Home » Horizons » Antillia: a phantom island in the Atlantic


The Portuguese have a legend of seven bishops who fled the Muslim invasion of their homeland. This has been associated with the phantom island of Antillia.

Satanazes on Zuane Pizzigano's 1424 chart
Antillia on Zuane Pizzigano's 1424 chart


Antillia normally forms part of a four island archipelago on maps of the 15th century, with it and another, generally termed Satanazes being the largest, and rectangular in configuration. Both have smaller companions, in Antillia's case Royllo (though Zuane Pizzigano, the earliest of the cartographers, renders the name as Ymana). The following table lists the cartographers, the dates of their works and the names of the islands contained therein: -

Zuane Pizzigano1424SayaSatanazesAntiliaYmana
Battista Beccaro1435TanmarSatanagioAntilliaRoyllo
Andrea Bianco1436 De la man satanagioAntillia 
Bartolomeo Pareto1455  AntilliaRoillo
Freducci em Weimar1460sTanmar(?)Saluaga(?)Antilia septe civit(?)Royllo(?)
Grazioso Benincasa1463TaumarSaluagaAntiliaRosellia
Petrus Roselli1464Two islands without names
Petrus Roselli1466 SaluatgaIllegible 
Petrus Roselli1468Tamar(?)SaluatgaAntiliaRoella(?)
Grazioso Benincasa1470TaunarSaluagaAnthilia 
Cristoforo Soligoc.1475  Sete zitade 
Andrea Benincasa1476  Antilia 
Albino Cánepa1480TanmaySaluagiaAntilliaRoillo
Grazioso Benincasa1482TaumarSaluagaAntilia 
Jacme Bertran1482Illegible
Grazioso Benincasa(?)c.1482Taumar[...]agiaAntilia 
Anonymous Majorcan1487Tannar(?)SaluajaAntiliaNotyala(?)
Albino Cánepa1489TaumarSaluagiaAntilliaRoillo
Martin Behaim1492  Jnsula antilia genant Septe ritade 
Laon globe1493 SalirosaAntela 
Anonymous Portuguesec.1500  Septem civitatum insula 

The abrupt change in the name of the northern island from the Satanazes type to Saluagia and the like from the 1460s onwards can perhaps be explained by Diogo Gomes de Sintra's 1438 discovery of the desolate Salvage Islands.


Antillia is linked in myth with seven cities founded by Visigothic bishops fleeing the Moors in the early 8th century. In addition to these are more settlements on Satanazes. A number of the maps mentioned above provide names for these polities: -

Zuane Pizzigano1424AsayAry(?)VraJaysosMarnlioAnsulyCyodue(?)NarYmana(?)Con(?)YsyaAralia
Grazioso Benincasa1463AntuabAnseselljAnsolljConAnsodiAnsolljAira JmadaCansillaNamAraialis
Grazioso Benincasa1470AntuubAnsesselljAnsolljConAnsodjAnsolljAiraDuchalJmadaCansillaNamAraliais
Andrea Benincasa1476AsalEnsaEnaConeAnsors       
Albino Cánepa1480AsalCusaCuaMarolioAnsodiAnsoHare(?) ViuadiTenNarYsua
Grazioso Benincasa1482AntinibAnselseliAnsolliConAnsodiAnsalliAiraDuchalJmadaConsillaNam(?)Aralias
Grazioso Benincasa(?)c.1482   Con(?)Ansodj(?)Ansollj(?)  JmadaCansillaNam(?) 
Albino Cánepa1489AsalCusaCuaMarolioAnsrosAnsoaChoue(?) ViuadiTemNarIsua

The names Con, Consilla and Cansilla, which appear as the names of towns on both islands, are associated by Armando Cortesão with the Irish tale of the hero Connla mac Conn and his fairy maiden love, in which Connla embarks in a curragh which is seen to "glide away over the bright sea towards the setting sun." Connla and his bride, now given the name Venusia, is later met by the Munsterman Teigue mac Cein in a land called Inis Derglocha.

