Facts You May Not Have Known About Menelik II


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Menelik II served as both King and Emperor of Ethiopia. While in power, he successfully fought off invaders from Italy and significantly modernized Ethiopia.

Before Fame

He declared himself King (Negus) within the mid-1860s.


During his reign, he established banking and postal services in Ethiopia.

Family Life

The son of Ethiopian royals Haile Melekot and Ijigayehu Adeyamo, Menelik II (baptized Sahle Maryam), was raised in Shewa, Ethiopia. His three marriages — to Altash Tewodros, Befana Gatchew, and Taytu Betul — produced no offspring, although he fathered a minimum of three illegitimate children.

photo credit: google

Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913)

After Emperor Yohannes’s death in March 1889, Prince Menelik of Shewa Menelik has crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, and he established Entoto as his Capital, on Capitol Hill of Addis Ababa. Menelik expanded his rule to the south and east of the country, but he faced a threat from the Italians who still occupied Massawa, Saati, and, therefore, the Red Sea Coast. Menelik was helpless to defend the country from the Italian occupation, and he attempted to bargain with Italians. The Treaty of Whale was signed effectively. Menelik has granted Eritrea to Italy in exchange for the recognition of Ethiopian sovereignty. What Menelik didn’t know was the Italians inserted a clause within the Italian version of the Treat of Whale, restricting Ethiopia from foreign contact stating all contacts must be made through Italy. Menelik’s nightmare didn’t end there; the Italians attempted to court the Tigrayans Princes into the alliance with Eritrea. Therefore the Italians invaded north a part of Tigray, resulting in the Battle of Adwa.

The Ethiopian army equipped with spears, machetes, and a couple of rifles marched on Adwa to defend their country from the foreign invader Italy. In March 1896, the Ethiopians defeated the Italian army, which was one of the proudest moments within the Ethiopian history. The Italians defeat at the Battle of Adwa wasn’t enough for the Ethiopian army who wanted to drive the Italians out of Eritrea permanently. Nevertheless, Menelik returned to Addis Ababa, leaving Eritrea under Italian occupation. Menelik is believed to possess said, “leave the Italians to rule Eritrea beyond Merab River.” This dismayed many Ethiopians who prepared to die and defend their country’s sovereignty against the Italian occupation.

After his return to Addis Ababa, Menelik negotiated with Italy to define a standard border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He signed an agreement recognizing Eritrea as a sovereign state of Italy beyond the Merab River as the main border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia remained an independent and sovereign state, though Menelik lost Eritrea to Italy, during the “Scramble of Africa.”

Menelik then moved his Capital from Entoto to Addis Ababa, which is now the Capital of Ethiopia. Menelik began to create schools and hospitals in Addis Ababa and introduced electricity and telephone. He continued his modernization program by building a railway, with the assistance of the French, linking Addis Ababa to Djibouti through Dera Awa, the leading trade center of Harar.

In 1913, Menelik died from unhealthiness. Iyasu was the successor and designated heir of Menelik II.


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