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The Emperor Haile Selassie I in Bath 1936 – 1940

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The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lutz Haber
published 1992


Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lion of Judah and ruler of Ethiopia, spent his exile in Bath. The four years, 1936-40, were a short episode in his long life (1892-1975), but they were eventful and significant. Royalty in exile, though not unusual between the World Wars, were usually reticent on their experience. The Emperor was no exception, and merely observed:


Our life in Bath was very hard. We also encountered great financial difficulties. Some … had spread the rumour that we had taken a great deal of money with us when leaving the country … but it is a complete lie (1).


His biographers have been equally discreet. Yet the Emperor, his family and his retinue aroused much interest in Bath where the refugees were familiar figures and many people, now in their sixties, recall meeting and greeting them. Their reminiscences and a recent BBC Radio 4 programme (1985) led me to study the Emperor’s years in Bath systematically. I take this opportunity of thanking them for their help and for providing many valuable details (2).

The language barrier and the fading personal recollections of brief encounters over half a century ago are major constraints. But official documents, newspapers and the City Archives supplied sufficient facts for this article (3). Their interpretation is a matter of opinion. I have attempted to summarise the salient events of the years in Bath. In particular I was interested to discover how Haile Selassie spent his time, whether the objectives he set himself were achieved and what impression he made on Bathonians. We do not, unfortunately, know how he felt about the many people he met in this country. This essay is not, therefore, a comprehensive account of his exile. The scope is restricted and the aim has been to draw attention to the public life of an unusual ‘guest’ of this city.

At the outset it is necessary to summarise the course of events in Ethiopia. Mussolini, who wished to create an Italian empire in the Horn of Africa, provoked an incident near the ill-defined frontier separating Ethiopia from Italian Somaliland (December 1934). All attempts by the Emperor, the League of Nations and the Great Powers to achieve a compromise were brushed aside. In October 1935 the Italians invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea. They had better weapons, many aircraft, occasionally used poison gas and were helped by disaffected tribes in the north and east. The Emperor’s troops were badly equipped and poorly led. The terrain, the great distances and the weather often delayed the Italians, but after a short campaign they occupied Addis Ababa in April 1936. The imperial household, many officials, some pets and tons of luggage took the train to Djibouti (then a French colony) where the party embarked on HMS Enterprise on 3-4 May 1936 bound for Palestine. The Emperor, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, Princess Tsahai and Prince Makonnen Duke of Harar and a few staff were conveyed thence, via Gibraltar, to England. They arrived in London on 3 June to a very friendly welcome and were put up in Sir Elie Kadoorie’s house in Princes Gate (almost next door to the Ethiopian legation). They stayed there for about two months.

The cultural shock of the transition from a backward country to London must have been tremendous. We may also be sure that the Emperor felt deeply the rapid and unexpected change from autocratic sovereign to stateless refugee. The prospect was indeed dismal: the Italians were triumphant having just annexed Ethiopia and about to declare their King as Emperor. The British and French governments were embarrassed by their failure to preserve Ethiopia even in a truncated form and to shore up the League of Nations. Though remote from Ethiopian affairs, the threat posed by Hitler and German rearmament was far more worrying. The Axis was showing its teeth. For the British moreover (unlike the French) there was also a moral issue: the League of Nations had a powerful appeal to many politicians, churchmen, some national dailies and to public opinion. The Covenant and the sanctions imposed on Italy, though ineffective, could not be suddenly scrapped. To the Foreign Office, the very presence of Haile Selassie in London was a reproach, but many people thought he was the victim of a dictator and had been abandoned by those claiming to uphold international order.

The Emperor considered his next moves. First, although he distrusted his subjects, because many had sided with the enemy, he could not abandon them or treat with the Italians for he would be deemed to have thereby surrendered all his legitimate rights to the throne. But how was he to regain it and restore his authority? He decided to appeal to the League, of which Ethiopia was a member. There was no practicable alternative and he was advised that this course would be supported by public opinion in Britain and the smaller European countries. In the second place he must, indeed it was expected of him, help his supporters still in Ethiopia, as well as those who had fled to the Sudan, Kenya and elsewhere. How this was to be done remained unclear, but he hoped God, or the League or his British friends would provide. There was also the imperial family whose welfare concerned him and to whose education he must attend. And last, though by no means least, there were the material resources needed to prosecute these matters. He tended to have a sovereign’s disregard for money.

June was spent in London, meeting British and foreign well-wishers and consulting specialist advisers. It was noted that the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden (later Lord Avon), visited the Emperor and it also became known that the Swiss would only accept him as a refugee if he refrained from all political activity. He rejected the condition and thereby opted for exile in England. His general approach, after long reflection, emerged from his speech to the General Assembly of the League on 30 June. He warned that collective security and the principles of the Covenant were at stake, and that Ethiopia’s fate would also be the fate of European nations if Mussolini were not checked. The Emperor spoke in Amharic, undisturbed by the barracking of Italian journalists, who were ejected, and delivered his message without faltering. He was cheered. It was a fine and moving performance, but a useless endeavour for the opinion of the diplomats was that sanctions would soon be lifted and that recognition by Axis satellites of the Italian annexation would follow. Many delegates were dejected: the speech demonstrated the impotence of the League and as neither Britain nor France were giving a lead, the representatives of the smaller countries began to distance themselves from the Emperor. All agreed that he had been wronged, but could not be helped, let alone restored to his throne. The Times devoted a long leader to Haile Selassie’s speech (2 July 1936) and asked: ‘Is there another in history who has deserved more of fortune and has received less?’ This sentimental claptrap was not accompanied by criticism of the dictators, and was of no help to the Emperor who returned to London and to other urgent problems.

He now had to find a permanent home. His status in Britain was that of a ‘visitor’, officially incognito so that no official honours were accorded to him. But Eden, who was hostile to Mussolini and therefore friendly to Ethiopians, was able to grant the imperial family ‘Freedom of Customs’, a valuable concession when bringing goods and chattels into the country. The Home Office and the Colonial Office were asked to be friendly and helpful to the Ethiopian entourage. On the other hand it was made clear to Dr A.W. Martin, the envoy in London, that the Emperor should avoid ‘public appearances’ which ‘might cause embarrassment’ to HMG and the Ethiopians. In their briefs and minutes the officials in the Egyptian-Ethiopian section of the Foreign Office were critical of the eminent exiles, and one of them minuted ‘… I feel sure that if we don’t try to exercise some moderation, our guest will be both a nuisance and a danger’ (4).

There is no evidence that the Emperor was told to leave London, but Sir Elie wanted his house back, and after making enquiries, Haile Selassie and a small retinue, decided to spend August in Bath for rest and recuperation. Accordingly, he, the Crown Prince, Princess Tsahai, Prince Makonnen, Ras Kassa (the Emperor’s chief commander and a trusted friend) and Dr Bayen (the doctor-secretary-interpreter) came by train on 5 August, and drove to the Spa Hotel. The hotel may have been recommended by Dr and Mrs Marsh whom the Ethiopians had known in Addis Ababa; it was spacious, had a large garden and was a little away from the centre of town. The unusual guests were very comfortably housed.

The Emperor sought privacy and after the initial novelty had worn off, he was left in peace. The weather was splendid that August and the party soon began the routine of sight-seeing. He was an indefatigable student of English life and work: he visited the bookbindery of Cedric Chivers, the new GPO and its telephone exchange, Fortt’s Bath Oliver works, and so on. The Mayor, James S. Carpenter, LL.D., called at the hotel, and the next day, as etiquette prescribed, Haile Selassie paid a formal visit to the Guildhall. There was also a more relaxed side to the spa treatment: the Roman Baths were inspected, and on another occasion, a tent was hired at the Bath Horse Show, a great event in the city’s social calendar, and the Ethiopian flag run up to show that His Majesty was attending. There were luncheon parties at the hotel, sociable and useful, because he came to know some Bathonians who later were very helpful to him.

The mixture of dignified affability and exotic charm went down very well in Bath. Besides, this social intercourse was lubricated by considerable expenditure on car hire, entertainment and miscellaneous purchases. In a small city of 70,000, the distinguished guest and his party were soon known by sight by many people. A reporter from the Bath Chronicle was at hand to take down the imperial message that Bath was the only place in the UK where the monarch had felt really well (5). The testimonial was appreciated, and it is very likely that the city may have suited his mood: it was elegant, but not fashionable as Monte Carlo or Cannes. Shabby in places, but dignified in a provincial way, cheaper than London, yet sufficiently near for consultations with supporters in the capital. There was, in fact, more to the visit than holidaying, making friends and influencing people. He needed a home and to plan his future as an exile. Princess Tsahai left before the end of the month to train as a nurse at one of the London teaching hospitals. Her departure may have prompted her father to look for a house where the family, divided between England and Palestine, could be united and where the Empress would be comfortable.

The Emperor’s preferences narrowed his choice: his residence had to be large, in a secluded location and with enough reception rooms to impress visitors. One might have thought a Georgian country mansion would fill the bill, but he preferred Bath. Fortt, Hatt, & Billings directed his attention to Fairfield which stood empty in spacious grounds in Newbridge Hill. It had belonged to Mrs Campbell-White, a widow, who had died abroad earlier that year. It was a big place, quietly situated above the Kelston Road. A wall separated it from the elderly residents of Partis College to the east; beyond it to the north and west there were, in those days, fields and a couple of private houses, notably Pen, the home of Sir Guy Nugent. The total area was 2.2 acres and included a cottage, a garage or shed and a garden. Thus the Ethiopians had their privacy in a respectable neighbourhood. The rateable value at £195 was high for that part of the city; the rates were 25 shillings in the pound. The deal was closed promptly at a price later reported to be £3,500 (6).

By mid-September Haile Selassie had a new home and, though he could not move in at once because electricians, plumbers and painters took over, he asked the Empress and the rest of the family to join him from Palestine. A good deal of work had to be done before Fairfield was presentable, and it is interesting that central heating and additional plumbing were neglected while money was spent on showy decorations. They worked quickly in those days and at the beginning of October the Empress paid a visit of inspection. The family moved in about 9 October. The published descriptions and personal souvenirs give a good picture of Fairfield and its inhabitants (7). After refurbishment the house had a large double drawing room with two fireplaces, a dining room with pantry, a morning room, a ‘telephone room’ or small office, a cloak room with WC and a conservatory. On the first floor were five ‘principal’ bedrooms and a spare room; the attic contained three servants rooms. One bathroom is mentioned. In the basement were kitchen, scullery, bootroom, servants hall, WC, staff room, a strong room and a wine cellar. The cottage had been rebuilt to have six rooms; the garage could hold three cars and had a flat with bathroom above it.

These details are recorded to show that the residence could accommodate a good many people. But how many lived there and where? The exact numbers remain elusive and the Home Office Aliens Department failed to keep a check. My estimate is that there were altogether about 25 residents at Fairfield and the outhouses. The imperial couple had five surviving children at the time, but the Crown Prince lived in Liverpool or Palestine and Princess Tsahai was working in London. Her elder sister, Crown Princess Worq had six children whose ages ranged from about ten to two. The Emperor liked the company of small children; he also had close to him his Foreign Minister in exile, Herouy (whose younger son divided his time between Oxford and Bath), two or three Coptic monks and a doctor-secretary. There were several Ethiopian servants including a butler and a cook. Finally there was the resident English governess, her young assistant (who did not live in) and the gardener-chauffeur. It is clear that there were not enough rooms to house all these people decently and the servants lived in the basement in conditions which would not have been tolerated by the municipal authorities had they troubled to enquire. Another point, and one which soon became sufficiently urgent for Haile Selassie to take note, was that family and retainers had to be fed, clothed and kept warm. The daily cost of the household, even with the undemanding habits of those ‘below stairs’ was considerable.

The Ethiopians pestered the Foreign Office which prodded the Italians to send the imperial regalia, clothes, works of art and some money from the British Legation in Addis Ababa where they had been ‘temporarily’ stored in April 1936: the cases finally reached London in February 1937 by courtesy of Mussolini (whose authorization was needed) and the P & O Steamship Co. (which carried them free of charge) (8). Thus fine rugs, native artifacts and good cutlery graced the drawing and dining rooms which were elegantly and elaborately furnished. Upstairs, things were simpler, if not spartan. The residence was managed and the bills were paid by Princess Worq and one of the English-speaking retainers. The Empress rarely appeared in public, did not speak English and led a circumscribed life in a climate that did not suit her. The relationships of the exiles with each other and with the British were governed by protocol. That did not appear so strange to Haile Selassie’s visitors, because half a century ago formality among public personages was usual. Besides these rituals maintained the impression the Emperor wished to give of monarchy temporarily without a throne. Thus protocol played a role at Fairfield, not merely when visitors came to garden parties or the rare dinners, but in the everyday life of the family.

