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The Kingdom of Prestyr John

Africa/ Prestyr John. ORTELIUS, A. [Antwerp, 1573/1595]
Presbiteri Iohannes, sive Abissinorum Imperii Descriptio. 14 ½ x 17 inches
Fine hand color, mended hole in margin away from printed image, else excellent condition.

   $2,000


An attractive, early map of East Africa and the Nile River valley, showing the location of the mythical empire of a Christian king—Prestyr John. European travelers had sought after this legendary monarch, believed to have been descended from King David, since the Middle Ages. His kingdom was initially thought to be in Northern Asia, but when European explorers failed to find it there, its supposed location was then thought to be in eastern Africa. In a period when Europeans were under constant threat by Islamic invaders, the fabled Christian King was the hoped-for ally who could help outflank the Islamic Empire.

The map shows the Abyssinian Empire and the headwaters of the Nile. Elephants occupy some of the open spaces of the continent’s interior. A North African galley (typical of those that raided European shipping in the 16th century) commands the waters off Angola, emphasizing the threat that the mythical Prestyr John was hoped to stave off.


Van den Broecke 175.

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