Lybne Dyngyl (ዳዊት, Dauit, throne name Ueneg Seged, meaning in Gyyz and Harari the one to whom the lions bow) (born c. 1497 in Debre Dammo – died September 2, 1540 near Debre Dammo) was the emperor of Ethiopia from 1508 to 1540. He was descended from the Salomon dynasty.
Lybne Dyngyl assumed power after the death of his father, Emperor Naoda, which occurred on the second of August 1508. It is said that when Lybne Dyngyl was eight years old and learned that he would spend his next years on Mount Amba Gyszien, where members of the imperial family were traditionally imprisoned, he burst into tears, which was supposed to move Naoda to suspend the custom. As a result, Lybne Dyngyl was able to quickly succeed his father, but initially his power was only nominal. He was ruled in his name in the early years by Empress Helena, his mother Naod Mogesa, and the negash of Godjam Uesen Seged. Around 1516 the emir of the Adal Mahfuz sultanate attacked the borderlands of Ethiopia. Despite firearms supplied to the Muslims by the Turks, Lybne Dyngyl was victorious over Mahfuz. The battle was decided by a duel between the monk Gebre Yndryjas and Muhfuz himself, in which the latter was killed. The enemy armies of Ethiopia were driven back into the Adal Sea, which would later serve as the last Ethiopian victory for decades to come. Ignorant of the warnings of the monks, the young emperor initially led a carefree life, cohabiting with concubines, adopting the custom of smoking tobacco, and organizing knightly tournaments.
During the reign of Lybne Dyngyla, the first contacts between Ethiopia and European countries took place. The initiator of this idea was Empress Helena. In 1509 or 1510 she sent an envoy of Armenian descent named Matthew to the court of the Kingdom of Portugal. With the help of the Portuguese fleet, Helena wanted to defeat the Muslim sultanate on the Red Sea coast. Helena”s plans also included intermarrying the Solomonic dynasty with the ruling family of Portugal. In 1518, King Manuel I the Lucky of Portugal, in consultation with Pope Leo X, sent a diplomatic mission. The envoys met with Lybne Dyngyle in 1520, but the emperor was not pleased with their arrival as he was hoping more for military assistance. He was probably not as enthusiastic about working with Europe in a possible coalition against the Muslims as Helena was. After six years, the Portuguese diplomatic mission returned to Europe with a golden crown for John III the Good and Pope Clement VII. Along with the Portuguese envoys also sailed the Ethiopian envoys sent by the emperor to Europe. The mission was unsuccessful because neither side took further steps. Lybne Dyngyl paid little attention to help from Europeans, too confident in his own strength. He believed that gold, Ethiopian military support from the mainland, and acquiescence in the seizure of some Red Sea ports represented a suitable price for the Portuguese king to send his fleet. The emperor”s views were to be revised only by the imminent destruction of the country fifteen years later.
The several years of good relations between Ethiopia and Adal came to an end when the Sultanate was led by the military commander, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, referred to in Ethiopian sources as Imam Gran for his left-handedness. He killed the reigning sultan and installed his own puppet ruler in that position. The imam broke off peaceful relations with the empire and began to raise troops against it. Lybne Dyngyl, wanting to anticipate the enemy”s moves, sent his troops to the Adal border around 1525, but was defeated. An expedition sent out in 1526, or 1527, under the emperor”s brother-in-law and commander-in-chief of the rasa Degelhan, ended similarly. After a six-day battle, Degelhal lost. After two victories, the imam of Grań went on the offensive and organized a looting expedition into the Ethiopian province of Ifat. Three corps of Muslim troops plundered Ifat and returned to Adal with captured cattle and slaves. Still this time the Muslims under Grania retreated from Ethiopia. Their tactics were soon to change under the influence of Grania”s political ambitions.
The start of a holy war
Over time, the imam of Grań called upon neighboring barbarian peoples to wage a “holy war” or jihad against Ethiopia. The nomadic tribes of present-day Somalia and the Afar followed his call. The powerful Grania army crossed the Auash River and marched towards Baduka, where the emperor had his residence. When Lybne Dyngyl learned of the enemy”s plans, he gathered troops from all over Ethiopia. The first battle took place at the Semerma River, where the more numerous and better trained regular imperial army fought the Muslims against Lybne Dyngyl”s orders. Despite the advantage of the Somalis on the side of Imam Grania, who were not used to regular battles and were mainly used to looting, the Emperor”s army suffered a defeat. The next battle took place in February or March 1529 at Shinbura Kurie, where again Imam Grań was victorious. Having recovered their strength, the Muslim troops mounted a plundering expedition in June of that year to the provinces of Deuaro and Bali, when some of the nobles did not even fight in exchange for the promise of being spared their lands by the attackers.