Haile Selassie was then in his prime. He was small, but well proportioned, had a long prominent nose, large deep set eyes and a moustache merging into a short, well trimmed beard which fringed the oval face (9). His features were not easily forgotten and his clothes emphasised his aristocratic features. He wore plain dark suits over which he put a knee-length cape, black in winter, white in summer. In public he was always dressed conventionally, only his headgear showed some variety – he had a bowler, a Homburg and even a cap.

Refugees do not have an easy life, and the Emperor had his share of problems. He kept them to himself. I doubt whether many Bathonians, even those who spoke Amharic or French, ever came close to him, for though he could speak and write English, he preferred to use an interpreter on formal occasions — a practice common among foreign potentates even now. Thus, though closely observed, he gave little away. He was physically tough (10), made light of discomfort and was, in political terms, a survivor. To get to the top in Ethiopia and remain there entailed coping with intrigues and outsmarting rival contenders. He was wary, probably devious, totally convinced of the righteousness of his cause and in Bath he learnt the hard way about the fickleness of politicians, the incompetence of some lawyers, and also that money was not there for the asking. His autobiography, written for Ethiopian consumption, is incoherent, couched in Biblical language and wholly one-sided; it does not create a good impression, let alone make out a plausible case. The civil servants who dealt with his appeals for justice, trivial requests, reproaches and obscurely worded allusions to cash flow problems must have thought him a great bore, but equally they failed to understand his ways of thinking and background. In Bath, however, Haile Selassie created a lasting good impression, had a favourable press and his unfeigned affection for children (particularly his own, excepting only his eldest son who – following tradition – was not trusted) was noted and approved. His liking for dogs was, in the Bath of those days, counted as a good point. Above all, the Emperor though grave, was always affable and polite to Bathonians. Thus people were prepared to overlook that he had been a less than perfect ruler and that notwithstanding his protestations, he had been unable to stop slavery, incompetence, corruption and dishonesty. By and large, however, he was a good refugee.

Emperors in exile need an occupation, and Haile Selassie, unlike his older German colleague, the ex-Kaiser, kept busy. There was a routine of sorts at Fairfield, beginning at 6am with prayers, followed by breakfast and that, in turn, by dictation of his autobiography, dealing with affairs of state or attending to correspondence. His activities will presently engage our attention. Judging by the content of the PRO files, the Emperor, like his officials-in-exile, spent much time on unnecessary detail and, as is the wont of refugees generally, on gossip and plots. Time and weather permitting, the ex-monarch used to go for a morning walk towards the city, accompanied by the dog and his children (or grandchildren) or some adult Ethiopian, the latter at a respectful distance. He was greeted and responded with a smile or raised his hat. After lunch he often met visitors from London or abroad. He had a wide range of interests, but we may be sure that four topics dominated the conversations: first, current affairs and particularly news from Ethiopia; secondly, the fate of supporters in that country and refugees in Kenya, Sudan and Palestine; thirdly, law suits; and fourthly, personal finances. These matters were kept distinct from the Emperor’s private life, which apart from the obviously un-English household at Fairfield, remains unknown. The ‘personal-story’ element is therefore missing, but his persona – as presented to the public – attracted much attention and invited speculation. This was partly due to Haile Selassie’s unusual personality, but mainly to the complex interplay of diplomatic, legal and financial problems.

During 1936-40 the Emperor’s position weakened, and it reflected the decline of the League and the strength of the Axis. He failed to understand the importance of the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) and of Italo-German intervention on behalf of Franco. By 1938 the Ethiopian case, however legitimate on paper, appeared trivial in Whitehall when the Austrian annexation (March) and the Czech crises ending with Munich (May-September) represented far greater issues for Britain. He had put his trust in Eden, but the Foreign Secretary resigned in February 1938 and Lord Halifax who succeeded him, was not interested in the League and cared nothing for Ethiopia. For HMG a settlement with Italy was desirable in order to safeguard the route to Suez and beyond. The Italians were also interested in a deal, provided Britain and France recognised the conquest of Ethiopia de jure and the King of Italy as Emperor. Eden was reluctant to comply, but Halifax was willing and the Anglo-Italian Agreement was tackled in earnest soon after his appointment. In all this, Haile Selassie had no part, nor did he put his potential nuisance value to use. In 1937, even in 1938, the Italians were still worried about unrest in northern Ethiopia, but as their grip strengthened so they became less interested in a bargain with the ex-monarch which would have given him the status of a puppet-prince over some parts of the country and enough cash to sweeten the pill. The Italians held the better cards, they were in possession and as Haile Selassie’s money ran out, he was less able to stir up the tribesmen. HMG declared it would not ‘sacrifice Ethiopia’, but was so eager to appease Mussolini (hoping he would restrain Hitler) that it signed the agreement with Italy on 16 April 1938. However, implementation was deferred until 2 November, and de jure recognition followed later that month (11). It does not seem that Haile Selassie was kept informed of details. The Italians were aware of the Emperor’s plight, and so were many Bathonians. The former were pleased, but the latter felt he had been let down by a pusillanimous Foreign Secretary. Hence the continuing popularity of the Emperor and of the Ethiopian cause in England and its special appeal in Bath.

Relief and support for the Ethiopians had begun during 1935, and with Haile Selassie’s arrival in England his well-wishers counted on the participation of the exiled monarch at lectures and fund-raising rallies. This was contrary to the promise he had given to the Foreign Office in 1936, but neither it nor the Ethiopians were bothered, for the undertaking was only to mollify Italian sensitivities. The Abyssinia Association was the principal pressure group. Its objectives were to maintain the Convenant of the League and to reinstate Haile Selassie. The people who formed its Council included many well-known public figures, politically mostly Liberal or Labour, so they carried little weight in Downing Street or Whitehall (12). They failed to explain how their aims were to be achieved and as appeasement policies dominated the Cabinet’s thinking they were, perforce, obliged gradually to abandon these objectives and concentrate increasingly on relief work. Some good was done in this area, especially by Sir Sydney and Lady Barton. (He had been HM Minister in Addis Ababa and retired in mid-1936 with a knighthood.) Barton chaired the Abyssinian Refugees Relief Fund which raised substantial sums for distribution in Africa. The Association managed the Emperor of Ethiopia’s Fund which supported exiles in Palestine when Haile Selassie was no longer able to do so. There were also the Friends of Abyssinia run by Dr Martin from London, but he fell into disrepute and vexed the Emperor because he failed to account satisfactorily for large sums collected during 1936 (13). It should also be noted that the Colonial Office made a large contribution and ultimately succoured 9,000 refugees in Kenya and Sudan; the Emperor, however, was not allowed to interfere with official relief (14).

Haile Selassie did not canvass publicly for Ethiopian refugees and did not wish to be bracketed with the more militant among the supporters whose activities soon became counter-productive. But he attended (or sent a representative to) the functions of the West of England branch in Bath of the Abyssinia Association. For example, there was the public reception at Fortt’s on 21 January 1937. The Mayor, Walter F. Long, came, contrary to the advice of the Home Office (15). The Emperor and the Empress were also there; Long referred to them in friendly terms and, to applause, declared that ‘We may claim them now as citizens of Bath’. Some speakers demanded ‘justice for Ethiopia’, others confined themselves to platitudes, and good fellowship prevailed all round (16). On 16 April, James Carpenter (who became Mayor again in 1939) spoke at a meeting of the Association. When the City’s Establishment thus showed its support for the Ethiopians and the Bath Chronicle reproduced their speeches, others in town took their cue. Welfare and fund-raising activities in 1937 and 1938 were significant local events, which maintained public sympathy and showed the pride Bathonians took in their imperial exile.

There were also more informal occasions in and around Bath which were only briefly reported. One such was the garden party given by Dr and Mrs. Marsh at Englishcombe in July 1937 to which Haile Selassie came and which was honoured by the Mayor, Lady Barton and her future son-in-law, G. L. Steer of The Times. £40 was collected. Two years later the Marshes held another party, but the weather was unkind, the venue had to be moved to a hall in Twerton, and only £27 was raised. Times had changed – war was very close and the Ethiopian refugees were no longer newsworthy. The Emperor himself had not so much fallen in public esteem as he had fallen on hard times – his law suits and his finances were attracting attention.

It is easy to be wise after the event. But to assert that Haile Selassie was foolishly litigious may do him an injustice: his rights and claims mattered to him, but he probably was unaware of the pitfalls of the English judicial system, and he may have been badly advised, he certainly had some bad luck. The preparations for his lawsuits entailed translations and expert opinion, and were as time consuming as they were expensive. Of the four cases known to me (there may have been others in which Emperor was plaintiff or defendant), three had to do with money and one with libel. The first, in spring 1937, involved the London agents of the Bank of Ethiopia who refused to hand over money to the Emperor’s representative. The dispute was settled out of court, but he didn’t get the funds (17). In October of that year a court in Paris reserved judgement in a case involving the Emperor’s half share in the Djibouti-Addis Ababa Rly. Co., half-owned and managed by the French. Once again he was unable to realise an asset (18). The suit against the London Evening Standard was about a report in the issue of 26 May 1938: it repeated a libel over which Haile Selassie had sued and won about two years earlier. It was settled out of court and the newspaper paid the then large sum of £6,000 (19).

But the costliest action was Haile Selassie V. Cable and Wireless Ltd (C & W) which began on 4 January 1937, went twice to the court of Appeal and was dismissed (without recourse to the House of Lords) on 6 December 1938 (20). The facts were not in dispute: both parties agreed that £10,163 was owed to the Emperor for his share in the royalties of a radio-telegraph service between Addis Ababa and London up to 2 May 1936, when the station closed, but before the formal Italian annexation. The question was whether the monarch was ‘….still entitled to recover this debt.’ He considered it was a private debt owed to him personally, but English legal opinion was divided and some held that it was what is now called a ‘sovereign debt’, not owed to an individual personally, but to the state as a sovereign entity. Britain had conceded de facto recognition of the annexation in December 1936, but the legal position depended on de jure recognition which had not been granted when writs were issued. There were many delays due to Foreign Office dilatoriness over the provision of documents and to the tactics of the Italians who claimed the money, but would not sue for it in an English court. At last, on 23 March 1938, Mr Justice Bennett declared ‘I have no jurisdiction to decide’, and stayed further proceedings. The Emperor appealed, won and had his costs paid by C & W (30 June); the case was returned to Bennett who, this time, gave judgement for the Emperor, but ordered a stay of execution (27 July). C & W thereupon appealed, but when the case came before the Appeal judges on 3 November circumstances had changed dramatically. The day before Chamberlain had told the Commons that HMG would shortly recognise the King of Italy as de jure Emperor of Ethiopia. So the Lords of Appeal adjourned the case for four weeks and on 6 December the court noted that Britain no longer recognised Haile Selassie as de jure Emperor and, accordingly, his title to the debt had been ‘displaced’. The money therefore belonged to the King-Emperor of Italy and his entitlement to it as head of state was backdated to de facto recognition in December 1936 – some three weeks before the action began. There would be no costs.

It was an extraordinary business and one may surely express surprise at the handling of the case in the High Court and at Appeal. The delays and obfuscations of the judges were as reprehensible as the failure of the Emperor’s lawyers to base their claim on the chronology of events. The role of the Foreign Office was hurtful to Haile Selassie without benefiting Britain in any way. The Italians got the money without suing, C & W merely had to settle their costs, and Haile Selassie, who could least afford them, was faced with heavy legal expenses.

When the Emperor arrived in England he had cash, plate and jewellery to the value of about £25,000, say £650,000 at today’s purchasing power. There were also other assets, but as we have just seen, they could not be realised (21). His money just melted away in 1936, for apart from the rather grand style of living, there were business trips (in particular to Geneva) with his advisers, the purchase and redecoration of Fairfield and, until well into 1937, payments to refugees in England, Palestine and elsewhere. Even before 1936 was out there were problems which led to the sale of a silver service and of some jewels (22). Stories about Ethiopian debtors began to circulate in Bath and soon reached London where they aroused the curiosity of officials and MPs. Although English royalty had often been in debt in the past, a bankrupt Emperor in twentieth century Britain was too awful to contemplate. But from spring 1937 onwards some evidence pointed firmly in that direction. Though Foreign Office gossip was often inaccurate, a few members of the Abyssinia Association and some civil servants interpreted the Emperor’s oblique phrases as signals that he needed help, and that quickly. How was this to be done discreetly, without hurting his pride, creating a precedent and upsetting the Italians? The months went by with talks in London and growing concern in Bath. The matter eventually reached the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Policy which considered, as Halifax put it, the Emperor’s ‘great financial straits’, on 28 March 1938. A long discussion ensued, but the Cabinet was divided and no decision was reached. Chamberlain concluded by saying the Opposition would be sure to make political capital out of any help given to Haile Selassie and they would claim that HMG was ‘… .bribing the Negus to acquiesce in the Anglo-Italian agreement’ (23). Fifty years later the documents cannot hide the confusion and embarrassment of mean spirited Ministers.

