Defining Ethiopia, Nubia, and India in Medieval Europe: How Confusing Is It?
Often the mentioning of ‘Ethiopia’ or ‘India’ in medieval texts can appear vague and seemingly interchangeable. However, the context in which the references are found often solves any confusion. For example, some references to Ethiopia appear vague, but in the accompanying map it is clearly designated as the region around the base of the Nile in Northeast Africa. Likewise, Nubia first reappears as a Western toponym in the 12th century and appears relatively defined. What does that mean for references to Nubia and Ethiopia together? Additionally, references to India, whether as a single India or multiple Indias, do not have to be so easily dismissed as a geographical confusion. It can be said that a writer designating Prester John, who controls the flow of the Nile, as in India clearly should be seen as in Ethiopia. This paper seeks to challenge the current widely held approach of easily dismissing references to Ethiopia, Nubia, and India as vague and diminishing the intelligence of medieval writers. Ethiopia, Nubia, and India were international actors long before the medieval period and such interactions aided in defining these locations. By engaging in the international connections of the medieval world they further highlight the expanse of knowledge potentially available. By no means were all writers united in their definitions, but they should not be so easily dismissed either. Can (or should) we alter our approach?
Lancaster University, United Kingdom