MANTAI THE GREAT EMPORIUM OF Cosmas Indicopleustus . by Dr. Roland Silva President, National Trust -Sri Lanka. Chairman , Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
THE GREAT EMPORIUM OF Cosmas Indicopleustus
Dr. Roland Silva
President, National Trust -Sri Lanka
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are deeply privileged to be able to address this learned audience on a subject which we are presently investigating. We are most conscious of the unknown rocks and whirlpools that we may chance to encounter, as the audience to whom we are addressing this paper can be specialists in this discipline, and could well contest many of the suggestions that we may present. However, the progress of science demands revision, re-thought and re-formulation of instincts, ideas and ideals.
Slide 1 - Sri Lanka through the eyes of Ptolemy– First Century AD
Note the size of Sri Lanka in relation to India
Mannar Island seen against the Pearl Banks of Sri Lanka, with the International Waterways passing through the larger Mannar Channel, and the smaller Pambem Passage, which lay between the two Nations of India and Sri Lanka
Slide 3 – Map of the Mannar Channel and the Pambem Passage
Apart from Cosmas Indicopleustus of the 6th century, De Queyroz, the Portuguese writer was also one of those who referred to Mantota as an Emporiumand how right they all were, although in the latter’s own time the great channel of communication was already silting. He was, indeed, aware that the Romans used this waterway to great benefit for he records in his comments the many Roman artefacts that were discovered in the erection of the Portuguese fortification on the west bank of the channel at Mantota.The popularity and the usage of Mantota as a major highway port is clear from the many and continuous historical references to this port in the different trade records and chronicles.These names include Mahatitagama, Mahavoti, Mahavutu, Mavatutota, Matottam, Mahatitiha and Modouttou (1).
Slide 4– Sri Lanka, a Continuous Navigational Hub in relation to Europe and Asia
Considering the position of Sri Lanka in its global and navigational context in the ancient world, Sri Lanka stood to much geographical advantage in three ways,
(a) It was the vital southernmost point of mainland Asia;
(b) It was almost on the Equator where navigational winds and monsoon effects changed directions;
(c) It was the half way point between the two great empires of Rome and Peking.
Considering these geographical features, Sri Lanka was a necessary ‘port of call’ for anchorage, awaiting for the right winds for the onward journey, across waters without land in sight, and for the collection of food, water and other supplies.Such physical necessities combined with the social obligations to human endurance of being away from the homeland, no doubt, encouraged the navigators
to consider Sri Lanka as a ‘port-of-return’ to ships calling on the island either from the East or the West.
As such, the natural course of trade and shipment found in Sri Lanka were utilized as
an ideal staging post for the ‘transhipment of goods’ and for the ‘barter of such products’ that were traded between the distant Empires of Rome and Peking.The sporadic studies on the ports and capitals of Sri Lanka and the many foreign artefacts found at these sites are a clear indication to such close links. Hoards of Roman coins found in Jaffna, Kataragama, Walave, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and thirty other sites are vital pointers towards this end (2). Roman coins are still available in the streets of Colombo for sale to numismatists and antiquarians. The spread of Chinese coins and ceramics from Jaffna to Mantota, Anuradhapura to Polonnaruva, Yapahuva to Dambadeniya, Sigiriya to Panduvasnuvara, Kandy to Galle and Tissamaharama, all criss-crossed the length and breadth of this country to eliminate any serious doubts of such close trade links with this great Empire. The question raised is only about the exact position of such trade transactions. Here again the answers are as extensive as the beaches of this country. Many ports, often at the mouths of the rivers, formed the right haven for such trade transactions and our conjecture is that Mantota was the finest of such ports in this country at least until the ships were too large and the waterway too shallow for the convenience of the navigators.
The importance of Sri Lanka is emphasized in this, Dark Ages map of the world, where the three known continents in early and medieval times. namely, Europe, Africa and Asia are shown and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is highlighted next to Paradise.
