- Early nineteenth century warriors in Abyssinia.
Few Kushitic Sidamas, Oromos, Somalis and others are aware of the real reason for the Abyssinian tyranny due to which they have suffered for more than 100 years; viewing the issue within the local context, oppressed Kushitic Ethiopians see in the Amhara and Tigray Abyssinian elites’ colonialism the main reason of their misfortune. This is definitely wrong and absolutely misleading.
Without the devoted Western European, French and English mainly but not exclusively, colonial guidance and support, the Abyssinians would have never been able to invade the vast fatherlands of the Horn of Africa and subjugate the Ethiopian Kushitic nations. European support was instrumental for various Abyssinian kings, either Yohannes IV or Menelik, and this is known to Oromo and Somali historians and intellectuals. Yet, few have understood that the reasons for this support were not of geo-political and geo-strategic nature.
Even fewer have studied the formation of the European perception of Ethiopia. We briefly dealt with this subject in an earlier article entitled “Ethiopia: a Panacea for Tyrants, a Stiletto in Colonial Hands”, in which we presented the axes of historical sources about Ethiopia used by Orientalist colonial academia.
Yet, far worse than the misunderstanding or the manipulation of historical sources is the impact of mythologized factoids, historically inaccurate legends, and imaginative creatures of moments of despair; long believed as existent, persons and states of the fable, concepts emanating from sagas of the times of ignorance, defeat, and isolation, and nebulous hopes of unsubstantiated contents shaped a misperception that accompanies the European thought with respect to all things East African.
Out of this stuff emerged in Medieval Europe the legend of the Kingdom of the Priest John that would be of critical help for the disenchanted and disunited, frail and out-of-the-way Western Europe. In the very beginning, it was not identified with Ethiopia; it was certainly located in the extreme East, which would be good enough to constrain the Great Islamic Caliphate in bi-frontal position.
In fact, there has never been a Kingdom of the Priest John in Africa! In this article, we will make a vast itinerary in the legendary topology that played a determinant role in the Colonial European approach to the heretical, Monophysitic kingdom of Abyssinia.
It is essential to understand that victimized North-Eastern African nations paid a heavy tribute to the European misperceptions and hallucinations that opened the way for academia, diplomats, generals, and statesmen to establish a disreputable alliance with the Black Continent’s most barbaric and inhuman state, the early 19th century Abyssinian relic of monarchy.
Eras preceding the formation of the Priest John’s Kingdom Legend
As the forces of Christianization were rising in the 3rd century CE Roman Empire, a great event prepared the Middle East, Central Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean for a new era: the rise of the Sassanid dynasty of Iran set the background for a long period of Perso-Roman confrontation. And quite rightly; for four consecutive centuries the World Politics evolved around this confrontation.
Religion — as always — mattered little; as in our days, religion in the last four pre-Islamic centuries was an investment of geopolitical and geo-strategic interests. The fact that for an entire century before the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the world’s two superpowers, Iran and Rome, were worshipping at the popular level the same god, Mithra, called Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) in Rome, played little role in their confrontation.
It is essential to see in the phenomenon of Perso-Roman confrontation the answer to many questions that persist down to our times. As a continuous clash that with very brief periods of peace lasted for 400 years, it was unique in the entire History of the Oriental Antiquity. The Perso-Greek wars had lasted a few decades. The Macedonian-Greek invasion of the Achemenid empire under Alexander occurred 150 years after Darius’ and Xerxes’ attempt to annex what was in the south of Macedonia which was already a tributary state. Alexander’s state lasted just a few years, and the wars among his successors (Epigones) were diverse but brief.
