Seble Wongel

Seble Wongel (also written Seblewongel, Sabla Wongel, Säblä Wängel, or Seble-Wengél; d. 4 December 1567) was an Empress of Ethiopia through her marriage to Lebna Dengel. She is well-known as a key political and military figure during the Abyssinian–Adal war, as well as the reigns of her sons and grandson.[1][2]

Seble Wongel
Empress of Ethiopia
Tenurepre-1518 – 1540
Dowager Empress
Tenure1540 – 1563
PredecessorNa'od Mogasa
SuccessorAdimas Moas
BornWenag Mogasa
Died4 December 1567
HusbandLebna Dengel
  • Gelawdewos
  • Yaqob
  • Menas
  • Amata-Giyorgis
  • Sabana-Giyorgis
  • Welette-Qiddusan
  • Taodra


Seble Wongel is frequently confused with her 20th-century desendent, Sabla Wangel Hailu. To differentiate the two famous women, people sometimes refer to the earlier empress as Seble Wongel 'Teleq' (the great) or 'Kedamawit' (the first), while the modern figure is referred to with the suffixes 'Hailu', derived from her father's name, 'Dagmawit' (the second), or 'Tinishi' (the little).[3]


Seble Wongel's origins are obscure. Chronicles written in the 16th century imply that she was neither a member of the traditional nobility nor any group integrated with the Christian kingdom under the authority of the Ethiopian Emperor, meaning that her marriage was a major dynastic and political alliance.[4] By contrast with previous emperors, Seble Wongel was the only wife, which won Lebna Dengel praise from contemporary Christian writers.[5]

Popular tradition from the 18th century onwards holds that she came from Gojjam, though this association with the region may stem from the fact that she later settled there. The 20th-century record The Goggam Chronicle by Aleqa Tekle Iyesus suggests that Seble Wongel was a descendant of Ğara Šum from Enemay.[6] While it is not clear if Seble Wongel actually came from Gojjam, it has been suggested that these later claims do not contradict 16th-century chronicles that record Seble Wongel as coming from outside the Ethiopian realm of direct control, as Gojjam enjoyed a high degree of autonomay at the time, and possibly not all of the area was Christian.[4]

Abyssinian–Adal WarEdit

The reign of Lebna Dengel and his successor Gelawdewos were marked by wars between the Ethiopian Empire and the muslim Adal Sultanate. From 1529 to 1543, the Adal swept through Ethiopian lands, leading almost to the destruction of the state.[7]

In 1539, Seble Wongel's mother was killed when the Adal attacked the region,[8] and the eldest of Seble Wongel's sons was captured and killed by the warlord Garad Utman. The same year, another son, Menas was captured by Imam Ahmed.

In 1542, Ethiopian and Portuguese forces fought the army of Imam Ahmed of the Adal Sultanate at Wofla. The Adal were victorious, and 120 Portuguese soldiers fled with Seble Wongel to the region of Semen.[9] Gelawdewos originally left Semen, but rejoined his mother in October 1542, pursued by Imam Ahmed. On 17 November 1542, Gelawdewos' forces and the Portuguese defeated the Adal, killing key leaders before returning to Shawada. After this, the Ethiopian-Portuguese army won several decisive battles, concluding with the death of Imam Ahmed and subsequent route of the army at Wayna Daga on 21 February 1543.[10] Imam Ahmed's wife, Bati del Wambara, escaped with 40 Turkish soldiers and 300 horsemen.[11]

The eldest son of Bati del Wambara and Imam Ahmed was captured at Wayna Daga, and Seble Wongel used him to barter for the life of her son Menas, who had been held captive by the Adal for 5 years. Through her influence, as well as that of Bati del Wambara, a prisoner exchange was conducted, and Menas was returned to Ethiopia.[12]

Menas' reignEdit

Menas established the kingdom's base in the region of Mengiste Semayat, and Seble Wongel left with him in 1559. By 1563, Seble Wongel had made her official residence in this region at Kidane Mehret church.[13]


  • Husband: Lebna Dengel (1496 – 2 September 1540) (ልብነ ድንግል)
  1. Fiqtor (d. 1539)[14]
  2. Yaqob (d. 1558)
    1. Fasilides
      1. Susenyos I (1572 – 17 September 1632)
    2. Lesana Krestos
      1. Za Dengel (d. 24 October 1604)
  3. Menas (d. 1563)
    1. Sarsa Dengel (1550 – 4 October 1597)
  4. Gelawdewos (c. 1521 – 23 March 1559)[15]
  5. Amata-Giyorgis
  6. Sabana-Giyorgis
  7. Welette-Qiddusan[16]
  8. Taodra, or possibly Theodora[17]


  1. ^ Margaux 2009.
  2. ^ Beyene (2016), p. 184.
  3. ^ Margaux (2009), p. 27.
  4. ^ a b Margaux (2009), p. 13.
  5. ^ Beyene (2016), p. 45–46.
  6. ^ Margaux (2009), p. 12.
  7. ^ Beyene (2016), p. 31.
  8. ^ Molvaer (1998), p. 34.
  9. ^ Nurhusien (2017), p. 57.
  10. ^ Nurhusien (2017), p. 57–62.
  11. ^ Nurhusien (2017), p. 62.
  12. ^ Castanhoso (1902), p. xxxiv.
  13. ^ Margaux (2009), p. 11.
  14. ^ Captured and killed by forces of Imam Ahmad.
  15. ^ The youngest son according to Asma Giyorgis 1987, p.151.
  16. ^ Not listed in all records.
  17. ^ Not listed in all records.


  • Asma Giyorgis, Ato (1987). Asma Giyorgis and His Work: History of the Galla and the Kingdom of Šawa. Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag. ISBN 3515037160.
  • Beyene, Solomon Gebreyes (2016). The Chronicle of King Gälawdewos (1540–1559): A Critical Edition with Annotated Translation (PhD). University of Hamburg.
  • Castanhoso, Miguel de (1902). Whiteway, R.S. (ed.). The Portuguese expedition to Abyssinia in 1541-1543 as narrated by Castanhoso. London: Redford Press. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  • Margaux, Herman (2009). "Sabla Wangêl,the queen of the Kingdom of Heaven". Addis Ababa University Institute of Ethiopian Studies XVII International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Addis Ababa: HAL archives-ouvertes. pp. 2–30.
  • Molvaer, Reidulf K. (1998). "The Tragedy of Emperor Libne-Dingil of Ethiopia (1508-1540)". Northeast African Studies. 5 (2): 23–46. doi:10.1353/nas.1998.0011. S2CID 143584847.
  • Nurhusien, Muhammed (2017). A survey of historical heritages in Gondar Zuria Woreda: from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century (MA). University of Gondar.