Slide 6– There was consistent interest in the affairs of the island by the numerous reports documented throughout the ages by officials, travellers and traders. The map that follows from the First Century AD records the Land-Link between the West end of Europe with Thaprobane (Sri Lanka), thus recording the historical relevance of continued trade and other contacts
TAPROBANE (SRI LANKA)
There is hardly any reason to doubt these facts of historical-geography when we know that there was consistent interest in the affairs of the island by the numerous reports documented throughout the ages by officials, travellers and traders. The sixty eight or more names assigned to Sri Lanka in historical times are in many ways a clear testimony of the island’s importance as a port of call (3).
Slide 7– The Sixty Eight or more Names given to Sri Lanka in the past indicate the many nations and People that communicated with this Island State through the centuries.
I l.am11thTirumukku-d.al Inscription 16
Ilerane17thde Queyroz 17
Jazirat Al Yákút 9th Arab Historian 18
Lam. ka-4th-2nd BCRa-ma-yan.a 19
Lam.ka-di-pa 4th ADDi-pavam. sa 20
Lang-ya6thMing Shib 21
Man.d.adipa 4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 22
Ojadi-pa4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 23
Ophir 17th (circa)Dutch Map 24
Palaesimundu 1st ADPeriplus of the Erythraean Sea 25
Palaiogonoi 3rd BCMegasthenes 26
Palasimudae1st ADMarcian of Heraclea 27
Pallessimonda17th de Queyroz 28
Pao-tchou7th Hsuen-Tsang 29
Parasamudra4th BC Kaut.ilya 30
P’o-lo-men8thTou Hoan 31
Rachius1st ADSanchoniathou 32
Ratnadi-pa6th Manimekala-i 33
Salabham14th (circa)Tamil 34
Salice15th Map Colombo Museum 35
Salikeib2nd ADPtolemy 36
SaÈng-kia-lo7th Hsuen-Tsang 37
Sarandib2nd ADSamaritan Pentateuch 38
Saylan15th Fra Mauro’s Map 39
Scrilanea17th de Queyroz 40
Seilan15th Martin.Behaim’s uremburg Globe41
Selendive-Arab author 42
Senda-n 8thArab author 43
Se-ng-ka-lo7th I-tsing 44
Serendivi4th ADEmperor Julian 45
Shi-tyi-kuo-Chinese author 46
Sielediba6thCosmas Indicopleustes 47
Sihadi-pa5thTchou Tche 48
Si-lan12th ling wai tai ta 49
Silangiri7th Hsuen Tsang 50
Si-louen-tie-Chau Ju-kua 51
Sim.hala4th ADDi-pavam.sa 52
Sim.haladvipa – Indian author 53
Simonda17th de Queyroz 54
Simondi15th Map - Colombo Museum 55
Simondou2nd ADPtolemy 56
Si-nan7th Chau Ju-kua 57
Sin-t’an8th Tou Hoau 58
Siyalan-Arab author 59
S´ri -Lan.ka14thNika-yasam.graha 60
Sseu no-t’lao5th Tcnou Icne 62
Sseu-tiao3rd ADK’ang T’ai 63
Suvarn.advi-pa10th Ati-sa 64
Tambapan.n.i3rd BC Bodh Gaya Railing Inscription also Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 65
Tapobra-na17th de Queyroz and Erastothenes 66
Taproba14th Catalan Map 67
Taprobana2nd AD Ptolemy Map and
13th Hereford Map 68
Taprobane4th BCOnesioritus 69
Tenarezim17th de Queyroz 70
Tenasiria17th Pyrard de Laval 71
Ternasseri17thde Queyroz 72
Tranate17th de Queyroz 73
Triku-t.a4th-2nd BCRa-ma-yan.a 74
Varadipa4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 75
Zaylon17th de Queyroz 76
Zeilan17thPetrus Plancius 77
Recognizing the geographical and geological conditions of the island, many ancient records list the navigational routes traversing the course of this country.The Milindapanha of the first century AD, indicates the lines of communication through the Mannar straits linking China with the Red Sea:
“Just, O King as a ship owner who has become wealthy by constantly levying freight in some sea port town, will be able to traverse the high seas, and go to Vanga, or Takkola or China, or Sovira, or Surat, or Alexandria or the Koramandal coast, or further India or any other place where ships do congregate…”(4).
