Want a daily email of lesson plans that span all subjects and age groups?
Learn more

The imaginary king who changed the real world - Matteo Salvadore

  • 516,460 Views
  • 5,345 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

In 1165, copies of a strange letter began to circulate throughout Europe. It spoke of a fantastical realm, containing the Tower of Babel and the Fountain of Youth— all ruled over by the letter’s mysterious author: Prester John. Who was this powerful ruler, and was he even real? Matteo Salvadore shares the legend of a mythical king who impacted the decisions of European leaders for 400 years.

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Matteo Salvadore
  • Director Anna Nowakowska
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Producer The Animation Workshop, Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The myth of Prester John has been explored from a variety of vantage points. One way to grapple with its complex evolution is to break it down in phases. The Medieval myth emerged against the backdrop of the Crusades, and then resurged and morphed in the early modern era against the backdrop of Ottoman and European expansion.

In the medieval phase, Europeans imagined Prester John as an Asian sovereign believed to be located either in the Far East, Central Asia, or India. The medieval Prester John has been studied from the perspectives of Christian mythology, postcolonial criticism, and the history of European fantasy.

In the 15th century the myth became increasingly associated with Africa and eventually Ethiopia.

For anyone interested in reading primary sources, starting from the Letter of Prester John, this volume is the most comprehensive and accessible option. Instead, Prester John, the Mongols and the Ten Lost Tribes includes an eclectic collection of some of the most influential works on the myth published between the 1950s and 1990s.

Those interested in visual depictions of Prester John will enjoy this essay, which overviews representations in paintings, book plates, and maps. Historians of European cartography have dissected the ever-changing location and extension of Prester John’s kingdom in the European mind to shed light on European geographical imagination before and during the era of oceanic exploration.

The Portuguese sought Prester John, which they imagined as a pious and powerful African sovereign while they were hard at work enslaving Africans by the numbers. Hence, the myth’s African chapter is of particular interest for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of European ideas of race.

Prester John has also been featured novels to check out by clicking here, here and here. He was similarly featured in comics which you can read more about here.

Matteo Salvadore
Associate Professor of History
American University of Sharjah


Customize This Lesson

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Matteo Salvadore
  • Director Anna Nowakowska
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Producer The Animation Workshop, Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more