The name “Ethiopia” derives from the Greek ethio , meaning “burned” and pia , meaning “face”: the land of burned-faced peoples. Aeschylus described Ethiopia as a “land far off, a nation of black men.” Homer depicted Ethiopians as pious and favored by the gods. These conceptions of Ethiopia were geographically vague.
In the late nineteenth century, Emperor Menelik II expanded the country’s borders to their present configuration. In March 1896, Italian troops attempted to enter Ethiopia forcibly and were routed by Emperor Menelik and his army. The battle of Adwa was the only victory of an African army over a European army during the partitioning of Africa which preserved the country’s independence. Ethiopia is the only African country never to have been colonized, although an Italian occupation occurred from 1936 to 1941.
In addition to the monarchy, whose imperial line can be traced to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was a major force in that, in combination with the political system, it fostered nationalism with its geographic center in the highlands.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) defeated the Derge, established democratic rule, and currently governs Ethiopia.
The last twenty-five years of the twentieth century have been a time of revolt and political unrest but represent only a small portion of the time during which Ethiopia has been a politically active entity. Unfortunately, however, the country’s international standing has declined since the reign of Emperor Selassie, when it was the only African member of the League of Nations and its capital, Addis Ababa, was home to a substantial international community. War, drought, and health problems have left the nation one of the poorest African countries economically, but the people’s fierce independence and historical pride account for a people rich in self-determination.