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Inventory of Libraries and Catalogues of Ethiopian Manuscripts

  • Anaïs WION, 18 July 2017 | 29 July 2013

    This inventory mentions and identifies documents labelled as “Ethiopian manuscript’’ in libraries. These Ethiopian manuscript holdings consist primarily of Ethiopian codices, either Christian or Jewish (Ethiopian Jews being also known as Béta Israel or Falasha), magic scrolls and aethiopica, the latter being defined by Robert Beylot and Maxime Rodison (1995, p.11) as ‘modern copies made by, or for Orientalists, simple historical document(s) or scientific memoire(s), and various notes by ‘Ethiopists’’. The items considered as ‘Ethiopian manuscripts’ are therefore very dissimilar, their classification also varies depending on the library.

    A Muslim Ethiopian manuscript tradition, classified distinctly in the libraries, does also exist. The scientific community is little aware of it and Ethiopian Muslim manuscripts remain rare in the heritage collections both in Ethiopia and in foreign countries. Ewald Wagner’s pioneer work Afrikanische Handschriften, II :Islamische Handschriften aus Äthiopien, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner, 1997, pp. xix + 200 and facsimiles, must be mentioned. This catalogue identifies 88 manuscripts from Harar that are preserved in German collections.

    We have pointed out some of the manuscripts from the collections presented herein based on the criteria of their date, their rareness and documentary significance. This information is not completely thorough as it only aims to suggest hints.

    The list of libraries preserving Ethiopian manuscripts, following a classification by country, is not complete either. It is mainly inspired by Robert Beylot’s and Maxime Rodison’s relatively recent book (Répertoire des bibliothèques et des catalogues de manuscrits éthiopiens, Paris, 1995). We would like to thank here Robert Beylot for having enabled us to continue his work.
    Rather than considering the book on a word to word basis, we have preferred to update the information in regards to recent acquisitions of manuscripts, to elaborate on the history of the resources when possible and to mention web sites from which one could refer to a library’s catalogue and sometimes even have access to a few folios or to the whole manuscript.

    This work is not yet finished although well advanced for the information on countries like Germany, Ethiopia, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. That is why we have decided to publish this information online, since the internet allows enough flexibility for updates. Taking into account the differences of the collections and of their description, we have no intention of publishing a printed version of our work.

    Call upon the scientific community for participation

    We would like to call upon the research community, whose work is based on Ethiopian manuscripts, but also to manuscripts librarians in order to improve this index and make it an open and collaborative work tool. It goes without saying that due to our difference in focus, each researcher has an in-depth knowledge of specific resources that is rarely accounted in his/her scientific work. This online listing could be a forum for the exchange and sharing of information. For some countries, we have already carried out a preliminary work of gathering information but we have considered it too soon to publish it online. This applies to Greece, Poland, Ukraine, and Switzerland. We can only welcome any offer of collaborative work on these countries’ collections. Lastly, for countries that are not yet mentioned on our website, initiatives are likewise welcome.

    We kindly thank Ted Erho (Research Fellow, HMML) for his well informed and always adequate suggestions that allowed us to add significantly to the listing. See his list (2017) of digitised manuscripts.

    Much thanks also to Marcin Krawczuk for his precious contribution to the pages describing the Ethiopian manuscripts in Poland.

    Index of Ethiopian Resources

    This index takes up a bibliographic work that had started more than a century before.

    The current index does clearly owe to our predecessors’ work. Even since 1995, new publications came out, collections have been supplemented with considerable additions and others have been moved to another location. Particularly, this index allows to pin-point existing digital resources whose number is becoming significant.

    - CONTI ROSSINI, Carlo
    1899 : « Manoscritti ed opere abissine in Europa », Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti. Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 5e série, 8, pp. 606-637.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the learned Italian historian and ge‘ez text editor Carlo Conti-Rossini listed about 1200 Ethiopian manuscripts kept in the main European collections.

    - SIMON, Jean
    1931-1932 : « Répertoire des bibliothèques publiques et privées contenant des manuscrits éthiopiens », Revue de l’Orient Chrétien, 28, 3e série, 8, pp. 178-196.

    A limited inventory.

    - ZANUTTO, Silvio
    1932 : Bibliografia etiopica. Secondo contributo : manoscritti etiopici, A cura del ministero delle colonie, Roma, Sindicato Italiano Arti Grafiche, 178 p. [Réimpression en 1971 par Gregg à Westmead.]

    This is the first detailed guide for researchers working on manuscript sources but also for the listing of sources.

    - PEARSON, J. D.
    1971 : Oriental manuscripts in Europe and North America. A survey compiled by J. D. Pearson, librarian S.O.A.S, publié avec le concours de l’UNESCO, Bibliotheca Asiatica, pp. 101-121.

    J. D. Pearson draws up an inventory of oriental manuscripts, inspired by the book of Silvio Zanutto.

    - BEYLOT, Robert & RODINSON, Maxime
    1995 : Répertoire des bibliothèques et des catalogues de manuscrits éthiopiens, Paris – Turnhout, CNRS – Brepols, 118 p.

    Lastly, the index published by Robert Beylot and Maxime Rodinson is more ambitious and aims at an almost exhaustive localisation of public institutions’ holdings. Also including some private and monastic library holdings, the catalogue is sorted according to the names of the institutions. For each of them, it gives an estimation of the number of volumes, the bibliography of the catalogues and if this last one is not available, a description of the holdings as given by the curators.

    Inventory of Illustrated Manuscripts

    There is no specific inventories for dated manuscripts, and one can of course regret it. As for illustrated manuscripts, some partial inventories have been done.

    - BUCHTAL, Hugo & KURZ, Otto
    1942 : Handlist of Illuminated Oriental Christian manuscripts, London, The Warburg Institute, 120 p.

    This work establishes a list of oriental manuscripts (Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian and Georgian) kept in different European institutions. The 36 Ethiopian manuscripts that are listed are part of the following collections: Berlin, Staatsbibliothek ; Leningrad, State Library ; London, British Museum ; New York, Collection Gregor Aharon ; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale ; Pistoia, Bibliotheca Forteguerriana ; Rome, Biblioteca Vaticana ; Uppsala, University Library ; Vienne, Nationalbibliothek. They are not described but a bibliography is given.

    - JÄGER, Otto
    1960 : « Ethiopian manuscript paintings », Ethiopia observer, 4, p. 353-391.

    In this article and the one that follows, the author describes the numerous illustrated manuscripts that he has seen in Ethiopian churches and monasteries.

    - JÄGER, Otto & DEININGER-ENGLHART, Liselotte
    1961 : « Some notes on illuminations of manuscripts in Ethiopia », Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, 17, p. 42-60.

    - HAMMERSCHMIDT, Ernst & JÄGER, Otto
    1968 : Illuminierte äthiopische Handschriften, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner (VOHD XV).

    Inventory of illustrated manuscripts preserved in German collections; see under the tab ‘Germany’ for more detail on the collections.

    1977 : Illuminierte Handschriften der Staatsbibliothek Preußicher Kulturbesitz und Handschriften vom Tanasee, Graz, Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt (Codices Athiopici I).

    Illustrated manuscripts of the Staatsbibliothek of Berlin and microfilms of manuscripts from the Islands of Lake Tana.

    - BOSC-TIESSE, Claire & WION, Anaïs
    1998 : « Inventaire des peintures datées du XVIIe au début du XIXe siècle : questions sur l’art gondarien (Éthiopie) », Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Africaines, Paris, AFERA, 9, p. 215-242.

    - French National Library
    _The Ethiopian illustrated manuscripts are progressively digitized and are available on the online database Mandragore.

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