Climatological data suggest that the key driver of drought in Highland Ethiopia, and in the wider Indian Ocean World, during the early 1780s was an El Niño Southern Oscillation anomaly. Ethiopia during this period—an early decade in the zemene mesafint (1769–1855)—endured considerable political instability. The lack of documentary evidence and an over-reliance on the Ethiopian Royal Chronicles has led historians to view reports of “famine” during the early zemene mesafint as indicative of severe environmental stress. A more critical reading of the Chronicles, by contrast, suggests that integrating its reports of warfare with the climatological record presents a more accurate chronology of drought severity and possible occurrences of famine.

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