Legend of Prester John

During the Crusades, the European knights were allied with Christian kings of Nubia (the Sudan) in their fight against the Muslims of Egypt. The memory of these, in the eyes of the Portuguese, valiant African Christians lasted on in the legend of Prester-King John, the legend probably being an amalgamation of several traditions, partially not relating to Africa.
When the Portuguese, step by step, explored the coasts of Africa, they hoped to find, in addition to gold and other riches, a Christian state in Africa, beyond the lands of the Muslims. Then, in 1487, an envoy of the Negus of Abyssinia arrived in Lisbon. Disguised as a Muslim, he had travelled via the Red Sea and Cairo; a christian state in Africa was existing; while Pero de Covilhao travelled, disguised as a Muslim. to Abyssinia (he reached it in 1488 and settled there permanently in 1493), Vasco da Gama was given the task of establishing contact by sea.
The christian states of the Sudan, Dongola and Soba, had been conquered by their Muslim neighbours (Dongola 1276/1315, Soba 1499). The Portuguese did establish contact to the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia (in 1520, and, to their surprise, found Covilhao there); the country failed to meet their expectations. Not only was their interpretation of Christianity considerably different from Catholicism, but Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was not the powerful military ally they had hoped for. In 1541 the Portuguese had to come to the Abyssinians' aid in order to prevent the country being swallowed by the Muslim Sultanate of Adal.

Article Prester John, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Prester John - Fiction and History, by Meir Bar-Ilan
The Kingdom of Prester John, from Mythical Geography
The Legend of Prester John, by Sara Douglass
El Preste Juan, from MGS, in Portuguese
Preste Juan, from ArteHistoria, in Spanish
DOCUMENTS Mandeville on Prester John, from Medieval Sourcebook
Del Preste Juan de las Indias y de su grandissimo estado., excerpt from Mandeville, in Spanish
REFERENCE Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History, London : Penguin (1980) 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 23rd 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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