Centre for Continuing Education

The Lost Kingdoms of Ethiopia Course

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in Africa – it has historic towns, some of which date back to the time of the Roman Empire or the Crusades, magnificent churches and the ruins of palaces.

The Ethiopian monarchs claimed descent from Menelik I, whom it was believed was the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Join us as we explore the history and culture of the Ethiopian monarchy which lasted until 1974. Left behind were some of the most impressive monuments in all of Africa.

We will begin with the impressive capital of Aksum, one of the great cities of Late Antiquity, where the kings both received ambassadors from Byzantine emperors and sheltered some early followers of the prophet Mohammed. After tracing the organisation and expansion of the Christian kingdom, we will examine in detail the particularities of the Ethiopian Orthodox church as background to an examination of the rock-cut churches created by the Zagwe dynasty at Lalibela. The history of contact with Europeans and growing Portuguese influence will be discussed as background to the 17th century palaces in Gondar. The 19th and 20th century monarchy will be treated with reference to colonial conflicts, modernisation and the development of Addis Ababa as the new royal capital. We end with the churches of Addis and palace of Haile Selassie, the last “Lion of the Tribe of Judah”.


This course aims to:

  • develop your knowledge of Ethiopia’s geography and historical chronology
  • provide you with an understanding of the continuity and change in Ethiopia over two thousand years ago
  • provide you with an appreciation of the unique historical character of Ethiopia as a Christian African state in Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and present modern times
  • develop your skills in decoding the symbolism in historical Ethiopian art and architecture.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the key Kingdoms established in East Africa from antiquity to modern times
  • discuss reasons for the growth of the Ethiopian monarchy and account for its survival till the second half of the 20th century
  • interpret the iconography of Ethiopian Christian art and architecture
  • evaluate the successes and failures of the Ethiopian Monarch’s in resisting invasion and foreign colonisation.



  • The context of the Kingdom of Aksum in the ancient world
  • Archaeology, geography and trade routes in Africa and the Indian ocean
  • Archaeological material and written sources for life in the royal capital

The Christianity of the Ethiopian Kingdom

  • The conversion to Christianity and the Solomonic claims of the royal house
  • The influence of the Greek Church on Ethiopian Christianity and the influence of Judaism
  • Relations with Muslims

The rise of the Zagwe Dynasty (AD 1137-1270) and the development of the rock cut churches at Lalibela

  • The restored Solomonic kingdom
  • Royal administration and foreign relations

The Portuguese in Ethiopia and the development of the royal capital of Gondar in the time of King Fasiladas (17th century)

  • The influence of the Portuguese from Goa in India, and the European interest in Ethiopia
  • Conflict and resistance to foreign influence

Emperor Theodoros and the modern Solomonic royal house down to Haile Selassie

  • Theodoros' attempts to modernise and unify Ethiopia and to strengthen the monarchy
  • Reasons for conflict with Britain
  • The revival of the monarchy after Theodoros' death by Menelik
  • Solomonic claims and the royal capital of Addis Ababa
  • An evaluation of the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie who resisted Italian colonisation and became an anti-fascist symbol, and after World War II, a key figure in the movement for decolonisation

Intended audience

Suitable for anyone interested in history and the Middle Ages, and learning more about contemporary African society, Christianity, Judaism in Arabia and East Africa, and Islam. Also suitable for those interested in visiting Ethiopia or who are eager to learn more about it.

Delivery style



Handouts inclusive of a detailed bibliography focusing on each presentation will be provided in class.

Recommended reading

Finneran, N 2007, The Archaeology of Ethiopia, London.

Hein, E 1999, Ethiopia – Christian Africa. Art, Churches and Culture, Ratingen.

Heldman, M E 1993, African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia, New Haven.

Marcus, H G 2002, The History of Ethiopia, Berkeley.

Pankhurst, R 1998, The Ethiopians, Oxford.

Ullendorff, E 1973, The Ethiopians, London.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • An informative day with a friendly and knowledgeable tutor.
  • The program content was fascinating and the relaxed interaction with the tutor made the experience very enjoyable.
  • Not only did I learn a great deal about Ethiopia but I am now quite enthusiastic about visiting it.
We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.