The gradual rise of Rome in Eastern Mediterranean was completed with the annexation of Egypt, the Roman-Meroitic Ethiopian alliance, and the Roman expedition to Yemen (all the events dating 30-25 BCE). The Romans became the allies of the kingdoms of Pontus, Armenia, and the Nabateans (in Rekem / Petra, in today’s Jordan), whereas they annexed Commagene and Judah. Various small kingdoms and caravan cities existed in the area between Rome and Iran that was run by the Parthian Arsacid (Ashkanian) dynasty. Albania of Caucasus (today’s Azerbaijan), Hadhyab (Adiabene in Greek, Adiabenicus in Latin), Hatra, Kharax Spasinou, Oshroene, Tadmor (Palmyra) were all buffer states stretched in the area of today’s South-Eastern Turkey, Iraq, Eastern Syria, Jordan, and North-Western Arabia. In addition to them, the Himyarite-Sheba alliance that had eradicate the great maritime Yemenite state of Qataban, and the Hadhramawt kingdom (known as Libanotoforos Khora, Frankincense-bearing Country) had good relations with the Romans, being all tied in a network of commercial-cultural exchanges that also comprised Arsacid Iran, and some Central Asiatic and Indian states. Gerrha, an Aramaean city (not yet identified and excavated but extensively known through epigraphic and literary sources) in the coast of today’s Emirates in the Persian Gulf, was considered to be even richer than Alexandria!
The rise of the Sassanian (Sassanid dynasty) put an end to 250 years of peaceful political and economic Perso-Roman relations. The largest part of the East-West trade was going now to the Peacock Throne at Istakhr, the main Sassanid capital, and Rome entered in war in order not to collapse financially.
Sassanid Empire of Iran: larger than the Roman Empire
- Naqsh-e Rostam
- The triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerian, and Philip the Arab.
The Perso-Roman wars were a shock for the Romans and the Europeans, and an unbearable burden mainly for the Aramaeans, and secondly the Egyptians, the Armenians, the Anatolian Greeks, the Armenians, and the Yemenites. In 260 CE, Roman Emperor Valerian defeated in Edessa of Osrhoene (today’s Urfa in South-Eastern Turkey) was taken captive in Istakhr where he later died, only to be depicted kneeling in front of the Great Emperor Shapur I in a great bas-relief at Naqsh-e Rustam.
At this point, one has to denounce the false presentation throughout the Western Primary and Secondary education manuals whereby false maps help produce a total misunderstanding among generations and generations, depicting the Mediterranean world with the Italian and Balkan peninsulas at the very center, thus coloring an impressively large territory as Roman, and leaving at the extreme right confines the area of today’s Iraq and a small portion of today’s Western Iran that they ridiculously and shamefully name “Sassanid Empire”.
The Sassanid Empire of Iran was larger than the Roman Empire, and this could be clearly seen in a map that would comprise the entire area between Tibet (partly colonized by Sassanid Iran) and India in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the West, and between England in the north (Roman territory) and Somalia in the south (Iranian colony).
With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the administrative division, and the creation of a second capital at Nova Roma (Ancient Byzantium) — Constantinople — Istanbul, it became clear that the survival of the new religion and the vast empire would hinge on the outcome of the Perso-Roman wars.
When Greeks preferred Iran to Rome…
Again, it would be a monstrous historical distortion to consider the Sassanid Empire as anti-Roman, and anti-Western. As the Sassanid dynasty claimed an ideological-religious return to the Zoroastrian Orthodoxy, it was only normal to vindicate lands that had been parts of the Achaemenid Empire before Alexander, and were at those days occupied by the Roman Empire; these lands included Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Armenia, Anatolia (called Asia Minor in Greek) and the Balkans. In other words, due to political ideological demands, Istakhr was claiming half the Roman territory!
With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, Sassanid Iran proved to become an incredible Ark of “Western” Heritage; terms like “East” and “West” are modern bogus-historical fabrications and contradict all the historical facts of the Pre-Islamic Antiquity, that is why they are used only conventionally within the present article. Iran regretted the collapse of the Ancient civilizations, Egyptian, Aramaean, Phoenician, Greek and Roman, which were all destroyed because of the (oddly non-criticized today) Christian fanaticism and hysteria that led to extermination millions of populations in Egypt, Anatolia, Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, Rome and elsewhere.
Quite indicatively, when the hysterically anti-Greek emperor Justinian closed down the Philosophical School of Athens (ca. 530), the last Seven Sages of that city did not wish to further stay in the dictatorially, criminally and inhumanly Christianized state, they left, crossed the entire Anatolia and Mesopotamia, and found the best shelter in Jond-e Shapur, vast university, academy, library, center of scientific research and arts in Southern Trans-Tigritane (today’s South-western Iran).
Even earlier, in 489, Jond-e Shapur (often written in Western bibliography Gundishapur, which is wrong) had also become the shelter for the Nestorian Aramaeans of the school of Edessa of Osrhoene, whom the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno had persecuted.
