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Slavery and Emancipation in Traditional Ethiopia: The Role of the Fetha Nagast, or Laws of the Kings

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

This paper is concerned with slavery and emancipation in traditional Ethiopia and in particular with the role of the country’s legal code, the Fetha Nagast or Laws of the Kings. This document, it should be emphasised, discusses household or domestic slavery, which was widely practised in old-time Christian Ethiopia, and resulted largely from the capture of men, women and children in warfare. Such slavery, which differed in many ways from the capitalistic slavery of later time and climes, was accepted by the Fetha Nagast, which justified it by Biblical Writ. The code nevertheless gave its blessing to the principle of slave emancipation, which it described as the Highest form of Charity ‐ and specified when it was the slave owner’s duty wherever possible to emancipate his or her slaves.

Affiliations: 1: Addis Ababa University POB 1896, Addis Ababa Ethiopia, Email:


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