An Egyptian scholar Huzayyin states in his studies that,
“However, the communication between the latter two (Aden and the Malabar coast) was never abandoned, as it received an impetus by the rise of Ceylon, and, later on, by the development of maritime relations between West and South-East Asia – first by way of the Bay of Bengal and afterwards around the Malay Peninsula which made the ports of South India suitable half-way stations” (5).
Slide 8– Early Routes between the West and Southeast Asia through the North of Sri Lanka.
The Mannar Straits
The popularity of the sea route via the Mannar Straits in ancient times, can be considered in relation to a possible alternate route to the South of the island. While Mannar Straits retained the hazards of shallowness, which ultimately forced its abandonment, the southern way was uninviting due to the hidden rocks that lay to the South-East of the island. Thus the alternate route proved to be a dangerous course to be encountered at great risk and these misadventures are firmly recorded in the many wrecks that are closely guarded under the Antiquities Ordinance, as an Archaeological Reserve of Sri Lanka under the sea.
Slide 9– Mediaeval Routes between the West and Southeast Asia circumventing the Southern most landmass of Asia, namely, Sri Lanka .
It was for the same reason that the British erected upon these rocks the Great Basses and the Little Basses, two light houses six miles away out at sea. It is, no doubt, for the same reason that the Chinese named the Little Basses the “Stone Wall Rocks” (Shih Ch’eng) and the Great Basses the “Iron Pincers Island” (Tich Ch’en) (6). The Loadstone theory of the Persians in the “Arabian Knights” is popularly associated with these “iron islands’. The legend states that:
“…. the mountain of Loadstone towards which the current carried them with violence, and when the ships approach it, they fell asunder, the nails and everything that were of iron flew from them towards the Loadstone” (7).
This is clear evidence that the sailors shunned the Southern route round Sri Lanka, specially during the Southwest monsoon when the sails were raised in a northeasterly navigation.
Slide 10 – The Lighthouses of the Great and Little Basses.
The final consensus of decision by the early sailors was to traverse the first route via the Mannar Straits and Adam’s Bridge, this journey is described by Dionysisus Perigotes thus:
“Turning aside from there before the southernmost promontory you would straightaway come to the great island of Colias, Taprobane, mother of Asian born elephants; above which high up in the heavenly zodiac turns The shinning Crab” (8).
Slide 11 – The Elephant Kraals at Matara in 1805 according to Percival.****
Slide 12 –Noosing elephants at the Kraals in 1860 according to Tennent
Slide 13 – The Log Draw-Bridge at Matara to Enable a load of 14 Elephants in a Ponton boat to sail the animals for the auctions in Jaffna and be sent overseas.
An Arab traveller Sulayman records his journey in 851 AD, from Airaf near Barah to Eusqut and along a direct course to Quilon on the Malabar coast and from thereon round the Comorin and through the Palk Strait to the Nicobar islands and the port of Kalah.(9). The journey in the opposite direction is recorded by travellers like Fa Hien in the fifth century AD, in the year 411 AD, when the north-east winds sailed him to Sri Lanka from Tamralipti near Calcutta thus:
“…. he embarked in a merchant – vessel, and went floating over the sea to the south-west. It was the beginning of winter and the wind was available; and after fourteen days, sailing day and night, they came to the country of Sinhala” (10).
The major break-away from this traditional sea route of traversing the Mannar Straits and Adam’s Bridge seems to have been abandoned by the Eastern navigators in the fifteenth century when the ships were much larger reaching weights of 400 to 500 tons when compared with the European counterparts of the same period, which were between 250 and 300 tons.
For example, Cheng Ho in his first expedition to the southern ports of India and Sri Lanka in 1405 to 1407 with a fleet of 317 ships and 27,870 troupes arrived at Beruvala (11). He repeated this exercise seven times and only on one occasion did he not anchor in Sri Lanka. While on his third voyage, he even considered it appropriate to carry away the King of Raigama as a prisoner to China (12).