It is within this context that one must interpret the Persian-Judaic alliance, which was a reminiscence of the earlier excellent Achaemenid Persian-Judaic relations (liberation from Babylon and return to the Promised Land accorded by Cyrus, conqueror of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BCE). Jews were allowed to stay in Jerusalem during the Persian occupation of the city in the period 613-628, and they were instrumental in leading the Persian soldiers to the pillage of the Christian church from where the latter removed the piece of wood that fanaticized and hysterical Christians believed it belonged to the supposed cross of the crucifixion. The Persian decision was quite right of course, because for almost 550 years, the Jews had been expelled from Jerusalem.
With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Constantinople — deeply reviled by all Eastern Christians, Egyptians, Aramaeans, Phoenicians, and the Eastern Greeks of Cappadocia who were all either Monophysitic or Nestorian (terms used here only conventionally) — had to mobilize all possible resources, and this was not easy precisely because of the overwhelming rejection from the part of the Eastern populations.
Christian states beyond the Roman borders
The diffusion of Christianity had led to the formation of other small Christian kingdoms in the East, and in addition, there were already Christians in several non Christian countries. The Christians of the Iranian Empire would not be of use for the Romans because they were all Nestorians, and because of this they were very inimically predisposed towards Constantinople. Yet, Nestorians were not fortunate in Iran where they were also persecuted many times. In Yemen, there were Christian communities, but due to the commercial contacts with the Aramaean merchants and caravan leaders (originating either from the Iranian or the Roman Empire), they were predominantly Nestorian. They arrived up to the point of cooperating with the sizeable Judaic community and establishing a Jewish-Nestorian state. The Nubian and Ethiopian Kushitic populations of today’s Sudan had formed three Christian states, Nobatia, Makkuria and Alodia, of which only the second had good relations with the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria and Constantinople.
As result, of practical help for the Romans could mainly be the kingdom of Armenia that was repeatedly ravaged by the Sassanid emperors, and the faraway Axumite kingdom of Abyssinia. The first would be of seminal importance in case of a great attack against Iran; the second would be of critical value in outmaneuvering the Sassanid-Nestorian/Judaic Yemenite alliance that would ruin the Eastern Roman empire financially, raising the taxes of all products coming from the sea and the desert routes of trade (involving merchandise originated from Eastern African coast, India, Indochina, Indonesia, and China).
Abyssinia tried to help Constantinople, despite all the religious differences at the times of Justin I (518 – 527) and Justinian I (527-565), but finally failed. Under Kaleb, the Abyssinians prepared an expedition to Yemen, and Najran, in the northernmost confines of Yemen where there was a great Nestorian cathedral and the famous Kaaba of Najran, and thence to Arabia and Mecca that he failed to invade. The Sassanid reaction was terrible; an expedition corpse was sent from Oman, already Iranian province, kicked the Abyssinian army, and annexed Yemen.
Armenian help to Rome: key for Heraclius’ victory
Armenia’s help proved to be more effective; at the worst moment of the Eastern Roman Empire, when Egypt, Syria, and Palestine were lost to Khosrow II (Khosrow Parviz), Armenia allowed the Roman soldiers, transported first from Constantinople to Trabzon by sea, to cross Armenian territory and attack Iran from its very borders, without the geographical constrains of a long expedition through Anatolia.
Engaging the first battles (not on Roman but) on Iranian soil, avoiding the territory of Syria with the unfriendly Aramaeans, and facing no exhaustion (due to the length of the ordinary itinerary) at the moment they crossed the Iranian borders, the Roman armies won the strategically critical battle nearby the ruins of the Ancient Assyrian Capital Nineveh, and continued on the relatively easy Mesopotamian soil down to Tesifun (Ctesiphon), the principal among the Sassanid capital cities of the reign of Khosrow II (Iran has been diachronically known for the existence of many parallel capitals).
- Sassanid King Khosrow II submitting to Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, from a plaque on a 12th century French cross.
This victory would not be considered as very important, and Iran would need some years to recover and go on. However, the Roman victory at Ctesiphon, and the subsequent restoration of the (now twice hypothetical) cross in Jerusalem (630), with Heraclius entering barefoot the city and walking until the sepulcher church, marked the Eastern Roman and the Western European Christianity, and the medieval fascination, irrevocably.
