In popular medieval European imagination, Prester John was the legendary Asian Christian king who would help drive Islam from the Holy Land. There is something striking about his appearance on several thirteenth-century world maps – he isn’t there.
This paper proceeds from the principal that what maps exclude is as important as what they include. Mappaemundi, Christianised medieval world maps, are often described in scholarship as encyclopaedic in scope, providing rich, diverse views of the glories of God’s creation and demonstrating Christian power. This paper critiques this notion by exploring the absence of Prester John – a widely known symbol of Christian might – from several thirteenth-century world maps.
I briefly survey the genesis and development of the Prester John legend to demonstrate that he would have been known to makers and viewers of these maps. Having demonstrated that the maps could have included Prester John, I explore the significance behind his omission. This paper makes arguments about the important roles of selectivity and omission in how mappaemundi presented their view of the world and the spread of Christian power.
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