Slide 14 – A Sketch of Cheng Ho’s Ships in the 15th Century
Slide 15 -Portuguese ships scribble in the Natha Devale, Kandy in the 17th Century
Slide 16 - Early sailing ship from around the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD in Sri Lanka
Slide 17 – Yatra doni from Medieval Sri Lanka
Slide 18 – Details of a Sri Lankan Craft
Slide 19 – Arrival of the Bo-Tree from
Budh Gaya represented in the paintings of the 20th Century, Kelaniya
Slide 20 - Samban crafts from Indunesia –
8th Century, Borobudur
Sanchi 1st BC
Bharut 2nd BC
Andhra 2nd AD
Aurangabad 5th AD
Ajanta 5th AD
Borobudur 8th AD
Dutch 1598 AD
Rome 2nd AD
Chinese 7th AD
Chinese 15th AD
Slide 21 - Ships from various places and periods
However, the fourth of his expeditions clears the navigational trend of this period when a minor contingent of his navy deviated north-west to the Bay of Bengal, and sailed through the Mannar channel (13). The fact that this experiment discouraged the general of exploiting the Mannar Channel is clear when the subsequent voyages avoided the northern route. Our view is that the turning point of major navigation through the Mannar Straits terminates around this period although the Portuguese and the Dutch stubbornly continued to design new flat bottom boats to traverse the shallow sands of the Mannar Straits.
There is yet another question that needs to be cleared in terms of the Mannar Channel and that is with reference to the two waterways that lay at either end of Adam’s Bridge. Apart from the Mannar Channel that we have discussed so far, there is also the Pamben Passage at the Indian end of Adam’s Bridge. This is referred to by De Queyroz thus:
“…. between them there are only two channels, one, the broader between Mannar and the point of Cardiva, capable of foists only, the other near the island of the Pagodo of Ramdecoir (14), of less depth, where it is necessary to ‘Tanear’, that is to say, to disburden the rowing ships of their cargo and take them to the other side” (15).
Slide 22 – The Ramasvaram Kovil.
Baldaeus who was chaplain to the troops that captured the Portuguese fort of Manner in 1658 describes the channel thus:
“We shall now speak of the island of Mannar which was anciently attached to the continent, as the shallow straits designated Adam’s Brugh but too clear by indicates. Thereabouts lies the Island Rammana Kojel, where there is a rich and famed Pagodo under the tanver, who has also a defence there, within sight and close to the mainland. In good monsoons one can navigate with some light crafts through these narrow channels of Adam’s Brugh, as I myself have once done” (16).
The 1740 or 1719 Dutch Maps of the two Joannes, once again show the Mannar Channel (17). In the instructions of the Governor-General of India to the Governor of Ceylon 1656-1685, it is clearly stated: “That the passage between the coast of Ceylon and the island of Mannar also yields a certain income, the collection of which must be looked after. That there is westward of Mannar, a second strait, which separates this island from the sandbanks of Adam’s Bridge. A constant watch should be kept there also” (18). The Portuguese and the Dutch constructed the Mannar Fort on the island and not on the mainland, in order to protect the channel.
“On the north it (channel) is protected by the fort of Mannar, which although it has no outer moat, is quite able, by means of its cannon, to dispute the passage of any smuggling vessels or European and other ships”(19).
The tolls from anchorage and the ferry across the channel for 1696 are given as 530 1/3 Rix-dollars (20).
The dimensions of the channel are stated to be 1 1/3 miles long (21) and it had taken Governor Falck half an hour to cross in 1767, but the return journey took one and a half hours on a high tide (22). The main problem of the channel was its lack of depth and this can be observed from the following text where the Dutch had designed a special ship to transport elephants from Matara to Jaffna through this waterway.
“We have therefore been casting about in our mind for some other means of transport, but so far we could think of nothing better than the construction of two large pontoons, a little larger than the pontoon ‘De Hoop’, which is 64 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 3 ½ feet deep carrying 40 lasts (23). It is a flat-bottomed vessel with a round prow and keel, and carries a mast with misseon and foresail, so that it may go close by the wind; and because of its floating capacity may easily pass over the shallows of the Mannar river” (24).
