The Adal Sultanate or the Kingdom of Adal (Somali: Saldaanada Cadal, Ge’ez: አዳል ʾAdāl, Arabic: سلطنة عدل) (c. 1415 – 1577) was a medieval multi-ethnic Muslim state located in the Horn of Africa. At its height, the polity controlled
Adal is mentioned by name for the first time in the 14th century, during the battles between the Muslims of the northern Somali and Afar seaboard and the Abyssinian King Amda Seyon‘s Christian troops. Adal originally had its capital in the port city ofZeila, situated in the eponymous Awdal region in modern-day northwestern Somalia. The polity at the time was an Emirate in the larger Ifat Sultanate ruled by the Walashma dynasty.
In 1332, the King of Adal was slain in a military campaign aimed at halting Amda Seyon’s march toward Zeila. When the last Sultan of Ifat, Sa’ad ad-Din II, was also killed by Dawit I of Ethiopia at the port city of Zeila in 1410, his children escaped toYemen, before later returning in 1415. In the early 15th century, Adal’s capital was moved further inland to the town of Dakkar, where Sabr ad-Din II, the eldest son of Sa’ad ad-Din II, established a new sultanate after his return from Yemen. The land beyond the Awash River was left to the Ethiopian Solomonic Emperors.During this period, Adal emerged as a center of Muslim resistance against the expanding Christian Abyssinian kingdom.
After 1468, a new breed of rulers emerged on the Adal political scene. The dissidents opposed Walashma rule owing to a treaty that Sultan Muhammad ibn Badlay had signed with Emperor Baeda Maryam of Ethiopia, wherein Badlay agreed to submit yearly tribute. Adal’s Emirs, who administered the provinces, interpreted the agreement as a betrayal of their independence and a retreat from the polity’s longstanding policy of resistance to Abyssinian incursions. The main leader of this opposition was the Emir of Zeila, the Sultanate’s richest province. As such, he was expected to pay the highest share of the annual tribute to be given to the Abyssinian Emperor. Emir Laday Usman subsequently marched to Dakkar and seized power in 1471. However, Usman did not dismiss the Sultan from office, but instead gave made him a ceremonial position while retaining the real power for himself. Adal now came under the leadership of a powerful Emir who governed from a palace of a nominal Sultan.
The Sultan of Adal (right) and his troops battling King Yagbea-Sion and his men. FromLe Livre des Merveilles, 15th century.
Amir Mahfuz who would fight with successive Emperors caused the death of the emperor called Na’od in 1508. But he was killed by the forces of Emperor Lebna Dengel in 1517. After Mahfuz, a civil war started for the office of Highest Amir of Adal. Five Amirs came to power in only two years. But at last, a matured and powerful leader called Garad Abuun Addus (Garad Abogn) assumed power. Who was loved by the people of Adal. When Garad Abogne was in power, he was defeated and killed by Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, In 1554, under the initiative of Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, Harar became the capital of Adal. This time, not only the young Amirs revolted but the whole country of Adal raised against the deal of Sultan Abubeker because Garad Abogne was loved by the whole people of the Sultanate. Many people went to join the force of a new young knight called “Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi” who claimed a revenge for the beloved Garad Abogne. And this young man assumed the power of Adal in 1527. But he himself didn’t remove the Sultan. He let him in his nominal office. When Abubeker waged war on him, the young Ahmed ibn Ibrahim killed the nominal sultan Abubeker and replaced him by his brother Umar Din.
Adalite armies under the leadership of rulers such as Sabr ad-Din II, Mansur ad-Din, Jamal ad-Din II, Shams ad-Din and general Mahfuzsubsequently continued the struggle against Abyssinian expansionism.
In the 16th century, Adal’s headquarters were again relocated, this time to Harar. From this new capital, Adal organised an effective army led by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazithat invaded the Abyssinian empire. This campaign is historically known as the Conquest of Abyssinia or Futuh al Habash. During the war, Ahmed pioneered the use of cannonssupplied by the Ottoman Empire, which were deployed against Solomonic forces and their Portuguese allies led by Cristóvão da Gama. Some scholars argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons and the arquebus over traditional weapons.
