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[PANEL] 0518 ETHIOPIA AND THE ANCIENT WORLD: RECEPTION AND TRANSFORMATION OF GEOGRAPHICAL KNOWLEDGE
Peter NADIG, Department of History and Heritage Management, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
Pierre SCHNEIDER; YOHANNES Gebreselassie; Niklaas GÖRSCH; Monika SCHUOL;
Cyrill Zeus WELLNHOFER; Marco VIGANO; Klaus GEUS; Carsten HOFFMANN; Gianfranco AGOSTI;
Alessandro BAUSI; Peter NADIG; Eivind Heldaas SELAND
Since at least the time of the early kingdom of Egypt (3rd millennnium BC), the Mediterranean world and Ethiopia have established long-lasting ties. The routes along the Nile and Red Sea coast provided a means of exchanging goods and ideas. A great deal of information on Ethiopia and its neighbouring countries in the Red Sea region were collected, stored and organised by authors writing in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Arabic and other languages. This information often concern political, economical, cultural, but most of all, geographical matters. The famous geographer Ptolemy (c. 150 CE), for example, transmitted more than 100 toponyms and ethnonyms, including coordinates, for Ethiopia in his Geography, providing a unique insight into this region in ancient times. Other authors and texts add other pieces of information, enhancing and nuancing our knowledge of ancient Africa.
While some modern research has be carried for the political, cultural and religious connections of the ancient Mediterranean and Ethiopia, little has been done in terms of historical geography and topography. There is, e.g., neither a corpus of ancient texts nor a gazetteer of toponyms for Ethiopia.
The panel would address a variety of basic questions, like the extent, scope, and accuracy of geographical information, the reception and transformation of this information during the centuries in the Mediterranean, and, last but least, the repercussions of this knowledge in Ethiopic translations in later times.
AXUM BETWEEN INDIA AND ETHIOPIA : THE AXUMITE SPACE FROM A MEDITERRANEAN PERSPECTIVE [Abstract ID: 0518-05]
It is not until the mid-1st century A.D. that the name of Axum appeared in the extant Greek and Roman written sources. The renowned "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea", a treatise going back to ca 70 A.D. reports connections linking Adulis on the Red Sea and the metropolis called "Axômitês" (Axum). Whereas the anonymous author says nothing about the country surrounding this city, one may assume that he located Axum in what Greeks and Romans called "Aithiopia" (“Ethiopia”). Be that as it may, the subsequent written documents (from the 2nd century A.D. till the 6th century A.D.) shows that depending on sources Axum was located either in Aithiopia or in India (accordingly the Axumite people were called Indians or Ethiopians): for instance, geographer Ptolemy (2nd century) includes Axum in the so-called sub-Egyptian Aithiopia, while several authorities in their account of the christinisation of Axum by Frumentius point to an Indian Axumite kingdom. In my presentation I shall firstly assess the Greek and Roman evidence – the Axumite royal inscriptions written in Greek will also be taken into account. The following discussion aims at understanding these problematic spatial conceptions: in fact, a set of explanations accounts for this geographical phenomenon. In doing so I shall also examine the case of Adulis briefly: this important port of trade, which at some point became part of the Axumite kingdom, was also regarded as Aithiopian or Indian by the Mediterranean people.
COSMAS INDOCOPLEUSTES’ DESCRIPTION OF THE AKSUMITE GOLD MARKET OF SASOU: FACT AND FICTION [Abstract ID: 0518-04]
Aksum began minting its own gold, silver and bronze coins in the last quarter of the 3rd century and continued to the mid 7th century AD. It was the only sub-Saharan African state to issue its own money and was minting high-quality gold coins destined for international commerce. Only very few contemporary states are known to have issued their own gold coins in the ancient world. Gold was used for ornamental purposes and to make statues (as votives in the pre-Christian Aksum period), but in addition, gold was one of the major exports of the Aksumite Empire. Although there may have been small gold deposits in the immediate vicinity of Aksum, the largest gold deposits were probably found outside the immediate area. Where did the bulk of the gold come from during the Aksumite period? The provenance of gold and other precious metals used for coinage, ornaments and export during the Aksumite time is shrouded in mystery and has led researchers to endless speculation. Although based on second-hand information, the only contemporary account we have concerning the provenance of gold during the Aksumite period, comes from Cosmas. Cosmas, also know as Indicopleustes, was a 6th century AD Alexandrian merchant whose business was located in the Red Sea ports. According to Cosmas, the Aksumite Empire was involved in the long distance gold trade with the country of Sasou. But where were the goldmines/markets of Sasou? This article seeks to locate the gold field and market of Sasou based on a re-reading of the royal Aksumite inscriptions and medieval travel accounts. Careful reading of this evidences suggests that Sasou may have been located in a territory south of the gold-rich mediaeval kingdom of Damot, including the governorates of Kasô and Sasôgi mentioned in King Amde Tseyon’s chronicle. These toponyms echo the Sasou referred to by Cosmas in the 6th century CE.
