Ethiopia has a long history and a rich culture. Ethiopia’s presence in the memory of the outside world dates back to the Hellenic period, before AD 300. The Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., Herodotus, among other classical Greeks, mentioned Ethiopia in his writings. He gave prominence to the Ethiopian character of justice and magnanimity.1 Ethiopia also “occupies a more prominent place in the Homeric poems than does Egypt … and his own kindred tribesmen, the Dorians and Hellenes themselves….”2 According to the Iliad, their gods retired, recuperated, and feasted among the “blameless Ethiopian.”3 It was because of the early Greeks interest in Ethiopia that William Leo Hansberry, called father of African Studies at Howard University, 1922–1959, commented that “no student bent upon determining the real position of Ethiopia in world history can afford to ignore the gleams of light shed upon the subject by the greatest luminary of world history, Homer.”4 Classical Greeks were interested in Ethiopia and there were cultural, religious, and trade interactions between the two. The Greek language was spoken by the Axumite emperors and the Orthodox religion tied the two countries.5
Portugal, a superpower of the post-classical period, presumed the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John was in Ethiopia.6 The news of the existence of a Christian people also raised the interest of scholars and religious groups in countries such as Germany, beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, in the belief that the
1 William Leo Hansberry.1991. Africa and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers, Joseph E. Harris ed., Washington, DC: Howard University Press, p. 83.
2 Ibid., p.84.
3 W.E. Burghardt Du Bois. 1946 &1965. The World and Africa, New York: International Publishers, p. 119.
4 W. H. Hansberry, ibid. p. 84.
5 Theodore Natsoulas. 1977. The Hellenic Presence in Ethiopia: A Study of a European Minority in Africa (1740–1936), Athens: Greece.
6 Elaine Sanceau. 1944. The Land of Prester John: A Chronicle of Portuguese Exploration, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Also refer to William Leo Hansberry.1981. Pillars in Ethiopian History, Joseph E. Harris, ed., Washington, DC: Howard University Press, pp. 110-150.