Leo Africanus

  • Oumelbanine Zhiri


Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan, better known as Joannes Leo Africanus, was born in the Muslim Kingdom of Granada just a few years before it was conquered by the Christians in 1492. His family left Spain for Morocco when he was a small child; there they found a high social status and were close to the royal court of Fez. Hasan, from a very young age, had the opportunity to travel extensively, often as an ambassador to the Wattasid Sultan Muhammad. His travels led him to visit all the countries of North Africa, the Sahara desert, the sub-Saharan countries of West Africa, Egypt, Arabia, and Turkey. He was returning from a mission to Istanbul in 1518 when his ship was attacked in the Mediterranean sea by Christian pirates, who captured him and gave him to Pope Leo X. He spent one year in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, a fortress just outside Vatican City, and converted to Christianity; he was baptized in Saint Peter of Rome by the Pope himself, who gave him his names, Joannes Leo de Medici, but he is generally called Leo Africanus. In Italy, he taught Arabic and wrote a number of books, many of which have not been found.1 The most famous of these texts is a geographical opus about Africa. The manuscript was completed in March 10, 1526; an editorialized version of it was published for the first time in 1550. We know next to nothing about the rest of his life, not even if he stayed in Italy until his death, or if he went back to North Africa.


Arabic Language High Social Status Sahara Desert African Language Arabic Word 
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  1. 1.
    Besides the Description of Africa, two of these works have been published: “Libellus de Viris Quibusdam Illustribus apud Arabes,” in J. H. Hottinger, Bibliothecarius Quadripartitus, 1664; “De Arte Metrica Liber,” in A. Codazzi, “II trattato dell’Arte Metrica di Giovanni Leone Africano,” Studi Orientalistici in Onore di Giorgio Levi Della Vida, vol. 1 (Rome: Instituto per l’Oriente, 1956).Google Scholar

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© Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna G. Singh 2001

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  • Oumelbanine Zhiri

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