GEOREFERENCING MAPS: A COMPARISON OF MAPS BASED ON PTOLEMY’S “GEOGRAPHY” AND TABULAE NOVAE FROM THE 16TH CENTURY [Abstract ID: 0518-08]
The “Geography” of Klaudios Ptolemaios (c. 100 – c. 170) is a unique source of investigation, not only for historians nowadays but also for geographers and mapmakers of 15th and 16th century Europe in which the “Geography” expanded widely and became a guide and a standard for geographers and mapmakers. This paper compares the geographical knowledge of Ethiopia which existed in the ancient Mediterranean and in 16th century Europe. This paper uses methods from historical geography and also from open data methods in order to compare maps and their toponyms of certain areas of Ethiopia. The open source software QGIS is employed to georeference maps which are based on Ptolemy’s “Geography” and Tabulae novae from the 16th century. Pelagios is used for comparing toponyms, which are mentioned by Ptolemy or were found in the Tabulae novae. Gazetteers like iDAI.gazetteer or Pleiades are applied to identify places which have existed but may not exist anymore. The focus lies on the visualisation of characteristics and differences of the maps and on the presentation of benefits and limits of georeferencing old maps. Furthermore, it will be discussed if georeferencing old maps can help draw conclusions about the knowledge of the mapmakers and if this knowledge can be used as a basis for discussing the location of places.
MAPPING THE SOUTHERN EDGES OF THE OIKUMENE: CARTOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS OF ANCIENT ETHIOPIA AND EAST AFRICA [Abstract ID: 0518-06]
My talk focuses on the depiction of East Africa and Ethiopia on the Tabula Peutingeriana. It will be seen that the representation of these regions in the Horn of Africa does not correspond to the cartographic design onother medieval maps made around the same time, for example the Hereford and Ebstorf maps showing fabulous worlds with collections of monstrous creatures at the southern fringe of the oikoumene. The starting hypothsis is that the Tabula Peutingeriana respecting the Greek and Latin geographic knowledge offers information from different epochs being tied together; whereas the Hellenistic basic map remained unchanged in the process of copying and new information (e.g. toponyms, streets) was selectively added to the maplabelling process up until the 5th century, without the old ones being removed at the same time. Placing the Tabula Peutingeriana in a broader cartographic context I would like to raise the question as to whether and to what degree this map is based on antique or medieval pagan, Christian or perhaps even Islamic cosmology and tradition.
ON THE ETHIOPIAN RECEPTION OF ABŪ SHĀKIR [Abstract ID: 0518-03]
Abū Shākir was first a Coptic secretary in the administration and, later, a diacon, living in 13th century Cairo. He wrote four books. The Tawārīḫ on history and calendar calculation, an unpreserved Coptic vocabulary with a preserved introductory grammar, an exegetical theological work, and a theological summa on fifty questions. Except for his vocabulary all of his works seem to be preserved, and the first one, the Tawārīḫ or Tariḵ, was the most influencial one. Moreover, a number of ḥasab or computus texts are associated with his name, including texts written both in Gəʿəz and Amharic. These texts are to be distinguished from Abū Shākir's Tariḵ on history and calendar calculation that was available in Gəʿəz and is said to have been translated by a 16th c. Yemeni convert. I will present an Amharic ḥasabä zä-Abušakər (Berlin Ms. or. oct. 238, fol. 33-36), its content and its parallels and differences to the content of Abū Shākir's Tariḵ. This has also to some extent geographic and historiographic implications, since it shows - apart from a more general context - the spread and reception of knowledge and its adaptation, development and usage.
SPACE ARCHAEOLOGY IN HARARGE, CRACKING CODES ON A 1450 VENETIAN MAP, IN CENTRAL SHOA [Abstract ID: 0518-11]
This paper discusses the discovery of vast sets of uncharted ruins inside and near Addis Ababa and in Hararge. Elements suggesting their attribution to the war between the Christian Empire and the Adal Sultanate are raising attention. I suggest paths for future action research: how to study, preserve and promote a new, unexpected, impressive and varied Ethiopian cultural heritage. The code of a medieval map, drawn by Ethiopians in Venice in 1439, has been cracked using satellite archaeology, and site visits have uncovered and named dozens of major medieval sites, both within and adjacent to Addis Ababa and in the vicinity of Harar. The extent, size and high quality of the fortresses, towns, villages, mosques and churches, uncovered or reinterpreted as pre-dating the 1528/53 Ethio Adal war, should prompt research and excavations, along with promotion and conservation efforts. The paper discusses the failures or limited success of action-research relating to the discovery or reinterpretation of massive walls, foundations and other structures, together with cultural material. It uses visual means, through slides of a dozen sites, and draws on the direct experience of the initial promoter of space archaeology in the country, as well as of numerous visitors both from within and outside Ethiopia.
