Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie

Antoine Thomson d'Abbadie bigraphy, stories - Explorer, geographer, ethnologist, linguist and astronomer

Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie : biography

January 3, 1810 – March 19, 1897

Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie d’Arrast (January 3, 1810 – March 19, 1897) was a French explorer, geographer, ethnologue, linguist and astronomer notable for his travels in Ethiopia during the first half of the 19th century. He was the older brother of Arnaud Michel d’Abbadie.Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 1

Literary works

In Basque

Zuberoatikaco gutun bat. 1864

About Basque

  • Études grammaticales sur la langue euskarienne. 1836
  • Le Dictionnaire de Chaho. 1854
  • Lettres sur l’orthographe basque. 1854
  • Travaux récents sur la langue basque. 1859
  • Sur la carte de la langue basque. 1868
  • Le basque et le berbère. 1873
  • Lettre sur la préservation de la langue basque. 1895

History and Explorations

  • Instructions pour les voyages d’exploration. 1867
  • L’Abyssinie et le roi Théodoros. 1868
  • Monnaie d’Éthiopie. 1868
  • Credo d’un vieux voyageur. 1884


  • . Paris, 1859
  • Résumé Géodésique des positions déterminées en Éthiopie. Paris, 1859
  • Géodésie d’Éthiopie ou triangulation d’une partie de la Haute Éthiopie. 4 vol. Gauthier-Villars. Paris, 1860–1873
  • Notice sur les langues de Kamw. 1872
  • Observations relatives à la physique du globe, faites au Brésil et en Éthiopie. Gauthier-Villars. Paris, 1873
  • Recherches sur la verticale. 1881
  • Dictionnaire de la langue Amariñña. 1881
  • Reconnaissances magnétiques. Paris, 1890
  • Géographie de l’Éthiopie, ce que j’ai entendu, faisant suite à ce que j’ai vu. 1890

Abbadie, a Basque and bascophile

Basque through his father, Abbadie developed a particular interest about the Basque Language after meeting the Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte in London. He started his academic work on Basque in 1852.

A speaker of both Souletin and Lapurdian, a resident of Lapurdi, Abbadie considered himself a Basque from Soule.

The popularity of the motto Zazpiak Bat is attributed to Abbadie.


He was born in the Irish city of Dublin from a partially Basque noble family of the French province of Soule. His father, Michel Abbadie, was born in Arrast-Larrebieu and his mother was Irish. His grandfather Jean-Pierre was an abbot and a notary in Soule. The family moved to France in 1818 where the brothers received a careful scientific education.

At his return from Ethiopia, he married Virginie Vincent de Saint Bonnet in 1848, and settled in Hendaye where he purchased 250ha to build a castle, and became the mayor of the city from 1871 to 1875.

Abbadie was a knight of the Legion of Honour and a member of the French Academy of Sciences. He died in 1897, and bequeathed the Abbadi domain and castle in Hendaye, yielding 40,000 francs a year, to the Academy of Sciences.

Science and explorations

In 1835 the French Academy sent Antoine on a scientific mission to Brazil, the results being published at a later date (1873) under the title of Observations relatives à la physique du globe faites au Bresil et en Ethiopie. In 1837, the two brothers started for Ethiopia, landing at Massawa in February 1838. They visited various parts of Ethiopia, including the then little-known districts of Ennarea and Kaffa, sometimes together and sometimes separately. They met with many difficulties and many adventures, and became involved in political intrigues, Antoine especially exercising such influence as he possessed in favour of France and the Roman Catholic missionaries. After collecting much valuable information concerning the geography, geology, archaeology and natural history of Ethiopia, the brothers returned to France in 1848 and began to prepare their materials for publication.

Antoine became involved in various controversies relating both to his geographical results and his political intrigues. He was especially attacked by Charles Tilstone Beke, who impugned his veracity, especially with reference to the journey to Kana. But time and the investigations of subsequent explorers have shown that Abbadie was quite trustworthy as to his facts, though wrong in his contention—hotly contested by Beke—that the Blue Nile was the main stream. The topographical results of his explorations were published in Paris between 1860 and 1873 in Geodesie d’Ethiopie, full of the most valuable information and illustrated by ten maps. Of the Geographie de l’Ethiopie (Paris, 1890) only one volume has been published. In Un Catalogue raisonné de manuscrits éthiopiens (Paris, 1859) is a description of 234 Ethiopian manuscripts collected by Antoine. He also compiled various vocabularies, including a Dictionnaire de la langue amariñña (Paris, 1881), and prepared an edition of the Shepherd of Hermas, with the Latin version, in 1860. He published numerous papers dealing with the geography of Ethiopia, Ethiopian coins and ancient inscriptions. Under the title of Reconnaissances magnétiques he published in 1890 an account of the magnetic observations made by him in the course of several journeys to the Red Sea and the Levant. The general account of the travels of the two brothers was published by Arnaud in 1868 under the title of Douze ans dans la Haute Ethiopie.

Both brothers received the grand medal of the Paris Geographical Society in 1850.

The castle or château

Domaine d’Abbadia in [[Hendaye, designed by Viollet-le-Duc]] Abbadie gave his castle home the name Abbadia, which is the name still used in Basque. However in French it is usually referred to as Chateau d’Abbadie or Domaine d’Abbadia, and locally it is not unusual for it to be called le Chateau d’Antoine d’Abbadie.

The château was built between 1864 and 1879 on a cliff by the Atlantic Ocean, and was designed by Viollet Le Duc in the Neo Gothic style. It is divided in three parts : the observatory and library, the chapel, and the living quarters.

Nowadays the château still belongs to the Academy of Science to which it was bequeathed in 1895 on condition of its producing a catalogue of half-a-million stars within fifty years’ time.

The château was classified as a protected historical monument by France in 1984. Most of the château property now belongs to the Coastal Protection Agency, and is managed by the city of Hendaye.