Thursday Seminar: "Roma etiopica". A few reflections on the image of Rome in Ethiopian documents of the Middle Ages (13th- 16th centuries)


Thursday, June 22, 2023, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


I Tatti
Livre des Miracles de Marie (Taʾāmmra Māryām), Vierge à l’enfant couronnée, fol. 64v, Biblioteca Giovardiana, Veroli, Latium, début du xviesiècle (1517)

Speaker: Olivia Adankpo-Labadie (I Tatti / University of Grenoble Alpes)

What was Rome for the Ethiopians in the Middle Ages? What image did they have of Rome? In medieval Ethiopia, the representation of Rome was ambivalent. In fact, the name “Rome” has distinct meanings. In Geez, the cultural language of Christian Ethiopia, the terms used for Rome have varying spellings: Romā, Romē or even Romeyā. This terminological ambiguity is common throughout the Eastern Mediterranean (as in the case of Coptic, Syriac and Arabic) and partly depends on the conception of Rome inherited from Arabic culture. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, it was mainly Christian Arabic literature that circulated in Ethiopia via Egypt and through Ethiopian pilgrim communities in the Holy Land. In Arabic, Rūm or Rūmiya represents ancient Rome and new Rome; Rūmi may refer, from time to time, to the Romans, the Byzantines or the inhabitants of the Mediterranean East.

The aim of this presentation is to outline the Ethiopians' image of Rome, in the sense of Urbs, the Italian metropolis, capital of Latin Christendom. I propose to examine some Ethiopic documents produced in Ethiopia or by Ethiopian authors, between the 13th and the 16thcenturies. For a long time, scholarship was only interested in how Europeans perceived Ethiopia. I propose to reverse the perspective a bit and understand how Ethiopians themselves perceived this city of the Mediterranean West. 

Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Grenoble Alpes, Olivia Adankpo-Labadie is member of the Laboratoire Universitaire Histoire Cultures Italie Europe (LUHCIE). Her research focuses on the history of Medieval Ethiopia (13th-16th century) and on the contacts between East Africa and the Mediterranean worlds during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The book resulting from her doctoral thesis, on the origins of a heterodox monastic community in Ethiopia in the 14th and 15th centuries, is forthcoming: Moines, saints et hérétiques. Les disciples d’Ēwosṭātēwos et l’invention d’un mouvement monastique hétérodoxe en Éthiopie (début du XIVe - milieu du XVe siècle), Rome, 2023. Since September 2020, she supervises the ETHIOKONGMED project which intends to study the diplomatic, religious and cultural relations between the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopia and Kongo and the Mediterranean Catholic powers from the 15th to the 17th century, according to a multidisciplinary and comparative approach.


Image: Livre des Miracles de Marie (Taʾāmmra Māryām), Vierge à l’enfant couronnée, fol. 64v, Biblioteca Giovardiana, Veroli, Latium, début du xviesiècle (1517).


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