Ethiopian–Adal War

The Ethiopian–Adal War or Abyssinian-Adal War, also known in Arabic as the "Futuḥ al-Ḥabash" (Arabic: فتوح الحبش, conquest of Abyssinia), was a military conflict between the Christian Ethiopian Empire and the Muslim Adal Sultanate from 1529 to 1543. Christian Ethiopian troops consisted of the Amhara then afterwards their allies, the Tigrayans, and Agaw people, and at the closing of the war, supported by a few hundred Portuguese musketmen. While Adal forces were mainly Harla[4] and Somali,[5] as well as Afar, Argobba, Hadiya, and tens of thousands of Turkish and Arab gunmen that joined from the beginning of the conflict. Both sides at times would see the Maya mercenaries join their ranks.[6]: 188 

Ethiopian–Adal War
Part of the Ottoman–Portuguese conflicts (1538–1559)
Early 20th century folk drawing of Cristóvão da Gama and Imam Ahmad's deaths.
Date9 March 1529 – 21 February 1543
(13 years, 11 months, 1 week and 5 days)


No territorial changes
 Ethiopian Empire
Portuguese Empire Portuguese Empire (1541–43)
Adal Sultanate
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Ethiopian Empire Dawit II #
Ethiopian Empire Gelawdewos
Portuguese Empire Cristóvão da Gama Executed
Ahmad ibn Ibrahim 
Garaad Matan 
Abubaker Qecchin
Bati del Wambara
Sayid Mehmed
Garad Emar


Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi was a military leader of the medieval Adal Sultanate in the northern Horn of Africa. Between 1529 and 1543, who embarked on a conquest referred to as the Futuh Al-Habash, which brought three-quarters of Christian Abyssinia under the power of the Muslim Sultanate of Adal.[7] With an army which composed of Afar, Harari, and Somalis.[8] Al-Ghazi's forces, using bows and arrows,[9] and their Ottoman allies came close to extinguishing the ancient Ethiopian kingdom. However, the Abyssinians managed to secure the assistance of Cristóvão da Gama's Portuguese troops and maintain their domain's autonomy. Both polities in the process exhausted their resources and manpower, which resulted in the contraction of both powers and changed regional dynamics for centuries to come. Many historians trace the origins of hostile Ethiopia–Somalia relations to this war.[10] Some scholars also argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons, and the arquebus over traditional weapons.[11]

Course of the warEdit

In 1529, Imam Ahmad's Adal troops defeated a larger Ethiopian contingent at the Battle of Shimbra Kure. The victory came at a heavy cost but it solidified the Adal forces' morale, providing proof that they could stand up to the sizable Ethiopian army.

The victories that gave the followers of Imam Ahmad the upper hand came in 1531. The first was at Antukyah, where cannon fire at the start of the battle panicked the Ethiopian soldiers. The second was on 28 October at Amba Sel, when troops under the Imam not only defeated but dispersed the Ethiopian army and captured items of the Imperial regalia. These victories allowed the Adalites to enter the Ethiopian highlands, where they began to sack and burn numerous churches, including Atronsa Maryam, where the remains of several Emperors had been interred.[12]

Dawit II died in 1540 and his son Menas and the future emperor was captured by the forces of Imam Ahmad; the Empress was unable to react as she was besieged in the capital. In 1543, a smaller number of Abyssinians soundly defeated the larger Adal-Ottoman army[13] with the help of the Portuguese navy, which brought 400 musketeers led by Cristóvão da Gama via Massawa, a port in the Eritrean Kingdom of Medri Bahri, an important port today in present-day Eritrea. However, Da Gama was captured in the battle of Battle of Wofla and later killed.

The 500 musketeers were led by Bahri Negassi Yeshaq, king of Medri Bahri. Yeshaq not only provided the Portuguese with provisions and places to camp in his realm but also information about the land. The Bahri Negassi also joined Emperor Gelawdewos and the Portuguese in the decisive Battle of Wayna Daga, where tradition states that Ahmad was shot in the chest by a Portuguese musketeer, named João de Castilho, who had charged alone into the Muslim lines and died. The wounded Imam was then beheaded by an Ethiopian cavalry commander, named Azmach Calite.[14][15][16] Once the Imam's soldiers learned of his death, they fled the battlefield.[17] The death of Imam Ahmed and the victory in the Battle of Wayna Daga caused a collapse of Ahmed forces and forced a Adalite retreat from Ethiopia.

