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Title: Agaw  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of ethnic groups, History of Africa, Oromo people, Gudit, Beta Israel, Agaw languages, Somali people, Amhara Region, Gelawdewos, Sarsa Dengel
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia 764,000[1]
 Eritrea 110,000[2]
Christianity (Ethiopian · Eritrean · Catholic) Pagan-Hebraic · Judaism · Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
AfarAmharaBeta IsraelBejaOromoSahoSomaliTigrayTigre

The Agaw (Ge'ez አገው Agaw, modern Agew) are an ethnic group in Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea.


The Agaw are perhaps first mentioned in the 3rd-century AD Aksumite inscription recorded by Cosmas Indicopleustes in the 6th century. The inscription refers to a people called "Athagaus" (or Athagaous), perhaps from ʿAd Agaw, meaning "sons[3] of Agaw."[4] The Athagaous first turn up as one of the peoples conquered by the unknown king who inscribed the Monumentum Adulitanum.[5] The Agaw are later mentioned in an inscription of the 4th-century Aksumite King Ezana[4] and 6th-century King Kaleb. Based on this evidence, a number of experts embrace a theory first stated by Edward Ullendorff and Carlo Conti-Rossini that they are the original inhabitants of much of the northern Ethiopian highlands, and were either forced out of their original settlements or assimilated by Semitic-speaking Tigray-Tigrinya and Amhara peoples.[6] Cosmas Indicopleustes also noted in his Christian Topography that a major gold trade route passed through the region "Agau". The area referred to seems to be an area east of the Tekezé River and just south of the Semien Mountains, perhaps around Lake Tana.[4]

They currently exist in a number of scattered enclaves, which include the Bilen in and around Keren in Eritrea; the Qemant and the Qwara, who live around Gondar in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, west of the Tekezé River and north of Lake Tana; a number of Agaw live south of Lake Tana, around Dangila in the Agew Awi Zone of the Amhara Region; and another group live around Sokota in the former province of Wollo, now part of the Amhara Region, along its border with the Tigray Region.

The Cushitic speaking Agaw people ruled during the Zagwe dynasty of Ethiopia from about 900 to 1270. The name of the dynasty itself comes from the Ge'ez phrase Ze-Agaw (meaning "of Agaw"), and refers to the Agaw people.


The Agaw speak Agaw languages, which are a part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Many also speak Amharic, Tigrinya and/or Tigre, which are also Afro-Asiatic languages but of the Semitic branch.


  • The Northern Agaw are known as Bilen, capital Keren
  • The Western Agaw are known as Qemant, capital Gondar
  • The Eastern Agaw are known as Xamta, capital Soqota
  • The Southern Agaw are known as Awi, capital Injibara

Also included in this ethnic grouping are the Beta Israel, who formerly lived in the northern Amhara region with the Qemant and Qwara, but in the late 1990s nearly all of this group had emigrated to Israel.

See also


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