By Netsanet K.
Beginning from the late ninth century onwards, the political center of Aksumite Empire shifted from Kubar, in southern Tigrai, near the predominantly Agaw inhabited districts. It was from the Agaw region that the Zagwe dynasty emerged and took over the political power from the weakened Aksumite rulers around 1150 AD.
After the downfall of Aksumite, the Zagwe dynasty took over the political power in northern Ethiopia. This dynasty came from the local Agaw ruling class of Bugna, a destrict in Lasta. This province was part of the Aksumite Empire and the people were long Christianized after the arrival of the βnine saintsβ. The southward shift of Aksumite political center led to more integration of the Agaw people and the ruling class. The considerable integration was carried out through army recruition and intermarriage with the Christian court of Aksum. This closer interaction eventually enabled the Agaw to take power easily from the Aksumite rulers just before the middle of the 12th century.
The Agaw dynasty was founded around 1150 AD. The founder of this dynasty was Merera, also known as Mera Tekle Haymnot. He established a new capital at Adefa, in Lasta, in the center of the Agaw speaking region. Adefa was later on renamed Lalibela, after one of the greatest kings of the dynasty king Lalibala (r.about 1190-1225 AD). The territorial limits of the Zagwe state included the former highland Aksumite provinces in the northern and the present northern Shawa in the south. The Zagwe also seemed to have pushed their territory in to the Lake Tana region in the west.
The economy of the Zagwe dynasty was based on agriculture. The peasantry formed the bulk of the population. The peasantry paid part of his produce to the court in the form of tribute. District governors were expected to organize an army to ensure peace for traders, trade routes and peasants. Trade brought additional income to the state. The trade of the kingdom was conducted through two outlets. The Dahlak Island on the red sea cost served as an outlet for the trade of the northern part of the kingdom, while the Zeila port was the main outlet for the trade of the southern territories of the Zagwe state.
The Zagwe dynasty maintained the cultural traditions of Christian Aksumite state almost intact. Christianity continued to be the state and official religion of the country. Geez was maintained as the language of the church and writing. The dynasty continued to maintain cordial relations with the Muslim rulers of Egypt. The tradition of visiting the holy land of Jerusalem for religious purposes seemed to have reached its peak during this period.
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