THE COSMOLOGICAL TREATISE IN MS. ÉTHIOP. D´ABBADIE 109: GREEK, ETHIOPIC OR EARLY MODERN? [Abstract ID: 0518-01]
The famous Ethiopic manuscript d´Abbadie 109 (BnF, Paris) contains a cosmological and astronomical treatise that is distinct from any other what we know as Ethiopic astronomical literature. It consists of a description of the cosmos that claims to have used the ancient astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy (2nd cent. AD) as one of his mains sources. Nevertheless some notions, like the mentioning of a fourth continent or the “New World”, make it clear that more modern concepts and ideas are also looming large in the text. This begs the question whether this fascinating description is rooted in a Greek, Ethiopic or European culture. The aim of this joint paper is two-fold. In the first part, Carsten Hoffmann will outline, describe and explain the content and basic ideas of this manuscript. In the second part, Klaus Geus will advance a hypothesis as to the author and its time – in all likelihood the Jesuit missionary Pedro Páez (1564–1622). [The paper shall be part of the panel 0603: “Ethiopia and the Ancient World: Reception and Transformation of Geographical Knowledge“, proposed by Klaus Geus. It bears some topical and methodological relation to the papers by Victor Gysembergh, Søren Lund Sørensen, and Eivind Seland.]
THE LATE ANTIQUE GREEK EGYPTIAN EPIC POETRY AND ‘ETHIOPIANS’: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EVIDENCE [Abstract ID: 0518-09]
The researches of the last decades on late Greek antique poetry from Egypt, and on the early fifth-century poet Nonnus of Panopolis in particular, have evidenced how much of the contemporary world is actually represented and directly or indirectly reflected in his works (all in all, c. 25,000 verses in the forty-eight-book poem Dionysiaca and in the Paraphrasis of the Gospel of St John are preserved). There are plenty of allusions to ‘Realien’ from Nonnus’ time, with details of social and historical circumstances to. Besides allusions to cults, customs, and aspects of everyday life, and the reworking of features of Egyptian folklore, another source of influence remains largely unexplored. Very recent contributions (for an overview see Gianfranco Agosti, ‘Nonnus and Late Antique Society’, 2016) have highlighted so far unnoticed elements possibly pointing to Nonnus’ conversation with Coptic monastic environments, as appears to be corroborated by cross-evidence in Coptic sources. Yet, not only the Blemmyes, but even ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘Ethiopians’ (‘Aithiopía’, ‘Aithíopes’) are not infrequently mentioned in Nonnus’ poems (Dion. 2,683; 13,347; 17,385-397 (where Blemmyes, Ethiopians and ‘Eritrean Indians’ are dealt with in detail); 26,228; 26,340, 341; 39,197; 43,165). Still beyond the mere mention of names and labels such as ‘Ethiopians’, which were familiar and had a traditionally established role in epic poetry, the search for echoes of more precisely and historically determined ‘Ethiopians’ (or Aksumites) remains a valuable working hypothesis. This search, also extended to other products of Egyptian late antique poetry (such as the texts preserved in the Bodmer collection), offers the opportunity to contribute to the ‘vexed question’ of the actual meaning and understanding of ‘Ethiopians’, ‘Indians’, and related labels in late antique imagery.
THE PLAYGROUND OF THE GODS. WHY THE ANCIENT GODS PREFERRED ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0518-10]
The ancient term “Aithiopia” can easily be misunderstood, as the ancient Greeks referred to most dark-skinned peoples as “Aithiopes” which may even include those living on the Arab peninsula. Early references the "Aithiopes" in the classical literature are found the two epics by Homer (8th century) ? "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey". These people live on the edge of the earth and seem generous with the sacrifice of cattle and sheep ? thus catering sumptuous feasts. According to the scant references the land of the Aithiopes was the preferred resort of the Olympian goods. Lead by Zeus all gods spent 12 days to dine there on one occasion. This seems not to have been a singular event as other gods individually expressed their keenness join again in the feast in the far land of the Aithiopes. It is difficult to align the mythological geography with the real one, but the reference to the Okeanos and the edge of the world may hint to the horn of Africa rather than just to a region south of Egypt such as Nubia or Kush. But where was this place the gods enjoyed their relaxation? A look further into the past may elucidate this. In the middle if the second millennium BC the Egyptian ruler Hatshepsut propagated the religious fiction of her being the dutiful daughter of the King of the Gods, Amun-Ra. In the texts about her famous expedition to Punt the god refers to the “Terraces of Myrrh”, which he had created as a special region of the “God’s Land” (one of the names for Punt) as a place for his exhilaration to spend the time there with his consort the goddess Hathor.
THE POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE AKSUMITE POLITY AS SEEN IN MEDITERRANEAN SOURCES. [Abstract ID: 0518-07]
In the early centuries of our era, the Aksumite kingdom flourished in parts of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. The kingdom attracted the interest of traders, diplomats, scholars and missionaries from the Roman and Byzantine empires. In this paper I demonstrate how outside observeres employed familiar terminology in order to make sense of a foreign geopolitcal space.