Leo Africanus

ca. 1485–ca. 1554
Arab geographer

Leo Africanus was an Arab geographer who make numerous journeysin the northern and western regions Africa and wrote a bookabout the places he visited. Born in Spain and educated in MOROCCO, hetraveled extensively throughout North Africa and made three trips to EGYPT. South of the Sahara, he visited Gao and TIMBUKTU in the SonghaiEmpire of western Africa.

Around 1520 pirates captured him off the coast of TUNISIA and presentedhim to Pope Leo X as a slave. The pope freed him and baptizedhim as a Christian. At the pope’s request, Leo Africanus wrote Descriptionof Africa, which became an important source of information about thisperiod in African history. The book, which appeared in 1526 (five yearsafter the pope died), has been published in many editions and has beentranslated into several languages. He remained in Rome most of his lifebut returned to Tunis before his death. Some people say that LeoAfricanus returned to Islam before his death, but that remains uncertain.(See also Sudanic Empires of Western Africa, Travel and Exploration.)

Leo Africanus