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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)

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.


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