Tigray Overview


  • Tigray is the northernmost region of the second most populous country of Africa, Ethiopia. It is landlocked and bordered by Eritrea, Sudan, and the Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia.
  • Tigray is known for its mountainous terrains that have often helped the people protect their territory from invaders, such as the Greeks, the Turkish, and the Italians.
  • The region is the 5th largest state in Ethiopia based on size and population size out of ten states, and it is roughly comparable in size to Costa Rica.
  • The region is geo-politically strategic in the Horn of Africa, particularly for trade. It is rich in minerals, gemstones, and potentially petroleum shales.
  • Mekelle is the current provincial capital and was home to Emperor Yohannes IV, who once ruled Ethiopia in the late 1800s. It served as the mecca of northern trade but now serves as an intellectual and political hub. Other key towns in Tigray are Adigrat, Adwa, Axum, Shire, Humera, Wukro, Abiy Adi, and Alamata.
People: Ethnicities (Irob, Tigrayan, and Kunama)
  • The total population stands at 7.1 million people based on the last recorded census. Some estimate it may be as large as 10 million.
  • Tigrigna is the official language of Tigray and the most widely spoken. However, other spoken languages are Shahu, Kunama, and Amharic.
  • Tigrayans make up 97% of the total population of Tigray. The other 3 percent of the population is composed of Amharas, Irob, Afar, Agaw, Oromo, and Kunama.
Early History
  • Tigray is known as the birthplace of Ethiopian civilization, but it was not responsible for consolidating the current Ethiopian state.
  • The history of Tigray goes as far as c. 980 starting with the D’mt (Daʿəmat) Kingdom.
  • D’mt was a Kingdom located in modern day Tigray and Eritrea from c. 980 BC–c. 400 BC. Yeha served as the capital of D’mt and is home to the Great Temple of Yeha, Palace Grat Be’al Gebri, and Necropolis of Daro Mikael which contains rock-cut tombs.

Early History Continued
  • The Kingdom of Aksum succeeded the D’mt Kingdom from c. 80 BC to c. 960 AD.
  • Aksum was one of the most developed cultures of Ancient Africa, and the Aksumite Empire was one of the four most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world. The empire covered sections of Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia. 
  • The Aksum Empire was ideally located to succeed in trade because of its connections to several trade routes such as the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Nile River.
  • Aksum became a key route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India, reaching its highest peak in the 3rd century. The city developed its own currency and written language (Ge’ez), and once King Ezana came into power, the town was converted to Christianity.
History Continued
  • After the decline of the Axumite Empire, around the 14th century, theregion was divided into areas presided over by different lords..
  • In the mid-19th century, the lords of Tembien and Enderta managed to create an overlord ship of Tigray to their dynasty. One of its members, Dejazmach Kahsay Mercha, ascended the imperial throne in 1872 under the name Yohannes IV.
  • Following his death in the Battle of Metemma in 1889, the Ethiopian throne came under the control of an Amhara king, Menelik II, and the center of power shifted south and away from Tigray.
  • During the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century, Ethiopia was one of the nations that had to defend its sovereignty against colonizer forces In March 1896, the Battle of Adwa took place in Tigray.
  • It became the most prominent battle in the history of Africa and became a symbol of anti-colonial struggle as Ethiopians were victorious under leadership of Tigrayan generals and soldiers who knew the mountainous terrains.
History Continued
  • Under the rule of Amhara, Shewa Emperor Haile Selassie, Tigrayans were marginalized, discriminated against, and economically disempowered. This led to the first wave of Woyane Revolution in1943, which was crushed by a series of aerial bombings by the Ethiopian central government and British fighter jets.
  • In 1974, the popular revolution resulted in the rise of the Marxistmilitary dictatorship led by Mengistu Hailemariam. This sparked the second wave of the Woyane Revolution that gave birth to the TigrayPeople Liberation Front. The Civil War ended in 1991 and resulted in an independent Eritrea, a new government formed under the EPRDF party, which included TPLF. EPRDF ruled the country until 2018.
Religion: Christianity
  • Tigrayans predominantly practice Orthodox Christianity. Approximately 95.6% practice it. Orthodox Christianity was a central aspect of the Axumite Empire. According to some scriptures, one of the Three Wise Kings was an Axumite king.
  • Axum was the first state to use the image of the cross on its coins.
  • Menelik I, the son of Queen Sheba (Saba) and King Solomon of Israel, was the first emperor of the Solomonic Dynasty, which started in Tigray. It is reported that he was the one who took the Ark of the Covenant, and it currently stays hidden at the St. Mary Zion Church in Axum, short distance away from the Obelisks of Axum, which are 1,700 year old 80 foot tall obelisks made of granite steel, used as tombstone markers for burial chambers of royal family members.
  • Tigray is known for its 120 rock-strewn churches in the Gheralta mountains and over 200 collectively in Tigray.
Religion: Islam
  • Nearly 4% of the population practices Islam. The first mosque in Africa (and one of the first in the world), Al Negashi, was established in Wukro.
  • King Najashi, also known as Armah, was the ruler of the Kingdom of Aksum from 614-631. Najashi gave shelter to early Muslims from Mecca who were seeking refuge from Quraysh persecution by traveling to Aksum, which was at the time a Christian Kingdom. In Islamic history, the journey is known as the first hijra.


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