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Eritrea (IPA:ə/r'tre/, ə/r'tri/) (Ge'ez: Ertrāa, Arabic: إرتريا Iritriya), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country have an extensive coastline on the Red Sea, directly across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Dahlak Archipelago and several of the Hanish Islands are part of Eritrea.

Eritrea was conquered by Italy and formally consolidated into a colony by the Italian government on January 1, 1890. In 1936 it became a province of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The British expelled the Italians in 1941 [1] and continued to administer the territory under a UN mandate until 1951 when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as per UN resolution 390(A) adopted in December 1950.

Increasing unrest and resistance in Eritrea against the federation with Ethiopia eventually led to a decision by the Ethiopian government to annex Eritrea as its 14th province in 1962. An Eritrean independence movement formed in the early 1960s which later erupted into a 31-year long civil war against successive Ethiopian governments that ended in 1991. Following a UN supervised referendum in Eritrea dubbed UNOVER in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993.[2] Eritrea's constitution, adopted in 1997, stipulates that the state is a presidential republic with a unicameral parliamentary democracy. The constitution, however, has not yet been implemented fully due, according to the government, to the prevailing border conflict with Ethiopia which began in May 1998.

Eritrea is a multilingual and multicultural country with two dominant religions (Coptic Orthodox Christianity and Islam) and nine ethnic groups. The country's dominant language is Tigrinya, natively spoken by about 50% of the population. Along with Tigrinya, Arabic and English are used as working languages. English is also used in all of the government's international communication and is the language of instruction in all education beyond the fifth grade

The oldest written reference to the territory now known as Eritrea is the chronicled expedition launched to the fabled Punt (or Ta Netjeru, meaning land of the Gods) by the Ancient Egyptians in the twenty-fifth century BC under Pharaoh Sahure. Later sources from the Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the fifteenth century BC present a more detailed portrayal of an expedition in search of incense. The geographical location of the missions to Punt is described as roughly corresponding to the southern west coast of the Red Sea. The name Eritrea is a rendition of the ancient Greek name Ε?ρ?υ?θ?ρ?αaί?αa, Erythraía, the "Red Land".


One of the oldest hominids, representing a possible link between Homo erectus and an archaic Homo sapiens, was found in Buya (Eritrean Danakil) in 1995 by Italian scientists. The cranium was dated to over 1 million years old.[4] Furthermore, in 1999 the Eritrean Research Project Team, composed of Eritrean, Canadian, American, Dutch, and French scientists, discovered some of the earliest remains of humans using tools to harvest marine resources, at a site near the bay of Zula, south of Massawa. The site contained obsidian tools dated to the paleolithic era, over 125,000 years old.[5] Epipaleolithic or mesolithic cave paintings in central and northern Eritrea attest to early hunter-gatherers in this region.

A US paleontologist, William Sanders of the University of Michigan, also discovered a possible missing link between ancient and modern elephants in the form of the fossilized remains of a pig-sized creature in Eritrea. Sanders claims that the dating of the fossil to 27 million years ago pushes the origins of elephants and mastodons five million years further into the past than previously recorded, and asserts that modern elephants originated in Africa, in contrast to mammals such as rhinos that had their origins in Europe and Asia and then migrated into Africa. In addition to Sanders, the research team included scientists from the Elephant Research Foundation of Wayne State University in Michigan, USA, University of Asmara in Eritrea; Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, USA; the Eritrean ministry of mines and energy; Global Resources in Asmara, Eritrea; the éMusum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris; the National Museum of Eritrea; and German Primate Center in Göttingen, Germany.

 Early history

The earliest evidence of agriculture, urban settlement and trade in Eritrea was found in the western region of the country consisting of archeological remains dating back to 3500 BC in sites called the Gash group. Based on the archaeological evidence, there seems to have been a connection between the peoples of the Gash group and the civilizations of the Nile Valley namely Ancient Egypt and Nubia.[6] Ancient Egyptian sources also give references to cities and trading posts along the southwestern Red Sea coast, roughly corresponding to modern day Eritrea, calling this "the land of Punt," famed for its incense.

In the highlands, in the capital city Asmara's suburbs, scores of ancient sites have been documented, including Sembel, Mai Chiot, Ona Gudo, Mai Temenai, Weki Duba, and Mai Hutsa. Mostly dating to the early and mid-1st millennium BCE (800 to 350 BCE), these communities consisted of small towns, villages, and hamlets built of stone. People practiced a mixed economy of pastoralism and grain agriculture, but little evidence for trade with the outside world has been found. The proximity of these ancient communities to gold mines suggest that part of their prosperity was linked to the mining and processing of gold. Around the mid-1st millennium, several sites with Sabaean remains (inscriptions, artifacts, monuments, etc.) seem to emerge in the central highlands, for example, at Keskese. There is evidence at Keskese that older remains, similar to those around Asmara, are present. The Sabaean remains, however, are not accompanied by evidence for residence of people from that southern Arabian kingdom. It appears to archaeologists that these remains represent the growth of local elites who appropriated powerful symbols from Saba in their quest for legitimacy.

