Mountains of the Moon (Africa)

Mountains of the Moon (Africa)
For mountains on the Moon see list of mountains on the Moon.

The term Mountains of the Moon or Montes Lunae referred to a mountain range in central Africa that is the source of the White Nile.


Ancient testimony

The ancient world had long been curious as to the source of the Nile, especially Ancient Greek geographers. A number of expeditions up the Nile failed to find the source.

Eventually a merchant named Diogenes reported that he had traveled inland from Rhapta in East Africa for twenty-five days and had found the source of Nile. He reported it flowed from a group of massive mountains into a series of large lakes. He reported the natives called this range the Mountains of the Moon because of their snowcapped whiteness.

These reports were accepted as true by Ptolemy[1] and other Greek and Roman geographers, and maps he produced indicated the reported location of the mountains. Late Arab geographers, despite having far more knowledge of Africa, also took the report at face value, and included the mountains in the same location given by Ptolemy.[2]

Modern theories

It was not until modern times that Europeans resumed their search for the source of the Nile. The Scottish explorer, James Bruce, who travelled to Gojjam in 1770, identified the Mountains of the Moon with Mount Amedamit, which he described surrounded the source of the Lesser Abay "in two semi-circles like a new moon ... and seem, by their shape, to deserve the name of mountains of the moon, such as was given by antiquity to mountains in the neighborhood of which the Nile was supposed to rise."[3] James Grant and John Speke in 1862 found that the source was not primarily in the mountains but rather in the Great Lakes. Henry Morton Stanley finally found glacier-capped mountains possibly fitting Diogenes's description in 1889 (they had eluded European explorers for so long due to often being shrouded in mist). Today known as the Rwenzori Mountains, the peaks are the source of some of the Nile's waters, but only a small fraction, and Diogenes would have crossed the Victoria Nile to reach them.

Many modern scholars doubt that these were the Mountains of the Moon described by Diogenes, some holding that his reports were wholly fabricated. G.W.B. Huntingford suggested in 1940 that the Mountain of the Moon should be identified with Mount Kilimanjaro, and "was subsequently ridiculed in J. Oliver Thompson's History of Ancient Geography published in 1948". Huntingford later noted that he was not alone in this theory, citing Sir Harry Johnston in 1911 and Dr. Gervase Mathew later in 1963 having made the same identification.[4] O. G. S. Crawford identified this range with the Mount Abuna Yosef area in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia.

In film

  • Mountains of the Moon (1990) (starring Patrick Bergin as Sir Richard Francis Burton) related the story of the Burton-Speke controversy.


In a book by Willard Price called "Elephant Adventure", the story takes place in the Mountains of the Moon, where the wildlife including the elephants, the trees and other vegetation is supposed to be of sizes at least one third larger than in the rest of Africa. Price cites a March 1962 article in National Geographic Magazine as the basis for his information.


  1. ^ His Geographia, IV.8. reports “The Mountain of the Moon” (τὸ τῆς Σελήνης ὄρος) and its location.
  2. ^ Ralph Ehrenberg, Mapping the World : An Illustrated History of Cartography (National Geographic, 2005)
  3. ^ James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), vol. 5 p. 209
  4. ^ G.W.B. Huntingford, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, p. 175 (London: the Hakluyt Society, 1980).

See also

  • Mountains of the Moon (song)

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