Ba’eda Maryam (circa 1446-1478) was emperor of Ethiopia from 1468-78. He was famous for the many churches he built.
The son and successor of Zare’a Ya’eqob (q.v.), Ba’eda Maryam was born in about 1446, and spent most of his youth at Dabra Berehan, his father’s capital in northern Shawa. In his father’s lifetime, his mother, Tseyon Mogasa, tried to take over the government for him. Zare’a Ya’eqob punished her so severely, however, that she died, while Ba’eda Maryam was imprisoned. Later he was released after intermediaries intervened on his behalf.
As soon as he became emperor after his father’s death, Ba’eda Maryam made some retrogressive changes, reviving some of the older practices, such as the banishing of royal princes, whom he caused to be imprisoned at Amba Geshen in Shawa province. He took control of the cavalry, and nominated a set of new rulers or provinces. In other respects he was open to changes, and was the first emperor to appear in public without covering his face.
He built many churches, and was known for this. He refrained, however, from participating in the serious theological discussions which were current during his reign. His only involvement in such affairs occurred when he refused to destroy a Madonna and Child painting by an unknown European artist who, according to one report, had placed the child on the mother’s left arm, which deeply offended those Christians who felt that the Christ child belonged on the right, as a sign of honor.
The government that Ba’eda Maryam inherited was stable internally, and there was little disturbance from the surrounding Muslim states. Mehmad ibn Badlay, the sultan of Adal, and emirate in the eastern lowlands near the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb (the entrance to the Red Sea) that was the traditional enemy of the Christian kingdom, sent him a deputation to sue for peace. A truce followed which enabled Ba’eda Maryam to send an expedition against the Falasha of Semén and Salamet to the northwest, while he himself led an expedition against the Dob’a, a non-Christian tribe of nomads, around Amba Alagé in southern Tegré province. But peace with Adal was short-lived. After the death of Mehmad ibn Badlay, his successor, Amir Laday Uthman, attacked Ba’eda Maryam, who was twice defeated, despite some initial victories in 1473 and 1474. Ba’eda Maryam undertook no further expeditions during the last four years of his reign.
Tsehai Berhane Selassie
E. A. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia, London, 1928; J. Doresse, Ethiopia, London, 1967; J. Perruchon, Les Chroniques de Zar’a Ya’eqob et de Ba’eda Maryam (“The Chronicles of Zare’a Ya’eqob and Ba’eda Maryam”), Paris, 1893; J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia, London, 1952.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.