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The Sadqan
fl. late 5th to early 6th century
Orthodox
Ethiopia


The Sadqan ("The Righteous Ones") (perhaps fl. late 5th - early 6th century A.D.), were an unknown number of unnamed saints who came to Ethiopia from "Rom" about the same time as the Nine Saints, perhaps late in the 5th century A.D. Although their exact number is not known, they are said to have been as numerous "as the army of a king," and to have come to Ethiopia inspired by religious zeal to preach the Gospel there and also to escape from the licentiousness and worldly vanity rife in their country of origin, somewhere within the Roman Empire. They are believed to have first gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and then to have proceeded to Ethiopia. On their arrival in Aksum it seems that they began their missionary activities at once, splitting into small groups and setting out to proselytize different areas. According to hagiographical tradition, their activities extended from Baqla, in northern Eritrea, to Lasta. They are particularly associated with Bur or Mätära, Bäräknähä, and Berahto in Eritrea, and in Tegré with Bétä Mek'eya near Agamé, with Mänquraweya in Tämbén and with Hawzén.

The Sadqan are believed to have lived in a community and to have led a most austere, ascetic life. Their hagiography indicates the belief that they subsisted only upon grass and whatever they could glean from the fields, abstaining from other foods, even bread. It appears that in their work they aroused strong opposition from the local pagan populace. A well-known tradition records the persecution they suffered at the hands of the inhabitants of Bur, now known by the name of the nearby village of Mätära. Tradition had it that the Emperor Kaléb set out on an expedition from Aksum to avenge the Sadqan; with the aid of divine intervention, the earth miraculously opened and enabled Kaléb's army to pass through a subterranean passage from Aksum to Mätära. There his army put many of the populace to the sword, took others captive and destroyed the city. It is of interest to note that archaeological excavation has confirmed the violent destruction of the ancient settlement. In the history of Christianity in Ethiopia, this is the first recorded instance of bloodshed in a clash with adherents of a pagan cult, traditionally believed to have been the Bäläw-Käläw, of Béja origin.

From the traditional sources available thus far, it appears that Kaléb's expedition did not put an end to the sufferings of the Sadqan. After the return of the Emperor to Aksum, persecutions were renewed with even greater ferocity at Mätära and also extended to other centres in the area. A terrible massacre is said to have taken place in which most, if not all, of the Sadqan suffered martyrdom. Today, at the sites of many of these early settlements, heaps of bones are preserved which are believed to date from this holocaust and which are objects of veneration to the devout.

Sergew Hable-Selassie


Bibliography:

Gädlä Sadqan, unpublished MS of the Institute of Ethiopian Archaeology, Addis Ababa.
F. Anfray, "La première campagne de fouilles à Matarä," Annales d'Ethiopie, Vol. V (1963): 87-166.
R. Schneider, "Une page du Gädlä Sadqan," ibid.: 167-169.


This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, Vol. 1 'From Early Times to the End of the Zagwé Dynasty c. 1270 A.D.,' copyright © 1975, edited by Belaynesh Michael, S. Chojnacki and Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All rights reserved.