Sultans of Adal
|1||Sulṭān SabiradDīn SaʿadadDīn||1415 – 1422||Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, won some early victories before being soundly defeated by Emperor Yeshaq|
|2||Sulṭān Mansur SaʿadadDīn||1422 – 1424||Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, Defeated the Abyssinians at Yedaya, only to be defeated and imprisoned by Yeshaq|
|3||Sulṭān JamaladDīn SaʿadadDīn||1424 – 1433||Won several important battles before being defeated at Harjai, he was assassinated in 1433|
|4||Sulṭān AḥmedudDīn “Badlay” SaʿadadDīn||1433 – 1445||Son of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed, known to the Abyssinians as “Arwe Badlay” (“Badlay the Monster”). AḥmedudDīn turned the tide of war against the Abyssinians and decisively defeated the forces of Emperor Yeshaq and liberated the land of Ifat. AḥmedudDīn founded a new capital at Dakkar in the Adal region, near Harar, creating the Sultanate of Adal. He was killed in battle after he had launched a jihad to push the Abyssinians back out of Dawaro.|
|5||Sulṭān Maḥamed AḥmedudDīn||1445 – 1472||Son of AḥmedudDīn “Badlay” SaʿadadDīn, Maḥamed asked for help from the Mameluk Sultanate of Egypt in 1452, though this assistance was not forthcoming. He ended up signing a very short-lived truce with Baeda Maryam|
|6||Sulṭān ShamsadDin Maḥamed||1472 – 1488||Son of Maḥamed AḥmedudDīn, he was attacked by Emperor Eskender of Abyssinia in 1479, who sacked Dakkar and destroyed much of the city, though the Abyssinians did not attempt to occupy the city and were ambushed on the way home with heavy losses.|
|7||Sulṭān Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn||1488 – 1518||Great-grandson of SaʿadadDīn Aḥmed of Ifat, he continued to fight to liberate Dawaro along with Garad Maḥfūẓ of Zeila. He was assassinated after a disastrous campaign in 1518 and the death of Garad Maḥfūẓ.|
|8||Sultan Maḥamed Abūbakar Maḥfūẓ||1518 – 1519||Seized the throne, sparking a conflict between the Karanle and Walashma|
|9||Sulṭān Abūbakar Maḥamed||1518 – 1526||He killed Garād Abūn and restored the Walashma dynasty, but Garād Abūn’s cousin Imām Aḥmed Gurēy avenged his cousin’s death and killed him. While Garād Abūn ruled in Dakkar, Abūbakar Maḥamed established himself at Harar in 1520, and this is often cited as when the capital moved. Abūbakar Maḥamed was the last Walashma sultan to have any real power.|
|10||Garād Abūn ʿAdādshe||1519 – 1525||Successor to Maḥamed Abūbakar Maḥfūẓ and the Karanle party of the struggle for the throne.|
|11||Sulṭān ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed||1526 – 1553||Son of Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn, Imām Aḥmed Gurēy put Maḥamed ʿAsharadDīn’s young son ʿUmarDīn on the throne as puppet king in Imām Aḥmed Gurēy’s capital at Harar. This essentially is the end of the Walashma dynasty as a ruling dynasty in all but name, though the dynasty hobbled on in a de-jure capacity. Many king lists don’t even bother with Walashma rulers after this and just list Imām Aḥmed Gurēy and then Amīr Nūr Mujahid.|
|12||Sulṭān ʿAli ʿUmarDīn||1553 – 1555||Son of ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed|
|13||Sulṭān Barakat ʿUmarDīn||1555 – 1559||Son of ʿUmarDīn Maḥamed, last of the Walashma Sultans, assisted Amīr Nūr Mujahid in his attempt to retake Dawaro. He was killed defending Harar from Emperor Gelawdewos, ending the dynasty.|
The rulers of the earlier Sultanate of Shewa and the Walashma princes of Ifat and Adal all possessed Arab genealogical traditions.
There is some debate over the ethnic composition of Adal after its capital moved to modern-day Ethiopia. I.M Lewis states:
Somali forces contributed much to the Imām’s victories. Shihab ad-Din, the Muslim chronicler of the period, writing between 1540 and 1560, mentions them frequently (Futūḥ al-Ḥabasha, ed. And trs. R. Besset Paris, 1897.). The most prominent Somali groups in the campaigns were the Samaroon or Gadabursi (Dir), Geri, Marrehān, and Harti – all Dārod clans. Shihāb d-Dīn is very vague as to their distribution and grazing areas, but describes the Harti as at the time in possession of the ancient eastern port of Mait. Of the Isāq only the Habar Magādle clan seem to have been involved and their distribution is not recorded. Finally several Dir clans also took part.
This finding is supported in the more recent Oxford History of Islam:
The sultanate of Adal, which emerged as the major Muslim principality from 1420 to 1560, seems to have recruited its military force mainly from among the Somalis.
Lewis, on the other hand, notes that the Imam’s origins are unknown. Ewald Wagner connects the name ʿAdäl with the Dankali (Afar) tribe Aḏaʿila and the Somali name for the clan Oda ʿAlï, proposing that the kingdom may have largely been composed of Afars. Although Afars constituted a significant part of Adal, Didier Morin notes that “the exact influence of the ʿAfar inside the Kingdom of `Adal is still conjectural due to its multi-ethnic basis.” Nevertheless, Franz-Christoph Muth identifies Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi as Somali.
During its existence, Adal had relations and engaged in trade with other polities in Northeast Africa, the Near East, Europe and South Asia. Many of the historic cities in the Horn of Africa such as Maduna, Abasa and Berbera flourished under its reign with courtyard houses, mosques, shrines, walled enclosures and cisterns. Adal attained its peak in the 14th century, trading in slaves, ivory and other commodities with Abyssinia and kingdoms.
Cristóvão da Gama
Cristóvão da Gama (c. 1516 – 29 August 1542) was a Portuguese military commander who led a Portuguese army of 400 musketeers on a crusade in Ethiopia and Somalia (1541–1543) against the far larger Somali Muslim army of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (also known as Ahmad Gurey) aided by the Ottoman Empire. He (along with the allied Ethiopian army) was victorious against larger forces in four battles, but was seriously wounded in his last battle, after which he was captured and eventually executed. SirRichard Burton, in his First Footsteps in East Africa, referred to him as “the most chivalrous soldier of a chivalrous age.
