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Ethiopic manuscripts collection

Identifier: ubl213

Scope and Contents

The collection of Ethiopic manuscripts consists exclusively of religious texts: psalms and other canticles, prayers and incantations, fragments of the Gospels (in particular the Gospel of St John), lives of the saints. Most manuscripts seem to date from the 19th or 20th centuries.

Typically, the manuscripts are written on parchment. About 60 manuscripts are written on scrolls. The codices are usually leather-bound with wooden boards; many have exposed spines. About 80 manuscripts have a single or double leather satchel. Almost all manuscripts are illuminated and/or illustrated.


  • Creation: Pre-1609 – late 20th century
  • Creation: Bulk 1800-1950

Language of Materials

Ethiopic (Ge’ez, Amharic)

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.


250 items (circa)

Abstract in Dutch

Collectie van ca. 250 Ethiopische handschriften in het Ge’ez en Amhaars, voor het merendeel afkomstig uit de twintigste eeuw en uitsluitend religieus van aard.

Abstract in English

Collection of c. 250 Ethiopic manuscripts in Ge’ez and Amharic, for the greater part dating from the twentieth century and exclusively of a religious nature.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Click here to see Rachel Struyk’s inventory (1995). The Ethiopic manuscripts are also described in J. J. Witkam’s online inventory of the Oriental collections of the Leiden University Libraries (2007-…), see

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The first two Ethiopic manuscripts, Or. 262 and Or. 4734, entered Leiden University Library with the bequest of Josephus Justus Scaliger (1540-1609). Between 1609 and 1970 only isolated items entered the library. In 1973 the curator P.S. van Koningsveld acquired 10 Ethiopic manuscripts from Mr M.J.M Maas Leeflang, Amsterdam (Or. 12.833 – Or. 12.842). The majority of Ethiopic manuscripts, however, were acquired during the curatorship of Prof. J.J. Witkam between 1974 and 2005, most notably from the following persons:

Or. 17.004 – Or. 17.048, acquired in 1980 from Mr HW Karstens, a private dealer in Amsterdam.

Or. 20.943 – Or. 20.962, Or. 20.971 – Or. 20.985, Or. 22.024 – Or. 22.047 and Or. 22.503 – Or. 22.511 were all bought on several occasions between 1988 and 1991 from Ms Ingrid Zoetmulder MA, a dealer in Eastern Orthodox art and manuscripts in Delft who has published on Russian icons. About one particular section, Or. 22.024 – Or. 22.047, Prof. Luc Van Rompay remarked that the manuscripts 'may very well have belonged to the library of a small monastery'.

Or. 25.429 – Or. 25.461 originate from Mr Robert Cornelis Hekker of The Hague (1917-1990), a specialist of Dutch vernacular architecture who taught art history at Leiden University. Mr Hekker collected Oriental materials purely as a hobby. His Ethiopic manuscripts were acquired during a visit to Addis Abeba in 1972. His collection was donated to Leiden University Library in 1993 by his son Menno Hekker. When Rachel Struyk finished her inventory in 1995 the Hekker manuscripts had not yet been assigned 'Or.' classmarks.


The number of new acquisitions is exceedingly limited.



The material can be requested in the online catalogue. It can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

In 1980-1981 Dr Sergew Habre Selassie prepared a catalogue of the Ethiopic manuscripts, which was never published. Since the last number in his catalogue, Or. 14.693, an acquisition from 1980, predates the sudden increase of the collection, its scope is consequently limited. The manuscript of the unpublished catalogue is preserved in Or. 23.405.

In 1995 Ms Rachel Struyk, an intern from the University of Utrecht and a student of Prof. Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg, prepared an inventory in Dutch of the Ethiopic manuscripts, with a summary description and various indexes of physical particularities, script, dates of acquisition, illustrations and illuminations, number of columns and subjects.

Since 2000 many manuscripts have been packed in boxes to protect the bindings or satchels.

Collection guide of the Ethiopic manuscripts collection (Pre-1609 – late 20th century)
Collectie Ethiopische handschriften
Arnoud Vrolijk, 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 27 October 2014: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857