons. Among the birds are ostriches, Nectariniidae, hornbills, and weaverbirds.


Kazmin, V. Explanation of the Geological Map of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, 1975.
Suzuki Hideo. “Some Aspects of Ethiopian Climate.” Ethiopian Geographical Journal, 1967, vol. 5, no. 2.
Troll, Carl. “Die naturräumliche Gliederung Nord-Äthiopiens.” Erdkunde, 1970, vol. 24, issue 4, December.

Most of the population of Ethiopia belongs to the East African race; the west and southwest are inhabited by members of the Negroid race. The inhabitants of Ethiopia speak languages primarily of the Hamito-Semitic family. The Amhara, Gurage, Argobba, Harari, Tigrinya, Tigre, and some Beni Amer speak Semitic languages. Such peoples as the Galla (self-designation, Oromo), Somali, Danakil (Afar), Saho, Agau, Sidamo, Hadiya, Kafa, and Beja speak Cushitic languages.

The largest ethnic groups are the Galla and the Amhara. The extreme northwestern, western, and southwestern parts of Ethiopia are inhabited by peoples who speak Nilotic languages and the languages of the eastern Sudan; these peoples include the Nuer, Anuak, Barun, Turkana, Barea, Kunama, Bertat, Ari, and Dime.

An Ethiopian nation (natsiia, nation in the historical sense) is forming in Ethiopia; its principal ethnic components are, in addition to some of the Tigrinya, such peoples as the Amhara, the Gurage, the Galla of central Ethiopia, the Agau, the Kafa, and the Walamo. Armenians and Greeks, who first settled in Ethiopia long ago, are now well represented in the country, primarily in the cities. The major population centers are also inhabited by Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis, as well as emigrants from Europe, America, and neighboring African countries.

About half of Ethiopia’s population is Muslim; most of the remainder consists of Monophysite Christians. A small group, the Falasha, professes Judaism; the Falasha speak the Agau dialect. In the extreme southern, northern, and western parts of the country, traditional local beliefs have been preserved.

The official language is Amharic. The official Ethiopian calendar has several features that originated with the ancient calendars of the Near East—for example, each month has 30 days, and a 13th month is added to the year. Years are reckoned seven years and eight months behind the other Christian calendars.

Ethiopia’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.5 percent between 1970 and 1974. In 1973–74 the economically active population numbered 8.7 million, of whom 80.9 percent were employed in agriculture, 7.8 percent in industry, and 8.1 percent in trade and the service sector. About 650,000 persons work as hired laborers. The most densely populated areas are the plateaus of central Ethiopia, with about 50 persons per sq km; the most sparsely populated regions are in the southeast, where there are fewer than six persons per sq km. In 1976 the urban population constituted 12.1 percent of the total. In addition to Addis Ababa, which had a population of 1.2 million in 1976, Ethiopia’s principal cities are Asmara, Dire Dawa, Dese, and Harar.

Antiquity. Ethiopia forms part of one of the oldest regions of human habitation on earth. Archaeological finds are estimated to be as much as 2.1 million years old. Long before the Common Era, Ethiopia was inhabited by peoples of the Hamito-Semitic and other language groups. During the first millennium B.C. certain tribes from southern Arabia migrated to Ethiopia, where they intermingled with the indigenous population.

At the beginning of the Common Era the extensive Aksum Kingdom existed in northern Ethiopia; it flourished between the third and sixth centuries. In the fourth century, Christianity reached Aksum, and during the fifth and sixth centuries Monophysite Christianity became the kingdom’s dominant religion.

Establishment and development of feudalism (seventh to mid-19th centuries). The formation of the Arabian Caliphate in the seventh century cut off the Aksum Kingdom from the Mediterranean Sea and led to its economic decline and gradual disintegration. According to 13th-century sources, a feudal state that included the territory of ancient Aksum existed in Ethiopia at this time; slave-holding played an important role in its economy. Supreme power belonged to the negus-nagast (king of kings). The country was devastated by internecine feudal strife and by wars with the Muslim sultanates of Adal, Hadja, and Ifat, which were vassals of Ethiopia that sought to attain independence.

At the beginning of the 16th century the Ottoman Turks, supported by the Muslim sultanates, attacked Ethiopia; Galla tribes invaded from the south. With the aid of Portuguese troops summoned by the Ethiopian rulers, the Turks were driven out, and Ethiopia subjugated some of the Galla tribes. The Portuguese, who attempted to consolidate their position in Ethiopia, encountered resistance and left the country in the mid-17th century.

The unceasing internecine feudal wars led, at the end of the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th, to a weakening of central authority and a strengthening of the independence of the feudal principalities, which had their own administrations and armies. The power of the negus-nagast became purely nominal. The European powers, primarily Great Britain and France, began to conclude treaties of friendship with the rulers of separate principalities, promising to help them in their struggle against their neighbors.

Mid-19th to the first third of the 20th centuries. An important role in the unification of Ethiopia during the 1850’s was played by Kassa of Kwara, who in 1855 proclaimed himself emperor of Ethiopia under the name of Tewodros (Theodore) II (seeTHEODORE II). He succeeded, for a time, in reducing the internecine feudal strife. The creation of a centralized army was undertaken, the number of customs duties, which had discouraged internal trade, was reduced, and the construction of roads was begun. Some of the church lands were confiscated, and taxes were imposed on the remaining holdings. The reforms of Theodore II, which were stubbornly resisted by the local feudal lords, were never fully implemented.

In 1867, Great Britain dispatched a military force to Ethiopia; the Ethiopian Army was routed, and Theodore, rather than be taken prisoner, shot himself (seeANGLO-ETHIOPIAN WAR OF1867–68). The British, however, encountered resistance from the Ethiopian people and were soon forced to quit the country. After a prolonged internal struggle, Kassa, the ruler of the principality of Tigre, emerged victorious and in 1872 became Emperor Yohannes IV; he subjugated a considerable portion of Ethiopia.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s, Ethiopia was drawn into wars with Egypt and the Mahdist state in the Sudan, conflicts that were encouraged by Great Britain and the European advisers to the Egyptian government. Italy, capitalizing on Ethiopia’s weakened state, occupied the ports of Assab (1882) and Massaua (1885), along with several other towns along the Red Sea coast, and began to move deep into the interior of northern Ethiopia. In a battle against the Mahdists for Gallabat-Metemma on Mar. 9, 1889, the Ethiopian Army suffered a defeat, and Yohannes IV was mortally wounded. His successor, Menelik II, put an end to the wars against the Mahdists, suppressed feudal separatism, and recreated a unified Ethiopian state.

