Abyssinian (Ethiopic) Manuscripts
Pages 5

The signs for numbers were borrowed from the Greeks, but it is tolerably certain that the Abyssinians must have used some system of numbering in their transactions of barter, and must also have had signs of some sort which expressed figures, long before they came into contact with the Greeks. The numerical signs found in inscriptions and manuscripts are letters, over and below which small lines are drawn thus:

All the Ethiopic manuscripts known to us are written either upon skin or paper, the latter material only coming into use towards the close of the 18th century. Whether the translation of the Holy Scriptures made in Abyssinia in the 5th or 6th century was written on papyrus or skin cannot be said, but no sheets of papyrus inscribed in Ethiopic have ever been found. The VELLUM used in Ethiopic manuscripts is of two kinds, that made of goatskin and that made of sheepskin; the former is the better and more valuable. The skin of one fine goat was only sufficient to make two leaves of a manuscript like Brit. Mus. Or. 778, which measures 18 inches by 15J inches, and as that volume contains some 245 leaves, over 120 goats must have been killed to provide vellum. Only the large service-books for use in churches, and books specially made for royal personages and noblemen, were written on goatskin; for small books, missals, books of hours, Psalters, etc., sheepskin was used. In a book of ordinary size one skin was sufficient to make many leaves. As a rule the QUIRES (sing, teraz T^TI*, plur. terazat

consist of ten leaves, each of which is numbered with arithmetic figures, i.e. Greek letters, in the left-hand corner, at the top of the first page. The scribe’s PEN was the ordinary reed, bere( HCd* , used by scribes all over the East. In well written manu­ scripts the INK is good, and very black ; it was made, like the ink used in the monasteries of Egypt, of Sudani gum and water, gallnuts and a strong acid. The scratch of the reed is usually deeper on one side of the page than the other, and it is often possible to read words from which the ink has flaked off or been washed off by means of the “ bite ” of the pen only. The titles of works and catchwords are often written in red ink, and in many large manu­ scripts the opening lines are written in red and black ink alternately. In large manuscripts the writing is in two or three columns, ac­ cording to the size of the volume ; it is only in small manuscripts that single columns are found. The pictures in manuscripts show that the scribe’s INK-POT was a little open-mouthed vessel about 11 inches in height, but PEN-CASES, with rounded ends and a sliding drawer, similar to those used in India, Persia and Egypt, have been used in Abyssinia for centuries. The leaves are strung together with sinews, or leather thongs, and the quires are kept together by means of strips of leather passed through the thongs which keep the leaves in place. The COVERS of manuscripts are made of stout wooden boards which vary in thickness according to the size of the volume. These boards are covered outside with brown leather, which is stamped or “ tooled ” with a series of linear designs and crosses copied, no doubt, from the early Coptic bindings. The covers of early Coptic MSS. were made of layers of papyrus, and the “ tooling ” on them was extraordinarily elaborate. Covers of Abyssinian MSS. were, as we see from Brit. Mus. Or. 728, some­ times made of metal. This handsome MS. measures 13^ inches by 1 i n c h e s , and has covers made of gilded copper with three crosses upon each. The edges inside wooden boards are covered by the overlapping of the outer leather, and the space between them is filled with a piece of gaudily coloured silk, or a piece of striped coloured cloth which is seen in native bazars everywhere. In books of prayers a piece of looking-glass is sometimes attached to the inside of the upper cover. Among the Abyssinian people generally a book was regarded as a priceless treasure, and service-books and Psalters

especially were provided with stout leather cases makhader. Such a book was regarded as an AMULET, and the pious caravan man provided the case for his book with straps so that he could hang his Psalter round his neck, or carry it on his back under his cloak.