Background of the history of the changing boundary of Ethiopia (particularly Tigray) during the last 150 years

Tigray, the credile of civilization of the Horn of Africa, is found in north Ethiopia.

The ongoing war in Tigray (started november 2020) has made the independence of Tigray imminent.

In this website we focus on issues that may be raised during the process of becoming independent. We have collected reference documents, articles and made links to publications about Tigray by all types of media.

In this page, we discuss about the boundary of Tigray, one issue that comes in mind when thinking of independence.

We have maps that show how the boundaries of both Tigray during the last 150 years and tell you short history why the changes took place. Click on the link in sidebar to see the maps.

In another page click here we have maps that show how the boundaries Abyssenia/Ethiopia during the same period.

Background of the history of the changing boundary of Ethiopia (particularly Tigray) during the last 150 years

Abyssenia/Ethiopia had no clearly demarcated boundary before 1855. It didin't also had a central government until 1855. For a couple of centuries it had passed through the period called 'Zemene Mesafnt'. Meaning the period of the prices, when each price had his own region under his/her administration. It was Emperor Tewodros (from Kimant region) that ended 'Zemene Mesafint'. In 1855 Atse Tewodros had forcefully ruled several regions of Abyssenia. He had marked boundaries of several regions like Shewa, Gojam, Wolo and Tigray. Thus the year 1855 is marked as the begining of existence of modern united Abyssenia/Ethiopia.

Internationally recognized demarcation of boundries of Abyssenia took place during the reign of emperor Minilik (1889-1913). Minilik had made deals with European colonizers of the East and Horn of Africa. Like that, he made a deal Italy, by which Italy was offered the Northern part of Abyssenia (now called Eritrea). Unfortunately the deal was made so as sujugate Tigray in the north and to claim and expnad territories to the south and to the east. It is unfortunate that he let the Italians colonize northern Tigray (now Eritrea) and made Abyssenia land locked. The expantion to the south was also unfortunate, because a lot of native had lost their lives fighting the brutal Amhara expantionists (so called neftegnas).The area of expantion was much larger than the Abyssenia that was governed by the prdecessors of Minilik.

However, the southern peoples never considered themselves Abyssenians. They had their own history and they wanted to retain it while Emperor Minlik and later emperor Haileslasse didn't let that happen. They resented Abyssenia and distanced themselves from sharing the history of Abyssenia. This resentment had resulted in the abolishment of the name Abyssenia. In the early 1930's Emperor Haileselasse officially changed the name to Ethiopia. Acoording to Haileselasse and his ruling Amhara elites, the name Ethiopia would be inclusive to all people living in the territory.

Later in the 60's the resentment, including Tigray, got another form, the so colled liberation fronts of many nations and nationalities. In 1991 the old regime was overthrown and the nations and nationalities and created new constitution that included ther right of self determination. Mainly the EPRDF was responsible for this. EPRDF diveded the country into 9 states and ruled the country for 27 years (1991-2018). In those 27 years Ethiopia was relatively peaceful and economic development was considerable.

In 2018, Abiy Ahmed came to power. It didn't take long time to understnd Abiy has plans to bring back the old type unionist Ahmara (neftegna) regime. The nations and nationalities don't allow this to happen and have started to fight for selfrule. Some of them are demanding independence from Ethiopia.

The fighting regional states want the territorie clearley demarketed. One of the strongest advocate of selfrule is the regional state of Tigray. Therefore government Abiy and Amrhara rgion innitiated the devastating war against Tigray in november 2020. As the result of this people of Tigray are now demanding more than selfrule, i.e. independence. No tigryan has had independent idea in his mind before the start of the war. But now, with all the atrocities that are taking place in Tigray the indipendence of Tigray has become imminent. Large majority (possibly 99%) of Tigray people don't want to stay with Ethiopia anymore.

Now, the issue clear demacation of the boundries Ethiopia's regional states has never been so important. The latest demarcation of the boundary regional states was made in 1991, as mentioned above. The aim of the demarcation was to avoid disintegration of Ethiopia. If nations and nationalites are to become independent then they would have to demand the boundaries they had before the beginning of expantion by Minilik 1889. For the Abyssinians, the boundaries that go back to the years between 1855 and 1889. There was no clear demarcation of boundry during the Zemene Mesafint (that ended 1855).

Now Ethiopia is in danger of disintegration the question arises what will be the territory of Tigray when it becomes independent? Certainly, Tigray will have to reclaim its historical boundaries that go back to 1855. This is one of the main issue we address in this website. We believe it is important for the implementation of the indepence of Tigray. This is certainly so because the boundary, of Tigray and also that of Ethiopia, has changed several times during the last 150 years.

In this website we will show you maps of the changing boundaries and tell you short history why the changes took place. We have collected of reference documents, Articles and made links to publications about Tigray by all types of media.

In the sidebar of this page you find maps showing the changing boundries of Tigray during the last 150 years. Click on the links under each sidebar to see the map of the period you are intersted in.

The following link takes you the the page where you can see the maps of the changing boundaries of Ethiopia during the last 150 years.

