The dynasty that ruled forever

You have to admire persistence. I guess. At any rate it took the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia places.

The dynasty ruled since forever or so it claimed on the basis of descent from the Solomon, the Bible guy, and the Queen of Sheba ditto. It was booted out after nearly 2,000 years by Judith I or Gudit or “Did-she-really-exist?” whose deeds, real or otherwise, are legendary in the worst way and supposedly she trashed the records in the process of destroying Orthodox monasteries to re-establish Judaism. But the situation then becomes obscure and (then, you cry?) on August 10 of 1270 AD or 10 Nehasé 1262 EC if you like your accounts confusing, Yekuno Amlak re-established the Solomonic dynasty which the Zagwe dynasty he overthrew might also have been part of unless they weren’t.

Yay. Or huh? Or something. The point is, what we do know is that after this brouhaha the Solomonics rode the throne pretty well uninterruptedly until Haile Selassie got the Marxist boot in 1974. Yes, the same Haile Selassie who was a hero among progressives for staunch if hopeless resistance to Mussolini back in the 1930s including a stirring 1936 League of Nations speech denouncing Mussolini’s use of chemical weapons sprayed from airplanes on women, children and warriors with shields and spears.

I checked. It was the same guy. And he’d been regent from 1916 before becoming emperor in 1930. He was born in 1892 and died in 1975 having seen more strange stuff than Han Solo.

The dynasty seems to have governed pretty well all things considered. And it certainly ended in style. Selassie’s condemnation of Mussolini brought an immediate rousing burst of applause from the Western democracies (Time made him “Man of the Year”) followed by an immediate rousing burst of inaction. But the British did give him refuge and, after Hitler and Mussolini attacked them, they counterattacked, routed Mussolini’s would-be legions in East Africa and restored Selassie in 1941, whereupon he appealed to his people for Christian restraint against their enemies rather than retaliation in kind, and abolished the slave trade.

In short, he seems to have been as benevolent a despot as you could ask for. Despite which a growing ferment opened the door to Marxism in a nation that could not even in a university seminar be described as having a proletariat. A famine proved the tipping point and riots followed by a coup by a military “Derg” (evidently a local term for group of thugs in uniform backed by the USSR) which led to imprisonment of government figures without trial, their summary execution including the emperor’s grandson and the end of the dynasty. To be followed by Mengistu Haile Mariam’s reign of terror and a flood of Soviet arms, and a regime that collapsed as soon as its Soviet patron did, after 16 horrible years.

By contrast the Solomonic dynasty, for all the obscurity of its history, lasted from perhaps the 10th century BC into the 20th century AD with some minor interruptions and one significant one. Perhaps Ethiopia could do worse than to bring it back as a constitutional monarch. It certainly has done worse.

Besides, Haile Selassie himself is now regarded as God incarnate among Rastafarians. (Born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, Selassie was known as “Ras” Tafari before becoming emperor, “Ras” meaning roughly “Duke” in Amharic.) Not everyone can claim to have started with Solomon and ended nearly 3,000 years later being worshipped by people who resolutely reject hedonism by smoking big piles of reefer.

It goes to show how persistence can take you places you never dreamed of going.