1509 AD Letter by Queen Eleni of Ethiopia & the Daughter of Hadiya Garaad Muhammad

We are ever so grateful to Stefan Ritter — a German missionary, Hadiyyisa/Hadiya researcher and an excellent friend of the Hadiya people who, with his wife, lived in Hadiya Zone 2005 – 2010 — for making available to us the Latin & German (and subsequently the English) versions of Queen Eleni’s (Helena) letter to King Emmanuel, dated AD 1509.  If you are unfamiliar with queen Helena’s story, this Wikipedia article does a good overview and this one about ancient Hadiya Kingdom/Sultanate from which she originated.

You will also find the article on Elena printed in the second volume of the excellent “Encyclopaedia Aethiopica,” published by Harrassowitz  Verlag not included here due to copyright issues.

According to Ritter,

This is probably the earliest document (at least: still known to us) written by a Hadiyya.

And I agree!

He adds,

The Latin version of Queen Helena’s letter was printed in Leuven (Belgium) in AD 1540 (being part of the Portugese scholar Damian de Góis’ writing on the faith and morals of the Ethiopians).

Queen Helena’s letter exists also in a Ge’ez version:

Sergew Hable-Selassie, “The Ge’ez Letters of Queen Eleni and Libne Dingil to John, King of Portugal”, in: IV Congresso Internationale di Studi Etiopici [Rome, 1972], Rome, 1974, pp. 547-566.

The photocopy of the Latin version and German translation and comment is taken from the following book:

Siegberg Uhlig / Gernot Bühring, Damian de Góis’ Schrift über Glaube und Sitten der Äthiopier (Äthiopistische Forschungen, vol. 39), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1994.

This post is now updated with the English translation

When I first published this article, Mr. Ritter had the Latin and Girman versions only.  Now that he has graciously dug out the English translated version (it looks like he translated it himself) for us, the complete text follows (while keeping the rotated version of Latin/English version at the bottom).   We continue to be indebted to Mr. Ritter. Here is the English text….

Letter from Helena (Elleeni), the grandmother of David [Daawit II], the Precious John,
the Emperor of Ethiopia, to Emanuel [Manuel I], king of Portugal, etc. written in AD 1509

In the name of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God in three persons: hail [well-being], mercy and blessings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem, upon our beloved brother, the Most Christian King Emanuel, the ruler of the sea, the victor of the wild and infidel Moors [Muslims]. The Lord God bless you, grant you victory over your enemies, expand your realm and dominions far and wide and stretch them out by the pious prayers of the messengers of Christ the Redeemer, namely the four Evangelists, St. John, Luke, Mark and Matthew, whose sanctity and prayer may save you.
Dear brother, we inform you that two messengers from your great and important court have come to us – namely, John, who called himself a priest, and John Gomez [João Gomes] – and that they requested provisions and soldiers from us.
This is why we send our negotiator Mateus, a friend in our services. We send him with the permission of the Patriarch [Metropolitan] Marcus, who blesses us when he sends clergymen to Jerusalem. He is a father to us and all our dominions, a pillar of faith in Christ and the Holy Trinity. On our order, he sent a letter to your great leader of those who contend for the faith in our Savior Jesus Christ in India, to signify to him [i.e., the leader of the Portuguese] that we are ready to send supplies and soldiers if required.
We heard some people mentioning that the prince in Cairo assembles a large fleet against your forces – surely, to take revenge for the injustice and damage which he (as we truly know) often suffered from the leaders of your army (which you have in India).
Therefore, may God in his sacred kindness grant you day by day his blessing to finally bring all unbelievers entirely under the yoke. We will send troops against the incursions of those unbelievers. The troops shall wait at the Straits of Mecha [Mokka], which is Bab El Mandeb [Baab al-Mandab], or – if you prefer – at the port of Judah [Jidda?] or Thor [Toor?], so that you will finally destroy and eliminate this type of Moors and the infidels from the face of the earth, so that the gifts and offerings that are brought to the holy grave [in Jerusalem] no longer be devoured by these “dogs”. The promised time has arrived which – as people say – has been foreseen by Christ and his mother Mary when they predicted that during the last days a certain king will rise from the Frankish areas [Europe] who will destroy the entire race of the barbarians and Moors. The time which Christ has predicted to his Blessed Mother has arrived now.
Furthermore, whatever our negotiator Mateus will tell you, do receive it as if it would come from ourselves, and do believe him. Mateus belongs to the first-rate people at our court, and for this reason we wanted to send him to you. We would have liked to entrust this [message] to your messengers whom you have sent here, but we feared that our affairs would not made known according to our wishes.
Through our negotiator Mateus we send you a cross. There is no doubt that it has been made from a fragment of the wood to which our Savior Jesus Christ had been crucified in Jerusalem. This fragment of the sacred wood was brought to us from Jerusalem. We order to make from it two crosses, one of which remains with us, and the other one we have given to our negotiator to deliver it to you. The wood is black in color and hangs on a tiny silver ring.
If it pleases you to either have your daughters marry our sons or to have your sons marry our daughters, then that will be very appreciated by us and be helpful for both of us. It will be the beginning of a fraternal bond among us, since we (at least) long [desire] to form a marital alliance with you both in the present state of things as well as in the future.
Finally, we express our wish that the salvation and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and our Holy Lady, the Virgin Mary, extends to you as well as to (your) sons and daughters and your whole house. Amen.
In addition, we inform you that if we wish to wage wars and lead armies together, we will have enough armed forces to destroy (with God’s help) all the enemies of our holy faith. However, our empires and dominions are landlocked so that we have no access to the sea. We are not a naval power, whereas you of all have (praise be to God) the strongest power at sea. Jesus Christ may help you. The deeds you accomplished in India are truly admirable rather than customary. If you want to arm 1000 ships, we will provide in abundance the provisions and everything else that is needed for this fleet.

The Latin/German text…

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