The Mythos Of The Enigmatic Prester John
Around 1165 AD a mysterious letter addressed to Manuel Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, began circulating around Europe. It was from a Prester John who claimed to “ exceed in riches, virtue and power of all creatures who dwell under heaven. Seventy-two kings pay tribute to me. I am a devout Christian and everywhere protect the Christians of our empire… Our magnificence dominates the Three Indias, and extends to Farther India, where the body of St. Thomas the Apostle rests. It reaches through the desert toward the place of the rising sun, and continues through the valley of deserted Babylon close by the Tower of Babel …”
Prester John from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle. (1493) ( Public Domain )
The Three Indias
Could the Three Indias refer to Ethiopia, India and Indonesia, as were visited on route by legendary King Solomon’s ships? India proper was a land of many spices and exotic goods, but some of the most popular spices were produced on islands in Indonesia. Most of Indonesia was Hindu until the seventh century AD. Ports in southern India are a logical place to begin a journey to Sumatra, Java, and the kingdoms of Cham and Khmer in Southeast Asia. What little knowledge of Ethiopia, India and Indonesia that existed in the West, during that era, largely came from sailors who traded at Greek and later Roman ports at the northern end of the Red Sea. It was at these ports in Egypt, such as Suez or Eilat or Aqaba on the eastern end of the Red Sea, that Europeans learned of the countries to the south and east that comprised the Three Indias, and of the exotic spices, incense, perfumes, nuts and dried fruits, not to mention the silks and fine cottons that could be had there. Exotic live animals such as monkeys, peacocks, parrots and even larger animals would show up at these ports.
A Borobudur ship from the eighth century, a large native outrigger trading vessels, possibly of the Sailendra and Srivijaya thalassocracies ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )
European, North African and Mediterranean sailors would also crew on these ships and make the many long voyages south down the Red Sea and then into the Indian Ocean. They would stop at Adulis, the island of Socotra and ports in Oman along the way and then cross the Arabian Sea to the west coast of India.
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David Hatcher Childress , is a captivating speaker and the author or coauthor of over 20 books. He is the founder of the World Explorer’s Club and this excerpt is based on his book called ARK OF GOD: The Incredible Power of the Ark of the Covenant
Top Image : "Preste Iuan de las Indias" (Prester John of the Indies) positioned in East Africa on a 16th-century Spanish Portolan chart ( The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford / CC BY-SA 4.0 )