Battle of Debre Abbay

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Battle of Debre Abbay
Date14 February 1831
Tigray province, Ethiopia
Result Yejju victory
Tigray Yejju Oromo
Commanders and leaders
Dejazmach Sabagadis Ras Marye of Yejju (KIA)

The Battle of Debre Abbay was a conflict between Ras Marye of Yejju, Regent of the Emperor of Ethiopia, and his rival from Tigray, Dejazmach Sabagadis of Agame. Although Ras Marye lost his life in this battle, Dejazmach Sabagadis was defeated, and after surrendering was executed by Ras Marye's Oromo followers.

Ras, is a royal title in the Ethiopian Semitic languages. It is one of the powerful non-imperial titles.

Marye of Yejju was a Ras of Begemder and Enderase (regent) of the Emperor of Ethiopia. He was the brother of his predecessor Ras Yimam.

Emperor of Ethiopia Hereditary rulers of the Ethiopian Empire

The Emperor of Ethiopia was the hereditary ruler of the Ethiopian Empire, until the abolition of the monarchy in 1975. The Emperor was the head of state and head of government, with ultimate executive, judicial and legislative power in that country. A National Geographic article called imperial Ethiopia "nominally a constitutional monarchy; in fact [it was] a benevolent autocracy".

Ras Marye had inherited the mantle of Regent of the Emperor of Ethiopia, and while admittedly a Christian, his Oromo ancestry caused much resentment from the other Christian aristocrats and nobles of Ethiopia. Dejazmach Sabagadis attempted to exploit this antipathy, and succeeded in forming a coalition with his fellow Christian lords of Gojjam, Lasta and Semien against Ras Marye.

Gojjam province

Gojjam is in the northwestern part of Ethiopia with its capital city at Debre Marqos. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is the largest lake in Ethiopia.

Lasta is a historic district in north-central Ethiopia. It is the district in which Lalibela is situated, the former capital of Ethiopia during the Zagwe dynasty and home to 11 medieval rock-hewn churches.

Forewarned of this plot, Ras Marye struck first and defeated the members of this coalition individually. After defeating Dejazmach Goshu in Gojjam, Ras Marye turned north and marched into Semien and attacked Dejazmach Wube Haile Maryam; Sabagadis failed to come to the help of his ally, and Wube decided to submit to the Ras than face him alone. Having isolated Sebagadis, Ras Marye now crossed the Tekezé River against his rival, supported not only by Oromo contingents from Wollo, Yejju, Begemder and Amhara but also by the armies of Dejazmaches Wube and Goshu.

Wube Haile Maryam

Wube Haile Maryam, also called Wube Haile Mariam or Dejazmach Wube, (1800–1867) was a regional ruler and dejazmach in Tigray, Simien, and other coastal territories, in an area that is now part of northern Ethiopia and central Eritrea. Wube is remembered in Eritrea for barbarous military raids. He was defeated and imprisoned in 1855 by Kassa Hailu. Some sources date Wube's defeat as the end of Ethiopia's Zemene Mesafint era.

Tekezé River river in Ethiopia

The Tekezé or Täkkäze River, also spelled Takkaze, is a major river of Ethiopia. For part of its course it forms a section the westernmost border of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The river is also known as the Setit in Eritrea, western Ethiopia, and eastern Sudan. According to materials published by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency, the Tekezé River is 608 kilometers (378 mi) long. The canyon which it has created is the deepest in Africa and one of the deepest in the world, at some points having a depth of over 2000 meters.

Begemder province

Begemder was a province in the northwestern part of Ethiopia.

The opposing armies met on 14 February 1831 at Mai Islami near Debre Abbay (which is why this battle is also sometimes called the Battle of Mai Islami). Although Sabagadis had the superiority of a far larger number of firearms, his matchlockmen were poorly employed and failed to overcome the vaunted Oromo cavalry. The battle resulted in immense casualties, one of whom was Ras Marye. Defeated, the Dejazmach sought to escape the vengeance of Ras Marye's kinsmen by surrendering to his former ally Wube; Wube handed the Dejazmach over to his victorious allies, and the Oromo executed Sebagadis. [1]

Debre Abbay is a monastery of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church located at the edge of the canyon of the Tekezé River in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. The monastery dates from the 14th century, and has important connections with Ethiopian history: the Emperor Zara Yaqob was educated there until his 14th year, the Battle of Debre Abbay was fought nearby 14 February 1831, and notable Ethiopian scholars, such as Gedamu Woldegiorgis, continued to be educated there well into the early to mid-1900s.

Matchlock Firearm mechanism

The matchlock was the first mechanism invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. Before this, firearms had to be fired by applying a lit match to the priming powder in the flash pan by hand; this had to be done carefully, taking most of the soldier's concentration at the moment of firing, or in some cases required a second soldier to fire the weapon while the first held the weapon steady. Adding a matchlock made the firing action simple and reliable by a single soldier, allowing them to keep both hands steadying the gun and eyes on the target while firing.

The Oromo people are a Cushitic ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia. They are the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia and represent 34.5% of Ethiopia's population. Oromos speak the Oromo language as a mother tongue, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The word Oromo appeared in European literature for the first time in 1893 and slowly became common in the second half of the 20th century.

The Oromo ravaged Tigray under their new leader, Ras Dori of Yejju, but withdrew to Begemder due to his increasing illness before his death. [2] In the chaos that followed Sabagadis' death, Wube emerged as the primary warlord of Tigray.

Dori of Yejju was a Ras of Begemder and Inderase (regent) of the Emperor of Ethiopia. He was the brother of his predecessor Marye of Yejju.

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  1. The outline of this battle is based on Abir, The Era of the Princes: the Challenge of Islam and the Re-unification of the Christian empire, 1769-1855 (London: Longmans, 1968), pp. 35f.
  2. Samuel Gobat describes the terror following this defeat in his Journal of Three years' Residence in Abyssinia, 1851 (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), pp. 385-9.