Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Serge A. FRANTSOUZOFF, Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg, Russia

Although the Acts of Lalibäla, the most prominent king of the Zagwe dynasty, has not been published yet, not only critically, but even completely, considerable extracts from them edited by Jules Perruchon and Stanislaw Kur include unique data on vicissitudes of his life before his accession to the throne and of his reign. These are such details as the attempt of poisoning him undertaken by his sister that resulted in the death of his servant, who was trying his food, his flight from the royal court and wanderings in the desert where he maintained his existence by hunting, and also his marriage with a betrothed girl (Mäsqäl Kəbra), which provoked idle talk among common people. In the description of Lalibäla’s enthronement the lack of any mention of diadem or crown is worth noting. It seems that such an emblem of royalty was not in use during the Zagwe period. The occurrence of the term wäldä nägaśi “son of the king” in an account on Lalibäla’s campaign against a rebel lord proves to be of particular interest, since it has a direct parallel in Sabaic inscriptions of the 3rd century AD, viz. wld/ngšy-n, which designated the commander of Aksumite expeditionary troops in South Arabia. The predominance of natural economy in Ethiopia is clearly illustrated by the case of paying taxes with sealed jugs of honey. In spite of that Lalibäla had an unlimited budget to pay with silver and gold for diggers and stonemasons, who were recruited to erect a complex of ten monumental churches in the province of Lasta. Hence an assumption about the financial participation of the Coptic Church in that project seems rather plausible. In all probability, its hierarchs sought in such a way to bypass the Islamic prohibition to construct new Christian cult buildings. It should be concluded that a lot of details of the private and public life of King Lalibäla preserved in oral transmission were included in his Acts, the historical value of which has been underestimated.