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Some Amharic and other documents from the Eugen Mittwoch Nachlass

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


There are two specific reasons for publishing these documents—quite apart from their intrinsic value—in an article in honour of H. J. Polotsky. My teacher H.J.P. and myself were, at different times, in statu pupillari, at any rate informally, in relation to Eugen Mittwoch (1876–1942). Polotsky took part in a Syriac class and in 1933–4 collaborated in the work of editing the Arŝam documents (private letter from H.J.P. to E.U. dated 25 December 1977), while I attended some informal lectures on Arabic given by Mittwoch in the mid-1930s. And, secondly, Polotsky has declared that any specimen of Aläqa Tayyä's handwriting is ‘always extremely pleasing’ (see below and BSOAS, XXXV, 2, 1972, 255 ff.).

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies 1980

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1 This is true of the thirty-six letters by Emperor Theodore recently published in the British Academy's Oriental Documents series, and of the letters by Emperors Yohannes and Menelik and by Empress Zawditu.

2 My thanks to Professor Polotsky for supplying me with xerox copies of the title-page and dedication.

3 The Emperor always spelt his name (ḫ fourth order) : Mittwoch's is distinctly aberrant. Equally unusual is the subsequent spelling instead of

4 Cf. Ullendorff, , The autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, 30 (= Amharic original, p. 14)Google Scholar; and especially Strelcyn's, important review, JSS, autumn 1977, 258 f.Google Scholar; the anonymous booklet addis yämäṭṭut hakimoč ‘Le docteur nouvellement venu (sic)’, Dire Dawa, 1909Google Scholar; Mérab, , Méderins et médecine en Éthiopie, 97 f., 216Google Scholar; idem, Impressions d'Éthiopie, II, 240 f.

5 Printed in golden letters on top and below the Lion of Judah with the cross.

6 The Regent's Press was established in 1921, and the books published between that date and the time of this letter (May 1925) are listed in Wright's, StephenEthiopian incunabula, C 1 to C 8 (pp. 26–30)Google Scholar. They include some of HƏruy's works and such important items of literature as Yohannes Afä Warq, Mar YƏshaq, etc.

7 This is the work listed under C 9, on p. 30, of S. Wright's Eth. Incunabula (cf. also Gérard, A. S., Four African literatures, 289, 434)Google Scholar: HƏruy Waldä SƏllase, Addis Ababa 1916 (= 1924). The date is puzzling: since the Regent did not return to Addis Ababa until 4 September (see Autobiography, 121 = 98 of original Amharic text), there were only six days left of the Ethiopian year 1916 which ended on 10 September 1924. The date 1916 must, therefore, refer to the time of the journey rather than the actual date of publication. The work contains 129 pages and 31 plates and would have taken some time to produce. Furthermore, the expression tattƏmo yalläqä ‘just come off the press’ makes it clear that the date of actual publication is likely to have been about April 1925.

8 tattƏmo yalläqä ‘which is finished being printed’ = ‘just printed’ has not as such been noted in descriptions of Amharic syntax—as far as I am aware. Goldenberg, , in his magnificent Jerusalem Ph.D. thesis (The Amharic tense-system, Jerusalem, 1966)Google Scholar, refers to alläqä in his treatment of ‘descriptive’ verbs (§ 144) but does not list this specific usage which corresponds exactly to French venir de.

This is, perhaps, an appropriate place to invite attention to this masterpiece of Amharic syntax, prepared under the guidance of H. J. Polotsky, which manifests the master's consummate craft in this remarkable disciple. It is a great pity that its composition in Hebrew has so far prevented it from being as widely noticed as it deserves to be.

9 The abbreviation at the head of this letter stands, of course, for

10 A name I have not previously encountered.

11 The spelling gaseṭa for gazeṭa is aberrant.

12 i.e. E. Mittwoch who had written a German newspaper article (referred to earlier on in this letter) on Amharic publishing activities in Ethiopia; it was entitled ‘Literarisches Morgenrot in Abessinien’ (letter from Dr. Fuchs, German chargé d'affaires at Addis Ababa, to Professor Mittwoch, dated 6 January 1925).

13 This refers to an article and not to a separate publication of book-type. This appears to be the case not only because such a work is not listed in any of the relevant works of reference but because the German chargé d'affaires, in a note to Mittwoch, speaks of an ‘Artikel’ by Gäbrä KrƏstos.

