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Articles and Book Chapters

Jacopo Gnisci, Matteo Salvadore, Deresse Ayenachew, Ainslie Harrison, “A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on Enigmatic Ethiopian Processional Cross at the Bargello National Museum, Florence”, Northeast African Studies, 23:1, 2024. 

This article brings a wide range of perspectives to bear on a fifteenth-century Ethiopian processional cross kept at the Bargello Museum in Florence, and to bridge the disciplinary divide between scientific, historical, philological and art historical approaches to this type of artefact. Despite being the subject of several papers, the Bargello cross remains an enigmatic artefact. It has a complex stratigraphy, and it conveys tantalizing if vague information about the patronage of the emperors of Ethiopia and the devotion of local Christian communities within the territories they sought to control though various means. In visual terms, the cross displays different formulas for representing the human figure that can be taken as evidence of the movement of objects and visual ideas between Ethiopia and Europe at the time of its making. As an artefact that certainly reached Europe before the colonial period, the cross turns our attention to those moments in history when the exchange or gifting of objects between these territories could occur on more equitable grounds. From a material perspective, the features of the cross manifest dynamics of continuity and discontinuity with previous practices. For these and other reasons, the cross continues to elicit interest and to elude interpretation.

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Matteo Salvadore, “Europe’s Other Ethiopian Diaspora: The Ordeals of António, an Enslaved Muslim in Early Modern Lisbon” International Journal of African Historical Studies, 57:1, 2024. 

This article reconstructs the diasporic life of António, a story of multifarious oppression and relentless resistance spanning three continents. Kidnapped as a child from his Christian family in mid-16th century Ethiopia, António toiled as a slave first in Muslim India, and after an interlude of freedom in the Estado Da India, in Lisbon. Here he came to the attention of the Inquisition because of his attempts to flee to the Maghreb, with fellow Muslims hailing from all over the Portuguese world. His life history sheds light on the slave trade out of the Horn of Africa, mobility within and beyond the Portuguese empire, Lisbon’s diverse Muslim community, and the modus operandi of the Portuguese Inquisition. As a rare testimony of Ethiopian enslavement in 16th century Lisbon, it also offers a corrective to the historiography on the Ethiopian presence in early modern Europe, which has so far focused only on the arrivals of ambassadors and pilgrims and ignored the existence of what was probably a substantial presence of enslaved Ethiopians in Lisbon and elsewhere in Latin Europe.

Matteo Salvadore, “Ethiopian Letters to the Roman Pontiff and the King of Portugal, 1521-24”, In Christian-Muslim Relations, Primary Sources Volume 2, edited by David Thomas and Martha Frederiks. Bloomsbury, London, 2022, 347-349.

Starting in the early fifteenth century, Ethiopian pilgrims and emissaries arrived at multiple European locales, including Venice, Valencia, Naples, and Rome. They attracted much interest, not least because they were believed to be hailing from the Kingdom of Prester John, the mythical Christian sovereign whose existence and location Europeans had been debating since the twelfth century....

Matteo Salvadore, “The narrative of Zaga Christ (Ṣägga Krәstos): the first published African autobiography (1635)”, Africa, 92 (1), 2022, 1-41.

In the 1630s, a young traveller by the name of S ̣ ägga Krәstos (1616–38) crisscrossed Italy and France, claiming to be the heir of the late Ethiopian Emperor Yaʿǝqob and pledging to return to Ethiopia at the helm of a Catholic mission. While in Rome, intent on convincing the papacy of his identity, he authored a lengthy autobiographical statement that included a precise dynastic claim, an account of his father’s rise and demise, and an itinerary of his own journey from Ethiopia to Rome. Later, as he continued his journey, S ̣ ägga Krәstos shared his state- ment with his European acquaintances; once in Paris, he published it, dedicating it to Anne of Austria, Queen of France. This article sketches the contours of S ̣ ägga Krәstos’s journey and identity and offers a comprehensive genealogy of the autobiographical statement’s many extant versions. It also discusses the transfiguration that both his reputation and statement underwent after his death. S ̣ ägga Krәstos’s is the earliest known autobiography voluntarily written and published in Europe by an African-born author. Following this article is a com- plete annotated translation – the first in the English language – of what is likely to be the earliest extant version of the statement, followed by excerpts from later versions. A complete transcription of the source is available with the online supplementary materials published with this article.


