Iyasu I

Iyasu I (Ge'ez: ኢያሱ ፩; 1654 – 13 October 1706), throne name Adyam Sagad (Ge'ez: አድያም ሰገድ), also known as Iyasu the Great, was Emperor of Ethiopia from 19 July 1682 until his death in 1706, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was the son of Yohannes I and Empress Sabla Wangel.

Iyasu I
Iyasu I of Ethiopia.jpg
Iyasu I with his court
Emperor of Ethiopia
Reign19 July 1682 –13 October 1706
PredecessorYohannes I
SuccessorTekle Haymanot I
Died13 October 1706(1706-10-13) (aged 51–52)
Regnal name
Adyam Sagad (አድያም ሰገድ in Ge'ez)
DynastyHouse of Solomon
FatherYohannes I
MotherSabla Wangel
ReligionEthiopian Orthodox Tewahedo

According to G.W.B Huntingford, Iyasu "owed his reputation partly to the mildness of his character, exemplified in his treatment of the princes on Wehni in his first year, and his attention to religious matters, and partly to his abdication, retirement, and murder."[1]

He was serving as governor of Gojjam when his father Yohannes summoned him and made him heir at the age of 20. (However, he did not have himself crowned until 1693.) During the first year of his reign, he attended to his brothers and other relatives imprisoned on Wehni, a moment recorded by James Bruce who describes how the Emperor replaced their rags with proper clothing and furnished the starving royals with a banquet.[2]


His reign is noteworthy for the attention he devoted to administration, holding a large number of councils to settle theological and ecclesiastical matters (the first in 1684, in the public square of Gondar), matters of state, and to proclaim laws. In 1698, Iyasu undertook a number of reforms, affecting customs and taxation, which encouraged trade.

In the second year of his reign, he confronted an invasion of the Yejju and Wollo Oromo into Amhara, defeating them at Melka Shimfa.[3] After Qegnazmach Wale of Damot and Tabdan the Hermit proclaimed Yeshaq emperor in his fourth year (1685), Iyasu quickly suppressed this revolt, and captured Yeshaq, then waited a year before marching beyond southern Gojjam in a punitive expedition against the Agaws who had supported the rebels.[4]

In 1688, he led a campaign in Dera, passing through Woremo against a rebellion in the Tulama country. The leader of the rebellion, a native of Debre Werq was captured after a pitched battle in a narrow defile, and condemned by a tribunal of ecclesiastics.[5]

It was during his reign that individual Oromo first found service in the Imperial court. His Royal Chronicle[6] recounts how when the Ottoman Naib of Massawa attempted to levy a tax on Iyasu's goods that had landed at Massawa, he responded with a blockade of that island city until the Naib relented.

Iyasu's Palace in the Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar

Solomon Getahun observes that "unlike his immediate predecessors, Iyasu's tenure was noted for endeavors to establish diplomatic ties with Christian monarchies like Louis XIV of France and Ethiopian delegates had been sent to foreign countries."[7] In 1689, an embassy, led by an Armenian named Murad was sent to Batavia, Dutch East Indies. One of the benefits of these efforts was that Emperor Iyasu received a bell from Johannes Camphuys, governor of the Dutch East Indies, which was then donated to Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gondar.[8]

In 1692, the king undertook an expedition in the Mareb river valley, against the Dubani, or Nara, in present-day Gash Barka. At the sound of the musket, the tribesmen were terrified and fled.[9]

This also led to the visit by a French physician, Charles Jacques Poncet, who traveled to the Empire to treat Iyasu and one of his sons. Poncet arrived at Gondar 21 July 1699 and stayed until September 1700. Poncet published an account of his visit to Paris in 1704, which included his personal impression of Iyasu the Great:

Although' he is not above one and forty years old, yet he has already a numerous issue. He has eight princes and three princesses. The Emperor has great qualities – a quick and piercing wit, a sweet and affable humor, and the stature of a hero. He is the most handsome man I have seen in Aethiopia. He is a lover of curious arts and sciences, but his chief passion is for war. He is brave and undaunted in battles, and always at the head of his troops. He has an extraordinary love for justice, which he administers to his subjects with great exactness; but whereas he is averse to blood, 'tis not without reluctance that he condemns a criminal [to death]. Such eminent qualities make him equally fear'd and belov'd by his subjects, who respect him even to adoration.[10]

In 1704, emperor Iyasu I campaigned south of Abay in the kingdom of Ennarea, where he was confronted with a civil war between two throne claimants.[11]

While he was campaigning in Gojjam against the Oromo, Iyasu learned that his favorite concubine, Kedeste Kristos, had died. Stricken with grief, he retired to an island in Lake Tana. Supported by Empress Malakotawit, some of the officials argued, after the precedent of the king Kaleb that he had abdicated, and crowned his son Tekle Haymanot Emperor. According to some accounts, this was not Iyasu's intent, and he marched from his hermitage in Lake Tana towards to Gondar to protest this; in any case, during this time he fell sick and was assassinated at Tekle Haymanot's orders. Iyasu's death caused much distress in the capital, especially amongst the priests of Debre Berhan Selassie, who openly displayed his gifts to them, and mourned their dead monarch for a month.[12] Bruce writes that Iyasu was buried on Mitraha Island, where he was shown Iyasu's body interred amongst "the bodies of all his ancestors".[13]

Once his brother Tewoflos became Emperor, he initiated Iyasu's canonization.


  1. ^ G.W.B Huntingford, The Historical Geography of Ethiopia (London: The British Academy, 1989), p. 201.
  2. ^ James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), vol. 3, pp. 449–451
  3. ^ Bruce, Travels, vol. 3 pp. 454f
  4. ^ Bruce, Travels, vol. 3 pp. 456–460
  5. ^ E. A. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia: Volume II : Nubia and Abyssinia' (London, (Routledge Revivals), 1949), pp. 411. https://books.google.com.gh/books?id=umMtBAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA408&dq=history%20of%20ethiopia&hl=fr&pg=PA411#v=onepage&q&f=false.
  6. ^ Translated in part by Richard K. P. Pankhurst in The Ethiopian Royal Chronicles. Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  7. ^ Solomon Getahun, History of the City of Gondar (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 2005), p. 7
  8. ^ Richard Pankhurst, Armenian Involvement in Ethiopian-Asian Trade 16th to 18th Centuries, p. 119-147, https://books.openedition.org/editionsmsh/11382
  9. ^ E. A. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia: Volume II : Nubia and Abyssinia' (London, (Routledge Revivals), 1949), pp. 414. https://books.google.com.gh/books?id=umMtBAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA408&dq=history%20of%20ethiopia&hl=fr&pg=PA414#v=onepage&q&f=false.
  10. ^ William Foster, editor, The Red Sea and Adjacent Countries (London, Hakluyt Society, 1949), pp. 130f. The translation is an anonymous work printed in 1709; glosses appearing in square brackets are by Foster.
  11. ^ Hassen Mohammed, The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History 1570-1860, 1994
  12. ^ Richard P.K. Pankhurst, History of Ethiopian Towns (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982), pp. 142f
  13. ^ Bruce, Travels, vol. 3 pp. 528f
Preceded by
Emperor of Ethiopia Succeeded by