Seals in Ethiopia as symbols of powerText of a scientific article on the specialty ” History and Archeology “

ANNOTATIONscientific article on history and archeology, author of the scientific work – Chernetsov Sevir Borisovich

The use of seals in Ethiopia arose as a result of relations between the Ethiopian kings and sultans of Egypt and the patriarchs of Alexandria, who sealed their letters with seals. Later seals were used not only by Ethiopian monarchs, but also by regional rulers and prominent courtiers, with their names and titles invariably mentioned. For a long time, these seals were used instead of the signature of the owners. Finally, seals in Ethiopia were divided into two types: official seals of various institutions and offices, and personal seals, which contain the full names of the owners.

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RELATED TOPICSscientific works on history and archeology, the author of the scientific work is Chernetsov Sevir Borisovich

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The use of seals in Ethiopia was the result of correspondence between Ethiopian kings and sultans of Egypt and patriarchs of Alexandria. Later seals were used not only by Ethiopian monarchs, but regional rulers and prominent courtiers as well, where their names and titles were invariably mentioned. For long these seals were used instead of signatures of the owners. Finally seals in Ethiopia were developed into two different types: official seals of various institutions and offices, and personal signets which give the owners’ names in full.

TEXT OF SCIENTIFIC WORKon the topic “Seals in Ethiopia as symbols of power”



The very use of seals arose in Ethiopia, probably under the influence of the relations of the Ethiopian kings with Egypt, i.e. primarily with the Mamluk sultans and Coptic patriarchs, who sealed their letters with seals. The desire to be on equal terms with their correspondents and correspond with them at the same high level prompted the Ethiopian kings to also acquire their own seals for external relations. They had inscriptions in Arabic, the international language of the Near and Middle East. All of these seals followed broadly Middle Eastern patterns. Very little is known about the use of royal seals within Ethiopia itself. From the end of the 17th century. in the Ethiopian royal chronicles there are references to how the king “sent his seal” to the governor. The model for these royal seals was apparently the form of the patriarchal Coptic seals: a round bilingual seal with a legend in Arabic and Coptic, the first of which was the spoken and the second the liturgical language of Egyptian Christians. Accordingly, the Ethiopian royal seal was round and bilingual: with an inscription in Arabic and Ethiopian liturgical language – Geez – and with an image of a lion in the center. The lion was supposed to symbolize the motto of the biblical king David: “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered,” which became the motto of the Ethiopian reigning dynasty of the “Solomonids,” which traced its origins to Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, the son of David. These seals, however, were not placed at the end of the letter, replacing the signature, but at the beginning of it, immediately indicating where it came from.

Chernetsov Sevier Borisovich (born 1943) – Doctor of Historical Sciences, leading researcher at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Kunstkamera).

Address: 199164, St. Petersburg, Universitetskaya embankment, 3, MAE RAS.

Tel.: (812) 328-41-52 (office), (812) 172-65-47 (home).

message. Often, during relations within the country, the envoy was given only a seal impression without any text. Here the seal was evidence that the messenger was coming from the king and should be treated as respectfully as the king himself, standing up, exclaiming “Worship befits the king’s word” and bowing at his feet. The king’s command itself was conveyed to those sent orally. This custom had its own meaning, because not all the royal governors knew how to read, and they did not always (especially in field conditions) have literate priests at hand. In addition, the appearance of the royal seal should not only inspire trust and respect in the addressee, but also provide the messenger with sufficient food (at the expense of the local population, of course) on the way. So these seals on a blank sheet of paper served as a kind of certification that the bearer was traveling around the country with the knowledge and on behalf of the king, giving him the right to all the assistance of local authorities and free allowances on the road. This was the known use of royal seals within the country.

Were there other seals in Ethiopia at that time, besides the royal and metropolitan ones? It is still difficult to answer this question with certainty. But we can confidently say that from the end of the 18th century, when the authority of the royal dynasty was falling, and the power and independence of local feudal rulers was growing, the latter also began to acquire their own seals as a symbol and indicator of their independent power. This time of regional independence and feudal strife received in Ethiopian historiography the characteristic name “the time of princes,” when, according to the chronicler, “The time of princes has come, who, however, did not destroy the name of the kingdom of kings, and the princes did not dare to sit on the throne of David and lay on themselves the crown of the kingdom; they made kings over themselves the weak kings who were under their obedience…” [1, p. 25-27]. So by the 19th century. In Ethiopia, large, practically independent regions developed with their own rulers (often hereditary), who also had their own seals, most of which were published by Richard Pankhurst [2, p. 179-208].

