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Ethiopian–Adal War

Ethiopian–Adal War
Part of the Somali-Portuguese conflicts, Ottoman–Portuguese conflicts (1538–1560)

Early 20th century folk drawing of Cristóvão da Gama and Imam Ahmad's deaths.
Date9 March 1529 – 21 February 1543
(13 years, 11 months, 1 week and 5 days)
Status quo ante bellum
 Ethiopian Empire
Portuguese Empire Portuguese Empire (1541–43)
Adal Sultanate
 Ottoman Empire (1542–43)
Commanders and leaders
Ethiopian Empire Dawit II  #
Ethiopian Empire Gelawdewos
Ethiopian Empire Wasan Sagad  
Ethiopian Empire Eslamu  
Ethiopian EmpireTakla Iyasus  
Ethiopian EmpireRobēl  
Portuguese Empire Cristóvão da Gama Executed
Ahmad ibn Ibrahim 
Nur ibn Mujahid
Matan ibn Uthman 
Abu Bakr Qatin
Bati del Wambara
[[Ahmed Girri Bin [4]Hussein Al Somali|Ahmed Girri]]
Wazir Abbas
900,000 50,000
Casualties and losses
500,000+ 20,000

The Ethiopian–Adal War or Abyssinian–Adal War, also known in Arabic as the "Futuḥ al-Ḥabash" (Arabic: فتوح الحبش, conquest of Abyssinia), was a military conflict between the Christian Ethiopian Empire and the Muslim Adal Sultanate from 1529 to 1543. The Christian Ethiopian troops consisted of the Amhara, Tigrayans, Tigrinya and Agaw people, and at the closing of the war, supported by a few hundred Portuguese musketmen. Whereas Adal forces were mainly composed of Harla,[5] Somali,[6] Afar, as well as Arab and Turkish gunmen. Both sides at times would see the Maya mercenaries join their ranks.[7]: 188 


Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi was a military leader of the medieval Adal Sultanate in the northern Horn of Africa. Between 1529 and 1543, he embarked on a campaign referred to as the Futuh Al-Habash, bringing the three-quarters of Christian Abyssinia under the control of the Muslim empire.[8] With an army composed of Afar, Harari, and Somalis,[9] al-Ghazi's forces came close to extinguishing the ancient Ethiopian kingdom. However, the Abyssinians managed to secure the assistance of Cristóvão da Gama's Portuguese troops and maintain their domain's autonomy. Both polities exhausted their resources and manpower in the process, resulting in the contraction of the two powers and altering regional dynamics for centuries to come. Many historians trace the origin of hostile Ethiopia–Somalia relations to this war.[10] Some scholars also argue that this conflict proved the value, through their use on both sides, of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons, and the arquebus over traditional weapons.[11]

Course of the war

In 1529, Imam Ahmad's Adal troops defeated a larger Ethiopian contingent at the Battle of Shimbra Kure. The Harari cavalry was instrumental in this battle, as the Abyssinian troops were outmaneuvered.[12]

The victories that gave the followers of Imam Ahmad the upper hand came in 1531. The first was the Battle of Antukyah, where cannon fire at the start panicked the Ethiopian soldiers. The second was the Battle of Amba Sel, where troops under the Imam not only defeated but dispersed the Ethiopian army and captured items of the Imperial regalia. These victories allowed the Adalites to enter the Ethiopian highlands, where they began to sack and burn numerous churches, including Atronsa Maryam, where the remains of several Emperors had been interred.[13]

He defeated the armies of Agame and Tembien and marched towards Aksum to capture the historical Ethiopian city to solidify his rule in Ethiopia, echoing Mehmed II conquest of Constantinople, but the locals of Tigray had all assembled to defend their holy city. The Imam defeated and killed a large number of them as Arab Faqīh states, "Not a single one managed to slip away. They killed them in the forts, in the valleys and in the gorges. The ground was so thickly covered with their corpses, that it was impossible to walk in that place because of the dead bodies." he estimates that over 10,000 Christians were killed. The Imam reached Aksum he besieged the city in the siege of Axum where upon he destroyed the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. During his invasion of the Tigray region Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi visited the tomb of Najashi in Negash to pay his respects.[4]

Dawit II died in September 2nd, 1540. and his son and future emperor Prince Menas was captured by the forces of Imam Ahmad; the Empress was unable to react as she was besieged in the capital. The first Adalite encounter with Portuguese forces occurred in 1541, when the latter were marooned in Massawa following their defeat at the hands of the Ottomans at the 1541 Battle of Suez. The Portuguese forces would be ambushed by the Adalites at the Battle of Massawa in the same year.[14] In 1543, a smaller number of Abyssinians soundly defeated the larger Adal-Ottoman army[15] with the help of the Portuguese navy, which brought 400 musketeers led by Cristóvão da Gama via Massawa, a port in the province of Medri Bahri, an important port today in present-day Eritrea. However, Da Gama was captured in the Battle of Wofla and later killed.

The 500 musketeers were led by Bahri Negassi Yeshaq, king of Medri Bahri. Yeshaq provided the Portuguese with not only provisions and places to camp in his realm but also information about the land. The Bahri Negassi also joined Emperor Gelawdewos and the Portuguese in the decisive Battle of Wayna Daga, where tradition states that Imam Ahmad was shot in the chest by a Portuguese musketeer named João de Castilho, who had charged alone into the Muslim lines and died. The wounded Imam was then beheaded by an Ethiopian cavalry commander, Azmach Calite.[16][17][18] Once the Imam's soldiers learned of his death, they fled the battlefield.[19] The death of Imam Ahmad and the victory at Wayna Daga caused a collapse of Ahmad's forces and forced an Adalite retreat from Ethiopia.

