chapter  12
14 Pages

The Crusades and North-East Africa

ByBernard Hamilton

At the time of the First Crusade the Mediterranean coast of Africa was known in detail to Western cosmographers, but they had little accurate information about the interior of the continent.1 The Arab conquest of Egypt and the North African coastal provinces in the seventh century effectively closed the continent to Western travellers so that Western knowledge of Africa was based on information contained in Latin classical and patristic sources which, even when accurate, was extremely out of date. Moreover, the most detailed cosmographical works produced in the Greco-Roman world, the Cosmography of Ptolemy of Alexandria (c.100-170 A.D.), and the Geography of Strabo (fl. 7 B.C.–15 A.D.), were in Greek and were not translated into Latin until the fifteenth century.2 The chief sources about Africa available to Western scholars in the early Middle Ages were the works of Pliny the Elder (d. 79 A.D.), Orosius (fl. 417), Macrobius (fl. 400 A.D.), Martianus Capella (fl. 410-27) and St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636). Solinus (fl. 250 A.D.), who claimed that the interior of Africa was inhabited by exotic animals and members of the monstrous races, was also highly influential because medieval Western scholars had no means of distinguishing fact from fable in his work.3