Roger Bacon

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Roger Bacon

(c. 1267)

English philosopher and Franciscan friar often called 'Doctor Mirabilis' (Wonderful Teacher).

Opus Majus (Greater Work).


Between the narrows of the Red Sea and the Ethiopian Sea proper is the region of Ethiopia. In latitude about 16°, where the day lasts about 13 hours, is Saba, the royal capital of Ethiopia, on an island surrounded by the Nile. It is mentioned in Isaiah, "the labor of Egypt, the merchandise of Egypt and the Sabaeans," and Jerome tells us that "there is a tribe called Sabaeans on the other side of Ethiopia." This is Meroë, the furthest part of Ethiopia, at the [south] end of the inhabitable part of the world, as I have just remarked, which is also mentioned in Ezekiel 27. Josephus tells us in book 1 of the Antiquities that the city was named by King Cambyses for his sister; Jerome confirms this in his Book of Places. The city is about 700 miles inland from the Ethiopian Sea, according to Pliny. It is on the first clima, that which is accordingly named Diameroës. A woman named Candax once ruled there, from whom the name "Candace" has for many years been applied to its queen, as Pliny tells us; furthermore, he adds that when the Ethiopians were in power that island was a place of great splendour, which regularly provided 250,000 soldiers and supported 400,000 workmen . The book of Acts mentions the eunuch of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, whom Philip baptised. Candax, then, is the title of an office, like Caesar, Ptolemy, Pharaoh, Antiochus, and Abimelech. The Abimelechs [ruled] in Philistia, the Antiochi in Syria, the Ptolemies in Egypt after the death of Alexander, the Pharaohs in the same place but earlier just as the Caesars and Augusti ruled in the Roman Empire, as Jerome tells us in book 9 On Ezekiel. In about the same latitude but eastward, on the shore of the Red Sea, is the city of Ptolemaïs, founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus for elephant hunting early in the year. For about forty-five days before the [summer] solstice and the same time after it there are no shadows at all at noonday, as Pliny tells us. During those ninety or so days shadows fall to the south, because the sun is to the north; afterwards it falls to the north for the rest of the year. People dwell here between the [latter] half of Taurus and the [former] half of Leo; thus the sun passes overhead twice a year, during those half-signs.

Next after these places, in the same latitude but to the west of them, 4820 stades on the way between Ptolemaïs and Meroe, is Berenice, a city of the Ethiopian Cave Dwellers [Troglodytes], over which the sun passes twice a year and the shadows behave like those in Ptolemaïs. The region of these Cave Dwellers must lie to the west, as I shall explain below, so that it is in central rather than eastern Ethiopia. Scripture mentions these Cave Dwellers, who came with Shishak, King of Egypt, as auxiliaries. As Pliny reports, these people dig out caverns for themselves; there they make their homes, living on the flesh of serpents. They utter a scratchy sound rather than a voice, and cannot converse by speech. In book 6 he also remarks that "The tribe of Cave Dwellers [Troglodytes] get their name from their speed of foot, which they have developed by hunting, for they are swifter than horses." From this Isidore takes his explanation: "the Troglodytes, a tribe of the Ethiopians, are so called because they are such swift runners that they can outrun wild animals on foot". Next to them on the east are the Ethiopians from Nubia and last of all those called "Indi", since they live so close to India. Pliny begins his description of the race of Ethiopians with them. And according to Isidore, there are three important races of Ethiopians: the Hesperi in the west, the Garamantes in the middle, and the Indi to the east. The Cave Dwellers he includes with the Garamantes, with whom they are neighbours. Meroë, the chief town of these tribes, is located, says Alfraganus, in the middle between the Nubians, Indi, and Garamantes.


Beyond Egypt and Africa to the south, Ethiopia stretches from east to west as far as the Ethiopic Sea; their chief regions are, as I have remarked, those of the Indians, Sabaeans (the inhabitants of Meroe), Nubians, Cave Dwellers, Garamantes, Hesperides.

Selected edition

Monumenta Cartographica Africae et Aegypti. Tome III.V, ed. Y. Kamel (Leiden: 1935).