Friday, April 09, 2010

More on millenarian Spain at time of Columbus

In the article Columbus, Magellan and the "Hidden King,"  the millennial environment that existed in Spain during the time of Columbus and Magellan was discussed.

The kingdom of Valencia, where I have suggested that Sayabiga elements had settled during Moorish times, turns out to be an epicenter of influence that created an environment in Spain favorable both the expeditions of both Columbus and Magellan.  Not only did Valencia host the Sayabiga, but it was also a center of post-Templar influence in Spain.

According to the theory presented here earlier, the "Gypsy" peoples known as the Zutt, who were possibly a Jat group from the Sindh in South Asia, and the Sayabiga from Zabag moved along with their rice farming and buffalo herding through the Middle East.  Probably they were the ones that introduced both rice and the buffalo to Egypt, and from there on to southern Spain.  The rice culture there involves a tidal wet system and the Japonica strain, and I have suggested this rice was farmed by the Sayabiga.

Adoration of the Magi, Northern Spain, 1125-40 (Source:

Much of the agriculture in Moorish Spain did come from Egypt both dry and irrigated types.  Tidal rice was also planted by the Sayabiga in southern Mesopotamia, but they would have used regular wet rice agriculture in the Nile Valley before leapfrogging across North Africa to use the tidal system again in places like Lake Albufera in Valencia.

These Sayabiga in Spain, I have suggested, were an important link in the diplomatic efforts of "Prester John" of Zabag in Europe.  They would have been the "Indians" or "fairy people" mentioned by Wolfram von Eschenbach and other medieval writers, and linked with the Plantagenet family and the Holy Grail.

Gypsies in Spain 

The Gypsies in Spain are known as Gitano, a word that had been suggested to have been derived from "Jat," but most likely is a shortened form of Egyptiano "Egyptian."

Like the Romani Gypsies in other parts of Europe, the Gitano show linguistic traces of their origin from India.  Therefore it is quite likely that they are descendants at least partly of the aforementioned Zutt.  At one time, it was widely thought in Spain that the Gitano were descendants of Moriscos -- Muslims who had been converted to Catholicism.  However, after the language relationship with the Romani was discovered, many suggested that the Gitano had migrated into Spain after the Romani appeared in Eastern Europe.

However, researchers like Susan G. Drummond have shown that the evidence suggests two streams of Gypsies into Spain.  A Romani one in the north, and an older Gitano one in the south that dates to Moorish times.  The Calo language of the Gitano displays a large number of Hispano-Arabic words, and their Flamenco music shows similar influence, both of which are absent among the Romani.

Adoration of the Magi, Fuentiduena Chapel, Castilla-Leon, 1175-1200 (Source:

The presence of the Gitano can be seen as evidence of the migration of Zutt during Moorish times, and their ethnonym would agree with the suggestion that they came directly from Egypt.  Also the fact that they show no signs of Orthodox Christianity would suggest that they converted in Spain, i.e. that they were Moriscos or conversos.

Quite possibly the Gitano were once Zutt buffalo herders, which could explain their wandering ways.  The Zutt and their buffalo were moved to Syria and Anatolia to deal with the lion populations there -- a job that might have required a lot of movement from place to place.  Since the Zutt and Sayabiga tended to move around together, they probably migrated from that region to Egypt with the Sayabiga engaged mainly in farming.  The Sayabiga in Spain would have been rice farmers, and thus sedentary.  Also, the literary evidence would suggest, according to theory suggested here, that they were less endogamous as compared to the Gitano and freely intermarried.

Royal Morisco link from Valencia

Interestingly, both Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs of Spain who supported Columbus' voyage, both descend from a Morisca from Valencia.  Her name was Zaida, the daughter-in-law of al-Mutamid, the emir of Seville.  Zaida is sometimes referred to as the daughter of al-Mutamid in latter works, but contemporary Muslim sources state that she was his daughter-in-law of unknown ancestry. She lived in Denia in the Alicante, which was then part of the Kingdom of Valencia but now forms its own province. Like Valencia, Alicante is noted for its rice production.

Zaida, a contemporary of the first "fairy" count of Anjou, Fulk IV,  converted to Christianity and was either married to or was the concubine of Alfonso IV, king of Castile and Leon.  Both Ferdinand and Isabella descend from Zaida through Alfonso Fernandez, King of Castile, who descends through Constance de Hohenstaufen from Constance de Hauteville, the daughter of Elvira Alphonsez.  The latter was in turn was the daughter of Zaida.

Both monarchs may also descend from Zaida through Henry II's mother, a descendant of Zaida's other daughter Sancha Alfonsez,  but this genealogy is less secure.

A Valencian clan that claimed royal descent was the Borgia family, which rose to great heights during the Renaissance.   Accounts beginning in the early 17th century claim that the Borgias descend from King Ramiro of Spain, but the genealogies differ.  The actual documentation from Valencia and Aragon suggests instead that the Borgias trace their origins to one Gonzalo de Borja, who had no formal title.

