oriental Manuscripts Department
58 rue de Richelieu
The collection of Ethiopian manuscripts preserved at the oriental manuscripts department consists of 1034 manuscripts and scrolls, accessible to the accredited public.
The collection is divided into two sections, the Ethiopian collection of d’Abbadie and the Ethiopian collection.
The Archives and Manuscripts on-line catalogue of the National Library of France gives a description of each collection of Ethiopian manuscripts preserved at the BnF.
The collection of the explorer and scientist Antoine d’Abbadie, of which the volumes are shelf-marked « Éthiopien Abbadie », was collected during the 1840’s, mainly in the Gondar region. It is described in 3 catalogues.
All the other Ethiopian manuscripts are shelf marked ‘Ethiopian’ and come from various collections. The oldest pieces in this collection, coming from royal and imperial collections, have been catalogued by Hermann Zotenberg. Then comes the collection gathered by Casimir Mondon-Vidhaillet between 1892 and 1897. Also Marcel Griaule’s collection, gathered in Gondar in 1932 during the Dakar- Djibouti mission is catalogued in 4 volumes. Lastly two minor collections: the collections of the linguist Marcel Cohen and the explorer Duchesne-Fournet, for which there is only brief unpublished descriptions till this day.
The illustrated Ethiopian manuscripts are progressively being digitized and becoming available online on the Mandragore database.
The online library Gallica, in its ‘manuscripts’ section offers presently more than 200 entirely digitized Ethiopian manuscripts and scrolls.
It was during his 12 years’ stay in Ethiopia that Antoine d’Abbadie had gathered this collection. With the help of Ethiopian scholars of churches in Gondar who were his friends and colleagues, and particularly Liq Atqu, he endeavoured to have a collection of Ethiopian literature that included texts that were religious or secular, rare or common, buying or having copies made of texts that seemed to him to be indispensable to account for the Ethiopian Christian Literature. He received the last volumes after his return to France, through Father Giusto d’Urbino. Lastly, one can also find in this collection, notes of Antoine d’Abbadie as well as his catalogue of manuscripts written by his own hand and dating from 1852, with a list that goes only up to the number 192.
When Antoine d’Abbadie died in 1897, his whole collection of 283 manuscripts became the property of the Academy of Sciences by legacy, and it was then deposited at the National Library in 1902. This collection includes a few rare or old pieces as well as 35 illustrated manuscripts.
ABBADIE (d’), Antoine
1859 : Catalogue raisonné des manuscrits éthiopiens appartenant à Antoine d’Abbadie, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 236 p.
Entirely available and downloadable in PDF format on the Gallica website. It is one of the first Ethiopian manuscript catalogues after the works of A. Dillmann dating from 1847 and 1848. Its author describes 234 manuscripts that he has gathered himself. It often gives precious information on the condition of their acquisition and shares the eventual comments of Gondarine scholars as well as his comments on particular volumes. At the end of the book, an index of the titles classified according to their names in Ge’ez allows to identify the texts in the manuscripts.
1912 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Antoine d’Abbadie, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale.
Marius Chaîne uses the description of the 234 manuscripts in Antoine d’Abbadie’s catalogue and adds to it records of the 48 volumes that entered into the d’Abbadie collection after 1859 as well as records of manuscripts, about fifteen, acquired by the NFL since the publication of the Zotenberg catalogue in 1877. This is a quick listing that does not bring much information on the d’Abbadie collection except for the 48 new records.
CONTI ROSSINI, Carlo
1914 : Notice sur les manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection d’Abbadie, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, [extrait du Journal Asiatique], 299 p.
Lastly, the third catalogue is authored by Carlo Conti Rossini and was published in the Journal Asiatique between 1912 and 1915. These two catalogues were therefore drafted during the same period of time but without their respective authors consulting with each other. C. Conti Rossini’s record is by far the most detailed and appears to be a first attempt of a methodological description of Ethiopian manuscripts. In his catalogue’s preface, the Italian scholar makes different general presentation to lay the basis of the knowledge relative to Ethiopian Literature: palaeography (pp. 11-19), history of art (pp. 19-26), description of rare manuscripts holdings, Falasha literature (pp. 27-28). He classifies the collection according to the categories proposed by Hermann Zotenberg in 1877. Adding to the record is a detailed index work that allows browsing easily through the holdings in general and reduces the inconvenience of the classification by genre that takes only into account the most important text of the compilation.
