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Gebre-Meskel, Haddis (1992) A survey of representative land charters of the Ethiopian Empire (1314-1868) and related marginal notes in manuscripts in the British Library, the Royal Library and the university libraries of Cambridge and Manchester. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The aim of this study is to compile and analyse information about ownership, sales and disputes of land in Ethiopia between 1314 and 1868 on the basis of documents which are preserved in the marginalia of Ethiopic manuscripts in the Collections of the British Library, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle and the University Libraries of Cambridge and Manchester. While the specifically royal charters were drawn up in some cases as far back as the early fourteenth century, numerous other documents dealing with sales and disputes of land were written between 1700 and 1868. In that year, these manuscripts were looted by members of the Napier Expedition after the citadel of Emperor Tewodros II fell into their hands and were subsequently brought to the United Kingdom. While almost all the royal charters were written in Ge'ez, the rest of the documents dealing with personal bequests or gifts, sales and disputes of land were written in Amharic and thus, apart from their historical significance, they are important as they illustrate the development of modern Amharic. Out of some 2,100 documents which are preserved in the marginalia of 49 manuscripts, I have here selected 274 and it is hoped that they will serve as a representative documentation of the land tenure system and administration of land of the country for more than half a millennium. The number of documents dealt with in this thesis thus exceeds the number of those described by Conti Rossini, who translated some 100 other land charters and related notes compiled from the marginalia of Ethiopian manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. The documents reproduced in this thesis are put in chronological order and an effort has been made to find the equivalent European dating whenever the documents fail to supply a precise date. The documents are also translated and annotated and are classified into five sections, namely: Church Lands, Private Lands, Crown Lands, Land Sales and Land Disputes. Copies of the transcripts of the original Amharic and Ge'ez documents are also included together with glossaries of titles and terms. As far as the locations of the lands referred to in the documents (i.e., personal land bequests or gifts, sales and disputes of land) are concerned, the city of Gondar and the regions around it are largely covered, while additional references to land grants to the sovereigns themselves and to members of the royal family, churches and individuals are also available for other areas of the country. The main findings of this study are that income from land, or more accurately a land tax, was used as a means to compel submission and obligation. The allocation or distribution of such an income to the Church and notable individuals was finely balanced and kept in equilibrium by the members of the Solomonic dynasty who ruled Ethiopia between the years 1314 and 1769. In the subsequent years, however, the country entered into the so called Era of the Princes (1769-1855), where local nobles succeeded in fragmenting the central power, so, in the absence of absolute power, the weak sovereigns were forced to grant ever more land to influential individuals rather than to the Church.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:57

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