Cristóvão (or Christopher) da Gama was the son of Vasco da Gama and younger brother of Estêvão da Gama. He first came to India in 1532 with his brother, returned to Portugal in 1535, then joined Garcia de Noronha in sailing to Diu 6 April 1538. Many times in these travels he demonstrated a quick mind that saved his companions. In recognition of his usefulness, in 1541, his brother Estêvão, then Viceroy of India, gave him command of a ship in the fleet Estêvão led into the Red Sea against the Ottoman naval base at Suez.
The Ethiopian campaign
Estêvão’s raid came to nothing, and he returned to Massawa on May 22, 1541, to rejoin the ships he had left there. While at Massawa, he attempted to salvage something from this raid by dispatching an expeditionary force under Cristóvão to assist the beleaguered Emperor of Ethiopia, Gelawdewos. Four hundred Portuguese men-at-arms were selected, seventy of whom were also skilled artisans or engineers, and 130 slaves for this expedition, equipped with about a thousand arquebuses, an equal number of pikes and severalbombards. João Bermudes, who had represented himself as the patriarch of Ethiopia to the Portuguese, accompanied this expedition. An account of this campaign in theEthiopian highlands was later written by Miguel de Castanhoso, who accompanied Gama and was an eye-witness to almost everything he recorded. The men were landed at Massawa and Arqiqo, the next port south of Massawa, and began their trek inland to Debarwa, the capital of the Bahr negus, or Ethiopian viceroy for the northern provinces.
The Portuguese reached Debarwa after a march of eleven days on 20 July, to learn that the rainy season (which Castanhoso, as well as the natives, referred to as “winter”) made further travel impossible. Cristóvão would not allow his men to pass the months in idleness, employing them in constructing sledges for the bombards and in raiding nearby villages that had accepted Ahmed Gurey‘s rule. He also learned from the Bahr negus that Queen Sabla Wengel was camped nearby on top of a mountain that Ahmed had not been able to reduce by siege. (R.S. Whiteway identifies this mountain with Debre Damo.) With one hundred men, he marched to the mountain, and invited Queen Sabla Wengel to join him; she did so, bringing her entourage of thirty men and fifty women, all of whom were received with careful ceremony.
Once the rains ended, the Portuguese continued south. After months of being slowed by their equipment, Da Gama decided to leave half of it in an arsenal on Debre Damo. His army passed the Church of St. Romanos around Christmas of 1541, and celebrated Epiphany in the province of Agame (January 1542). Gama’s first encounter with the Somali troops was 2 February 1542 at the Battle of Bacente, which Whiteway located on Amba Senayt in Haramat. The invaders had taken possession of a hill from which they made raids into the countryside. Although Queen Sabla Wengel advised Gama to march around this hill, advising him to wait until her son Emperor Gelawdewos could arrive from Shewaand join him, he believed that failing to engage the invaders would make the natives distrust his troops, and that they would then stop bringing food and supplies. Fortunately, the engagement was an unquestioned success, and Gama’s men took the hill despite superior enemy numbers, losing only eight men.
At the end of February, two Portuguese arrived from a ship anchored at Massawa, escorted by six people native to the area. Gama responded with a detachment of forty men to make contact, obtain supplies, and exchange news. This group failed to reach the ship before it sailed, and the only outcome was that these soldiers and their captain were absent for the next battle, which was against Ahmad Gurey himself.
As Queen Sable Wengel had feared, the events at Bacente alerted Ahmad that a hostile army had entered the area, and he marched north to confront it, meeting Gama at Jarte (which Pedro Paez identifies with Sahart, although Whiteway locates it in the Wajirat Mountains). The Imam made the first contact, sending a messenger to Gama to demand that the Portuguese force either leave Ethiopia, join Ahmad Gurey, or be destroyed. On the Imam’s orders, the messenger produced the gift of a monk’s habit, an expensive insult to Gama. Gama responded with his own messenger, who delivered “a few lines in Arabic“, stating that he had come to Ethiopia “by order of the great Lion of the Sea” and on the “following day he [Ahmad] would see what the Portuguese were worth”, and delivered Gama’s own insulting gift: a pair of “small tweezers for the eyebrows, and a very large mirror — making him out [to be] a woman.” 
Two battles followed these exchanges at Jarta, the first on 4 April and the next on 16 April. The first battle was a victory for the Portuguese, although Gama lost one of his captains: Ahmad Gurey was wounded, which forced his troops to retire to the far side of the plain. The Portuguese, finding their encampment on the battlefield becoming unbearable, moved across the plain next to the enemy camp, which led to the second battle. This time, the Somali-Ottoman army was even more soundly defeated, and according to Castanhoso, “The victory would have been complete this day had we only [had] a hundred horses to finish it.”
Ahmad Gurey was forced to retreat further south, where with fortune against him, the local population now openly defied him by refusing to provide him supplies or soldiers. Whiteway identifies the Imam’s refuge as a village named Wajarat, while J. Spencer Trimingham places it in the Zobil mountains overlooking the Afar Depression. Gama marched after him as far as Lake Ashangi, where on the advice of Queen Sable Wengel, he made camp on a hill in Wofla as the rainy season started.
