As the appearence of such a translation suggests, Zara Yaqob was extremely interested in Western Christianity and the expanding powers of Europe, which he saw as potential allies against Islam. Besides seeking a political alliance with Aragon, he initiated contacts with Pope Eugene IV, sending delegates to the re-union Council of Florence in 1438 and sponsoring a meeting in Africa between Orthodox theologians and the Venetian monk Francisco de Branca-Leone. A scholar and theologian in his own right and the author of numerous books, Zara Yaqob was passionately interested in the religious education of his people, and required priests to give sermons on the essentials of the Orthodox Faith. Much of his reign was spent in waging a relentless and sometimes brutal campaign against animism; everyone in the empire was required to wear fillets on their arms and foreheads bearing pro-Christian and anti-animist slogans.
These reforms were by no means universally popular. A Western-style Madonna painted by Branca-Leone provoked rioting, and an attempt to combine Saturday and Sunday into a two-day Sabbath was condemned as Judaizing by the monks of Dabra Libanos. Many aspects of the emperor's tyrannical domestic policy can only be described as anticipating modern dictatorships, and popular unrest forced him to repeatedly dismiss nearly all of his government officials to avoid a revolution. (At one point, interestingly, he experimented with a mostly female administration.) Fear of a palace coup and/or the desire to appear to appear implacably just and impartial in the enforcement of his strict decrees led Zara Yaqob to execute numerous members of his immediate family, including the Empress herself, for various infractions. In spite all this, his formidable personality and lasting influence have made him a popular figure in Ethiopian history, the "second Solomon" of the chroniclers.
Norman Hugh Redington
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