Greater Tigray and the Mysterious Magnetism of Ethiopia

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This is an analytical history of the role Tigrinya-speakers have played and are still playing in the history of Ethiopia and Eritrea, from Tigray’s very ancient incipience to the origins of today’s tragically fratricidal war. 

Drawing from his huge corpus of publications on the Horn of Africa, Haggai Erlich sheds new light on major turning-points, as well as patterns of continuity. His history revolves around one key question: what was ‘the mysterious magnetism’ that held (and still holds) Ethiopia together? Erlich argues that there is an ‘Amhara thesis’ competing with a ‘Tigrayan thesis’ on what Ethiopia’s political and administrative system should be, and that the region’s history has often rotated around the axis of struggle between these two visions. The Tigrayans, though a minority, have had their periods of domination, the last ending in 2018. In between these eras, Tigrayans have been marginalised and weakened, including as the victims of their own internal rivalries, which culminated in the deep and bitter split between ‘core’ Tigrayans and Tigrayan Eritreans. 

In the context of today’s war, Erlich’s insightful book offers an extremely timely introduction to Tigrayan history, and an indispensable key to understanding the roots of Ethiopia’s present crisis.  


‘Erlich, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Horn of Africa, has masterfully captured the history of the Tigrinya-speaking peoples in Ethiopia and Eritrea.’ — David H. Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia

‘Rich in detail, colour and analysis. A brisk, warm and timely account of Tigray’s history and Ethiopia’s “mysterious magnetism.”’ — Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent, and author of The Mayor of Mogadishu

‘A unique, engaging and wonderful book by a one-of-a-kind scholar. With a vast amount of fascinating detail about the history of Tigray, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Erlich offers insight that cannot be found elsewhere.’ — Alex de Waal, Executive Director, World Peace Foundation

‘A compelling narrative by one of the most eminent historians of the region. The sweep is grand and the analysis is granular. This should be read by anyone interested in the historical context within which the current crisis in Ethiopia is being played out.’ — Richard Reid, Professor of African History, University of Oxford

‘Tigrayans on both sides of the border must learn from the experiences of their forefathers. There is nothing better than this book for the start of such an effort.’ — Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, Senior Fellow, World Peace Foundation

‘Synthesising the extensive knowledge of a prominent and widely respected historian of the Horn of Africa, this readable and provocative book offers much to engage both the academic specialist and a broad readership across the region and beyond.’ — Sarah Vaughan, co-author of Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray War


Haggai Erlich is Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University, and former head of Middle Eastern History studies at the Open University of Israel. He was the 2010 Landau Prize recipient in African Studies, and has written dozens of books and articles on the history of the Horn of Africa.

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