Between the eighth and fifth century BCE, a kingdom known as D'mt was supposedly established in what is today Eritrea and northern Ethiopia (Tigray). Many speculative theories try to explain the presence of Sabaean material culture by saying that this area had extensive relations with the Sabaeans in present day Yemen across the Red Sea, but these views are not sustained by archaeological evidence.[8][9][10] After D'mt's decline around the fifth century BC, the state of Aksum arose in much of Eritrea and the northern Ethiopian Highlands. It grew during the fourth century BC and came into prominence during the first century AD, minting its own coins by the third century, and converting in the fourth century to Christianity, thereby becoming the second official Christian state (after Armenia), and the first country to feature the cross on its coins. According to Mani, it grew to be one of the four greatest civilizations in the world, on a par with China, Persia, and Rome. In the seventh century, with the advent of Islam across the Red Sea in Arabia and the Arab invasion and subsequent destruction of Adulis, Aksum's trade and power on the Red Sea began to decline and the empire gradually diminished and was overtaken by smaller rival kingdoms.

Medieval history

During the medieval period, contemporary with and following the gradual disintegration of the Aksumite state between the 9th and 10th centuries, several states as well as tribal and clan lands emerged in the area known today as Eritrea. Between the eighth and thirteenth century, northern and northwestern Eritrea had largely come under the domination of the Beja, a Cushitic people from northeastern Sudan. They formed five independent Islamic kingdoms known as: Naqis, Baqlin, Bazin, Jarin and Qata.[11] The Beja brought Islam to large parts of Eritrea and connected the region to the greater Islamic world dominated by the Ummayad Caliphate, followed by the Abbasid (and Mamluk) and later the Ottoman Empire. The Ummayads had taken the Dahlak archipelago by 702. Christians of the Axumite era continued nonetheless to inhabit these areas and retain their religion. The southeastern parts of Eritrea, inhabited by the independent Afar since ancient times, came to form part of the Islamic sultanate of Adal in the early 13th century. Parts of the southwestern lowlands of Eritrea were under the dominion of the then Christian/animist Funj sultanate of Sinnar.

In the main highland area and adjacent coastline of what were previously Moslem (Beja) ruled areas, a Christian Kingdom called Midir Bahr or Midri Bahri (Tigrinya for land of the sea) arose, ruled by the Bahr negus or Bahr negash, ("ruler of the sea") in the 15th century.[12] Barely a century later, an invading force of the islamic Ottoman Empire, under Suleiman I, conquered Massawa in 1557 from the Christians, building what is now considered the "old town" of Massawa on Batsi island. They also conquered the towns of Hergigo, and Debarwa, the capital city of the contemporary Christian Bahr negus (ruler), Yeshaq. Suleiman's forces fought as far south as southeastern Tigray in Ethiopia before being repulsed. Yeshaq was able to retake much of what the Ottomans captured with Ethiopian assistance, but he later twice revolted against the Emperor of Ethiopia with Ottoman support. By 1578, all revolts had ended, leaving the Ottomans in control of the important ports of Massawa and Hergigo and their environs, and leaving the interior domains (province) which they had dubbed: "Habesh", to Beja Na'ibs (deputies). The Ottomans maintained their dominion over the coastal areas for nearly 300 years, absorbing the coastal areas of the disintegrated Adal sultanate as vassals in the 16th century. The Funj sultanate of Sinnar converted to Islam in the 16th century but maintained independent control of the southwestern areas of Eritrea until being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century.

The extent of the Islamic Beja's rule over the Eritrean interior from the 16th century and on did not extend very far into the mainly Christian highland (Kebessa) areas. With the feudal rule of the Bahr negash severely weakened, the area became dubbed Mereb Mellash by locals and neighboring Ethiopians alike, meaning "beyond the Mereb" (in Tigrinya). This name defined the territory as being north of the Mareb River which to this day is a natural boundary between the modern states of Eritrea and Ethiopia.[13] Roughly the same area also came to be referred to as Hamasien in the nineteenth century. In these areas, feudal authority was particularly weak or nonexistent, and the autonomy of the landowning peasantry was particularly strong; a kind of "Republic" was prevalent, governed by local customary laws legislated by elected elder's councils (shimagile).[14] In 1770, the Scottish researcher James Bruce describes Hamasien and Abyssinia as "different countries who are often fighting" (SUKE, p. 25). The name Hamasien later came to designate a much smaller area in Eritrea, a province immediately surrounding the capital, until being absorbed into the new administrative divisions in 1994.

