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"The Fatimid Caliphate and Christian Ethiopia: a ‘Greek Tragedy’ told with Monuments"


Le 17 novembre 2021,
de 15h à 17h

OÙ :

Bât. recherche Sud
Salle 3.122
Campus Condorcet, 93300 Aubervilliers


Dans le prolongement du séminaire Monuments et Documents de l’Afrique ancienne : recherches en cours en histoire, histoire de l’art et archéologie, Mikael Muehlbauer (Wallace Fellow, I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence) présentera ses recherches en cours.

Il aura pour discutant Deresse Aynachew (Prof. Univ. Dabra Berhan, Ethiopia et chercheur au sein de l’ERC HornEast, Marseille)

Présentation :

The material record tells a dramatic story in the medieval horn of Africa, with two entangled protagonists: the early Zagwe dynasty and the Fatimid Caliphate, whose influence in the region rose and fell respectively due to their own zealotry and rapacity.

Beginning in the late 10th century, the Fatimid Caliphate was engaged in a campaign of extensive political interference and settlement in northern Ethiopia (today’s Tigray region). Seeking control over the maritime silk road, the Fatimids were engaged in securing trade entrepots in Yemen, the Dahlak archipelago and Kwiha, Tigray. To this end, a Friday Mosque was built in east Tigray, a lost building represented in the material record by a monumental stone fragment inscribed in interlaced Kufic, which formerly faced the Mihrab.

Pivotal for Christian Ethiopia was the Fatimids’ cynical use of Coptic ecclesiastical ties to enforce trade privileges and the settlement of Muslims in Tigray, which thus increased Tigrayan ties with the mother church. As I will show, for the beleaguered post-Aksumite Tigrayans, renewed ties with Egypt were a boon, allowing the Christian hatsanis to reclaim the old Aksumite role of broker state. This reentry into world trade may be indexed with the creation of three large, experimental church buildings (Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Wuqro Cherqos and Mika’el Amba), all of which incorporate architectural forms from Egypt and patterns from luxury cloth imports.

However, by the mid 12th century the situation had reversed, the Fatimids had lost the capacity for international influence, and the early Zagwe dynasty began an aggressive campaign of Christianization, which included expelling settled Fatimid-aligned Muslims. In the mid 12th century Tigray now became the locus of Coptic ecclesiastical authority and the reigning Ethiopian king along with the Egyptian Metropolitan Michael, such began a program of church building that evoked the architecture of Constantine the Great.