But help came from another quarter, though the details are not in the Foreign Office files or the local records. It would appear that through the intervention of the Abyssinia Association’s Appeal Committee ‘…a private benefactor had come forward and had guaranteed to provide the Emperor’s financial requirements during the next five years and the Emperor had accepted this gift..’. Neither the amount nor the name of the donor were given. It would be interesting to discover who he was and his connection with HMG and Ethiopia (24). Whatever the scale of assistance, it is certain that economies were introduced at Fairfield and maintained in 1939-40, despite the discomfort which they entailed. Even that would not have sufficed if the City had not been forbearing over the rates and had waived payment for electricity supplied by the municipal power station. This kindness was matched by the coal merchant and some of the tradesmen, and it is pleasant to record these acts of generosity to a foreign visitor in need.

The last year of peace and the phoney war were difficult for the Emperor and his family. Ras Kassa left for Palestine and the exiles lost a steadfast friend. Much more depressing was the death of Herouy at Fairfield on 19 September 1938 after a long illness. He had been Haile Selassie’s closest confidant, a reformer, foreign minister since 1930, and unbribable (25). He was buried at Lockswood Cemetery. The C & W litigation might have been handled differently if Herouy had been well enough to advise. The Empress returned from Palestine and was in better health, but the household was worried about money and in February 1939 stories about the impending sale of Fairfield surfaced again. It is significant too that the Ethiopians received less and less mention in the Bath Chronicle a good indicator of the level of local interest. One of the rare occasions when Bathonians read about their visitor was in March 1940 when he took delivery of a new car – a Morris 10, a modest vehicle indeed for a monarch (26).

As war approached Haile Selassie sent a friendly message to the King, to which Halifax gave a dusty reply and very likely hurt his pride. The Foreign Office became even more anxious about his activities and Collier was not given permission to visit Ethiopians in Cairo and Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Emperor was busy planning and plotting, and even sent a trusted agent to spy out the land and report back. It was futile and amateurish, and the documents show that the British preferred their own methods and channels of communication (27). When the Blitzkrieg exploded he thought his time had come and on 16 May he wrote to Churchill in Amharic and English, but the ‘confidential note’ which he mentioned is not at the PRO – it was probably a programme of action drawn up in Bath. However there was no reply from Downing Street. On 8 June the Emperor was at St Paul’s for the christening of Steer’s son. On 10 June Italy entered the war and the next day the Abyssinia Association urged Halifax to let Haile Selassie go to Ethiopia (28). About ten days later he was on his way and in great secrecy flew from England across France via Malta to Egypt and the Sudan. In London a tribal rising under the banner of the Lion of Judah seemed a good idea to the exiles and to Churchill. But the Sudan government would have none of it and once more the Emperor was frustrated. Only cash was available and suddenly he was in funds (29). But security was so strict that the Empress did not hear from her husband until mid-July. His part in the Ethiopian campaign and his return to Addis Ababa in April 1941 are not part of this story. But the victory party at Fairfield on 15 May calls for mention (30). It was a fine day and about 60 people attended the Empress’ reception. The Mayor (Aubrey Bateman) came and so did Long, Carpenter, Dr Marsh, Ernest Smith and many others, accompanied by their wives. They had been helpful during the difficult years, and now they were being entertained in style, sipping champagne, admiring the flower arrangements and noting the Ethiopian flag. The Ethiopian women and children did the honours. A few months later the Empress and Princess Tsahai slipped away home. Princess Worq and her children followed in 1943 and the residence, except for the caretaker, stood empty for over ten years.

The Bath connection was not yet at an end. In October 1954 the Emperor accompanied by Makonnen and a large retinue came on a state visit to England. When official business was over he returned to Bath, ostensibly to receive the Freedom of the City – a rare honour indeed, ‘…in recognition of his services to the Allied Cause and his close association with the City’ (31). Whether the honour was merited is debatable, but Haile Selassie, for one, was pleased. He arrived on 18 October and spent two nights at Fairfield, tidied up and repainted for the occasion. There was an unbroken round of ceremonies, official functions and grand reception at Fairfield. But he found time to visit Ernest Smith at his works and greet others who had helped him. And then, on 20 October, the motorcade was off to Oxford where he received an honorary degree from the Chancellor, Lord Halifax. What, one wonders, were their thoughts on this occasion?

Haile Selassie never returned. He had paid all debts and by his actions showed that he had not forgotten Bath: In 1958 he gave Fairfield to the city. The building was converted into an old people’s home and an estate of sheltered housing built in the garden; it was named Empress Menen’s Park. He also presented a cricket pavilion to St Christopher’s School in memory of Makonnen’s sporting deeds in the 1930s (32). Fairfield, which now belongs to the County of Avon, still has a plaque to recall its distinguished owner: St Christopher’s has given way to King Edward’s School and the pavilion was destroyed by vandals in 1987.

Deaths in the family, Ethiopia politics, risings and – not least – the creation of the Organization of African Unity pre-occupied the Emperor in the last twenty years of his life. The experiences of the Bath exile receded, but some were not forgotten. Education, specifically English Public School education, continued to interest him and he thought to transplant some of its principles and practices to Ethiopia. (But the new habitat was inhospitable and the experiment failed.) In the second place he was determined not to become a debtor again: after 1941 the skimping and scraping of the Bath years never recurred, but, on the other hand, the gulf between court and people, observed before 1936, remained wide after the restoration. And finally, the humiliations, real or imagined, at the hands of the Foreign Office were not forgotten. In the 1950’s he turned away, gradually, but irrevocably from Britain to the U.S.




1 Haille Selassie, My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress 1892—1937 (Oxford, 1976) Translator’s Preface, p. xiv. The autobiography was translated and annotated by Edward Ullendorff. The quotation comes from the second volume, published in 1974. This second volume takes the story from 1936-37 to the liberation of Ethiopia. So far as I know it has not been translated from the Amharic into English. Ullendorff follows the Emperor’s practice of spelling his name with a double l, but throughout this article I have followed the Anglo-American practice and used a single l.
2 I interviewed about a dozen people who met the Emperor in 1936-40 or later in Ethiopia or in 1954 during the state visit. The BBC programme The Emperor in Bath produced by Andrew Vivian in spring 1986 was repeated on 15 June 1987.
3 There are many files (or ‘pieces’) at the Public Record Office (PRO) in the series FO 371 dealing with Haile Selassie. The references in the text give the series, and the five digit file number and, when available, the document letter, J, and its number. Back issues of the Bath and Wiltshire Chronicle Herald (shortened here to Bath Chronicle) are kept in the Bath reference Library. The City Archives hold the minutes of Council Meetings, the rate books and city directories.
4 FO 371/20197, notes and minutes June-July 1936.
5 Bath Chronicle 3 September 1936. There are many references to the imperial party during August.
6 Rate books and Bath Chronicle 12 September 1936 and 1 November 1937. The price quoted in the issue of 1 November (p.5) cannot be confirmed from other sources, but seems to be about right. Large houses with three reception rooms, five or six bedrooms, garden and garage were advertised by Fortt, Hatt & Billings, T Powell & Co and others in July-August 1936 for £1,600 to £3,000 depending on location and condition. Powell & Co. were prepared to offer up to £4,000 for an even larger property (9 bedrooms, 10 acres of garden) between Bath and Bristol. Houses of that sort nowadays change hands for more than £400,000.
7 Fortt, Hatt & Billing advertised the sale of Fairfield in the Bath Chronicle for about a week, beginning on 7 October 1937. Then the notice was withdrawn. There was no explanation; the Emperor probably changed his mind. Some of my informants, in particular Mrs Haskins (nee Blackmore), remembered the house very well.
8 FO 371/20198 (J 8138) and FO 371/20920 (minutes dated 10, 11 and 18 January 1937 and 12 February 1937, J 645).
9 The Fine Art Society not long ago exhibited a bronze head of the Emperor sculpted by Sava Botzaris in 1938.
10 At Christmas 1937 he was injured by a taxi in London, but was soon back at work in Bath, Bath Chronicle 17 January, 1938; L Mosley, Haile Selassie (London, 1964), p. 245.
11 The implementation of the Agreement depended on the withdrawal of the Italian ‘volunteers’ from Spain. This condition was waived by HMG in November 1938. AJP Taylor, English History 1914 – 1945 (Oxford, 1976 ed.) pp. 423-4 and for details FO 371/20198, 20922, 20929, 22010 and 22012.
12 The three Presidents of the Association were Sir Norman Angell, Sir Hesketh Bell and Sir George Paish. The Vice Presidents were Eleanor Rathbone MP, Philip (later Lord) Noel-Baker MP, S.Vyvyan Adams MP, Lady Layton and the Dean of Winchester. During and after the war some of them became very well-known for reasons unconnected with Ethiopia.
13 A.W. Martin was found by a British missionary on the battlefield of Magdala (1868), trained as a doctor in India and worked in Burma. He retired from the Colonial Service in the 1920s and became an adviser to the Emperor soon afterwards. He caused much embarrassment in England and was more foolish than dishonest. He returned to India in 1940. FO 371/20211 (J 4137) and 24637 (J 1851).
14 Lady Barton told an official at the Foreign Office that she had £30,000 for Ethiopian relief. The Colonial Office spent £50,000 on Ethiopian refugees on 1937 and estimated this would rise to about £60,000 in 1938. FO 371/20920 (J166) and 22011 (J2764).
15 Long wrote to the Home Office for guidance on 30 December 1936. The official reply stated inter alia: ‘… it is unnecessary and would be undesirable for any honours to be paid to him [ Emperor] by public personages… in their official capacity …‘ If the meeting was ‘…in any way connected with the . . . [ Association you would do better not to attend it.’ FO 371/20920 (J 179).
16 Bath Chronicle 22 January 1937. Long became a director of Wessex Associated News, the owners of the Chronicle the following month.
17 FO 371/20920 (J 2680), Minute of a meeting on 7 June 1937 with C.S. Collier, an ex-governor of the Bank of Ethiopia. Collier held the Emperor’s power-of-attorney in England. He told the Foreign Office very little on this occasion.
18 Bath Chronicle 12 August and 27 October 1937. The details of the case and its outcome cannot be traced in Bath.
19 FO 371/22011 (J 3386); in today’s currency £6,000 would be worth about £160,000.
20 All the relevant details are in the Law Journal Reports ( CVII 1938, pp. 201—203, 380—84, 419—25 and CVIII 1939, pp. 190-92. I am grateful to Moger & Sparrow for permission to consult L.J.R. on their premises.
21 FO 371/20196, minute dated 7 May 1936 and 371/20198, meeting with Collier on 12 August 1936. The cash consisted of 200,000 Maria Theresa dollars and 500,000 French fr. There was also a trust, valued at £54,000 for the children, which could not be broken and a villa at Vevey (Switzerland). The cases forwarded from Addis Ababa in February 1937 contained (among other things) some gold and silver coins.
22 Bath Chronicle 17 and 22 December 1936. The service consisted of about 500 pieces of modern Austrian design. The auction raised £2,527. Some of the silver was on display, presumably for sale, at Gilmers of Bath the following spring. The jewellery was sold through Ernest Smith, who owned the city’s leading leather goods shop, and who had won the Emperor’s confidence in August 1936 (information from Mr W Smith, 13 May 1987).
23 FO 371/22010 (J 1266).
24 FO 371/22010 (J 3386), memo by V Cavendish-Bentinck dated 29 August 1938. The story is repeated in his brief, dated 9 January 1939, for the Chamberlain-Halifax visit to Mussolini. The only alteration is the addition that the donor demanded that the public appeal on behalf of the Emperor be abandoned; FO 371/23374 (Jl38).
25 The Times 20, 22 and 23 September 1938. Lt. Col D A Sandford wrote a fine memorial to Blattengeta (in English: chief of the wise men) Herouy. The elder son was killed by the Italians in 1938.
26 Bath Chronicle 12 March 1940 (photo of car and Emperor). The references to Haile Selassie fell from 38 in 1938, to 12 in 1939 and to 3 up to June 1940.
27 FO 371/24638 (J 482). C. Sandford, The Lion of Judah hath Prevailed (London, 1955), pp 87—90.
28 FO 371/24639 (J 1768).
29 In a memo (in French) to Churchill, dated 6 July 1940, Haile Selassie wrote that he left London on 24 June and met Col. Sandford at Wadi Halfa on 24 June; FO 371/24635 (J 1768). In September 1940 the Foreign Office obtained Treasury agreement to pay the Emperor £2,000 a month backdated to 25 June. Soon afterwards the amount was raised; FO 371/24637 (J 1490) and 24639 (J 1965).
30 Bath Chronicle 16 May 1941. Despite newsprint rationing the event was given large coverage.
31 The Freedom of the city was proposed on 5 October 1954 by the Mayor (Cllr Gallup) and endorsed by Alderman Long. The Resolution was accepted unanimously. Winston Churchill became a Freeman in 1950 and Yehudi Menuhin in 1966. They and the Emperor have been the only individuals (as distinct from military units) so honoured since 1945. Details of the visit and ceremonies are in the Bath Chronicles of 6 and 19 October 1954.
32 Bath Chronicle (Weekly Edition) 10 May and 2 August 1958. Makonnen was killed in a car accident in 1957.

