Ethiopian Shield taken from the Battle of Maqdala
The Highlanders’ Museum
This object helps us understand Scotland’s role in the British Empire. Many museums contain objects that were collected in circumstances not considered acceptable by today’s standards. This circular, silver-mounted leather shield belonged to a soldier fighting on behalf of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, but was stolen in 1868 by British soldiers during the Battle of Maqdala.
The battle marked the end of the British Expedition to Abyssinia in modern-day Ethiopia. The two inscriptions read, ‘Taken at Magdala by the British Troops 13th April 1868’, ‘Lieutenant General Sir Patrick Grant GCB GC MG from W Arbuthnot’. This shows that the soldiers were proud of their victory and their trophies. The Battle of Maqdala is now well-known as a battle where British soldiers looted many treasures, lots of which are now in British museums.
Looting is now prohibited by international law. It has never been formally allowed by the British Army, but it was common practice for centuries as a way for victors to increase their fortune and celebrate their conquest. Many museums are working hard to restore looted objects to their original communities, although this process can often take make years.