Matteo Salvadore, “I Was Not Born to Obey, but Rather to Command”: The Self-Fashioning Ṣägga Krәstos, an Ethiopian Traveler in 17th Century Europe, Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 25, Issue 3, 2021, 194–226.

In 1632, an Ethiopian traveler named Ṣägga Krǝstos arrived in Cairo and introduced himself to Franciscan missionaries as the legitimate heir to the Ethiopian throne. Following conversion to Catholicism, he embarked on an epic journey throughout the Italian peninsula and France, where he was hosted and supported by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, multiple northern Italian rulers, and the French monarchy. By cross-referencing his autobiographical statement with a vast body of archival and published sources, this article shows that Ṣägga Krǝstos was an impostor, but also that, thanks to a favorable historical juncture and skilled self-fashioning, he was extensively supported by his European hosts. Ṣägga Krǝstos’s story of survival in the early modern Mediterranean dovetails with the literature on imposture, highlights the role that Africans played in the making of European expansion, and sheds further light on the condition of elite Africans in early modern Europe.

Matteo Salvadore and James de Lorenzi, “An Ethiopian Scholar in Tridentine Rome: Täsfa Ṣeyon and the Birth of Orientalism”, Itinerario. Journal of Imperial and Global Interactions, 45:1 (2021) 17–46.

This article surveys the diasporic life and legacy of the Ethiopian ecclesiastic Täsfa Ṣeyon. After examining his origins in the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia and the circumstances of his arrival in mid-sixteenth-century Rome, the article outlines his contributions to the evolving Latin Catholic understanding of Ethiopia. Täsfa Ṣeyon was a librarian, copyist, teacher, translator, author, and community leader, as well as a prominent adviser to European humanist scholars and Church authorities concerned with orientalist philologia sacra as it pertained to Ethiopian Orthodox (täwaḥedo) Christianity. As such, he was a key extra-European agent in the Tridentine project of Ethiopianist and Eastern Christian knowledge production. The article also surveys the complex modern legacy of Täsfa Ṣeyon's career, documenting his posthumous influence in the fields of Ethiopianist Semitic studies and Ethiopian vernacular historiography.

Matteo Salvadore, “Between the Red Sea Slave Trade and the Goa Inquisition: the Odyssey of Gabriel, a Sixteenth-Century Ethiopian Jew”, Journal of World History, vol. 31, Issue 2, 2020, 327–360.

This article reconstructs the life of Gabriel, a Beta Israel child enslaved in mid-sixteenth-century Ethiopia. After two scarcely documented decades in the Arab world, Gabriel reached Western India, where he repeatedly tried to improve his lot through conversion and relocation, until he came to the attention of the Goa Inquisition as a relapsed Muslim, in 1595. This Afro-Indian story of mobility, persecution, and resistance offers rare vistas into the workings of the early modern western Indian Ocean World (IOW): enslavement in the Horn of Africa, slave trading in the Arab world, Habshi life on both sides of the Indo-Portuguese frontier, and religious persecution in Portuguese India. Introducing and analyzing what appears to be the earliest autobiographical text by an enslaved Ethiopian, the article discusses the relevance of Gabriel’s multiple identities at different junctures of his mobile existence and explores the tension between agency and structure within his life history.