These seals, being an obvious continuation of the former royal sphragistic tradition, nevertheless had their own characteristics. Regional rulers, despite their actual independence, still did not dare to call themselves kings. Thus, the square seal of Wald Sellase, the ruler of the coastal region of Tigre, on his 1810 message to the English king George III has an Arabic inscription: “Trusting in the king of the holy race* Wald Sellase son of Kefla Iyasus 1217 (year).” It is not known that Vald Sellase had other seals. This circumstance, as well as the presence of a date, suggests that the seal was cut out specifically for the message to England, because according to Ethiopian ideas,

*Ras – (lit. “head”) – the highest title in the Ethiopian feudal hierarchy and at the royal court. With the fall of tsarist power in the 19th century. the latter no longer mattered. Actually, then the title ras was given to the regional ruler who was currently imposing his will on the nominal king. Ras Valde Sellase was exactly such a ruler at that time.

At that time, in international relations it was necessary to use Arabic, and to attach a seal to messages. The seal was a symbol of the independence of the rulers, which forced them to acquire seals for relations with each other, and here the Ethiopian language was more appropriate than international Arabic. Thus, the seal of another ruler of the same region of Tigre – Sabagadis – has an inscription no longer in Arabic, but in Ge’ez. The cherished dream of the rulers was to achieve royal power, the memory of which did not disappear in Ethiopia. This was reflected in the use of the lion in their seals as a symbol of this power. Thus, in the seals of Dejazmatch* Wube (1839-1855), the hereditary ruler of the Sa-men region, who extended his power to the entire coastal province of Tigre, an image of a “lion from the tribe of Judah” appears.

Three seals of the dejazmatch of Wube are known, and each of them has an image of a lion with the Lorraine cross on its back. The first is interesting because the inscription on the seal “Dejazmatch Wube son of Dejazmatch Hailu” was made not in the dead literary language of Ge’ez, but in the living spoken Amharic language. It is obvious that this seal was not made, like many Arabic-language seals, specifically for the needs of international relations, but was intended mainly for internal Ethiopian correspondence, and here they meant primarily secular correspondents of not very high rank, who may not have had any a retinue of literate clergy. Actually, the Ethiopian feudal lords themselves were literate people, but literate in the medieval sense, i.e. they usually knew how to read, but rarely knew how to write. As for the literary and liturgical Ge’ez, they did not really understand the language. They could both read and understand the inscription in Amharic without outside help. It is also characteristic that Wube, like Valda Sellase, mentions his father in his inscription, not only his name, but also his position, thereby emphasizing the heredity of his power, because by the middle of the 19th century. local regional dynasties became a common and widespread phenomenon, and these hereditary rulers conducted completely independent domestic and foreign policies and themselves entered into relations with foreign powers. Therefore, the other two Wube seals (used in correspondence with King Louis Philippe of France and Queen Victoria) still bear the image of a lion with the Lorraine cross and the inscription “Grandfather Jasmach Wube” in Arabic and Ethiopian. The inscription contains only the title and name, which are written the same in both Amharic and Ge’ez, so it is impossible to say with certainty which of the two languages ​​is used here.

*Dejazmatch is the military title of a commander who commands the forward regiment in a battle. From the 17th century, when Ethiopia was subjected to a massive invasion of the nomadic Galla (Oromo) tribes, the duties of the royal governor of the region began to include the military protection of the governorship entrusted to him until the main royal army arrived to help. Therefore, the governor began to be given the military title of dejazmatch. In the 19th century dejazmatch became the usual title of regional rulers, who appropriated it to themselves, caring little about the royal approval of this title.

Of course, one can consider the image of a lion, this imperial symbol, on the seals of independent rulers, like Wube, as an indirect indicator of their high claims, but in the case of Wube, it is indeed very indirect, because his title is indicated on the seal quite accurately – dejazmatch. A different picture is shown by the seals of another feudal ruler of that time – Ras Ali Alula, the powerful ruler of the province of Begamedr (1831-1853), who arbitrarily removed and elevated nominal Ethiopian kings to the Gondar throne. They are very similar, if not identical (the vagueness of the prints does not allow us to determine this with certainty), and bear the Arabic inscription: “ras Ali al-Habashi”, i.e. “Ras Ali Abyssinian.” However, on the sheet of agreement above this seal with an Arabic inscription there is a handwritten note in Ge’ez: “Ali, king of Abyssinia.” What is this – a typo (“king” instead of “slave of the king”, because under the third seal with a lion, published by R. Pankhurst [2, p. 203], part of the line of text is read: “Ali, servant of the king…”) or Ras Ali’s directly expressed claim to the power that he actually possessed? This question is difficult to answer with certainty.