First published as an Occasional Paper in 1992

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
Information is offered in good faith but the Society does not warrant the status or reliability of the information contained.

© The Anglo-Ethiopian Society and Contributors 2003 – 2009

Written by Tseday

January 30, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Ethiopia seeks prince’s remains

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BBC News – June 2007

Ethiopia’s president has sent Queen Elizabeth II a formal request for the remains of a prince who died in Britain more than a century ago.

The royal household at Windsor Castle, where Prince Alemayehu was buried, is said to be considering the request.

President Woldegiorgis Girma hopes the prince’s bones can be reburied for millennium celebrations in September.

Ethiopia has been waging a lively campaign to get back historic treasures looted during the last two centuries.

Father’s suicide

Its most striking success has been in recovering a massive stone obelisk from Axum, carried off to Rome by Mussolini’s army.

But the campaign now has a new impetus.

Ethiopia’s calendar is more than seven years behind that of the rest of the world – here, it is still 1999 and Ethiopians are planning to mark what they believe is the 2000 anniversary of the birth of Christ with big celebrations in September.

Now the Ethiopian president has put in a formal request for the return of the remains of Prince Alemayehu.

His father, the Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide after his defeat by the British at the Battle of Magdala in 1868.

The young boy was taken to Britain and sent to boarding school and officers’ training school at Sandhurst, but died at the age of 18.

He was buried at Windsor Castle, with Queen Victoria describing as “too sad” his short life and early death.

The Ethiopian embassy in London says Windsor is now considering their request.

The young prince was not the only thing the British took from Magdala – they reportedly needed 15 elephants and nearly 200 mules to carry away the treasures that Tewodros had accumulated.

Many of them are still in Britain and the Queen has some of them – notably six of the very finest illuminated manuscripts, which are part of the royal collection in Windsor Castle.

Written by Tseday

November 20, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Previously Unknown and Uncatalogued Ethiopian Manuscripts in North America

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Between February 2005 and August 2006, I located and digitized 240 Ethiopian manuscripts and magic scrolls that have come to North America. These currently reside in the hands of several dealers, four libraries, and a dozen private collections. Until now, they have been unknown and uncatalogued. In this brief communication, I want to tell the story of how this digital collection, named the SGD collection, came into being and a bit about what it contains.

Ethiopian Manuscripts in North America

In February of 2005 I got a call from a man living in Cornelius, Oregon, about 45 minutes west of Portland. He told me,

I was in Bahir Dar in 1966 with the US military. One day I was walking across a field, and I met an old man carrying an interesting looking satchel. We couldn’t speak one another’s language, but we “struck up a conversation” with hand signals and gestures. I had some tea-making equipment, and we brewed some tea and enjoyed drinking it together. When it came time to go, the old man was eying my tea-making equipment — and I was eying his satchel. I gave him an additional ten bucks and we traded: the tea-making equipment for the satchel. When I opened it, I found this most amazing book. I’ve been carrying it around with me for 39 years now, and I have no idea what it is. Can you help me figure it out? 

I had been to Bahir Dar myself. In the spring of 2004, as part of my sabbatical, I went to Ethiopia to study the sociology of scribal communities. Beyond their scribal techniques and practices, I wanted to know something about their social location, social roles, education, and the economic engines that drove their work. I got an affiliation with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) at Addis Ababa University and eventually became fast friends with Ato Demeke Berhane, the head of manuscripts. After several days of study in their manuscript collection, my translator (Daniel Alemu) and I set out across the country to interview scribes in the center of the country (Addis Ababa and the monastery of Debre Libanos), in the far north (Axum and the monastery of Debre Damo), and in the region of Gojam around Lake Tana (Gondar, Bahir Dar, Iste, Gelawdawos, Zege, and the island monastery of Kibran).

By the time I returned from Ethiopia, I was rather familiar with Ethiopian books and with the scribes who produced them. So on that February morning, when I drove out to Cornelius to meet Paul Herron, the man with the satchel from Bahir Dar, one look at the covers and binding told me the story. For all those years, Herron had been carrying around a seventeenth-century Ethiopian Psalter.

My experiences in Ethiopia had sensitized me to the plight of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage. Manuscripts by the thousands have been transported out of the country. The instance that gets the most attention these days is the so-called “Maqdala incident”: a hostage standoff between Ethiopia and England escalated into a military expedition, in which England eventually made off with so much loot that it took fifteen elephants and two hundred donkeys to carry it all.[1] But the number of manuscripts that left the country in 1868, perhaps around a thousand, does not begin to compare to the numbers that have left the country by means of countless individual transactions between tourists and dealers and more recently as a result of the economic engine surrounding ebay. In the worst-case scenarios, unscrupulous dealers in the United States and Europe buy manuscripts, cut them up into single pages and sell them leaf-by-leaf on the Internet. The manuscripts that survive the ebay experience intact usually find their way into private hands; though they still have all their pages, they are, for all practical purposes, lost to the world. There do not appear to be any easy or certain remedies for this situation, particularly for a single individual with limited means. But, photography provides one avenue for preserving at least images of a manuscript even if not the manuscript itself. And, with the advent of digital photography, this is even more the case.

I made plans to digitize this first codex from Bahir Dar. I had in mind to deposit the images at the Hill Museum and Manuscripts Library (HMML) at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The HMML is the single largest repository of images of Ethiopian manuscripts in the United States, if not the world. In the 1970s, the HMML participated in an NEH project that sent teams of photographers to Ethiopia to shoot thousands of manuscripts in monasteries and churches around the country. Sets of the microfilms had been deposited in three locations: the National Library of Ethiopia, the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, both in Addis Ababa, and the HMML. I contacted the HMML and began to make the arrangements.

Over the next several days, I contacted two dealers with manuscripts. I told them about my work in Ethiopia and asked them if they would be interested in letting their manuscripts be digitized and deposited for study in the HMML. To my surprise, within twenty-four hours I had agreements with both dealers. This brought the total number of manuscripts to thirty-three, and I found myself in the middle of a full-fledged project. After a couple of months, I stopped off at the HMML and met Father Columba Stewart, the director, as well as Professor Getatchew Haile, cataloguer of Ethiopian manuscripts. They were supportive of my plan, and Getatchew[2] pledged to help catalog the manuscripts when the images were ready.

This seemed to open a flood gate. Over the next several months, I established relationships with owners of manuscripts in Oregon (where I live and work), New York, New Orleans, New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, and Illinois. I also made connections with four libraries: Trinity Western University, the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the Mount Angel Abbey Library, and Abilene Christian University. By the time the dust had settled, those first thirty-four codices had turned into 105 codices and 129 magic scrolls, all currently in North America. In the same timeframe, I had come across six other Ethiopian manuscripts that I had been allowed to photograph: four in England (in the possession of Dr. Ian Mac Lennan),[3] one in Jerusalem and one codex reproduction that I bought from a book dealer out of Istanbul, Turkey. I added these six to the others as supplements to the collection, arriving at a grand total of 240 manuscripts.

In spite of the large number of manuscripts that have emerged, Professor Getatchew has not only stayed with the project, but has completed his part of the cataloguing of the codices in record time, performing a particularly thorough job on the magic scrolls. We are in conversation now with a publisher for the catalog.

Significance of the Collection

One measure of the significance of the collection is its size in comparison to the other collections that exist outside Ethiopia. The largest collections are in the Vatican Library and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, each with around one thousand manuscripts. There is a collection of 736 manuscripts at the Ethiopian Patriarchate in Jerusalem. The British library is next with 598 manuscripts. There are some 545 manuscripts in a series of libraries in Germany. Outside of the British Library, the rest of the major holdings in the British Isles are he Bodleian Library of Oxford University with 115, Cambridge University Library with 69, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin with 58, and the Rylands Library of the University of Manchester with 45. The largest collections I know of in Russia are in the libraries of Saint Petersburg with some 275 manuscripts. The largest collection in the United States is at Princeton, which has 133 manuscripts and 172 magic scrolls.[4] The next largest collection is at Duke University with 33 manuscripts.[5]

The Description, Digitization, and Cataloguing of the Manuscripts

My assistants and I processed each manuscript through four steps. First, we produced a physical description, complete with a quire map accounting for every folio in the codex. Second, we photographed the manuscript (in fluorescent light) with straight down shots to capture content and close-up shots for detail. Third, we digitally foliated the manuscript images. Finally, after processing and optimizing the images, we produced an Adobe pdf file of the images of the manuscript. These typically run anywhere from sixty to four hundred fifty megabytes for codices and ten to twelve megabytes for magic scrolls. Even with this processing, the images in the pdf files have very high resolution and allow the user to “drill down” into the smallest details of the images. In all, I have well over one hundred thousand images on a three hundred gigabyte hard drive. With all the backups, we have almost a terabyte of information. The entire collection of just the pdf’s runs to about 18 gigabytes.

As any librarian will tell you, a collection is only as good as its catalog. We gathered a small team of people in Collegeville between June 19 and July 14, 2006, to complete the digitization process and begin the final cataloguing process. These included Demeke Berhane from Addis Ababa, Daniel Alemu from Jerusalem, Roger Rundell from Longview, Washington, myself, and Professor Getatchew Haile from the HMML. Some of the expenses for this part of the project were borne by a $5,000 grant from the Lilly/ATS Theological Scholars’ Research Grant program. Our task was to complete the physical descriptions of the manuscripts; Getatchew would complete the identification of contents, include references to the editio princeps of works in the codices, and make a judgment about the dating of the manuscript.

The oldest Ethiopian manuscripts in existence are from the fourteenth century CE. The dating of the SGD collection is as follows:

2 manuscripts come from the sixteenth century;
7 manuscripts come from the seventeenth century;
25 manuscripts come from the eighteenth century;
39 manuscripts come from the nineteenth century; and
38 manuscripts come from the twentieth century.
We are now also in a position to see the scope of the contents of the collection. Of the biblical books, there are fully forty-seven Ethiopian Psalters in the SGD collection. This gives something of an idea of how significant the Psalter has been in the life of the Ethiopian Orthodox community.[6] Each Ethiopian Psalter contains five works: the 151 Psalms of David, the fifteen Biblical Canticles, the Song of Songs, the Praises of Mary, and the Gate of Light. There are also seven copies of the Gospel of John and a copy of the General Epistles to Revelation.

Of service books, there are a dozen manuscripts that are listed as Antiphonaries (2), Anaphoras (5), or Missals (5). There are five works that contain either services for a funeral and/or the work called the Bandlet of Righteousness. There are also calendars and timetables. There are Hymns and Greetings and Prayers of all sorts and several works devoted to Mary. One of the most common is the Prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Golgotha, which is witnessed in six copies.

Of theological works, there are six copies of the Mystagogia, four of the Sword of the Trinity. Miracle stories are very popular. Three codices contain Miracles of Mary and another three contain Miracles of Jesus. But there are also miracles of Mercurius, Täklä Haymanot, and Saint George. When it comes to a genre known as the Image, the codices contain a bewildering array of images to Mary (10), Jesus (6), the Trinity (3), the Savior of the World (2), the angel Michael (5), the angel Gabriel (3), the angel Raguel (1), Saint George (3), and John the Baptist (1), as well as to various Ethiopian figures, for example, Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus (3), Fasilides (1), Täklä Haymanot (2), Kiros (2), Mercurius (1), Mäzra’tä Krestos (1), Arägawi Zä-Mika’el (1), and others.


This project has been dependent on the good graces and generosity of manuscript owners across North America. Almost to a person they seemed already to realize that they had something precious and that the value of a nation’s cultural heritage cannot be measured in dollars alone. Credit for the success of the project goes first to them.

In a sort of home going, the first set of digital images was sent back to Ethiopia with Ato Demeke for preservation and research at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. A second set was placed on deposit at the HMML in July 2006. A third set was deposited with the Septuagint Institute of Trinity Western University in late September 2006.

When we completed our time in Collegeville this past summer, I had thought the project was just about over. However, since that time fully eighty more codices and one hundred more magic scrolls have come to light. We are seeking grant funding to assist us in digitizing and cataloguing this next group of manuscripts. Volume two is under way!

