Categories: Society & Culture

Artefacts Looted by British Forces in 1868 Returned to Ethiopia

Artefacts looted by British troops from Ethiopia in 1868 have been returned to the Ethiopian embassy in London.

Artefacts looted by British troops from Ethiopia in 1868 have been returned to the Ethiopian embassy in London.

They include an imperial shield, a Bible and crosses, the embassy said.

An imperial shield taken during an 1868 battle was also handed over to the embassy in London – and more.

The Scheherazade Foundation purchased the items through a UK-based auction house and private dealers, before handing them over to the embassy.

The embassy tweeted photos of the artefacts:

The Battle of Magdala

The Battle of Magdala was the conclusion of the British Expedition to Abyssinia fought in April 1868 between British and Abyssinian forces at Magdala, 390 miles (630 km) from the Red Sea coast. The British were led by Robert Napier, while the Abyssinians were led by Emperor Tewodros II.

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In March 1866 a British envoy had been dispatched to secure the release of a group of missionaries who had first been seized when a letter Tewodros II had sent to Queen Victoria requesting munitions and military experts from the British, delivered by an envoy, Captain Cameron, had gone unanswered. They were released; however Tewodros II changed his mind and sent a force after them and they were returned to the fortress and imprisoned again, along with Captain Cameron.

The British won the battle, and, rather than being subjected to capture, Tewodros committed suicide as the fortress was finally seized with a pistol that had been a gift from Queen Victoria.

The British forces went on a looting spree after the battle, taking so much bounty that they needed 15 elephants and 200 mules to cart it away.

Some of the bounty included more than 500 ancient parchment manuscripts, two gold crowns, crosses and chalices in gold, silver, and copper, religious icons etc.

According to historian Richard Pankhurst, a grand review was held, and then an auction of the loot; the money raised was distributed amongst the troops and no written list was made of who purchased the various items.

Many looted objects, cultural artefacts and art objects found their way into state and private collections, family possessions, and the hands of ordinary soldiers. Most of the books and manuscripts went to the British Museum or the Bodleian Library in Oxford University, while a few went to the Royal Library in Windsor Castle and to smaller British collections. Other looted objects ended up in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Mankind and the National Army Museum.

The Ethiopian government has been appealing for the return of items taken in 1868 for decades.

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