At some point late in the rains, Gama was approached by a Jew (possibly one of the Beta Israel), who told him of a mountain stronghold that Ahmad Gurey’s followers controlled weakly (identified by Whiteway as Amba Sel). It was also at this time that Gama was accurately informed about the Emperor Gelawdewos’s true strength: the Ethiopian monarch was living as an outlaw in the south, with only sixty to seventy men in his army. However, the mountain was the major barrier between the two allies, and Gama also learned that the garrison had a large number of horses—a resource he had badly needed at the second battle of Jarta. Gama swiftly marched south with about a hundred men, andseized control of the mountain.
Leaving thirty men behind to bring the horses, Gama led his victorious men back to Wofla, to find Ahmad Gurey in position to attack that next morning. Having successfully petitioned the governor of Zabid in South Arabia, as well as offering “much money” and submission to the official, Gurey received 2900 musketeers (2000 from Arabia and 900 handpicked Ottomans), many more than Gama had. Despite their bravery, the Portuguese were heavily defeated 28 August at the Battle of Wofla, with only 170 surviving the assault (counting the thirty men escorting the horses from the Hill of the Jews). And Gama, his arm broken from a bullet, was captured that night with fourteen companions by a Somali patrol.
The Battle of Wofla was fought on August 28, 1542 near Lake Ashenge in Wofla (or Ofla) in the modern Ethiopian Region ofTigray (previously part of Wollo; its incorporation into Tigray instead of Amhara is therefore disputed), between the Portuguese under Cristóvão da Gama and the forces of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi. Reinforced with a superiority not only in numbers but in firearms, Imam Ahmad was victorious and forced the Portuguese, along with Queen Sabla Wengel and her retinue, to flee their fortified encampment and leave their weapons behind.
While fleeing the battlefield with 14 soldiers, Gama, with his arm broken from a bullet, was captured that night by followers of Imam Ahmad, who had been led into the brush they had taken refuge in by an old woman. He was then brought into the presence of the Imam Ahmad, who tortured his captured opponent, then in the end the Imam drew his sword and beheaded Gama.
Gama’s death and aftermath
Cristóvão da Gama was brought to Ahmad Gurey’s camp, where the Imam produced the tweezers Gama had given him and began to pluck out his beard. There Gama was tortured in an attempt to force him to convert to Islam. Castanhoso’s — and Jerónimo Lobo‘s account after him—describe Gama’s fortitude and death in language worthy of a hagiography, complete with miracles. In the end Ahmad Gurey chopped off Gama’s head and tossed it into a nearby spring, whose waters Castanhoso reported gained a reputation for giving “health to the sick”. Lobo elaborates upon this story, claiming that upon hearing of this miracle the Imam had a dead dog tossed into the spring and the spring covered with a cairn of stones; Lobo confirms this detail in describing the account of a party sent to retrieve Gama’s remains and send them to his nephew, Vasco da Gama Conde da Vidigueira. (Lobo gives the impression that he accompanied this expedition, but a letter of Manuel de Almeida states otherwise.)
Certain that the surviving Portuguese were scattered, without their firearms, and alone in a foreign land, Ahmad Gurey concluded that this threat was ended, dismissed all but two hundred of the foreign musketeers, and proceeded to his camp at Derasge on the shores of Lake Tana. However, over 120 men had joined Queen Sabla Wengel, who had taken refuge at the Mountain of the Jews. Ten days later her son, Emperor Gelawdewos, arrived and they took measure of their situation. Using the arms stockpiled at Debre Damo, the Portuguese were able to rearm themselves; with the promise of their ability, Gelawdewos was able to raise a new army, which met Ahmad Gurey at Wayna Daga. The Portuguese musketeers aimed their fire only at the Muslim musketeers, who had played a decisive part at Wofla—and at Imam Ahmad himself. While the sources differ on the exact details, all agree that Ahmad Gurey was killed by the men of Cristóvão da Gama to avenge their commander’s death.
Gelawdewos (Ge’ez ገላውዴዎስ galāwdēwōs, modern gelāwdēwōs, “Claudius”; 1521/1522 – March 23, 1559) was Emperor (throne nameAsnaf Sagad I (Ge’ez አጽናፍ ሰገድ aṣnāf sagad, modern āṣnāf seged, “to whom the horizon bows” or “the remotest regions submit [to him]”; September 3, 1540 – March 23, 1559) of Ethiopia, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was a younger son of Dawit II bySabla Wengel.
His reign was dominated by the struggle with Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi during the Abyssinian-Adal War, until Ahmad’s defeat and death in the Battle of Wayna Daga on February 21, 1543. Gelawdewos devoted time and energy to rallying his people against Ahmad, a determination his chronicler credits prevented Ahmad’s forcible conversions from being permanent. With Ahmad’s death, Gelawdewos was not only able to eject the leaderless Muslim forces from the Ethiopian highlands, but also from the lowlands to the east which included Dawaro and Bale. He also turned his attention to the numerous Ethiopians who had crossed over to the Imam’s side, either to further themselves or out of self-preservation. While some presented themselves to Gelawdewos expecting to be pardoned only to be executed, to many others he granted his safe-conduct, according to Miguel de Castanhoso, “for there were so many [who had joined Imam Ahmad] that had he ordered all to be killed, he would have remained alone.”
