Zemene Mesafint

The Zemene Mesafint (Ge'ez: ዘመነ መሳፍንት zamana masāfint, modern zemene mesāfint, variously translated "Era of Judges," "Era of the Princes," "Age of Princes," etc.; named after the Book of Judges) was a period in Ethiopian history between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries when the country was de facto divided within itself into several regions with no effective central authority. It was a period in which the Emperors from the Solomonic dynasty were reduced to little more than figureheads confined to the capital city of Gondar.

Ethiopian warriors during the Zemene Mesafint
Empress Mentewab, an important figure of the Zemene Mesafint, prostrating herself before Mary on a painting from Narga Selassie, 1748
Tewodros II, who brought an end to the Zemene Mesafint

The most powerful lords during the Zemene Mesafint were of the Yejju Oromo and were Ras Ali I, Ras Aligaz, Ras Wolde Selassie, Ras Gugsa and Ras Ali II. These were collectively called the Wara Sheh (or Were, Seh) rulers. Other regional lords included Ras Hailu Yosedeq, Dejazmach Wube Haile Mariam and King Sahle Selassie of Shewa. However, the Yejju lords did have predominance or hegemony over the other lords of Ethiopia.[1]

The lords constantly fought against each other for aggrandisement of their territory and to become the guardians of the kings of kings in Gondar (or Gonder), the capital of the empire at the time. The monarchy continued only in name because of its sacred character. This nominal but divinely ordained monarchy preserved the dynasty from actual extinction.[1]