The surnames Borja, Borge, Borgia, etc. come from the name of the Moorish town, and the surname is found on lists of Morisco surnames.  Evidence suggests that the Borgia clan, or at least their paternal ancestors, came originally from Borja in Aragon, but had been settled in the huerta of Valencia for some time before rising to prominence.

The first Borgia to gain fame was Alfonso from Canals, Valencia who became Pope Callisto III (Callixtus III) in 1455.  Alfonso had once served as an ambassador for the Aragonese kings.  He and the rest of his family became famed for their corruption and he appointed his nephew Rodrigo de Borgia, from Jativa, Valencia, as cardinal.

Rodrigo would become Pope Alexander VI in the same year that Columbus sailed on his first voyage.  As Pope, he granted the coveted rights to the Americas to Spain after a request from King Ferdinand, who had helped bring Rodrigo to power.

The children of Alexander VI and others in the Borgia clan quickly gained titles of nobility including Duke of Gandia in Valencia, and a number of titles in Italy.  Alexander VI's son Cesare Borgia became Duke of Valentinois, and inspired Machiavelli's work "The Prince."

Annio of Viterbo, possibly with the consent of Alexander VI, created a genealogy for the Borgias that claims the family descends from the Egyptian god-king Osiris -- interesting given the Zutt and Sayabiga's Egypt connection -- although Annio makes these links ancient and extends them to Italy.

File:Blason famille it Borgia01.svg
The Borgia coat of arms with the bull representing Apis as an aspect of Osiris. (Source: Wikipedia)

Templars in Spain

When the Templars were disbanded, those in Portugal took refuge among the Order of Christ.  The Templars in Spain joined the Order of Montesa in Valencia.  Both of these orders play a part in the navigation to the Indies and the voyages of Columbus. Earlier in this blog, I suggested that the Templars had a political relationship with Prester John via Sayabiga/Assassin intermediaries. 

The Order of Christ knights were used by Prince Henry of Portugal, himself the Grandmaster of the organization, during his voyages of discovery.

An interesting possible direct connection between the Order of Montesa, which was located in the Kingdom of Valencia, and Columbus comes through Carlos de Viana (Charles of Viana). 

Carlos was a prince of Aragon, the son of the future John II, and himself the heir to the crown of Navarre. He also held the title of Prince of Viana.  According to one theory, Prince Carlos was actually Christopher Columbus' father!   A team of geneticists lead by Jose A. Lorente and Mark Stoneking had set out to test whether this theory was valid and they were expected to release results in 2005.  However, I have not seen anything further published on this research.

One of Prince Carlos' sons, Felipe, Count of Beaufort, and possibly a half-brother of Columbus, quit his position as Archbishop of Palermo in 1485 to become Grandmaster of the Order of Montesa.

A member of the Borgia family -- Don Pedro Luis Galceran de Borgia -- would become the last Grandmaster of the Order of Montesa in 1572.

Rise in millenarianism

In Columbus' "Book of Prophecies" (Libro de las profecias), the discoverer claims that he had found the Biblical lands of Tarshish, Cathyr and Ophir.

Likely one of the main reasons that both Columbus and Magellan were able to find fertile ground in Spain while failing elsewhere lies in the millennial environment that existed in the area at the time.  The Valencian alchemist Arnold of Villanova (1235-1311) was probably the first person responsible for popularizing the millenarian views of Joachim of Fiore in Spain.

He modified Joachimite prophecies combining them with earlier material from Pseudo-Methodius and others, and claiming that the Last Emperor who would reconquer Zion would come from Spain.  After Arnold of Villanova, another Valencian, Francesc Eixemensis further popularized these millennial views both in Valencia and throughout Spain.  Peter of Aragon, a member of the royal family and a Franciscan also helped promote the idea in the late 14th century that the King of Aragon would retake Jerusalem.

During the period of King Ferdinand V, the belief that this monarch was the prophesied one were widespread throughout Spain.  Given that Columbus himself was also deeply interested in prophecy, and also apparently considered himself a divine instrument in prophetic fulfillment, he was destined to eventually come to the monarchs of Aragon and Castile.

In the introduction to the Book of Prophecies, Columbus also mentions that the islands he had discovered were the same archipelago of 7,448 islands off the coast of South China (Manzi) mentioned by Marco Polo.  In the millenarian views of the time, islands were seen as important elements in the fulfillment of prophecy.  The conquest of the islands at the end of the earth was widely seen as an important mission of the millennial king in the last days.

Message from Prester John

The millenarian environment helped fuel the thirst for exploration, but it was information from the far east that provided the geographic knowledge necessary for Columbus to set off on his journey.

Nicolo di Conti and the eastern ambassador who came together with the entourage of papal envoy Alberto de Sarteano provided that knowledge.  Previously, I have suggested that the eastern delegate came from the kingdom of Prester John, which Conti claimed to have spent much time at during his Asian travels.  The ambassador claims to have come from a Nestorian kingdom in "Upper India" about 20 days from Cathay, i.e., the kingdom of Prester John.