However, while campaigning against the Agaw in Gojjam (1548), Nur ibn Mujahid once again invaded Ethiopia. Gelawedewos’s vassal Fanu’el succeeded in repulsing them, but the Emperor followed up with a further attack into Muslim territory, plundering the countryside for six months. At one point he captured Harar, where Sultan Barakat ibn Umar Din ofAdal was killed, the last member of the Walasma dynasty. “”””Barakat ibn Umar Din (Arabic: بركات بن عمر الدين) (reigned 16th century) was a Sultan of the Sultanate of Adal and brother of Ali ibn Umar Din. He was the last known member of the Walashma dynasty, In 1555, Barakat and Ali Jamal ibn al-Imam Ahmad led an army into Dawaro with the intent of taking it from the Ethiopians. However, he was defeated by the Governor of Dawaro. When Nur ibn Mujahid invaded the Ethiopian Empire in 1559, Sultan Barakat held Harar against the army of Hamalmal, who had been sent there by his cousin, Emperor Gelawdewos.””””
According to a Harari chronicle, Gelawdewos was killed in battle. “Early in the engagement Galawdéwos was hit by a bullet, but continued to fight until surrounded by a score of Harari cavalry, who struck him fatally to the ground with their spears,” according to Pankhurst. Emir Nur had the Emperor’s head sent to the country of Sa’ad ad-Din, then rode off to plunder Ethiopian territory before returning home. The explorer Richard F. Burton tells a slightly different account, adding that Gelawedewos had been supervising the restoration of Debre Werq when he received a message from Emir Nur challenging him to combat. When the Emperor met the Emir, a priest warned that the angel Gabriel had told him Gelawdewos would needlessly risk his life—which caused most of the Ethiopian army to flee.
According to G. W. B. Huntingford, Gelawdewos’ body was buried at Tadbaba Maryam and his head, which was brought back to Ethiopia by some traders, was buried in Ensaqya (modern Antsokiya), in the tomb of St. Gelawdewos.
The first problem of foreign relations Gelawdewos had to deal with following his victory at Wayna Daga was João Bermudes, a Portuguese priest whom his father had sent abroad as his ambassador to secure help from Portugal. Bermudes had represented himself in Europe as the properly appointed Patriarch of Ethiopia (or Abuna), and once he returned to Ethiopia, he claimed he had been appointed by Pope Paul III as Patriarch of Alexandria. A surviving letter dated 13 March 1546 from King John III to Emperor Gelawdewos, translated by Whiteway, is a response to a lost letter wherein the Ethiopian ruler asked, in essence, “Who is this João Bermudes fellow? And why does he behave so irresponsibly?” King John’s answer was frank:
- As to what João Bermudes has done there, whom the King your father sent to me as his Ambassador, I disapprove greatly, for they are things very contrary to the service of Our Lord, and by reason of them it is clear that he cannot be given any help or assistance, nor do I know more of him than that he is a mere priest. Of the powers which he says the Holy Father granted him I know nothing; from the letters of His Holiness you will learn better what has passed in the matter; although for this he merits very severe punishment, it appears to me that you should not inflict it, except in such a way that, his life being saved, he may be punished according to his errors.
According to Bermudes own account of his time in Ethiopia, early in the reign of Gelawdewos he was banished to Gafat, south of the Abay River, the first of several exiles that ended when Bermudes left Ethiopia. This banishment probably followed Gelawdewos’ receipt of King John’s letter.
In the same letter, King John promised to send priests more worthy than Bermudes, and during his reign two different groups of Jesuit missionaries arrived in Ethiopia. The first arrived 7 February 1555 to determine the state of the country and whether the Ethiopians would properly receive a Patriarch anointed by the Catholic church. Gelawdewos received them, but gave them no overt encouragement. The second landed in March 1557, and was headed by André de Oviedo who had been made titular Bishop of Nice, who received them just before leaving to campaign against Nur ibn Mujahid but did not make any promises. In response to their arguments, Gelawdewos wrote his Confession, which defended the Miaphysite doctrine of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. According to Richard Pankhurst, Gelawdewos’ Confession helped his fellow Ethiopian Christians to remain “steadfast in their adherence to Sabbath observance, circumcision, and the prohibition against pork and other ‘unclean’ foods.”
Ethiopia’s access to the outside world was severely crippled during his reign in 1557, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Massawa. From that point forward, dignitaries and missionaries to Ethiopia had to travel in disguise to avoid Muslim authorities. This also allowed the Ottomans to block the Ethiopians from importing firearms.
The Battle of Wayna Daga (Amharic for “Grape-cultivating altitude”) occurred on 21 February 1543 east of Lake Tana inEthiopia. Led by the Emperor Galawdewos, the combined army of Ethiopian and Portuguese troops defeated the Somali–Ottoman army led by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi. Tradition states that Ahmad was killed by a Portuguese musketeer, who had charged alone into the Muslim lines. Once the Imam’s soldiers learned of his death, they fled the battlefield.
