African Self-Fashioning and Survival in Early Modern Europe: The Journey of Ṣägga Krәstos and Its Legacy.
Matteo Salvadore is Associate Professor of History at the American University of Sharjah. A broadly trained African and world historian, he received his doctorate from Temple University in 2010. His book, The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402-1555 (2016) explores early modern dealings between the Kingdom of Ethiopia and Renaissance Europe. In recent years, he has been working on life histories of diasporic Ethiopians in the early modern Mediterranean and Indian Ocean worlds. His work has appeared in the Journal of World History, Itinerario, Africa, the Journal of African History, the Journal of Early Modern History, and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History.
In 1632 Cairo, an adolescent African traveler named Ṣägga Krǝstos introduced himself to a Franciscan friar, claiming to be the legitimate heir to the Ethiopian throne. Following the encounter, he embarked on an epic journey through Italy and France and, thanks to a favorable historical juncture and skilled self-fashioning, he won the approval of sovereigns, prelates, and learned observers alike. However, after crisscrossing Italy and France and establishing himself in Paris, his sojourn ended with a scandalous arrest that would define his legacy. By drawing from published accounts and archival materials disseminated in over thirty archives across Europe, the Middle East and North America, this project aspires to reconstruct Sägga Krǝstos’s story of self-fashioning and survival, and settle the question of his identity and purpose. It contributes to the historiography on free Africans in Europe, early modern African-European relations, and the role of African agents in the making of missionarism. Further, by analyzing the posthumous discourse on Sägga Krǝstos and the trajectory of the historiography dedicated to his experience, this project seeks to contribute to the debate over the evolution of the European discourse on Africa and Ethiopia in particular, the emergence of modern racial categories, and the underestimation of African agency in early modern African-European relations.