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A chalice from Venice for Emperor Dāwit of Ethiopia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


The various documents concerning Emperor Dāwit's embassy to the Republic of Venice in 1402 have been brought together in Carlo Conti Rossini's article of 1927 on European influence upon Ethiopian art before the coming of Jesuit missionaries in the mid sixteenth century. The purpose of this brief paper is to expand the story of Dāwit's embassy with a short document, which sheds some light upon the motives for this and subsequent Ethiopian embassies to European nations during the period before the Adalite invasions that began in 1529.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies 1990

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1 Rossini, C. Conti, ‘Un codice illustrato eritreo del secolo xv’, Africa italiana: Rivista di storia e d'arte. 1, 1, 1927, 8397.Google Scholar

2 Slessarev, Vsevolod, Prester John, the letter and the legend (Minneapolis, 1959), 84 ff.Google Scholar, on the identification of Prester John with the king of Ethiopia; see Ullendorff, E. and Beckingham, C. F., The Hebrew letters of Prester John (Oxford, 1982), 110 (Historical Introduction).Google Scholar

3 Letter from Francesco Novello of Carrara: Rossini, Conti, op. cit., 8687Google Scholar, citing Cipolla, , ‘Prete Jane e Francesco Novello da Carrara’, Arch. Veneto, vi, 1873, 323.Google Scholar

4 Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Maggior Consiglio, Deliberazioni, AvogariaGoogle Scholar A, fol. 11; Jorga, N., Notes et extraits pour servir à l'histoire des croisades aux xve siècle, 1 (Paris, 1899), 120Google Scholar; Lazzarini, V., ‘Un'ambasciata etiopica in Italia nel 1404’, Atti del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Letters ed Arti, LXXXIII, 2, 19231924, 840–41Google Scholar; Rossini, Conti, op. cit., 86.Google Scholar

5 Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Senato MistiGoogle Scholar, reg. XLVI, c. 36v. See Lazzarini, V., op. cit., 841Google Scholar and Rossini, Conti, op. cit., 88.Google Scholar

6 Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Archivio di Candia Ducali, 1402–1436Google Scholar. Jorga, , op. cit., 121Google Scholar; Rossini, Conti, op. cit., 86.Google Scholar

7 Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, It., Cl. VII, n. 374, coll. 7781: ‘Relatione’ di D.n Fortunato Olmo, 22–23 (cc. 39v–40). Published in Gallo, Rodolf, Il Tesoro di S. Marco e la sua storia, Civiltà Veneziana Saggi 16 (Venice/Rome, 1967), 287–88Google Scholar (Inventory III). Olmo wrote:' Ho perciò a questo proposito ritrovata anco certa nota in bombasina, scritta non so da chi doppo'l 1402, che' è copie tratta da altro simile priginale inventario. Alla quale vi e il titolo: Nel Santuario.’

8 ibid., 288.

9 Mueller, Reinhold C., ‘The Procurators of San Marco in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: a study of the office as financial and trust institution,’ Studi Veneziani, XIII, 1971, 105220Google Scholar, esp. 108–26. I would like to thank Professor Louise Buenger Robbert for her helpful comments and suggestions concerning Venetian economic history.

10 Mueller, , op. cit., 128 and 113Google Scholar, n. 15. The sale of objects in the records cited is limited to jewels.

11 Mueller, , op. cit., 125–8.Google Scholar

12 On the background of Ethiopian commercial trade with Egypt see Abir, Mordechai, Ethiopia and the Red Sea (London/New York, 1980), 2225.Google Scholar

13 Al-Muḳaffa', Sawīrus b. et al. , History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, transl. and annotated by Khater, A. and Burmester, O. H. E., vol. 111, pt. 3 (Cairo, 1970), 248–9.Google Scholar