Emir Nur ibn Mujahid succeeded his uncle Imam Ahmad as leader of the Adal forces and consolidated his power by marrying Bati del Wambara.[20] In 1559, Emir Nur's cavalry defeated and killed Emperor Gelawdewos in battle, and sacked the Abyssinian town of Waj.[21][22] Simultaneously, Abyssinian General Ras Hamalmal sacked the Adalite capital Harar, captured Sultan Barakat ibn Umar Din, and executed him, thus ending the Walashma Dynasty.[23][24]

J. Spencer Trimingham postulates that the captured Sultan Barakat was in fact returned to Adal in exchange for Prince Menas in negotiations led by Bati del Wambara.[25] Emir Nur ibn Mujahid, returning from his campaign, would display the head of Emperor Gelawdewos in Harar as a show of triumph.[26] In 1577, Emperor Sarsa Dengel defeated, captured, and executed Sultan Muhammad V in Bale.[27] He was succeeded by Imam Muhammad Gasa, a relative of Imam Ahmad, who relocated the capital of Adal to Aussa,[28] while Susenyos I relocated the capital of Abyssinia to Gondar.


The war was devastating for the Harari people which resulted in massive casualties for them and the conflict is regarded as one of the reasons for their rapid population decline.[29] Mohammed Hassen has plausibly argued that because this conflict severely weakened both participants, it provided an opportunity for the Oromo people to conquer and migrate into the historically Gafat land of Welega south of the Blue Nile and eastward to the walls of Harar, establishing new territories.[30]

See also


  1. ^ Gikes, Patrick (2002). "Wars in the Horn of Africa and the dismantling of the Somali State". African Studies. 2. University of Lisbon: 89–102. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  2. ^ Henze, Paul B. (2000). Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. Hurst & Company. p. 89. ISBN 1-85065-522-7.
  3. ^ Historical dictionary of Ethiopia By David Hamilton Shinn, Thomas P. Ofcansky, Chris Prouty pg 171
  4. ^ a b Sihab ad-Din Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Qader, Futuh al-Habasa: The conquest of Ethiopia, translated by Paul Lester Stenhouse with annotations by Richard Pankhurst (Hollywood: Tsehai, 2003), pp. 350f
  5. ^ Hassen, Mohammed. "Review work Futuh al habasa". International Journal of Ethiopian Studies: 179. JSTOR 27828848.
  6. ^ Malone, Barry (28 December 2011). "Troubled Ethiopia-Somalia history haunts Horn of Africa". Reuters. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  7. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (1997). The Ethiopian borderlands : essays in regional history from ancient times to the end of the 18th century. Red Sea Press. ISBN 0-932415-19-9. OCLC 36543471.
  8. ^ Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia, (Greenwood Press: 2006), p.178
  9. ^ John L. Esposito, editor, The Oxford History of Islam, (Oxford University Press: 2000), p. 501
  10. ^ David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987).
  11. ^ Cambridge illustrated atlas, Warfare: Renaissance to Revolution, 1492–1792, by Jeremy Black pg 9
  12. ^ Asfaw, Semeneh (30 October 2023). "The Legacy of Merid Wolde Aregay". Northeast African Studies. 11 (1). Michigan State University Press: 131. JSTOR 41960546.
  13. ^ "Local History in Ethiopia" Archived 28 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine (pdf) The Nordic Africa Institute website (accessed 28 January 2008)
  14. ^ Hespeler-Boultbee, John (April 2011). A Story in Stones: Portugal's Influence on Culture and Architecture in the Highlands of Ethiopia 1493–1634. CCB Publishing. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-926585-99-4.
  15. ^ Davis, Asa J. (1963). "THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY JIHĀD IN ETHIOPIA AND THE IMPACT ON ITS CULTURE (Part One)". Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria. 2 (4): 567–592. ISSN 0018-2540. JSTOR 41856679.
  16. ^ Richard Whiteway, The Portuguese expedition in Abyssnia, pp. 82
  17. ^ "20 Famous Historical and Biblical Figures from Africa". 28 May 2021.
  18. ^ Whiteway, pp.82
  19. ^ Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour By Martin Meredith, In the Land of Prestor John, chapter 11
  20. ^ R.Basset (editor), Histoire de la conquete de l’Abyssinie (History of the Conquest of Abyssinia), Paris, 1897–1901
  21. ^ A Survey History of World, Africa, and Ethiopia – Page 280
  22. ^ Abyssinia: Mythical and Historical – Page 31 Richard Chandler
  23. ^ The Oromo of Ethiopia, Mohammed Hassan p.184
  24. ^ Merid Wolde Aragay, Southern Ethiopia and the Christian kingdom
  25. ^ Islam in Ethiopia By J. Spencer Trimingham Page 91
  26. ^ Dictionary of African Biography – Volumes 1–6 – Page 451 by Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong, Henry Louis Gates
  27. ^ J.S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia pp.96
  28. ^ Social History and Theoretical Analyses of the Economy of Ethiopia – Page 14 Daniel Teferra · 1990
  29. ^ Hassen, Mohammed. Reviewed Work: Afocha: A Link between Community and Administration in Harar, Ethiopia by Peter Koehn, Sidney R. Waldron-Maxwell. Michigan State University Press. p. 66. JSTOR 43660080.
  30. ^ Mohammed Hassen, The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History (1570–1860) Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1994.

[[Category: Wars Involving Somalia

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Ethiopian–Adal War
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