Matteo Salvadore, “Encounters between Ethiopia and Europe, 1400–1660”, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018

By the early 1400s, diplomatic representatives and pilgrims from the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia had traveled to the Italian peninsula for political and religious reasons. In doing so, they inaugurated an era of Ethiopian–European relations that unfolded for more than 200 years: Ethiopians reached multiple locales across Latin Europe to forge political alliances, acquire technology, and pursue religious knowledge. They drew the attention of European observers, especially those with an interest in the overseas. Secular and religious personalities, but also average merchants, began their quests for the Ethiopian highlands, lured by the tales of their visitors who were believed with growing certainty to be subjects of the mythical Prester John, the imaginary Christian sovereign believed to rule the Indies. Their journeys enabled cultural exchanges, technological transfer, and the forging of one of the first Euro-African political alliances, that between the kingdoms of Ethiopia and Portugal.
In the 15th century, Ethiopian pilgrims flocked to Rome, and diplomatic representatives found hospitality in the Venetian Republic and at the Aragonese and papal courts. Concurrently with Ethiopian arrivals in Europe, European adventurers and representatives began reaching Ethiopia, eventually leading to the establishing of Portuguese–Ethiopian relations. The exchanges climaxed with a Portuguese military intervention to support the Ethiopian monarchy against the sultanate of Adal in 1541. In the decades following the conflict, Jesuit missionaries began operating in the country: after a difficult inception in the 1620s, the fathers experienced ephemeral successes, followed by a dramatic expulsion that ended early modern Ethiopian–European relations.


Matteo Salvadore, “African Cosmopolitanism in the Early Modern Mediterranean: The Diasporic Life of Yoḥannǝs, the Ethiopian Pilgrim Who Became a Counter-Reformation Bishop,” Journal of African History, 58, no. 1 (March 2017): 61–83.

The article chronicles the diasporic life of the Cyprus-born Ethiopian priest Yoḥannǝs (1509–65), who, after traveling far and wide across Europe and to Portuguese India, eventually settled in Rome and served the papacy for over two decades. Rare language skills and a cosmopolitan coming of age enabled his remarkable ecclesiastical career as an agent of the Counter-Reformation. Shortly before an untimely death, Yoḥannǝs became the second black bishop and the first black nuncio in the history of the Roman Church, rare appointments that would not be accessible to black Africans again until the 20th century. His unique experience represents a significant addition to the available historiography on blacks in early modern Europe and calls into question some commonly held assumptions in African diaspora studies.

Matteo Salvadore, “Gaining the Heart of Prester John: Loyola’s Blueprint for Ethiopia in Three Key Documents”, World History Connected, 10:3 (2013).

An anonymous painting adorns the sacristy of Rome's Chiesa del Gesù, the ultimate testament to the Society of Jesus' grandeur and power in the late sixteenth century. The oil canvas portrays one of the most iconic moments in Jesuit history: Pope Paul III's (1534–1549) issuance of Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, the bull that formally instituted the Society of Jesus on September 27, 1540. The scene is well known and celebrated in countless other artistic renderings, but this particular painting is the only one to include a black figure in the crowd surrounding Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) and Paul III. Although unconfirmed, circumstantial evidence suggests that the figure is Tasfā Ṣeyon (1510–1552), an Ethiopian monk who sojourned in Rome between 1536 and 1552. Known in Rome as Pietro Indiano (Peter the Indian) or Pietro Abissino (Peter the Abyssinian), he was a leading African personality of sixteenth-century Europe and the most prolific African intellectual of his time. His inclusion in the painting next to such towering figures as the pope and Loyola indicates the standing that Ethiopians enjoyed at the highest levels of the Roman Church and, it will be argued, the centrality of Ethiopia for the early years of the Society.

Matteo Salvadore, “Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondärine Ethiopia.” Northeast African Studies, 12, no. 1 (2012): 51–72.  

This paper is dedicated to an appraisal of Ethiopia’s relations with the Catholic and Muslim worlds in the aftermath of the failed Jesuit mission in the country (1555–1632). It contrasts Ethiopia’s policy of isolation from Catholic Europe and the resulting failures of the Franciscan order to re-establish a missionary presence in the Horn with the Ethiopian monarchy’s proactive pursuit of diplomatic ties with various Muslim societies of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean basins.

