Amba Mariam

Amba Mariam
Amba Mariam
አምባ ማሪያም
Amba Mariam is located in Ethiopia
Amba Mariam
Location in Ethiopia
Coordinates: 11°12′N 39°17′E / 11.2°N 39.283°E / 11.2; 39.283
Country Ethiopia
Region Amhara Region
Zone Debub Wollo Zone
Population (2005)
 - Total 1,899 (est)

Amba Mariam is a village in central Ethiopia. It was known as Magdala or Meqdela (መቅደላ meḳdelā) during the reign of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia. Located in the Debub Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region, Amba Mariam has a longitude and latitude of 11°12′N 39°17′E / 11.2°N 39.283°E / 11.2; 39.283Coordinates: 11°12′N 39°17′E / 11.2°N 39.283°E / 11.2; 39.283.

Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, this town has an estimated total population of 1,899 of whom 988 were males and were 911 females.[1] The 1994 census reported this town had a total population of 1,091 of whom 520 were males and 571 were females. It is one of three towns in Tenta woreda.


British naval and support ships at the Gulf of Zula in December 1867

By the early 19th century, Magdala was a mountain stronghold, or amba of the Wollo Oromo; when Johann Ludwig Krapf camped at its foot 26 March 1842, it was one of the strongholds of Imam Liban of the Were Himano, a "House" or a sub-group of the Wollo.[2] Emperor Tewodros II conquered Magdala on 22 September 1855.[3] He constructed a number of buildings on the top of the mountain, including a church and a palace. In 1867, he imprisoned several British diplomats inside the fortress over a perceived insult from Queen Victoria. A British military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier landed at the Gulf of Zula on 4 December and set up a base camp at Zula before advancing on Magdala, which they reached in April, 1868. Abandoned by the nobility and his followers, and after his remaining troops engaged the British forces at the Battle of Magdala. Tewodros withdrew into the fortress on Amba Mariam and killed himself with a pistol a few days later as the final assault began. This incident is fictionalized in the novel Flashman on the March.

The British entered the capital, where they rescued the diplomats. Before departing from Abyssinia, Sir Robert allowed his troops to loot and burn Magdala, including its churches. The expedition looted a large number of treasures and religious items such as tabots, which today one can still see in various museums and libraries in Europe, as well as in private collections. A few items have been returned to Ethiopia, the most important being the crown of Tewodros II, which King George V personally presented to the future Emperor Haile Selassie on his visit to England in 1925.

As of 2009 little remains of Tewodros's capital; the most visible item being Tewodros's cannon "Sebastopol".

The abandoned fortress was occupied briefly by Lij Iyasu after the defeat of his supporters in the Battle of Segale; troops of the victors subjected him and his followers to an unethusiastic siege. On 18 July 1917, Iyasu slipped through the siege lines and rallied the peasantry of Wollo to revolt; the rebellion was crushed and many of Iyasu's generals were captured, forcing Lij Iyasu to flee to the Afar Depression.[4]


  1. ^ CSA 2005 National Statistics, Table B.3
  2. ^ Journals of the Rev. Messrs. Isenberg and Krapf, Missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Detailing their proceedings in the kingdom of Shoa, and journeys in other parts of Abyssinia, in the years 1839, 1840, 1841 and 1842, (London, 1843), p. 357
  3. ^ Sven Rubenson, King of Kings: Tewodros of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1966), p. 52
  4. ^ Harold Marcus, Haile Sellassie I: The Formative Years (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), pp. 24-30

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