Täklä-ṣadəq: Ethiopian History (1943)

Täklä-ṣadəq Mäkwərya, a prominent Ethiopian historian, writes about the British looting of the royal city of Magdala in 1868 from an Ethiopian perspective. Beside listing several of the looted treasures, including Christian manuscripts, and mentioning a case of restitution, he draws attention to the provenances of the objects prior to their inclusion in the royal treasury and thus provides an insight into the complexities of translocations.

commented by Gidena Mesfin Kebede

Original text    Translation    Brief biography    Commentary     Sources and literature

Yä-Ityoṗya tarik – KäʾäṣeTewodros Ǝskä Qädamawi Ḫaylä Śelasse

from: ተክለ ጻድቅ መኵሪያ፣ የኢትዮጲያ ታሪክ፥ ከአፄ ቴዎድሮስ እስከ ቀዳማዊ ኃይለ ሥላሴ (አዲስ አበባ፣ ብርሃንና ሰላም ቀዳማዊ ኃይለ ሥላሴ ማተሚያ ቤት፣ 1936, 41. [Täklä Ṣadəq Mäkwrəya, KäʾäṣeTewodros Ǝskä Qädamawi Ḫaylä Śelasse, Addis Abäba, Bərnanəna Sälam Qädamawi H̱aylä Śelasse Matämya bet. 1936 [=1943/44], p. 41.]

ዐፄ ቴዎድሮስን ድል ካደረጉ በኋላ ከመቅደላ  ያገኙትን የወርቅ አክሊልና የወርቅ ጽዋ የወርቅና የብር መስቀል ጋሻና በያይነቱ የጥንት መሣርያ ይዘው ለመሄድ ሰበሰቡ። ከዚሁም የወርቅ ጽዋ ፩ኛው በላዩ  ላይ እንዲህ የሚል ጽሕፈት ነበረበት። “ዝንቱ ጽዋዕ ዘወሃብዋ ዳግማዊ ኢያሱ ወብእሲቱ ወለተ ጊዮርጊስ ለቅድስት ቊስቋም ከመ ትኲኖሙ መድኃኒተ ሥጋ ወነፍስ።” ከዘውዱም  ፩ኛው የወርቅ ዘውድ የእስክንድርያው ሊቀ ጳጳስ ሰጥተዋቸው የነበረውና ባ፲፺፻፲፯ ዓመተ ምሕረት በንግሥት ዘውዲቱ ዘመን ለኢትዮጵያ የመለሱት ነው። ከዚህም በቀር ዐፄ ቴዎድሮስ ከጐጃምና ከጎንደር ገዳማትና አድባራት የሰበሰቡትን ስንክሳርና  ኃይማኖተ አበው ሌሎችንም ልዩ  ልዩ መጻሕፍት ይዘው … ለደጃች በዝብዝ ካሳ ብዙ የጦር መሳርያ ሰጥተው ታስረው የነበሩትን እስረኞችና የዐፄ ቴዎድሮስ ልጅ አለማየሁን እቴጌ ጥሩ ወርቅን ይዘው ወደአገራቸው ጉዞ ዠመሩ።

Ethiopian History – from the Reign of Emperor Tewodros until [the reign of] Haylä-Səllase I.

translated by Gidena Mesfin Kebede

Having defeated Emperor Tewodros [the English] collected all that fell into their hands including golden chalices and crowns, gold and silver crosses, shields and ancient armor of different kinds. One of the gold chalices had an inscription which read »This chalice was donated to [the church of] holy Qwəsqwam by Eyasu II and his wife Wälätä Giyorgis, so that it [Qwəsqwam] be the savior of their body and soul«. And among the crowns, one golden crown was a gift of the Alexandrian patriarch to king Tewodros which was later returned [from England] to the Ethiopian government in 1925/6 during the reign of Empress Zäwditu. In addition, they [the English] collected books of Synaxarion and Faith of the Fathers and many other books which Emperor Tewodros [himself had previously] collected from different monasteries and important churches in Gondar and Goǧǧam. [Furthermore, the English] gave Däǧǧač Kasa a lot of armor… And they [the English] started their journey to their country together with the ex-prisoners, Alemayehu the son of emperor Tewodros and empress Ṭəru Wärq.

Brief biography

Täklä-ṣadəq Mäkwəriya (1913–2000) was an Ethiopian historian who published extensively on Ethiopian history. He wrote history books covering ancient to modern Ethiopian history. Many of these books were even used as textbooks in school curricula. His successive books published between 1989–92 »… እና የኢትዮጵያ አንድነት« (»… and the Unity of Ethiopia«), use an elliptical title to focus on three Ethiopian kings namely Emperors Tewodros, Yohannes and Menelik. By doing so, he tries to focus on the emperors’ attempts to unify Ethiopia which was weakened and led by regional aristocrats.

Commentary – Multiple Layers of Manuscript Dispersal

Following the Battle of Magdala, fought by British troops with the Abyssinian forces of Tewodros II in 1868, the royal palace of Magdala was looted and its treasures dispersed (Pankhurst 1972, 15–42). While there are many sources about the event in European languages, no contemporary Ethiopian record of the looting is known. Though it was written much later, in 1943–44, Täklä-ṣadəq Mäkwərya’s brief account in his »History of Ethiopia« (Yä-Ityoṗya tarik) provides a rare Ethiopian perspective of the event.

