Mythic Africa

I've been thinking about using Africa for my campaign for quite some time, but I have a short question someone here might know the answer to: How far did Europeans travel into Africa in the middle ages. Do we have records of anyone from Europe crossing the Sahara?


I don't think there were any Europeans that crossed the Sahara in period. There is a note in Pliny, as I recall, about a Carthaginian sailor who went around what we now call the Cape of Good Hope, but people at the time thought his account was unlikely. Alexander's forces in India did a bit of nanval reconaissance on the Indian Ocean side, and some ancient Egyptians did too.

Then this could be an interesting adventure for a Seeker. :slight_smile:


You might want to pick up South of the Sun, an old ArM setting in South Africa. I suppose you can download it through e23? It is focused on the kingdom of Prester John and other wild ideas, though, and really is a somewhat seperate setting. Not really appropriate for being a part of Mythic Europe, if I remember correctly.

Another cool source on south africa would be Nyambe: African Adventures, another setting book by Atlas Games, this one for d20. Although it's highly praised, I didn't ever see it so can't possibly comment. I suspect that while the system material would be utterly unusable, flavor-wise it could be grand.

For a normal ArM campaign, I agree staying NORTH of the sun (Sahara desert) makes most sense. But I don't really know.

Have fun, whatever you do. :slight_smile:

IIRC reading a reference to an Egyptian lord - back in very ancient times no doubt - who wanted to know the extent of Africa. He sent out some ships southwards i the Indian Ocean, and the sailors allegedly had to stop and temporarily settle, plant grains and wait for the harvest, before moving on 3 times, before they again saw egyptian shores. I don't know how true this is, nor can I recall any more details (names, dates), and it might og might not be in ArM paradigm

Anyway, in my old saga, we had two expeditions to Egypt, as well as the Levant (they made it way across the Black Sea) and many Greek Isles. In Egypt I had a few magi from Rome Tribunal be settled in a chapter house of their covenant, to study and try to incorporate local hedge magic. One of the PC magi also sought the legendary "Ring of Fire". As we all know, the further south you go, the warmer it gets, and the prople are brown. This is because the world is a sphere, with a ring of fire around the middle (equator), and the southern peoples are baked by this fire and heat much more then northern peoples. This character ventured far south, and eventually found a massive wall of fire, reaching as far as the eye could see east-west. he managed to filch some of the fire, which was sort of special vis, to be experiemnted with, with a great risk of it exploding in his face. What was on the other side? Hell? Another world? Opposite land? or was the world only a half sphere? Would the far north hold a Pillar of Ice, a place of absolute cold, an axis going through the world-sphere? And would Hell then be inside this sphere, as Heaven is clearly above, in one of the celestial spheres?

Hmm, not in the 13th century IIRC.

I thin there was some contact between Marinid Morocco and Ghana in terms of the Gold / slave trade and there were Jewish and Muslim merchants that made the crossing but I thin this is 15th century or later.

Northwest Africa and southern Spain were one entity for much of the middle ages (Almoravid and Almohad empires and then later Granada and its relations across the strait). It's only a short hop from Ceuta or Algiers to Gibraltar and Tarifa after all.

Carthage is a good Mythic spot and there were many Roman cities dotting the northern coast, in fact several very fine examples are preserved in the Libyan and Tunisian hinterland as well as some pretty well preserved Roman Roads.

Egypt is more Levant in focus at the time of the canonical Saga - prior ro that the Fatimids looked westward but after that they were drawn back into the conflict with the Crusaders.

South of the Sun is interesting, particularly the Colossi of Dis as an example of a kingdom run by infernalists who bind demons for the good of the people, but its not Mythic Europe in the ArM5 sense. Nyambe may be a bit better but is more high fantasy IIRC.

I haven't ordered by book on the Berbers from Amazon yet, so I can't fill in any blanks there about NW Africa and crossings of the Sahara. The predecessors of the Almohads came from deep within the Sahara but I can't remember off hand how much contact they had with the other side.



But this line of discussion is interesting, and I hope some more ideas will pop up.
Since my upcoming saga is set near Nice, North Africa is not that far off, and a lot of trade will come and go from there. Especially with the encroaching Dominion in Europe, the Magi might go south to hunt vis.
So any inspiration and ideas would be welcome, some locals myths and legends, and local magic.

I think the thing to remember here is how YOU wish to play your Mythic Europe. Either you play it closely akin to the history books and timelines of actual European expansionism and exploration or you modify these timelines to suit your interests (with the appropriate hurdles you would expect to encounter depending on how you work it).

To get to the African hinterland you would of course have to contend first with possible obstruction from Islamic empires and their own expansionistic endeavours or aspirations. Getting past that there were also well established civilisations such as the Bantu, the Swahili and others also vying for new land and resources.

You and your troupe would have to ask serious questions such as do we attempt to cross the Sahara North to South or to bypass it and attempt to enter from an existing population center along the West African coast? What sort of European alliances would we need to obtain enough ships, men and equipment for such a sojourn? Should we first send an emmissary to establish contact and possible alliance with one or African peoples so we don't have to fight our way through? etc..

Historically speaking the following couple of links might give you some fodder for ideas at any rate...

