Tewodros II

Almost 150 years ago – in 1868 – a massive battle took place in Meqdela in Ethiopia between the army of Emperor Tewodros II and an English expeditionary army led by Sir Robert Napier. Th e English came to free their imprisoned consul and other countrymen and thanks to their military supremacy, caused a bloodbath. Instead of surrendering, Emperor Tewodros II committed suicide.

The documentary

The documentary is a quest through Ethiopia for the successful but ultimately tragic story of the 19th century ‘barefoot emperor’ Tewodros the Second (1818–1868). Tewodros II was an innovative sovereign, but ruled with a cruel regime in his country and in the end lost an armed conflict with the English. Where are the traces of Tewodros II in the Ethiopian landscape and what does this controversial Tewodros II mean to the Ethiopia of today?

A presenter takes us like a modern explorer on a quest to the key locations of Tewodros’s adventures in Ethiopia, together with experts on his history. The film takes us through deep ravines, imposing mountain ranges, to little-known tribes and blank spots on the map, along ancient historical locations of rugged Ethiopia where time appears to have stood still. We see the often overgrown remains of the empire of Tewodros II and a past that comes to life. We find remnants on battle fields and in the palaces of Tewodros and his places of worship in what is still a difficult-to-access country. We admire the famous cannon of Sebastopol, and follow the journey of Tewodros with 50,000 men and his massively heavy cannon through the mountains. We explain the fate of the emperor, his wives and his favourite son.

About Tewodros II

Emperor Tewodros II (1818–1866) of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) was an ambitious man who turned from defiant rebel to self-appointed emperor and whose megalomania was rumoured to include the liberation of Jerusalem and marrying the British Queen Victoria. Tewodros is still, today, a national hero for many in Ethiopia. Especially among the youth and Ethiopian nationalists. He is considered to be the emperor who reunited the crumbled kingdom and laid the cornerstone for modern Ethiopia. Tewodros was way ahead of his time and introduced the first steel and weapons industry to the country. What’s more, his attitude towards the then world power Great Britain, which he openly provoked at a time when the rest of Africa was being colonised, is still very appealing to many in Ethiopia. But Tewodros had many opponents and foreigners murdered, even doing the job himself on occasion. Although he abolished slavery, he had a harem of more than one hundred women in addition to his wives. That’s why Tewodros is also a controversial figure in Ethiopian history.

This documentary tells the story of his rise and fall and Tewodros’ relationship with the Europeans.