States of Violence, to c.1870
This chapter seeks to explain the significance and nature of the violence—known as the zemene mesafint—which convulses the region from the Eritrean highland plateau (the kebessa) and adjacent lowlands, down through Tigray, and into the central Amhara-dominated Ethiopian Highlands between c.1770 and the mid-nineteenth century. It describes the increasing prevalence of militarism in political culture and interaction across the region, and the heightened struggle between Tigray, Gojjam, and Shoa, among other polities. The chapter examines in depth the rise of Tewodros, who best exemplifies the shifta tradition in regional politics, and examines the turbulent relations between the remade Christian state and expanding Islam. It is argued here that Tewodros is the nineteenth-century embodiment of the fertile frontier—in his methods of war and deployment of violence, and in his political vision.
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