The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402-1555: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402-1555

1st Edition

By Matteo Salvadore


236 pages

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Paperback: 9780367204518
pub: 2019-04-15
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From the 14th century onward, political and religious motives led Ethiopian travelers to Mediterranean Europe. For two centuries, their ancient Christian heritage and the myth of a fabled eastern king named Prester John allowed the Ethiopians to engage the continent's secular and religious elites as peers. Meanwhile, back home the Ethiopian nobility came to welcome European visitors and at times even co-opted them by arranging mixed marriages and bestowing land rights. The protagonists of this encounter sought and discovered each other in royal palaces, monasteries, and markets throughout the Mediterranean basin, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean littoral, from Lisbon to Jerusalem and from Venice to Goa. Matteo Salvadore's narrative takes the reader on a voyage of reciprocal discovery that climaxed with the Portuguese intervention on the side of the Christian monarchy in the Ethiopian-Adali War. Thereafter, the arrival of the Jesuits at the Horn of Africa turned the mutually beneficial Ethiopian-European encounter into a bitter confrontation over the souls of Ethiopian Christians.


Matteo Salvadore has written that rarest of books, one that considers not just how Europe shaped Africa, but how Africa shaped Europe. In this fascinating account--full of vivid characters, lively writing, and surprising findings--Salvadore overturns many misconceptions about early modern African-Europeans relations, not the least of which is that Prester John was a mere European fantasy having nothing to do with African discourse. This remarkable intellectual history, taking advantage of rare Italian and Portuguese sources, will change how many see not just Ethiopia, but the global middle ages.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Associate Professor Princeton University, USA (author of Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author)

The multiple viewpoints in this readable and scholarly study of the external relations of the once mythical and mysterious Christian kingdom of Ethiopia will surprise specialists and appeal to readers interested in global history.

David Northrup, Emeritus Professor, Boston College, USA

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part One: The Mediterranean Way
    • Chapter 1: Ethiopians in the Lagoon, 1402–1459.
      • The Stato da Mar and the Christian Highlands
      • 1402
      • Maps and Itineraries

    • Chapter 2: The Crown of Aragon, 1427–1453
      • Valencia
      • Naples

    • Chapter 3: Rome via Jerusalem, 1439–1484
      • Ethiopians at the Council of Florence
      • Ethiopian Initiatives
      • The Establishing of Santo Stefano degli Abissini

    • Chapter 4: Lisbon, 1441–1508
      • The Atlantic Way
      • The Indian Way

  • Part Two: The Indian Run
    • Chapter 5: Beyond the Sea, 1509–1520
      • Matewos’s Mission
      • Mare Rubrum

    • Chapter 6: Shewa, 1400s–1526
      • The First Faranji
      • Faranji at Court in the Late 15th Century
      • Lima at Court

    • Chapter 7:A Tale of Three Cities, 1527–1539
      • Bologna
      • Rome
      • Lisbon

    • Chapter 8: Ending the War and the Encounter, 1540–1555
      • The Barber-Bleeder Turned Patriarch
      • The Ethiopian Monk Who Almost Turned Missionary
      • The Ethiopian Monk Turned Catholic Bishop

  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: leading political figures
    • Ethiopian Emperors
    • Kings of Portugal
    • Governors and Viceroys of the Estado da India
    • Roman Pontiffs

  • Bibliography
    • Archival sources
    • Published sources
    • Secondary literature

About the Author

Matteo Salvadore is Assistant Professor of History at American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

About the Series

Transculturalisms, 1400-1700

This series presents studies of the early modern contacts and exchanges among the states, polities and entrepreneurial organizations of Europe; Asia, including the Levant and East India/Indies; Africa; and the Americas. Books investigate travellers, merchants and cultural inventors, including explorers, mapmakers, artists and writers, as they operated in political, mercantile, sexual and linguistic economies. We encourage authors to reflect on their own methodologies in relation to issues and theories relevant to the study of transculturism/translation and transnationalism. We are particularly interested in work on and from the perspective of the Asians, Africans, and Americans involved in these interactions, and on such topics as:

-Material exchanges, including textiles, paper and printing, and technologies of knowledge

-Movements of bodies: embassies, voyagers, piracy, enslavement

-Travel writing: its purposes, practices, forms and effects on writing in other genres

-Belief systems: religions, philosophies, sciences

-Translations: verbal, artistic, philosophical

-Forms of transnational violence and its representations.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General