The Amhara and the Tigrinya, indigenous peoples of ETHIOPIA, make up the group commonly known as Abyssinians. Both the Amhara and the Tigrinya are descendants of the founders of the ancient kingdom of AKSUM, and both speak Semitic languages. Originally based in the Ethiopian highlands, the Amhara gradually spread out to settle a large area of central Ethiopia. The Tigrinya live mainly in Tigre province and ERITREA. Largely agricultural, both peoples cultivate crops and, to a lesser extent, raise livestock.
Over the centuries the Amhara have dominated the region politically and their culture has spread to neighboring peoples. Most Amhara are followers of Monophysite Christianity, the religion of the old Aksumite kingdom that holds that Jesus Christ is solely divine and not human in nature. Contact with the Amhara has led some Islamic inhabitants of the Ethiopian highlands to adopt Christian customs.
Until modern times, a continuous line of Amhara royalty ruled Ethiopia. These rulers considered themselves to be descendants of Menilek I, who was said to be the son of King Solomon of Jerusalem and the queen of Sheba. The last Ethiopian emperor of this dynasty, HAILE SELASSIE I, was overthrown in 1974. (See also Christianity in Africa.)