14 ibid., 249–50. A note concerning the arrival of the True Cross in Ethiopia appears in the Maṣeḥafa Ṭēfut (Caquot, A., ‘Aperçu préliminaire sur le Maṣḥafa Ṭéfut de Gechen Amba’, Annales d'Éthiopie, 1, 1955, 99Google Scholar) and in the copy of this manuscript now at the British Library, Or. 481; cf. Tamrat, Taddesse, Church and state in Ethiopia, 1270–1527 (Oxford, 1972), 267Google Scholar; the relics are now at Tadbāba Māryām, as reported by MrsSpencer, Diana, ‘In search of St. Luke ikons in Ethiopia’, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, X, 2, 1972, 77–8.Google Scholar

15 Tedeschi, S., ‘Les fils du Négus Sayfa-Ar'ād d'après un document arabo-chrétien’, Africa: Rivista trimestrale di studi e documentazione dell'Istituto Italo-Africano, XXIX, 4, 1974, 580–87.Google Scholar

16 Beckingham, C. F. and Huntingford, G. W. B. (ed.), The Prester John of the Indies, being the narrative of the Portuguese embassy to Ethiopia in 1520 written by Father Francisco Alvares (Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser., nos. 114–15, Cambridge, 1961), 1, 298.Google Scholar

17 Lebna Dengel, son of Emperor Nā'od (r. 1494–1508), who was son of Ba'eda Māryām (r. 1468–78), son of Emperor Zar'a Yā'eqob (r. 1434–68), son of Emperor Dāwit.

18 Dombrowski, F. A., Ethiopia's access to the sea (Leiden/Cologne, 1985), 1415.Google Scholar

19 Bruce, James, Travels to discover the source of the Nile in the years 1768–1773 (Dublin, 1791), 111, 328.Google Scholar

20 Lane, Frederic C., Venetian ships and shipbuilders of the Renaissance (Baltimore, 1934), 245.Google Scholar

21 Lane, F. C. and Mueller, R. C., Money and banking in Medieval and Renaissance Venice, vol. 1: Coins and moneys of account (Baltimore/London, 1985), 526Google Scholar, Table A.I.

22 Pegolotti, Francesco Balducci, La practica della mercatura, (ed.), Evans, Allan (Mediaeval Academy of America Publication, no. 24, Cambridge, Mass., 1936), 302–4.Google Scholar

23 On the technique of niello see On divers arts, the Treatise of Theophilus, transl. and annotated by Hawthorne, John G. and Smith, Cyril Stanley (Chicago and London, 1963), 103–5, 108, 115.Google Scholar

24 Tamrat, Taddesse, op. cit, 258Google Scholar, citing Cerone, F., ‘La politica orientale di Alfonso di Aragona’, Archivio storico per le Province Napoletane, XXVII, 1902, 40.Google Scholar

25 Tamrat, Taddesse, op. cit., 265–6.Google Scholar

26 The Prester John of the Indies, 11, 478Google Scholar (475–481, the entire letter).

27 ibid., 11, 501 (494–501, the entire letter).

28 ibid., 11, 505 (502–506, the entire letter).

29 Tamrat, Taddesse, op. cit., 265.Google Scholar

30 ibid., 265.

31 The Prester John of the Indies, 11, 478Google Scholar. The fabulous embellishment of this church, destroyed by Grāññ in 1531, is described by al-Dīn, Shihāb, Futūḥ al-Ḥabasha, ed. and transl. by Basset, R. as Histoire de la conquête de l'Abyssinie (Paris, 1897), 284–5.Google Scholar

32 Aregay, Merid Wolde, ‘A reappraisal of the impact of firearms in the history of warfare in Ethiopia (c. 1500–1800)’, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, XIV, 19761979, 99101Google Scholar. For information concerning the Circassian Mamlūk, see Maqrizi, , Historia Regum Islamiticorum in Abyssinia, ed. and transl. by Rinck, F. T. (London, 1790), 6.Google Scholar

33 Aregay, Merid W., op. cit., 99.Google Scholar

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