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150 Years After Emperor's Death, an 'Exemplary Gesture of Goodwill'

London museum to send Theodore II's hair back to Ethiopia
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2019 10:40 AM CST
This wood engraving, dubbed "The End of King Theodore," was published in the "Illustrated London News" in 1868.   (Wikimedia)

(Newser) – A mad Ethiopian emperor will soon be reunited with two braids long ago cut from his head. London's National Army Museum has agreed to repatriate the locks of hair taken from the corpse of Theodore II shortly after he killed himself in 1868, rather than face 32,000 British soldiers. Theodore, also known as Tewodros II, had been keen for an alliance with Britain. But when Queen Victoria ignored his request to aid in a Christian crusade against Muslim invaders from Egypt, he made hostages of all European nationals living in his domain, per the Telegraph. Gen. Robert Napier of the Bombay Army responded. But by the time he arrived at Theodore's fortress in Magdala, the emperor had freed the hostages and shot himself with a dueling pistol Queen Victoria had gifted him. The Brits then carried away hundreds of cultural treasures.

As a historian told Atlas Obscura, "the soldiers were able to pick the best of the best that Ethiopia had to offer." While the Ethiopian government still seeks many of those items held in libraries and museums across Britain, it especially welcomes the return of the braids, said to have been donated by relatives of the artist who painted Theodore on his deathbed, per the Australian Associated Press. The Ethiopian Embassy in London calls it an "exemplary gesture of goodwill" to be met with "jubilant euphoria" in Ethiopia, where the braids are to be interred in the emperor's tomb. Per the Telegraph, Theodore is "widely revered in his homeland, a view that was not shared by Ethiopians at the time." The emperor kept down a series of rebellions, killed 7,000 prisoners at one time, and cut off the hands and feet of 300 others before throwing them off a cliff. (George Washington's hair was just sold.)

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