Italy once again attempted to reinforce its position in Ethiopia. In May 1889 the Treaty of Uccialli, an inequitable agreement on friendship and trade, was concluded between Italy and Ethiopia; under the treaty, certain territories of northern Ethiopia—in particular, the Asmara region—were ceded to Italy. At the beginning of 1890, Italy united its holdings on the Red Sea coast into the colony of Eritrea. In 1895 the Italian army launched a broad offensive into Ethiopia (see ITALO-ETHIOPIAN WARS). On Mar. 1, 1896, a battle took place near Adowa (Adwa) that marked the turning of the tide in favor of Ethiopia. On Oct. 26, 1896, a peace treaty was signed in Addis Ababa under which Italy recognized Ethiopia’s complete independence.

Under Menelik II, the state promoted the construction of roads and telegraph lines and the development of domestic and foreign trade. It implemented measures aimed at overcoming the country’s lack of political unity and at limiting slavery. At the same time, the system of private landholding was strengthened: certain lands that had been temporarily granted to members of the military and to persons close to the court gradually were transformed into private property.

Between 1890 and 1899 the Ethiopian government, in an attempt to forestall the occupation by the imperialists of the southern, southwestern, and southeastern parts of the country, annexed several areas, including Walamo, Sidamo, Kefa, Ghimirra, and Aussa, that had formerly been part of the Ethiopian empire. A bitter struggle began within the ruling elite after Menelik’s death in 1913. As a result, a dual ruling structure emerged: Zauditu, the daughter of Menelik, was proclaimed empress in 1916 after the overthrow of Lij Yasu, who had become king in 1913, and Tafari Makonnen was appointed regent.

Supporters of Tafari Makonnen favored a strengthening of central authority and the encouragement of economic and political development. The adherents of Zauditu came from the conservative circles of the large-scale secular landowners and the clergy. Although in favor of preserving a formally united state, they denied the need to implement reforms. Tafari Makonnen, making use of the army, which passed under his control in 1926, in effect deposed the Empress Zauditu in 1928. In November 1930, after her death, he had himself crowned emperor under the name Haile Selassie I.

In 1931 the first constitution in Ethiopia’s history was adopted; it was aimed at eliminating feudal separatism and establishing a uniform system of government for the entire country. The constitution preserved the power of the emperor as an absolute monarch essentially independent of the parliament that was created by the constitution.

Invasion by fascist Italy; struggle of the Ethiopian people against Italian domination (1935–41). On Oct. 3, 1935, Italian troops invaded Ethiopia, and the Italo-Ethiopian War began. The Ethiopian government turned to the League of Nations, which it had joined in 1923, for aid. The USSR spoke out in the League of Nations in support of Ethiopia’s independence. The implementation of the League’s resolution to impose sanctions against Italy was undermined by the imperialist powers, which entered into a conspiracy with the Italian government (seeROME PACT and HOARELAVAL AGREEMENT OF 1935).

Ethiopia’s soldiers and partisans fought heroically, but the Italians enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in matériel; in addition, they used war gases in the invasion. In May 1936, Italian troops entered Addis Ababa. The Mussolini government proclaimed Ethiopia part of a colony to be known as Italian East Africa. After the seizure of Ethiopia by Italy, the partisan struggle against the colonialists continued.

Independent Ethiopia during and after World War II. In January 1941, Anglo-Ethiopian troops entered Ethiopia from the Sudan; their ranks rapidly swelled, primarily because of an influx of partisans. On Apr. 6, 1941, Ethiopian patriots liberated Addis Ababa. By the end of 1941 the Italian occupying forces had been entirely expelled from Ethiopia; the British troops that had taken part in the military actions left the country in 1954.

After the expulsion of the Italians, decrees were issued in 1942 that prohibited slavery and freed the slaves. As a result, slavery was eliminated by the 1950’s, but some former slaves remained with their owners as dependent peasants, farm laborers, or domestic servants. Most peasants had little or no land; the rental payment for land ranged between one-fourth and three-fourths of the harvested crop. Antifeudal disturbances took place in Gwojam Province in 1950 and in southern Ethiopia in 1969. In 1960 the Ethiopian government announced the establishment of a special land-reform committee, but until the mid-1970’s no fundamental changes in agrarian relations took place: the feudal system remained dominant.

In 1952, in accordance with a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 2, 1950, the former Italian colony of Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia. In November 1955, Ethiopia’s new constitution went into effect; it did not fundamentally alter the absolutist character of the feudal-monarchical regime. In 1962 the legislative assembly of Eritrea, under pressure from the imperial government of Ethiopia, adopted a resolution providing for the abolition of federative status and Eritrea’s complete union with Ethiopia.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s the national bourgeoisie, which comprised the rural bourgeoisie, shareholders in state capitalist enterprises, owners of large households, and merchants, strengthened its position in Ethiopia. In the same period, a working class of railroad, industrial, construction, and farm workers was formed. In 1947 the railroad workers had founded their own trade union, the first in Ethiopia. In 1962 laws were promulgated concerning labor placement and labor relations. In accordance with the law on labor relations, industrial workers and office employees acquired the right to establish trade unions. This period saw an increase in the influence of the USA, with which Ethiopia concluded a treaty of friendship and economic cooperation in 1951 and an agreement on the use of defense installations on Ethiopian territory, and an agreement on mutual defense in 1953. Between 1951 and 1971 the USA provided Ethiopia with some $450 million in loans and subsidies; military aid to Ethiopia between 1953 and 1970 totaled $140 million.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s various social strata in Ethiopia became more active politically, particularly the intelligentsia and students. In December 1960 a group of progressive-minded officers who advocated basic reforms, primarily in the area of agrarian relations, mounted an abortive coup. In early 1974 the socioeconomic and political crisis of the feudal-monarchical system became exacerbated owing to delays in resolving problems of agrarian reform; to the drought of 1973, which brought about hundreds of thousands of deaths by starvation; to a sharp increase in the price of goods; and to corruption among high officials.

Strikes and demonstrations broke out in Addis Ababa in February 1974 and continued throughout the ensuing months. Mass uprisings by the working people, which attracted the active participation of the armed forces, led to an antifeudal, antimonarchist, and anti-imperialist revolution. The armed forces established the Coordinating Committee. On Sept. 12, 1974, Haile Selassie I was deposed, and in March 1975 the monarchy was abolished. All power was transferred to the Coordinating Committee, which was renamed the Provisional Military Administrative Council.

On Dec. 20, 1974, the PMAC announced that it had chosen a socialist path of development. Radical socioeconomic changes were implemented: banks, insurance companies, and the largest industrial, transport, and commercial enterprises were nationalized. In March 1975 all land was proclaimed to be the common property of the people. The foundation was laid for the organization of rural inhabitants in production cells and the establishment of governing bodies in the countryside: in September 1977 there were about 25,000 rural associations, uniting approximately 7 million peasants. In addition, associations of urban dwellers were formed. Feudal relations were eliminated in the villages. In the cities, land and apartment houses were nationalized. Labor legislation was introduced that instituted such reforms as an eight-hour workday, a guaranteed minimum wage, and a system of vacations.