For each text described in the catalogue, C. Conti Rossini makes a historical overview of the text as well as an account of the corresponding bibliography. He also mentions if either the manuscript was used or not in a publication and also if the text presents any singular aspect that ought to be noticed according to him. When he deems it necessary, he gives Ge’ez excerpts, often without translating them, beginnings of chapters and colophons.
1877 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens (ge’ez et amharique) de la Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Imprimerie nationale.
170 volumes are described within. The preface mentions the origins of these volumes from which we can learn about the famous book of Henok offered by the Scottish James Bruce to King Louis XV and the donation of 29 volumes by the traveller Rocher d’Héricourt in the middle of the 19th century, volumes considered by the cataloguer as “the most important series of the collection” in regards to Ethiopian literature.
Little known because of its very brief catalogue, the collection comprises 113 manuscripts, most of them in Amharic. These manuscripts are essential to understand the erudite Ethiopian culture of the end of the 19th century. Casimir Mondon-Vidailhet had gathered these volumes at the end of his stay in Ethiopia (1891-1897), having copies made by the royal scriptorium of Ménélik.
1913 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Mondon-Vidailhet, Paris, Leroux, 70 p.
The Dakar-Djibouti mission led by Marcel Griaule, was in Gondar in November 1932 and gathered 355 manuscripts and magic scrolls that were to add to the richness of the French National collections. The BnF sponsored the Mission in September 1932, giving 10 000 francs, a sum that would be used to buy about a hundred volumes. The entire collection was deposited at the BnF, with the exception of a magic scroll deposited at the Museum of Mankind and that has been henceforth transferred to the Musée du Quai Branly (shelfmark 31.74.3576).
Four thematic catalogues describe the « collection Griaule ». The first three volumes have been composed by Sylvain Grébaut, language and Ethiopian literature professor at the Institut catholique de Paris. The fourth volume, dedicated to the manuscripts in Amharic, was drafted by Stephan Strelcyn, to whom we owe a number of catalogues of Ethiopian manuscripts and who was particularly interested in the study of Ethiopian magic and medicine.
Furthermore, the registrar of acquisitions kept in Gondär by Deborah Lifszyc are part of this collection, shelf marked ‘Éthiopien 663’, as well as records describing and analyzing about a hundred manuscripts, shelf marked Éthiopien 664 (a copy is also preserved in the collection Dakar-Djibouti, at the library Éric-de-Dampierre, Maison René Ginouvès, Université de Paris X – Nanterre).
1938 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Griaule. Première partie, sections I-VI. I. Ancien et Nouveau Testament. II. Apocryphes et pseudépigraphes. III. Théologie. IV. Ouvrages ascétiques. V. Liturgies. VI Rituels. Bibliographie des sections I-VI, Paris, tome 1, Institut d’ethnologie.
This first tome describes Ethiopian manuscripts numbered 305 to 337. The records of these 33 volumes are very detailed, each giving a precise description on the writing of the texts and giving incipits for each section. The bibliography, placed at the end of the book, but produced for each volume, is also remarkable. The manuscripts are not very old with the exception of the manuscript 313 dating from the 17th century.
1941 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Griaule. Tome second, sections VI-IX I. VII. Hagiographie - VIII. Homélies-panégyriques. - IX. Malke’e et Salam, Paris, Miscellanea Africana Lebaudy, cahier 1, tome 2.
This second tome describes the manuscripts 338 to 361, i.e. 24 volumes. Drafted at the beginning of the German occupation, Grébaut regrets its defects and renounces to establishing a sufficient bibliography for it. Rare volumes: Éth. 338, Life of King Iyasu the Ist (copied from the codex of the church of Däbrä Berhan Sellassé in Gondär) ; Éth. 342, Life of the Saint Täklä Haymanot, 15th century.
