Representations of the Portuguese in the Royal Chronicle of King Gälawdewos (1540-1559) (Abstract)

Representations of the Portuguese in the Royal Chronicle of King Gälawdewos (1540-1559): A Historical Commentary

It is well known that the Portuguese played a significant role in saving the sixteenth-century Ethiopian King Gälawdewos from decisive defeat during the military confrontation with the Muslim conquest led by Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Ġāzī in 1543. The Portuguese sent 400 soldiers to assist the king – after the repeated request of King Gälawdewos and his father King Lǝbnä Dǝngǝl (1508-1540) before him, as is evident from their diplomatic correspondence with Portuguese kings.

Eyewitness accounts written by the Portuguese about their sixteenth-century expedition into Ethiopia, especially that of Castanhoso and a few early works of the Jesuits, also document the role of the Portuguese in defeating the Muslim forces. Therefore, it is curious that Gälawdewos’s Royal Chronicle provides little detail about and even unfairly represents the role of the Portuguese. By contrast, the chronicler treats the Muslims army, the actual adversaries of the king, more fairly than the Portuguese. These contrasting representations raise a number of questions in readers. Thus, this paper analyzes representations of the Portuguese in the chronicle and compares them to representations in pertinent Portuguese and Gǝʿǝz historical sources. It then considers the possible reasons why the chronicler marginalized the Portuguese even though they had greatly assisted the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia in the turbulent period of sixteenth century.

Dr des. Solomon Gebreyes Beyene

University of Hamburg, Germany


Research Fellow in Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies, Universität Hamburg.

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