Historical Facts Home to the first Homo sapiens, the first Muslim settlers in Africa, and the much-loved coffee bean, Ethiopia has over three million years of human history waiting to be discovered within its villages, monasteries, landscapes, and museums. It is the only country in Africa never to have been fully colonized, one of the earliest adopters of Christianity, and was the center of one of the greatest empires, rivaling Rome, Persia, and China. It would be impossible to summarize such a saga, but here are a few facts to get you started:
- Some of the world’s most ancient hominid skeletons were found in Ethiopia – the most famous of them being Lucy, who lived here 3.2 million years ago. She is now preserved in Addis Ababa’s National Museum.
- The first Homo sapiens are also considered to have emerged from Ethiopia around 160,000 years ago.
- Ethiopia was named by the Greeks and translates literally as “Land of the burnt faces”.
- From around the first century to the eighth century AD, the Aksumite kingdom was one of the most powerful in the world. It stretched from Northern Ethiopia into the Arabian Peninsula and controlled the Red Sea – a vital shipping route for silk and spice traders.
- Legend has it that the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Ethiopia almost 3,000 years ago by Menelik I, who was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba of Ethiopia. The Ark of the Covenant is now said to rest in St. Mary of Zion Church in Aksum, Northern Ethiopia.
- Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia around the 4th century AD. Today, almost half of the population is Orthodox Christian.
- Africa’s first Muslim migrants settled in Ethiopia after Mohammed sent them there to avoid persecution in Mecca. The walled city of Harar, in eastern Ethiopia, is now considered to be Islam’s fourth most important city. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it contains an astonishing 82 mosques.
- Since Menelik I, Ethiopia has had 255 Emperors, the last of which was Ras (prince) Tafari, crowned Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. He is credited with abolishing slavery and modernizing Ethiopia.
- Haile Selassie also gained great popularity abroad - especially in Jamaica. He is considered a messiah by the Rastafarian community, who named themselves after him. He donated land in Shashemene to Rastafarians and other Afro-Caribbeans who wished to return to Africa, and there is still a Jamaican community there to this day.