1944 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Griaule. Tome troisième. Sections X-XI. X. Textes poétiques divers. - XI. Livres de Plain-chant, Paris, tome 3.
This third tome describes 11 volumes. Two volumes, one Me’eraf (Éth. 370) and one Zemaré (Éth. 372) are particularly well described and 4 annexes relative to the annual liturgy and to the books of hymns. Also in this tome, analytical tables are useful research tool on liturgical calendars. Here again, the bibliography was postponed for reasons of war and eventually never accomplished.
1954 : Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la collection Griaule, Tome IV. Ethiopien 373-Ethiopien 674. Nouvelles acquisitions : Ethiopien 301-304, 675-687, Paris, t. 4, 287p.
These catalogues include less detailed records than in the three preceding catalogues, and describe magic scrolls and manuscripts copied for the Dakar-Djibouti mission, in Amharic. It was accomplished with the help of Roger Schneider.
The catalogue available in the reading room of the Department of Oriental manuscripts (catalogue III 5) comprises handwritten notes and typescripts describing the volumes that were added to the national collection posterior to 1954.
These are :
records of the manuscripts 689 to 705, coming from the Duchesne-Fournet mission (1901-03), these records being owed to S. Strelcyn ;
brief descriptions of the manuscripts 758 to 763, that are 6 notebooks with ethnographic datas of the Dakar-Djibouti mission;
brief records of a manuscript and of two magic scrolls 764-766, given in 2004 ;
a concordance table between the BnF shelf marks and the number of acquisition given by the Dakar-Djibouti mission.
J. Duchesne-Fournet accomplished a mission of scientific studies in Ethiopia from 1901 to 1903. Once arriving in Djibouti, he came to Addis Ababa then went to the region of Lake Tana, to Goǧǧam, to Damot and to the Agaw Meder before returning to Addis-Ababa. He died in 1904. His collaborators were the ones to write the story of this mission and who published the results.
1909 : « Note sur les manuscrits rapportés d’Abyssinie par la Mission Duchesne-Fournet », in Jean Duchesne-Fournet, Mission en Ethiopie (1901-03), Paris, Masson et Cie, 1, p. 325-339.
A quick listing of the 8 volumes is available in the book written by Chaîne, « Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens des bibliothèques et musées de Paris, des départements et des collections privées », Revue de l’Orient Chrétien, Paris, 2e série, IX (XIXe), 1914, pp. 13-15.
It is constituted of 45 volumes amongst which about half are magic scrolls. The manuscripts of the orientalist Marcel Cohen have entered into the BnF in 1986. The rest of his collection is divided between the resource called ‘Papiers d’orientalistes’ (in the Manuscripts department of the BnF) and the Collège de France.
1912 : « Rapport sur une mission linguistique en Abyssinie (1910-11) », Nouvelles Archives Des Missions Scientifiques, n.s., fasc. 6, Paris, pp. 12-25.
It is not a catalogue but rather a list of the texts in the manuscripts.
1914 : « Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens des bibliothèques et musées de Paris, des départements et des collections privées », pp. 15-44.
A quick inventory of 19 manuscripts and 24 scrolls
37, quai Branly
The Museum of the Quai Branly preserves the Ethiopian collections formerly deposited at the Musée de l’Homme (a scroll from the Griaule collection, three manuscripts given by Madame de Coppet and one given by Jean Doresse). It keeps as well a collection of 60 magical scrolls, deposiyted by J. Mercier with reserve of usufruct at the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie.
The catalogue gives access to a large number of pictures and brief descriptions of scrolls and manuscripts.
BOSC-TIESSE, Claire & WION, Anaïs
2005 : Peintures sacrées d’Éthiopie. Collection de la mission Dakar-Djibouti, Sépia, Saint-Maur-des-fossés.
Describes and presents the magical scroll from the Griaule collection.
MERCIER, Jacques (éd.)
1992 : Le Roi Salomon et les maîtres du regard. Art et médecine en Ethiopie, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux.
Introduce part of the collection of the author.