In April 1976 the program of the national democratic revolution was published; it calls for the construction of a popular democratic republic as a transitional stage on the path to socialism and for the creation of a united front of all progressive forces under the leadership of the party of the working class. With regard to the nationality question, the program acknowledges the right of each nationality to self-determination in the form of regional autonomy and affirms respect for the language, culture, and religion of each nationality. In January 1977 the All-Ethiopia Trade Union, uniting about 200,000 members, was founded and its charter adopted.

The revolutionary measures of the new government provoked the opposition of domestic and foreign reactionaries. Various counterrevolutionary organizations became active in the country; separatist and nationalist movements and groups in Eritrea and other regions received support from such Arab states as Saudi Arabia and the Sudan. In 1977 relations with the Somali Democratic Republic, which laid claim to territories belonging to Ethiopia, deteriorated markedly, culminating in the SDR’s invasion of Ethiopia. In order to defend the country and the gains made by the revolution, the PMAC proclaimed a general mobilization and established the National Revolutionary Operational Command, led by the chairman of the PMAC. The counterrevolutionary, feudal-monarchical forces encountered the resistance of detachments of the people’s militia, the peasants, and broad strata of the population.

Despite the tense situation in the country, the Ethiopian government continued to carry out socioeconomic and political reforms. In the autumn of 1977 the PMAC proclaimed the establishment of the All-Ethiopia Peasants’ Association, which was to fully and effective implement agrarian reform and strengthen a united front with the workers. In February and March 1978 the armed forces of Ethiopia repulsed an invasion by Somali aggressors in the southern and southeastern parts of the country and defended Ethiopia’s territorial integrity. During this military conflict, the USSR, Cuba, and other countries of the socialist community rendered political support and financial aid to Ethiopia as a victim of aggression. Successful military actions were carried out against armed separatist groups in Eritrea. In December 1979 a commission to organize the Party of the Working People of Ethiopia was established; the commission was headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam. No other political parties or organizations were allowed.

On several occasions Ethiopia has declared its support for a policy of positive neutrality. Ethiopia was instrumental in convening the conference of heads of governments of independent African states held in Addis Ababa in May 1963, at which the Organization of African Unity was founded. In August 1963 the OAU’s headquarters was established in Addis Ababa.

Under the leadership of the new forces that came to power in the country, Ethiopia has become an active participant in the anti-imperialist liberation struggle in Africa. Ethiopia pursues a foreign policy based on the principles of nonalignment and nonintervention. Relations with the socialist countries have become closer and more extensive. (Diplomatic relations between the USSR and Ethiopia were established in 1943.) In May 1977 an Ethiopian state delegation, headed by the chairman of the PMAC, Mengistu Haile Mariam, visited the USSR; during the visit, a declaration was signed on the principles of friendly mutual relations and cooperation between the USSR and Ethiopia. A 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries was concluded in Moscow in November 1978.


Bartnicki, A., and J. Mantel-Niećko. Istoriia Efiopii. Moscow, 1976. (Translated from Polish.)
Voblikov, D. R. Efiopiia v bor’be za sokhranenie nezavisimosti (1860–1960). Moscow, 1961.
Kobishchanov, Iu. M. Aksum. Moscow, 1966.
Natsional’no-demokraticheskaia revoliutsiia v Efiopii. Moscow, 1976.
Rait, M. V. Narody Efiopii. Moscow, 1965.
Trofimov, V. A. Politika Anglii i Italii v Severo-Vostochnoi Afrike vo vtoroi polovine XIX v. (Efiopiia i Somali). Moscow, 1962.
Iag’ia, V. S. Efiopiia v noveishee vremia. Moscow, 1978.
Tekle Tsadik Mekouriia. Istoriia Efiopii [vols. 1–4]. Addis Ababa, 1957–59. (In Amharic.)
Guebre Selassie. Chronique du règne de Ménélik II, roi des rois d’Ethiopie, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1935.

General characteristics. Ethiopia, an agricultural country, is one of the economically least developed states in Africa. In 1974 the gross domestic product was 5,586 million birrs, of which agriculture accounted for 48 percent, industry 9 percent, construction 4 percent, trade 9 percent, and transportation and communications 5 percent. The per capita income in 1974 was about $80. Agriculture is dominated by land cultivation, in which the principal crops are grains, and by livestock raising and coffee growing. The main industries are food processing and the manufacture of textiles.

The government that came to power in 1974 has taken measures aimed at improving the economy and developing and strengthening the public sector. Transportation has been nationalized, as have banks, insurance companies, and certain commercial enterprises. State control has been established over the mining of precious metals and the extraction of salt; over the metallurgical, shipbuilding, cement, textile, rubber, and leather and footwear industries; and over the production of petroleum and natural gas and the supplying of electricity, water, and natural gas. In order to run the nationalized enterprises, state industrial and commercial corporations have been created for domestic and foreign trade.

As a result of the measures that have been implemented, the state sector’s proportion in the manufacturing industry has reached about 80 percent. Private enterprises have remained in the food-processing, wood-products, and metalworking industries, in small-scale construction work, in wholesale and retail trade, and in motor-vehicle and river transportation. All land has been declared the property of the people; the holdings of the landowners are subject to distribution among the peasants. State farms are being organized from large feudal estates, farms, and plantations belonging to foreigners. The establishment of agricultural cooperatives, of which 200 had been created by March 1977, and peasant associations is being encouraged.

Foreign capital is of considerable importance in the development of the economy, but its role in industry and trade is limited by the government. At the beginning of 1975, the USA accounted for 55 percent of the total loans and credits granted to Ethiopia; Italy, for 21 percent; and the Federal Republic of Germany, for 10 percent. Ethiopia’s economic ties with the socialist countries are expanding substantially.

Agriculture. Agriculture dominates the economy of Ethiopia. In the northern part of the country shifting cultivation is practiced; in other regions the slash-and-burn system is used. As a result of backward techniques of land cultivation and a lack of fertilizers, harvest yields are low. Measures are being taken to introduce more sophisticated equipment into agriculture. In 1975, 11.2 percent of Ethiopia’s territory was under cultivation; this figure included fallow lands, which accounted for 1.7 percent of the total. In the same year, meadows and pastures made up 53 percent of the country’s area.