Abraham Ortelius's 1570 world map showing the Seven Cities and Santana.


After being ousted from Gaul by the rising power of the Franks, the Visigoths developed an advanced post-Roman culture of their own in Iberia, which survived into the eighth century AD before its destruction by the invading Arab-Berber armies of the Umayyad Caliphate. The embattled king Rodrigo, turning away through necessity from internal enemies to face this new and powerful foe, fell at the battle of the Guadalquivir in AD 711 and soon all but a stubborn holdout in the mountain fastnesses of Asturias was under caliphal control. It is in the aftermath of this invasion that our legend begins.

The most common version of the tale takes place in about AD 714 and features a group of seven bishops, led by the Bishop of Porto, who set out on an intrepid voyage into the far reaches of the Atlantic in search of refuge. They eventually discover a fine island where they agree to settle, poignantly burning their ships to prevent any thoughts of further flight and found seven cities, one for each of their number.

Martin Behaim, whose globe provides details found above, gives us the following account, which he dates a couple of decades after the conquest: -

In the year 734 after the birth of Christ, when all Spain was overrun by the miscreants of Africa, this Island of Antillia, called also the Isle of the Seven Cities, was peopled by the Archbishop of Porto with six other bishops, and certain companions, male and female, who fled from Spain with their cattle and property.

Johannes Ruysch, on his map of 1507/8, furnishes a similar description, which alludes to the supposed 15th century rediscovery of the island: -

This island Antilia was once found by the Portuguese, but now when it is searched, cannot be found. People found here speak the Hispanic language, and are believed to have fled here in face of a barbarian invasion of Hispania, in the time of King Roderic, the last to govern Hispania in the era of the Goths. There is 1 archbishop here and 6 other bishops, each of whom has his own city; and so it is called the island of seven cities. The people live here in the most Christian manner, replete with all the riches of this century.
Detail of the inscription and figure from the Pizzigani's map of 1367.

Ruysch's description is followed by Pedro de Medina, who, in 1548, added a number of other enigmatic details, claiming that Antillia was 87 leagues in length and 28 in width, and boasting good harbours and rivers. Interestingly, instead of crediting Ruysch, Medina claims that his source was an antique map produced by one "Tolomeo" at the behest of "Papa Urbano," suggesting a chart based on the work of Claudius Ptolemaeus produced in the pontificate of Urban VI (1378-1389). This would be a decade after the chart of Domenico and Francesco Pizzigano (1367), who state that navigation is impossible beyond a point interpreted as "statues on the shores of Atullia," which is most likely a reference to the pillars of Heracles. The details of the burning of the ships and the 714 date originate with Ferdinand Columbus, writing in 1539.

A further detail appears in the work of Manuel de Faria e Sousa, writing in about AD 1628. He mentions Sacaru, governor of Mérida, who negociated a withdrawal from the mainland to lift a Moorish siege. He gathered his followers and set out for the Canary Islands, though Faria e Sousa speculates that he may have ended up on Antillia, which is described as an island "populated by Portuguese" with "seven cities." Faria e Sousa adds that this island was believed to be visible from Madeira.


There exist legends along the northern coast of Spain in the region of Santander [...] of a youth who once eloped with a high-born maiden and came there to dwell.

Thus reports Thomas Wentworth Higginson in his Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic with regards to Antillia. This pair had supposedly come from Antillia, though the tale also appears eerily reminiscent of the aforementioned adventure of Connla mac Conn.

The next notice we have appears on Behaim's globe, which states that: -

In the year 1414, a Spanish ship approached very near this Island.