14 cf. Pankhurst, , Economic history of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 1968, 679 fGoogle Scholar.; and esp. HƏruy, , yähƏywät tarik, 93 f.Google Scholar, who describes Gäbrä KrƏstos Täklä Haymanot as a native of Aksum (a certain unidiomatic flavour seems to adhere to his Amharic) and us an alumnus of Swedish mission education. He left Asmara in 1919 to enter Ethiopian Government service at Addis Ababa. In 1922 the Regent appointed him manager of the new Printing Press which he had established within the precincts of his gƏbbi. As he knew some foreign languages, he translated a number of books into Amharic.

15 It is not without interest to note that copies of all such despatches from the German Legation at Addis Ababa to the Auswärtige Amt, Berlin, which had a bearing on linguistic, historical, and general cultural matters, were sent to E. Mittwoch who was in charge of Ethiopian studies at Berlin University at that time. Likewise, copies of all Ethiopian newspapers and books (at that period a fairly small number, of course) were despatched both to the Foreign Ministry and to the incumbent of the university post of Ethiopian studies. I do not know whether this is German practice nowadays, but the Americans certainly see to it that their academics in relevant disciplines are suitably informed, consulted, and supplied with material. British Foreign Office custom is very different, although, since the demise of that splendid institution, the Oriental Secretary, the Foreign Office has been patently in need of sound advice on background and likely future developments, especially with regard to Africa and the Near East.

16 BƏrhanƏnna Sälam which began weekly publication on 1 January 1925. I have in my possession copies of the first issue as well as subsequent ones.

17 A French weekly which began publication in 1913 on the Desvages Press (cf. Pankhurst, . Economic history of Ethiopia, 1968, 677)Google Scholar.

18 For printing presses in Ethiopia, see Pankhurst, , op. cit., pp. 679 fGoogle Scholar. (incidentally, in the penultimate line on p. 679, 1923 should read 1925); also Wright, S., Ethiopian incunabula, 21 f.Google Scholar, and the various supplements, all of the greatest value, published by S. Strelcyn.

19 While I know books on arithmetics composed by Gäbrä KrƏstos, I am not aware of any historical works by him—at any rate published before 1925 (thus also Wright, S., op. cit., and HƏruy, , yähƏywät tarik, 93 f.Google Scholar).

20 This is not correct. A'Əmro was founded in 1902 by A. E. Kavadias and was published intermittently (cf. Pankhurst, , Economic history of Ethiopia, 677Google Scholar). The reference may be to the reappearance of the paper after an interval.

21 This, alas, is a judgement that cannot be easily gainsaid, though I could never decide whether it was personal vanity or, perhaps, an insistence on the dignity of the imperial office.

22 The respective texts read as follows:

23 Rev. 5:5.

24 Melchers appears in Amharic as ‘Mekerls’, a not untypical form of metathesis.

25 Soirées de Carthage; for details see the introduction, p. 430 above.

26 In fact, he submitted to the Emperor a set of proofs.

27 Scil. the inclusion of the dedication—not the publication of the book as such.

28 The scribe omitted in error the second element of

29 The Emperor's signature and other aspects of this letter are described in the introduction above.

30 For Aläqa Tayyä see Ullendorff, in BSOAS, xxxv, 2, 1972, n. 52 and photograph facing p. 260Google Scholar; Taddäsä Tamrat's valuable introduction to the third ed. of A.T.'s Tarik: Rosen, F., Eine deutsche Gesandtschaft in Abessinien, Leipzig, 1907, 265Google Scholar.

31 : is odd; one would have expected : this may, of course, be either a lapsus calami or a change of mind by the author in mid-sentence.

32 A.T. had come to Berlin to serve as lector in Amharic under Dr. E. Mittwoch (Ullendorff, loc. eit.).

33 We find here the German form ‘Juni’, as German was the first European language with which A.T. had come into contact. The year is 1905.

34 The Amharic punctuation is at times a little erratic but not out of keeping with the custom at the time.

35 Minister Friedrich Rosen (1856–1935), leader of German mission to Emperor Menelik in 1905; later Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic (cf. Ullendorff, art. cit., n. 28).

36 He was not deputy head of the German mission but was charged by Rosen to look after A.T.

37 Becker, Georg, ‘Geheimer Expedierender Secretar im Auswärtigen Amt’, member of the Rosen mission (Rosen, , p. vii)Google Scholar. The syntax is rather in the nature of telegram style.

38 Vice-Consul Schüler, Edmund of the ‘handelspolitische Abteilung des Auswartigen Amtes’ (Rosen, , p. vii)Google Scholar; member of the Rosen mission. A.T.'s reproduction of the German Umlaut , with its transference to (or infection of) the following syllable, is not without interest.

