Berhan Mogassa
Empress consort of Ethiopia
Regent of Ethiopia

Itege (Empress) Mentewab lying prostrate at Mary's feet at Nerga Selassie in Lake Tana, 1748.
Reign 8 Nov 1723 – 19 Sep 1730
Coronation 23 December 1730
Born c. 1706
Died 27 June 1773
(aged 66-67)
Qwasqwam Palace, Gondar
Burial Monastery Church of St Mary of Qwasqwam
Spouse Emperor Bakaffa
Lord Iyasu Milmal
Issue Iyasu II
Woizero Walatta Takla Haymanot
Woizero Walatta Israel
Woizero Aster
Woizero Altash
Full name
Mentewab (birth name)
Walatta Giyorgis (baptismal name)
Berhan Mogassa (throne name)
House House of Solomon
Father Lord Manbare of Dembiya
Mother Lady Yenkoy

Mentewab (Ge'ez : ምንትዋብ min-tiwwāb, Amharic: "How beautiful"; c. 1706 - 27 June 1773), was Empress of Ethiopia, consort of Emperor Bakaffa, mother of Iyasu II and grandmother of Iyoas I. She was also known officially by her baptismal name of Welete Giyorgis ("Daughter of St. George"). Mentewab was a major political figure during the reigns of her son the Emperor Iyasu and grandson Iyoas. Empress Mentewab was also known by the honorific of Berhan Mogasa or "Glorifier of Light". This was to compliment the honorific of her son Iyasu II, who was Berhan Seged or "He To Whom the Light Bows".


Mentewab was born in Qwara province, and was rumored to have had a Portuguese grandparent; because of this, she was often suspected of harboring secret Roman Catholic sympathies.[1] She was a daughter of Dejazmach Manbare of Dembiya by his wife, Woizero Yenkoy. Mentewab married Emperor Bakaffa in Qwara 6 September 1722, becoming his second wife (his first wife having mysteriously died on the day she was crowned immediately following her coronation banquet).

Following the death of her husband, Empress Mentewab took up a romantic liaison with her late husband's nephew. The Empress' much younger lover was derisively called "Melmal Iyasu" (Iyasu the Kept) by members of the court. Mentewab would have three daughters by "Melmal Iyasu", including Woizero Aster Iyasu, who would marry the powerful Tigrean warlord Ras Mikael Sehul.

Mentewab's Castle in Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar, Ethiopia

Empress Mentewab built several significant structures in Gondar, including her own castle in the Royal Enclosure, and a large banqueting hall as well.[2] Most significantly she built a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Qusquam (named for a site in Egypt where the Holy Family had stayed during their exile) in the mountains outside of Gondar. Empress Mentewab also built a palace adjoining her church, which became her favored residence.[3]

Empress Mentewab was crowned co-ruler upon the succession of her son Iyasu II in 1730, and held unprecedented power over government during his reign. (She descended in her own right from emperors who reigned two centuries earlier.) Her attempt to continue in this role following the death of her son 1755 led her into conflict with Wubit (Welete Bersabe), Iyasu's widow, who believed that it was her turn to preside at the court of her own son Iyoas. The conflict between these two queens led to Mentewab summoning her Qwaran relatives and their forces to Gondar for support. Wubit responded by summoning her own Oromo relatives and their considerable forces from Yejju. Mentewab summoned the powerful Mikael Sehul (who was to become her son-in-law) to mediate the dispute and prevent a bloodbath. Upon arriving in Gondar, he was made Ras. Mentewab had hoped that he would land firmly on her side, but instead Ras Mikael seized power for himself, and eventually engineered the murder by strangulation of Emperor Iyoas I, at which time Mikael also married the aunt of his victim.

Empress Mentewab was distraught at the murder of her grandson. She retreated to Qusquam and buried her grandson there next to her son, and refused to return to the city of Gondar. She lived at her palace there in seclusion till the end of her life.

Children and genealogy

Children by Emperor Bakaffa:

Children by Abetohun Iyasu Milmal:

Emperor Menas
Itege Admas Mogassa
Abetohun Yeshaq, later Emperor Sarsa DengelAbetohun Za HawaryatAbetohun Walda HawaryatAbetohun Fiqtor
Woizero Marata Wangel of Bad
Za Krestos Sarsa
Woizero NassahitWagshum Gabra Seyum
of Lasta and Semien
Abeto La'eka Maryam of Genaza
Woizero Walatta Maryam
Abeto Za Selassie of Walaqa
Woizero Keddeste Kristos
Azzaz Damo
Woizero Krestosawit
Abeto Waksos of Bula
Woizero Yolyana
Dejazmatch Manbare of Dembiya
Woizero Yenkoy


  1. This is based on the statement of James Bruce: "She was descended from a daughter of Victor.... This daughter was married to a Robel, governor of Tigre, whose mother was a Portuguese; and the queen inherited the colour of her European ancestors; indeed was whiter than most Portuguese. She was very vain of this her descent; had a warm attachment to the Catholic religion in her heart, as far as she could ever learn it." (Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (Edinburgh, 1804), vol. 4 p. 101
  2. Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture (Chicago: University Press, 1965), p. 26
  3. Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time, A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 105
  4. Richard Pankhurst, "An 18th century Ethiopian Dynastic Marriage Contract between Empress Mentewwab of Gondar and Ras Mika'el Sehul of Tegre," in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies: 1979, p. 458.
  5. Pankhurst, "Marriage Contract," p. 461.
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