In the passage commented here, Täklä-ṣadəq focuses on the forced removal of specific Ethiopian objects through British troops and thereby implies the value these objects had for Ethiopians. For example, while other sources listing the looted items generally relate that many manuscripts and/or books were looted, Täklä-ṣadəq mentions some of these manuscripts with their title: He explicitly talks about liturgical books, such as a »Synaxarion« and »Faith of the Fathers«. The two manuscripts are typically bulky items. This implies that a scribe needed a lot of time to copy them and that they required many parchments, which in turn meant that they were costly to be produced. Such manuscripts were commissioned by people who were either well-to-do or were members of higher social strata. In addition, they are important in the Ethiopian Täwahədo Church as they are service books used in everyday rituals.

Beyond this Ethiopian perspective on the value of objects that were subjected to a forcible translocation through the British troops, however, Täklä-ṣadəq’s History also presents multiple other layers of translocations: both regional and involving broader geographical and political contexts. These multiple types of translocations can in fact be considered as characteristic for the objects once held in Tewodros’ treasury.

One object Täklä-ṣadəq mentions is a chalice with a clear local Ethiopian provenance, i.e. the church of Qwəsqwam Maryam in Gondar. It is known that  Emperor Tewodros was involved in the sacking of the city of Gondar in 1856 (Stuart Munro-Hay 2002, 113). This chalice, together with valuable manuscripts and other precious items was probably taken by force and brought to the treasury as a result  of the plunder, as Munro-Hay states »But he sacked Gondar. The churches were systematically plundered. It was largely [this] plundered treasures and books that the British later seized as loot at Maqdala in 1868 after Tewodros’ decline and suicide…«. Another object, which Tewodros had »collected« and which was subjected to a regional translocation is the abovementioned »Synaxarion«.

It is recorded that the British expeditionary force gave many manuscripts to the church of Səlassie Čäläqot a few kilometers west of Ḥayqi Ḥəlät where the manuscripts might have been distributed (Seckendorff 1869, 177). Though Rita Pankhurst travelled to the church of Səlassie Čäläqot in 1972, she could only find a few manuscripts from the Magdala library. Nevertheless, having interviewed local informants, she recorded a list of other possible churches and monasteries where manuscripts from the Magdala collection might have been brought among which Mika’el ’Arra is included. (Pankhurst 1973, 23). Since Mika’el ’Arra is located some kilometers to the east of Ḥayqi Ḥəlät, I visited the Monastery of Mika’el ’Arra in October 2018 and was able to locate a Synaxarion with ownership marks pointing to Magdala. This Synaxarion is complete. Another, incomplete Synaxarion from the Magdala collection is recorded as Codex Orient. 667 in the British library manuscript catalogue (Wright 1877, 152).

Other types of translocations which Täklä-ṣadəq records for the treasures of Magdala include gifts as tokens of political relations: for instance, Emperor Yohannes IV (1872–1889) was presented with armour by the English. In another example, a gold crown was a gift to Tewodros from an Alexandrian patriarch. Although Christianity had been adopted as a state religion in the 4th Century AD, Ethiopia did not have its own see until 1959, when it secured the ordination of an Ethiopian patriarch and bishops, and was therefore dependent on the investiture of the Alexandrian see.

This crown, Täklä-ṣadəq recounts, was looted by the British troops but returned to Ethiopia in 1925. This was the second repatriation success for the Ethiopians after the return of a manuscript (a Kəbrä Nägaśt, »Glory of Kings«) from England during the reign of Emperor Yohannes IV (1872–1889). In what could be considered a double misfortune, this very crown was looted again by the Italians. Richard Pankhurst gives the following summary of the events:

Another article looted was the crown of the Emperor Tewodros II. This crown, which had been captured by the British at Magdala in 1868, and long preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was returned to the Ethiopian Government on July 11, 1925, the year after the visit to Europe of Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Emperor Haile Selassie. Photographs of this unique crown, the whereabouts of which is today entirely unknown, were widely published in the British press, perhaps the best reproductions appearing in the Sphere and Illustrated London News of July 26, 1924, during the Regent’s visit to England.« (Pankhurst 1969, 96)

Long after Pankhurst’s account of 1969, in a blog on an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, its director Tristram Hunt matched a crown in the collection to a description of the long-lost crown. The exhibition entitled Magdala 1868 ran from 5 April 2018 to July 2019, in the Silver Galleries, Room 66 (Hunt 2018). How the crown made its way back to the Victoria & Albert Museum is yet to be researched.

Gidena Mesfin Kebede is a PostDoc fellow in the translocations research cluster at Technische Universität Berlin.

Sources and literature

Tristram Hunt, Magdala 1868, in: V&A Blog, 04.04.2018, online. Last accessed on 16 September 2019.

Stuart Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, the Unknown Land: A Cultural and Historical Guide, New York, 2002.

Richard Pankhurst, »Ethiopia and The Loot of the Italian Invasion: 1935-1936«, in: Présence Africaine Editions, 72, 1969, 86–95.

Rita Pankhurst, »The Library of Emperor Tewodros II at Mäqdäla (Magdala)«, in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 36.1, 1973, 15–42.

Götz von Seckendorff, Meine Erlebnisse mit dem englischen Expeditionscorps in Abessinien, 1867-1868, Potsdam, 1869.

William Wright, Catalogue of the Ethiopic Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired Since the Year 1847, London, 1877.

Cite this article as:
Täklä-ṣadəq: Ethiopian History (1943), commented by Gidena Mesfin Kebede, in: Translocations. Anthologie: Eine Sammlung kommentierter Quellentexte zu Kulturgutverlagerungen seit der Antike, https://translanth.hypotheses.org/ueber/ethiopian-history, published 18.09.2019.

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