- Museum number
Royal shield made of hide, covered with red saffian leather on the inner side with attached handle and blue silk velvet on the upper side. The upper surface of the shield is also decorated with repoussé silver and silver gilt panels and fine silver gilt filgree panels and bosses. The panels are further decorated with silver studs and alternate bosses are set with faceted coloured glass. The decorations are arranged alternately in a radial pattern around the edge of the shield bounded by two bands of filigree with studs and small bosses. The rim of the shield is decorated with plain bands of silver. In the centre of the shield is a cylindrical filigree boss to which is attached a pendant made of lion's mane, silk and leather. The pendant is decorated around the upper edge with a band of filigree work and with two large silver gilt filigree bosses set with one red faceted stone [?]and purple faceted glass. Either side of the pendant are three filigree panels with silver studs and filigree bosses.
- Production date
Height: 103.50 centimetres (pendant)
Height: 65 centimetres (shield (including strap))
Width: 18.50 centimetres (pendant)
Width: 56 centimetres (shield)
Depth: 9.50 centimetres (pendant)
Depth: 16 centimetres (shield)
- Curator's comments
The filigree work and repousse panels and bosses are decorated with crosses and cruciform motifs. They are arranged in a radial pattern which also forms a cross. The pattern of crosses and squares can be seen as having protective and amuletic properties referencing the Emperor’s Christian faith and belief in the power of the cross to protect.
See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval and Later Dept.
- Not on display
- Good, some loss to surface of velvet.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Maqdala, an almost impenetrable mountain top fortress in northern Ethiopia, became the seat of power and a retreat for Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868). The Emperor intended Maqdala to become his capital and treasury. He collected many manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia and brought them to Maqdala with the intention of creating a great library and seat of learning. His treasury included many fine examples of Ethiopian art including textiles, paintings and metal work.
In the 1860s relations between Tewodros and Britain became strained and relations deteriorated further when Tewodros imprisoned the British consul and several European missionaries. In 1867 a military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier was sent to free the British captives with a force made up of 12,000 men from both the British and Indian armies.
At dawn on Easter Monday April 13th 1868, Napier ordered an assault on Maqdala to destroy Tewodros’s stronghold. When his troops entered the fortress they found the Emperor already dead. Rather than surrender, Tewodros had taken his own life using a pistol which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. This last defiant act has immortalised Tewodros as a national hero for many Ethiopians.
Material taken from Maqdala was auctioned soon after on the Delanta plain. Richard Rivington Holmes, an assistant in the manuscripts department of The British Museum, had accompanied the expedition as an archaeologist. He acquired a number of objects for the British Museum, including around 300 manuscripts which are now housed in the British Library. In 1868 the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, donated to The British Museum two further collections of material from Maqdala.
Material from Maqdala can be found in public collections in North America and Europe as well as in private collections worldwide. When the Maqdala collections first entered the British Museum in 1868 they stimulated a worldwide interest in the archaeology, history and culture of Ethiopia which has continued to this day. For Tewodros’ library see Rita Pankhurst ‘The Library of Emperor Tewodros II…’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 36(1), 1973 pp 15-42.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number