Matteo Salvadore, “At the Borders of ‘Dark Africa’: Italian Expeditions to Ethiopia and the Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana, 1867-1887.” In The Printed Media in Fin-de-siècle Italy: Publishers, Writers, and Readers, edited by Ann Caesar, Gabriella Romani, and Jennifer Burns, 107–19. London: Legenda, 2011.

In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal and the acquisition of the Bay of Assab by the Italian company Rubattino laid the foundation for what would later become the Colonia Eritrea. In the following years, from this bridgehead, Italian travelers started to venture into the interior, attracted to the Ethiopian plateau by commercial opportunities, missionary zeal, fascination with the unknown and the exotic. Through their travel accounts, these occasional ethnographers introduced the Italian public to the genre of modern travel writing, while contributing to a global discourse about the colonial other.
The Italian production of knowledge about Ethiopia in the late 19th century struggled to reconcile competing discourses: some scholars and travelers framed Dark Africa, others considered Ethiopia part of the Orient, while the early modern notion of Ethiopians as faraway Christians surrounded by heathens also persisted. This chapter examines the role played by Italy’s leading geographical society, the Società Geografica Italiana, and its bulletin, the the Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana, in the early days of Italian colonial exploration.

Matteo Salvadore, “The Ethiopian Age of Exploration: Prester John’s Discovery of Europe, 1306–1458”, Journal of World History, vol. 21 Issue 4, 2011, 593–628. 

Before the age of European expansion overseas and the Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa, Renaissance Italy became a common destination for scores of Ethiopian monks and dignitaries. These travelers presented themselves on the European scene as active agents of transcontinental discovery: interested in learning more about a region they regarded as the ultimate center of organized Christianity, they became the protagonists of an Ethiopian age of exploration. This article examines the dynamics of interaction between Italian elites and Ethiopian travelers throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Matteo Salvadore, “The Jesuit Mission to Ethiopia (1555-1634) and the Death of Prester John.” In World-Building and the Early Modern Imagination, edited by Allison B. Kavey, 141–72. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

“There is only one Catholic Church in the world and it can only be one under the Roman Pontiff and not under that of Alexandria.”1 Thus spoke Ignatius of Loyola in 1555, addressing the Ethiopian Emperor Galawdéwos in relation to the Ethiopian Church’s tradition of dependence on the Egyptian Coptic Church. Since its beginnings, with few exceptions, the head of the Ethiopian Church, known as abun or metropolitan, was an Egyptian cleric appointed by the patriarch of Alexandria. In Loyola’s eyes, the dependence on Alexandria was one among many “errors and abuses” making Ethiopian faith an aberration and requiring the attention of Jesuit proselytism.

Matteo Salvadore, “A Modern African Intellectual: Gäbre-Heywät Baykädañ’s Quest for Ethiopia’s Sovereign Modernity” Africa, (2007),62:4, 560–579.

Gäbre-Heywät Baykädañ (1886-1919) grew up at a Swedish mission in Eritrea and studied in Germany and Austria before he was recruited as an interpreter for a German diplomatic mission to Addis Ababa. He soon became an important figure in Menelik's entourage. After Menelik's death and the 1916 coup, he was first appointed controller of the railways and later collector of customs in Dérre Dawa, where he died. Most experts have portrayed Gäbre-Heywät as a European-educated intellectual who, fascinated with European civilization, took a harsh stance vis-à-vis the condition of his own country. This paper argues that his ideas were much more than a simple mimicry of European modernity and offered an original perspective on the challenges that Ethiopia was facing as part of its incorporation into the capitalist world economy. He struggled to see his country turn modern, while maintaining its cultural and political independence: his ultimate goal was Ethiopia's 'sovereign modernity'. The paper therefore rejects the notion that Gäbre-Heywät was Eurocentric. His thought was very much the product of a new world view that characterized intellectual production in Menelik's Ethiopia. Notes, ref., sum. in French and Italian.

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