The British Library contains over 600 Ethiopian manuscripts acquired by voyages from 1753 to 1868.

December 23, 2021

Not much is known about the secrets that lay in the covers of the Ethiopian Christian manuscripts. At first glance, these manuscripts might not seem like much, but they include a variety of topics ranging from religion to magic and poetry to medicine. These manuscripts are categorized into three collections.

The British attained its first collection of Ethiopian manuscripts in 1753, contained in the Harley Library collection. The English Church Missionary Society acquired the second collection of 74 codices in 1846. The Magdala collection is the third collection obtained in 1868 and contains 349 manuscripts. Different textiles from Eurasia are found inside books that cover the manuscript paintings, bindings, and inner and outer covers.

The Ethiopian manuscripts containing fabrics produced in textile centers in India, Europe, and the Near East were part of Ethiopia’s engagement in the lively Indian Ocean and Red Sea trade networks. A manuscript also preserved Iranian and Turkish textiles dating from the 19th and late 16th to early 17th, respectfully. A team of scholars is currently conducting investigations to unveil the textiles’ properties, composition, and structure, which will help researchers to establish a time of production and place of origin. This will reinforce the exploration of Ethiopia’s role in the global textile trade network that extended from East Asia to Western Europe. The scholars will comprehend textiles in manuscript bindings from cultural, social, and artistic views.

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