At this time, there were other seals depicting the imperial lion with a cross and without an inscription, in particular, the seal of the Gondar king Sahle Dengel (1832-1840, 1841-1856). As R. Pankhurst noted, “it is quite significant, taking into account the transient and usually quite nominal nature of the imperial power in Gondar, that this seal does not have an inscription and therefore can be used by a succession of sovereigns” [2, p. 186]. The situation, therefore, turned out to be quite paradoxical: at a time when regional rulers in their seals emphasized the hereditary nature of their power and mentioned the names of their fathers next to their names, in the seals of the Ethiopian kings, who had lost all state significance, not only the name of the father, but also the name of the monarch himself was missing. Of course, this situation could not persist indefinitely in a country with a centuries-old tradition of strong royal power, the need for which was acutely felt in a society suffering from endless strife. These general sentiments were also expressed in the tendency to use the image of an imperial lion with a cross on the seals of regional rulers.

Comparing the seals of the “time of princes” with the seals of the previous heyday of the Gondar kingdom, one cannot help but note one circumstance: there were more seals, but the scope of their application essentially did not expand, but remained the same. Their quantitative growth occurred simply because the number of practically independent rulers increased, who conducted their correspondence even with foreign powers and needed seals mainly as a symbol of their independence. The use of secular seals did not extend beyond the narrow circle of the rulers themselves. And this is natural: if the position of these rulers themselves was very unstable, then even more transient and unstable was the position of their courtiers and vassals, who also did not differ in loyalty and easily changed their

overlords. It turned out that these regional rulers, absorbed in mutual strife, readily entering into alliances against a stronger rival and just as easily violating concluded agreements, essentially did not have their own administrative apparatus. They had a very small and unstable circle of courtiers and vassals, who at this moment considered it more profitable for themselves to serve this master. In a rapidly changing environment, official messages with a seal were inconvenient. An oral order came sooner through a messenger, and as for its execution, it depended not on the seal, but on the discretion of the vassal. It is characteristic that the seals of the “time of princes” published by R. Pankhurst were taken by him from the archives of the Foreign Ministries of France and Great Britain, i.e. from foreign correspondence of Ethiopian rulers. However, internal Ethiopian correspondence had very little chance of surviving the turbulent events of that time.

Civil strife ravaged the country, and apocalyptic sentiments and anticipation of the end of the world intensified among the people. It was at this time that the old theological treatise “The Tale of Jesus,” which is an apocrypha about the end times of the world, gained new widespread popularity. His prophecy is that “there will be trouble in every country; Kings will fight with kings and princes with princes” [3, p. 32], seemed no longer a prophecy, but modern reality. Now all that remained was to wait for the fulfillment of the following prophecy: “After this I will bring a king from the East, whose name will be Theodore, who will gather those whom I spared and who did My will… At this time there will be no unrest, no hatred, no spear , not an arrow” [3, p. 37]. The prayer of the Ethiopian chronicler, who appealed to God with the words: “Give us now the one who will return the kingdom” [4, p. 795], was destined to be fulfilled in 1855, when the Ethiopian throne was seized by the powerful Ethiopian military leader Kasa, who emerged from ordinary soldiers – a frequent occurrence during incessant battles and strife. He was crowned king, not without deliberate choice choosing the name Tewodros (Theodore) as his royal name, and with an iron hand he began to suppress the willful feudal rulers and impose his own autocratic power. Of course, on his round royal seal was an image of the imperial lion, around which were two inscriptions: one in Ge’ez – “King of kings of Ethiopia Tewodros”, and behind it in Arabic: “Supported [by God] in victory Tewodros, king of Abyssinia.” The seal of King Tewodros differs from the seals of the “time of princes”, firstly, in its large size. Secondly, the Arabic inscription also turns out to be very interesting. It is not at all a translation of the Ethiopian inscription, but carries its own idea, which seems to have an anti-Muslim orientation.

* Upon accession to the throne, Ethiopian kings were usually given a new, so-called “royal” name, which, as a rule, differed from the name given to them at baptism. Often this royal name was chosen with a specific meaning.

