Ethiopia is an ancient country, traditionally dating back to before 1000 B.C. Its borders were vague but generally included both southern Egypt and Sudan (Nubia). It was called an empire because it was made up of several kingdoms.
According to tradition, Menelik I, a son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, founded the dynasty that ruled, with minor interruptions, from the 10th century B.C. into the 20th century.
Christianity was introduced into Ethiopia in the fourth century A.D. Muslim attacks in the seventh century stripped Ethiopia of its outer territories. The Ethiopians remained Christians, but were isolated from Europe for about 700 years. The country came to be called by the Arabic name Abyssinia.
Modern Ethiopian history began with the reign of Theodore II. In 1855 he united the nation by defeating the last of the independent chiefs. The British deposed Theodore in 1868 because of his harsh treatment of British subjects. In the ensuing struggle for the throne, Menelik II emerged as ruler in 1889. He negotiated a treaty with Italy that the Italians claimed placed Ethiopia under their protection. In 1890 Italy made the coastal region, Eritrea, a colony. Menelik II renounced his treaty with Italy in 1895, and a year later defeated the invading Italians at Aduwa.
In 1923 Ethiopia officially assumed its present name. In 1930, Tafari Makonnen, who had been regent since 1916, became Emperor Haile Selassie I. Italy invaded the country in 1935 and Haile Selassie fled into exile.
Ethiopia was the first of the Axis-held territories to be retaken in World War II. In 1941 Haile Selassie returned with the British, who occupied the country until 1945.
Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952 and made a province—over Eritrean objections—in 1962. The Eritreans then began a guerrilla campaign for independence.
Meanwhile, Haile Selassie worked to modernize Ethiopia's legal system, government, educational institutions, and armed forces. He continued to be an absolute monarch, however, and the country remained feudal and backward. Most land was owned by the nobility and the church, and the peasants were largely sharecroppers.
In 1974, military officers, concerned with the slow pace of reform, deposed the emperor and abolished the monarchy. Industry was nationalized and agriculture was reorganized into cooperatives and collectives. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam emerged as sole ruler in 197 7 and set up a Soviet-style Marxist dictatorship. Soon afterward, a number of groups, including the Eritreans, Somalis, and Tigreans, attempted to secede, and their rebellions continued throughout the 1980's. The country suffered from widespread starvation caused by severe drought and war conditions.
In 1989 an alliance of rebel groups, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was formed, and in 1991 it overthrew the government and abolished the constitution. In 1993 Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia. In 1995, the Ethiopian government adopted a new constitution providing for a federal form of government, and held democratic elections.
In 1998, a large-scale war broke out with Eritrea concerning a disputed border. In 1999 fighting between the two countries spread to allied militias in Somalia. Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace accord in 2000 and agreed to have a United Nations peacekeeping force monitor the disputed border.