The Order of Emperor Menelik II was founded in 1924 by the Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen, during the reign of Empress Zauditu, and is one of the most attractive of the Imperial Orders. It is also sometimes referred to as “The Order of the Lion of Judah”1Werlich, Robert: Orders and Decorations of All Nations. Quaker Press. or as “The Order of the Ethiopian Lion”; indeed, these names appear to have applied to what was essentially one comprehensive honour. In 1996, the Crown Council decided to end this anomaly by establishing two separate Orders with distinct insignia and ribands: the old insignia designated for Menelik and the new design for the Lion. Thus both Orders (Emperor Menelik II and the Ethiopian Lion) can be said to have been founded in 1924 with modification into two Orders in 1996. Arthus-Bertrand, in Paris, has traditionally made the Order, while Spink, in London, has made the Order of the Ethiopian Lion.
The Order has always been in five grades of Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, Commander, Officer and Member, and is made by the Paris firm of Arthus-Bertrand. It is probable that the design of the Order was influenced by the Montenegrin Order of Danilo which had passed into abeyance with the fall of the kingdom and its absorption into the United Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This Order was also made by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris.
The Order of Menelik II, created by the then-Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen, in 1924 in honour of the late Emperor, was, with the Trinity created at the same time, an “order of very high rank”, according to Emperor Haile Selassie’s memoirs.
The Order of Menelik was sparingly awarded in the higher grades: senior officers of the armed forces and high court officials were fortunate to retire with a Grand Cross of the Order and it may have been the highest Order available to prime ministers. It is known to have been presented to, among others, Prince Bertil, of Sweden, in 1945.2Archives, Swedish Orders of Chivalry.
The green and red enamel cross depicts the Ethiopian Lion and is suspended from a yellow riband bordered with the Ethiopian tricolour of green, yellow and red. Around the Imperial Lion are the words in Ge‘ez: Mo’a Anbasa Z. Y., an abbreviation for the phrase “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah hath conquered”: Mo’a Anbessa Zemene Gede Yehuda which appears on the Imperial Crest, the Crown Council Crest, and on the Throne of Solomon itself.
The various grades of the Order are represented by the use of the following post-nominal initials: GCEM (Grand Cross), GOEM (Grand Officer), CEM (Commander), OEM (Officer), and MEM (Member).