Salama II (D. 1388)

SALAMA II (d. 1388)

Salama II was the successor of Abuna Ya‘qob and served as metropolitan during the reigns of Negus Sayfa ‘ad (1344-1372), Negus Newaya Maryam (1372-1382), and Negus Dawit I (1382-1412). The Axumae indicates that he arrived in in 1341 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1348-1349) and died in 1380 (A.D. 1387-1388). According to the Ethiopian Synaxarion, he died on 20 Nahasé (1380) (A.D. 13 August 1388).

Salama II occupies an important place in the history of ETHIOPIAN CHRISTIAN LITERATURE, having been the promoter of a vast literary movement based on the translation from Arabic into Ethiopic (Ge‘ez) of a considerable number of texts derived from the religious literature of the Copts. It was doubtless the intention of the metropolitan and his collaborators to strengthen the ties binding Christian to the Alexandrian patriarchate, but it is certain that this great work of translation also sought to counteract, on the spot, the menace created by the dissident ideas and movements then current among the Ethiopian clergy.

Because of his prolific literary activity, Salama was given the epithet Matargwem (translator). Although he is often similarly honored as “Translator of the Holy Scriptures,” it is not known whether he was actually involved in the translation of the Bible into Ethiopic.

There is considerable documentation for the numerous literary translations effected by Salama II, principally in the domains of hagiography and patristics. On the other hand, although his long episcopate covered four important decades in Ethiopian history, there are not sufficient data concerning his religious politics. The Life of Fileppos, third abbot of Dabra Asbo, who had been relegated to the south of the country by the king around 1346, during the reign of Abuna Ya‘qob, gives some information. Upon his arrival in Ethiopia, Salama II was able to secure from the king the liberation of Fileppos and his companions, but a new quarrel soon erupted between Fileppos and the king about fasting. The Ethiopians fast on Wednesday and Friday (the days of the condemnation and death of Jesus), as well as during the forty days preceding Christmas.

However, they do not fast on Christmas, even if this day falls on Wednesday or Friday. Following the advice of certain priests at court, the negus Sayfa ‘ad decided that it was also unnecessary to fast on Eve, even if it fell on Wednesday or Friday. During the same year that Salama II arrived in Ethiopia, Christmas Eve (28 Takhsas 1341/A.D. 24 December 1348) fell on a Wednesday. The negus asked both the metropolitan and Abbot Fileppos to ratify his decision. Salama was not rigidly opposed to this royal request, but Fileppos and the other abbots evidenced a clear hostility. Once again they were exiled to a distant region. This episode confirms that Salama II arrived in toward the end of 1348 and that, from a political viewpoint, he was less strict than the regular clergy in its attitude to royalty.

These few historical data are so sparse that one may wonder if Salama the ecclesiastic simply stood in the shadows created by his brilliance as a man of letters. In particular, one may ask what was his attitude in the great quarrel around 1380 wherein the two sons of Sayfa ‘ad opposed each other for the possession of the throne and at the end of which Dawit eliminated his older brother, Negus Newaya Maryam. Did Salama II align himself with the monks of Dabra Asbo, who condemned Dawit, or with the monks of Dabra Hayq, who supported the new negus?

Salama II’s successor was Abuna Bartalomewos, who arrived in in 1391 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1398-1399). S. Kur has recently surmised that between the death of Salama II and the arrival of Bartalomewos there may have been another metropolitan, Abuna Fiqtor. Fiqtor is mentioned in certain traditional lists, but in the light of documents available at present, his existence seems doubtful.

  • Budge, E. A. W., trans. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, 4 vols. Cambridge, 1928.
  • Cerulli, E. Storia della letteratura etiopica, pp. 68-69. Milan, 1956.
  • Chaine, M. “La Date de la mort du metropolite Salama.” Aethiops 1 (1922):33-36.
  • Guidi, I. Storia della letteratura etiopica, pp. 30-32. Rome, 1932.
  • Kur, S. Actes de Samuel de Dabra Wagag. In CSCO 288, pp. vii, viii, 33, 39. Louvain, 1968.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. “ Salama, métropolite d’Ethiopie (1348-1388), et son role de traducteur.” In Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi etiopici (Roma 1959), pp. 397-401. Rome, 1960.
  • Ricci, L. “Letterature dell’Etiopia.” In Storia delle letterature d’Oriente, pp. 817-19. Milan, 1969.
  • . Documenta ad Illustrandam Historiam, Vol. 1, Axumae. In CSCO 58, p. 81. Louvain, 1954.
  • Rossini, C. “Sul metropolita Salama d’Etiopia.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 27 (1912):368-71.
  • Taddesse Tamrat. “The Abbots of Dabra Hayq, 1248-1535.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 8, ser. (1970):102-103.
  • Tedeschi, S. “Les Fils du négus Sayfa-‘ad d’après un document arabo-chrétien.” Africa 29 (1974):576-80.
  • Turaiev, B. Vitae Sanctorum Indigenarum, Vol. 2, Acta S. Aaronis et Philippi. In CSCO 31, pp. 211-13, 218-19, 221. Louvain, 1955.