Ill. 1: Imprint of Tewodros’s seal, enlarged 1.5 times

After the death of Tewodros in 1868, feudal strife in the country resumed, but his example turned out to be very tempting for regional rulers who dreamed of taking the vacant throne. All contenders loudly declared their claims: Gobeze Gebre Medhin, ruler of the regions of Amhara, Wagh and Lasta, having defeated his neighbor and rival Tessa Gobeze of Valkait, was crowned emperor in August 1868 with the royal name Tekle Giyorgis (1868-1870) and immediately acquired an imperial seal with a lion and the inscription: “Tekle Giorgis, king of kings of Ethiopia.” The hereditary ruler of the province of Shoa, Sahle Maryam, did not want to lag behind him, who also proclaimed himself “the king of kings of Ethiopia,” taking as his royal name the name of the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – Menelik, under which he went down in history. However, this was not his first bid for the imperial throne. Even during the reign of Tewodros, he ordered to carve his first seal, very similar to the seal of Tewodros. However, there was a difference: the Menelik lion, unlike the Tewodros lion, did not have a crown, and the inscription – “King of Kings Menelik of Ethiopia” – was written only in Ge’ez, without Arabic translation. In other words, this seal was made for local Shoan use in order to encourage fellow countrymen who had already survived the invasion of Tewodros once, and to strengthen their power within the narrow borders of their native region. With the death of Tewodros, the situation changed, and Menelik acquired a new seal, in all respects similar to the previous one, with the exception that on this new seal the lion was depicted with a crown on his head. However, a third intervened in the fight – the dejazmatch Casa Mercha, the ruler of the coastal province of Tigre, who was descended on the maternal side from the famous Sabagadis. His seal of that time depicted a lion with a crown, and the inscription read: “Dejazmatch Kasa, head of the princes of Ethiopia.” It was he who won, defeating the newly-minted “king of kings Tekle Giyorgis” (Gobeze Gebre Medhin), who was blinded by him and died in captivity. The winner ordered a new seal to be cut out for himself, already an imperial one, with a crowned lion, very similar to the lion of his previous seal, and with the inscription “King of Kings Johannes of Ethiopia” in Ge’ez and Arabic. After the solemn

After the anointing of the throne, he replaced his first imperial seal with a second one, also with a crowned lion, but with a much more significant inscription in Ge’ez – “King of kings Yohannes, king of Zion of Ethiopia,” and the former Arabic inscription, where there is no mention of Zion.

This “Zion” deserves special consideration. According to the dynastic myth about the origin of the Ethiopian royal dynasty from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, set out in the Ethiopian treatise “The Glory of Kings,” their son, the first Ethiopian king Menelik I, already in his youth visited his father in Jerusalem. Solomon recognized him as his firstborn son and, accompanying Menelik I home to his homeland, sent with him all the firstborn children of the people of Israel, including the son of the Israeli high priest. He, however, could not bear to part with the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the Jerusalem temple built by Solomon, and so he stole the Ark and took it with him to Ethiopia. On this occasion, King Solomon had a prophetic dream that the sun rose in Judea and, after shining a little, went to Ethiopia, where it would shine forever. Further, the treatise tells about the origin of all the kings of the earth from the biblical Shem, of which only the Ethiopian kings have both the right of birthright and the confession of the “Orthodox faith” – advantages that other kings are deprived of, because the Christian kings of “Rome” (i.e. Byzantium) “distorted the faith” and accepted the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, and as for the Jews, they lost their chosenness of God by crucifying Jesus Christ. Only Ethiopia, the “New Israel,” remained God’s chosen one, and the epilogue of “Glory of the Kings” proclaims the coming triumph of Ethiopia, possessing both the greatest shrine, the Ark of the Covenant, and “the Orthodox faith, which will endure until the second coming.” Since the Ethiopian king Amda Zion (1314-1344) applied this prophecy of the “Glory of Kings” to his own dynasty [ex. see: 5, p. 26-31], this treatise was perceived in Ethiopia as holy truth, and by “Zion” many things were meant: this is the Ark of the Covenant itself, kept according to legend in the Aksum Cathedral of Our Lady of Zion, and all of Christian Ethiopia, inhabited by God’s chosen people, and the throne of the Ethiopians kings who surpass all earthly kings in glory and who are destined for power over the world. Already in his lifetime “The Tale of the Campaign of King Amda Zion” the king is called “the king of Zion”, and his throne is called Zion. So the new king, Johannes IV, who was actually anointed king in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Zion, where the Ark is kept, meant a lot when he called himself “King of Zion of Ethiopia.” It is characteristic that he did not translate this very important epithet of his into Arabic. Arabic in Ethiopia was an international language, intended for external relations, and it would not say anything to foreigners unfamiliar with the “Glory of Kings.” Ethiopia is a different matter, for which the significance of “The Glory of Kings,” a patriotic work of national scale, can hardly be overestimated. Thus, Yohannes IV, in the inscription on his state seal, declared himself the unifier of all Christian Ethiopia and its sovereign.

