By Felicitas Schmieder
Journal of Millennial Studies, Vol.1:1 (1998)
Introduction: Around 1200 far in Eastern Central Asia the rising power of the Mongolian tribes started to conquer large parts of Asia and finally to reach the European sphere. Surprisingly, the earliest indications of movements in Asia in the 1220s were received in the West without fear, and were connected with positive expectations.
One reason for this uncommon attitude regarding foreigners was the medieval conviction that the world had been entirely described in the antique, biblical and literary traditions. So the medieval Europeans could expect only a small choice of well-known, whether good or bad, potential intruders. These ones had to be good: in the Holy Land for decades now the Crusaders had experienced nothing but set-backs and they urgently needed allies against the Saracens. Those allies had to be Christians to conclude a reliable agreement, because: “It is certain that unbelievers lacking the true faith (fides) cannot be tied by the bond of trust (fides). Neither do they admit any authority to our oaths of allegiance, nor is a Christian able to trust fides) undoubtedly in heathen oaths”. Thus were people convinced that the prophesied Prester John was approaching, the legendary Christian king from India, who would attack the Muslims from behind to support the Latin Christian realm of the Holy Land.
Moreover, Christ had ordered the apostles to go and teach all nations – and this order had to be fulfilled before Christ would finally return to Earth. The widening of the European horizon over the course of the crusades had shown that the Christians represented only a fraction of the people in the world. Additionally, the fatal year 1260 was approaching, for which the great 12th-century-prophet Joachim of Fiore had prophesied the coming of the First Antichrist, the beginning of the Third and Last Millennium. So it would not have been easy to expect even more heathen enemies – and for the same reason, help in extinguishing the nonbelieving Saracens, too stubborn to be baptized, was needed even more urgently.