Although Western Europe, in its entirety, involving the Merovingian Franks, the Visigoths, the Lombards, and the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, was absent, the recuperation of the cross left an unforgettable stamp that we attest from Medieval Western European religious art to the Renaissance paintings of Piero della Francesca.
The reason Heraclius’ victory became important is due to the fact that it was the last; and this was made sure by the subsequent rise of Islam that cut off once and forever the Eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire (Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Eastern Anatolia), while at the same time terminated the existence of the Sassanid Empire of Iran.
Soon, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate (and later on its Abbasid heir) was substituted to the Sassanid Empire, politically, economically, culturally (Persian and Aramaic Knowledge and Art shaped the Islamic Civilization, wiping out the slightest Arabic character left after the strongly de-Arabizing preaching of Prophet Muhammad) and religiously.
The decisive and determinant help of Armenia was not forgotten. In times difficult for the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western European Christianity, Armenia became the country — deus ex machina; the importance was then extended to a Christian king of the Orient, who would offer the unexpected assistance and relief. Like this, started a great legend that had a very long itinerary of its own.
The Country of King David
Quite interestingly, the earliest mentions to the Christian king of the Orient do not originate in the times of the west’s greatest danger, when the Islamic armies encircled Constantinople in 674-677, and in 717 or advanced beyond the Pyrenees in France in the 720s (to be engaged in the Battle of Poitiers, also known as Battle of Tours, in 732).
The earlier mentions to the rich and powerful Christian king of the Orient go back to the times of the recovery of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western European powers, namely the period of preparation of the Crusades, at the very end of the 11th century. There are some basic characteristics that appear from the beginning; the Christian king of the Orient, beyond his riches and military force, was mythologized to be in a position to attack the Islamic Caliphate from the rear. However, the greater functionality of the mythologized king is to save Jerusalem.
The Christian king of the Orient has a name: king David. His country is Armenia. It makes automatically sense, as Armenia is in the east of Jerusalem, and in the northernmost confines of the Islamic Caliphate that encompassed Eastern Anatolia (taken from the Eastern Roman Empire) and the entirety of Iran.
The name is not quite mythical, although it seems to have rather been a hereditary royal title of the Armenian Bagratid Kings, who claimed direct descent from the Biblical King David of the Ancient Israel (foundation of the dynasty in 861 CE). The claim was totally unhistorical, but the real fact of the survival of a Christian mountainous and thus impregnable state at a so close distance from the Islamic Capital, Baghdad, fascinated the Western minds. The fascination was not the result of imagination but sheer truth.
In fact, despite the vast territories ruled from Baghdad (from NW Africa to India), at the end of the 10th century, the Bagratid, Armenian border, passing from Hasankeyf, Bitlis and Van in Modern Turkey was at a distance of ca. 550 km from Baghdad! One gets a clearer picture, if one adds to the distance the geo-morphological advantage, namely the fact that any eventual expedition launched from the Armenian border against Baghdad would imply for the attacking armies only the easy crossing of the Mesopotamian plains.
Now, if we add to the aforementioned the fact that Baghdad’s distance from Jerusalem (880 km) was at those days the same as that between the holy city of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the Westernmost borders of Armenia, we get a better picture of the impressions conveyed to Western audience at a time the interest for a military expedition to recapture the city was shared among more and more European fanatics.
Through all this, we can better assess why on Western maps of the World (Oikoumene) dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries we encounter always King David depicted as key-keeper (kleidokrator) of the Caucasus’ gates where every penetration effort, undertaken by the “demons” (sic!) Gog and Magog, would find an end.
Like this, we identify one more functional characteristic of the Christian king of the Orient, the mythologized in the West Armenian king David: he is placed within the wider context of the work carried out by Alexander, as mythologized in the Alexander Romance legend of Pseudo-Callisthenes, a pre-Islamic narrative that has been extensively re-employed within Islamic eschatological narrations (from Firdausi’s Shahnameh to Nezami’s Iskendernameh). It’s Alexander who has been credited first with the erection of an invisible wall between two mountains in Central Asia to protect “his people” from Gog and Magog, understood as nations in earlier periods. At so later epochs as the times of the Crusades, the protection area had effectively receded to Caucasus!