Steve Delamarter, George Fox Evangelical Seminary


[1] Whatever one may think about the manner in which the manuscripts were acquired — and there is a lot of controversy about that these days — one cannot fault the libraries in England for the way in which they have preserved the manuscripts and made them available for scholars to study. When Ato Demeke and I made our tour of English libraries (the Rylands in Manchester, Cambridge, the British Library, and Oxford) in the summer of 2005, within 45 minutes to an hour at each place, we were actually holding manuscripts.

[2] A note about Ethiopian names: The convention in Ethiopia is for men to have a first name, which is followed by the name of their father. Thus, Professor Getatchew Haile’s name is Getatchew; Haile is his father’s name. One does not refer to them by their “last name” (i.e., their father’s name), but instead by their first (and only) name. I have followed this Ethiopian convention in the article.

[3] These four are part of the twenty-three manuscripts that Ato Demeke and I catalogued in England in the summer of 2005 and that will be published shortly as A Catalogue of Previously Uncatalogued Ethiopic Manuscripts in England: Twenty-three Manuscripts in the Bodleian, Cambridge University and John Rylands University Libraries and in a Private Collection (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 21; Oxford: University Press, 2006).

[4] According to Robert Beylot and Maxime Rodinson, Répertoire des Bibliothéques et des Catalogues de Manuscrits Éthiopiens (DNRS Editions; Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Éditions, 1995), 93. This work may consulted to confirm many of the numbers in the paragraph above.

[5] Répertoire des Bibliothéques, 53.

[6] I delivered a paper at the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting in November 2006, in Washington, DC, on “Scribal Practices in Ethiopian Psalters as Expressions of Identification and Differentiation: An Illustrated Lecture.”

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Written by Tseday

November 19, 2008 at 4:51 pm

The Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon

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Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 16, 1999
by VW Bro. Art Scott, Victoria Columbia Lodge No. 1

Upon reading the title of this paper, you may well wonder, “what on earth has the Queen of Sheba got to do with Freemasonry?” As a matter of fact, it was when I asked myself this very same question that I began to pursue the story of the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon following the completion of his famous temple in Jerusalem. Your next question well might be “where in Freemasonry is there any reference to the Queen of Sheba?” The answer: in the Board of Installed Masters. The Board of Installed Masters is a ceremony, not a degree, so I will plead “not guilty” of divulging any secrets when I tell you that during this ceremony the VOSL is opened at I Kings 10. After witnessing and participating in the Board of Installed Masters, and having listened to the aforementioned scripture read many, many times, I began to wonder what the relevance of this passage was to the ceremony of installation. Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit Solomon? Was she the only monarch who came? What was so special about her visit that it is afforded such detail in the VOSL? And what is the Masonic significance of I Kings 10?

Let us begin by referring to I Kings 10:

1. And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions

2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him all that was in her heart

3. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not

4. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,

5. And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cup bearers, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her

6. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land, of thy acts and of thy wisdom

7. Howbeit I believed not the words until I came, and mine eyes have seen it: and behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard

8. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom

9. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice

10. And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon

11. And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones

12. And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day

13. And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants

Who was the Queen of Sheba?

I don’t want to spoil my story, but before going any further, I should tell you that no archaeological evidence has ever been unearthed or uncovered that suggests or supports that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon. There are, however, records of the ancient country of Sheba, which date from 715 BCE. Sheba was sometimes called Saba, meaning “Host of Heaven,” and “peace,” and is thought to be what is now the country of Yemen in the South West corner of Arabia where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. The people who lived in Sheba were called Sabaeans. The Sabaeans have been described as a tall and commanding people, both woolly-haired and straight-haired. Semitic in origin, they are believed to have been descendants of the land of Cush in the Bible. The Sabaean people inhabited most of NW and SW Arabia, some 483,000 square miles of mountains, valley and deserts. Some historians claim that Ethiopia, on the western end of the Red Sea, was also part of Sheba’s territory. The Sebaeans conquered all of the other South Arabian countries at the start of the Christian era. Sheba was a wealthy country, rich in gold and other precious stones, as well as incense and exotic spices sought by neighboring kingdoms. From ancient times, perfumes and spices were popular commodities in the near East, and the spice trade was a particularly active one. From both the Bible and other classical sources it appears that the valuable plants from which the coveted aromatic resins, incense, spices, and medicinal potions were produced, were grown mainly in the kingdoms of southern Arabia. From this area, major land and sea trade routes branched out to all the great trading centers of the ancient world. The Sabaeans were both extensive traders and bandits and engaged in the slave trade. Sheba engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. By 1000 BCE, camels frequently traveled the 1400 miles up the “Incense Road” and along the Red Sea to Israel. The spices of Sheba were highly prized. Frankincense, an offering to the gods, was heaped on funeral pyres, and given as an antidote for poison, and as a cure for chest pains, hemorrhoids and paralysis. Myrrh, an ingredient in fragrant oils and cosmetics, was used in preparing bodies for burial, for healing ear, eye and nose ailments, and inducing menstruation. Other Sabaean spices were saffron, cummin, aloes and galbanum. The capital of Sheba was the city of Ma’rib. Nearby was a great dam, which may have been as high as 60 feet, which provided enough water to make Sheba an agricultural nation, as well as a land of beautiful gardens. It was a fertile oasis in the desert. There is evidence that this dam burst, and the devastation caused by the ensuing flood, coupled with the loss of water for agriculture, may have led to the demise of several Sabaean cities which no longer exist today. Because of its isolation, Sheba was secure from military invasion for at least 500 years, and was independent and at peace with its neighbors during the 11th and 10th century BC History reveals that at least five kings preceded the Queen of Sheba. Yet Arabian documents portray all of Arabia as matriarchal and ruled by queens for over 1000 years. In Ethiopia, the Kebra Negast refers to a law established in Sheba that only a woman could reign, and that she must be a virgin queen. Rule by queens was not unusual in prehistoric times. Women played a large role in government, especially in the Near East where there is evidence of their prominence in economics, the family, and religion. According to Ethiopian legend, the Queen of Sheba was born in 1020 BCE in Ophir, and educated in Ethiopia. Her mother was Queen Ismenie. Sheba was known to be beautiful, intelligent, understanding, resourceful, and adventurous. A gracious queen, she had a melodious voice and was an eloquent speaker. Excelling in public relations and international diplomacy, she was a also competent ruler. The historian Josephus said of her, “she was inquisitive into philosophy and on that and on other accounts also was to be admired.” Since Sheba was a center of astronomical wisdom and the ruling monarch was the chief astronomer/ astrologer, religious life involved worship of the Sun and Moon. Shams was the Sun god. The earliest known Arabian temple was at Ma’rib, the capital of Sheba, and was called Mahram Bilqus, “precincts of the Queen of Sheba.” In Arab lore, this queen was named Bilqus or Balkis; in Ethiopia, Makeda (also Magda, Maqda and Makera), meaning “Greatness” or “Great One.” Others say Maqda is a short form of Magadhi, and that Magadhi was a long-gone tribal language in which there were sixty-three different ways to say each word. All that can be ascertained now is that it stands for the letter “M” —that’s what Maqda means. Years later, the historian Josephus, referred to her as Nikaulis, Queen of Ethiopia and Egypt

Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit King Solomon?

We are told in the Holy Bible that when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones. We are also told that she came to prove him with hard questions. And we learn that when the Queen of Sheba had seen and tested Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built, and the splendor of his court, and the number of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord she was overwhelmed. How did Sheba learn of the wisdom of King Solomon? The leader of her trade caravans, Tamrin, owned 73 ships and 787 camels, mules and asses, with which he journeyed as far as India. Having also traded with Israel, he brought gold, ebony and sapphires to Solomon, for use by his 700 carpenters and 800 masons who were building the great temple of Jerusalem. Tamrin told Sheba about the temple, and how Solomon administered just judgement, and how he spake with authority, and how he decided rightly in all matters which he enquired into, and how he returned soft and gracious answers, and how there was nothing false about him. Each morning, Tamrin related to the Queen about all the wisdom of Solomon, how he administered judgement and how he made feasts, and how he taught wisdom, and how he directed his servants and all his affairs and how no man defrauded another—”for in his wisdom he knew those who had done wrong, and he chastised them, and made them afraid, and they did not repeat their evil deeds, but they lived in a state of peace.” And the Queen was struck dumb with wonder at the things that she heard, and she thought in her heart that she would go to him. When she pondered upon the long journey she thought that it was too far and too difficult to undertake. But she became very wishful and most desirous to go that she might hear his wisdom, and see his face, and embrace him, and petition his royalty. Sheba’s desire to encounter Solomon was ardent enough for her to embark on a 1400 mile journey, across the desert sands of Arabia, along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months time round trip each way, since camels could rarely travel more than 20 miles per day. Arabian camels were tall and hardy, able to store water and fat for three weeks while living only on desert roughage. Wearing saddles of oak padded with colorful fabric, and hung with gold chains and crescents to win the favor of the gods, camels in a caravan were strung together by ropes made of goat hairs. Baby camels born along the way were carried on the back of the camel ahead to assure its mother of its wellbeing. As Sheba prepared for her journey, her own devotion to wisdom fueled her anticipation. Solomon’s commitment to building the Temple reflected not only his love of magnificent architecture, but also his piety. Over 3000 proverbs have been attributed to Solomon, as well as 1005 psalms, the book of Ecclesiastes and in the Christian Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon’s wisdom was not only political and theological; he was also an expert on natural history. A gardener, he planted olive, spice and nut trees as well as vineyards; he admired and studied spiders, locusts and harvesting ants. According to the Bible, he could talk about plants from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing on the wall; and he could talk of animals and birds and reptiles and fish

Was it to see the temple?

It is understandable that any monarch might wish to view such a magnificent edifice, the fame of which was spreading across the civilized world. And according to legend, she was indeed given a first hand tour of the temple while it was being constructed. A gracious host, Solomon showed Sheba his gardens of rare flowers ornamented with pools and fountains, and the architectural splendors of his government buildings, temple and palace. She was awed by his work on the temple, by his great lion-throne and sandalwood staircase, and by his enormous brass basin carried by the twelve brass bulls which symbolized the twelve months of the year

Was it to observe his government and the immensity of his court?

King Solomon came to the throne of Israel in 965 BCE. Solomon had fleets of Phoenician-built ships on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean Solomon’s empire was so vast that he found it necessary to divide his kingdom into twelve states, To administer his royal cities, Solomon may have been the first to have a “public service” as we know it today. It was the duty of each state to provide one month’s supply, not only of food, but also of barley and straw for the horses, and even horses themselves if necessary, for the needs of the royal household. This put quite a burden on the farmers and shepherd of the country, and taxation was very high. To give you an idea of how great this burden was, consider the following: The provisions needed in one day for Solomon’s court were: 30 cors (about 188 bushels or 240 gallons) of flour, 60 cors (about 375 bushels or 480 gallons) of meal, 10 fat oxen, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep, plus numerous harts, gazelles, roebucks and fattened fowl

Was it to observe or test his wisdom?

According to the Bible, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon at Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Not only did Sheba ask Solomon philosophical questions; she also tested him with riddles. Since early Biblical times, it would seem that the posing of riddles was a standard exercise among people of power. For example, in the Book of Judges we read that Samson engaged in riddles with his opponents. (Judges 14:12, 18.)The questions she asked were probably riddles commonly used in Arab polite conversations. During the time of Solomon’s reign, it became fashionable to set and solve riddles, a kind of game, which opens up wide horizons of knowledge and language. Riddles and riddle-like anecdotes appear to have wandered from one town to another and from one country to another. There was a passion for riddles at the courts of Hiram, King of Tyre and of Solomon, King of Israel. It is not inconceivable that the Queen of Sheba also had a passion for riddles, since she “came to prove him with hard questions.” The Targum Sheni, Midrash Mischle, and Midrash Hachefez (Arabic books) describe twenty-two of her riddles. The delight in seeing the point where the generality of a riddle coincides with a specific allusion is akin to the delight in the proverb, which in turn raises an actual case in point into the sphere of generality. This is what was regarded at that time as wisdom—the solving of riddles and the formulating of generalizations. On this, the fame of Solomon’s wisdom was originally founded; and when, in later times, wisdom acquired a deeper meaning and was regarded as an insight into the riddle of life and as an attitude of mind that rises above the passionate whirl of life towards the peace of the timeless, Solomon, known to his age as the great solver of riddles and friend of proverbs, remained the model of a man in whom all aspects of wisdom were united. When I first read about this passion for solving riddles, I soon wondered, “what kind of questions would be asked in a riddle?”
Upon further investigation, I found some examples of the kinds of riddles Balkis may have asked Solomon. Here are a few:

Balkis: “What is evil?”

