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Emperor Iyasu V before attaining the Throne.

Emperor of Ethiopia from 1916 until 1959. In this time period, Iyasu V would modernize Ethiopia both politically and military with help from Germany and Austria. His reign opened with the first Ethiopian Civil War and involvement in the African Theatre of the Great War as an ally of the Central powers, in which the Ethiopians gained British territory in Somalia. Despite the signifigant advances that would take place under him, his reign is also marked by the signifigant internal conflict surrounding his religious reforms after he forced the heavily Christian nation to adopt Islamic beliefs. This would be the source of three seperate Civil Wars which he survived mostly through German support. His Islamic beliefs lead to the perception of his dynasty as being seperate from the traditional christian Solomonic dynasty. After his death, his son ascended the throne as Emperor Yohannes, continuing the Iyasuan dynasty.

Before Becoming Emperor[]

Rise to Power[]

Late in his life, Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia was confronted with the problem of his succession; if he did not explicitly name an heir before he died, the nation he had built would likely dissolve into civil war and be devoured by European colonial powers. He had four possible heirs. According to the traditional rules of succession, the next direct patrilineal descendant was the grandson of Menelik's uncle, Dejazmach Taye Gulilat. His other three heirs were all in the female line. The first of these was his oldest grandson, Dejazmach Wosan Seged, son of his daughter Shoagarad Menelik by her first marriage to Wedadjo Gobena. The second heir of the female line was his younger grandson Lij Iyasu, son of Shoagarad and Ras Mikael. Finally, the third heir of the female line was Menelik's third daughter Leult Zauditu, who was married to Ras Gugsa Welle, nephew of the Empress Taitu.

Menelik refused to consider Dejazmach Taye Gulilat whom he deeply disliked. Dejazmach Wosan Seged was eliminated from consideration due to dwarfism. In March 1908, at any rate, Wosan Seged was in poor health and dying of tuberculosis. It was clear that the aristocracy would not respect a woman as their leader, so Leult Zauditu was also not seriously considered at this time. On 11 June 1908, after experiencing a stroke while on pilgrimage to Debre Libanos, Menelik informed his ministers that Lij Iyasu would succeed him. However, due to Iyasu's youth, Menelik agreed to the suggestion that he appoint a Regent (Enderase) during the minority of his heir apparent. Until he came of age, Lij Iyasu would be Regent Plenipotentiary (Balemulu 'Enderase).

In May 1909, shortly before the Emperor made this decision, Lij Iyasu was married to Leult Romanework Mengesha, the daughter of Ras Mengesha Yohannes, granddaughter of Emperor Yohannes IV, and the niece of Empress Taitu. However, that marriage was annulled without having been consummated. Subsequently in April 1910, Iyasu married Sabla Wangel Hailu, the daughter of Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam.


Not long after his decision that Lij Iyasu would succeed him, Emperor Menelik succumbed to further strokes. These eventually left him a mere shell of his once-powerful self, and incapacitated until his death in 1913. During his last years, in a bid to retain power, Empress Taitu intrigued against his choice, intending to substitute either her daughter Leult Zauditu or her daughter's husband Ras Gugsa Welle for Lij Iyasu. In response to Taitu's intriguing, a number of nobles organized in an ever-closer alliance against her. On 28 October 1909, after a massive stroke, Menelik's choice of Lij Iyasu as his heir was made public with Ras Bitwoedded Tessema Nadew as Enderase.

Enderase Tessema found his authority undermined not only by the still living but paralyzed Emperor Menelik, but also by the Empress. For example, she insisted that questions from the foreign legations in Addis Ababa be directed to her, not to Tessema. Furthermore, Tessema himself suffered from an illness, which left him appearing helpless and apathetic and would take his life within a year. It took a coup d’état engineered by a group of aristocrats and the head of the Imperial Bodyguard to convince Ras Tesemma and Habte Giyorgis to decisively limit the influence of the Empress. Despite these developments, the imperial government continued to falter: administrators were unwilling to make decisions because Tessema himself might be overthrown, and foreign affairs likewise suffered. Despite this, Harold Marcus notes that the presence of Tessema "did curb ministerial dissensions and intrigues and was a reminder of the existence of central authority."

With Tessema, Iyasu continued Menelik's program of modernization, including the establishment of the first police force in Addis Ababa. On 10 April 1911, Tessema Nadew died and, when the council met to appoint a successor as Enderase, Lij Iyasu demanded a role in the process. When asked whom he desired in the position, he is reported to have replied, "Myself!" On 11 May, the seal of Iyasu replaced that of his grandfather, although not with the style of Emperor.

In the first year, he was faced with several serious challenges to his rule. On 31 May, Ras Abate attempted a coup d’état by seizing the arsenal and its modern weapons in the palace, but was eventually convinced to make a public submission in return for being allowed to depart for his estates in the southern provinces. On 14 July, an attempt was made to poison Iyasu. That same year Menelik's soldiers sent a delegation demanding back pay and regular supplies, which made clear that the government was on the brink of financial insolvency. Intelligence reached Iyasu's father, Ras Mikael, of another plot, and he arrived on 14 November in Addis Ababa with an army of 8,000 men. This was only the first of many efforts Ras Mikael made to keep his son on the Imperial throne. Mikael established a powerful position behind the scenes.

