The Prince and the Plunder

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

Amulet necklace

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: An amulet necklace taken by the British Museum’s expert on the expedition, Richard Rivington Holmes

Where: The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Provenance: Maqdala referenced at length in the museum’s acquisition notes.

The catalogue entry reads:

“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.”

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.”

Museum number: Af1868,1001.4
Date: 19thC
Height: 35 cm
Width: 26 cm
Depth: 1.6 cm
Previous owner/ex-collection: Sir Richard Rivington Holmes biography
Acquisition date: 1868

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