39 Henne (?)—not otherwise known to me; simply A.T.'s landlord.

40 The Amharic text transcribes the German ‘Bahnhof’.

41 or: ‘we (Henne and A.T.) met “with” Consul Schüler’.

42 The minor spelling variants in the Amharic rendering of ‘Consul’ and ‘Schüler’ are not uncommon even with the same author in the same document.

43 The original summer cost for board and lodging of 129 Mark had thus been reduced by 4 Mark, as milk was cheaper than beer.

44 In repayment of this loan.

45 i.e. Professor Eduard Sachau (1845–1930), Director of the Oriental Seminar at Berlin (cf. BSOAS, xxxv, 2, 1972, 259, n. 61)Google Scholar. I should like to take this opportunity of correcting A.T.'s reference to the name of the Seminar's secretary which is not Herbrund, (art. cit., p. 259)Google Scholar but Hildebrandt, Wilhelm (MSOS, xiv, 2, 1911Google Scholar, p. ii—information from Professor H. J. Polotsky whose kindness is gratefully acknowledged).

46 lapsus calami for

47 Shoan variant of (cf. Armbruster).

48 The appearance of the – here is unusual.

49 i.e. that part of our agreement that concerns me.

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the recipient of this article for elucidating this somewhat complex passage. For fully 40 years now Professor Polotsky has been a constant source of enlightenment to me, one that is never appealed to in vain. I have endeavoured to give some expression to my sentiments as well as to the ‘objective’ significance of H.J.P. in the world of scholarship in my review of his Collected papers (BSOAS, xxxv, 3, 1972, 623 f.)Google Scholar.

50 The idea of a month of 31 days seems odd enough (to an Ethiopian) for Aläqa Tayyä to identify the end of October everywhere with the 30th day of the month.

51 K. G. Rodén (1860– ?), the Swedish missionary and Tigre scholar (see Chi è dell’ Eritrea).

52 Jensen, Lorenz, Mittwoch's pupil and German diplomat at Addis Ababa (cf. BSOAS, xxxv, 2, 1972, 265, n. 69)Google Scholar.

53 The curious reproduction of ‘Herr Rittmeister’ in A.T.'s Aruharic shows the auditory impact which the combination of these two words made on him—and, incidentally, also A.T.'s somewhat shaky knowledge of German.

54 This gentleman is not known to me; perhaps A.T.'s Amharic spelling makes ‘Böckingen a little more likely.

55 Not known to me.

56 The badly corrected word at the end of line 93 is

57 A.T. uses the German word ; his perception of the German sound z and its reflection in Amharic is not without interest.

58 A.T. uses the German ‘Elektrische Bahn’.

59 I have not otherwise encountered the word : The interchange b:m is, of course, well attested (cf. my Semitic languages of Ethiopia, 91, 96, 101 f.).

60 = 17 October. It is odd that one date is given in Ethiopian and the other in European terms.

61 A.T. uses the German ‘Umschlag’, written by him in two words.

62 can scarcely be the verb ‘to see’, although it also connotes ‘visiting the sick’ (Cohen, M., Couplets amhariques du Choa, 63, 2Google Scholar). It could be the name of the doctor, though I cannot think what German name might be concealed in this way. Mis-writing for or might also be vaguely considered. But I have finally concluded that it is simply ‘alas’ (also written ), discussed in Nouvelles études, 333.

63 It is not easy to envisage why members of the German Legation at Addis Ababa, in 1910, should have been so phenomenally busy. Jensen himself was, of course, working hard on his Amharic which was remarkably good.

64 A form of riddle; cf. Gallina, , Oriente, 1894, 29Google Scholar.

65 Proverbs and sayings.

66 As this is a tribute to H. J. Polotsky, a personal remark may be in order. A similar relationship to that between Jensen and Mittwoch obtained some 30 years later between the present writer and H.J.P., when I served in Eritrea-Ethiopia during the Second World War and was able to supply Polotsky with Tigrinya material.

67 azmari, ‘minstrels’.

68 No dictionary by Jensen appears to have been either completed or published. I have no knowledge of what happened to Jensen's material collected during his long sojourn in Ethiopia.

69 Käntiba Gäbru Dästa (1853–1950) was a major figure of the Menelik, Regency, and Haile Sellassie periods. He was at one time Käntiba of Gondar, accompanied Ras Makonnen to the coronation of King Edward VII and Ras Kassa to that of George, V. He wrote a brief yamarƏňňa säwasƏw märi (Addis Ababa, 1922)Google Scholar and spoke German, French, and English with fair fluency. Cf. BSOAS, xxxv, 2, 1972, 247, n. 33Google Scholar, and esp. Tafla, Bairu, JES, VII, 2, 1969, 22 ffGoogle Scholar.

