The prototype of an apocalyptical area, which can be traced in 15 out of 37 medieval encyclopaedic world maps, is the Northeast edge of the world. The other 22 world maps belong mostly to the type of the Beatus Liebana maps which do not specify a certain direction where from Gog and Magog will invade the world. Those maps are following the text of Revelation 20:8, in which Satan will deceive the nations of Gog and Magog from the four quarters of the earth.
Since the biblical prophecies of Jeremias and Ezekiel, the north was considered as the direction where from the apocalyptical evil might endanger the world. The north is the habitat of the legendary savage people of Gog and Magog. They were enclosed behind the Caspian Gates by Alexander the Great. According to legend, they are to be opened with the coming of the Antichrist who will proceed to destroy the world. Like the Caspian Gates in the Northeast, the Nubian Gate in the Southeast is shaped by geographic elements: it is enclosed by the Ocean around Horn of Africa and by mountains. In my research, I sought out textual and cartographic evidence related to the region of Horn of Africa, which may have had an apocalyptical significance.
Out of the 15 medieval world maps, 8 maps portray simultanously closed gates in the Northeast and the Southeast of the world.They configure the enclosed Horn of Africa like a peninsula. The group of 8 maps were generated between 1130 and 1365. All of them belong to the type of encyclopedic mappae mundi, which preserve antique knowledge and are geared towards christian salvation. The maps are: San Victorene Isidor map about 1130;
Sawley map about 1190;
London Psalter map about 1265;
Vercelli map between 1270 and 1285;
Hereford map about 1295-1300;
Ebstorf map about 1300;
Ramsey Polychronicon map about 1348;
Aslake map about 1360-65.
Out of 8 maps 6 mark Nubian mountain chain, which enclose the Horn of Africa and complete the peninsular configuration. 6 of the 8 maps include a Nubian gate. 5 maps have inscriptions although some in fragments which make difficult reading. One fragment is from the Vercelli map whose state of preservation is deteriorating and reaching almost total illegibility unless the not yet completed Lazarus project will restore its readability.The inscription reveals an “anthropological” reason why the Horn of Africa was enclosed. Having the same configuration the 3 maps preceding to Vercelli were following their design of the Horn of Africa with the same reasoning .It seems likely that all four had the same Vorlage , which is otherwise not known to us. This text could have been relevant to the design of the other 4 maps younger than Vercelli, but this group of maps has a special characteristic of their own.
This group of 4 maps (Hereford, Ebstorf, Ramsey Polychronikon and Aslake) could be singled out because each of them has a fragmented inscription which I could reconstruct as common text which forms the “Nubian Textblock”. Firstly, the illegible inscription of the Aslake fragment could be decyphered while beeing compared with the Nubian inscription of Ebstorf map.
The longer inscription of Ebstorf was taken as Vorlage for all three other fragments who could form a commonly shared text.
Their common text includes the term caspiarum simile (the Nubian gate similar to the Caspian gates), which is an apocalyptic insinuation well understood by contemporaries. It implies an apocalyptical threat which is generated from the eschatological area of the Horn of Africa. It seems to be directed against Islam. Significantly, all four maps have been produced after the fall of Acre in 1291.
As a consequence of the loss of Acre, Pope Nicolas IV. (1299- 1292) called for writing blue prints in which plans to reoccupy the Holy Land would be designed. That is how the so-called recuperatio literature began to flourish in Europe. In their books Marino Sanudo Torsello (Liber Secretorum Fidelium Crucis, 1321) and William Adam (Tractatus quomodo Sarraceni sunt expugnandi, 1317 and Directorium ad passagium faciendum, 1332) suggested to regard the Christian Abessinians as allies in combatting Muslim rule.
It seems however that the European disillusionment from the Mongols as a potential ally in the East lead some to believe that Christians in Ethiopia might substitute as an ally in attacking the Mamluks from the south.
Since the 5th crusade, Christians shifted their stratgy on how to regain the Holy Land. Defeating the Ayyubids or Mamluks on Egyptian soil was considered to be the key to reconquer Jerusalem. The fame of Negus Amda Seyon (1314- 1344) in expanding his Abessinian Kingdom at the cost of neighbouring islamic sultanates has reached Europe already during his lifetime. He was known as Senapo or Abdelsalib which means the servant of the cross.
For a pdf version of both the Leeds paper and the PowerPoint presentation, see https://uni-frankfurt1.academia.edu/MordechayLewy/Conference-Presentations.