The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian V: Conclusions

This is the last 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 traditions V. Conclusions

In spite of the corrupted texts they rely however on the Hadith motif of the apocalyptic Abessinian. This hadith is embedded in the prophecy of Agap with three other Islamic apocalyptic motifs. The first is the cold wind Zamharir (Surah 76:13), misspelled as Zaniel (et a Zaniel, id est septemtrione, veniet ventus magnus).The second is the pregnant camel that did not find any water in the well which is called Zamzam (Et apparebit camela pascens et pregnans habens fetus et exibit aquam Zamzam nomen cisterne et non inveniet aquam claram ad bibendam). The origins of the motif of the she camel comes from Surah 81:4-( “when the pregnant camel shall be neglected”). The pregnant camel’s right to drink water from the well is mentioned in Surah 26:155-156. The third is the appearance of Mexadeigen (et apparebit postea Mexadeigen, id est Antichristus). This Mexadeigen is no other than latinised Masikh ad-Dajjal, the Islamic version of Antichrist.

These copied prophecies were so much corrupted in their spelling that the original Abessinian motif could no longer be identified. Janet Shirley in her recent English translation of Continuatio Rothelini, named king of Araby as a destroyer of Mecca instead of king of Abessinia and so the confusion continues to this very day.

There are however latin Author whose texts did not depend on the transmission tradition in Damiette. The first known Latin author who reflected independently an echo of the apocalyptic Abessinian was Magister Thietmar who made in 1217 – 1218 a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Contrary to the view of some scholars he did not participate in the 5th crusade. In his pilgrims account Peregrinatio he wrote about Issini (= Abessini) as he was told by locals while visiting Mt. Sinai. According to them there is a belief in which the Abessinians would come and destroy Cairo. This narrative probably reflects a Coptic extension of the Hadith that originally predictd the destruction of Mecca by an Abessinian. The story told in the life of Coptic Patriarch Cyril comes into mind.

The first echo of the apocalyptic Abessinian in Latin text: Thietmar: Magistri Thietmari Peregrinatio, ed. by Johann Christian Moritz Laurent, Peregrinatores medii aevi quatuor, Leipzig 1873, S. 54.

Hundred years later William Ade referred to an apocalyptic abessinian belief in his Directorium ad passagium faciendum as follows:

Habent isti populi [i.e. Ethiopes Christiani] prophetiam quod aliquando exibunt et transilient montes illos quibus versus Egiptum nunc resident circumclusi, et cum predictis Nubianis, et qui extra prefatos montes [illos] obtinent loca sua, Egypcios et Arabes destruent et vastabunt. Mecham capient et diruent, Sepulchrum comminuent et corpus incendent prophani ac perfidi Macometi.

These people [i.e. Christian Ethiopians) have a prophecy according to which after having crossed the mountains which seperate them from Egypt, and together with the above mentioned Nubians, who reside outside the mountains, they will defeat and ruin the Egyptians and Arabs, will occupy and destroy Mecca, including shattering the sepulcher (i.e.Ka’aba), and will burn the corpse of the perfidious and nefarious Muhammad.

William was an admirer of the Abessinian probity. Being strategic minded he had also a developed cartographic imagination which he proved in his description how to maintain a maritime embargo in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea in order to starve Egypt to death. According to William India was like the mouth, the Red Sea was the throat and Egypt the stomach. While reading what William knew about the Abessinian belief, one cannot escape the notion that he saw the Horn of Africa also in its eschatological significance.

To sum it up: after having shown,

– that the medieval cartographic configuration of the Horn of Africa is apocalyptic significant,

– that caspiarum simile implies an apocalyptical insinuation of the common Nubian annotation in 4 world maps, which were designed after the fall of Acre 1291;

– and that an early Islamic apocalyptic motif was transferred into anti-Islamic prophecy in which Nubians/Abessinians may destroy Mecca and Cairo;

I propose that the Horn of Africa, as seen in 4 Medieval maps after 1291, became an eschatological area from which the apocalyptic Abessinian should fight against Islam.

Cite this article as: Mordechay Lewy, "The Motif of the Apocalyptic Abyssinian V: Conclusions," in Africana, 21/12/2017,

Mordechay Lewy

Mordechay Lewy, Ph. D.

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