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Prester John

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Prester John, the legendary Christian king said to rule over a lost nation in 'The Indies' and ready to support Christians in Europe.

In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous armies. There was apparent proof of Prester John's existence, in letters purportedly from him and in stories from travelers who claimed they had met, if not him, then people who had news of him. Most pointed to a home in the earthly paradise in the Indies, outside Eden, with fantastical animals and unimaginable riches. Later, Portuguese explorers thought they had found him in Ethiopia, despite the mystified denials of people there. Melvyn Bragg asks why the legend was so strongly believed for so long, and what facts helped sustain the myths.


Marianne O'Doherty
Associate Professor in English at the University of Southampton

Martin Palmer
Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture


Amanda Power
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield.

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 4 Jun 2015 21:30


Marianne O'Doherty at the University of Southampton

Amanda Power at the University of Sheffield

Prester John - Wikipedia

‘Prester John and Europe’s Discovery of East Asia’ by Igor de Rachewiltz (East Asian History, 1996)

‘Sex, Lies, and Paradise: The Assassins, Prester John, and the Fabulation of Civilizational Identities’ by Geraldine Heng (Differences, 2012)

‘The search for Prester John, a projected crusade and the eroding prestige of Ethiopian kings, c.1200 – c.1540’ by Andrew Kurt (Journal of Medieval History, 2013)

‘Prester John : A reexamination and compendium of the mythical figure who helped spark European expansion’ by Michael E. Brooks (University of Toledo Digital Repository, 2009)



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Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Marianne O'Doherty
Interviewed Guest Martin Palmer
Interviewed Guest Amanda Power
Producer Simon Tillotson


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