Death of Empress of Ethiopia Seble Wongel

December 4, 1567

Seble Wongel became Empress of Ethiopia after her marriage to Emperor Lebna Dengel in 1512 or 1513. Wongel was one of the more important and powerful female figures in Ethiopia during the time. She played a noteworthy role in the Ethiopian–Adal war and was known to leave a strong impression on foreigners. 

The Kingdom of Beta Israel (also known as the Kingdom of Semien) formed around the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries as the Ethiopian Jews became increasingly united in the northwestern part of Ethiopia in avoidance of the surrounding and menacing Christian kingdoms. Wongel was born into Jewish nobility in the Kingdom of Beta Israel; her mother’s name was Yodit, meaning “woman of Judea.” Because Wongel was not Christian or part of the nobility of Dengel’s kingdom, the marriage between Wongle and Dengel was likely organized as a political union. Wongel was also known for her immense beauty.  

Even though the Ethiopian Solomonic dynasty followed Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Dengel and Wongel’s monogamous marriage diverged from the practice of previous Ethiopian emperors. The marriage was therefore strongly commended by the Christian Church.

Wongel reigned from the time of her marriage to the Emperor until he died in 1540. She had eight children with Dengel, four sons and four daughters. Her sons Galawdewos and Menas Dengel later reigned, continuing the Solomonic Dynasty. Wongle served as Queen Mother and regent during Galawdewos’s reign and that of her grandson Sarsa-Dengel.

Wongel’s great-grandson, Susenyos I, reigned as Ethiopian Emperor from 1607 to 1632. However, his reign led to the end of the Kingdom of Beta Israel in 1627, when he took the Jews’ lands and baptized many against their will, banning the practice of Judaism in Ethiopia.  



“Dawit II.” Wikipedia, January 26, 2023;   

“History of the Jews in Ethiopia.” Wikipedia, October 5, 2022;,religion%20was%20forbidden%20in%20Ethiopia

“Kingdom of Simien.” Wikipedia, December 26, 2022.   

“Seble Wongel.” Wikipedia, January 26, 2023.  

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Ethiopian stamp, c. 1968, with portrait of sixteenth-century Empress Seble Wongel.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of Empress of Ethiopia Seble Wongel ." (Viewed on November 30, 2023) <>.


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