Baldaeus confirms this when he states:
“In front of the fort (Mannar) there runs a canal which admits the navigation of small light crafts drawing 3, 4 and 5 feet of water, these vessels sailing to Jaffnapatan” (25).
In the same way Pamben, though a shallower waterway, was also used by international ships after unloading their goods before crossing. It was for this reason that the Dutch encroached on this channel as well, and attempted to build a fort as at Mannar (26). John Fraser’s map of 1862 also shows the two waterways, whereon is described as the straits of Mannar Channel, and the other called the Pamben Passage (27). A Maldivian chart of the same year too, shows the two waterways (28). However, the Transport Map of Ceylon of 1895 showing the steamer route round the Island indicates a course via the Pamben Passage, and not the Mannar channel, as by then the causeway between Mannar Island and the mainland had been constructed (29). This, no doubt, marked the end of this historic waterway.
Pamben waterway is mentioned to have been the result of a breach in 1480 during a storm and this being enlarged in 1549 by Joeo Fernandes Correa (30). Its historical interest before that period is limited. It was the Mannar Channel that was used throughout history by the Greeks and Romans, Arabs and Persians, Indians and Burmese, Malayans, Indonesians and Chinese. But, as we have noted, the Mannar Channel was neither a deep nor a wide expanse of water that was suitable for navigation in all weather (31). Hence, it was essential to have an anchoring point at either end of the waterway. The ships from the west would, therefore, have anchored at the old port of Kudiramalai to the southwest of the channel. It was at this port, known also as Hippuros, that Annius Plocamus the Roman in command of a vessel, was received by the king’s representatives from Sri Lanka set sail as an embassy to the court of Claudius Caesar (41-54 AD) in Rome from the same port. The ships approaching the Mannar Channel from the east would have anchored at the ancient port of Mahatittha, immediately northeast of the waterway. This port was located at the southernmost point of the Bay of Bengal and de Queyroz has called it the gullet of the great bay, through which ships were guided by the land mass on either coast (32).
Slide 23 – The Pambem Passage in relation to the Mannar waterway
Distance and Time between Rome, Mantota and Peking
We have adopted the time schedules of shipping as recorded by Warmington to indicate the time and distance between the port of Rome and that of Mantota. As a second journey, we have attempted to link the port of Peking with that of Mantota developing from the records maintained by Ma Huan who kept the records during the voyages of Cheng Ho. These sailings have to be considered in the light of Roman travel covering the turn of this era and with reference to the Chinese journeys of Cheng Ho which were basically a fourteenth century effort.
Slide 24 – The Roman sea route from Ostia or the port of Rome, to the Straits of Mannar
Slide 25 – The Chinese sea routes from the straits of Mannar to Liuho, the Port of Peking
Foreign contacts with Sri Lanka
A variety of foreign contacts with Sri Lanka is contained in the records that can be summarized under navigation, trading, religion, political and documentary.Ships called at the ancient ports in order to collect such provisions as food and water that were basic essentials in navigation (33). A pilgrim monk of the eighth century had seen thirty five Persian ships anchored at the port of Mahatittha that were en route to China (34). Strabo in the first century AD, records that from the Egyptian port of Myos Hormos alone one hundred and twenty ships sailed for the East each year (35). It is unlikely that all these ships had come to trade or barter with Sri Lanka. Most probably some of these would have called for provisions before they sailed through the Bay of Bengal to the Straits of Malacca, a journey that would have lasted about two to three weeks (36). Huzayyin mentions the subsequent improvements to South Asian navigation thus:
“And finally the development of navigations between West and East Asia, undertaken by the advancing Perso-Abrabians on the one hand and the Indo-Malaysians and Chinese on the other, made it possible for mariners to take a still more direct course from Ceylon to Malacca or Java and so to the ports of Tong-king and South China” (37).
