The Emperor Theodore - His Rise and Conquests - His Army and Administration - Causes of his Fall - His Personal Appearance and Character - His Household and Private Life...
Lij Kassa, better known as the Emperor Theodore, was born in Kouara about the year 1818. His father was a noble of Abyssinia, and his uncle, the celebrated Dejatch Comfou, had for many years governed the provinces of Dembea, Kouara, Tschelga, &c. On the death of his uncle he was appointed by Ras Ali's mother, Waizero Menen, governor of Kouara; but, dissatisfied with that post, which left but little scope for his ambition, he threw off his allegiance, and occupied Dembea as a rebel. Several generals were sent to chastise the young soldier; but he either eluded their pursuit or defeated their forces. However, on the solemn promise that he would, be well received, he repaired to the camp of Ras Ali. This kind-hearted but weak ruler thought to attach to his cause the brave chieftain, and to accomplish that object gave him his daughter Tawavitch (she is beautiful). Lij Kassa returned to Kouara, and for a time remained faithful to his sovereign. He made several plundering expeditions in the low lands, carried fire and sword into the Arab huts, and always returned from these excursions bringing with him hordes of cattle, prisoners, and slaves.
The successes of Kassa, the courage he manifested on all occasions, the abstemious life he led, and the favour he showed to all who served his cause, soon collected around him a band of hardy and reckless followers. Being ambitious, he now formed the project of carving out an empire for himself in the fertile plains he had so often devastated. Educated in a convent, he had not only studied theological subjects, but made himself conversant with the mystic Abyssinian history. His early education always exercised great influence on his after-life, giving to his intercourse with others a religious character, and impressed vividly upon his mind the idea that the Mussulman race having for centuries encroached on the Christian land, it should be the aim of his life to re-establish the old Ethiopian empire. Urged on, therefore, both by ambition and fanaticism, he advanced in the direction of Kedaref at the head of 16,000 warriors; but he had soon to learn the immense superiority of a small number of well-armed and well-trained troops over large but undisciplined bodies of men. Near Kedaref he came in sight of his mortal foes the Turks, a mere handful of irregulars; yet they were too much for him: for the first time, defeated and disheartened, he had, for a while, to abandon his long-cherished scheme.
Instead of returning to the seat of his government, he was obliged, on account of a severe wound received during the fight, to halt on the frontier of Dembea. From his camp he informed his mother-in-law of his condition, and requested that she would send him a cow - the fee required by the Abyssinian doctor. Waizero Menen, who had always hated Kassa, now took advantage of his fallen condition to humble his pride still more; she sent him, instead of the cow, a small piece of meat with an insulting message. Near the couch of the wounded chieftain sat the brave companion who had shared his fortunes, the wife whom he loved. On hearing the sneering message of the Queen, her fiery Galla blood flamed with indignation. She rose and told Kassa that she loved the brave but abhorred the coward; and she could not remain any longer by his side if, after such an insult, he did not revenge it in blood. Her passionate words fell upon willing ears; vengeance filled the heart of Kassa, and as soon as he had sufficiently recovered he returned to Kouara and openly proclaimed his independence.
For the second time Ras Ali called him to his court; but the summons met with a stern refusal. Several generals were sent to enforce the command, but the young soldier easily routed these courtiers; whilst their followers, charmed with Kassa's insinuating manners and dazzled by his splendid promises, almost to a man enrolled themselves under his standard. His wife again exerted her influence, showing him how easily he might secure for himself the supreme power, and, as he hesitated, again threatened to leave him. Kassa resisted no longer; he advanced into Godjam, and carried all before him. The battle of Djisella, fought in 1853, decided the fate of Ras Ali. His army had been but for a short time engaged when, panic-stricken, the Ras left the field with a body of 500 horse, leaving the rest of his large host to swell the ranks of the conqueror. Victory followed victory, and after a few years, from Shoa to Metemma, from Godjam to Bogos, all feared and obeyed the commands of the Emperor Theodore; for under that name he desired to be crowned, after he had by the battle of Deraskie, fought in February, 1855, subdued Tigre, and conquered his most formidable opponent, Dejatch Oubie.
Shortly after the battle of Deraskie, Theodore turned his victorious arms against the Wallo Gallas, possessed himself of Magdala, and ravaged and destroyed so completely the rich Galla plain that many of the chiefs joined his ranks, and fought against their own countrymen. He had now not only avenged the long-oppressed Christians, so often victims of the Galla inroads, but curbed for a long time the haughty spirit of these clans. At the height of success, he lost his brave and loving wife. He felt the cruel blow deeply. She had been his faithful counsellor, the companion of his adventures, the being he most loved; and he cherished her memory while he lived. In 1866, when one of his artisans almost forced himself into his presence to request permission for me to remain a few days near the man's dying wife, Theodore bent his head, and wept at the remembrance of his own wife whom he had so deeply loved.