I once read the old Ars Magica supplement South of the Sun and I hated it. I mean ok AM is europe-centered and ok many myths and legends are treu in this setting...

But the whole rich culture and history of africa reduced to 4 tribes of devil-worshippers, wild people, cartagan folk and the empire of Prester John? Such a dumb setting full of racism...

And all with a giant anti-intruder-flame barrier between the two sides of the worlds?

Damn I wouldnt want to live in Mythic Inda in this setting :wink:

And no words of the chinese, indian and islamic colonies all around the whole sahara, the old empires with a great culture, nothing about the transahra trade in this period?

In our saga one of the mages has a stork familiar that flies (like most of the other birds) to their winter place in afrika, and if I image a giant flame barrier... oh well rosted chicken!

Even with a flame barrier, one would be well South of the Sahara and through several types of topography before ever reaching it. One doesn't even reach the equator until one is more or less halfway through Kenya.

One doesn't reach the flame barrier until one is farther south enough :wink:

Eirik - I can easily follow your interest.

My main suggestion would be to take a long hard look at Ethiopia. This is not only because I've lived there and love the place but because Ethiopia not only for various reasons has a very interesting history - it also did have contact to Europe via Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. Ethiopia was a Christian kingdom with a very curious and mythical-like rooting in Judaism (with the Covenant of the Ark as key element) and was under pressure from other ethnic/religious groups and therefore might have had other reasons to connect with Europe. There is a rich architecture from that period (counting a lifesize town-replica of Jerusalem with churches cut into the cliffs and by some suggested as one of the countless 8th wonders of the world) and some of these constructions has maltese crosses and there are records of tall red-haired men in crusader mantles visiting - making some people speculate (e.g. that Templars took part in building them)... and speculations are what great stories and Mythic Europe is made up of! In that regard I'd recommend Sign and the Seal by Hancock.

BTW - Ethiopia is also prime place to introduce Prester John, ancient Egyptian, Jewish or Christian secrets or relics with contact going all the way back to the time of the pharaophs as well as with suppressed Jews migrating down the Nile away from Egypt and settling near Lake Tana in present day Ethiopia (only to be airlifted during Operation Moses by the Israeli Air Force to Israel in the 1990'ies).

Also, Europe did have a significant influx of goods from across the Sahara (especially Ghana and later Mali) in the Middle Ages but they were mainly done by North African Muslim traders as middle men. Gold was the main thing - and at that time one of the main suppliers of gold for the Mediterean/European markets. Slaves was another commodity crossing the desert but mainly for Muslim rulers. One important thing is not to confuse these kingdoms names with their modern day counterparts - several African countries are named after historical kingdoms not even in the same location.

As a sidenote; When I studied history I recall being appalled by the lack of focus on African history (obviously just having been there) even in the subjects of world history - and I ended up doing a paper on African historiography and in short a problem is that African history has never quite been liberated from political concerns (first the European colonial ones and later the postcolonial national ones) so much is still to be researched on the subject... And some of it might put more light on the early relations across the Sahara.

Yes, Ethiopia is very interesting. My line of work is film, but my greatest passion is wildlife and ecology, so I know quite a bit about Ethiopian wildlife. And there are some strange animals around there. :slight_smile:
Just finished a session tonight, and I had to roleplay both a fox and a hare, as the Bjornaer in the group has Animal Ken. Great fun! :slight_smile:

Anyways, I don't know alot about history, but I have to say I'm learning alot from these forums. So, silly question it might be: who's Prester John? :confused:


tsk tsk Ferretz, you know Wikipedia is your friend :wink:

Prester John was one of many mythic figures in the folk lore of the Middle Ages. He had many guises and many locations. In short he was thought to live as emperor of a splendid Christian empire somewhere beyond the Muslim world poised to come the rescue of Europa. Probably a nice thing to have around as the crusades didnt go terribly well and since Europe in some ways started out as being inferiour in several fields compared to the Arab world.

I'm sure he's also mentioned somewhere in some Ars supplements.

You can find quite a bit at

BTW - I still make my living fighting fires (probably why I've still to finish up my overdue studies) and though I've shifted my main subject to political science history is still my passion.

Well - BoXer beat me to it... but I forgot a funny detail that in the 17th century the Ethiopian Christian kings were pressed in their conflict with their Muslim counterparts. The Portugese king actually sent a small force to locate "Prester John" and help him in the war!

Aww.. keep forgetting wikipedia! Hehe, I'll check it out. I'm amazed on how much info to be found there! :slight_smile:


Ethiopia it is then! I will make a story where the Magi must travel there, and I will have a strange Bjornaer on the Ethiopian Plateau with the heartbeast of an Ethiopian Fox. Splendid! :smiley:

Edit: ah.. Ethiopian Wolf is what I meant :blush: (I'm such a wildlife geek.. :unamused:)


Hehe!!! Truely has some spectacular species there.

Let me know if you'll need any more on Ethiopia of any kind.

Yes, some churces were mentioned, carved into the cliffs. I didn't even know that Ethiopia was Christian at some point. :stuck_out_tongue:

I might just set the characters on a longer trek, through Ethiopia, and on south. Their goal: Kalahari! :smiling_imp: