Mikael of Wollo

Negus Mikael of Wollo (born Mohammed Ali, 1850 – 8 September 1922), was an army commander and a member of the nobility of the Ethiopian Empire. He was the father of the "uncrowned" Emperor Lij Iyasu, and the grandfather of Empress Menen, wife of Emperor Haile Selassie. He changed his name to Mikael upon converting to Christianity.

Mikael of Wollo
Mikael Ali (Mohamed Ali). King of Wollo.jpg
Ras of Wollo
MonarchsYohannes IV
Menelik II
Negus of Abyssinia
MonarchLij Iyasu
Personal details
Mohammed Ali

Wollo, Ethiopian Empire
Died8 September 1922(1922-09-08) (aged 71–72)
Holeta, Shewa Province, Ethiopian Empire
ChildrenLij Iyasu, Woizero Sihin of Wollo
  • Military officer
  • diplomat
  • court official
Military service
Allegiance Ethiopian Empire
Battles/warsFirst Italo-Ethiopian War Battle of Segale (1916)

Ras Mikael had a strong relationship with both Yohannes IV (who became his godfather) and Menelik II (who became his father-in-law).

Ras Michael had played a pivotal role in Ethiopian history. His Wollo army was one of the most powerful in Northern Ethiopia, and the Wollo cavalry was renowned throughout the empire. Ras Michael fought with Emperor Yohannes in the Battle of Gallabat against the Mahdist Sudanese. Loyal to the end, he held the dying Yohannes in his arms. Ras Mikael also led the Wollo Oromo cavalry during the Battle of Adwa fighting together with Menelik II, Ras Mekonnen, Ras Mengesha and Negus Tekle Haimanot.[1]


Early careerEdit

Ras Mikael was born in Wollo, and as a Muslim, he was named Mohammed Ali. His father was Imam Ali Abba Bula, an ethnic Oromo from the powerful Wallo dynasty. His mother Woizero Getie was reportedly a Christian noblewoman who was of Oromo and Amhara descent. Mohammed Ali's lineage included both Oromo and Amharic speaking ancestors attesting to the multiethnic populace of Wollo.[2]

Conversion to ChristianityEdit

In the infamous "Council of Boru Meda," Emperor Yohannes forced Mohammed Ali and the Muslim aristocrats of Wollo to convert to Christianity within three months or renounce their positions. "Having concluded that Wollo was worth a mass," Marcus claims, "Mohammad Ali led his people to Christianity." Nevertheless, while some of the leaders of Wollo converted to Christianity, the vast majority of the Muslim populace of Wollo refused to convert and revolted. As a consequence, Atse Yohanne campaigned throughout Wollo, massacring thousands of Wollo Muslims to break their resistance. Mohammed Ali was baptized with the name "Mikael" and became a Ras (equivalent to "Duke"). Many Muslims from Wollo left for sanctuary in Metemma, Jimma, and Harar.[3]

Baptism and marriageEdit

Emperor Yohannes IV stood as his godfather at his baptism. Ras Mikael of Wollo, as he was now known, eventually married Shoaregga Menelik,[nb 1] Menelik's natural daughter, becoming the third of his four wives.

Mikael founded Dessie, the first town in Wollo and its new capital. It is claimed that Ras Mikael became a deeply devout Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Christian, and a dedicated builder of churches.[citation needed]

Battle of AdwaEdit

In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, Ras Mikael fought with Menelik and led the feared Wollo cavalry against the invading Italians at the Battle of Adwa. An Italian brigade began a fighting retreat towards the main Italian positions. However, the brigade inadvertently marched into a narrow valley where Mikael's cavalry slaughtered them while shouting "Reap! Reap!". The remains of the brigade's commander were never found.[4]

Battle of SegaleEdit

Following Menelik's death in 1913, Mikael's son and Emperor Menelik's grandson, Lij Iyasu. Per Menelik's wishes, Ras Tessema Nadew became the Regent for Menelik's 18-year-old grandson. However, that same year, Tessema Nadew died. While Iyasu was now on his own, he was never fully accepted. More importantly, he was never formally crowned Emperor. However, on the instructions of Iyasu, his father Mikael was anointed Negus or king of Wollo and Tigray. Negus Mikael then became the power behind the throne.[5]

During World War I, concerns arose over Iyasu's ties to the Central Powers, over his possible support for Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, and over his potential conversion to Islam. In response to these concerns, on 27 September 1916, Iyasu was deposed by a council of nobles and high clergy, and Mikael's sister-in-law, Woizero Zewditu, was pronounced Negiste Negest ("Queen of Kings") Zewditu I. Zewditu was another of Menelik's daughters, and at the same time that she was made Empress, the council also proclaimed as Regent and Heir to the Throne, young Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Emperor Haile Selassie I. The new Regent and Heir Ras Tafari was married to Woizero (later Empress) Menen Asfaw, a granddaughter of Negus Mikael by his daughter Woizero Sehin Mikael.

Negus Mikael's response to Iyasu being deposed was swift. On 7 October 1916, Mikael set out from Wollo at the head of an army of 80,000 men to invade Shewa and to reinstate his son; Iyasu would join him there with an army of his own. On 27 October, Negus Mikael confronted the main body of the forces supporting Zewditu in the Battle of Segale. Mikael attacked first, but ammunition for his machine guns ran out early and his artillery was silenced quickly. His infantry and cavalry assaults ran directly into the murderous fire of an enemy ready for his attacks.[6] Iyasu was detoured on his way to the battlefield and arrived too late to help. He was only able to see that his father was defeated, and fled the battlefield and went into hiding.[7] Mikael was captured and put under the supervision of Fitawrari ("Commander of the Vanguard") Habte Giyorgis, who confined him on an island in Lake Chabo in Gurageland. After two and a half years, Mikael successfully petitioned to Empress Zewditu to be moved from the island, and he was put under house arrest at Holeta Genet at a former country home of the late Emperor Menelik II, where he died six months later.[8] As the grandfather of the wife of the Crown Prince, Negus Mikael was given full mourning by the royal court.

Death and intermentEdit

Negus Mikael and some of his family members was buried in this mausoleum.

Negus Mikael died on 8 September 1922. The body was then carried from Holeta (Menagesha) to Tenta for burial. The king was buried in Tenta St Mikael Church.

Inscription on the death and burial of Negus Mikael of Wollo
Negus Mikael Tomb Inscription of all buried family members

A mausoleum, with a dome shaped roofing, is found in the church's compound about 20 metres from the church's building. The king, Negus Mikael, was buried in this mausoleum. Together with the king, two family members are also buried there: his sons Gebrehiwot Mikael and Ali Mikael, together with Negus Mikael's sister, Yetemegn Mere'ed.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Also spelled "Shewa Regga".
  1. ^ Marcus, Menelik II, p. 58
  2. ^ "Negus Mikael — allaboutETHIO".
  3. ^ Marcus, Menelik II, p. 58
  4. ^ George Fitz-Hardinge Berkeley, Campaign of Adowa (1902), quoted in Lewis, Fashoda, p. 118.
  5. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2002), p. 385
  6. ^ Gebre-Igziabiher Elyas, Prowess, Piety, and Politics: The Chronicle of Abeto Iyasu and Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia (1909-1930), translated by Edward Molvaer (Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 1994), pp. 372-375
  7. ^ Harold G. Marcus, Haile Sellassie I the Formative years: 1892-1936 (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), pp. 25f
  8. ^ Gebre-Igzabiher Elyas, Chronicle, pp. 400f


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