It is also likely that the ships sailing east were awaiting favourable wind conditions to cross the Bay of Bengal, as this is one of the few stretches of sea where land was out of sight for a number of days (38). The ships sailing west from the port of Mahatittha could also have been held up during the southwest monsoon, when not only was the Mannar Channel difficult to cross, but also the Indian Ocean that was beyond. Competition in trade would have also compelled other nations to traverse the more difficult and dangerous routes. The Sansanide did not permit the Ethiopians to coast around the Persian Gulf, so that the only course available to them was to sail from Sri Lanka to Aden. Huzayyin states:
“From this we may perhaps infer that during the 6th century, the latter island (Sri Lanka) was in intimate relations with Ethiopia, and noted as a half-way station between South-East and South-West Asia. The outward crossing of the Indian Ocean between Ceylon and the Gulf of Aden was perhaps more direct than that from the same island to the gulf of Uman (Oman)” (39).
Trade was part and parcel of the transactions that took place in the ancient ports and the Sri Lanka harbours were no exception. Even the thirty five Persian ships cited previously that were heading for Canton had found it convenient to barter some of their goods for precious stones from Sri Lanka.A seventh century AD, Chinese record in the third year of Teung-Tehong (40), refers to Sri Lanka as follows:
“Ceylon is situated in the middle of the south-West seas. Its length from North to South exceeds 2,000 li. It is there that the mountain Lang-kia (Lanka) is found. It bounds in treasures. The treasures the people of the country spread out on the surface of the island (ground): the merchants come in boats and, after paying directly the equivalent sum, take them away” (41).
De Bello Persico records that:
“….. by purchasing silk from the Indians (i.e. the traders of the ports of India and Sri Lanka) and selling it to the Romans, could themselves gain much money and cause benefit to the Romans in this respect alone, that they (i.e. the Romans) would be no longer compelled to pay their money to the enemy (i.e. the Ancient Persians)” (42).
De Queyroz records about the Port of Matota:
“And Joao de Melo de S. Paya, Captain of Mannar, in the year 1575, ordering the destruction of some ancient buildings near that fortalice, there were found in their foundation some coins of gold and copper with the letters C.L.R.M.N., which seem to mean: Claidivs Romanorum” (43).
Slide 26– Aerial Photograph of the Double Moated Port of Mantai
Slide 27 – Plan of the Double Moated port of Mantai
The sixth century Greek writer Cosmas Indicopleustes writing about trade in Sri Lanka, stresses the central and important position that the island was held as an emporium.
“There are two kings ruling at opposite ends of the island, one of whom possesses the hyacinth, and the other the district, in which are the port and emporium, for the emporium in that place is the greatest in those parts ….. As its position is central, the island is the resort of ships from all parts of India, Persia and Ehiopia, and, in like manner, many are dispatched from it. From the inner countries; I mean China, and another emporium, it receives silk, aloca, cloves, clove-wood, chandana, and whatever else they produce. These, it again transmits to the outer ports, - I mean to Male, whence the pepper comes; to Calliana, where there is brass and sesamine-wood, and materials for dress (for it is also a place of great trade), and to Sindon, where they get musk, castor, and androstachum, to Persia, the Hemeritic coasts, and Adula. Receiving in return the exports of these emporiums,
Taprobane exchanges them in the inner ports (to the east of Cape Comorin) sending her own produce along with them to each. Sielodiba, or Taprobane, lies seaward about five days sail from the mainland. Then further on the continent is Marallo, which furnishes cochlea; then comes Kaber, which exports ‘alabandanum: and next is the clove country, then China, which exports silk; beyond which there is no other land, for the ocean encircles it on the east.Sielendiba being thus placed in the middle as it were of India, and possessing the hyacinth, receives goods from all nations, and again distributes them, thus becoming a great emporium.” (44).
Slide 28 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 29 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 30 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 31 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 32 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 33 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 34 – The Foreign Artefacts found in the Ports and the capital cities of Sri Lanka
Slide 35 – The Different Local and Foreign Artifacts found in Sri
Slide 36 – Silk from China as given in the 6th Century Graffiti, Sigiriya
Slide 37 – Foreign and Local coins used in the export trade in Sri Lanka
Despite these records Warmington is of the opinion that the South Indian traders controlled much of the trade and that it was a standard practice to conceal the sources of products transacted.
