Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.


Orthodox Church

Fasilidas (? - October 18, 1667) reigned as emperor of Ethiopia from 1632-67. He worked to return the state to the faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been replaced by Catholicism for a time in the reign of Susneyos (q.v.) [reigned 1607-32], expelled the Jesuit priests, sought closer links with Muslim powers, and moved the imperial capital to Gondar.

The son of Susneyos and of Walda Saala Seltan Mogassa, he was strongly opposed to Catholicism as the religion of Ethiopia, which had been proclaimed by Susneyos in 1622. His principle opponent was his uncle, Seela Frestos (q.v.), a strong adherent of Catholicism. From 1626 onwards, however, the influence of Fasilidas over Susneyos began to increase as that of Seela Krestos waned. But the religious quarrel finally resulted in open warfare between the factions. After the battle of Wayna-Dega, on June 2, 1632, Fasilidas reminded his father that the 8,000 corpses strewn over the battlefield were not those of either pagans or Muslims, but of his own subjects, some of them even his own kinsmen. Although Susneyos had won the battle, therefore, it could not be considered any victory. Disturbed by the increasing bloodshed and bitterness, Susneyos decided to end it. After restoring the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, he abdicated in favor of Fasilidas, who came to the throne upon Susneyos’ death in September, 1632.

The following year Fasilidas, who considered the European Christians a greater threat than the Muslim powers, banished the Jesuits from court. Some left the country for India, while others remained behind, only to be subsequently sought out and executed. Meanwhile Fasilidas sought to prevent other Europeans from entering Ethiopia, and to improve relations with the Muslim powers. When Rome attempted to send French Capuchins to Ethiopia, he concluded agreements with the pashas of Suakim and Massawam, and with the imams of Yemen, by the terms of which all non-Ethiopian Christian priests who tried to enter those countries, whether en route to Ethiopia or not, were to be executed. He even, in his treaty with Yemen, encouraged Muslim missionaries to enter Ethiopia. The first such missionary to arrive, however, encountered such hostility that the plan was dropped.

Domestically, also Fasilidas promoted the return of all Ethiopians to the Orthodox Church. In order to prevent a possible Catholic uprising, he imprisoned Seela Krestos, and when in 1636, false rumors were circulated that Portuguese soldiers had landed, ordered his execution.

For many years Galla peoples had been moving into the kingdom from the south in increasing numbers. Fasilidas reacted to this wave of immigration by retreating northwards. He removed the imperial capital away from its central position in Shawa to Gondar, north of Lake Tana, in what is now Bagember province. Here he built a magnificent palace, with a vast swimming pool, in a landscaped setting near the Kaha River. He also reconstructed the cathedral at Aksum.

The reign of Fasilidas represented a reaffirmation of national tradition, but also a retreat from other influences, thus resulting in a weakening of the power of the monarchy. On his death in 1667, he was succeeded by his son Yohannes I (q.v.)

Keith Irvine and Robert L. Hess


J. Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, 3rd ed., Edinburgh, 1813; R. Basset, Etudes sur l’histoire d’Ethiopia *(“Studies in Ethiopian History”), Paris, 1882; J. B. Coulbeaux, *Histoire politique et religieuse d’Abyssinie (“Political and religious History of Abyssinia”), Paris, 1929; J. Doresse, Ethiopia, New York, 1959; F. M. E. Pereira, Chronica de Susneyos, Rei de Ethiopia (“Chronicle of Susneyos. King of Ethiopia”), Lisbon, 1892; 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.