Ethiopian aristocratic and court titles

Until the end of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974, there were two categories of nobility in Ethiopia. The Mesafint (Ge'ez: መሳፍንት masāfint, modern mesāfint, singular Ge'ez: መስፍን masfin, modern mesfin, "prince"), the hereditary nobility, formed the upper echelon of the ruling class. The Mekwanint (Ge'ez: መኳንንትmäkʷanin, modern mäkʷenin singular Ge'ez: መኳንንት mäkʷanin, modern mäkʷenin or Amharic: መኮንን? mekonnen, "governor") were the appointed nobles, often of humble birth, who formed the bulk of the nobility. Until the 20th century, the most powerful people at court were generally members of the Mekwanint appointed by the monarch, while regionally, the Mesafint enjoyed greater influence and power. Emperor Haile Selassie greatly curtailed the power of the Mesafint to the benefit of the Mekwanint, who by then were essentially coterminous with the Ethiopian government.

The Mekwanint were officials who had been granted specific offices in the government or court. Higher ranks from the title of Ras through to Balambaras were also bestowed upon members of the Mekwanint. A member of the Mesafint, however, would traditionally be given precedence over a member of the Mekwanint of the same rank. For example, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, son of Emperor Yohannes IV and thus a member of the Mesafint, would have outranked Ras Alula Engida, who was of humble birth and therefore a member of the Mekwanint, even though their ranks were equal.

There were also parallel rules of precedence, primarily seniority based on age, on offices held, and on when they each obtained their titles, which made the rules for precedence rather complex. Combined with the ambiguous position of titled heirs of members of the Mekwanint, Emperor Haile Selassie, as part of his program of modernising reforms, and in line with his aims of centralising power away from the Mesafint replaced the traditional system of precedence with a simplified, Western-inspired system that gave precedence by rank, and then by seniority based when the title had been assumed irrespective of how the title was acquired.[1]

Imperial and royal titles

Negusa Nagast

The Negusa Nagast (Ge'ez: ንጉሠ ነገሥት nəgusä nägäst, "King of Kings") was the Emperor of Ethiopia. Although several kings of Aksum used this style, until the restoration of the Solomonic dynasty under Yekuno Amlak, rulers of Ethiopia generally used the style of Negus, although "King of Kings" was used as far back as Ezana.

The full title of the Emperor of Ethiopia was Negusa Nagast and Seyoume Igziabeher ("Elect of God"). The title Moa Anbessa Ze Imnegede Yehuda ("Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah") always preceded the titles of the Emperor. It was not a personal title but rather referred to the title of Jesus and placed the office of Christ ahead of the Emperor's name in an act of Imperial submission. Until the reign of Yohannes IV, the Emperor was also Neguse Tsion (Ge'ez: ንጉሠ ጽዮን, nəgusä tsiyon), "King of Zion"), whose seat was at Axum, and which conferred hegemony over much of the north of the Empire.

The Emperor was referred to by the dignities of the formal Girmawi (Ge'ez: ግርማዊ, gärimawi, "His Imperial Majesty"), in common speech as Janhoy (Ge'ez: ጃንሆይ janihoy, "Your [Imperial] Majesty, or lit. "sire" ), in his own household and family as Getochu (our Master in the plural), and when referred to by name in the third person with the suffix of Atse (effectively "Emperor", i.e. Atse Menelik).

All formal speech concerning the Emperor was in the plural, as was his own speech; Haile Selassie, for instance, referred to himself in the first-person plural at all times, even in casual conversation and when speaking in French (however this was not the case when he spoke in English, in which he was not fully fluent).[2]


Main article: Negus

A Negus (Ge'ez: ንጉሥ nəgus, "king") was a hereditary ruler of one of Ethiopia's larger provinces, over whom collectively the monarch ruled, thus justifying his imperial title. The title of Negus was awarded at the discretion of the Emperor to those who ruled important provinces, although it was often used hereditarily during and after the Zemene Mesafint. The rulers of Begemder, Shewa, Gojjam, Wollo, all held the title of Negus at some point, as the "Negus of Shewa", "Negus of Gojjam", and so forth.

