The New International Encyclopædia/Prester John

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The New International Encyclopædia
Prester John
Edition of 1905. See also Prester John on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PRES'TER JOHN, i.e. Presbyter, or Priest John. A supposed Christian king and priest, whose territory was believed during the Middle Ages to lie either in Asia or Africa. The first record of this personage appears in the chronicle of Otho of Freisingen, who lived in the twelfth century. From that time the legend grew and developed. It was believed, and various travelers so reported, that the Nestorian Christians had built up a large monarchy ruled over by a priest-king named John. Letters from this mysterious personage addressed to the Byzantine Emperor or the Pope were circulated, giving marvelous accounts of the inhabitants and the wealth of the territory. In the fourteenth century the home of Prester John was generally believed to be in Africa, where it was identified with the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia. Consult: Yule, Cathay and the Way Thither (Hakluyt Society, 2 vols., London, 1866); id., Book of Sir Marco Polo (2 vols., London, 1874); Oppert, Der Presbyter Johannes in Sage und Geschichte (2d ed., Berlin, 1870); Zarneke, Der Priester Johannes (Leipzig, 1876-79).