Modern artwork of Eleni by Guan Yu chen. Image Credit: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/YdQGX.

By Gabby Storey

Eleni, also known as Queen of Zeila, was Empress of Ethiopia from 1434-1468, and later queen regent. Her birth date and early life are unknown, and she was the daughter of the king of Hadiya, who’s kingdom was conquered by Ethiopian emperor Zara Yaqob. Eleni’s marriage was a result of this conquest, and does not appear to have borne any children.

Upon Yaqob’s death, Eleni was chosen as queen mother by his successor, Baeda Maryan I, and acted as co-ruler according to Paul Henze. Upon Baeda’s death, his son Eskender succeeded him. Eskender was later deposed, allegedly due to Eleni’s involvement after being excluded from power, although this is tenuous. Eskender was succeeded by his brother, Na’od, who worked closely with Eleni. When Na-od died, his son, Dawit II, was underage, and Eleni served as regent for him.

Eleni worked with Dawit’s mother, the Dowager Empress Na’od Mogassa, and Degelhan of Gojjam, the emperor’s senior male relative, to rule Ethiopia until he came of age. Although evidence is scarce for her many years of rule, she appears to have been an effective ruler, exercising authority across many regions and a pious individual as well. Her estimated date of death is April 1522.

Recommended Reading

Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time, A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000) 

Ulrich Braukämper, Islamic History and Culture in Southern Ethiopia: Collected Essays (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2004).

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