Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian traveller and historian of the 3rd century, was probably born in Libya, and may have served under Septimius Severus against the Osrhoenians in AD 195. Little is known of his personal history, except that he lived at Emmaus, and that he went on an embassy to the emperor Heliogabalus to ask for the restoration of the town, which had fallen into ruins. His mission succeeded, and Emmaus was henceforward known as Nicopolis. Dionysius bar-Salibi says he was a bishop, but probably he was not even a presbyter.
He wrote a history of the world (Chronografiai, in five books) from Creation to the year AD 221, covering, according to his computation, 5723 years. He calculated the period between Creation and Jesus as 5500 years, placing the Incarnation on the first day of AM 5501, our modern March 25, 1 BC, according to Venance Grumel, La Chronologie (1958). This method of reckoning led to several Creation eras being used in the Greek Eastern Mediterranean, which all placed Creation within one decade of 5500 BC.
The history, which had an apologetic aim, is no longer extant, but copious extracts from it are to be found in the Chronicon of Eusebius, who used it extensively in compiling the early episcopal lists. There are also fragments in George Syncellus, Cedrenus and the Paschale Chronicon. Eusebius (Church History i. 7; vi. 31) gives some extracts from his letter to one Aristides, reconciling the apparent discrepancy between Matthew and Luke in the genealogy of Christ by a reference to the Jewish law, which compelled a man to marry the widow of his deceased brother, if the latter died without issue. His terse and pertinent letter to Origen, impugning the authority of the apocryphal book of Susanna, and Origen's wordy and uncritical answer, are both extant. The ascription to Africanus of an encyclopaedic work entitled Kestoi (embroidered girdles), treating of agriculture, natural history, military science, etc., has been needlessly disputed on account of its secular and often credulous character. Neander suggests that it was written by Africanus before he had devoted himself to religious subjects. A fragment of this work was found in the Oxyrhynchus papyri.