The Symbolism of Space in Ethiopia

Article English OPEN
Lagopoulos, Alexandros Ph. ; Stylianoudi, M.-G. Lily (2013)
  • Publisher: Universität Hamburg, Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies
  • Journal: Aethiopica (issn: 2194-4024, eissn: 1430-1938)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.15460/aethiopica.4.1.491
  • Subject: Ethiopian Studies | Anthropology; Meaning of Space; Symbolism; Military; History; Seratä Mängest; Manuscripts; Royal Camp; Christianity; | ddc:090 | ddc:230 | ddc:390 | ddc:720 | ddc:930 | ddc:960 | ddc:300

The present study starts from an Amhara text, Śǝrʿatä mängǝśt, “the first Ethiopian Constitution”, the basic elements of which were already in place in the fourteenth century, and which we analyze using a semiotic methodology. We argue that the concept of classification system is central to an understanding of culture and the semiotic systems constituting it, and we use a specific definition of the semiotic concept of code in order to study the structure of the classification system.Using an anthropological approach and applying a systematic semiotic methodology of analysis to Śǝrʿatä mängǝśt, it is possible to penetrate into the Ethiopian world view, articulated around a structured but flexible classification system. This system regulates, mainly through the royal, religious-cosmic and anthropomorphic codes, the organization and form of the royal camp. The spatial model attached to the system remained strikingly constant, in spite of certain modifications, for at least six centuries and was applied to all kinds of military camps; it also influenced the process of urbanization, since these camps were frequently the initial nuclei of later capitals and towns. Historically, this model resulted from the superimposition on an indigenous model of the Christian model of heavenly Jerusalem. The model had a wide scope: it was also applied to palaces, to churches starting in the sixteenth century or earlier, and to the country as a whole. The pivot and actual regulator of the model is the king, a legitimization strategy which reinforces his position of power and authority, both material and symbolic.