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Abraham Ortelius: Presbiteri Iohannis siue Abissinio Rum Imperii Descriptio

Map: AFR6033
Cartographer: Abraham Ortelius
Title: Presbiteri Iohannis siue Abissinio Rum Imperii Descriptio
Date: 1595
Published: Antwerp
Width: 18 inches / 46 cm
Height: 16 inches / 41 cm
Map ref: AFR6033
Ortelius’s map of Central Africa, the first to show the mythical Kingdom of Prester John.

This map appears in editions of Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern world atlas, from 1573 onwards.

Of the many annotations providing insights into the prevailing myths of the time, that of Prester John is most evident. Prester John, to whom this map is titled, was a mythical Christian king originally believed to rule a vast empire in Asia. As European knowledge of Asia increased this hoped-for kingdom was relocated to the heart of Africa. His kingdom was said to be of such beauty and wealth that nothing in the Western world was comparable. Though there is little evidence of there being such a realm, the idea of a powerful Christian monarch who could be an ally against the Ottomans remained compelling for many western Europeans.

Other parables contained on this map include the Niger River, shown flowing north from Lake Niger going underground for sixty miles and emerging in Lake Borno; the noting of sirens and sea gods living in Lake Zaire; and the tale of Prester John’s sons that were kept captive by rulers at Mount Amara. Above the genealogy to the top left are Prester John’s coat-of-arms.

[Marcel van den Broecke "Ortelius Atlas Maps, An Illustrated Guide" 2nd Edition: Ort 175]

Latin text on verso. Original hand-colour. [AFR6033]