Ethiopia Calls for Return of Looted Maqdala Artifact Headed to Sale in the UK

Ethiopia is calling for the return of a 19th-century shield, taken by British soldiers more than 150 years ago from its original location during a military raid.

The engraved shield is part of a vast cache of royal, religious, and military artifacts looted during the 1868 Battle of Maqdala, and is now headed to auction in the UK.

The battle began when British forces seized a compound of the Coptic Christian Emperor Tewodros II in what was then known as Abyssinia. Released British hostages and British forces looted sites in the northern village where Tewodros was based, taking the objects back to the UK, where many were later circulated for sale.

Related Articles

Detail of military antique.

Auctioneer Withdraws Looted Maqdala Artifact From Sale After Ethiopian Official Restitution Request

Authorities Argue Egon Schiele at Art Institute of Chicago Was Nazi Loot

According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news, Abebaw Ayalew, director general of the Ethiopian Heritage Authority, penned a letter to the UK auction house Anderson & Garland calling for the sale to be stopped. In that letter, Ayalew said the shield had been “wrongfully acquired.”

In a statement provided to the Telegraph, a restitution committee overseen by Ethiopia’s National Heritage agency, a branch of the country’s tourism board, labeled the sale as “inappropriate and immoral.” The group is calling for the auction house to restitute the shield to Ethiopian officials so that it can be placed on public display in the country.

The shield, engraved with the phrase “Magdala April 13, 1868” and crafted from animal hide and metal, is set to be auctioned this week with a price estimate of £800–£1,200 ($1,000–$1,500). The auction will take place at the house’s Newcastle location, where the object is scheduled to be offered alongside a collection of other military antiques on Thursday.

In a cataloging note, the house said the shield was taken in 1868 during “the destruction of Tewodros’ artillery and the burning of Magdala as retribution.” The company did not disclose the shield’s provenance record or details around its current owner.

This call from Ethiopian officials is part of a larger project of recovering Maqdala artifacts held in international museums and private collections. In September 2021, Ethiopia successfully reclaimed a trove of objects linked to the Maqdala raid from the Scheherazade Foundation, a private British nonprofit, in what was seen by repatriation advocates at the time as one of the most significant returns of looted material to an African nation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *