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Ethiopic manuscripts and printed books

Collection Details

Ethiopic manuscripts and printed books held at Oriental Collections Central Bodleian [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

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 of Collection

Material Types

Books, Manuscripts.

Total size of collection

130 manuscripts, 500 books

Size of collection - vernacular

130 manuscripts, 200 books in the vernacular(s)

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Content date range

1200 to present

Interlibrary loan procedure

Collection Catalogue Information


The Bodleian's Ethiopic manuscripts are described in the two printed catalogues of A. Dillmann (1848) and E. Ullendorff (1951). Subsequent acquisitions are catalogued on cards kept in the Oriental Reading Room. The printed books are catalogued on OLIS.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

Library of Congress transliteration

Collection printed catalogues

Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Bodleianae. Pars vii. Codices Aethiopici.
Dillmann, Christian Friedrich August.
Oxon. 1848.

Catalogue of Ethiopian manuscripts in the Bodleian library.
Ullendorff, Edward.
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1951.

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