70 Wilhelm Schimper, son of the German naturalist Wilhelm Schimper (1804–74; died at Adwa; cf. Chi è dell'Eritrea, 269) and his Ethiopian wife. Schimper was born about 1845, one of 15 children, was educated in Germany and subsequently lived in Ethiopia where he became a well-known figure in Menelik's Addis Ababa. He was fluent in German, Amharic, Italian, and English (Wylde, , Modern Abyssinia, 1900, 133 ff.)Google Scholar. ‘Old Herr Schimper’ was thus about 65 when Jensen met him (see also Tafla, Bairu, JES, VII, 2, 23, n. 9)Google Scholar.

71 Chargé d'affaires from August 1910 to April 1913; later Reichspressechef under Hindenburg (Mérab, , Impressions, II, 98Google Scholar; Äthiopien: Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch, 1973, 151).

72 Cf. esp.Rodinson, , Magie, médecine et possession à Gondar, 1967, 62 ffGoogle Scholar.

73 Since January 1909 (Coppet, , Chronique … de Ménélik II, II, 540Google Scholar, n. 6, as against Mérab, , Impressions, II, 97 f.)Google Scholar Dr. Scheller-Steinwärtz, previously German Minister in Norway, served as Gesandter.

74 Mittwoch, as a member of the Berlin oriental seminary, was directly concerned with the language training of diplomats and interpreters.

75 The background to this affair has been briefly referred to in the introductory part of this paper (see n. 4 above and the literature adduced there). To this I would add here: Regierungsrat a.D. Alfred Zintgraff wrote an introduction, entitled ‘Abessinien und Deutschland’, to Erich Sander's geographical monograph Das Hochland von Abessinien, dated 1929. Zintgraff apparently had some medical training (Äthiopien, op. cit., 191; Mérab, , op. cit., 101–2)Google Scholar and he joined, in 1909, the court physician Dr. Steinkühler in treating Emperor Menelik. According to Mérab, who has some pretty testy comments on the subject, there was a third German doctor (thus also Haile Sellassie's autobiography, p. 30), a young man by the name of Pinow. Zintgraff and Steinkühler (Käntiba Gäbru acted as their interpreter) claimed to have detected poison in the Emperor, and the ensuing atmosphere of rumour, suspicion, and intrigue involved Empress Taitu herself and led to extremely tense relations with the German legation. In fact, the resultant publication, addis yämāṭṭut hakimoč, represented one of the earliest Amharic tracts ever published. See also JES, VII, 2, 1969, 28Google Scholar; Äthiopien, 191. Jensen's discreet comments throw a revealing light on the seriousness of the affair in terms of German-Ethiopian relations.

76 i.e. Schleswig-Holstein.

77 See n. 59, p. 257 of BSOAS, XXXV, 2, 1972Google Scholar.

78 Subsequently Däjazmatch Yagäzu Bähabte, a native of Ankober, born 1880; became Nägadras of Harar and, in 1910–11, Foreign Minister; thereafter Minister of Finance; dismissed with all other ministers in 1918 (Sellassie, HaileAutobiography, 59)Google Scholar. He lived at Jerusalem during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, and served in the Crown Council after the liberation of the country. Died at Addis Ababa in 1943 (cf. JES, VII, 2, 1969, 273 f.)Google Scholar.

79 This sounds rather quaint, but both Dej. Mäshäsha and Nägadras YƏgäzu were members of an Ethiopian mission to Berlin, Vienna, and Constantinople in 1907 (cf. Mérab, , Impressions, II, 73 f., 80 f.)Google Scholar. During their stay at Berlin they were received by the Kaiser, (Äthiopien, 152)Google Scholar.

80 It is a little difficult to imagine what problems of German-Ethiopian relations required almost daily contact with the Foreign Minister.

81 Ifag is east of Tana, Lake (Guida dell'Africa Orient., 380)Google Scholar and Aläqa Tayyä's home district.

82 Running to 63 pp.! first published in 1921 and subsequently reprinted several times, last in 1972 in the fine edition by Taddäsä Tamrat referred to in n. 30 above.

83 This was the position until the establishment of internal air services. Even so, Ifag, being about equidistant between Bahr Dar and Gondar, is still at a distance of some 60 km of either airport.

84 Letters from Europe to Addis Ababa usually took about three weeks—a remarkably short time compared with about three months by surface mail nowadays.

85 ‘Il y a une vingtaine d'Allemands’ (Mérab, , op. cit., II, 101)Google Scholar.

