Ethiopia demands stolen crown back

President writes to British museums to call for return of more than 400 treasures looted in 1868

Ethiopia is demanding that Britain's museums return some of its most significant religious treasures. President Girma Wolde-Giorgis has personally intervened in a dispute to get the artefacts, including the Ethiopian royal crown, returned home 140 years after they were "looted" by marauding British troops.

The President has written to the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Library and Cambridge University Library seeking the restitution of more than 400 so-called "treasures of Magdala", which were stolen by British soldiers following a battle in 1868.

In the letter, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, the President wrote: "I must state that Ethiopians have long grieved at the loss of this part of their national heritage. Ethiopians feel that this act of appropriation had no justification in international law. I feel, therefore, that the time has come for the return of Ethiopia's looted treasures."

Among the items being held in the UK is an 18-carat gold crown and more than 300 priceless manuscripts, including Christian scriptures. Experts say the issue is particularly sensitive for Ethiopians because many of the artefacts hold deep religious significance for them. These include nine tabots, or sacred wooden altar slabs, which are recognised as so holy that the British Museum has pledged never to display them. When a tabot was returned in 2005 after being discovered in the back of an Edinburgh church, thousands of people turned out to greet its return in Addis Ababa.

The objects were among those seized by British soldiers after the storming of the Fortress of Magdala in 1868, a punitive expedition that followed the kidnap of several Britons. Emperor Tewodros committed suicide after the battle. According to contemporary accounts, British soldiers slaughtered hundreds of poorly armed Ethiopians after the battle, and then "jostled each other" to grab a piece of the emperor's blood-stained shirt, which they tore from his body. They also looted the citadel and a nearby church, carrying off treasures that included "an infinite variety of gold, and silver and brass crosses", as well as "heaps of parchment royally illuminated".

British museums have in the past resisted calls for artefacts from their collections to be returned to their countries of origin, but it is understood that Neil MacGregor of the British Museum and Mark Jones of the V&A have already met the Ethiopian ambassador to discuss the matter.

Museums often argue in restitution cases that the artefacts are better off in Britain because anyone in the world can view them, and the V&A is known to have asked Addis Ababa whether the silver crown of Emperor Tewodros, which it returned to Ethiopia in 1925, is available for public view.

The V&A said yesterday that discussions were still ongoing, even though the President's letter was sent in February this year. The four organisations involved have also held meetings over the way forward.

The Magdala treasure differs to other restitution cases, such as that of the Elgin Marbles, because it is acknowledged that the treasures were simply stolen. "It was straightforward looting," a spokeswoman at the Ethiopian embassy in London said.

A spokeswoman for Afromet, an organisation that has campaigned for the restitutions of the items, said: "These museums hold most of Ethiopia's heritage. It means far more to Ethiopians than it could ever do to anyone else."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve