Medri Bahri

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Medri Bahri ('Land of the Sea')
Medri Bahri ምድሪ ባሕሪ

Capital Debarwa
Languages Geez · Tigrinya
Government Monarchy
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Established 1137
 •  Italian Eritrea 1890
Today part of  Eritrea

Medri Bahri (Tigrinya: ምድሪ ባሕሪ?) was a medieval kingdom in the Horn of Africa. Situated in modern-day Eritrea, it was ruled by the Bahri Negus (also called the Bahri Negasi), whose capital was located at Debarwa.[1]


After the decline of the Kingdom of Aksum, the Eritrean highlands were under the domain of Bahr Negash ruled by the Bahr Negus. The area was then known as Ma'ikele Bahr ("between the seas/rivers," i.e. the land between the Red Sea and the Mereb river).[2] It was later renamed under Emperor Zara Yaqob as the domain of the Bahr Negash, the Medri Bahri ("Sea land" in Tingrinya, although it included some areas like Shire on the other side of the Mereb, today in Ethiopia).[3] With its capital at Debarwa,[1] the state's main provinces were Hamasien, Serae that formed one district, and this was politically, the most important district in the territory, and Akele Guzai. Later, Akele Guzai rejected the rule of the Bahr Negassi and remained independent, but was internally divided into several small free districts.[4]

The Scottish traveler James Bruce reported in 1770 that Medri Bahri was a distinct political entity from Abyssinia, noting that the two territories were frequently in conflict. The Bahre-Nagassi ("Kings of the Sea") alternately fought with or against the Abyssinians and the neighbouring Muslim Adal Sultanate depending on the geopolitical circumstances. Medri Bahri was thus part of the Christian resistance against Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi of Adal's forces, but later joined the Adalite states and the Ottoman Empire front against Abyssinia in 1572. That 16th century also marked the arrival of the Ottomans, who began making inroads in the Red Sea area.[5]

Another British traveler by the name Henry Salt (Egyptologist) traveled in the interior of Abyssinia by the beginning of the 19th century and described Baharanegash geographically, politically and economically through his book titled "A voyage to Abyssinia" which was published in 1814.[6] Henry divided Abyssinia into three distinct and independent states.[7] These three great divisions are Tigré, Amhara, and the province of Shoa.[7] Henry considers Tigré as the more powerful state of the three; a circumstance arising from the natural strength of the country, the warlike disposition of it’s inhabitants, and it’s vicinity to the sea coast; an advantage that has secured to it the monopoly of all the musquets imported into the country.[8] Then, he divided the kingdom into several provinces as the centre where it was considered the seat of the state being referred as Tigré proper. According to Henry, provinces of the Tigré kingdom includes Enderta, Agame, Wojjerat, Temben, Shiré and Baharanegash.[8] Hamasien, a district of Baharanegash, is the furthest north and narrowest part of Tigré, and Henry places Bejas or Bojas as the people who leave north of Tigré state and Abyssinian empire.[9][10][11] By the time he made his travel in 1809, Gondar was the seat of the empire and it was ruled by the Yejju dynasty under Ras Gugsa who ruled from 1798 up to 1825 as Enderase to the powerless emperors.[12][13]

The territory became an Ottoman province or eyalet known as the Habesh Eyalet. Massawa served as the new province's first capital. When the city became of secondary economic importance, the administrative capital was soon moved across the Red Sea to Jeddah. Its headquarters remained there from the end of the 16th century to the early 19th century, with Medina temporarily serving as the capital in the 18th century.[14]

The Ottomans were eventually driven out in the last quarter of the 16th century. However, they retained control over the seaboard until the establishment of Italian Eritrea in the late 1800s.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Edward Denison, Guang Yu Ren, Naigzy Gebremedhin Asmara: Africa's secret modernist city, 2003. (page 20)
  2. Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (1270–1527) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p.74.
  3. Daniel Kendie, The Five Dimensions of the Eritrean Conflict 1941–2004: Deciphering the Geo-Political Puzzle. United States of America: Signature Book Printing, Inc., 2005, pp.17-8.
  4. Mikael Hasama Raka, Future Life and Occult Beings 1984, p. 3.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Okbazghi Yohannes (1991). A Pawn in World Politics: Eritrea. University of Florida Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-8130-1044-6. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  6. Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. M. Carey (1816)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Charles Knight The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Difussion of Useful Knowledge. Published in 1833 pp. 53 Google Books
  8. 8.0 8.1 Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. Published in 1816 pp. 378-382 Google Books
  9. Charles Knight The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Difussion of Useful Knowledge. Published in 1833 pp. 53 Google Books
  10. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge: Bassantin - Bloemaart, Volume 4. Published in 1835 pp. 170 Google Books
  11. Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. Published in 1816 pp. 381 Google Books
  12. Pearce, The Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce, edited by J.J. Halls (London, 1831), vol. 1 p. 70
  13. Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1994, second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), p. 12; Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 122.
  14. Siegbert Uhlig (2005). Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 951. ISBN 978-3-447-05238-2. Retrieved 2013-06-01.