86 German businessman and adventurer (Äthiopien, 153; Nicholson, T. R., A toy for the Lion, 25)Google Scholar who had gone to Ethiopia in 1901 and had gained Menelik's favour. He brought one of the first motor cars to Addis Ababa, a 35-horsepower Nacke (photograph in Nicholson, , op. cit., 54)Google Scholar.

87 I do not know what newspapers Jensen had in mind, i.e. papers discussing the internal tensions among members of the German colony in Ethiopia ?

88 Scheller-Steinwärtz.

89 On account of the altitude of Addis Ababa (seven and a half thousand feet).

90 Awash, Ethiopia's second great river system.

91 Dire Dawa—cf. Encyclopaedia of Islam, second ed. At this time (1910) Dire Dawa was the terminus of the Jibuti-Addis Ababa railway; for the first trains did not reach the capital until 1917, during the regency of Ras Tafari; the Addis Ababa railway station was only inaugurated in 1929 (cf. Pankhurst, , op. cit., p. 334)Google Scholar.

92 Harar—cf. Encyclopaedia of Islam, second ed.

93 I am not clear who these ‘numerous’ German-protected persons might have been; some were probably Turks and Egyptians, while others were possibly immigrants from German East Africa, but, if so, I cannot find references to them in the literature accessible to me. Fechter, R. (Äthiopien, 151)Google Scholar states that an Austrian army officer, Lt. Claus Schindler, was German Consul at Harar, 1910–14. From Jensen's account it would appear that these dates cannot be entirely accurate.

94 Not identified either here or in the previous letter.

95 A state of affairs that did not basically change over the next 65 years!

96 I cannot think of any locally printed historical text (pre-1910) and suppose that this must refer to a MS.

97 It would appear that the number of Mittwoch's Amharic pupils had doubled since Jensen's previous letter.

98 Cf. n. 67 above.

99 Cf. n. 82 above.

100 This is a reference of some importance which should be read in conjunction with BS0AS, XXXV, 2, 1972, 264–7Google Scholar, esp. n. 67, ibid. Thus, while in early 1909 Menelik was still able to see Aläqa Tayyä and to conduct a lucid conversation, by December 1910 his condition was thought to be hopeless.

101 This is probably a reference to the Swiss concession holder and army instructor, C. R. Müller, who was instrumental in importing engines from a Swiss factory at Winterthur (cf. Pank-hurst, , Economic history of Ethiopia, 63 and 315)Google Scholar.

102 As will have been seen in n. 91 above, Jensen's scepticism was fully justified—at any rate as regards the time factor.

103 Cf. n. 71 above; Zechlin's last post had been at Cairo where he had studied Arabic.

104 Certain passages from this letter, concerning the fate of Aläqa Tayyä, were published in BSOAS, XXXV, 2, 1972, 267, n. 77Google Scholar.

There exists one further letter from Jensen to Mittwoch, dated May 1920, which provides a highly interesting, if somewhat subjective, description of events in Ethiopia during the First World War. An annotated edition of that letter will be the subject of a later article.

105 Mittwoch, , Abessinische Kinderspiele, MSOS, XIII, 2, 1910Google Scholar.

106 It appears that the German Foreign Ministry was willing to transmit relevant scholarly publications through the diplomatic bag—in contrast to British practice.

107 Mittwoch, , op. cit., 4 and 5 (kukkuta)Google Scholar.

108 See n. 78 above.

109 Waldä Ṣadaq Goshu, later Bitwaddäd; Käntiba of Addis Ababa and Gondar; successively Minister of Agriculture and of the Interior. Later President of the Senate. Died 1936. Cf. Ullendorff, Haile SellassieAutobiography, 179, n. 2Google Scholar; JES, VII, 2, 1969, 267–8Google Scholar; HƏruy, , op. cit., 74 fGoogle Scholar.

110 Iyasu, Emperor Menelik's grandson and successor (1913–16). See Ullendorff, , op. cit., 6Google Scholar.

111 Ras Bitwaddäd Täsämma Nadäw, Regent during part of Menelik's illness and guardian of Lidj Iyasu. Cf. Ullendorff, , op. cit., 5, n. 5Google Scholar.

112 It would appear that most Germans leaving for Ethiopia during that period attended some of Mittwoch's Amharic classes before their departure.

113 In fact, Mittwoch never travelled to Ethiopia—nor, for that matter, did H. J. Polotsky. Since the same is true of Ludolf, Dillmann, Nöldeke, Praetorius, and Guidi, it would seem that scholarly perfection can be attained even without the expensive field work now considered de rigueur—at any rate it can be accomplished by those whose genius is capable of being expressed even within the seemingly narrow confines of their armchairs.

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