Of The 14th Century, Tells Of The Christians Of India That When A
Bishop Ordains A Priest He Fires Him With A Sharp And Hot Iron From The
Forehead Down The Nose, And The Scar Of This Wound Abides Till The Day Of
And this they do for a token that the Holy Ghost came on the
Apostles with fire.
Frescobaldi says those called the Christians of the
Girdle were the sect which baptized by branding on the head and temples.
Clavijo says there is such a sect among the Christians of India, but they
are despised by the rest. Barbosa, speaking of the Abyssinians, has this
passage: "According to what is said, their baptism is threefold, viz., by
blood, by fire, and by water. For they use circumcision like the Jews,
they brand on the forehead with a hot iron, and they baptize with water
like Catholic Christians." The respectable Pierre Belon speaks of the
Christians of Prester John, called Abyssinians, as baptized with fire and
branded in three places, i.e. between the eyes and on either cheek.
Linschoten repeats the like, and one of his plates is entitled Habitus
Abissinorum quibus loco Baptismatis frons inuritur. Ariosto, referring to
the Emperor of Ethiopia, has: -
"Gli e, s' io non piglio errore, in questo loco
Ove al baltesimo loro usano il fuoco."
As late as 1819 the traveller Dupre published the same statement about the
Jacobites generally. And so sober and learned a man as Assemani, himself
an Oriental, says: "Aethiopes vero, seu Abissini, praeter circumcisionem
adhibent etiam ferrum candens, quo pueris notam inurunt."
Yet Ludolf's Abyssinian friend, Abba Gregory, denied that there was any
such practice among them. Ludolf says it is the custom of various African
tribes, both Pagan and Mussulman, to cauterize their children in the veins
of the temples, in order to inure them against colds, and that this, being
practised by some Abyssinians, was taken for a religious rite. In spite of
the terms "Pagan and Mussulman," I suspect that Herodotus was the
authority for this practice. He states that many of the nomad Libyans,
when their children reached the age of four, used to burn the veins at the
top of the head with a flock of wool; others burned the veins about the
temples. And this they did, he says, to prevent their being troubled with
rheum in after life.
Indeed Andrea Corsali denies that the branding had aught to do with
baptism, "but only to observe Solomon's custom of marking his slaves, the
King of Ethiopia claiming to be descended from him." And it is remarkable
that Salt mentions that most of the people of Dixan had a cross marked
(i.e. branded) on the breast, right arm, or forehead. This he elsewhere
explains as a mark of their attachment to the ancient metropolitan church
of Axum, and he supposes that such a practice may have originated the
stories of fire-baptism. And we find it stated in Marino Sanudo that "some
of the Jacobites and Syrians who had crosses branded on them said this
was done for the destruction of the Pagans, and out of reverence to the
Holy Rood." Matthew Paris, commenting on the letter quoted above, says
that many of the Jacobites before baptism brand their children on the
forehead with a hot iron, whilst others brand a cross upon the cheeks or
temples. He had seen such marks also on the arms of both Jacobites and
Syrians who dwelt among the Saracens. It is clear, from Salt, that such
branding was practised by many Abyssinians, and that to a recent date,
though it may have been entirely detached from baptism. A similar practice
is followed at Dwarika and Koteswar (on the old Indus mouth, now called
Lakpat River), where the Hindu pilgrims to these sacred sites are branded
with the mark of the god.
(Orient und Occident, Goettingen, 1862, I. 453; Frescob. 114;
Clavijo, 163; Ramus. I. f. 290, v., f. 184; Marin. Sanud. 185, and
Bk. iii. pt. viii. ch. iv.; Clusius, Exotica, pt. ii. p. 142; Orland.
Fur. XXXIII. st. 102; Voyage en Perse, dans les Annees 1807-1809;
Assemani, II. c.; Ludolf, iii. 6, sec. 41; Salt, in Valentia's
Trav. II. p. 505, and his Second Journey, French Tr., II. 219; M.
Paris, p. 373; J.R.A.S. I. 42.)
NOTE 3. - It is pretty clear from what follows (as Marsden and others have
noted) that the narrative requires us to conceive of the Sultan of Aden as
dominant over the territory between Abyssinia and the sea, or what was in
former days called ADEL, between which and Aden confusion seems to have
been made. I have noticed in Note 1 the appearance of this confusion in R.
Benjamin; and I may add that also in the Map of Marino Sanudo Aden is
represented on the western shore of the Red Sea. But is it not possible
that in the origin of the Mahomedan States of Adel the Sultan of Aden had
some power over them? For we find in the account of the correspondence
between the King of Abyssinia and Sultan Bibars, quoted in the next Note
but one, that the Abyssinian letters and presents for Egypt were sent to
the Sultan of Yemen or Aden to be forwarded.
NOTE 4. - This passage is not authoritative enough to justify us in
believing that the mediaeval Abyssinians or Nubians did use elephants in
war, for Marco has already erred in ascribing that practice to the Blacks
There can indeed be no doubt that elephants from the countries on the west
of the Red Sea were caught and tamed and used for war, systematically and
on a great scale, by the second and third Ptolemies, and the latter
(Euergetes) has commemorated this, and his own use of Troglodytic and
Ethiopic elephants, and the fact of their encountering the elephants of
India, in the Adulitic Inscription recorded by Cosmas.
This author however, who wrote about A.D. 545, and had been at the Court
of Axum, then in its greatest prosperity, says distinctly:
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