Moʿin Moṣavver | Manuscripts | Shahnama of Ferdowsi

Manuscript E, no. 6-149

Eskandar Reaches the Land of the Habash, Fights and is Victorious

Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, Acc. No. 34.6010
37.8 x 24.0 cm. (scaled)
25 x 15 cm. (after Brooklyn Museum; these dimensions seem about 1 cm too large in each direction,with the result that the scaled dimensions of the page and text area are also a little oversized)
Text area: 26.5 x 15 cm. (scaled)
Text: four column; deepest column 14 lines on a 30 line per full page matrix.
Illustration number: The number 74 written in Arabic numeral, presumably of later date, appears in the lower right margin, probably indicating that it was the seventy-fourth painting in the manuscript.

After Eskandar conquered Egypt, he continued onward to Ethiopia and then North Africa. On the horn of Africa he was confronted by a tribe named the Habash from Eastern Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia).
) The Habash, according to the Shahnama, were black Africans, of large and powerful stature, who fought naked with bones instead of bows and arrows. This is Moʿin's earliest depiction of a black African, and chances are that he had never encounter one in real life. They are portrayed like caricatures. The composition is simple enough: the Ethiopians arrayed down the left side on foot fighting with bones and shields; Eskandar and his forces arrayed on the right side, mounted, armed with helmets, bows and arrows and a mace. A simple white backdrop is evident between the two forces, which rises to a rocky crest near the top, and beyond a variegated sky and some small shrubs. Although the composition is very simple and direct, it is animated; the combatants are all unique in action and pose.

There are four columns of text above and below the painting. A ruled frame encloses text and painting. On the reverse is four columns of text 30 lines deep. Painting is signed in the center of the lower margin: raqam-e kamina moʿin-e moṣavver. It is not dated.

For other Moʿin paintings depicting black Africans in combat, see ms.L, f.242, ms.M, f.114v, ms.N, JK-483

Painting references:
Brooklyn Museum, online catalog
Cambridge Shahnama Project

Text references:

Warner, VI, p.149; Mohl, V, pp.161-62.

Photo: ©Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Frank L.Babbott

Robert Eng

Last Updated: May 4, 2013 | Originally published:
May 4, 2013