Primarily food crops are grown, with millet-type crops predominating. More than half the harvest is accounted for by teff, a variety of millet. Durra, a variety of sorghum, is widely cultivated. Other crops are barley, maize, wheat, legumes (broad beans, peas, beans, chick-peas, and lentils), and oil-bearing plants (Guizotia, peanuts, and sunflowers). Industrial crops include cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane; vegetables are also grown. Various fruit trees are cultivated, including citrus, apricot, peach, pomegranate, and banana trees. In 1976, 800,000 tons of barley were harvested, 329,000 tons of teff, 1,200,000 tons of maize, 723,000 tons of wheat, and 1,249,000 tons of sugarcane.

Coffee plays a major role in Ethiopia’s commodity output. Ethiopian coffee has an excellent flavor and fetches a high price on the world market. A considerable portion of the harvest is obtained from wild trees in the mountains of western and eastern Ethiopia. The best varieties, such as the long-bean or Harer mocha variety, are produced on coffee plantations, which are located primarily in Harerge Province in the eastern part of the country, as well as in the provinces of Kefa (in the Jima area) and Sidamo. In 1976 the coffee harvest amounted to 150,000 tons. Also highly developed, especially in Harerge Province, is the gathering and cultivation of kat, a narcotic plant whose leaves are processed and exported in large quantities, primarily to Arab countries.

With more than three animals per person, Ethiopia is one of the leading nations in the world in number of livestock per capita. Livestock graze throughout the year on forage plants. Approximately 1 million head of livestock die each year because of a shortage of feeds, widespread epizootic diseases, and difficulties in marketing livestock output; marketing is hampered by an inadequate road network, the long distances between pastures and ports, and a lack of watering facilities at ports. In 1976 there were 25.96 million head of cattle, primarily zebu, 23 million sheep, 17.1 million goats, 1.4 million horses, 3.9 million donkeys, 1.4 million mules, and 1 million camels. A considerable number of livestock perished during a drought that lasted from 1972 to 1974. In the Jima region the population is engaged in raising civets, whose musk is exported for use in perfumeries. Poultry farming, agriculture, and fishing are also highly developed; in 1976 the fish catch was 26,800 tons.

The forests are rich in valuable tropical wood species. The more than 20 million cu m of lumber produced annually are used within the country or exported.

Industry. In 1974 manufacturing industry accounted for more than 8 percent of the gross national product, and the mining industry for less than 1 percent. Gold is extracted at state mines at Kibre Mengist (Adola) in Sidamo Province; small quantities are obtained in the rivers of western Ethiopia and in Eritrea. In 1975–76 about 1 ton of gold was mined. A small amount of platinum is extracted at the state mines at Youbdo in Welega Province. In Eritrea, common salt (220,000 tons in 1976–77) is evaporated from seawater near Massawa and Assab. In the Danakil Depression, potassium salts are extracted, as well as small amounts of sulfur and gypsum; manganese ore is mined at Maglalla.

In 1975, Ethiopia’s nine hydroelectric power plants and 12 fossil-fuel-fired steam electric power plants had an installed capacity of 320 megawatts (MW) and produced 456 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. There are electric power plants in such cities as Addis Ababa, Asmara, Dire Dawa, and Nazeret. The country’s largest hydroelectric power plant, a 100-MW facility, is located at Fiche, northwest of Addis Ababa.

Manufacturing is represented primarily by small- and medium-scale enterprises of light industry and the food-processing industry that use local agricultural raw materials. During the 1960’s and 1970’s development began on such branches as the chemical and automotive assembly industries. In 1970 approximately twothirds of the country’s industrial enterprises were concentrated in Addis Ababa and Asmara.

The textile industry has undergone the most extensive development. In 1972–73 it produced 82.5 million sq m of cotton fabrics and 3.1 million sq m of synthetic fabrics; in 1975, 23,100 tons of yarn were produced. The principal enterprises are concentrated in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Asmara.

Cement plants are located in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Massawa. In 1976,110,000 tons of cement were produced. Modest-sized enterprises produce bricks, cement blocks and pipes, and slate. Addis Ababa has wood-products and furniture factories, and Asmara has several factories producing paper and matches. Shashemene in Arusi Province has a large wood-products enterprise that employs 1,000 workers, and Akaki has a plywood factory.

The food-processing industry is represented by sugar, meat, flour-milling, macaroni, confectionery, and tobacco enterprises, as well as by enterprises that process coffee and produce beverages. The sugar factories in Wondji and Metehara produced 134,000 tons in 1977. About three-fourths of Ethiopia’s factory-produced vegetable oils and soaps are manufactured by the state production association of vegetable-oil mills and soap factories in Addis Ababa. The production of meat and preserved meat has undergone development, notably in Asmara and Addis Ababa, as has wine-making.

Modern industrial enterprises have appeared in the last ten to 15 years. A petroleum refinery, built with the help of the Soviet Union, went into operation in 1967 at Assab; the refinery, Ethiopia’s largest industrial enterprise, produced more than 600,000 tons of petroleum products in 1975. A modest-sized metal-recycling plant, which uses primarily scrap metal, has been built near Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has a tire factory with the capacity to produce 100,000 tires annually, a tractor and automobile assembly plant that produces more than 200 motor vehicles annually, and a radio assembly plant of the Philips firm. Handicrafts are highly developed; they include weaving, fabric dying, smithery, pottery, basketry, bone carving, and the working of leather, wood, and metal.

Transportation. In 1975, Ethiopia’s railroads had a total length of 1,100 km. A railroad with a gauge of 1,000 mm runs from Addis Ababa to Djibouti in the Republic of Djibouti, a distance of 781 km. A railroad with a gauge of 960 mm runs from Massawa to Asmara and Akordat, a distance of 360 km, and extends further to Bisha. Freight is hauled primarily by motor-vehicle transport. In 1975 there were 25,000 km of roads, 9,000 km of which were passable throughout the year. Highways connect Addis Ababa with the ports of Djibouti, Massawa, and Assab, as well as with provincial capitals in the interior. The principal highways are Massawa-Asmara-Sudanese border, Asmara-Dese-Addis Ababa, Asmara-Gondar-Gorgora-Nekemte-Addis Ababa-Nazeret, Dire Dawa-Hargeisa (Somalia), Dese-Assab, and Addis Ababa-Kibre Mengist. In 1976 construction was completed on a highway linking Addis Ababa with Nairobi, Kenya. In 1974, Ethiopia had 80,000 motor vehicles, most of which were passenger cars.

In 1975 the two Ethiopian ports of Massawa and Assab and the port of Djibouti handled 2,455,000 tons of cargo, 1,111,000 tons of which passed through Assab; although Djibouti is located in the Republic of Djibouti, it handles primarily Ethiopian exports and imports. The merchant fleet comprises seven vessels. The river port of Gambela, on the Baro River, is of some importance. During the rainy season cargoes are hauled along the Sobat and then along the White Nile to Kusti and Khartoum in the Sudan, where they are transshipped by railroad. Shipping takes place on other rivers and on Lake Tana. There is regular airline service to such cities as Cairo, Khartoum, Lagos, and Accra. Domestic airlines connect some 40 population centers. The airlines are serviced by the state-owned Ethiopian Aviation Company. There are international airports at Addis Ababa, Asmara, and Dire Dawa.

