The nucleus of Shewa is part of the mountainous plateau in what is currently the central area of Ethiopia, but prior to the Zemene Mesafint and after the loss of Bale with the invasion of Ahmed Al-Ghazi, Shewa was part of Ethiopia's southeasternmost frontier. Shewa was as defensible as any highland, and its government traced an administrative continuity with this earlier period despite the loss of neighboring lands to the Ethiopian Empire. At times, it was a haven; at other times, it was isolated from the rest of Ethiopia by hostile peoples.
Yekuno Amlak based his uprising against the Zagwe dynasty from an enclave in Shewa that was settled by Amhara Christians. He claimed Solomonic forebears, direct descendants of the pre-Zagwe Axumite emperors, who had used Shewa as their safe haven when their survival was threatened by Gudit and other enemies. This is the reason why the region got the name "Shewa" which means 'rescue' or 'save'. This claim is supported by the Kebra Nagast, a book written under one of the descendants of Yekuno Amlak, which mentions Shewa as part of the realm of Menelik I. Aksum and its predecessor Dmt were mostly limited to Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea during the 1st millennium BCE. However, Shewa eventually became a part of the Amhara-Abyssinian empire upon the rise of the Amhara Solomonic dynasty (following the Zagwe dynasty) as well as the Adal empire.
The Amhara Shewan ruling family was founded in the late 17th century by Negasi Krestos, who consolidated his control around Yifat. Traditions recorded about his ancestry vary: one tradition, recorded in 1840, claims his mother was the daughter of Ras Faris, a follower of Emperor Susenyos I who had escaped into Menz; another tradition told by Serta Wold, a councilor of Sahle Selassie, was that Negassie was a male-line descendant of Yaqob, the youngest son of Lebna Dengel, and thus assert descent from the ancient ruling Solomonic dynasty. Thus the ruling family of Shewa were considered the junior branch of the Solomonic dynasty after the senior Gondar branch.
Shewan kings spread their control towards the south and east, through lowland and desert, and succeeded in invading and subjecting some regions under their rule. The emperors of Ethiopia had long claimed these southern regions, and various direct and tributary relations had existed prior to the invasion of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi even though these regions such as the Hadiya kingdom and Bale kingdom were independent entities. The Oromo migrations following the Imam's defeat had cut off these old relationships and had drastically changed the demographics of the area by rolling back the Amhara expansion and migration, and creating new relationships. The kingdom of Shewa that Menelik II brought into the Ethiopian realm had been somewhat expanded, and thus added significantly to the total area of the empire. The northern migration of Oromos into Shewa since the 1500s changed its demography and strengthened Shewa's position against its rival Gondar in the empire. Having already influenced Gondar in the 1700s, Oromos in Shewa gained power in the 1800s, particularly the Tulama. Ras Gobana was notable for forming alliances and militarily extending Shoan domain to the south.