At this point, Lij Iyasu decided to leave the capital, ostensibly on a military expedition against the Afar, but he simply traveled through eastern Shewa and into Wollo, meeting with the common people. He had promised to return to Addis Ababa in May 1912, but instead visited Debre Libanos, then Addis Alem, before joining Dajazmach Kabbada's expedition into southwest Ethiopia. Here Lij Iyasu took part in a series of slave raids, in which 40,000 people of both sexes were captured, "half of whom died en route of smallpox, dysentery, hunger and fatigue." Marcus explains this constant journeying beyond the capital by his will "to prove that the government could not function without him and to force the ministers to authorize his immediate coronation."Once he finally returned to the capital, he came into conflict with the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, which was eventually settled by the mediation of Abuna Mattewos. Iyasu indulged in a lavish celebration, which led the European diplomats to conclude "that he was purposely neglecting urgent business and impeding the ministers from carrying out their duties".

Lij Iyasu left the capital after little more than a month, and during this time engaged in a raid upon the Afar, who had reportedly massacred 300 of the Karayu Oromo at the village of Sadimalka on the Awash River. Unable to find the responsible parties, he made a punitive raid upon the general population which provoked a general uprising of the Afar. On 8 April, after repeated messages from his father to return to the capital, he finally did arrive at the city and managed to accomplish nothing. On 8 May, Iyasu left to meet his father in Dessie.

Early Reign[]


On the night of 12–3 December 1913, the Emperor Menelik II finally died. By mid-January, the news had slipped through the official wall of silence. On 10 January 1914, the leading nobles of Ethiopia had gathered to discuss their response to his loss and the future of Ethiopia. "Although no records of the 1914 meeting have come to the author's notice," Marcus admits, he states that "it is safe to conclude" that their arrival in Addis Ababa "indicated their fidelity to Menelik's heir." However, they opposed his immediate coronation, although they did approve of his proposal to crown his father "Negus of the North."

Lij Iyasu showed a pronounced lack of interest in the day to day running of the government, leaving most of the work for the ministers to deal with. However, the cabinet of ministers remained largely unchanged from the days of his grandfather, and by now the ministers wielded much power and influence. They were constantly subject to insults and disparagement by Lij Iyasu who referred to them as "my grandfather's fattened sheep." He constantly spoke of his intention of dismissing "these Shewans", as he called them, and appointing new officials and creating a new aristocracy of his own choosing. His essentially reformist orientation clashed with the conservatism of his grandfather's old ministers. As Paul Henze notes, Iyasu "seems deliberately to have antagonized the Shoan establishment. He lacked the diplomatic skill and the refined sense of discretion that came naturally to Tafari."

Iyasu's many capricious acts served only to further alienate the aristocracy. One was his betrothal of his royal-blooded cousin Woizero Sakamyelesh Seyfu to his former driver, Tilahun. Another was the appointment of his Syrian friend and crony Ydlibi to the position of Nagadras (Customs-Master) at the railway depot at Dire Dawa, thus controlling the vast tariff and customs that were collected there. All this, combined with his frequent absences from the capital, created the ideal environment for the ministers, led by Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis, the Minister of War, to plot his downfall.

Civil War and Alliance with Central Powers[]

As the World War started in Europe, Western powers flirted with the African kingdom, hoping it would join their respective sides. Iyasu sided with the Central powers in with the goal of claiming nearby allied colonies in British Sudan and French Somaliland. This, combined with his alledged conversion to Islam, triggered the brewing disent among the the Ethiopian nobles, causing them to rebel and name his Aunt as monarch in 1916. Iyasu's father Mikael of Wollo lead a countercoup, and thanks to the supplies and modern weapons given to Iyasu and his supporters by the Germans and Austrians, the rebellious coup was quashed at the Battle of Segale. The nobility was devastated by the loss, and Iyasu's opposition fled the country in exile, mostly taking refuge with the British who hoped to counteract the German friendly regime. Now in complete control of Ethiopia, Iyasu was named Emperor in 1917. Not suprisingly he officially converted to Islam in the same year, ending the centuries long Christian rule. The decision was very controversial among the citizens of the nation, particularly in the Christian north. The Islamic east of the country became his primary center of support, but he kept the capitol in Addis Ababa to try to bring the region more firmly in his control.

Great War[]

Iyasu, with the support of the Central powers, reformed the army by rearming it and putting the military more directly under imperial control, as it had operated in a much more feudal sense in the past under the guidance of the nobility, but with much of the nobility gone, an officer class was neccessary in order keep the military functional. The traditional title of nobility, "Ras", was given to persons who were deemed worthy through personal success to lead the military, though the political power of the title was greatly diminished.