During and after the reign of Menelik II virtually all of the titles either lapsed into the Imperial crown or were dissolved. In 1914, after having been appointed "Negus of Zion" by his son Lij Iyasu (Iyasu V), Mikael of Wollo, in consideration of the hostile feelings this provoked in of much of the nobility in northern Ethiopia (particularly Le'ul Ras Seyoum Mengesha, whose family had resented being denied the title by Menelik), who were now technically made subordinate to him, instead elected to use the title of Negus of Wollo. Tafari Makonnen, who later became Emperor Haile Selassie, was bestowed the title of Negus in 1928; he would be the last person to bear the title.[3]

Despite this, European sources referred to the Ethiopian monarch as the Negus well into the 20th century, switching to Emperor only after the Second World War- around the same time the name Abyssinia fell out of use in favour of Ethiopia in the west.


Le'ul (Ge'ez: ልዑል lə‘ul, "Prince") was a princely style used by sons and grandson of the Emperor. It conferred upon its holder the title of Imperial Highness. The style first came into use in 1916, following the enthronement of Empress Zewditu.


Abetohun (Ge'ez: አቤቶሁን abētōhun) or Abeto (Ge'ez: አቤቶ abētō) -- Prince. Title reserved for males of Imperial ancestry in the male line. Title fell into disuse by the late 19th century. Lij Iyasu attempted to revive the title as Abeto-hoy ("Great Prince"), and this form is still used by the current Iyasuist claimant Girma Yohannes Iyasu.




Men's military titles

For more details on this topic, see Ethiopian military titles.

Women's honorifics

Important regional offices

Important offices of the Imperial Court


The Enderase (እንደራሴ ’əndärasē, lit. "as myself") acted as the Regent of the Empire in times of the Emperor's youth, infirmity, or other limited capacity. Empress Zauditu, who reigned from 1917 to 1930, was obliged to share power with an Enderase, Ras Tafari Makonnen, who was also her designated heir, and thus assumed the throne as Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930.

The title used by the monarch's representatives to fiefs and vassals (in this sense, a Viceroy). In the 20th century, the title was used by some provincial governors, chiefly that of the autonomous province of Eritrea, which had been restored to Ethiopia in 1952. The title was still used after the dissolution of the federal arrangement, and was uniformly adopted by the rulers of the other provinces as well.[6]

Emperor-in-exile Amha Selassie appointed Prince Bekere Fikre-Selassie "Enderase" in right of the Crown Council of Ethiopia in 1993, as his representative, and who still holds the office, as Crown Prince Zera Yacob Amha Selassie has not declared himself Emperor.[7]

Reise Mekwanint

Reise Mekwanint (ርዕሰ መኳንንት rə‘əsä mäkʷanənt, "head of the nobles") was a title granted during the Zemene Mesafint, which raised its holder over all appointed nobles. It was bestowed upon the Enderase, who during that period held most of the (considerably diminished) imperial power. It was last granted to Yohannes IV by his brother-in-law Tekle Giyorgis II (Wagshum Gobeze) before the former deposed the later and seized the throne for himself.

Tsehafi Taezaz

The Tsehafi Taezaz (ጸሐፌ ትእዛዝ ts'äḥafē tə’əzaz, lit. "scribe by command", translated as "Minister of the Pen") was the most powerful post at the Imperial court. According to John Spencer, he was "the one who traditionally walked two steps behind the Emperor to listen to and write down all orders that the latter gave out in the course of an audience or an inspection tour." Spencer adds that under Haile Selassie the Tsehafe Tezaz safeguarded the Great Seal, kept the records of all important appointments, and was responsible for publishing all laws and treaties; "his signature, rather than that of the Emperor, appeared on those [official] publications although the heading in each case referred to His Imperial Majesty."[8] The office was combined with that of Prime Minister during the tenure of Aklilu Habte-Wold (1961–1974).