“Evidently gathering of all products was in the hands of the Indians themselves, even in the case of boryls, in spite of the Roman coins from Coimbatore; no Roman coins have been found at the pearl-centre. Colchoi is near the pearl-harbours of Ceylon. The Indians kept their own sources secret, while the Tamils kept secret the Ceylonese origin of a good deal of what they sold to Roman subjects.” (45).
Trade tension between Sri Lanka and the Sassanid Empire had obviously run very high in the sixth century when Hamzah-al-isphihani records that the Emperor Cosroos – Nounchirwan sent a fleet to subdue the island of Sarendeeb (46). The efforts of Sri Lanka to trade with Egypt is recorded thus:
“A dual effort made by the Prince of Ceylon and Qulawoon of Egypt, as early as the eighties of the thirteenth century, to revive the trade of the Red Sea, does not seem to have much affected the rapidly growing trade of Hurmuz.” (47).
Warmington also mentions that the probable exports from Sri Lanka were pearls (48), gems (49), chank shells (50), tortoise shell (51), pepper (52), cinnamon (53), cloves (54) and herbs (55). He moreover suggested that war elephants (56) and even birds (57) were exported while horses (58) were imported from Persia.
Slide 38 – The Pearl Fisheries were a major source of revenue both in Ancient, Medieval and Colonial times in
Sri Lanka – The Fort at the Perl Fisheries - Arippu
Slide 39 – Fort at Arippu
Slide 40 – British Governor's Residence at Arippu
Religious interests stimulated foreign contact with Sri Lanka from the earliest phase of Buddhism. This increased when the sacred texts were committed to writing at Aluvihara in the reign of Vattagamani Abhaya, (89-77 BC). Fa Hien stayed two years (412-413 AD) at the Abhayagiri Vihara, Anuradhapura to collect the recorded texts for their use in China.
“Fa Hien sojourned two years in this kingdom. He then sought for and obtained the volume which contained the precepts of Nisham. He obtained the long A han and the miscellaneous A han; at length he had a collection of the different Tsang, all of them books which were wanting in the land of Han. When in possession of these volumes in the fan language, he placed them aboard a large trading vessel capable of accommodating more than two hundred men. A stern was fastened to a small vessel to provide against the dangers of a sea voyage, and injury to the larger one. With a favourable wind they proceeded eastward for two days, when they were overtaken by a hurricane” (59).
We have evidence that the Buddha image became popular in China during the fifth century when a Sri Lankan Sculptor called Nante came to the country with his products and remained there to teach the craft (50). Sri Lanka was also responsible for introducing the first Buddhist nuns to China in the fifth century AD (60). Of the Buddhist missions that came to Sri Lanka the most eminent were those of Mahinda and Sanghamitta, the son and daughter of Emperor Asoka (61), who were known to have established here the southern branch of the Tree-of-Wisdom (62). Later Simhala viharas were founded in India at Nagarjunakonda in the second century AD (63) at Bodh Gaya in the fourth century (64) and in Indonesia at Ratubaka in the eighth century (65) It is recorded that a Buddhist pilgrim from Sri Lanka had assisted in constructing a railing at Bodh Gaya as early as in the third century BC (66). The last repairs that were carried out at the Amaravati vihara are mentioned to have been effected by a Simhala monk from Gadaladeni vihara (67). Sena Lamkadhikara, a minister in the fourteenth century sent money and men to Kanch to establish a Buddhist Shrine (68). Pagan of Central Burma had established contacts with Sri Lanka in the eleventh century (69). Evidence of Thai-Sri Lanka links can be traceable to the eighth century apart from those of the fourteenth century (70). The king of Kashmir retired to the Kapararama Mula at the Abhayagiri Vihara, Anuradhapura in the fifth century AD (71).