Ethiopia entered the Great War on the side of the Central Powers. He followed this up by overthrowing the French, Italian, and British colonial powers in Somalia and Eritrea, where minimal garrisons, which had been stripped of much of their number in order to put men on the Ottoman front. The fight for Eritrea was short; By 1918 the Italian forces had abandoned it after a disastorous defeat at Keren, where the Italian forces lost a quarter of their number before routing. French Somaliland surrendered shortly after without a fight. British Somalia would hold out for two years, defeating the Ethiopian forces at the month long siege of Berbera, but ultimately being forces into the south where Somali rebels joined forces with the Ethiopians to capture Mogadishu in the later part of the year 1920. The Ethiopian forces continued on to Sudan, winning a signifigant battle at Asosa before ended up in stalemate against the British defenses on the border. The year before the end of the war, in 1924, the British lines slipped and, at the battle of ad-Damazin, the British just barely avoided being pushed back to Khartoum.

The Armistice that came at the end of the Great War accepted Ethiopian control of Eritrea and Somalia, but all of Sudan remained British. The alliance formed between Germany, Austria, and Ethiopia continued into the following decades.

Post War Reign[]

Early Reforms[]

Though early on an advocate for religious tolerance, the civil war and riots that followed the Great War led Iyasu to be distrusting of the remaining Christians. Though unofficial and hardly talked about, Christians were treated with signifigant suspicion bording on intolerance, with congregations disbanded or broke up frequently over accusations of conspiracy. Traditional religions did not suffer the same intolerance, and communities of both Muslims and traditional animists were very supportive of Iyasu's reign. Iyasy also found unlikely support in the territories he had won during the war, with Somalians and Eritreans seeing the Ethiopian nation as a savior. Iyasu would particularly favor the heavily Islamic Somalians, who would began to take positions of authority in Ethiopian society and cause the two entities become heavily integrated. From this time until the end of Iyasu's reign, Somalians would be favored for positions of military authority due to their perceived loyalty to the Emperor.

Second Civil War[]

The nobles who had been driven from the country after their defeat at Segale were given sanctuary in Britain, but they did not intend to stay there. In 1929, several nobles lead by Ras Tafari landed in the southern part of the country and incited a rebellion, coming in through British Kenya. The army was quickly deployed, but suffered a devestating defeat at the Battle of Jijiga, where the rebels new British weaponry outperformed the decade old and improperly maintained German equipment of the Ethiopian army. This humiliation lead to massive reforms within the government and military of Ethiopia, The Ethiopian military system, which had been somewhat westernized during and after the Great War, was reformed to match a more western style; the traditional local Sefari's being turned into intergrated Western Corps. By 1931 the tide began to turn in the war. Several key rebel villages were captured, and in 1934 the nobles in charge of the rebellion fled to British held colonies in the south. Germany threatened to get involved as the rebels continued to raid from British Kenya, and the weakening British government feared the implications of such a conflict. The Germans and British made a deal in which the British Swahili colonies were ceded to Belgium, which cracked down on the Ethiopian rebels and ended the conflict surrounding the second civil war.

Quiet Years[]

The next two decades passed uneventfully in Ethiopia. In 1948, Islam officially became the majority religion in the country. Though the government proclaimed this was due to the lack of an "oppressive christian theocracy", in reality it was due to the harsh treatment of non-muslims within the country, which was getting continously worse. In this period, constitutional reforms mimicing western political systems further modernized the nation, though Ethiopian industry remained woefully inadequate.

Later Reign[]

Third Civil War[]

A council of the last underground christian priests in the southern regions sparked a second rebellion in 1952, causing many of the exiles return for a final attempt to overthrow Iyasu's government. Without British support, the fighting in the south was quickly put down by local authorities, causing the rebels to go to the more Christian north to attempt and effect another war. The attempt failed after a skirmish with Ethiopian forces at Lalibela, and this time many of the nobles were captured hiding at the monestary of Debre Damo and executed for treason. Though often termed the "Third Civil War", it lacked any official battles and lasted only four months. The term "Third Civil War" was favored as a progaganda attempt to make it sound like the Christian movement in the south was attempting to plunge the country into a war comparable to the other two.

Death and Legacy[]

After the end of the second rebellion, the country finally was at peace for a time. Moderate industrialization took place in this time period. The final years of Iyasu's reign was marked by rebellions in the Belgian Congo and the sparks of the pan-african movement, which would later be led by Iyasu's son Yohannes. In 1959, the 64 year old Emperor Iyasu V died of heart failure. His son Yohannes Iyasu was quickly named Emperor to avoid any attempted coups.

Iyasu is seen in a mixed light. His reign seen the modernization of Ethiopia and it's entrance onto the world stage as a major power in Central Africa. He is also seen as an enemy of tradition who sapped the freedom of the country and caused civil wars. His most notable legacy is his issue, who both furthered the development of the nation and plunged it into yet another familar Civil War