Colonial era

In 1869, a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Giuseppe Sapetto acting on behalf of a Genovese shipping company called "Rubattino" purchased the locality of Assab from the Afar Sultan of Obock, an Ottoman vassal. This happened in the same year as the opening of the Suez Canal.[15] In the ongoing Scramble for Africa Italy, as one of the European colonial powers, began vying for a possession along the strategic coast of what was to become the world's busiest shipping lane. With the approval of the Italian parliament and King Umberto I of Italy (later succeeded by his son Victor Emmanuel III), the government of Italy bought the Rubattino company's holdings and expanded its possessions northward along the Red Sea coast toward and beyond Massawa, encroaching on and quickly expelling previous 'Egyptian' possessions. The Italians met with stiffer resistance in the Eritrean highlands from the invading army of the Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia.

Nevertheless the Italians consolidated their possessions into one colony, henceforth known as Eritrea, territory of Italy, as of New Years Day 1890. This led to Italy's first attempt to colonize Ethiopia, under prime minister Francesco Crispi. Italy had offered to make Ethiopia an Italian protectorate. On the other hand, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia was intent, like his predecessors, on creating an Ethiopian empire of his own by laying claims to—and invading—surrounding territories in competition with the European colonialists. He subsequently declared war on the Italians, defeating an Italian incursion into Ethiopian territory at Adowa in 1896. Upon the treaty with Italy, Emperor Menelik II in 1889 stated

  • The territories north of the Merab Melash (Modern Eritrea) do not belong to nor are under my rule. I am the Emperor of Abyssinia. The lands referred to as Eritrea is not peopled by Abyssinians, they are Adals, Bejas, and Tigres. Abyssinia will defend her territories but it will not fight for foreign lands of which Eritrea is to my knowledge.
  • Italy refrained from further attempts at invading Ethiopia until 1935, when under fascism and Mussolini Italy attempted to conquer Ethiopia again, this time fighting against Emperor Haile Selassie. Using its colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland as its base, Italy was successful in conquering Ethiopia. The Kingdom of Italy ruled Eritrea from 1890 to 1940. In 1936, dictator Benito Mussolini created the Italian Empire (Italian East Africa), with the union of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. Eritrea enjoyed considerable industrialization and development of modern infrastructure during Italian rule (such as roads and the Eritrean Railway).
  • The Italians remained the colonial power in Eritrea throughout the lifetime of fascism and the beginnings of World War II, when they were defeated by Allied forces in 1941, and Eritrea came under British administration.[15] Noted artist Aldo Giorgini was a young child caught up in this difficult transitional period, and his experiences during this time became a recurrent theme in his artwork. The best Italian colonial forces were the Eritrean Ascari, who were defined by Amedeo Guillet as "the Prussians of Africa, but without the defects of the Prussians". They actively supported even the Italian guerrillas against the British between 1941 and 1943.

    After the war, the United Nations conducted a lengthy inquiry regarding the status of Eritrea, with the superpowers each vying for a stake in the state's future. Britain, the last administrator at the time, put forth the suggestion to partition Eritrea between Sudan and Ethiopia, separating Christians and Muslims. The idea was instantly rejected by Eritrean political parties as well as the UN.[16] The United States' point of view was expressed by its then chief foreign policy advisor John Foster Dulles, who said in 1952:

    • From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.
  • A UN plebiscite voted 46 to 10 to have Eritrea be federated with Ethiopia, which was later stipulated on December 2, 1950 in resolution 390 (V). Eritrea would have its own parliament and administration and would be represented in what had been the Ethiopian parliament and would become the federal parliament.[17] In 1961 the 30-year Eritrean Struggle for Independence began, following the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I's dissolution of the federation and shutting down of Eritrea's parliament. The Emperor declared Eritrea the fourteenth province of Ethiopia in 1962.[18]
  • The regions, followed by the sub-region, are:







    Berikh, Ghala-Nefhi, Semienawi Mibraq, Serejaka, Debubawi Mibraq, Semienawi Mi'erab, Debubawi Mi'erab



    Adi Keyh, Adi Quala, Areza, Debarwa, Dekemhare, Mai Ayni, Mai Mne, Mendefera, Segeneiti, Senafe, Tserona



    Agordat, Barentu, Dghe, Forto, Gogne, Haykota, Logo-Anseba, Mensura, Mogolo, Molki, Guluj, Shambuko, Tesseney, La'elay Gash



    Adi Tekelezan, Asmat, Elabered, Geleb, Hagaz, Halhal, Habero, Keren City, Kerkebet, Sel'a


    Northern Red Sea

    Afabet, Dahlak, Ghel'alo, Foro, Ghinda, Karura, Massawa, Nakfa, She'eb


    Southern Red Sea

    Are'eta, Central Dankalia, Southern Dankalia, Assab


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