Actual footfall on Antillia would have to wait until the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The famous Henry the Navigator was the impetus for this remarkable period of history in many ways, and dealings with the islanders during his time (the 1430s and 1440s) were reported by Ferdinand Columbus. António Galvão, writing in 1563, records an account of Portuguese mariners travelling to Antillia. An Early Modern English translation renders the following: -

In this yeere also, 1447, it happened that there came a Portugall ship through the streight of Gibraltar; and being taken with a great tempest, was forced to runne westwards more than willingly the men would, and at last they fell vpon an Island which had seuen cities, and the people spake the Portugall toong, and they demanded if the Moores did yet trouble Spaine, whence they had fled for the losse which they received by the death of the king of Spaine, Don Roderigo.

This likely led to a new-found confidence in the reality of this Island of the Seven Cities, for the Portuguese kings Afonso V and João II mention them in letters concerning one Fernão Teles and a Fleming, Fernão Dulmo. Teles is granted "the Seven Cities and any other populated islands" he chanced upon in the Atlantic as his fief in 1475, while Dulmo was authorised to search for the island in a royal letter of the 24th July 1486. In a similar vein, the Infanta D. Brites was given a grant in 1473 of "an island, that appeared beyond the island of Santiago."

Furthermore, the concept survived the discovery of the Americas into the 17th century: William H. Koebel, in his Madeira Old and New, tells us a rather fanciful account of a group of friars coming upon a mysterious Atlantic island: -

The following is a free translation of an attestation made in Lisbon by some friars in as advanced a period as 1639. The story has some connection with the present matter in that the island [...] must have been in the neighbourhood of Madeira.
The Friars in question, bound for Lisbon, left Maranhao in the ship Nossa Senhora da Penha, of which the master was a certain Antonio de Sousa. Shortly after they had left a violent gale sprang up, and the vessel was buffetted helplessly to and fro for sixteen days. On the 30th July, 1639, the storm abated, and they found themselves in the near neighbourhood of an island. At first this was taken to be Madeira; but it soon became evident to the captain and crew that this was a spot upon which they had never before cast eyes.

The friars are given three days' leave by the captain to explore: -

Once ashore, they found themselves in the midst of wild and very grand scenery. Then, as they proceeded onwards, they found to their amazement that they were entering a cultivated district. Presently they came in sight of a palace of ancient appearance that was built in circular form, enclosing a garden filled with beautiful flowers. High above the building was reared a tower that held a lantern, the powerful light of which was visible for a distance of a couple of leagues.
As the friars gazed on the spectacle in wonder seven men, of fair complexions, emerged from the palace. Clothed in garments of ancient days, they were tall and heavily bearded. They spoke a species of Portuguese, moreover, which was easily understood by the newcomers. They asked many questions, and stated their conviction that the Portuguese were the chosen nation of all on earth. After the visitors had explained the manner of their arrival they were conducted into the presence of one who was the governor, or king, of the place, a venerable man of striking appearance, known as the Majestic Ancient.
The Majestic Ancient led the visitors to a great hall, and showed them some very large paintings displayed there. One of these depicted a battlefield. On one side was a noble army, fighting strenuously, but disorganised and on the point of being conquered. On the other was a multitude of fighters of Moorish appearance, who came storming in victorious hordes to the attack. Another scene showed a number of men, obviously Portuguese, who were embarking in ships, some of which were already sailing away towards some unknown sea. In a second hall were the statues of a long line of kings, whose features unmistakably marked them ancestors of the Majestic Ancient. In addition to these were more pictures, representing Portuguese victories, and scenes and towns in Portugal.
Wending their way out into the flower garden, they found in the midst of it a strange shrine, the door of which was guarded by two lions. None dared enter here unless in the company of the Majestic Ancient, who, for his part, passed in and out as though the terrible guardians had no existence. Within the shrine was a superb altar, with a statue of the Virgin. In one hand she held the child Jesus, while with the other she grasped a sword that she offered with outstretched arm.