Foreign trade. In 1976, Ethiopia’s exports totaled 579.9 million birrs, and imports amounted to 664.6 million birrs. Agricultural output constitutes 80–90 percent of the value of exports. In 1976 the principal export was coffee, which accounted for 26 percent of the value of all exports. Other exports are oil-bearing seeds and legumes (25.7 percent of the value of exports), hides and skins (6 percent), flax seeds, pepper, and wax. The chief imports are consumer goods, industrial raw materials, petroleum products, motor vehicles, machinery, equipment, and metals.

Ethiopia’s principal trading partners are the USA, which in 1975 accounted for 17 percent of exports and 18 percent of imports, Japan (9 percent and 12 percent), the Federal Republic of Germany (11 percent and 10 percent), as well as Italy, the USSR, and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The Soviet-Ethiopian trading company Eth-So Trading has been in operation since 1967.

The unit of currency is the birr. According to the rate of exchange set by the State Bank of the USSR in October 1978, 100 birrs = 32.17 rubles. Ethiopia has a national debt of 797.3 million birrs.


Stepunin, A. N., and I. L. Stepunina. Efiopiia. Moscow, 1965.
Kokiev, A. G. Efiopiia stroit novuiu zhizn’. Moscow, 1977.

The armed forces of Ethiopia consist of an army, air force, and navy; as of 1978 they were undergoing reorganization and rearmament. The armed forces are directed by the National Revolutionary Operational Command, created in August 1977.

Medicine and public health. According to data of the World Health Organization, in 1975 the birth rate stood at 45.6 per 1,000 persons, the mortality rate at 25 per 1,000 persons, and the infant mortality rate at 84 per 1,000 live births. There is a predominance of infectious and parasitic diseases, the principal causes of death. For the period 1965–70, the average life expectancy was 38.5 years.

In 1972, Ethiopia had 85 hospitals with 8,400 beds (0.3 bed per 1,000 inhabitants); a hospital built and given to Ethiopia by the Soviet Union has been functioning for more than 25 years. As of 1976 there were 350 physicians (one physician per 73,000 persons), along with 213 assistant physicians, 24 dentists, 95 pharmacists, and about 6,000 other medical personnel. There is an uneven distribution of health-care workers throughout the country; approximately 60 percent are in the cities. Physicians are trained at the medical faculty of the University of Addis Ababa, which graduates 15–25 physicians annually. Secondary medical personnel are recruited from the local population and trained at hospitals and at three special centers.

In 1974 expenditures on health care constituted 4 percent of the state budget, or 31.9 million birrs.


Veterinary services. The epizootic status of Ethiopia is extremely complex and has not been fully studied. Widely encountered are cattle plague, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, anthrax, blackleg, pasteurellosis, foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, epizootic lymphangitis, sheep pox, mange, parasitic diseases of the skin, helminthiases (fasciolasis, cysticercosis, echinococcosis, dictyocaulosis, moniezia infection, and ascariasis), piroplasmosis, babesiasis, anaplasmosis, françaiellosis, theileriasis, and try-panosomosis. Cases have been registered of tetanus, necrobaccilliosis, fowl pox, leptospirosis, paratuberculosis, dysentery of lambs, contagious pleuropneumonia of sheep and goats, horse plague, ringworm, infectious vaginitis, actinomycosis, tuberculosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis, plague (among carnivores), African swine fever, coccidiosis, and, in some provinces, catarrhal sheep fever and rickettsial pericarditis.

Veterinary services in the country are directed by the Department of Veterinary Services, which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture. Each province has a veterinarian, and each region has an assistant veterinarian and vaccinators. As of 1976 there were 104 veterinarians in Ethiopia. The country’s shortage of veterinary personnel, veterinary institutions, and medicines, along with inadequate financing of veterinary measures, has prevented the government from effectively combating infectious diseases in animals. Ethiopia has no organized system of veterinary-sanitary inspection of the products of livestock raising. There are two permanent diagnostic laboratories and three mobile diagnostic units in the country. Veterinarians are trained abroad; assistant veterinarians are trained at a special school in Debre Zeyt.


Before the overthrow of the monarchy in September 1974, more than 90 percent of the population was illiterate; in the rural areas and among women the illiteracy rate reached 97–99 percent. Only 20 percent of children of school age went to primary school, and less than 5 percent went to secondary school. The new government has implemented a number of measures to eliminate illiteracy and bring about a gradual transition to universal, compulsory, and free instruction and a change in the curricula. In 1975–76 all private educational institutions were nationalized, and school and church were made separate; 329 new schools and two pedagogical colleges were built.

The educational system is based on the six-year primary school, which children enter at the age of seven, and the six-year secondary school, which comprises a two-year junior and four-year senior school. The language of instruction is Amharic, although the children of other nationalities are taught in their native language. English is studied in the secondary school and is the language of instruction in higher educational institutions. Vocational-technical training, which begins at the level of the junior secondary school, lasts from one to four years.

In the 1974–75 academic year, 960,000 pupils were enrolled in primary schools. In the 1973–74 academic year, 182,300 students attended secondary schools, and 5,500 students attended vocational-technical schools. Ethiopia has two universities. The University of Addis Ababa (founded 1950), which gained university status in 1961, had an enrollment of 4,000 in the 1976–77 academic year. The University of Asmara (founded 1958), which gained university status in 1967, has an enrollment of 800. The Polytechnic Institute in Bahir Dar was founded in 1963 with the help of the USSR. Other educational institutions include the Jima Agricultural Institute (founded 1966) and the National School of Music in Addis Ababa. In the 1977–78 academic year, 597 Ethiopian students were enrolled in higher educational institutions in the USSR. Among the country’s largest libraries are the National Library (100,000 volumes in 1976) and the University of Addis Ababa Library (more than 247,000 volumes), both in Addis Ababa. A museum of history and ethnology, the Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, is located in Addis Ababa.


In 1976 the National Council on Science and Technology assumed the task of coordinating scientific research in Ethiopia. Most research institutions are located in Addis Ababa. The University of Addis Ababa has agricultural stations at Debre Zeyt, Jijiga, Alemaya, and Goba. Other scientific institutions include the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (founded 1963), the Geophysical Observatory (1958), and the Forestry Research Institute (1962). The Ethiopian Mapping Agency (1954) is under the Ministry of the Interior, and the Geological Survey of Ethiopia (1968) is under the Ministry of Mines, Energy, and Water Resources. A division of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa was established in Ethiopia in 1962.


