Otto of Freising:
The Legend of Prester John
We also saw there at that time [Dec 1145] the aforesaid Bishop
of Jabala in Syria.... He said, indeed, that not many years since,
one John, a king and priest living in the Far East, beyond Persia
and Armenia, and who, with his people, is a Christian, but a Nestorian,
had warred upon the socalled Samiards, the brother kings
of the Medes and Persians. John also attacked Ebactanus . I .
the capital of their kingdom. When the aforesaid kings advanced
against him with a force of Persians, Medes, and Assyrians, a
threeday struggle ensued, since both sides were willing
to die rather than to flee. At length, Prester John so
he is usually called put the Persians to flight and emerged
from the dreadful slaughter as victor. The Bishop said that the
aforesaid John moved his army to aid the church of Jerusalem,
but that when he came to the Tigris and was unable to take his
army across it by any means, be turned aside to the north, where
he had been informed that the stream was frozen solid during the
winter. There he awaited the ice for several years, but saw none
because of the temperate weather. His army lost many men on account
of the weather to which they were unaccustomed and he was compelled
to return home. He is said to be a descendant of the Magi of old,
who are mentioned in the Gospel.31 He governs the same people
as they did and is said to enjoy such glory and such plenty that
be uses no scepter save one of emerald. Fired by the example of
his forefathers, who came to adore Christ in the manger, he proposed
to go to Jerusalem, but he was, they say, turned back for the
Otto of Freising, Chronicon, ed. G.H. Pertz, MGH SSRG (Hanover: Hahn, 1867), VII, 33, (pp. 334-35), translated by James
Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee,
WI: Marquette University Press, 1962)
Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval
Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover
he gave permission for use of his translations.
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© Paul Halsall December 1997