The great Arab geographer Muḥammad al-Idrīsī describes an island named Ash-Shasland (Sahalia in Latin), which is large and formerly inhabited: -

The length of this island is equivalent to 15 days' sailing, its width ten. Formerly it had three large cities and was well populated, with ships landing and remaining there in order to purchase amber and stones of diverse colours; but, following revolutions and wars which occurred in those days, the majority of its inhabitants perished. Many of them crossed the sea to the continent of Europe where their race remains very numerous, at the time of writing.

Whilst Sahalia has sometimes been compared to Antillia, it is unlikely to be a match. Interestingly, though, al-Idrīsī states that he will have more to say when discussing Ireland about this matter. The most likely explanation is an island inhabited by Norsemen, rather than Iberians.


Perhaps a more likely candidate is the island of al-Mushtashkin or al-Tinnin, the latter of which was posited as etymologically-similar to Antillia by Alexander von Humboldt. This island was home to a population freed by Alexander the Great from the depradations of a dragon.


The aforementioned Manuel de Faria e Sousa, concluding his description of Sacaru's flight into the Atlantic, mentions the following, about Antillia: -

[An island] can be seen from Madeira, but when [sailors] wish to reach it, [it] disappears.

This is quite the common trope, what with mirages and illusions being a fact of science. But disappearing Atlantic islands, unable to be reached, are a figure of many mythologies. Particularly pertinent are Arabic sources, with the Akhbār al-zamān mentioning floating and vanishing islands in the region: -

There is in this sea an island which appears in certain years and months and subsequently disappears along with all that lies thereupon; it always returns with the same appearance. It is called a mobile island.
[...] In the great sea, there is an island which is visible at some distance in the sea; however, should one attempt to approach it, it moves away and vanishes. When one retraces ones steps to the coordinates at which it was first sighted, it is visible again just as before.

On the latter occasion, the text reports that sailors mention a sea fish called a chākil, the carrying of which enables mariners to break the enchantment and land on the island.


António Galvão's account of the 1447 Portuguese visit to the island gives the following interesting detail: -

The boateswaine of the ship brought home a little of the sand, and sold it vnto a goldsmith of Lisbon, out of the which he had a good quantitie of gold.

Again, the Arabs furnish us with a possible analogue. The Akhbār al-zamān tells us of as-Sayārah, another western island: -

A Jewish merchant recounted that one year he was on a ship that was wrecked and that he and his companions were cast onto an island whose soil, stones and all else was made of gold. They remained there for a few days without any food other than fish, and even these were rare. As they were in danger of death, they recovered the ship's lifeboat, which remained intact; they drew it up to the shore and filled it with gold; but their avarice led them to overfill the boat; they put out to sea but did not get very far before the ship sank; all the gold was lost; almost all of them drowned, with the exception of a few who swam in the direction of Zanj and managed to reach dry land.

It is prudent at this point to record that the Seven Cities were eventually transferred in the Spanish imagination to what is today the southwestern United States. Silver, too, was allegedly to be found in Antillia. The so-called "Columbus Map," today in Paris, records the following: -

Here is the island called of the Seven Cities, a colony inhabited by Portuguese, according to some Spanish sailors, in the sands of which silver can be found.

This seems firmly based upon the same information as Galvão's putative source, though it is interesting to note that the Spaniards claim that the "gold" is in fact silver.


The name of Antillia's more northerly sister island is given before 1438 variously as Satanazes and Satanagio. Quite possibly this comes benignly from the name of St. Athanasius, which would be strangely apt given his role as the great champion of Christian orthodoxy against the Arian movement which, for so many years, was the major religion of the Visigoths. However, the first five letters spell a far more ominous name, which has led to speculation about this "devil's isle."

