Agaw people

Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia 764,000[1]
 Eritrea 110,000[2]
Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox · Eritrean Orthodox · Catholic) Pagan-Hebraic · Judaism · Islam (Sunni)
Related ethnic groups
AfarAmharaBejaOromoSahoSomaliTigrayTigre and other Cushitic peoples.[3]

The Agaw (Ge'ez: አገው Agaw; modern Agew) are an ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea. They speak Agaw languages, which belong to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.


15th century icon of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, the 12th century Zagwe dynasty King.

The Agaw are perhaps first mentioned in the 3rd-century AD Monumentum Adulitanum, an Aksumite inscription recorded by Cosmas Indicopleustes in the 6th century. The inscription refers to a people called "Athagaus" (or Athagaous), perhaps from ʿAd Agaw, meaning "sons[4] of Agaw."[5] The Athagaous first turn up as one of the peoples conquered by the unknown king who inscribed the Monumentum Adulitanum.[6] The Agaw are later mentioned in an inscription of the 4th-century Aksumite King Ezana[5] and 6th-century King Kaleb. Based on this evidence, a number of experts embrace a theory first stated by Edward Ullendorff and Carlo Conti Rossini that they are the original inhabitants of much of the northern Ethiopian highlands, and were either forced out of their original settlements or assimilated by Semitic-speaking Tigray-Tigrinya and Amhara peoples.[7] Cosmas Indicopleustes also noted in his Christian Topography that a major gold trade route passed through the region "Agau". The area referred to seems to be an area east of the Tekezé River and just south of the Semien Mountains, perhaps around Lake Tana.[5]

They currently exist in a number of scattered enclaves, which include the Bilen in and around Keren in Eritrea; the Qemant and the Qwara, who live around Gondar in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, west of the Tekezé River and north of Lake Tana; a number of Agaw live south of Lake Tana, around Dangila in the Agew Awi Zone of the Amhara Region; and another group live around Sokota in the former province of Wollo, now part of the Amhara Region, along its border with the Tigray Region.

The Cushitic speaking Agaw people ruled during the Zagwe dynasty of Ethiopia from about 900 to 1270. The name of the dynasty itself comes from the Ge'ez phrase Ze-Agaw (meaning "of the Agaw"), and refers to the Agaw people.


Bet Amanuel church in Lalibela, one of several rock-hewn churches built by the medieval Zagwe dynasty

The Agaw speak Agaw languages. They are a part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Many also speak Amharic, Tigrinya and/or Tigre, which are also Afro-Asiatic languages, but of the Semitic branch.


Notable Agaw People

See also


  1. "Awi". Joshua Project. U.S. Center for World Mission. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  2. "Bilen". Joshua Project. U.S. Center for World Mission. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  3. Joireman, Sandra F. (1997). Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa: The Allocation of Property Rights and Implications for Development. Universal-Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 1581120001. The Horn of Africa encompasses the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. These countries share similar peoples, languages, and geographical endowments.
  4. Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003. p. 117
  5. 1 2 3 Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia: A-C. p. 142.
  6. Munro-Hay, Stuart. Aksum: an African Civilization of Late Antiquity (Edinburgh: University Press, 1991), p. 187
  7. Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (1270 - 1527) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 26.
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