Amda Seyon was a ruthless Emperor who conquered many lands and people during his rule in the 14th century. While it is unknown exactly how or when he came to power, it is believed he may have had a role in overthrowing his father. That is, if Wedem Arad was Amda’s father. While many believe, there is enough evidence to show they are of the same lineage, Amda himself has been said to claim otherwise.
Of one thing in the history of Amda Seyon there can be no doubt, Amda was ruthless in his dealing with dissidents, detractors, and conquered nations. He was even ruthless with his own family. Historical records indicate his campaign against the Muslim began in 1309 against the kingdoms of Damot and Hadiya and after integrating them into his kingdom, he began to enlist soldiers increasing the size of his army.
Over the next 30 year, Amda pushed his influence via his armies and extended his rule north to Gojjam, Inderta, and the northern provinces of Semien, Wogera, Tselemt, and Tsegede. Setting up his relatives, including his wife, in charge of many of the conquered governments did not help in securing peace in the occupied territory. When dissidents rebelled, the response was swift and harsh with death to conspirators in the rebellion and the division of their land and titles to those faithful to the Emperor.
One such example is the King of Hadiya who after 32 years of being ruled by Amda, refused to pay tribute to the Emperor and for his insolence he was killed, his descendants banished out of the country, and his land and wealth divided amongst the new leadership.
Perhaps the first crusader, Amda stood up to the sultan of Egypt when word of the persecution of Egyptian Christians reached his court. Threatening to retaliate against Muslims in his Empire if the attacks on the Copts did not stop, Amda also threatened to divert the Nile, which was of great concern to the Egyptians. After the Egyptians captured and killed a member of the Amda’s envoy sent to relay his message to Cairo, he went on a rampage against Muslims and attacked Ifat with his army pillaging and plundering the city. This persecution against the Muslims continued by Amda and his loyalists and touched off a religious war as the Muslims began to attack Christians where they were stronger in numbers. Much like the middle ages and the European Crusades, this holy war enveloped the region.
It is reported by historians of the period that trade flourished under the Emperor Amda Seyon. Archeological digs into the vaults of Ethiopian churches and monasteries have recovered coins, textiles, and other treasures that prove the existence of trade with the Byzantine Empire. Many important books and manuscripts including some of the earliest recorded Ethiopian manuscripts were written during the period of his reign. He donated material to the Ethiopian library at Jerusalem and is said to have had a royal historian with him to record his exploits.
While the dates are disputed to this day, whether it was in 1329 or 1332, The Glorious Victories, as they are called, were the defining moments for Emperor Amda Seyon as he ruled the region with an iron fist and defeated 10 kings in the period.
It began with 2 religious leaders in the Muslim community who waged a public relations campaign against the Emperor and attempted to influence leaders and common people to rebel against Emperor Seyon. The influence of these zealots led the governor of Ifat to defy the Emperor and a jihad was declared with other provinces and countries in the region joining forces against Amda.
In much the same fashion as would be seen for centuries to come, Amda would put down a rebellion in one city only to have to martial his troops to the next city that would attempt to defect. It was difficult for the Emperor to find loyal rulers to govern. Attempting to put people of lineage into power, he would be continually disappointed in his choices for governor of Ifat as several in a row turned against him and rebelled. Caught by Muslim extremists one night in battle, Amda was nearly killed as his battle uniform was cut but his armor held true.
One example of Emperor Amda Seyon’s compassion was the governor of Ifat, Sabr ad-Din, who was the brother and successor of Haq ad-Din. Amda put Sabr in power and was shocked and disappointed to have him attempt to become the Emperor of Muslim Ethiopia. The Emperor dealt with the rebellion in the usual fashion by invading and putting down the rebellion. Curiously though he did not have Sabr put to death when he surrendered but imprisoned him and put his brother Jamal ad-Din into power as the governor. No surprise, Jamal rebelled against the Emperor and declared himself a Muslim King and after mustering his forces once again, Amda Seyon invaded Ifat and defeated the rebelling forces.
His men weary from years of battle, the Emperor had to deal with troop morale issues in addition to breakaway rebels. He rewarded his men handsomely for their loyalty with the spoils of war as well as with money, land, and titles. With the expanse and length of his reign, he clearly demanded and received the loyalty necessary to continue to hold onto his Empire.