Solomon: “The eyes of the Lord in every place monitor good and evil, and in them is the definition.”

Balkis: “Are the eyes or the ears superior?”

Solomon: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made both. Degrees of deafness and blindness, these are man’s province, and measurable.”

Balkis: “What is the most powerful organ of the body, Solomon?”

Solomon: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Balkis: “How are body and spirit connected?”

Solomon: “The baseness of spirits is derived from their bodies. The nobility of bodies is derived from their spirits.”

Balkis: “What is it? An enclosure with ten doors; when one is open, nine are shut, and when nine are open, one is shut?”

Solomon: “The enclosure is the womb, and the ten doors are the ten orifices of man, namely his eyes, his ears, his nostrils, his mouth, the apertures for discharge of excreta and urine, and the navel. When the child is still in its mother’s womb, the navel is open, but all the other apertures are shut, but when the child issues from the womb the navel is closed and the other orifices are open.”

Balkis: “Seven leave and nine enter; two pour out the draught and only one drinks.”

How did Solomon respond? “Seven are the days of woman’s menstruation, nine the months of her pregnancy; her two breasts nourish the child, and one drinks.”

Other riddles concerned with common objects and materials. At one point, Sheba asked, “What when alive does not move, yet when its head cut off, moves?”

Solomon’s answer: “The timber used to build a ship.”

Another riddle she proposed was: “It is many- headed. In a storm at sea it goes above us all, it raises a loud and bitter wailing and moaning; it bends its head like a reed, is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, it honors the dead and dishonors the living; it is a delight to the birds, but a sorrow to the fishes. What is it?”

Solomon replied, “Flax, for it makes sails for ships that moan in the storm. It provides fine linen for the rich and rags for the poor, a burial shroud for the dead, and a rope for hanging the living. As seed it nourishes the birds, and as a net it traps the fish.”

Some of Sheba’s questions were related to the Hebrew Bible. For example, “The dead lived, the grave moved, and the dead prayed. What is it?” The answer: “The dead that lived and prayed was Jonah; the fish, the moving grave.” In one theological riddle, she asked: “What is the ugliest thing in the world, and what is the most beautiful? What is the most certain, and what is the most uncertain?”

Solomon replied, “The ugliest thing…is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful is the repentant sinner. The most certain is death; the most uncertain, one’s share in the World to Come.”

Solomon is said to have collected over 3,000 proverbs or folk sayings filled with practical advice from around the Near Eastern world. The proverbs dealt with a variety of subjects. The book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible are thought to have originated from Solomon, as are the Song of Solomon and even the book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to some as Solomon’s wisdom in his declining years. In addition to riddles which required a verbal answer, Sheba tested Solomon’s ingenuity in action. Dressing five boys and girls identically, she asked him to detect their sex. When he handed them bowls of water for them to wash their hands, the girls, unlike the boys, rolled up their sleeves. Sheba also brought Solomon two flowers alike in appearance, but one was real while the other was artificial; he distinguished them by noting how bees swarmed to the flower with the genuine fragrance. Then, giving him a large emerald with a curved hole in the middle, she asked him to draw a thread through it; he sent for a silkworm, which crawled through the hole drawing with it a silken thread. The Midrash Hachefez reports still another test of Solomon’s cleverness. Sheba presented Solomon with the sawn trunk of a cedar tree, the ends cut off so that they looked the same; she asked Solomon which end had been the root, and which the branches. Solomon ordered the tree stump to be placed in water. When one end sank while the other floated, he said to her, “The part which sank was the root, and that which floated on the surface was the end containing the branches.” According to the Kebra Negast, the questions and tests were mutual; Solomon also challenged Sheba. Sadly, existing legends describe only a few of the artful strategies he used to outwit her. During Sheba’s six month visit with Solomon, she conversed with him daily. The Kebra Negast informs us that “the Queen used to go to Solomon and return continually, and hearken unto his wisdom, and keep it in her heart. And Solomon used to go and visit her, and answer all the questions which she put to him … and he informed her concerning every matter that she wished to enquire about.” Frequently, they roamed Jerusalem together, as she questioned him and watched him at work. She sought astronomical knowledge, for which he was known; Solomon had developed a new calendar that added an extra month every nineteen years. But historians believe there was more to the Queen of Sheba’s motives than simply to see the temple or to satisfy her curiosity about Solomon’s wisdom

The most likely reason for the queen’s visit

According to the ritual of the Masonic ceremony pertaining to the installation of a Worshipful Master into the Chair of King Solomon, we are told that when the temple at Jerusalem had been completed, by the wisdom of King Solomon and assisted by the strength of Hiram, King of Tyre and the beautifying skill of Hiram Abiff, the monarchs of the neighboring countries sent their ambassadors bearing precious gifts to King Solomon to congratulate him upon the completion of his great and holy work. But the sovereign of a more distant country —the Queen of Sheba—was not be content to send an embassage. She, herself, would go up to Jerusalem, so that her own eyes might see the magnificent Temple, and her own ears might hear the wisdom of King Solomon, whose fame was spread abroad throughout the then known world. It is most likely that the Queen of Sheba’s mission was for the purposes of trade and the gifts exchanged were to open up trade relations. One must realize that the kingdom over which Solomon ruled was far more extensive than the Israel we think of in today’s world. King David, Solomon’s father, had won from the Edomites a strategic port and a great tract of surrounding land where the desert stopped at the narrow waterway leading to Arabia and Africa. This port at the head of the gulf of Akabah was called Ezion-geber, and provided access to Ophir, the port of the great Arabian or East African gold land. David ruled from Syria to Egypt. For four hundred miles north to south, and 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, David’s sovereignty connected the three continents

When Hiram, King of Tyre, learned of the seaport on the southern gulf, he sent a message of congratulations and friendship to David. This friendship was a boon. Tyre and Sidon and the other Phoenician city-states controlled world trade from India to the Sea of Atlantis. But the island Tyre was incapable of feeding itself, and gladly bought the Hebrew’s grain, oil, honey, and wine. In return, the Phoenician king sent David technical advisors in stone, metal, wood, cloth, and dyes. David sent Hiram oak for his oars, and Hiram sent the Jews hardwoods from the mountains of Lebanon and stone form his quarries, out of which the royal city might be constructed. King Hiram’s friendship extended to King Solomon when he succeeded the throne from his father. He gave Solomon a fleet of Phoenician-built ships, which sailed the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Soon word of Solomon was being carried around the world on Hiram’s ships. News of conquests and culture reached the far outposts and colonies. Caravans form Egypt and Arabia passing through Israel’s toll cities along the Sea Way or King’s Highway picked up information about the monarch and his court and household. When the Sabaeans learned that Solomon had established a merchant ship navy and was stepping up commercial activities in southern part of Red Sea, he caused Sheba to negotiate an agreement preventing competition with her own traders. Sheba had been in touch with all the cities of the world, in a great whirlwind of trade. She was even known to the Chinese

The Sabaeans quickly realized that opening new sea-lanes would decrease use of overland routes and various oases from which Sheba’s court derived revenue. Natural historian Pliny records: “…all along the route they keep on paying, at one place for water, at another for fodder or the charges for lodging… so that expense mount up to 688 denarii per camel before the Mediterranean coast is reached” It was necessary to consolidate commercial ties, thus there was a mutual exchange of presents, which was a well established diplomatic procedure at that time. This is thought to be the real motive of the queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, which was both political and economic. The spices, gold and gems were probably a tribute paid for commercial favours and treaty concessions. Thus, when it says the King gave her “all she desired,” this may have included satisfactory political agreements. Balkis brought with her 120 talents of gold to give to Solomon. Given that one talent was equal to 3,000 shekels and that there are 11.5 grams in a shekel, when one does the arithmetic we find that 120 talents of gold are about 360,000 shekels or 4,140 kilograms of gold! For those who are more familiar with Imperial measure, this amounts to just over 146,000 ounces of gold, or 9,120 pounds. Can you imagine—more than 4.5 tons of gold! She also gave Solomon more spices than had even been seen at one time in Israel, no small feat insomuch as spices were almost worth their weight in gold.

The Queen’s journey to Solomon’s royal city

There are 1500 miles of desert and mountains between Sheba and Jerusalem. Although most history books claim Sheba traveled by land, one historian claims she made the voyage by ship. The queen may have employed as many as 75 ships to travel from Sheba to Solomon’s Gulf Harbour, a trip which could have taken as long as three years because of the monsoons. Then she rode on a white camel of prodigious size and exquisite poise into the city of Jerusalem. She observed the gates of the city of Jerusalem. By contrast, she recalled how her cities, palaces, even fortresses had many open doors of access. Sheba’s caravan of 797 camels, mules and asses was laden with provisions and gifts for Solomon. Since a camel’s saddle could carry 300-600 pounds, the wealth she brought was vast—gold, precious stones, furniture and spices. Throughout the day, she rode on an extravagant gold palanquin, like a four-poster bed, richly cushioned, with a roof shielding her from the sun and draperies she could close for privacy. Her handsome white camel was laden with gold and precious stones. Most likely, she was also accompanied by an armed guard to protect her from desert brigands, and by her devoted servants. Imagine the sight as Sheba’s train raised up dust in the distant desert. Around her swayed giraffes that had been transported by way of the west, and hippopotami. Six hundred camels in her entourage each held nearly 500 pounds of goods. Fifty elephants followed, four royal Numidian lions, uncountable mules. In the camel’s heavy waterskin sacks were pots of the gum of the frankincense tree. Myrrh leaves and its red resin. Gold. Pink pearls from the sea of reeds. Ivory tusks. Nard (ointment made from plants) and ambergris. The black resin of rockrose. Moon coriander. Myrtle and oliban (balsam used in medicine and perfumes). The endangered storax. Hops. Smell the scents too sweet to describe. The pungent yet aromatic smoke of her incense

And in return, King Solomon had assembled an array of gifts for her arrival. Great caskets of sticky Nubian millet beer awaited her party. The gifts were staked on mules outside Solomon,s palace, ready for her people to take to their camp and enjoy. Silks and linens from Gaza, Assyria, and Lebanon. Tapestry from Ma-Wara-Mnar. Dresses, sweet fruit from Iraq, Mongolistan winter melons. And basins of water from the spring at Siloe. Following the queen’s arrival, Solomon gave her a luxurious apartment in a palace next to his, and provided her with fruits, rose trees, silks, linens, tapestries, and 11 bewitching garments for each day of her visit. Daily, he sent her (and her 350 servants) 45 sacks of flour, 10 oxen, 5 bulls, 50 sheep (in addition to goats, deer, cows, gazelles, and chicken), wine, honey, fried locusts, rich sweets, and 25 singing men and women

What happened after she arrived?

History has given way to legend and fable. As I mentioned earlier, (1) there is no evidence to support the story that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon; and (2) according to the Holy Bible, King Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants. Yet consider the imagery and romance that have been conjured in some of these alternative endings, which come from Arabic and Ethiopian legends and folk tales:

The Marriage of Solomon and Sheba

When she arrived in his court, Sheba found Solomon arrayed in a cloth of gold, so that at first he looked like a statue of gold with hands of ivory. Solomon received her with every sort of festive preparation. He led her to behold the works of his palace and then the grand works of the temple. Balkis was lost in admiration. The king was captivated by her beauty and in a short time offered her his hand. Balkis was pleased to have conquered his proud heart, and she accepted his hand. Their troth was solemnized by the presentation of a ring by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. Sheba took out from inside the plaiting of her black hair, a golden ring and handed it to Solomon. He receives it with a gasp. For it resembles in many ways the breastplate of twelve engraved gems worn by the high priests of Israel for the purpose of divination. But it is more precise, more pristine. Four gems only shine from the four sides of the circle, and these, Sheba explains in a whisper so perfect Solomon hardly recalls her speaking, signify writing and numbering (the blue stone), the equality of male and female (the green stone), blood (the red stone), and light (a dull reflecting metal). This alleged love affair has been captured both in poetry and in the movies (Solomon and Sheba, a 1959 Hollywood spectacular about the famed reign of King Solomon over ancient Israel in which the voluptuous Queen of Sheba plots his overthrow, starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida)

