Zara Ya’iqob

Ruled 1434–1468
Emperor of Ethiopia

Zara Ya’Iqob, a powerful and intelligent Ethiopian ruler, was a devout Christian. He sometimes took strong measures to make sure that Christianity remained the dominant religion in ETHIOPIA. The son of emperor Dawit of Ethiopia, Zara Ya’iqob was educated at his father’s royal court. When his father died and his brother became emperor, Zara Ya’iqob was confined in a remote mountain prison. He remained there for more than 20 years until he was called to the throne.

As emperor, Zara Ya’Iqob attempted to improve relations between the Christians of northern and southern Ethiopia. In 1449 he declared both Saturday and Sunday as sabbaths, or holy days, to combine the northern and southern traditions for observing the sabbath. Yet, Zara Ya’iqob was less tolerant of other religious customs. He persecuted certain groups of Christian monks, Ethiopian Jews, and those accused of non-Christian practices. He wrote several books outlining a theology that became an important part of Ethiopian tradition.

Zara Ya’Iqob built a stone palace in which he lived during his later years. Unlike other Ethiopian emperors of this period, who spent much of their time traveling throughout the empire, Zara Ya’iqob rarely ventured beyond his palace’s walls. (See also Christianity in AfricaEthiopian Orthodox Church, Religion and Ritual.)