Emir Nur ibn Mujahid succeeded his uncle Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi as leader of the Adal forces and consolidated his power by marrying Bati del Wambara.[18] In 1559, Emir Nur's cavalry defeated and killed Emperor Gelawdewos in battle, and sacked the Abyssinian town of Waj.[19][20] Simultaneously, Abyssinian General Ras Hamalmal sacked the Adalite capital Harar, captured Sultan Barakat ibn Umar Din and executed him, thus ending the Walashma Dynasty.[21][22]

J. Spencer Trimingham postulates that the captured Barakat ibn Umar Din was in fact returned to Adal in exchange for Prince Menas in negotiations led by Bati del Wambara.[23] Emir Nur ibn Mujahid, returning from his campaign, would display the head of Emperor Gelawdewos in Harar as a show of triumph.[24] In 1577, Emperor Sarsa Dengel defeated, captured and executed Sultan Muhammad V in Bale.[25] He was succeeded by Imam Muhammad Jasa, a relative of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, who relocated Adal's capital to Aussa.[26] while Susenyos I relocated the capital of Abyssinia to Gondar.


Mohammed Hassan has plausibly argued that because this conflict severely weakened both participants, it provided an opportunity for the Oromo people to migrate into the historically Gafat land of Welega south of the Blue Nile and eastward to the walls of Harar, establishing new territories.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gikes, Patrick (2002). "Wars in the Horn of Africa and the dismantling of the Somali State". African Studies. University of Lisbon. 2: 89–102. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  2. ^ Henze, Paul B. (2000). Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. Hurst & Company. p. 89. ISBN 1850655227.
  3. ^ Historical dictionary of Ethiopia By David Hamilton Shinn, Thomas P. Ofcansky, Chris Prouty pg 171
  4. ^ Hassen, Mohammed. "Review work Futuh al habasa". International Journal of Ethiopian Studies: 179. JSTOR 27828848.
  5. ^ Malone, Barry (28 December 2011). "Troubled Ethiopia-Somalia history haunts Horn of Africa". Reuters. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  6. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (1997). The Ethiopian borderlands : essays in regional history from ancient times to the end of the 18th century. Red Sea Press. ISBN 0-932415-19-9. OCLC 36543471.
  7. ^ Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia, (Greenwood Press: 2006), p.178
  8. ^ John L. Esposito, editor, The Oxford History of Islam, (Oxford University Press: 2000), p. 501
  9. ^ A Pastoral Democracy by I. M. Lewis
  10. ^ David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987).
  11. ^ Cambridge illustrated atlas, Warfare: Renaissance to Revolution, 1492–1792, by Jeremy Black pg 9
  12. ^ "Local History in Ethiopia" Archived 28 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine (pdf) The Nordic Africa Institute website (accessed 28 January 2008)
  13. ^ Davis, Asa J. (1963). "THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY JIHĀD IN ETHIOPIA AND THE IMPACT ON ITS CULTURE (Part One)". Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria. 2 (4): 567–592. ISSN 0018-2540. JSTOR 41856679.
  14. ^ Richard Whiteway, The Portuguese expedition in Abyssnia, pp. 82
  15. ^ "20 Famous Historical and Biblical Figures from Africa". 28 May 2021.
  16. ^ Whiteway, pp.82
  17. ^ Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour By Martin Meredith, In the Land of Prestor John, chapter 11
  18. ^ R.Basset (editor), Histoire de la conquete de l’Abyssinie (History of the Conquest of Abyssinia), Paris, 1897–1901
  19. ^ A Survey History of World, Africa, and Ethiopia - Page 280
  20. ^ Abyssinia: Mythical and Historical - Page 31 Richard Chandler
  21. ^ The Oromo of Ethiopia, Mohammed Hassan p.184
  22. ^ Merid Wolde Aragay, Southern Ethiopia and the Christian kingdom
  23. ^ Islam in Ethiopia By J. Spencer Trimingham Page 91
  24. ^ Dictionary of African Biography - Volumes 1-6 - Page 451 by Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong, Henry Louis Gates
  25. ^ J.S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia pp.96
  26. ^ Social History and Theoretical Analyses of the Economy of Ethiopia - Page 14 Daniel Teferra · 1990
  27. ^ Mohammed Hassen, The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History (1570–1860) Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1994.