Yohannes’s victories over the troops of the Egyptian Khedive Ismail, who invaded Ethiopia, strengthened his reputation as a reliable defender of the Christian faith, country and people, i.e. a real king. And this was worth a lot, and Johannes hastened to consolidate this success visually and officially. He ordered the production of a new large seal with a diameter of 5.5 cm. Now the crowned lion already held a cross in his left front paw, and the inscriptions in Ge’ez and Arabic were in two rows, because otherwise there would not have been enough space for them. Their content was the same in both languages: “King of kings Yohannes, king of Zion of Ethiopia. The Cross defeated the Izmailovo tribe,” and by “Izmailovo tribe” one could understand the Ishmaelites, i.e. Muslims in general, and specific warriors of Khedive Ismail, who were defeated twice.

Now Yohannes could turn to internal Ethiopian problems and go at the head of his army to Shoa to the self-proclaimed “king of kings” Menelik II. Menelik in his rich region of Shoa was a dangerous rival who had long and consistently sought the supreme royal power. Both his actions and his seals spoke about this. The first two seals of Menelik have already been mentioned above, and in 1872 the third seal of Menelik appeared, known from his letters to Queen Victoria (1872) and King Umberto of Italy (1878). This is an elegant print of distinctly European workmanship with some notable features. Ge’ez inscription above and below. The inscription at the top reads: “Mynyilik is the king of kings,” and the inscription at the bottom reads, “The lion of the tribe of Judah was victorious.” Here this dynastic motto appears on the seal for the first time and the name Menelik is given in archaic spelling: this is how the name of the firstborn son of King Solomon from the Queen of Sheba was written. Thus, if Yohannes asserted his royal authority by solemn anointing in the sacred cathedral of Aksum, then Menelik in Shoa tried to do the same by proclaiming his birthright. In essence, both tried to exploit the ideas of the famous “Glory of the Kings,” each in their own way, depending on their circumstances. Johannes, taking advantage of the fact that the Cathedral of Our Lady of Zion (and, consequently, Zion – the Ark of the Covenant) was located within his royal domain, exploited the idea of ​​​​personal possession of this greatest shrine, and Menelik, playing on his royal name, wrote it in an archaic manner, as it was written the name of his namesake is Menelik I, “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” i.e. tried to exploit the idea of ​​primogeniture – the second condition for the legitimacy of royal power, according to the Glory of Kings. However, Johannes won, and in 1878 Menelik had to make a new seal with a crowned lion holding a cross with a fluttering pennant, and the old motto “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah was victorious,” but he had to change his own title to “Menelik, King of Shoa.” What was new in the Ethiopian culture of sphragistics here was that Menelik ordered two versions of this seal: on one, the image and inscriptions were carved, as on all Ethiopian seals of previous times, and on the other, convex, which was a novelty, clearly introduced in imitation of European ones. seals. All these seals were published by Richard Pankhurst [2, p. 204-206].

However, Menelik could become the real king of Ethiopia only after the death of Yohannes in 1889 and the official anointing of the kingdom. It was not in vain that Menelik chose as his royal name the name of the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – Menelik the First – the first king in Ethiopian history, according to Ethiopian legend. It was this thought that he decided to express in his new seal, carved immediately after the coronation in Entoto. It was a large raised seal, which depicts the same imperial lion as on his previous large imperial seal, but the inscription here is slightly different: “The lion from the tribe of Judah won. Menelik the Second, God-appointed King of Kings of Ethiopia.” Here, for the first time in the Ethiopian tradition, the numeral “second” is used in the name of the subsequent king of the same name. Before this did not happen, for example, King Iyasu (1730-1755), the grandson of another king Iyasu (1682-1706), the Ethiopians called not Iyasu the Second, but Iyasu the Small, in contrast to his grandfather – Iyasu the Great.

