- Museum number
Woman's amuletic necklace, Ashän Ketab, made of twenty four silver and gold filigree work pendants threaded in pairs onto two silk cords. The cords are intermittently joined together by being threaded through a single glass bead. The amuletic pendants are in four designs;
(i) Rectangular with pullout internal drawer, plain silver backs, gold filigree front with five silver conical bells suspended on silver chains.
(ii) Semi circular with pull out internal drawer, plain silver back, gold filigree front, and three silver conical bells suspended from silver chains.
(iii) Circular with plain silver back and gold filigree front with central boss
(iv) Cylindrical, gold filigree in two parts which separate to reveal inner hollow silver cylinder.
The necklace has five disc shaped pale yellow glass beads, four red faceted glass beads and three pale green faceted beads.
- Production date
Height: 35 centimetres
Width: 26 centimetres
Depth: 1.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
The necklace was made for a high ranking Christian woman. The blue silk cord, Metab, is worn extensively by Ethiopian Christians.The necklace offers the wearer protection against demons and the cases may have contained prayers or cotton thread soaked in perfume. The amulet cases are still considered effective even when empty. The sound of the silver conical bells is also believed to ward off evil.
Gold or gilded silver could only be worn with the permission of the Emperor. Most gold was locally sourced, but much of the silver was obtained by melting down imported Maria Theresa Thalers. The very fine filigree work may indicate that this necklace was made in Tigray.
See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- Not on display
- 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