Yet, the Eastern Roman and the Western European hallucinations had to end; so furtive they had been that they vanished with the overwhelming victory of the Seljuk Turks, who put a dead end to the Bagratid dynasty and the independence of the medieval kingdom of Armenia (1045-6). At a moment the Eastern Roman Empire had recovered territories in the Mediterranean and Central and Southern Anatolia, and the Abbasid Caliphate (established before 300 years) was clearly in decadence and disarray, the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, already Islamized in Central Asia (i.e. the Caliphate’s easternmost territories), was a dynamite against the Christian anti-Islamic projects. Georgia collapsed a few years later (1054). And in 1071 nearby Lake Van’s westernmost confines, at Malazgirt (Manzikert), the Eastern Roman Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was met with a disastrous defeat that opened the gates of Anatolia to Alp Arslan’s Seljuks, who 6 years later founded the Islamic Sultanate at Nicaea (Iznik) on the Propontis Asiatic coast opposite of Constantinople. The event triggered the final decision for the Crusades, the first of which was precisely directed against the capital of the new Sultanate that was named Rum, since its population was predominantly Roman, Greek speaking.
The Crusades did not help the Eastern Roman Empire recover Central and Eastern Anatolia; the same event that had occurred in Egypt, Libya, NW Africa, Palestine, and Syria during the 7th century Islamic invasions was reproduced in Central and Eastern Anatolia from the 11th century until the 15th century. The overwhelming majority of Anatolia had adhered to the Icon-Fighting Movement (Eikonomachia) and to Paulicianism, finally worshipping a very different form of Christianity than the Constantinopolitan Orthodoxy. Considered as heretics, oppressed and exploited through an incredible system of taxation, they preferred to be the free citizens of a politically Islamic state than the miserable slaves of the Christian tyranny. Imitating the Aramaeans, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians and the Berbers who, either Nestorian or Monophysitic, preferred to be ruled from Madinah, Damascus and Baghdad than from Constantinople, the overwhelming majority of the Greek speaking Roman citizens of Central and Eastern Anatolia preferred the oppressive political Islam to Christian tyranny.
At the Aurora of the Priest John Kingdom legend
At those early days of the Crusades, in the middle of the 12th century, the Christian king of the Orient “changes” name and appears for the first time as Priest John; however, he remains nebulous and indefinite.
The first reference to an Oriental high sacerdotal authority under this name, who enters into contact with the West, is not probably part of the story; the legendary and undocumented journey to Rome of an otherwise unknown Patriarch John of India in 1122, who supposedly visited Pope Callistus II, must be another narrative that was later combined with the legend we examine here. In an apocryphal book of devotions, the Narrative of Eliseus, a purely mythical context which dates back to the end of the 12th century, we encounter the earliest combination of the two legends; Patriarch John and Priest John become identical only in the Tractatus pulcherrimus (end of the 15th century), as Zarncke first specified.
The first reference to Priest John we encounter in the Chronicle of Otto, Bishop of Freising, a text that dates back in 1145; Otto was the uncle of the German Emperor, and described — in the concerned passage — that a representative of the Armenian Bishop of Jabala (Byblos of Phoenicia) came to Rome, and met Pope Eugene II, on demand of the Christian Crusader, Prince Raymond of Antioch, in order to recount the Muslim Reconquista of Urhoy (Edessa of Osrhoene — today’s Urfa in SE Turkey) in dire outlines. The ensuing danger for the Christians of the Jerusalem Crusader state was great, and the priestly visitor wished to induce the West to send another crusade.
Otto met the Armenian Bishop of Antioch at Viterbo, and in the pope’s presence, he heard the visitor saying that a Priest and King, named John, was ruling in the Far East, and managed to convert his people to Christianity, which implies automatically Nestorianism. The Armenian Bishop of Byblos went on saying that a few years earlier, Priest John had achieved a staggering victory, after a 3-day battle, and then, coming from the East, invaded Ecbatana (today’s Hamedan in Western Iran), and was planning to further advance to meet the Western kings in Jerusalem, eliminating the Islamic threat. Although victorious over the Islamic kings of Media, Persia, and Samiardi, he met adversity when attempting to cross the swollen waters of the Tigris, and many of his soldiers died because of an epidemics, which constrained him to retreat. More specifically, Priest John belonged to the “race of the three Magi”, and having merged their kingdoms, he was in control of a fabulous treasure, holding an emerald scepter!
