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Beta maṣāḥǝft: Manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea

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Foto: Ethio-SPaRe
Written culture

Writing was adopted by the Semites settled in the area between the northern highlands of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, corresponding to the present-day states of Eritrea and Ethiopia, the northern Tegrāy region of the latter in particular, as early as the first millennium BCE.


Foto: Ethio-SPaRe
Language and script

The Ethiopic language (Geʿez) and the vocalized Ethiopic script as they appeared by the fourth century, on the eve of the Christianization of Aksum (mid-fourth century), are, apart from certain specific features, very near to the language and script used later on for centuries as the literary language of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia. 


Foto: Ethio-SPaRe

The scribal profession could be learnt in monastic centres and as an auxiliary ability during the traditional church education. For a good scribe, a certain level of education was necessary, but the scribal work in itself was not an intellectual preoccupation. An efficient scribe could produce c. 10,000 characters per day.


Foto: Ethio-SPaRe

Christian Ethiopic manuscripts are nearly exclusively made of parchment. The majority are in codex form, though scrolls are also widely spread. Black and red are the two main ink colours.


Meesar Gwehila
Foto: Ethio-SPaRe
Manuscript collections

There are likely hundreds of thousands surviving Ethiopic manuscripts. Largest local collections count several hundred codices. Dozens of thousands of Ethiopic manuscripts are preserved in collections abroad. While thousands have been catalogued this has been done with a varying degree of depth and precision, and the majority remains vastly unknown.



Principal Investigator
Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies
Alsterterrasse 1
20354 Hamburg
Fax: +49 40 42838-5675

Print | Last update: 23 August 2016 by webmaster(eugenia.sokolinski"AT"uni-hamburg.de)
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