Again, Arabic tradition comes to our aid, with tales of the throne of Iblis, chief of the rebels against Allāh: -

It is said that the throne of Iblis (the devil), near the Sea of Darkness, is borne by a horde of demons and evil spirits who are employed in this task, encircled by evil djinn who are at his command. These veil him and never leave him; others disperse at his command; but none among them leaves his place to encourage a sinner in his rebellion or to entice a saint; other servants of Iblis go about among mankind to lead them astray. Iblis' prison is on the island of Sah; it is there that he is imprisoned along with the djinn and satans who follow him.

An association with the "hand of Satan" rising from the sea is also potentially at play in the name as given on Bianco's 1436 map: De la man satanagio.

This, however, could be a misreading, with the "De la man" instead being the name of Satanazes' smaller counterpart, commonly called Tanmar.

Detail of the anonymous Portuguese Cantino planisphere of 1502, depicting parrots in Brazil.


Under the aegis of that most brilliant father of the European "Age of Discovery," the Portuguese prince commonly known in English as Henry the Navigator, the sailors of that most enterprising nation defeated age-old superstition by making their way beyond the feared Cabo de Não, rediscovered the Macaronesian islands and charted much of the coast of north-western Africa. While posterity makes theirs an unfortunate legacy, marking the beginnings of the gruesome Atlantic trade in human beings which persisted for some four centuries, these intrepid explorers also made possible the European discovery and colonisation of the New World.

We have already had cause to mention the myth that inspired them and an alleged visit to a mysterious land in 1447. But surely that visit, too, was no more than legend? Is there anything in the more sober sources which support such claims?

Actually, there might just be...

And in that island in which the arms of the Infant were carved they found trees of great size, and of strange forms, and among these was one which was not less than 108 palms in circuit at the foot. And this tree doth not grow very high, but is about as lofty as the walnut-tree, and from its middle bark they make very good thread for cordage, and it burneth like flax. The fruit is like a gourd, and its seeds are like filberts, and this fruit they eat green, and the seeds they dry. And of these there is a great abundance, and I believe they use them for their maintenance after the green faileth them. And some there were who said they saw there birds which appeared to them to be parrots.
Detail of Andrea Bianco's 1448 map revised by H. Yule Oldham, depicting the west African coast, the ixola otinticha and dos ermanes.

In 1445/6, Lançarote de Freitas, a member of the Infante Henry's household, led an armada of some fourteen ships further down the African coast than ever before. Among their firsts were the first colony in the area, at Arguin (which may well have been built atop the Carthaginian trading settlement of Cerne) and the first exploration of the Senegal River, as well as an early, tentative visit to the Cape Verde Islands.

... but there may be more. In 1448, Andrea Bianco, a Venetian cartographer, was in London, busily etching a new map which referenced all of the previous Portuguese discoveries and has a notable focus on Africa. Antillia, which is present on his 1436 map, has gone, replaced by the Azores. However, further to the south, just on the edge of the map we have today, there lies a similarly-lengthy land mass, which is indicated as the ixola otinticha, the "authentic" or "genuine island."

What could this be? A short distance northwards, where we find the Cape Verde archipelago, are the dos ermanes or "two brothers," islands with a significant pedigree in Arabic sea-lore. So, is this another of the same group?

H. Yule Oldham did not think so, preferring an identification with the north-east coast of Brazil, though his ideas are hardly consensus. The detail of the parrots suggests that the quote above is a red herring, as the island described there is most likely the Île de Gorée or Beer Dun, an island off the coast at Dakar.

Abraham Ortelius's 1570 world map showing the Psitacorum Regio.

Nevertheless, parrots appear in the context of Portuguese discoveries in the unlikely setting of the unknown southern continent (and also feature on the Cantino planisphere of 1502, two years after the first Europeans are confirmed to have reached Brazil), in the particular region below Africa, in Abraham Ortelius' world map. Ortelius' inscription reads Psitacorum regio sic a Lusitanis appellata ob incredibilem earum auium ibidem magnitudem ("this region is by the Portuguese called 'of the Psitaci' because of the incredible number of birds of the same size). Certainly (bird-)food for thought.

Sir Graham