Click here to skip to content

Ethiopic language collections

The British Library's Ethiopic (Ge'ez) holdings comprise an important collection of about 800 manuscripts dating from 1400 to 2000 AD, and some early printed books. We also hold some modern texts and journals.


The collection includes all aspects of Ge'ez literature:

  • the Bible and its Apocrypha
  • service books
  • prayers
  • hymns
  • lives of saints
  • Patristic literature
  • history and chronography
  • ecclesiastical and civil law
  • philology
  • medicine
  • letters


The first substantial acquisition of Ethiopic manuscripts was the donation by the Church of England Missionary Society of 74 codices collected in the 1830s and 1840s by Isenberg and Krapf. The largest single acquisition was in 1868, of 349 manuscripts taken from the Emperor Theodore's capital at Magdala by a punitive expedition the previous year. 12 manuscripts were received from the bequest of Robert Curzon, and 18 from the Wellcome Foundation in 1961 and 1970. Only a few manuscripts have been added more recently.

A particular strength of the manuscript collection is the Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. The collection is also strong in illuminated manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries. In addition, there is one important manuscript in Nubian.

Printed books and serials

The printed book collection derives overwhelmingly from the British Museum Library. A very few printed items came from the India Office Library.

Only a few printed books and serials are currently acquired. The printed book collection also includes material in other languages of Ethiopia, including Tigrinya and Tigre and other vernaculars of the Semitic, Cushitic and Nilotic groups. There are about 2,500 printed books in total.


To access the Ethiopic language collections, see the separate catalogues and guides page.


Ilana Tahan, M.Phil., Lead Curator, Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7646
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641