Menelik, indeed, was not an ordinary Ethiopian monarch and did many things anew, because the external situation prompted him to do so. She forced him to pursue a policy that was not usual for Ethiopian kings, and long before he acquired the imperial title, she led Menelik to the need to recreate a permanent urban capital instead of Gondar, which had fallen into decay. But he did this in a new place: in his native region of Shoa and named the new city Addis Ababa – “New Flower”. The need for a capital city, and not just a residence for the monarch, was dictated not so much by the needs of administration as by the needs of the market, and primarily the foreign trade market. However, the constant presence of the monarch in one place required a different system of government, and a new administrative system of a bureaucratic type with inevitable office work and correspondence began to develop in Addis Ababa. The needs of management, as well as concern for his prestige abroad, prompted Menelik to such decisive innovations as the establishment of a cabinet of ministers. This led to the emergence of urban culture and metropolitan bureaucracy, which in turn accustomed tsarist officials (who were then completely medieval people) to the written form of communication, first only with Europeans, and then among themselves. Here the seal was needed because it replaced the signature of the official. And since many of the established positions were new, previously unprecedented, such as the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, new and sometimes very unusual seals appeared, for example, the seal of the first Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in the history of Ethiopia, which depicts a Morse apparatus. When another courtier of that time was appointed to the position of afa-negus, which means “the mouth of the king”, i.e. to the position of Chairman of the Supreme Court, he acquired, in place of his previous seal, another one corresponding to his new position, which depicted not only the scales of justice, but also the chairman’s chair, and even the dock! However, he knew his place, and his seal also bears the monogram of his overlord, Menelik.

Ill. 2 and 3: Seal impressions of Afwerki, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, and Tyl-hun, President of the Supreme Court, enlarged 1.5 times

Such ingenuity and creative freedom in a rather conservative Ethiopian society, very intolerant of any violation of the canon, is apparently explained by the fact that in this case the canon did not exist, and, therefore, there could not be a violation of it. Therefore, freedom in this new matter was sometimes shown surprisingly clearly. Here, for example, is the seal of the Minister of War Habte Giorgis, who distinguished himself in the battle with the Italians at Adua. It depicts a fallen Italian cavalryman in boots (this is a distinctive feature, because Ethiopians in those days walked barefoot) and with a mustache, lying next to the corpse of his horse with a banner in his hands. Above this entire scene, filled with gloomy pathos, rises a Latin cross.

Ill. 4: Seal impression of Khabte Giyorgis, enlarged 1.5 times

So the seal, which was previously a sign of exclusive power, i.e. The power of the king, who should be alone in the country by definition, turned into the property of an official, and there were many positions, and they were different. Naturally, the desire arose to show the meaning of this position on the seal that symbolized it. Here’s what’s new:

The changes affected not only the seals of new officials, but also the seals of old traditional officials, who previously, due to their uselessness, simply did not have them. Thus, from time immemorial there has been the position of tsekhafe-tee-zaza, “recorder of orders,” i.e. royal secretary and keeper of the seal. He, indeed, wrote royal orders and decrees and affixed the royal seal to them, but did not have his own seal. Now, due to the large number of foreigners in the country and the sharply increased volume of bureaucratic correspondence, this tsekhafe-teezaz had to take over some of the royal correspondence and acquire its own seal. His seal, attached to the travel document issued to Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilyov, depicts a pointing finger, which is fully consistent with the functions of this official who conveyed the royal orders. The fact that his seal was supposed to express precisely his official functions, and not at all personal ambitions, is clear from another seal of the same Gebre Sellase. He acquired it when he was appointed dean of the large court cathedral of Our Lady of Zion in the newly founded city of Addis Alem. However, this city was soon abandoned by the emperor, and the cathedral there lost its royal benefits. And then the dean, who took his duties very seriously, ordered himself a seal with the image not of a pointing finger, but of the open hand of a person asking.

Ill. 5 and 6: Impressions of two seals of Gebre Sellase, enlarged 1.5 times

However, such ingenuity was generally uncharacteristic of the seals of church hierarchs, who usually adhered to a completely conservative form, as can be seen in the example of the seal of the ecchege of Theophilus, the second most metropolitan person in the Ethiopian Church, the head of the powerful Dabra-Libanos congregation. Like the Metropolitan’s seal, its legend is in Arabic and Ethiopian, and in the center is a typical Ethiopian hoop cross.