Sheba Falls for Hiram Abiff

The Queen of Sheba was overwhelmed by the splendor and beauty of the magnificent edifice created by Solomon. On one of her visits to the temple, Balkis repeatedly requested to meet the architect who had wrought such wondrous things. Solomon delayed this meeting as long as possible, but finally he found it necessary to accede to her request. At the command of the king, Hiram Abiff, the mysterious artificer, was brought into the presence of Balkis, Queen of Sheba. Hiram looked deeply into the soul of Balkis and cast on the queen a look that penetrated her very heart. Upon recovering from this unforeseen occurrence, she regained her composure and questioned as well as defended Hiram from the ill-will and rising jealousy of Solomon. When Balkis requested to see the countless host of workmen that had created the temple, Solomon protested the impossibility of assembling them all at once; (there had been 70,000 involved in his projects) but Hiram, leaping on a stone to make himself more visible, with his right hand described in the air the symbolic Tau, and immediately the men hastened from all parts of the work into the presence of their master. Seeing this, the queen wondered and secretly repented her choice of a husband. She felt that she was in love with the mighty architect. Seeing the affection of Balkis for Hiram Abiff, Solomon set out to destroy it. He prepared for the humiliation and ruin of his rival. To this end, Solomon employed three fellowcrafts who were envious of Hiram. The reason for their envy was that Hiram had refused to raise them to the degree of a master mason due to their lack of knowledge and their idleness. They arranged to sabotage the pouring of the molten bronze for the great brazen sea. When the molten metal was poured in the presence of Solomon and Sheba, the liquid escaped its containment and flowed like lava over the adjoining places. The observers panicked into a terrified crowd. Hiram attempted to arrest the flow with a great quantity of water, but without success. The dishonoured artificer could not remove himself from the scene of the disaster. He was called into the flames by Tubal Cain (the first artificer in metals). After being promised that he would have a son whose descendants would perpetrate his race and rule the world for many centuries, he was given a hammer by Tubal Cain and returned to the earth. Hiram did not hesitate to test the efficacy of the hammer, and the dawn saw the great mass of bronze cast. Hiram was filled with joy and the Queen of Sheba was exulted. The people came running up to admire this secret power which in one night had repaired everything

Sheba Falls For Hiram Abiff (version 2)

One day Balkis and her maids went beyond Jerusalem and there encountered Hiram. The two confessed their love, and deliberated how Balkis could retract the promise she had given to King Solomon to marry him. It was their decision that Hiram would be the first to leave Jerusalem. Balkis would meet him in Arabia after eluding the vigilance of the king. She would accomplish this by removing the ring from his finger when he was overcome by wine. By this means, she could withdraw the troth that had pledged her to him. Solomon, meanwhile, hinted to the three fellow craft that the removal of his rival Hiram Abiff would be acceptable to him. The three fellowcraft assailed him in sequence and the third ruffian killed him with a setting maul. Immediately before his death, Hiram managed to throw the golden triangle about his neck into a deep well. The master architect was dead. In due course the Temple was completed without Hiram Abiff

Yet Another Hiram Abiff Romance

The masons were a breed near invisible to all others. By far the greater number of the sacred builders (some thought to have worked on the pyramids of Egypt) the masons were unbound spirits who fled the unjust and immoral regimes of the Nile delta after building the pyramids. They rowed to all ports of the Great Sea (Mediterranean) They scattered overland with their families in horse carts. They moved like nomads, in small groups resembling tinkers and smiths with their tools and aprons. Sometimes they put a T-shaped cross on their foreheads as a sign for “god” and “iron”. They found a more favourable climate for their work in Phoenicia, and laboured on several projects in Tyre. All the time they preserved faithfully the secrets of stone, brick and engraving, and of the care of the dead. They settled in the Holy Land as well. At the time of Solomon, brother masons usually wore beards but no mustaches, and their wives worked along side them. They lived by geometry. They knew their tools and their materials and they knew the uses of silence. Thus, when Solomon was anointed king in 965 BCE, he did not know of the masons until introduced into their order by Hiram, King of Tyre. Now they had gathered again, stonesquarers, hewers of wood, drawers of water, philosophers, sawyers of the underground lime, smelters of bronze, architects, smiths in silver and gold, apprentices, journeymen, astronomers, masters —skilled craftsmen in the thirty-nine kinds of sacred work. They focused their energies on the Temple mountain, feeling that this assignment from Hiram and Solomon was worthy of the brotherhood. They worked a month at a time, then rested for a month, then returned for another month’s labors. The conifers from Lebanon were cut, smoothed and finished far from the temple site because Solomon did not consider it good to have the loud sound of iron tools in the near workings. Iron was the hand of war. In the temple precincts, white stones as heavy as a thousand men were set into immaculate row upon row with an effortlessness known only to the masons. Solomon was called the Grand Master of the work when the temple was being built. Hiram, King of Tyre, controlled the overseas sources of wealth that made the work possible, and at least half of the work force; he was called the Grand Master of the Work. And the “other” Hiram of Tyre, the architect, was the third of the Grand Masters. Hiram had done good work in Tyre. But his preeminence in the building of Solomon’s temple was not due to his reputation. Nor had it been granted by his patron, the King of Tyre. It had come to him by his merit, on a specific day. On the morning that the foundation stone was being laid, Hiram drew a diagram on his trestle board of a certain three sided figure, and he observed that the squares drawn up on the short sides summed up exactly equal to the square drawn down the longest side, and he cried out “Eureka!” And Solomon appreciated this accomplishment, and appointed him Grand Architect of Jerusalem. Some of the masons said that this Hiram, son of the widow, was an artist wiser that the world had ever seen. Others argued that the work of the men of a hundred nationalities was the key, and that unless each one of these men—every last one—felt and continued to feel that his agreement was sacred, they could do nothing, but so long as the decision to cooeperate was made again and again every morning by every man, then the boundaries of their work would continue to amplify. There was, however, certain work that the masons did not do. No free man worked in the iron and copper mines of the Arabah. This wet, dirty and dangerous job was done by slaves, both male and female. One day, there was dissension amongst the workers. Hiram, chief architect and paymaster, felt the stirrings most. The different pay grades of workmen announced to the paymaster at what level they worked, and were paid accordingly. The ranks were specified in code. For example, burden bearers might say “servitude” and the journeymen masons and carpenters might say “worker’s pool,” and the overseers said “the way.” And in the old Semite tongue, all these three phrases sounded almost exactly alike, but for an accent or an inflection. But the men began to say different words. Hiram King of Tyre recognized immediately that this was the signal of worker unrest, a bad omen. One day, as Hiram stood before three huge drums of gold ingots facing his 150,000 men he motioned them to begin to approach. One by one they stepped forward and pronounced a word according to they hierarchy of their functions and were paid. To Hiram’s shock, one man rudely grabbed for his payment. Suddenly the orderly line gave way and the troops burst into the Temple in a great surge. There was shouting. Three men in an extremity of tension and anger confronted the grand master, demanding money, satisfaction, the truth. Hiram staggered and went down slowly. He was bleeding from the head and side. There was a point of a compasses stuck in his heart. Then there was chaos and riot. Loyal masons fell upon Hiram’s attackers, but the guilty escaped. Finally, at twilight, there fell stillness. Hiram had been left for dead in a rubble of gold. But he was still alive. He rose and left the temple, still bleeding. He knew the blood would never stop. He pressed towards the tents, to Sheba. And he found her, she found him, she loved, they loved, with love as intense as death, passion as incomprehensible as the grave. Sheba mobilized her thousands. The body of the queen’s last love lay buried in a grassy knoll outside Jerusalem, underneath an Egyptian gum acacia with mud around its roots. The long line of men and animals from the land of women gradually disappeared into the horizon. Sheba fled south through the Gulf of Aquaba

The Origin of the Ethiopian Monarchy—Sheba and her son Menyelek

The Bible says nothing about a marriage between Solomon and Sheba, but states simply that she returned to her own land. However, the Abyssinians (the country now known as Ethiopia) have adopted some of the Arab tales and trace the lineage of their royal house to the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopians claim that their rulers are descended from Menilek, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, thus giving rise to the imperial title “Lion of Judah.” The Kebra Negast is regarded as the final authority on the early history of Ethiopia, and its origin in the Solomonic lines of kings, which “descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of Queen of Ethiopia, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem.” This idea exists in the folk lore of many Jewish, Moslem and Christian countries .The relationship between Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, and Israel is apparent in Ethiopia’s national emblem, the six pointed star, which corresponds to the Shield (Seal) of David on Israel’s flag Here is the tale of how Solomon’s son became the King of Ethiopia: When her visits to him multiplied, he longed for her greatly and entreated her to yield herself to him. But she would not surrender herself to him, and she said unto him, “I came to thee a maiden, a virgin; shall I go back despoiled of my virginity, and suffer disgrace in my kingdom? Swear to me by thy God, the God of Israel, that thou wilt not take me by force. For if I, who according to the law of men am maiden, be seduced, I should travel on my journey back in sorrow, and affliction and tribulation.”

And Solomon said unto her, “I will only take thee to myself in lawful marriage—I am the King, and thou shalt be the Queen. Strike a covenant with me that I am only to take thee to wife of thine own free will. This shall be the condition between us: when thou shalt come to me by night as I am lying on the cushions of my bed, thou shalt become my wife.” And behold she struck this covenant with him, determining within herself that she would preserve her virginity from him. But the ingenious King Solomon was not to be deterred by her refusal. After she had visited him for six months, the Queen of Sheba chose to return to her own country. The day before her departure, the palace servants busily prepared a festal banquet in her honor. Solomon arranged a great feast for her, beautifying his tent with purple hangings, carpets, marbles and precious stones, and burning aromatic powers and incense. “Follow me now and seat thyself in my splendor in the tent,” he told her, “and I will complete thy instruction, for thou has loved wisdom, and she shall dwell with thee until thine end and for ever.” When she agreed, he rejoiced. He prepared highly seasoned meats that would make her thirsty, fish cooked with pepper, and drinks mingled with spices. Then they dined and conversed until late in the night. Makeda attempted to retire to her own quarters. Solomon wouldn’t hear of her departing at so late an hour. Wasn’t his residence as comfortable as the one he had arranged for her? Makeda was the virgin queen of Ethiopia, her throne pending on that condition. Solomon swore to take nothing from her by force on terms that she would take nothing of his by force. Sheba slept in Solomon’s tent, and awakened in the middle of the night thirsty and craving water. All the water founts accessible to the public were shut off. The queen went to Solomon’s chambers to procure a cup of water, but was only able to find a water in a jar by Solomon’s bed. Solomon had, of course, asked his servants to hide all other sources of water. Believing him to be asleep, she reached across his bed for water, but he opened his eyes, seized her hand and said: “Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou would not take by force anything that is in my house?” And she answered and said unto him in fear, “Is the oath broken by my drinking water? Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water.” Solomon replied: “As you see, nothing is more valuable than water. Release me from my vow and be released from yours and I will give you all that you desire.” And he permitted her to drink water, and after she had drunk water she gave herself into his embrace willingly. Sheba may have been Solomon’s lover, but she did not become his wife or remain with him much longer. After she had visited him for six months, she chose to return to her own country. Before she left, she gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (10 million dollars), precious stones and spices in great abundance, and highly prized sandalwood for his temple. In the Biblical story, “Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked…besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty.” Likewise, Josephus states, “Solomon also repaid her with many good things…bestowing upon her what she chose of her own inclination, for there was nothing that she desired which he denied her; and as he was very generous and liberal in his own temper, so did he show the greatness of his soul in bestowing on her what she herself desired of him.” Unlike the Bible and Josephus, the Kebra Negast provides details of Solomon’s gifts—beautiful apparel, 6000 camels, wagons laden with luxurious goods, and vessels for travel over desert, air, and sea. Because she was now pregnant with his child, he also gave her a ring, for he hoped that she would bear him a son, who might in time visit Jerusalem and prove his identity to Solomon. And the Queen departed and came into the country of Bala Zadisareya nine months and five days after she had separated from King Solomon. And the pains of childbirth laid hold upon her, and she brought forth a man-child, and she gave it to the nurse with great pride and delight. And the child grew and she called his name Bayna-Lehkem (Menelik), which means “son of the wise man.”When he was twenty-two years old he was skilled in the art of war and horsemanship, in the hunting and trapping of wild beast, and in every thing that young men desire to learn. And he said unto the Queen: “I will go and look upon the face of my father, and I will come back here by the will of God, the Lord of Israel.” When King Solomon saw his son, he rose up and moved forward to welcome him, and he embraced and kissed him, and said unto him: “Behold, my Father David hath renewed his youth and hath risen from the dead.” And Solomon the King turned around to those who had announced the arrival of the young man, and said unto them: “Ye said unto me, ‘He resembleth thee,’ but this is not my stature, but the stature of David my father in the days of his early manhood, and he is handsomer that I am.” And Solomon the King rose up and went into his chamber, and he arrayed his son in apparel made of cloth embroidered with gold, and a belt of gold, and he set a crown upon his head, and a ring upon his finger. Having arrayed him in glorious apparel, which bewitched the eyes, he seated him upon his Throne that he might be equal in rank to himself. Then he said unto the nobles and officers of Israel: “O ye who treat me with derision among yourselves and say that I have no son; look ye, this is my son, the fruit from my body, whom God, the Lord of Israel hat given me when I expected it not.” And his nobles answered and said unto him: “Blessed be the mother who hath brought forth this young man, and blessed be the day wherein thou hath union with the mother of this young man. For there hath risen upon us from the root of Jessse a shining man who shall be king of the posterity of his seed. And concerning his father none shall ask questions for verily he is a Israelite of the seed of David, fashioned perfectly in the likeness of his father’s form and appearance; we are his servants and he shall be our King.” And they brought unto him gifts each according to his greatness. Menelik along with the Elders of Israel took the Ark of the Covenant and established the Kingdom of David in Ethiopia, this Kingdom remained up till the time of Haile Selassie I, the Last Solomonic King of Kings of the Earth


The paper I have presented today is for entertainment and enlightenment. Remember this is a light-hearted compendium of tales, stories and legends from various sources. It may not be factually correct. Nonetheless, I hope it has given you some insight into the life and times of King Solomon, our first Grand Master. It was natural that imaginative stone masons long before speculative masonry should have felt a kinship with the great builders of all ages. It was natural that they should have acknowledged a peculiar attraction to the most famous and glorious of all building enterprises, King Solomon’s temple. Without a doubt, King Solomon’s temple was the grandest most costly structure ever erected. Thus it follows that Solomon’s temple should come to be regarded as the ideal prototype of a spiritual temple, which explains its prominence in our ritual. However, it is better to pattern ourselves after the building than after Solomon himself. After the departure of the Queen of Sheba, the completion of his luxurious Temple became more important to Solomon than the practice of his religion. Then his luxurious Palace “built for personal rather than collective use” took precedence over the Temple. Finally, his writing and preaching of wisdom became increasingly divorced from experience. Solomon no longer lived by the humane principles for which he had become respected and honoured. Some historians even view him as a tyrant who became devoted to his own glory, and whose greed and extravagance led him to build his kingdom on injustice, oppression and misery. All this for the love of a woman?

