- Museum number
Shield; made of hide, with pendant made of lion's mane. Inner side of shield and handle covered with red saffian leather; upper side covered with blue silk velvet, rim covered with strips of blue textile, held in place by bands of silver. Upper surface decorated with tear drop shaped repoussé silver bosses, silver gilt filgree panels with silver studs, silver gilt filigree bosses some with coloured glass which are arranged alternately in a radial pattern around the edge; these are bounded by two bands of silver gilt filigree with studs and small bosses; centre covered with a circular piece of silver and a cylindrical filigree boss. At the top are two holes, through which a strip of leather has been tied. Under side of pendant is lined with silk, red with green stripes; rim covered with red and green leather stitched with white thread; at the top a strip of red leather is attached. Upper side made of lion's mane; upper edge decorated with a band of silver gilt filigree and two large silver gilt filigree bosses, one of which is set with a red faceted stone [?] the other with purple faceted glass. Between the bosses is a circular opening, where the pendant can be attached to the central filigree boss of the shield.
- Production date
Height: 105 centimetres (pendant (with hanger))
Height: 66 centimetres (shield (with hanger))
Width: 18 centimetres (pendant)
Width: 55 centimetres (shield)
Depth: 10 centimetres (pendant)
Depth: 18 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 Christian faith and belief in the power of the cross to protect.
It is possible this shield was made for Tewodros II himself. It was described as 'royal' at the point of aquisition and as 'the most richly ornamented of the royal shieds' in R. Holmes to J. Winter Jones 20th July 1868 (British Museum Central Archive, Original Papers Volume 94, April to July 1868, no. 7629). It is considerably more decorated than other shields looted at Maqdala (see Af1868,1001.32). It has a pendant made of lion's mane, a material associated with royalty and high status.
Shield appears in an 1870 print of Lord Robert Napier (Commander of Chief of the Abyssinian Campain). See British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Registration number 2010,7081.4656.
Part of a collection of material taken from the fortress of Emperor Tewodros II (reigned 1855-1868) at Maqdala during the Abyssinian Campaign (1867-1868). Tewodros had sought to bring the whole of Ethiopia under his control through military campaigns. During these conquests, he took books, holy relics and manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia, and particularly from Gondar, with the intention of establishing Maqdala as a seat of learning and research. By 1868, the treasury and church store included hundreds of manuscripts and many fine examples of liturgical objects and art including textiles, paintings, and metal work.
The British Expedition to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) 1867-1868 culminated in a military assault on Maqdala on 13 April 1868. Tewodros committed suicide, rather than be taken prisoner. Hundreds of his soldiers were killed and many thousands injured. The treasury, church and royal household were plundered by the British and Indian troops. Maqdala was destroyed by military order on 17 April 1868. Much of the plundered material was reassembled by an Army Prize Committee and sold at an auction of loot on the nearby Delanta Plain, 20 – 21 April 1868.
Richard Holmes participated in the Abyssinia Expedition as ‘archaeologist’ and official representative of the British Museum. He was one of the first people to enter Maqdala with the military force. He participated directly in the plundering. He purchased objects from soldiers and at the official sale of loot on behalf of the British Museum.
See Collection File Af1868,1001.1-32
- Not on display
- Good; some loss to surface of velvet and one piece of unstable filigree on the shield; several holes in the lining of the pendant and signs of original repairs to it, some shedding of the lion's mane.
- Associated events
Associated Event: Abyssinian Campaign 1867-1868
Associated Event: Battle of Maqdala 13 Apr 1868
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Purchased by Richard Holmes from a soldier in the British camp at Maqdala between 13 and 16 April 1868: 'I have also purchased an almost [?unique] shield for £25. It is covered with gold filigree and is the finest specimen of this work I have met with’ in letter from R Holmes to J Winter Jones, 16th April 1868 (British Museum Central Archive, Original Papers Volume 94, April to July 1868, no. 5184); 'The state of my health would not allow me to revisit Magdala but I brought in camp the most richly ornamented of the Royal shields’ in letter from R Holmes to J Winter Jones, 20th July 1868 (British Museum Central Archive, Original Papers Volume 95, July to October 1868, no. 7629).
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number