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 Ethiopians to engage the continent's secular and religious elites as peers. Meanwhile in Ethiopia, the 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 readers 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 in the Horn of Africa turned the mutually beneficial Ethiopian-European encounter into a bitter confrontation over the souls of Ethiopian Christians.
Review in the Bulletin of the the School of Oriental and African Studies
“In a monograph that reads like a novel, Salvadore describes one-and-a-half centuries of Ethiopian–European encounters by following a dazzling number of characters – pilgrims, scholars, clerics, diplomats, military commanders, rulers – across three continents. Written in captivating style, rich in detail, The African Prester John paints a multilingual world of exchanges, travel, cross-cultural literary and historiographical collaborations, and transnational politics.”