The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian II: The Northeast Edge of the World

This is the second of five blog-posts going back to a paper at the International Congress at Leeds in 2017: I. Giving the Horn of Africa an eschatological meaning in mappae mundi after the fall of Acre 1291 II. The north-east edge of the world on medieval mapsIII. The “thin-legged Ethopian” in muslim sources IV. The interplay of Muslim and Christian traditionsV. Conclusions
SLIDE4 Psalter world map in London, British Library Ms. Add. 28681. fol. 9r (detail). Public Domain.

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;

SLIDE5 Victorene Isidor Map Munich, about 1130. Copy. From: Lewy, Mordechay: DER APOKALYPTISCHE ABESSINIER – DER TRANSFER EINES FRÜHISLAMISCHEN MOTIVS NACH EUROPA Eine eschatologische Deutung des Horns von Afrika in Mappae mundi des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, S. 233.

Sawley map about 1190;

SLIDE6 Sawley map about 1190. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 66, printed in: Barber, Peter: Medieval Maps of the World, in: Harvey, Paul D. A.: The Hereford World Map. Medieval World Maps and their Context, London 2006, S. 11. (Detail)

London Psalter map about 1265;

SLIDE7 Psalter world map in London, British Library Ms. Add. 28681. fol. 9r (detail). Public Domain.

Vercelli map between 1270 and 1285;

SLIDE8 Vercelli map between 1270 and 1285. Sketch (Detail). From: Lewy, Mordechay: DER APOKALYPTISCHE ABESSINIER – DER TRANSFER EINES FRÜHISLAMISCHEN MOTIVS NACH EUROPA Eine eschatologische Deutung des Horns von Afrika in Mappae mundi des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, S. 234.

Hereford map about 1295-1300;

SLIDE9 Hereford map 1295-1300 (Detail). Exhibited in Hereford Cathedral.

Ebstorf map about 1300;

SLIDE10 Ebstorf map abot 1300 (Detail). From: Kugler, Hartmut: Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte, 2 Bände, Berlin 2007.

Ramsey Polychronicon map about 1348;

SLIDE11 Ramsey Abbey Polychronicon map 1348, Royal MS 14 C IX ff. 1v-2r (Detail).

Aslake map about 1360-65.

SLIDE12 Aslake map, fragment about 1360. From: Lewy, Mordechay: DER APOKALYPTISCHE ABESSINIER – DER TRANSFER EINES FRÜHISLAMISCHEN MOTIVS NACH EUROPA Eine eschatologische Deutung des Horns von Afrika in Mappae mundi des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, S. 235.
SLIDE13 Vercelli Inscription. Detail. From: Lewy, Mordechay: DER APOKALYPTISCHE ABESSINIER – DER TRANSFER EINES FRÜHISLAMISCHEN MOTIVS NACH EUROPA Eine eschatologische Deutung des Horns von Afrika in Mappae mundi des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, S. 240.
Seignobos, Robin: Nubia and Nubians in Medieval Latin Culture. The Evidence of Maps (12th-14th Century), in: Anderson, Julie R. – Welsby, Derek A. (Hgg.), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies ((British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1), Löwen – Paris – Walpole, MA 2014, S. 999.

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.

 

Nubian textblock. From: Westrem, Scott D., The Hereford Map. A Transcription and Translation of the Legends with Commentary (Terrarum Orbis 1) Turnhout 2001, § 199 + 198. Transcripton of the Ramsey Polychronicon. From: Lewy, Mordechay: DER APOKALYPTISCHE ABESSINIER – DER TRANSFER EINES FRÜHISLAMISCHEN MOTIVS NACH EUROPA Eine eschatologische Deutung des Horns von Afrika in Mappae mundi des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, S. 268. Barber/Brown: The Aslake World Map, in: Imago Mundi 44, 1992, S. 37.
Nubian textblock, Ebstorf map. From: Sommerbrodt, Ernst: Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte im Auftrage des Historischen Vereins für Niedersachsen mit Unterstützung des Königl. Preussischen Ministeriums der geistlichen , Unterrichts-und Medizinal-Angelegenheiten und 316 der Wedekind’schen Preisstiftung zu Göttingen. Hierbei ein Atlas von 25 Tafeln im Lichtdruck. Hannover 1891, S. 64 f.

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.

SLIDE15 The Nubian inscription of Ebstorf map (below the watchers). From: Sommerbrodt, Ernst: Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte im Auftrage des Historischen Vereins für Niedersachsen mit Unterstützung des Königl. Preussischen Ministeriums der geistlichen , Unterrichts-und Medizinal-Angelegenheiten und 316 der Wedekind’schen Preisstiftung zu Göttingen. Hierbei ein Atlas von 25 Tafeln im Lichtdruck. Hannover 1891, Table 17, Folio 19.

The longer inscription of Ebstorf was taken as Vorlage for all three other fragments who could form a commonly shared text.

SLIDE17 The Nubian inscription of Ebstorf map (above the watchers). From: Sommerbrodt, Ernst: Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte im Auftrage des Historischen Vereins für Niedersachsen mit Unterstützung des Königl. Preussischen Ministeriums der geistlichen , Unterrichts-und Medizinal-Angelegenheiten und 316 der Wedekind’schen Preisstiftung zu Göttingen. Hierbei ein Atlas von 25 Tafeln im Lichtdruck. Hannover 1891, Table 18, Folio 21.
The reconstructed common Nubian inscription.
Translation of the reconstructed common Nubian inscription.

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.

SLIDE21 Sanudo’s Vision: Abessinians as Crusaders, before 1321. Manuscript, BAV, Vat. lat. 2972, fol. 16r.

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.

This is the first of five blog-posts going back to a paper at the International Congress at Leeds in 2017: I. Giving the Horn of Africa an eschatological meaning in mappae mundi after the fall of Acre 1291  —  II. The north-east edge of the world on medieval maps  —  III. The “thin-legged Ethopian” in muslim sources  —  IV. The interplay of Muslim and Christian traditions  —  V. Conclusions

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.

 

Cite this article as: Mordechay Lewy, "The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian II: The Northeast Edge of the World," in Africana, 05/11/2017, https://africana.hypotheses.org/301.

Mordechay Lewy

Mordechay Lewy, Ph. D.

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