Ill. 7: Imprint of the seal of Theophilus’ ecchege, enlarged 1.5 times

Expanded at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The royal court in the permanent capital of Addis Ababa, with its immediate ceremonial and intrigue, raised the importance of not only court men, but also court ladies – a phenomenon previously unheard of in Ethiopia. Absolutism was emerging, which, it must be said, opened up new and much broader opportunities for women of the upper classes than the old feudal order. Of course, this new social significance of theirs was limited to the narrow confines of the court circle, but there women (the empress herself and the ladies of the court) could already directly influence political life – a huge achievement in the cause of women’s emancipation in Ethiopia at that time! Now at court the benefits of another marriage turned out to be more important than a won battle. Men fought, and often women arranged marriages. As a result, the ladies of the court (at least some) became influential people and had their own seals.

There was, however, some difference between men’s and women’s seals: if the images on men’s seals in one way or another symbolized the position of the owner, then on women’s seals they often played up the name of the owner. Thus, on numerous seals of Empress Taitu, whose name literally means “sun,” the luminary of day was certainly depicted. On the seal of Menelik’s cousin Tsekhaye Verk, who bore the nickname “Morning Star,” there is a rosette with rays in the center, which, apparently, should symbolize this star. In general, Ethiopian ladies chose their seals according to their own taste and character. The seal of Empress Danknesh has an image of a claw cross in the center. She was an aristocrat of the old school. Danknesh was married to the regional ruler Gobeze, who, after the death of Emperor Tewodros, proclaimed himself “king of kings of Ethiopia,” and became, accordingly, “empress.” However, her brother Johannes defeated her husband’s troops, and blinded him and imprisoned him. Naturally, he provided his sister with

for complete freedom, which she proudly refused and chose to share her husband’s imprisonment. His death (by no means natural) freed her from moral obligations, but she retained the title of “empress”, and she enjoyed universal respect in the country. She also placed this title of “empress” on her seal. Her seal itself was made in a rather conservative and even ecclesiastical manner, quite consistent with the character of the owner.

Ill. 8: Imprint of the seal of Empress Danknash, enlarged 1.5 times

Thus, in Ethiopian sphragistics, the division of seals began not only into male and female, but also into official and personal ones. Subsequently, this division deepened. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selasie I (especially after World War II), many seals appeared not of officials, but of institutions, as in Europe. At the same time, the personal seal, which replaced the signature, degenerated into a simple stamp that was placed on both letters and personal books. However, the perception of the seal as a sign that certifies not so much the authenticity as the authorship of a message or message remains. This manifested itself in a curious way during the turbulent revolutionary period of the 70s, when many leaflets from a wide variety of and mostly underground organizations circulated in the country. Here, very often, the ownership of a leaflet was determined not by the organization’s motto in the upper right corner, as was the case in Russian revolutionary culture (for example, “Workers of all countries, unite!” among the Bolsheviks or “In the struggle you will find your right” among the Socialist Revolutionaries), but by the reproduction of the seal this organization below. In fact, this image has ceased to be a seal itself, but has turned into an emblem of the organization, but an emblem that retains the form of a seal.

Ill. 9: Seal impression of the Union of Ethiopian Students in Europe

Despite the increasing unification of culture throughout the world, especially the culture of the upper classes, there is reason to believe that the development of seal culture in Ethiopia is not complete, and we will be able to observe the further development of this process.


1. Turaev B.A. Notes on a brief Ethiopian chronicle (processed by B.A. Turaev, notes by V.V. Bolotov on Basset’s work. “Études sur l’histoire d’Ethiopie”) // Byzantine timebook. T. XVII (1910). Vol. 1-4. St. Petersburg, 1911.

2. Pankhurst R. Letter Writing and the Use of Royal and Imperial Seals in Ethiopia prior to the Twentieth Century // Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Addis Ababa. January. 1973. Vol. XI. No. 1.

3. Weinberg I. “The Tale of Jesus.” Apocrypha about the end times of the world. St. Petersburg, 1907.

4. Conti Rossini S. La cronaca reale abissina dall’anno 1800 all’anno 1840 // Rendiconti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei. Roma. 1916. Ser. 5. Vol. XXV. Phase. 7-10.

5. Chernetsov S.B. Some assumptions regarding the reasons for the origin of the Ethiopian version of “The Glory of Kings” // Ethiopian Studies. Story. Culture. M., 1981.


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