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War of Abyssinian Succession - 1916

The Shewan nobility secured a proclamation from Metropolitan Abuna Mathaeos, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, excommunicating Lij Iyasu and deposing him as emperor. On September 27, 1916 - the Feast of the Cross - Lij Yasu was deposed by public proclamation of the Abuna, on the specific ground of his apostasy.

His aunt, the Princess Zauditu (Judith), who had been a prisoner in the palace since Menelek's illness in 1910, was proclaimed empress. Dejaz (general) Taffari Makonnen, a cousin of Zauditu, was appointed heir to the throne and regent with the title of Ras (prince). The new regime was at once accepted, practically unopposed, by the chiefs and people of Shoa and by the imperial army (a force of 50,000 kept in the neighbourhood of the capital).

Ras Michael was made of sterner stuff than his son Lij Iyasu; moreover, the Wollo Galla remained faithful to him and he was able to put some 80,000 men in the field. Wollo lies on the eastern edge of the Abyssinian plateau, with Gondar and Tigre N. and N.W. and Shoa to the S. Leaving 20,000 to 30,000 men to guard his northern frontier, Ras Michael marched S., hoping to capture Addis Abbaba by a rapid blow. Meantime the new Government had prepared to advance N., fixing on Shano, 40 m. N.E. of the capital, as the place of concentration. Michael, who was first in the field, had an engagement with the advanced force of the Shoans under Ras Lul Seged Oct. 17, before whom he gave way.

But on 19 October 1916 Michael surrounded and destroyed Lul Seged's force in a furious battle in which over 12,000 men perished. Lul Seged himself was slain, but his resolute defence had delayed Michael's advance; it gave time to the Shoans to complete their concentration. By Oct. 21 they had 60,000 men at Shano, and a great superiority in artillery over Michael. On the 22nd Shoan cavalry under Ras Kassa1 seized a position in the rear of Michael's army; the same day his force on the northern frontier was attacked and defeated by the Ras of Gondar (Waldo Giorgis). Cut off from his base, almost enveloped and with supplies running short, Michael's only alternative to being starved into surrender was to attack.

The King chose the latter course and gave battle at Shano on Oct. 27. The fighting was desperate and the slaughter great. The Shoans were at first hard pressed but the timely arrival of Ras Kassa's cavalry decided the issue. The Wollo army was utterly routed, Michael was taken prisoner and all his artillery captured. This ended the campaign, in which in three weeks over 60,000 lives are said to have been lost, the casualties of the Shoans alone exceeding 20,000.

The Fitaurai Hapti Giorgis, Minister of War, who had commanded in chief the Shoan forces, made no attempt to occupy Wollo or to pursue Lij Yasu and thus effectively pacify the country. He returned to Addis Abbaba where the Empress Zauditu reviewed the victorious troops, the ceremony ending with the parade of Ras Michael, a fine-looking, dignified man of about 65, chained to the chief who had captured him.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:47 ZULU