The Kingdom of Aksum, the first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia, rose during the first century BC. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Axum with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time. It was in the early 4th century AD that a Syro-Greek castaway, Frumentius, was taken to the court and eventually converted king Ezana to Christianity, thereby making it official. For this accomplishment, he received the title "Abba Selama". At various times, including a period in the 6th century, Axum controlled most of modern-day Yemen just across the Red Sea.
The line of rulers descended from the Axumite kings was broken several times: first by the Jewish Queen Gudit around 950, then by the Zagwe dynasty. Around 1270, the Solomonid dynasty came to control Ethiopia, claiming descent from the kings of Axum. They called themselves Neguse Negest ("King of Kings," or Emperor), basing their claims on their direct descent from Solomon and the queen of Sheba.
During the reign of Emperor Lebna Dengel, Ethiopia made its first successful diplomatic contact with a European country, Portugal. This proved to be an important development, for when the Empire was subjected to the attacks of the Somali General and Imam, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (called "Grany", or "the Left-handed"), Portugal responded to Lebna Dengel's plea for help with an army of 400 men, who helped his son Gelawdewos defeat Ahmad and re-establish his rule. However, when Emperoror Susenyos converted to Roman Catholicism, officially in 1622, years of revolt and civil unrest followed. The Jesuit missionaries had offended the Orthodox faith of the local Ethiopians, and in the mid-17th century Susenyos' son, Emperor Fasilides, expelled these missionaries.
All of this contributed to Ethiopia's isolation during the 1700s. The Emperors became figureheads, controlled by warlords like Ras Mikael Sehul of Tigray. Ethiopian isolationism ended following a British mission that concluded an alliance between the two nations; however, it was not until the reign of Tewodros II that Ethiopia began to take part in world affairs once again.
Early nineteenth century warriorsThe 1880s were marked by the European colonization of Africa and certain modernisation, when the Italians began to vie with the British for influence in bordering regions. Assab, a port near the southern entrance of the Red Sea, was bought from the local sultan in March 1870 by an Italian company, which by 1882 led to the Italian colony of Eritrea. Conflicts between the two countries resulted in the Battle of Adowa in 1896, whereby the Ethiopians surprised the world by defeating the colonial power and remaining independent, under the rule of Menelik II. Italy and Ethiopia signed a provisional treaty of peace on October 26, 1896.
The early 20th century was marked by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, who undertook the rapid modernization of Ethiopia — interrupted only by the brief Italian occupation (1936–1941). British and patriot Ethiopian troops liberated the Ethiopian homeland in 1941, and Ethiopia's regained sovereignty was recognised by the United Kingdom upon the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in December 1944.
Haile Selassie's reign came to an end in 1974, when a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg", deposed him and established a one-party communist state. The ensuing regime suffered several bloody coups, uprisings, wide-scale drought, and a massive refugee problem. In 1977 Somalia attacked Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, but Ethiopia quickly defeated them with a massive influx of Soviet military hardware, direct Cuban military presence, coupled with East German and South Yemeni military assistance the following year. In spite of accruing one of the largest armies in Africa due to benevolent military assistance from Socialist Bloc countries, an unending insurgency in the then provinces of Eritrea and Tigray, a major drought in 1985 and regime changes in the former Socialist Bloc culminated in the Derg regime being defeated in 1991 by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in the far north, and elsewhere by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a loose coalition of rebel forces mainly dominated by the Tigrean People's Liberation Front. In 1993, the province of Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia, following a referendum, ending more than 20 years of armed conflict, one of the longest in Africa. In 1994, a constitution was adopted, that led to Ethiopia's first multiparty elections in the following year. In May 1998, a dispute over the undemarcated border with Eritrea led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War that lasted until June 2000. This has hurt the nation's economy, but strengthened the ruling coalition. On May 15, 2005, Ethiopia held another multiparty election, and resulted in the EPRDF's disputed return to power. In early June and again in November, police under the command of the EPRDF shot and killed demonstrators who were protesting the alleged election fraud.