Grania”s expedition into the depths of Ethiopia
Imam Graña gathered new troops two months after this expedition and once again attacked Ethiopia, this time with the help of a small amount of artillery. He possessed seven cannons. One of the targets of the new campaign was to be the church at Antioch. The battle of that place in 1531 ended in another defeat for Lybne Dyngyl”s army. The defeat was largely decided by artillery. When the emperor learned of the outcome of the battle of Antioch, he organized another army of at least ten thousand men. The new troops commanded by Tekle Ijesus were to surprise the enemy from the rear, but Grań knew of these plans and surprised Tekle Ijesus himself and defeated him at the Battle of Ajfer. The Imam was assisted in navigating the difficult and mountainous terrain of Ethiopia by well versed guides. After the defeats suffered, Lybne Dyngyl retreated and decided not to give the battle to the imam because of the losses he had suffered. The former regent of Ethiopia, Uesen Seged, who enjoyed great authority, took command of the war from the emperor. When Uesen Seged was defeated by the Muslims, Ethiopian morale collapsed, and many regions converted to Islam.
Lybne Dyngyl”s escape to the north
In mid-1531, the emperor left the invader-ravaged province of Shehua, left his eldest son, Jacob, in his stead, and took refuge in the high mountainous region of Biet-Amhara, a hard-to-capture stronghold. Lybne Dyngyl himself garrisoned the mountain slopes at Uesil Pass with troops. Imam Grań decided to attack the imperial positions in the mountains. Uesil Pass was captured on the twenty-first of October 1531. During the pogrom, the emperor left his surviving soldiers and fled towards the Beszyllo River. One of the commanders of the Muslim army, the gerad Ahmushu set off in pursuit of the emperor but failed to capture him. He then attacked Mount Amba Gyszien and was taken prisoner, where he was beheaded. The Muslims had to abandon the siege of Amba Gyszien. Imam Grań headed for Lake Hajk, tempted by the riches found in Debre Ygziabher Monastery. The monks agreed to give all the riches to Grani at the price of sparing the church buildings. By 1533, the only areas not controlled by the Muslims were Godjam, Tigraj, and Begiemdyr. In April of that year, the imam, at the head of his army, moved northward and passed through the province of Lasta, seizing the city of Aksum, and in Semien and Uegera, the Judaizing Felsh came over to the side of the Muslims. Later Grań pursued Lybne Dyngyla, but the latter eluded pursuit. In March 1534 the Muslims attacked Begiemdyr.
The last years of the emperor
The empire was on the brink of extinction, so Lybne Dyngyl turned to Portugal for armed assistance. In 1535 he sent a European envoy coming from Venice, John Bermudez, to Rome. In 1536 or 1537 Imam Grań completely conquered Begiemdyr and then Godjam. In 1538 he proposed peace to Lybne Dyngyl and uniting the hostile dynasties by marriage, but the emperor refused. The ruler of Ethiopia suffered further defeats. On May seventh, 1538, his son Victor was killed, and thirteen days later his second son Minas was captured. A year later Lybne Dyngyl finally won a victory in one of the clashes. In January 1540, as a result of treachery, the Muslims captured Amba Gyszien. On September second of that year, Lybne Dyngyl was killed in battle near Debre Dammo Mountain, where he was born and where an important Ethiopian monastery dating back to the sixth century is located. Upon the Emperor”s death, his young son by marriage to the Empress Seble Uengiel, Claudius, succeeded to the throne of Ethiopia. With the beginning of Claudius” reign, the empire slowly began to recover from its decline, as he enjoyed more popular support than his father. Lybne Dyngyl himself did not live to see relief from the Europeans, as help in the form of Christopher da Gama”s four hundred musketeers did not arrive until 1541.
The Portuguese missionary Francisco Álvares described the emperor”s appearance as follows:
As late as the 16th century, Europeans believed in the existence of a rich, overseas Christian kingdom of the legendary Priest John. According to one version of the legend, that country was supposed to be Ethiopia.