About 20 newspapers and journals are published in Ethiopia by the government, government departments, and private organizations. The largest daily newspapers, according to circulation figures for 1979, are Addis zemen (founded 1941; circulation 30,000), a government newspaper published in Amharic in Addis Ababa; the Ethiopian Herald (founded 1943; circulation about 6,000), a government newspaper published in English in Addis Ababa; and Hebret (circulation 4,000), published in Tigrinya in Asmara. The weekly newspaper Ye-zareitu Ityopia (founded 1952; circulation 25,000) is an Amharic-language publication printed in Addis Ababa. The weekly government newspaper Berissa (founded 1977; circulation 4,000) was the first newspaper written in the Oromo language. Serto ader, an organ of the Commission to Organize the Party of the Working People of Ethiopia, has been published since 1980.

The government information agency, the Ethiopia News Agency (founded 1964), is located in Addis Ababa. The Information Center of the Ethiopian Revolution (founded 1977) is under the jurisdiction of the PMAC. Radio was introduced into Ethiopia in 1935. A unified national radio broadcasting service, the Radio Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia (founded 1977), offers programs in Amharic, Afar, Tigrinya, Tigre, Oromo, English, French, and Arabic. A government television service was established in 1964.

The literature of Ethiopia includes works in many languages. The literary language in Ethiopia has not always reflected the language of everyday communication and of folklore. In the fifth century B.C. a Sabaean writing system was developed, and epigraphs in Sabaean appeared. During the first centuries of the Common Era, epigraphs in Ethiopic (Geez) and Greek were written. Ethiopian epigraphic literature in these languages flourished from the fourth to sixth centuries A.D.; extensive inscriptions of the Aksum kings were written in this period. During the sixth century a number of Christian and Gnostic literary works were translated into Ethiopic; these works played a major role in the development of the culture of Ethiopia from the eighth to 12th centuries, a period when Ethiopian literature was in decline.

The first literary texts of the Ethiopian renaissance of the 13th to 15th centuries were numerous translations from Arabic. From the 14th to 17th centuries epic folk legends and “visions” were written in Geez, along with religious hymns, chronicles, saints’ lives, and works on theology, mysticism, and magic. In addition, compilations of historical legends and various literary works were written, such as the Glory of Kings (14th century), The Book of the Riches of Kings (17th century), and Legislation of the Kings (17th century). Various religious sects had their own literatures in Geez, notably the sect of Evostatevos, which was influenced by Armenian and Coptic culture.

Literature in Geez reached its zenith under Zara Yakub (ruled 1434–68), who wrote several theological works. The most important poets of this period were George the Armenian and the emperor Naod (ruled 1494–1508), both of whom wrote hymnals. It was in this period that the first extant work of Ethiopian epistolary literature was written—a letter from the abbot Nicodemus to the Council of Florence composed in 1440–41. A priest at the court of Zara Yakub wrote Ethiopia’s first royal chronicle, which was continued during the reign of Zara Yakub’s son Baeda-Maryam (ruled 1468–78); thenceforth, the practice of compiling royal chronicles continued without interruption. The greatest artistic achievement in the genre was the chronicle of the emperor Sartsa Dengal (ruled 1563–97).

In the second half of the 16th century the monk Bahrey wrote A History of the Galla, the first work of sociology in Ethiopia; the monk Enbaqom, an Arab by the name of Salic who had accepted Christianity, published The Gate of Faith, a pamphlet attacking Islam. From the 17th to 19th centuries Geez remained one of the literary languages of Ethiopia. It was the language of masterpieces in such genres as religious poetry, royal chronicles, and biographies of great lords. One of the last prose works in Geez was the historical narrative The Inquiries of Zara Yakub, written in the mid-19th century by the Italian missionary Giusto da Urbino, who translated philosophic and literary works from European languages into Amharic that prepared the way for an Enlightenment period in Ethiopia.

The first extant works of Ethiopian literature in Amharic, The Royal Songs, date from the 14th—16th centuries. Original and translated religious works were written in Amharic in the 17th century. In the mid-19th century the historian Alaqa Zanab compiled the first chronicle of the emperor Theodore II (ruled 1855–68), a work of outstanding artistic merit. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the court chronicler Guebre Selassie (1850–1912) wrote a chronicle of the reign of Menelik II (ruled 1889–1913), thereby bringing to a close the medieval period of Ethiopian culture.

The founder of modern Amharic literature was Afawark Guebre Iyasus, who wrote the first Ethiopian novel, Libb Wallad Tarik (published 1908, 1927, and 1958); his other works include travel sketches and a fictionalized biography of Emperor Menelik II (1909). In the 1920’s and 1930’s a new generation of writers, the “Young Abyssinians,” began writing in Amharic, notably Heruy Walda-Sellase, whose works, imbued with a national spirit, dealt with moral and philosophic subjects. He is known for the novella My Heart as My Friend (1923); the novels Advice to a Son, the Memory of a Father (1931), / and My Friends (1935), and A New World; and the philosophic-historical narratives Emperor Yohannes TV and Metema (1927) and Biographies of Historical Personalities of the Past and Present.

After World War II numerous novellas, novels, poetry collections, and dramatic works were written, but the favorite genres remained the philosophic-historical and philosophic-journalistic narrative. A major poet and dramatist of the 1950’s and 1960’s was Mengistu Lemma, who wrote lyric poems and comedies of everyday life. Another prominent figure of this period was the poet, playwright, prose writer, and translator Kabbaba Mikael.

In the 1970’s new contributions to Amharic literature were made by the younger generation of poets, notably Ayalneh Mulatu, a master of national philosophic-lyric poetry, who has imbued the complex traditional forms of Amharic poetry with a revolutionary content.


Krachkovskii, I. Iu. “Literatura Abissinii.” Vestnik LGU, 1948, no. 7.
Krachkovskii, I. Iu. V vedenie v efiopskuiu filologiiu. Edited and with an introduction and annotations by D. A. Ol’derogge. [Leningrad] 1955.
Kobishchanov, Iu. M. “U istokov efiopskoi literatury (aksumskaia literature).” In Literatura stran Afriki, collection 1. Moscow, 1964.
Kobishchanov, Iu. M. “Fol’klornye motivy v efiopskoi literature.” In the collection Fol’klor i literatura narodov Afriki: Moscow, 1970.
Ivanova, V. M., and T. L. Tiutriumova. “Zametki o literature Efiopii na amkharskom iazuke.” Ibid.
Iag’ia, V. S. “Sovremennaia literatura Efiopii.” In the collection Aktual’nye problemy izucheniia literatur Afriki. Moscow, 1969.
Ivanova, V. M., and M. L. Vol’pe. “Literatura Efiopii (na amkharskom iazyke).” In Sovremennye literatury Afriki: Vostochnaia i Iuzhnaia Afrika. Moscow, 1974. (Contains bibliography.)
Cerulli, E. La letteratura etiopica: L’Oriente cristiano, 3rd ed. Milan, 1968.

