The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

Manuscript ‘acquired by my friend Captain James’ (Or.MS.461-462)

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A manuscript in two volumes of the Acts of St George according to Theodotus of Ancyra with 20 full-page coloured illustrations

Where: Edinburgh University Library, 30 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ

One of 11 manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library written in Amharic or Ge’ez. Two of them – this one and a Bible – are positively linked with the battle of Magdala in the catalogue. Two others were “procured – i.e. not necessarily looted – on some of the British mission’s stop-overs on their way there.

The catalogue entry labels this manuscript Or.MS.461-462 and reads: “Gadala Georgios. The Acts of St George according to Theodotus of Ancyra. Ethiopic/Amharic. 2 vols, 163, 129 ff. Vellum, 30 by 26 cm. 20 full-page coloured illustrations. Brown camel or calf skin binding over thick wooden blind-tooled boards. Repaired by D.Cockerell, 1961. With MS letter of John Wilson to Sir Alexander Grant, Principal of the University, accompanying the gift, 1871 “Acquired by my friend Captain James after the taking of Magdala”.

The two other manuscripts in the library “procured” on the way are Or.MS.656 [Bible. Psalms.] Ethiopic/Amharic and Or.MS.673 Portion of the Gospels (?). Parchment Scroll. Ethiopic/Amharic. 

The arrival of the last two, as well as a copy of the Gospels currently in the National Library of Scotland, is described in Volume 8 (1868-70) of The Proceedings of the Antiquaries of Scotland. This says: “The large book, believed to be the Priest’s Bible, or rather the one belonging to the church, and from which he explained to his people, was procured in a church between Adabagah and Dongalo, about thirty-two or thirty-three miles south of Adigrat. The smaller book and scrolls were mostly procured in the neighbourhood of Senafe, from churches and villages. One of the boos was said to be the Psalms … Presented … by Captain Charles McInroy, Staff Service, Madras.”

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