At the Battle of Wofla (28 August 1542), Imam Ahmad had crushed the Portuguese expeditionary force, killing most of its men, capturing practically all of the firearms they had, and capturing and killing its leader, Cristóvão da Gama. By any reasonable assessment, the Imam enjoyed a decisive victory over his greatest foe; armies in the Horn of Africa melted away with the death of their leaders. He then reduced the number of the mercenary Ottoman arquebusiers to 200, and relying on his own forces retired to Emfraz near Lake Tana for the coming rainy season. Miguel de Castanhoso states that these arquebusiers left his service because they were upset that he beheaded da Gama, whom they wanted to present to the Ottoman emperor. However, Beckingham notes that a Hadhrami chronicle states that some of them threatened the Imam’s life unless he gave them 10,000 ounces of gold, to which he “gave a very favorable reply”. When the rest of the group learned of their success, they came to the Imam and made a similar demand; deciding that he had no further need of their services, he sent them home giving them 2,000 ounces of gold.
However, Gama had inspired a fierce loyalty in his surviving followers, all but 50 of whom had reassembled after their defeat around Queen Sabla Wengel, and taken refuge at “The Mountain of the Jews”, which Whiteway identifies as Amba Sel.De Castanhoso, writing decades after the fact, states that after the Emperor Gelawdewos had joined the survivors, and seeing the number of men who flocked to the Emperor’s standard, at Christmas “we went to the Preste, and begged him to help us avenge the death of Dom Christovão.” Gelawdewos agreed to march against the Imam. The Portuguese firearms which had been stored at Debre Damo were produced. A message was sent to a company of Portuguese soldiers who had proceeded to Debarwa to find passage home, but they failed to respond in time for the coming battle.
The allied forces spent the following months marching the provinces before heading to Imam Ahmad’s camp next to Lake Tana. On 13 February 1543, they defeated a group of cavalry and infantry led by the Imam’s lieutenant Sayid Mehmed in Wogera (roughly corresponding to the modern woreda of the same name), killing Sayid Mehmed. From the prisoners it was learned that the Imam was camped only 5 days’ march away at Deresgue, and flush with victory the army marched to confront their enemy.
As with many of the battles in Castanhoso’s narrative, published 20 years after the events they describe, the exact location where the two forces encountered one another is not known. General histories of Ethiopia are vague: Paul B. Henze, in his Layers of Time, implies the battlefield was near Lake Tana, and in a footnote states that much of the combat activity at this time “would seem to have been in Gaynt”, the former province located southeast of Lake Tana. Richard Pankhurst in The Ethiopian: A History places the engagement in “Western Bagemder”, which covered the area corresponding to the contemporary Debub Gondar Zone. Lastly, the name itself is of little help: “Wayna Daga” is the traditional Amharic word for the climatic regions between the higher, mountainous “Daga” elevations (2,600 meters above sea level and above) and the lowland “Qolla” elevations (between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level). Most of the lands around Lake Tana fall into this middle climatic region.
Whiteway, in his introduction to Castanhoso’s account, discusses the evidence he was able to compile for its location. Castanhoso himself does not name the place; it was Pedro Páez who first provided the name of “Wayna Daga”. Paez’s younger contemporary, Jerónimo Lobo, locates the battle at a place called Granhi Berr Jaaf Granhi, or “Granhi’s Gate, Granhi’s Tree”; Lobo was told the locale acquired this name when Imam Ahmad, finding himself mortally wounded in the battle, “in great pain and rage, took the unsheathed scimitar with which he was fighting and struck a blow on the trunk of a tree near him”. Lobo adds that he was shown the place, tree and mark. James Bruce, travelling south ofDengel Ber over three centuries later, mentions passing “the small village of Waindega, famous for the decisive battle fought between King Claudius and the Moor Gragne”, adding in a footnote that the village was “otherwise called Graneber.”However, as Whiteway points out, “The difficulty that presents itself to my mind is, to understand by what possible strategy one army starting from Darasgue, and the other from Woggera, neither desiring to avoid an engagement, and both starting-places being north of Lake Tzana, the decisive battle could have taken place at its south-west corner.” Bruce may have been of the same mind, for earlier in his lengthy account of Ethiopian history, when he recounts the Battle of Wayna Daga Bruce appears to indicate the two armies fought at the north-east corner of the lake. Whiteway notes that two explorers, Combes and Tamisier, who crossed the mountainous country north-east of Lake Tana in 1835 call that region “Ouenadega” or Wayna Daga, and he concludes his discussion by locating the battle there.[
Once the Ethiopian-Portuguese army found the army of Imam Ahmad, they set up camp nearby; Emperor Gelawedewos advised against engaging the enemy right away, hoping that the 50 missing Portuguese soldiers would arrive soon as “in that country fifty Portuguese are a greater reinforcement than one thousand natives.” Over the following days, each camp preceded to harass the other with cavalry raids. The allied side had the better of the exchange, keeping their opponents from venturing from their camp for supplies, until the Somalis managed to kill the leading Ethiopian soldier, Azmach Keflo, which demoralized the Ethiopian troops. Faced with the potential desertion of his force, Galawedewos decided he could wait no longer and prepared for an assault the next day.