See 150 years maps of Ethiopia

The changing boundaries of Tigray & Abyssinia/Ethiopia from 1855-2021

It is important to understand what is meant by Abyssenia and Ethiopia. Until the early 1930's, the name Abyssenia was synonimous to Ethiopia. It was only during the Haileselasee rule name Abyssenia was abolished.

However, the name Abyssenia was the collective name of several regions in northern Ethiopia. Before 1855, the regions Tigray, Agew midir, Gojam, Shewa and Wollo made the country Abyssenia. These regions of Abyssenia existed for centuries and were geographically, ethinicaly or religiously bounded. Abyssenia itself had no clearly demarcated boundary until 1889. The boundary of Abyssenia was internationally demarcated, for the first time, just like any other African countries during the colonization (scramble for Africa) period. As mentioned above the demarcation took place during the reign of emperor Minilik (1989-1913).

The old regions of Abyssenia had known selfrule. They had their own local govenors and administration. The highest ranking governers had the titles of Ras (princes). There were Ras's of Tigray, Gojam, Shewa, Agew and Wollo etc. Such governors becomes Nigus (king) when other region or regions are included in the administration and taxes were willingly or forcefully collected from the regions.

As to the name Ethiopia the 17 century map tells different story than is known by the Ethiopians themselfves. As is shown in the 17th centuries map of Africa the name Ethiopia was associated to what is now called Sub-sahara Africa. The North Atlantic Ocean was also called the Ethiopian Ocean. During the scramble for Africa the world never knew the existence of a country called Ethiopia. Abyssenia on the other hand use well documented in books written in the 19th century and the first half of 20th century. When the Italians invaded a country with the name Abyssenia not Ethiopia. The Italians invaded a country called Abyssinia in the 19th century not a country called Ethiopia.

Click the link below to the the 17th century map of Africa and read what Ethiopia meant by then.

See 17th century map

The name Ethiopia was not known to Abyssenians during the Zemene Mesafint. The 3000 years old history that Ethiopia claims is actually the history of Axumites, particularly that of Tigray Abyssenians. That history of Ethiopia is inherited from Abyssenia when Haileselasse changed the name Ethiopia. If Tigray becomes independent Ethiopia has no background to claim that history. This adds to the liability of the disintegration of Ethiopia, as most states don't consider themselves as Abyssnians.

It was Atse Tewodros from Kimant (ruled 1855-1867) who forcefully succeeded to rule several regions under the name Abyssenia.

Atse (emperor) Yohannes (ruled 1867-1889) from Tigray succeeded Tewodros and continued to rule Abyssenia. He had correctly claimed the title of 'niguse negest' (king of kings) of Abyssenia, since he had several kings under his Administration. Yohannes fought and defended Abyseenia from foreign invaders (Egypt, Turkey, Italy, the Mahadists etc). Emperor Yohannes had secured the northern boundary, the Red Sea, of Abyssenia. The region Shewa constituted the southern boundry of his administration.

Atse Minilik (ruled 1889-1913) who ruled Abyssenia after Yohannes had made deals to demarcate the boundaries of Abyssenia. To the North (as mentioned above) he handed over the Red Sea including northern Tigray (now Eritrea) to the Italians. To the south he expanded Abyssenia territory to what is now known as Ethiopia. The territory of Ethiopia is much bigger than Abyssenia.

Queen Zewditu (daughter of Minilik) and Lij Eyassu (a nefey) ruled Abyssenia (ruled 1913-1931).
Atse Haileselasee (ruled 1931-1974) officially changed the name Abyssenia to Ethiopia in the early 1930's. He also divided Ethiopia into 13 provinces. By doing so he took distance from the name Abyssenia. Later in the early 1960's he made Eritrea the 14th province of Ethiopia.

Colonel Mengistu, Derg- military junta, (1974-1991) tried to retain Ethiopia as is, but failed. Eritrea became independent in 1991 (officially 1993).

Mr. Meles Zenawi (ruled 1991-2012) from Tigray, divided Ethiopia into 9 regions based on language and Ethnicity. His successor Mr. Hailemariam failed to govern the country as is and handed the power over to Mr. Abiy Ahmed in 2018.

Abiy Ahmed (2018 - now) has not changed the boundaries yet. Unfortunately Abiy is not taken long to recognize Abiy as a despotic dictator. Since he came to power, 3 years ago, he has proved hemself to be against self rule of the regions. He has manifested that in almost all of the regions. Many known well known Ethiopian politicians are killed and many, tens of thousands kept in prison during the last 3 years.

Tigray was the only region that Abiy could not subjugate easily. Thus, he made alliance with foreign countries and Amhara regional government and invaded Tigray in november 2020. Since then, Tigray is figting back and determined to rule itself. However, with almost a total of 1,000,000 armed soldiers fighting in Tigray, the damage and the atrocities that took place in Tigray are beyond one can comprehend.

After all these damage, the indipendence of Tigray has become imminent. There is no single Tigraway who wants to remain Ethiopian. Subsequently, if Tigray becomes independent, other regions will follow the disintegration of Ethiopia will be the final result. Within a forseable periode Ethiopia will become history, just like Yugoslavia in the the early 1990.

In the sidebars in this page you find maps showing the changing boundries of Tigray during the last 150 years. Click on the links under each sidebar to see the map of the period your interst.

Read about the changing boundary of Tigray