Afe Negus

Afe Negus (አፈ ንጉሥ ’afä nəgus, "mouth of the King") was originally the title given to the two chief heralds who acted as official spokesmen for the Emperor. As the Emperor never spoke in public, these officials always spoke in public for him, speaking as if they were the Emperor. By 1942, this title was granted only to Justices of the Imperial Supreme Court.[9]

Lique Mekwas

The Lique Mekwas (ሊቀ መኳስ liqä mäkʷas) was the impersonator or double of the Emperor, who accompanied him in battle. Two trusted and highly favored officials were given this title. They always walked or rode on either side of the monarch in battle, or in public processions, dressing as magnificently, or more magnificently then he, in order to distract assassins.[10]

Aqabe Se'at

The Aqabe Se'at (አቃቤ ሰዓት ’aqabē sä‘at, "keeper of time") was a high official, often a clergyman, who was responsible for keeping the Emperor's schedule and had authority over the clergy assigned to the Imperial Court. The position was one of immense power in medieval times, but became largely titular under the Gondarine Emperors and eventually went out of existence.


The Blattengeta (ብላቴን ጌታ blatēn gēta, "lord of the pages") was a high court official that served as administrator of the Palaces. The title was later used as an honorific.


Blatta (ብላታ blata, "page") was the rank of high court officials in charge of maintaining palace protocol and meeting the personal needs of the Imperial family.


Basha (ባሻ baša) was a rank originally derived from the Turkish (Ottoman)/Egyptian title of Pasha, but considered a lower rank in Ethiopia, whereas Pasha was a high rank at the Turkish and Egyptian courts.

Important offices of the civil government


A Negadras (ነጋድራስ nägadras, "head of the merchants") was the appointed leader of a larger town's merchants, who supervised the operations of the markets, the administration of customs, and the collection of taxes.[1] By the end of the 19th century a negadras was often the single most important official in a town, essentially acting as its mayor.

By 1900 the various negadrasoch had been subordinated to the negadras of Addis Ababa, Haile Giyorgis Woldemikael, who by 1906 supervised foreign businesses and diplomatic missions in the capital, the organisation of hand was responsible for granting concessions and contracts to foreign enterprises, making the post the de facto Mayor of Addis Ababa, Chief of police, Minister of Commerce and Minister of Foreign Affairs. These functions were separated by the formation of the first cabinet in 1907, with Haile Giyorgis appointed to those posts. With Haile Giyorgis' removal from office by then-Regent Ras Tafari Makonnen in 1917, the post of negadras of Addis Ababa lost most of its powers to the office of Kantiba, the head of the municipal government, which had been created in 1910, with other towns later following suit.[1]


Kantiba (ከንቲባ käntiba, "mayor" or "Lord Mayor") is a mayor of a large town or city in modern. In ancient times a kantiba was a chief, almost like a governor of a province or more. He has the task to administrate the given areas. He had soldiers. In certain cases the title of kantiba could have passed from father to son, and in some others the title was given to elected individuals for a few years. End of the mandate another person was elected.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Garretson, Peter (November 2000). "Intrigue and Power: Hayle Giyorgis, Addis Ababa's First Mayor". Seleda. II (V). Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  2. Vadala, Alexander Atillio (2011). "Elite Distinction and Regime Change: The Ethiopian Case". Comparative Sociology. 10 (4): 641. doi:10.1163/156913311X590664.
  3. "Ethiopia - Tigray 1". Royal Ark. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Ethiopia Military Tradition in National Life Library of Congress
  5. Edward Ullendorff notes that the title of "Nebura ed" is also used by the head of Basilica Church of St Maryam at Addis Alem, "built by Menelik as the southern Aksum". (The Ethiopians, 2nd ed. [London: Oxford, 1960], p. 109)
  6. Zewde, Bahru; Pausewang, Siegfried (2002). Ethiopia: The Challenge of Democracy from Below. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute. p. 10. ISBN 9171065016.
  7. Copley, Gregory. "The Structure and Role of the Crown Council of Ethiopia". Imperial Ethiopia Online. The Crown Council of Ethiopia. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  8. Spencer, John (1984). Ethiopia at Bay: A personal account of the Haile Selassie years. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications. p. 118. ISBN 0917256255. ISBN 9780917256257.
  9. Margary Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, second edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), p. 154
  10. Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, p. 86


External links

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