The two forces started the main battle early the next day, with the Somali-Ottoman force divided into two groups. At first, the Muslim side succeeded in driving the allied side back, until a charge by the Portuguese and Ethiopian cavalry broke up the charge. At this point Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, with his son at his side, took to the field and led a renewed assault. It was in this charge that the Imam was killed by a bullet to his chest which threw him from his horse, although the sources differ in how he died.
According to Castanhoso, the Imam was recognized by the Portuguese arquebusiers, who directed their combined firepower at him, and one of the arquebuses in the group fired the fatal shot. Although he was an eyewitness to the battle, Castanhoso constantly emphasizes in his account the corporate identity of the Portuguese expedition after Gama’s death: “We bore before us the banner of Holy Compassion (Sancta Misericordia); the Preste had sought to appoint one of us Captain, but we desired none save the banner of himself to lead us, for it was not to be anticipated that we should follow another, having lost what we had lost.”
There is another tradition, at least as old as João Bermudes, and repeated by every other near-contemporary source (e.g., Gaspar Correia, Jerónimo Lobo), that gives the credit of Imam Ahmad’s death to one João de Castilho; João charged into the Somali troops so he could fire upon Ahmad Gragn at point-blank range, an audacious act resulting in his death. Both Castanhoso and the story of João de Castilho return to agreement about Imam Ahmad’s fate after this point: at the end of the battle, when Emperor Galawedewos offered his sister’s hand in marriage to the man who killed the Imam, an Ethiopian soldier presented the Imam’s head as proof of the deed; but a subsequent investigation revealed that the Portuguese had wounded him before the soldier had cut off the Imam’s head, “thus he did not give his sister to that man, nor did he reward the Portuguese, as it was not known who wounded him”.
As they heard of the death of the Imam, his followers fled the battlefield. Armies of that time and place tended to pledge their loyalty to a leader, not to a cause; most of his followers pragmatically looked to their own well-being. An exception was the captain of the Ottoman arquebusiers, who seeing
- that the Moors were giving way, he determined to die; with bared arms, and a long broadsword in his hand, he swept a great space in front of him; he fought like a valiant cavalier, for five Abyssinian horsemen were on him, who could neither make him yield nor slay him. One of them attacked him with a javelin; he wrenched it from his hand, he houghed another’s horse, and none dared approach him. There came up a Portuguese horseman, by name Gonçalo Fernandes, who charged him spear in rest and wounded him sorely; the Turk grasped it [the spear] so firmly, that before he could disengage himself the Moor gave him a great cut above the knee that severed all the sinews and crippled him; finding himself wounded, he drew his sword and killed him.
Imam Ahmad’s wife Bati del Wambara managed to escape with a group of the surviving Ottoman arquebusiers, 300 horsemen of her personal guard, and as much of the Imam’s treasure as they could carry. The moment they left their camp, the victorious Ethiopian army poured in, slaughtering everyone they encountered except for women and children. Amongst the women were numerous Christian captives and, as Castanhoso tells the story, “some found sisters, others daughters, others their wives, and it was for them no small delight to see them delivered from captivity.”
According to Bruce, there remained one enemy leader with a sizable force still at large, under one Joram. This Joram had driven Gelawadewos “from his hiding-place on Mount Tsalem, and forced him to cross the Tacazze on foot, with equal danger of being drowned or taken.” Joram had been unable to join the Imam before the battle, and Emperor Gelawadewos learned he was hastening towards him, unaware that the battle had already been lost. Gelawadewos sent out a party who successfully ambushed him, “which closed the account of Claudius with his father’s enemies.”
The father of the Bahr negus, who had despaired of the rightful Emperor being restored to power and had come to be a valuable supporter of the Imam, sought pardon from Gelawadewos, offering Imam Ahmad’s son in exchange; despite the Emperor’s anger at the man’s betrayal, out of respect for the Bahr negus, who had provided critical help in getting the Portuguese expedition into Ethiopia, Gelawadewos consented to the offer. The Imam’s son later proved a useful prize, for he was later exchanged for the Emperor’s own brother, Menas, who later succeeded Gelawadewos. A number of other Christians who had joined Imam Ahmed Gragn accompanied the Bahr negus’ father into camp, but not having the influence or bargaining chip he did, the Emperor ordered the execution of some of them. Other individuals who sought his safe-conduct, the Emperor Gelawadewos granted it, “for there were so many that had he ordered all to be killed, he would have remained alone.”
By Easter (25 March), it became clear to Gelawdewos that he would not be able to make a circuit of his newly-won empire to impress his authority on all parts of it before the start of the rainy season, so he set up camp “three leagues away” in an unnamed location on the shores of Lake Tana. Once the rains had ended, Emperor Gelawdewos began the long task of consolidating his rule.
Battle of Baçente
The Battle of Baçente was fought on February 2, 1542 when a Portuguese army under Cristóvão da Gama took a hillfort held by Adalite forces in northern Ethiopia. The Portuguese suffered minimal casualties, while the defenders were reportedly all killed.
