Emperor of Ethiopia
Menilek II was the son of the heir to the kingdom of Shewa in what is now central ETHIOPIA. In 1856 TEWODROS II used modern weapons to conquer Shewa and many other parts of Ethiopia. Menilek was captured and taken to Tewodros's court, where he was raised and educated. Nine years later, he escaped and returned to Shewa. After Tewodros died in 1868, Menilek tried to win the Ethiopian throne but lost out to Yohannes IV. Menilek then worked to make Shewa the center of Ethiopian political and economic power by expanding his control over lands to the south and east.
In 1889 Yohannes died in battle, and Menilek succeeded him as the emperor of Ethiopia. That same year, Italy declared Ethiopia a protectorate. Menilek led the Ethiopians to war to defend their independence, eventually defeating the Italian forces in 1896. Later, he expanded Ethiopia to its present size and promoted economic growth by building a railway from ADDIS ABABA to DJIBOUTI. Under his rule, Addis Ababa became the country's first modern city. When Menilek suffered a severe stroke in 1909, his grandson took over as emperor.