Ethiopia on Saturday celebrated the return to its land of a series of ancient treasures, looted in the 19th century by British soldiers from the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands after a long diplomatic campaign to obtain their restitution.
The collection includes a ceremonial crown, an imperial shield, a set of silver horn goblets, a handwritten prayer book, and various jewels. Most of the restored pieces had been looted by the British Army in its victory over the Abyssinian Emperor Tewodros II at the Battle of Magdala in 1868. The treasures were revealed to the press at the National Museum in Addis Ababa two months later. having been officially handed over to Ethiopian authorities in London in September.
The handover of these objects – the most important restitution ever made for the benefit of Ethiopia – has “enormous significance”, said Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Teferi Melesse. Ethiopia continues to demand from London the return of many other objects, including the sacred tablets of stone and wood that represent an Ark of the Covenant, the chest that, according to the Bible, contained the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The tablets are kept in the British Museum in London, and were never exhibited to the public. Addis Ababa also claims the return of the remains of Tewodros’ son, Prince Alemayehu, who had been brought to England after his father’s suicide after his defeat on the battlefield.
Several of the objects displayed on Saturday at the Addis Ababa National Museum were to be auctioned, but were bought by the Scheherazade Philanthropic Foundation to be returned to Ethiopia. Other objects were acquired from individuals, collectors, merchants or investors. Among them, a set of medieval manuscripts that were to be auctioned in The Hague. Ethiopia is also negotiating the return of a Bible and a Cross that should be auctioned in the United States.