Layers of Time

History of Ethiopia

Paul B. Henze

‘The great merit of Paul Henze’s new history of Ethiopia, Layers of Time, is that it makes you dream even as it stays very firmly in the realm of verifiable facts.’ — Washington Times

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Layers of Time Hardback
September 2000£45.00
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September 2000£22.50
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Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world. As the Aksumite Empire, it became a world power, its Emperor Ezana coverting to Christianity in 330 AD. Alone in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopians developed coinage and writing systems. This volume traces the country’s expansion southward during medieval times, its resistance to Muslim invasion and, under energetic leaders, its defence of its independence during the European scramble for Africa. Paul Henze’s History of Ethiopia is not only concerned with kings, princes and politicians but includes insights into daily life, art, architecture, religion, culture, customs and the observations of travellers, and is enlivened by the personal reminiscences of Ethiopians.


Paul B. Henze has worked for three decades on the Horn of Africa and has authored dozens of articles on the area. He served at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa between 1969 and 1972 and on the National Security Council between 1977 and 1980. He is the author of Ethiopian Journeys: Travels in Ethiopia, 1969-72 (1977), The Horn of Africa: From War to Peace (1991), and Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (1999). He has also been a resident consultant at the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C.


‘As a Christian island in an Islamic sea, Ethiopia has maintained an allure for Westerners for centuries. With the ouster of the Communist Derg in 1991, Ethiopia is again accessible to scholars and tourists, so interest is likely to intensify. Henze is a seasoned diplomat who has served in Ethiopia and written extensively on this fascinating but still mysterious (to Westerners) land. Thus, this general survey of Ethiopian history should prove invaluable for those with an interest in the region. Henze traces Ethiopia’s development from the richness of the Aksumite Empire to its interaction with and resistance to the Arab Empire in the Middle Ages. His examination of Ethiopia’s “opening” to the West in the eighteenth century is particularly informative, and he offers rather interesting insights regarding Ethiopia’s position during the cold war struggle for influence on the Horn of Africa. This is an easily digested and very useful introduction to an ancient land and people.’ — Jay Freeman

‘A comprehensive history of Ethiopia, from a diplomat and former staffer at the National Security Council, that is particularly instructive in covering the last twenty years. Beginning with a brief prehistoric overview, Henze goes on to describe the rise of Ethiopia: an ancient civilization, the source of coffee, and one of the most developed and long-lasting empires in Africa. The Aksumite Empire that evolved on the lush Ethiopian highlands was known to the Greeks and the Romans, and its legendary Queen Sheba traveled to Israel to meet with King Solomon (a meeting that produced the first king of the Solomonic dynasty that ended only with the death of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974). A Persian prophet writing in the third century A.D.described Ethiopia as one of the great kingdoms of the age, and later scholars believed it to be the mysterious Christian empire ruled by Prester John. Henze details the turbulent years that followed the decline of Aksum, the devout adherence to Orthodox Christianity, the failed efforts of Portuguese adventurers to gain a foothold, and the great battle of Adwa in 1898. There the Emperor Menelik (who had begun modernizing what was and still is in some areas a medieval country) decisively defeated an Italian army bent on securing Ethiopia as a colony. Henze offers a persuasive and nuanced portrait of Haile Selassie, who did much to move Ethiopia forward (particularly in the 1960s, which Henze regards as a golden era for Ethiopia). But by 1974 Selassie was old, the succession not clear, and, unable to deal with a fractious country, Selassie was forcibly removed by the brutal and bloodthirsty warlord Mengistu Haile Mariam. His rule led to Ethiopia becoming a war-torn pawn in the Cold War, subject to the worst excesses of Marxism–forced collectivization, untold deaths, and a devastated economy.Though it suffers at times from more information than insights, this is a timely study of a country still much in the news.’ —  Kirkus Associates

‘All in all, this book makes interesting reading, and should suit both scholar and general reader alike…’ — International Journal of African Historical Studies
‘The great merit of Paul Henze’s new history of Ethiopia, Layers of Time, is that it makes you dream even as it stays very firmly in the realm of verifiable facts.’ — Washington Times