The Bodleian's collection of Ethiopic manuscripts currently amounts to some 130 items, representing the main areas of Ethiopian literature - Bible, liturgy, hagiography, theology, history and magic. Among notable illustrated manuscripts in the collection are the 15th century Gospels containing 3 full-page miniatures of Evangelists, the fragmentary Discourse of Cyriacus and the Life and Miracles of Takla Haymanot, the last two dating from the 17th century. In 1995 the Library, with a generous grant from the Friends of the Bodleian, acquired a small volume containing a miscellany dating from the mid-17th century. The volume contains 20 splendid full-page miniatures in the so-called "first Gondarene" style, including a very fine representation of the Virgin Mary.The Bodleian Library has a comprehensive collection of Ethiopic texts, grammars and lexicons printed in Europe, and elsewhere, since the beginnings of interest in the Ethiopic languages in the 16th and 17th centuries (Angelo Canini, Institutiones..., 1554, Edmund Castell, Lexicon heptaglotton, 1669, and the lexicons and grammars of Hiob Ludolf, 1698 etc.). There is, in addition, a small number of books on, and periodicals containing articles dealing with, Ethiopian art, as well as a scattering of religious and historical titles in Amharic.
History and development
The earliest manuscript is a 12th/13th century copy of the Minor Prophets which was given in 1822 by Richard Laurence (1760-1838), archbishop of Cashel and former regius professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford. Laurence, who was an Ethiopic scholar, also gave another important manuscript at the same time, the 15th century Ascension of Isaiah the Prophet. The first Ethiopic manuscript to enter the Library was the so-called Organon Maryam, which came with Archbishop Laud's donation of 1636. Three other manuscripts were acquired in the 17th century. All had belonged to Edward Pococke and were purchased together with the rest of his collection of oriental manuscripts in 1692. In 1843 the Library bought 25 valuable Ethiopic manuscripts collected in the second half of the 18th century by the Scottish explorer James Bruce (1730-1794). In the last hundred years the Bodleian has continued to acquire Ethiopic manuscripts and printed books on a small scale.
The collection focusses mainly on religious and historical literature and language.
General arrangement and access regulations
The earlier printed material is scattered throughout the Library in the "named collections" or arranged according to one of the several systems of classification that have prevailed at different periods of the Library's history. The manuscripts are closed access and should be consulted in the Oriental Reading Room.
Subjects of the Collection
Regions of Asia
Near & Middle East and North Africa.
Languages of material
Amharic, Geez, Tigre, Tigrinya.
Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Language, Religion.
Languages as linguistic focus
Amharic, Geez, Tigre, Tigrinya.
Collection Material and Size
Total size of collection
130 manuscripts, 500 books
Size of collection - vernacular
130 manuscripts, 200 books in the vernacular(s)
Collection printed catalogues
Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Bodleianae. Pars vii. Codices Aethiopici.
Dillmann, Christian Friedrich August.
Catalogue of Ethiopian manuscripts in the Bodleian library.
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1951.