The multifaceted and ancient art of Ethiopia combines the traditions of African culture and the heritage of ancient Eastern art with a distinctive reinterpretation of Christian architectural types and subjects and European influences. Dating from the oldest Cushite cultures of southern Ethiopia (second millennium B.C.) are stone steles with schematic depictions of human beings and symbolic signs. In the same region, the Konso people later made wooden human figures to be placed on graves. In northeastern Ethiopia rock paintings have been discovered at Ganzabo and Adi Qayyeh, reliefs with figures of bulls at Sheba, and reliefs of human beings at Daro Kavolos; the oldest of these works date from the prehistoric period.

In the mid-first millennium B.C. a type of ancient Eastern art whose roots lay in Saba, in southern Arabia, flourished on the mountain plateaus. The art of this period is represented by structures of hewn stone slabs: rectangular temples with flat roofs at Yeha and Hawelti. Also produced in this period were dams, as well as altars and friezes with depictions of a mountain goat—the lunar deity Almakah. Stylized, smoothly modeled sculptures— seated royal figures, reliefs, and stone and terra-cotta heads— were made in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Also well-known are petroglyphs of lions (at Gobedra near Aksum), stone and bronze figures of animals, stone sphinxes, and votive thrones.

With the rise of the Aksum Kingdom, Ethiopian art experienced an upsurge in the first half and the middle of the first millennium of the Common Era. Large two- and three-story palaces were constructed of alternate layers of stone and horizontal wooden beams; they had flat roofs supported by columns and were sometimes provided with inner courtyards (as in the complex of Taka Maryam in Aksum). Stone steles about 33 m tall were built in imitation of multistory towers. Thrones on stepped bases, dams, reservoirs, and rows of residential buildings were also constructed in this period.

Hellenistic influences are apparent in the stone carving of the Aksum Kingdom, notably in grapevines, in the bud-shaped capitals that surmounted faceted columns, and in the depiction on steles of architectural motifs and half-moons. Pottery was decorated with geometric ornamentation and occasionally with depictions of men, animals, and plants. Coins displayed the profiles of kings, surrounded by a wreath woven from ears of grain.

After Aksum accepted Christianity in the mid-fourth century, monastery complexes and basilicas were built. The complex at Debre Damo has a triple-naved church with a narthex and choirs. The church’s wooden ceilings include an imitation vault in the central nave; in the narthex ceiling are 33 coffers decorated with stylized animal figures and a geometric pattern.

After the fall of Aksum the traditions of Ethiopian art were revived in the 12th and 13th centuries in the medieval kingdom that arose east of Lake Tana and whose capital was at Lalibela. The palaces and public buildings of Lalibela have not been preserved, but churches cut into tuff massifs, churches built in caves, and free-standing churches still exist. Churches hewn from rock in Lalibela and numerous other places have basilican, sometimes cruciform, floor plans and flat roofs. All parts of the churches, even the architectural details, are carved from stone; the vaults, wooden beams and window frames, dentils, and string courses are all imitation.

The stone carving of this period is related to Coptic and Syrian art, whose influence is visible in crosses and arcades on church roofs and in the reliefs on the facades of the Biet Mariam and Biet Golgota churches in Lalibela; the decor of the church in Yemrah includes depictions of African animals. Fresco painting appeared during this period: stylized, flat figures of saints; depictions of hunting scenes and animals (the Church of Medhane Alem in Lalibela); subjects from the Gospels (the Biet Mariam Church); and geometric ornamentation. A bright palette and a flat quality distinguish the tempera icons, which include diptychs and triptychs; also well known are panels on canvas.

In the 14th century, Ethiopian miniature painting developed, absorbing the influences of Coptic, Syro-Mesopotamian, and Armenian art to produce a style that, although schematic and flat, is imbued with a naive expressive power and rendered with bright colors. In the 15th and 16th centuries Ethiopia again became a unified state, and cities, palaces, and churches were built, notably the white stone Church of Makan Selassie in the Welo (Wollo) Mountains, which has a central sanctuary surrounded by a wooden colonnade. In the 17th century the new capital of Gondar was established north of Lake Tana. The city’s castle-like palaces, with their arcades, angular towers, arched embrasures, crenellated parapets, and rich ornamentation, idiosyncratically combined local traditions with the influence of European, chiefly Portuguese, architecture. The churches, rectangular or circular in plan, were richly provided with decorative painting.

In painting, there was an increasing tendency toward visual splendor and the use of narrative, and European influences took on greater importance. Over several centuries the features of Ethiopian decorative art took form. Particularly diverse are the forms of Ethiopian pottery, which may be decorated with engraving, painting, or relief. Vases of granite, alabaster, and marble reflect Hellenistic and Byzantine traditions. Ethiopian jewelry exhibits numerous ties with Egypt, Arabia, Greece, Armenia, and India; metal and wooden crosses show a rich variety of forms and ornamentation, including complex braiding.

In the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, cities, including the new capital of Addis Ababa, were built, along with hospitals and schools. For the most part, the layouts of the new cities were unplanned, and only the most rudimentary types of dwellings were constructed. In painting, artists turned to patriotic historical subjects and battle scenes. In the 20th century, architects have been invited from many European and Asian countries to work on the construction of the capital; during the 1930’s planned projects were undertaken in the cities of northeastern Ethiopia.

Construction moved forward rapidly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Public buildings of concrete, colored plastic, and glass that create an impression of lightness and clarity were designed by the Italian architect A. Mezzedimi, the French architect A. Chaumette, and the Ethiopian architect M. Tedros. An important role has been played by specialists from the USSR, who built the Polytechnic Institute in Bahr Dar (1969; architects A. I. Beliaev and E. A. Anichkova; engineer M. D. Reinin), as well as from the German Democratic Republic (the planning of Bahr Dar), Yugoslavia (post office, hospital, and the Hotel Webi Shebeli in Addis Ababa), and Bulgaria.

A modern Ethiopian art has developed; prominent figures include the painter and sculptor Afewerk Tekle, the painters Agegnu Engeda, Ale Fellege Selam, Gebre Kristos Desta, and Abdel Rahman Sherif, and the sculptors Tadesse Belayneh and Tadesse Mamecha. Such artists have turned to images drawn from the life of the peoples of Ethiopia, to the traditions of ancient art and folklore, and to various currents in European art of 19th and 20th centuries. Since 1974, settlements of standardized homes for the working people have been constructed, and paintings, statues, and posters dedicated to the revolutionary struggle of the people have been created.

