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Empress Taytu Betul (1851-1918) was the wife of the Emperor of the Ethiopian Empire. She was a trusted advisor of her husband, and was a skilled strategist in war. 

Taytu Betul (1851-1918) was born into an aristocratic family. Betul was able to study, which was an unusual opportunity for a woman at that time. As a result, she could read and write Amharic and also spoke Ge’ez. Because of her status, King Menelik II was arranged to be her husband. 


When Menelik became emperor of Ethiopia, Betul became empress. She advised Menelik in many areas and he listened to her ideas and used them. He often found it hard to say no, whereas Taytu would do so confidently. This made her unpopular with some people. 


In 1890, Italy tried to colonise Ethiopia. In 1889, the Italians drew up the bilingual Treaty of Wuchale. The treaty was written in Italian and Amharic, but the Italian version was different to the Amharic version. In the Italian version it said that Ethiopia would be a protectorate of Italy but in the Amharic version it said that there would be a diplomatic partnership between Ethiopia and Italy with Ethiopia remaining independent. When Betul found out, she tore up the treaty and made her husband declare war on Italy. Unsurprisingly, the Italian’s did not like Betul!


She was advised to stay away from the fighting but ignored this advice. Instead she motivated people who weren’t soldiers to contribute to the war either by fighting or by caring for those wounded in the fighting. She also commanded her own part of the army, leading around 5500 soldiers who were known for their professionalism.


She came up with a clever tactic to win the battle of Makelle against the Italians. She told Menelik II that the army should cut off the water supply to the Italian fort at Makelle. Many soldiers thought that fighting was more important than cutting off the water, but they were eventually convinced. Thanks to Betul’s idea, after 10 days with little water the Italian’s surrendered the fort to Ethiopian forces. 


She analysed intelligence and information, in order to make decisions and suggestions about the war with Italy. It was her idea to attack the Italians in a place called Adwa as she knew it would be easier to beat the Italians there. The war ended with Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa. 


Betul was also successful outside of war. She founded Addis Ababa and the city became a centre for commerce and politics, it also attracted foreign interest and investment. 


When Menelik’s became ill around 1906, Betul took on more and more responsibility. There were some suspicious murders of politicians which she may have arranged. Not everyone was pleased that she was taking more power and eventually she was forced to retire. After her husband’s death in 1913, she moved the mountains of Entoto where she lived until her death in 1918. Taytu is the Amharic word for ‘sun’ and Taytu Betul is still known today as ‘the light of Ethiopia’.

Betul (1010L-1200L): text

1 August 2020, Laura Webb

Works Cited Betul

Works Cited

Msemo, Mweha. “Ethiopian Empress behind the Battle That Humiliated the Italians.” Face2Face Africa, Pana Genius, 22

     Mar. 2019,

Ofoego, Obioma. “Taytu Betul” Women in African History,

Ofoego, Obioma & Onajin, Alaba. “Taytu Betul: the rise of an Itege” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,


The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Italo-Ethiopian War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 27 May 2020,



Meyer, H. “Taytu Betul”, Le Petit Journal, 29 Mar. 1896,

Prokopiou, Georgios. “The Empress of Ethiopia Taytu Betul”, 1905,

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