Ancient Armenia – Once home to the “Second Ethiopia” ?
— The recent feast day(Nov.16) of Saint Matthew will baffle some Ethiopians over the claim that St. Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia.
Further baffling is that this Ethiopia was in ancient or present day Armenia and neighboring Georgia—between the Black and Caspian Sea.
Here is one account in the book “The Christian Story: Past, Present, and Future” by author Dr. Peter J. Thompson. “Matthew, also called Levi, the tax collector; details of his journeys are not clear but may include Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea(modern Iran) , Persia, Macedonia and Syria. He died either near Hierapolis(Western Turkey) or in Ethiopia.”
To get further into this Matthew saga it is important to note that his name is also often spelled St. Matthias. This will help further unravel the mystery.
According to “The Adventures of the Twelve Apostles, by L. A. Murray, “St. Matthias was one of five Apostles to have led a mission to Armenia.” Murray adds: “The lands to which Matthias sailed are now called Adygey, Abkhazia, Adzhar Karachay, Ossetia and Georgia but some ancients then called that region Ethiopia, others called it Albania, and some called it Iberia.”
As Murray notes: “Ancient Armenia was a large country stretching from mid-Turkey to Persia up to the top of the Caspian Sea.”
The Matthias narrative often includes the Armenian connection, as we read in “A Catholic Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City”, by author Frank J. Korn, who writes: “Matthias also toiled for a time in the spiritual vineyards of Armenia.” According to “The Apostles of Jesus Christ: Thirteen Men Who Turned the World Upside Down”, by C. David Jones, “One apocryphal legend attests that Matthias was captured, imprisoned and blinded by cannibals in the region identified in New Testament times as “Aethiopia”(sometimes confused with the Ethiopia of North Africa) located in one of the provinces of Mesopotamia or Armenia.”
So, why was this region called Ethiopia?
This seems traced to the greek writer Herodotus who writes about a colony founded in this region called Colchis, which was inhabited by Ethiopic people, believed to have been brought here by the Egyptian pharaoh Semostris .
In “When They Were Pharoahs” by T.H. Lawrence, “The Catholic church itself, the early bishop, St. Jerome, and the Christian monk Sophronius, called Colchis, “second Ethiopia,” further confirming, that these ancient black Russians came from Egypt, they were thus of Ethiopian origin.” Most geography scholars believe Colchis is in the modern day region somewhere in the vicinity of Armenia and Georgia, along the Black Sea.
According to “The Lives of the Early Martyrs”, by Pedro de Ribadeneyra, “St. Matthew traveled into Ethiopia, the King and Queen of which were converted in consequence of his raising their son from the dead.”
This might explains Saint Fulvianus, the Prince of Ethiopia. According to Eastern and Roman Catholic Tradition, Matthew baptised Fulvianus. Fulvianus would later betray Matthew , resulting in Matthew death. Fulvianus would immediately repent for his action and his permanent conversion to Christianity led to his appointment as Bishop.
The truth be said, however, the gospels speak nothing of the fate of Matthew/Matthias. So how did this narrative come about?
Apparently one source is from the 14th century historian Nikephoros, considered the last of the great Greek ecclesiastical historians, who wrote: “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastapolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” However, there appears to be other older narratives including one from the sixth century latin poet Venanthius Fortunatus, and reports of a lost Gospel of Matthias.
For most accounts, the original source seems not relative to Philip H. Pfatteichel who writes in his “New Book of Festival and Commemorations” —- what seems to matter most is that “all traditions at least agree that he was a martyr for his faith.” (Ancient map according to Herodotus–the Eastern Ethiopians?)