The traditional dwellings of the Ethiopian people are the tukul, a circular structure with latticed walls smeared with clay and a conical roof, and the hedme, a rectangular stone structure built with clay and gravel and provided with a flat roof and an awning. In the south are dome-shaped huts. The traditional folk handicrafts include pottery, which takes a variety of forms and often includes glazed vessels. Basket weavers, working in straw, make table baskets, in which food is eaten, and baskets with conical covers; the baskets may be decorated with a pattern of concentric circles and rhombuses. Metalworkers fashion à jour, repoussé, and filigree crosses and ornaments. Handicrafts also include embroidery work on the shamma, a toga-like garment, and embroidery on women’s blouses and trousers that often includes a complex braided ornamentation. Ethiopian craftsmen also produce wood carvings and embossed leatherwork.


Turaev, B. A., and D. V. Ainalov. Proizvedeniia abissinskoi zhivopisi, sobrannye d-rom A. I. Kokhanovskim. St. Petersburg, 1913.
Abissiniia (Efiopiia). A collection of articles. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Kobishchanov, Iu. M. Aksum. Moscow, 1966.
Iskusstvo narodov Afriki. Moscow, 1973.
Pankhurst, E. S. Ethiopia: A Cultural History. London, 1955.
Doresse, J. Au Pays de la reine de Saba: L’Ethiopie antique et moderne. Paris, 1956.
Buxton, D. R. Travels in Ethiopia. New York–Washington, D. C., 1967.

Ethiopian music developed under the influence of classical Greek, Judaic, and, subsequently, Arabic cultures; its history has also been marked by interaction with the music of certain African cultures. As a result of the variegated and heterogeneous ethnic makeup of the population, the folk music of Ethiopia is formally diverse. The melodic formulas, song types, instruments, and modes all underwent a prolonged evolution. The songs of Ethiopia include work, ceremonial, historical, war (for example, the shillala of the Amharic people), hunting, and “personal” songs. The phonetic features of the different languages determine the specifics of vocal technique, such as the characteristic jerky quality of the melodic line or the abrupt termination of the musical phrase.

Stringed instruments include the masinko, a single-stringed violin; the krar, a six- or eight-stringed lyre; and the begana, a 12-stringed lyre. Winds include the washint, a transverse flute; the embilta, a flute that plays a pentatonic scale; and the meleket, a long trumpet made of bamboo or metal. The principal percussion instruments are such drums as the kabero and atamo. The bearers of musical culture in Ethiopia were the azmari, male and female semiprofessional musicians who accompanied themselves on the masinko or krar. The songs of the azmari, which were often profoundly social in character, criticized the propertied classes and expressed a hatred of invaders. The tradition of the azmari, though somewhat modified, has been preserved in modern Ethiopia by such singers as Tilahun Gessese, Malaku Gelau, and Getamesay Abebe.

In the 1930’s, as Western culture made inroads in Ethiopia, composers who used the European system of notation appeared, notably Aleka Melaku Beggo-Seu, Yoftahe Neguse, and M. Yohannes. In the 1950’s the National Patriotic Association, which united the musicians of Ethiopia and championed the national culture, was founded in Addis Ababa. In 1952 serious work began on the study of Ethiopian folklore.

Considerable attention has been devoted to music education: faculties of the arts have been established at the universities of Addis Ababa and Asmara, and in 1963 the Institute of Ethiopian Studies was founded in Addis Ababa. That same year the Center for Artistic Creativity was founded, under the jurisdiction of the University of Addis Ababa, to train youth in the spirit of the national traditions. Courses for training professional musicians have also been organized at the National Theater, which sent an ensemble on tour to the USSR in 1961. In 1960 a conservatory was opened with the aid of specialists from Bulgaria. Often, performers and small groups have been united into large ensembles, such as the Ensemble of Music, Dance, and Drama, which performed a program of works on revolutionary themes at a festival in Lagos in 1977, the ensembles of traditional music affiliated with the National Theater and with the Patriotic Theater, and a cultural group organized by the Addis Ababa City Council.


The sources of the theatrical culture of the peoples of Ethiopia lie in traditional rituals, such as weddings and funerals, and festivals, such as celebrations of military victory or the choosing of a chief. With the rise of general-education schools at the beginning of the 20th century, the school theater appeared. The first national playwrights, Yoftahe Niguse and Fitaurari Teklehawariat, were educated in Russia and France, respectively. During the Italian invasion in the 1930’s, a theater known as the League of Patriots of the Motherland mounted productions that sounded a call for the patriotic forces to unite. An important event in the development of the Ethiopian theater was a festival of amateur art held in Addis Ababa in 1950. In 1955 the country’s first professional theater opened in the capital. Named the National Theater in the mid-1970’s, it stages plays by contemporary Ethiopian playwrights and by foreign dramatists; its repertoire includes adapted translations of plays by Shakespeare. One of the most recent plays staged at the theater was N. V. Gogol’s The Inspector-General (1976).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Capital city: Addis Ababa Internet country code: .et Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and red with a yellow pentagram and single yellow rays emanating from the angles between the points on a light blue disk centered on the three bands; Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa, and the three main colors of her flag were so often adopted by other African countries upon independence that they became known as the pan-African colors

Geographical description: Eastern Africa, west of Somalia

Total area: 472,000 sq. mi. (1,127,127 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical monsoon with wide topographic-induced variation

Nationality: noun: Ethiopian(s); adjective: Ethiopian

Population: 76,511,887 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Oromo 40%, Amhara 25%, Tigre 7%, Somali 6%, Sidama 9%, Gurage 2%, Wolaita 4%, Afar 4%, other 3%

Languages spoken: Amharic (official), Tigrinya, Arabic, Guaragigna, Oromigna, English, Somali

Religions: Ethiopian Orthodox 40%, Sunni Muslim 45-50%, Protestant 5%, remainder affiliate with indigenous reli­gions

Legal Holidays:

Adwa Victory DayMar 2
EnkutatashSep 11
GennaJan 7
International Labor DayMay 1
MeskelSep 27
Overthrow of the Derg RegimeMay 28
Patriots' Victory DayMay 5
SikletApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
TimketJan 19
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a state in NE Africa, on the Red Sea: consolidated as an empire under Menelik II (1889--1913); federated with Eritrea from 1952 until 1993; Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the military in 1974 and the monarchy was abolished in 1975; an independence movement in Eritrea was engaged in war with the government from 1961 until 1993. It lies along the Great Rift Valley and consists of deserts in the southeast and northeast and a high central plateau with many rivers (including the Blue Nile) and mountains rising over 4500 m (15 000 ft.); the main export is coffee. Language: Amharic. Religion: Christian majority. Currency: birr. Capital: Addis Ababa. Pop.: 72 420 000 (2004 est.). Area: 1 128 215 sq. km (435 614 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005