Q1. When did the word "Ethiopia" start to be associated wit the 14 provinces? Who was the first king who ruled all the 14 provinces of Ethiopia? How and When?


Area administration and defense are one of the features and functions of any state. By definition the Ethiopian state has always been associated with "province". The problem is, however, how one defines a "province". To give examples:

a) as a region which constituted natural communities based on ancestral tradition such as a name of a tribe, or

b) as an administrative, judicial and military unit (governorates), or

c) as a territorial tax unit.

The problem does not stop here; one is also required to explain the time frame (at what point in time), for old Ethiopia knew many other meanings of this word. As an illustration, we can take the word "Medr". If you see the Land Charters of Northern Ethiopia (by Huntingford, pp. 22-23), the term Medr was used to refer large geographical area such as Medr Sire, Medr Serea, as in the case of Agaw Medr. By the time of King Fasilades (1632-67), the term Medr was used to refer to a farm land (see, articles written on land ownership by Donald Crummey). We have also other terms such as Hagar, Beher, N{garit, Qemes, Gult, Gizat, etc. which need investigation.

In Ethiopian historiography the study on the relationship between local society and the state is very recent, and to my knowledge, there is no publication on such theme. If I am allowed, I recommend readers to refer the following relevant literature to get an insight to the problem:

On the political boundaries of Aksum read Sergew Habte Sellasie 1972. "Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History, Addis Ababa.",

On the Medieval and Early Modern Period read

-- Taddesse Tamrat 1972. Church and State in Ethiopia, 1270-1527. Oxford

-- Merid W. Aregay 1974 "Political Geography of Ethiopia at the Sixteenth Century" in IV Congresso Internazionale di Studie Etiopici, 10-15 April, Tomo I, Roma.

-- Huntingford, G.W.B. 1989. The Historical Geography of Ethiopia. From the First Century AD to 1704. New York.

On the Modern period and for an illustrative view of earlier period see

-- Ethiopia: Cradle of Civilization or National Atlas of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Mapping Authority. Addis Ababa. 1988. pp. 64-74.

-- Asmelash Beyene 1987. "Some Notes on the Evolution of Regional Administration in Ethiopia" in Development Research, V.9. N.1.

This last article by Asmelash provides answer to the question on "14 provinces" which was during the time of Haile Selassie. Yohannes and Menelik followed a policy of Gizat (fiscal military territorial unit--my definition), and during the reign of Menelik one finds 11 areas governed by Rases, 17 N{garit areas governed by Dejazmach, 8 areas under Wuchi D{jazmach, 12 under Fitawrari, 22 under K!nazmach, 7 under Grazmach, and 8 under Balambaras. Emperor Theodros had a different policy known as Hag{r B{ge (literally, the country is in my hands). He administered the country not through governors but through Misl{n` (financial district official).

For instance he divided Begemder into 24 financial administrative districts, Tigray was divided into 45 financial districts (Mesl{n`), Gojjam was under royal Mesl{ne, while Shewa was under a provincial committee elected by the king himself. Thus, the question when "Ethiopia" is associated with that number of "province", depends on one's definition of the term province and the historical period in which it was used. The kind of contractual relationship that existed between the king and the governors (or what you have) depended on the policy of the king, custom and laws of the kingdom. For earlier periods see the document of Ser{ at{ M{ngest (Laws and Regulation of the State) translated from Geez into German by Varenbergh, Joseph, "Studien zur abessinischen Reichsordnung" in Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie und Verwandte Gebiete. Strassburg. 1915/16. There is a translation in English by Bairu Tafla, but you do not find the Geez text. On the early modern period see Mahteme Selassie Zekre Neger, pp. 636-654 and passim.

I hope the above references provide answer to the question, and points to the complexity and the problem in our understanding of state and local society in Ethiopia.

Happy Reading

Tsegaye T.