The apocalyptic Abessinian: The Transfer of an early Islamic motif to Europe
My presentation deals mainly with the following questions:
How was the Christian eschatological anticipation of the End of the World expressed in medieval world maps?
- How could the Horn of Africa in medieval world maps became an eschatological area directed against Islam?
- How could an early Islamic apocalyptic motif find its way to anti-Islamic crusader prophecies?
The goal of my dissertation is to detect cartographic evidence in order to substantiate the notion of an apocalyptic area prevailing in the Horn of Africa. At the same time a critical examination of textual sources is undertaken in order to reconstruct the transfer of an apocalyptic early Islamic motif until its incorporation in Latin prophecies of the 5th crusade and its further embedding in the recuperatio literature after the loss of Acre.
Giving the Horn of Africa an eschatological meaning in mappae mundi after the fall of Acre 1291
It was the enigmatic South- East corner of the London Psalter map who has raised these questions. There we find a configuration of an enclosed region at the Horn of Africa, but we don’t know exactly why. Admittedly, this enclosed region looks similar to the North- East corner of the world map, which is known to be the habitat of the apocalyptical Gog and Magog. Is this aemulatio in the sense of Michel Foucault’s categories of similarities a hint for Horn of Africa to carry any eschatological meaning? But before dealing with this subject one has to clarify some geographical nomenclature. Latin texts until the 14th century seldomly differenciated between Ethiopia and Nubia, since Europeans had limited contact with Africa in general and with Horn of Africa in particular. The term Horn of Africa did not exist in the Middle Ages. It was called Punt (Land of Gold) in ancient Egypt, in Greek geographical literature it was called Barbaria, and in Arabic Bilad al- Barbara or Bilad al Zandj (Land of the slaves). In the Bible, Ethiopia is regarded as Kush which was located south of Egypt. The term Nubia was unknown in Antiquity and was introduced into Latin through
Arab astrological tables and maps just as Abessinia is derived from the Arabic al-Habesha. In antique geography Ethiopia was regarded as the third part of India.
In other words, it was a part of the Asian Continent. The Nile served as the borderline between Asia and Africa. This geographical configuration was considered valid for most of the medieval period. Therefore, scholars have to take this into account when discussing the dislocation of the legendary Prester John from India to Ethiopia in medieval texts.
This is the first of five blog-posts going back to a paper at the International Congress at Leeds in 2017:
For a pdf version of both the Leeds paper and the PowerPoint presentation, see https://uni-frankfurt1.academia.edu/MordechayLewy/Conference-Presentations.