Ethiopian historiography

Ethiopian historiography includes the ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern disciplines of recording the history of Ethiopia, including both native and foreign sources. The roots of Ethiopian historical writing can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum (c. AD 100 – c. 940). These early texts were written in either the Ethiopian Ge'ez script or the Greek alphabet, and included a variety of mediums such as manuscripts and epigraphic inscriptions on monumental stelae and obelisks documenting contemporary events. The writing of history became an established genre in Ethiopian literature during the early Solomonic dynasty (1270–1974). In this period, written histories were usually in the form of royal biographies and dynastic chronicles, supplemented by hagiographic literature and universal histories in the form of annals. Christian mythology became a linchpin of medieval Ethiopian historiography due to works such as the Orthodox Kebra Nagast. This reinforced the genealogical traditions of Ethiopia's Solomonic dynasty rulers, which asserted that they were descendants of Solomon, the legendary King of Israel.

The 4th-century AD Ezana Stone containing a dual Sabaean-style Ge'ez and Greek inscription recording the victories of King Ezana of Axum over the Kushites of Meroe (in modern Sudan)[1]

Ethiopian historiographic literature has been traditionally dominated by Christian theology and the chronology of the Bible. There was also considerable influence from Muslim, pagan and foreign elements from within the Horn of Africa and beyond. Diplomatic ties with Christendom were established in the Roman era under Ethiopia's first Christian king, Ezana of Axum, in the 4th century AD, and were renewed in the Late Middle Ages with embassies traveling to and from medieval Europe. Building on the legacy of ancient Greek and Roman historical writings about Ethiopia, medieval European chroniclers made attempts to describe Ethiopia, its people, and religious faith in connection to the mythical Prester John, who was viewed as a potential ally against Islamic powers. Ethiopian history and its peoples were also mentioned in works of medieval Islamic historiography and even Chinese encyclopedias, travel literature, and official histories.

During the 16th century and onset of the early modern period, military alliances with the Portuguese Empire were made, the Jesuit Catholic missionaries arrived, and prolonged warfare with Islamic foes including the Adal Sultanate and Ottoman Empire, as well as with the polytheistic Oromo people, threatened the security of the Ethiopian Empire. These contacts and conflicts inspired works of ethnography, by authors such as the monk and historian Bahrey, which were embedded into the existing historiographic tradition and encouraged a broader view in historical chronicles for Ethiopia's place in the world. The Jesuit missionaries Pedro Páez (1564–1622) and Manuel de Almeida (1580–1646) also composed a history of Ethiopia, but it remained in manuscript form among Jesuit priests of Portuguese India and was not published in the West until modern times.

Modern Ethiopian historiography was developed locally by native Ethiopians as well as by foreign historians, most notably Hiob Ludolf (1624–1704), the German orientalist who British historian Edward Ullendorff (1920–2011) considered the founder of Ethiopian Studies. The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a period where Western historiographic methods were introduced and synthesized with traditionalist practices, embodied by works such as those by Heruy Wolde Selassie (1878–1938). The discipline has since developed new approaches in studying the nation's past and offered criticism of some traditional Semitic-dominated views that have been prevalent, sometimes at the expense of Ethiopia's traditional ties with the Middle East. Marxist historiography and African studies have also played significant roles in developing the discipline. Since the 20th century, historians have given greater consideration to issues of class, gender, and ethnicity. Traditions pertaining mainly to other Afroasiatic-speaking populations have also been accorded more importance, with literary, linguistic, and archaeological analyses reshaping the perception of their roles in historical Ethiopian society. Historiography of the 20th century focused largely on the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, whereas the Ethiopian victory over the Kingdom of Italy in the 1896 Battle of Adwa played a major role in the historiographic literature of these two countries immediately following the First Italo-Ethiopian War.