Through the narrative, it becomes clear that the visitor wants to persuade the Pope that there is a substantial need for another crusade and that there are more reasons to believe it will be finally successful.
We cannot be sure about the weight the West gave to this argument; perhaps in the very beginning it was not taken very seriously. More than 100 years before Marco Polo’s trips, Europeans had a very vague idea about Asia, and Asiatic politics.
Yet, soon after the first Priest John “episode”, we have a second one. The same — Asiatic and mysterious — person sent letters, in many, diverse and odd ways, to Manuel I Comnenos, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, and a multitude of European princes. All this happens around 1165-70.
No less than 100 manuscripts-copies of the letter addressed to Manuel I Comnenos have survived, involving therefore significant variants; the persistence of the author to mention incidents of the Alexander Romance narratives reduces the credibility of the document dramatically. Modern scholarship falls in agreement in interpreting the document as a Nestorian forgery; this does not say much about the possible origin of the initial author of the letter. Nestorians at those days inhabited practically speaking the entire Asiatic continent, from today’s Iraq to China, Eastern Turkistan, India, Central Asia, Oman, Yemen, and Iran.
A few years later, we have a papal reference to a certain John, illustrious and magnificent King of the Indies. It is a letter signed by Pope Alexander III that starts with following words: «Alexander episcopus (or Papa), servus servorum Dei, carissimo in Christi filio Joanni, illustro et magnifico Indorum regi.»
The Pope seems to have accepted the related rumours about the Christian king of the Orient, and sent a private envoy named Philippus with the aforementioned letter. The contents are overwhelming; the Pope extends an invitation to Priest John to enter the Roman Church, and in exchange he would be willing to cede to him a church in Rome, and certain rights in the church of the sepulcher in Jerusalem. What happened, and whom precisely the papal envoy met, if any, we don’t know. Through the context, we realize that the recipient was in Asia, and not a mythical but a real figure. However, we cannot be sure that the pope had identified him as the Priest John of the earlier references.
Furthermore, we find in the Annals of Admont (1181), which are a continuation of Otto’s chronicle, the following note: «Johannes presbyter rex Armeniae et Indiae cum duobus regibus fratribus Persarum et Medorum pugnavit et vicit. »
What is sure is that from that time onwards, Eastern Romans and Western Europeans truly believed that there was an Oriental Christian kingdom either in Central Asia or even in the Far East.
The legend became stuff for poets, authors and mysticists like Wolfram von Eschenbach (in Parsifal — first link between the Priest John theme and the Holy Grail legend), Sir John Mandeville, Albrecht von Scharfenstein, and others.
There is a historical explanation for all this, and many modern scholars interpret Otto von Freising’s expression “ante non multos annos” about the battle between Priest John and the Persian Sultan as referring to the same events as those narrated by the Aramaean Muslim historian Ibn Athir (1160-1233) who expands on the subject; in the year of the Hegira of 536 (1141), Sanjar, the most powerful of the Seljuk princes, seems to have attacked his vassal, the Shah of Kharezm, who demanded the help of Ku Khan, or Korkhan of China (Chinese, Yeliutasche).
The latter had come in 1122 from Northern China at the head of a mighty army, and coming to help the Shah of Kharezm, killed Sanjar and l00,000 of his men. Other historians of the Islamic Times, the Great Aramaean Historian and Erudite Scholar Abul Faradj (widely known as Bar Hebraeus, 1226-86), the Aramaean Muslim historian and theologian Abul Fida (1273-1331), and the Persian historian Mirkhond (1432-89) mentioned the event as well.
Korkhan, ruler of the Chinese kingdom of Karakhitai (1141-1218), founded in Central Asia and NW China, must have been the legendary Priest John; what is sure is that sizeable part of the indigenous, Turkic, Mongolian and Chinese population was Nestorian Christian, and Syriac Aramaic was their holy scriptural language.
What is not absolutely sure is the name and the priestly character of the legendary personage. As the latter reminds a matter of mystery, modern scholars, who identify Priest John’s kingdom (G. Oppert, L. Kehren) with Karakhitai, establish an etymology relating the name Korkhan with Jorchan, a Sodgian and Central Asiatic form of Jochanan (Aramaic for John).
How this legend was extrapolated and related with Abyssinia is the subject of my next article.