The knowledge they provided completed a set of influences that appear to have convinced Columbus and others of the feasibility of the western voyages.  The other influences were:

  • Marco Polo's account of the eastern islands off South China and their richness in gold, which Columbus apparently equates with Biblical gold of Ophir.
  • The book attributed to John of Mandeville in the mid to late 14th century suggests that circumnavigation of the world is possible.  Columbus refers to Mandeville's work as having a great influence on him. Mandeville described Prester John's eastern realm as follows:

    "Toward the east part of Prester John's land is an isle good and great, that men clepe Taprobane, that is full noble and full fructuous...Beside that isle, toward the east, be two other isles. And men clepe that one Orille, and that other Argyte, of the which all the
    land is mine of gold and silver. And those isles be right where that the Red Sea departeth from the sea ocean."
    Orille and Argyte are the Chryse and Argye, the islands of gold and silver mentioned by Ptolemy who  locates them beyond the Golden Chersonese (Malaya Peninsula).

    At the extreme east of the kingdoms was the land of Eden:

    "And beyond the land and the isles and the deserts of Prester John's lordship, in going straight toward the east, men find nothing but mountains and rocks, full great. And there is the dark region, where no man may see, neither by day ne by night, as they of the country say. And that desert and that place of darkness dure from this coast unto Paradise terrestrial, where that Adam, our formest father, and Eve were put, that dwelled there but little while: and that is towards the east at the beginning of the earth. But that is not that east that we clepe our east, on this half, where the sun riseth to us. For when the sun is
    east in those parts towards Paradise terrestrial, it is then midnight in our parts on this half, for the roundness of the earth, of the which I have touched to you of before."
    Mandeville then describes the journeys on the 'other half' of the globe that involve "coasting" from the lands of Prester John:

    "From those isles that I have spoken of before, in the Land of Prester John, that be under earth as to us that be on this half, and of other isles that be more further beyond, whoso will, pursue them for to come again right to the parts that he came from, and so environ all earth. But what for the isles, what for the sea, and what for strong rowing, few folk assay for to pass that passage; albeit that men might do it well, that might be of power to dress them thereto, as I have said you before. And therefore men return from those isles above said by other isles, coasting from the land of Prester John."

Columbus learned of the testimony of Conti and the eastern ambassador at least from the letter of astronomer Paolo Toscanelli to Fernao Martins in 1474.  If the second letter of Toscanelli to Columbus is authentic, Columbus was also told to expect to find Christians on a journey to the East Indies.  Francis Millet Rogers has suggested that Columbus was additionally familiar with Conti through the work of Pero Tafur. If so, then he might easily have connected Prester John as mentioned in Tafur with the eastern ambassador from the Nestorian kingdom in Upper India.  Conti also mentions Nestorians in India, and in Tafur's account he describes the subjects of Prester John saying that "they know nothing of our Romish Church, nor are governed by it."

Tafur suggests that Prester John had an interest in the Christian world: "I learnt from Nicolo de' Conti that Prester John kept him continuously at his court, enquiring of him as to the Christian world, and concerning the princes and their estates, and the wars they were waging, and while he was there he saw Prester John on two occasions dispatch ambassadors to Christian princes, but he did not hear whether any news of them had been received."  Since the king was interested in making contact with Christendom logically he would have sent an ambassador along with Conti.

Upon analyzing the itinerary of Conti as supplied to papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini, Columbus probably noted that Conti's long sojourn with Prester John must have taken place sometime after the former had visited Champa.  That was the period before Conti began his journey back to India and Europe, and the one in which he spent most of his time in Asia. 

Therefore, Columbus quite logically would place Prester John's kingdom somewhere in Southeast Asia, in the same eastern archipelago mentioned by Marco Polo as lying off the coast of South China.  In this location, Columbus, venturing to an unknown part of the world, could expect to meet the friendly Nestorian Christians of Prester John's kingdom.   And Conti's testimony appears to have convinced many including Toscanelli and Columbus that the East Indies could be reached by sailing west from Europe around the globe.

Thus, Columbus' sailing course toward the equatorial latitudes, of which he expected to land in the East Indies, is not surprising.  Magellan also folllowed a similar course, and we know from his notes that he also appeared to be searching for the islands of Tarshish and Ophir.

By the time of Columbus, Valencia had become the commercial capital of the Crown of Aragon, and it was through the city's port that Spain controlled much of the trade that occurred in the European part of the Mediterranean.  Valencia provided the first round of funding for Columbus voyage as financiers like Jewish converso Luis de Santangel responded to Queen Isabella's call for financial backing.

After Prester John of Zabag sent letters to Western Christendom in the latter part of the 12th century, he became relatively quiet.  Maybe the conquests of the Mongols eased the urgency of dealing with expanding threats along the trade routes. However, by the mid-15th century Islam began to expand quickly in Southeast Asia with the establishment of the Sultanate of Aceh, and with Islamic kingdoms already existing in Kedah and Pasai by 1380.  At this time, the remnants of old Zabag were now consolidated into a kingdom known widely as Luzon. So the interest that "Prester John" showed Nicolo di Conti in the goings on of Christian nations in the West is logical.

Spain, for reasons that extend back to the original Prester John of Zabag, was the natural kingdom to have supported Columbus' millenarian plan to reach the fabled islands of Tarshish and Ophir.

Paul Kekai Manansala


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