Bibliography and related reading

Solomon and Sheba. Faye Levine. Richard Marek Publishers, New York, 1980

Colliers Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia Americana

Great People of the Bible and How They Lived. Reader’s Digest Assoc., Inc. Pleasantville, NY, 1979

Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

International standard Bible Encyclopedia

The Geography of the Bible. Denis Ably. Harper and Rowe, New York 1974

King Solomon. Fredric Thinne. East and West Library, New York, 1947

The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries. Charles William Heckthorn

The First Book of Kings. J. Robinson. Cambridge at the University Press 1972 Holy Bible, Authorized (King James) Version

The story of the Queen of Sheba is recorded in the Old Testament in I Kings 10:1-13; a similar version also appears in II Chronicles 9:1-12. Other references to the Queen of Sheba are: Psalms lxxii, 15, and in the New Testament, Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31

The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek: the Kebra Nagast. Budge, Sir Ernest A. Wallis, translator. Oxford University Press, London, 1932

Solomon and Solomonic Literature. Conway, Moncure Daniel. Haskell House, NY, 1973, pp.59-65 All of the Women of the Bible. Dean, Edith. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1955

The Lore of the Old Testament. Gaer, Joseph. Little-Brown, Boston, 1951, pp. 242-44

Legends of the Bible. Ginzberg, Louis. Simon and Schuster, NY, 1956, pp. 560-64


Although I could not find a detailed account of one of Solomon’s feasts, the following account of King Ashurnasirpal’s Banquet gives some idea of the enormity of preparation and quantity of foodstuffs required for a royal feast: When Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, inaugurated the palace of Calah, a palace of joy and erected with great ingenuity, he invited into it Ashur, the great lord and the gods of his entire country. He prepared a banquet of 1,200 fattened head of cattle, 1,000 calves, 11,000 stable sheep, 16,000 lambs, 1,000 spring lambs, 500 stags, 500 gazelles, 1,000 ducks, 1,000 geese, 2,000 indigenous birds, 20,000 doves, and 10,000 other assorted small birds. Also 10,000 assorted fish, 10,000 jerboa (small, rabbit like rodents) 10,000 assorted eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 jars of beer, 10,000 skins of wine, 10,000 small bottom vessels with seeds in sesame oil, 10,000 small pots of condiments, 1,000 wooded crates with vegetables, 300 containers of oil, 300 containers of salted seeds, 300 containers of grapes, 100 mixed zamru fruits, 1700 pistachio cones, 100 jars with “mixture”, 100 with arsuppu grain, ten homer of shelled luddu nuts (one homer = 75 gallons or 11 bushels), ten homer of shelled pistachio, ten homer of the uru tree, ten homer of fruits of the habbaququ tree, ten homer of dates, ten homer of the fruits of the titip tree, ten homer of cumin, ten homer of sahhunu, ten homer of uriana. ten homer of andahsu bulbs, ten homer of sisanibee plants, ten homer of the fruits of the simburu tree, ten homer of thyme, ten homer of perfumed oil, ten homer of sweet smelling matters, ten homer of the fruits of the nasubu tree, ten homer of zimzimmu onions, ten homer of olives. When inaugurated, the palace treated for 10 days with food and drink 47,074 persons, men and women, who were bade to come from across the entire country, also 5,000 important persons, delegates from the country Suhu, from Hindar, Hattina, Hatti, Tyre, Sidon, Gurguma, Malida, Hubuska. Gilzana, Kuma, Musasir, also 10,000 inhabitants from Calah, 1,500 officials of all the royal palaces, altogether 69,574 invited guests from all the mentioned countries including the people of Calah. They were furthermore proved with the means to clean and anoint themselves.

Written by Tseday

November 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

My Moments in Addis Ababa

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by Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska


Ethiopia, its culture and people have been part of my life for many years. But it is different every time I come here and it makes me realize how little I know about this country.

It is most probable that if you fly to Addis from another country, you will arrive at night and your first glimpse of the city will be at its dark side. Do not pay too much attention to your first impression. It will get better when the sun rises.

Not many people appreciate the capital city of Ethiopia and many tourists try to escape from there as soon as possible. Of course it is not easy to see the best of the city if one is in a rush. The city is like a woman whose charm you are able to see only after a while.

It does not strike you at the beginning but soon you are under a spell and have no idea how it happened.

Addis – the New Flower
Most tourists come to Ethiopia because they heard about its ancient sites, old churches and thousands of years of history. It is true that many of them are ancient sites but not Addis. This city is new as its name implies “New Flower.”

It is bit over a hundred years old. But this doesn’t mean that the mystical Ethiopia is not there. And it is worth taking a risk to try to make friends with Addis Ababa.

When Menelik, the powerful king of Showa, whose aim was to rule the whole of Ethiopia moved into the area of today’s Addis Ababa, he settled on Entoto, a mountainous province of the country. He was accompanied by his wife, Taitu.

The couple were powerful, perceived by their subjects as beautiful and divine. Moreover, Menelik and Taitu had a blueprint of how to rule the country.

When they settled on Entoto they were already on their way to fulfill their dreams. Not much later Menelik was crowned niguse-negest meaning Emperor and Taitu was crowned Itege or Empress.

She was not only the Emperor’s wife, but also a crowned wife, an Empress with her own rights. The couples influenced Ethiopian fate in almost all of its aspects. The administrational and geographical shape of the country changed completely. What was old Ethiopia constituted one third of the area of the country in its new shape.

The couple also realized that contrary to Ethiopian tradition, they need a permanent capital, a place to settle and to rule.

Entoto was good, but not perfect. Cold at night and dry. Taitu used to travel down the hill to cure her aching back in the hot springs of Fil-wo-ha.

It was her idea that the lower plain was good not only for her back but for a permanent settlement too. It was then that Menelik and Taitu decided to put up their tents and grow Addis Ababa (the new flower) there.

A view from Entoto and the two churches
It is good to go to Entoto when you are in Addis. The view from above shows the city in a completely new perspective. It is quiet, without smoke with no one to bother to you and you can enjoy the eucalyptus forest and the breathtaking view over Addis.



There are also two churches on the hill, Raguel Church and Entoto Mariam Church. Both of them are reminders of the imperial couple.

One was founded by Taitu and the other by Menelik. Both are splendid but there is something extraordinary about the one founded by Menelik – the paintings.

Actually, whichever church you visit in Ethiopia, the churches and their murals do not let you leave before you carefully study each and every representation.

Aba Lukas who painted the murals of the church was an Ethiopian monk from Gonder. A very talented monk, whom I deeply believe one day art historians will admit into the gallery of the most remarkable artists somewhere between Bosch and Broughel.

Inside the city
The marriage between Ethiopia and her coffee has been hailed by many to be the best in the world and with an Italian style. Italians occupied Ethiopia for five years (1936-1941) and whatever harm they did to the country, they also left a bit of their habits behind which turned out to go very well with Ethiopian habits. Coffee places are the best example of this combination.

There are a lot of places to be visited in Addis, providing that you do not run away from this place too soon. Churches each with their own spectacular history and some of them witnessing the most spectacular moments of Ethiopian history.

Like the coronation of Haile Selassie I or another one ‘Selassie Cathedral’ which places the Emperor’ssellasie_cathedral body buried in the year 2000, twenty five years after his death.

From the three imperial palaces in Addis, only one can be visited. The first palace of Haile Selassie I has been housing Addis Ababa University since 1960.

After a failed coup d’etat which was supposed to deprive the Emperor of power, he offered this palace to the University and moved to the new one. Now it is one of the governmental buildings.

menelik_mausoleumUnfortunately, neither the old Menelik’s Palace located next to the Menelik Mausoleum can be visited since the office of Prime Minister has its seat there.

Churches are not everything and being a typical tourist it is good to learn a bit and visit some museums. In Addis there are quite a few of them.

The National Museum with a replica of Lucy is the best known but there are others, like Addis Ababa Museum.

The building of the museum is an old residence which allows visitors to imagine Addis Ababa’s aristocratic life style from before.

A mug of Menelik, one of his daughter Zawditu and lots of pictures are there. museum_addis_ababa

If someone doesn’t find it fascinating, it is better to stay in the nearby Meskel Square where huge white pigeons have been constructed to meet the New Millennium.

According to the Ethiopian Calendar year 2000 has started on the 12th of September 2007.


Addis Downtown
Addis Ababa is a very joyful place with some quarters even more joyful than others. Piazza, the center has the most shopping and nightlife areas and used to be called ‘Arada’ before the Italian occupation. Now it is a name which is only inserted in some lyrics referring to the busy district.

There is another part of Addis that is now struggling to be the most occupied place on Saturday nights. Bole, a district spreading towards the airport is full of modern shops, restaurants and busy night clubs. The list of bars which are recommended by those who know it well will keep you there for the whole time.

At Piazza you feel more of Ethiopian life-style in comparison to Bole; especially, if you decided to stay in Itege Taitu Hotel. It is the first hotel in Ethiopia founded by Menelik’s wife. It is still offering something of the feeling of an imperial era in a very shabby, yet charming style. It is like one of those places which get old and fall apart with dignity.

Crowded streets and people calling you is what imagination brings when we think about African cities and Addis Ababa is no different. Ethiopians often talk freely to each other no European standard of pretending that we don’t see each other.

And foreigners or ‘ferengi’ I say this because it is a term applied by Ethiopians for foreigners. It is not meant to be offending even though some ferengi may feel like killing the 100th person who has called them by this name on the street. It can be tiring when used a lot, but this is one of the cultural differences that we want to experience as we travel. It seems ridiculous to complain.

This is one place in Addis that missing it would be a big mistake. Not only for shopping but for visiting, seeing, smelling and touching. Merkato is a place that you will love to go back to.

It is one of the biggest market places in the world. It is a whole district with a huge number of tiny streets, big and little shops offering you anything you want.

As in all traditional markets, each profession has its own sectioned area. You walk through sellers offering a variety of strange parts of odd machines, threads, garments, fruits, spices, colors, aromas, and you see the people excited, smiling, talking, touching …etc. Touching is also a way of noticing…another piece of culture that we come to experience.

One may ask how many days are needed to enjoy Addis before getting tired of the crowds, cars and smoke. I say, for some two minutes might be enough while others believe that this is the place where they may find a sense for their lives.

But all are tempted to go further to explore Ethiopia out of its capital. Of course whatever you may find in Addis, the real experience and real Ethiopia is waiting for you when you leave the city.

But what can be a big surprise is that when you return to the city before your next trip or to fly back to your country, you realize that you feel at home there.

The man at the corner who is trying to sell you pots from Gambella even though you bought two from him already, seems to be your old friend. It does not matter how ugly Addis Ababa may seem to be for some, you like it more as time passes by.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska has plenty of travel experiences to Ethiopia and is a contributor to our site.

She has specialized in modern history of Ethiopia and currently lectures at Warsaw University, Department of African Languages and Cultures.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska (Ph.D.)

Written by Tseday

November 14, 2008 at 5:04 am

Posted in Ethiopia

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