Queen Sabla Wengel advised against this attack, arguing that Gama should wait until her son the Emperor Gelawdewos could march north from Shewa and join the Portuguese. However, Gama was concerned that if he marched around this Muslim-held strongpoint, the local peasantry would be disappointed and stop providing supplies for his troops.
After a probing attack to learn the defenders defences, which Queen Sabla Wengel initially mistook for a defeat, Gama ordered an attack from three side directions on the following day. The defenders were annihilated, with neglegible losses to the Portuguese. Nine horses and a number of mules were captured, which afterwards proved useful. A mosque, which had originally been a church before the hillfort was occupied by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi‘s men, was reconsecrated as a church and dedicated to “Our Lady of Victory”, and mass was celebrated there the next day. The expeditionary force spent the rest of February there, recovering from the battle.
Battle of Shimbra Kure
The Battle of Shimbra Kure (“chickpea swamp”) was fought in March of 1529 between the forces of Adal led by ImamAhmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, and the Ethiopian army, under Dawit II (Lebna Dengel). Despite being outnumbered, the army of Imam Ahmad prevailed, and were in control of the field at the end of the battle. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Despite this success, and his desire to capture and hold the Emperor’s palace at Badeqe, Imam Ahmad, in part to appease his restive men, withdrew from the highlands and did not return to directly engage the Ethiopian army for two years.
Some authorities, such as Richard Pankhurst, attribute Imam Ahmad’s success to the presence amongst his followers of an elite company of matchlockmen. If this is the case, then this battle was the first time Ethiopian forces had to fight against a force armed with firearms.
Battle of Amba Sel
The Battle of Amba Sel was fought on October 28, 1531 between the Ethiopians under their Emperor Dawit II, and the forces of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi of the Adal Sultanate. Imam Ahmed won the battle at Amba Sel, winning him the southern part of Ethiopia. Afterwards, his troops crossed the Walaqa River
Battle of Antukyah
The Battle of Antukyah was fought in 1531 between the Somali forces under Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi and anEthiopian army under Eslamu. Huntingford has located Antukyah about 55 miles south of Lake Hayq, at the edge of theEthiopian highlands.
Despite the care Eslamu took in deploying his men, and the number of them, the Ethiopian army panicked and fled when the Imam’s cannons cut down thousands of them. The Futuh al-Habasha compared the number of dead and wounded to the previous Battle of Shimbra Kure.
Ottoman–Portuguese conflicts (1538–57)
This war took place upon the backdrop of the Ethiopian-Adal War. Ethiopia had been invaded in 1529 by the Somali ImamAhmed Gargn. Portuguese help, which was first asked by Emperor Lebna Dengel in 1520 to help defeat Adal while it was weak, finally arrived in Mitsiwa on February 10, 1541, during the reign of Emperor Galawdewos. The force was led byCristóvão da Gama (second son of Vasco da Gama) and included 400 musketeers and few Portuguese cavalry as well as a number of artisans and other non-combatants.
An Ottoman legion (musketeer’s, and some guns) had already been fighting alongside the Somali army for some time, and with the arrival of the Portuguese, the Ottomans sent reinforcements: 2000 Arabian musketeer, 900 Turkish pikemen, 1000 Turkish foot musketeers, some Shqiptar foot soldiers (with muskets) and Turkish horsemen.
Major hostilities between Portugal and the Ottoman Empire began in 1538, where the Ottomans with 54 ships laid siege to Diu, which had been built by the Portuguese in 1535. The Ottoman fleet was led by Sulejman I‘s emissary Hussein Paşa, however the attack was not successful and the siege was lifted.
The Portuguese under Estêvão da Gama (first son of Vasco da Gama) attacking the Ottoman fleet near Suez Harbor, leaving Goa December 31, 1540 and reaching Aden January 27, 1541. The fleet reached Massawa (February 12), where Gama left a number of ships and continued north. Reaching Suez, he discovered that the Ottomen long known of his raid, and foiled his attempt to burn the beached ships. Gama was forced to retrace his steps to Massawa, although pausing to attack the port of El-Tor (Sinai Peninsula).
On February, 1542, in his first encounter with the Somali-Ottoman forces at the Battle of Baçente, Cristóvão da Gama was able to soundly defeat an Ottoman and Somali contingent. The Portuguese were again victorious at the Battle of Jarte. However, in the Battle of Wofla, Somali and Ottoman forces were victorious and Gama was captured and killed upon his refusal to convert to Islam.
Gelawdewos was eventually able to reorganize his forces and absorb the remaining Portuguese soldiers and defeated Gragn (who was killed) at the Battle of Wayna Daga, marking the end of the war (although warfare would resume not long after, at a much diminished scale).
Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean naval combat was also intense. In 1547 the Admiral Piri Reis command of the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet in the Indian Ocean and on 26 February 1548recaptured Aden, in 1552 Bandar Abbas and Masqat (Muscat). Turning further east, Piri failed to capture Hormuz, at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese were also able to successfully defend Bahrain, and in 1556 the Ottoman fleet was destroyed by a storm near Gujarat.
In 1557, however, after the (nominal only) declaration of a province of Habesh (“Abyssinia”, i.e. Ethiopia), Ottoman forces invaded Ethiopia and were able to capture the important port of Massawa, beginning the Ethiopian-Ottoman War.