Gates, Hats, and Naked Jews: Sorting out the Nubian Guards on the Ebstorf Map

  • Asa Simon Mittman California State University, Chico


Medieval Christian mapmakers represented a range of peoples, animals and monsters against which they defined their place what they believed to be God’s divine plan. Rooted in earlier anti-Semitic tropes, the detailed world maps of the thirteenth/early fourteenth centuries contain multiple problematic representations of Jews, perceived at once as distant in time and space, and also eminently current and local. While some of these images are expected – Biblical characters appear frequently – others are harder to explain. This essay attempts to grapple with the Ebstorf Map’s peculiar image of the guards of the Nubian Gate, presented as giant, armed, naked Jewish men. Rather than offer a clear-cut explanation for these curious figures, the essay places them in a context where such representations become at least possible. It then considers some differences in anti-Semitic tropes between then and now, to further clarify how these figures might have been viewed by their original audience.