The rulers were converted to Christianity in the 4th century. The country was attacked by the Muslims in the 16th century but maintained its independence despite incursions from Portugal (1528-1633).
Jesuit missionaries converted Emperor Susenyos to Roman Catholicism in 1626. This resulted in the empire breaking up between warring factions. It was not until 1855 that Emperor Tewodros II reunited the country.
Italy controlled Eritrea and Somalia in Africa but had failed several times to colonize neighbouring Ethiopia. When Benito Mussolini came to power he was determined to show the strength of his regime by occupying the country. In October 1935 Mussolini sent in General Pietro Badoglio and the Italian Army into Ethiopia.
The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and in November imposed sanctions. This included an attempt to ban countries from selling arms, rubber and some metals to Italy. Some political leaders in France and Britain opposed sanctions arguing that it might persuade Mussolini to form an alliance with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Over 400,000 Italian troops fought in Ethiopia. The poorly armed Ethiopians were no match for Italy's modern tanks and aeroplanes. The Italians even used mustard gas on the home forces and were able to capture Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, in May 1936, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie to flee to England.
In February 1941, General Andrew Cunningham, commander of allied forces in East Africa, led an attack on Italian forces in Ethiopia. He entered Addis Ababa on 6th April and the Italians surrendered on 17th May. Soon afterwards Emperor Haile Selassie returned to rule his country.