Taytu Betul

The Rise of an Itege

Taytu Betul (c.1851–1918), wife of Menelik, was a formidable queen and empress of Ethiopia. She used her exceptional intelligence to strengthen and extend her power through an adroit blend of patronage, political marriages and leadership craft. Determined to resist imperialist designs on her country, she increasingly opposed any negotiations that would result in the loss of Ethiopian territory. When diplomacy gave way to war, she rode out at the head of her own army, at her husband’s side.

It was she who devised the plan which led to the Ethiopian victory at Makalle, and her presence was crucial in the Ethiopian victory at Adwa in 1896, the most significant victory of any African army during the climax of European colonialism.

She founded Addis Ababa, which remains Ethiopia’s capital city today, and the final decades of her reign witnessed a period of modernization, which gradually opened Ethiopia up to trade and greater technical expertise. She also provided the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community in Jerusalem with dignified housing, and financed the construction of the dome of the impressive church Debre Genet. As her husband fell ill, she began to concentrate more and more power in her own hands. This eventually provoked public agitation against her, and forced her into retirement.

The following comic strip is an interpretation of certain periods of the life of Taytu Betul and Menelik II. The illustrations are based on historical and iconographic research on Taytu Betul, Menelik II and the end of the nineteenth century Ethiopia. They do not claim to be an exact representation of the events, people, architecture, hairstyles, or clothing of the period.

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Spotlight on women!

The UNESCO Women in African History Series aims to highlight a selection of key women figures in African history. Through the use of ICT, the project showcases 20 African women or women of African descent, who represent only a small part of the contribution of African women, known and unknown, to the history of their countries, Africa and all mankind. Through this project, UNESCO seeks to highlight their legacy and calls for continued research on the role of women in African history.

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