Political ties with other countries were also established and these were maintained through embassies. Apart from India the strongest historical alliances that Sri Lanka had maintained was with China (72) to which country regular embassies were sent from time to time.We knew of embassies sent to emperors such as Hiuo-ou-it (373-396 AD) (73) I-hi (405-418) (74), those sent to Iuen-kia in the fifth, seventh and twelfth year of his reign (488, 430 and 435) (75) and to Ta’-oung in his first year (527) (76). Tsoung-tchang in his third year(670) (77) King-iun in his second year (711) (78), t’ien-pao in his first, fifth and ninth (742, 746 and 750) (79) and Pao-ing in the first year (762). Sri Lanka also sent embassies to Rome to the court of Augustus (14 AD) or Claudius Caesar (41-54 AD) (80) and to the emperor Julias (361-14 AD) or Claudius Caesar (41-54 AD) (81) and to the emperor Julias (361 AD) (82). The Vaamsatthappakasini records that Bhatika Abhaya (22 BC – 7 AD) sent ambassadors to Romanukkha and obtained coral with which he adorned the Mahathupa in the form of a setting (83). Similarly, envoys of the Sri Lankan rulers arrived at the Court of the Nandas in Magadha (84).
Documentary information on Sri Lanka is quite numerous and is found buried in demi-official reports, trade news, travellers tales, Cartographer’s notes, pilgrim talk, settlers’ records and legends.Demi-official reports include such references to Sri Lanka as in the diaries of Alexander the Great (85), or in those of Megasthenes the Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya (86). Trade news cover data pertaining to tariffs, taxes, tolls and costs of articles available for sale and those that were meant for barter (87).
The Chinese, Burmese, Indonesians, Egyptians and South Indian traders like the Pandiyans, are known to have had such trade and sailing information (88). Travellers tales include those of Strabo, (89) Onesicritus (90), Pliny the Elder (91), Cosmos Indicopleustes (92), Marco Polo (93), Ibn Battuta (94), and others (95). The cartographers had extensive illustrations as a space filling device and thereby, left valuable notes about Sri Lanka in their maps. The better known cartographers were Ptolemy (96), Fra Mauro (97), Cyprian Sanohez (98), Idrisi (99) etc. Noteworthy pilgrims and religious personnel who had visited the island and left their impressions of Sri Lanka include Fa Hien. (100) Hsuan-Tsang (101), I-Tsing (102) and Vajrabodhi (103). Apart from the Simhalese and Tamil inhabitants, Greeks, (104) Persians, (105) Arabs, (106) Jews, (107) Abysinians, (108) and Indo-Chinese (109) too, had settled in towns as traders and merchants.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these notes covering three specific aspects:
(a) the geographical location of Sri Lanka
(b) the direct relationships of the Mannar Channel in the ancient and medieval navigation; and
(c) the historical foreign contacts with Sri Lanka;
all of which establish the seriousness with which we need to approach the subject of Sri Lanka’s commitment to continued foreign reliance not only in its trade links, but also in its resourcefulness to enterprise.
We believe, that the levies on trade were direct revenue to the crown and because the personal treasure of the monarch to which the monastic authorities had no access. It is also for this reason that the king had a yuvaraja stationed at Matota and was in control of the northern province (110).
These comments need to be punctuated with an overwhelming thought which has not been expressed in the past or at least has not been underlined adequately. Many of the architectural monuments in Sri Lanka seem, to have drawn sufficiently from the revenue of foreign resources than has been recorded in the literature of this country.So far, the views expressed by many a historian are that Sri Lanka which possesses the largest brick monuments of the world, some of them reaching within 83 feet of the massive stone pyramids of Egypt, were built by either slave labour in the form of “rajakariya” or by voluntary “shramadana”.We wish to express a view that may deviate to some extent from this orthodox standpoint. If we are to look into the records of the construction of the Mahathupa or the Ruvanveliseya at Anuradhapura, we see that King Dutugemunu states very clearly that he would not like to burden his people any more after having much of their resources spent in a major war (111).
Pyramid No. 1
Slide 41 – The Three Major Stupas at Anuradhapura in relation to the largest of the Three Pyramids of Egypt
As such his solution was that he would pay for all the labour that he would utilize for constructing this religious monument and thereby, accrue the full merits of such construction to himself (112). We also see in the same record how he practised this policy for when a Buddhist monk had volunteered assistance to a mason by lifting the materials up the stupa to the place of work, and when the guards informing the King of this voluntary act, the King arranged for these watchers to pursue the path of the monk and offer him a set of robes as a gift for the work that he had accomplished, thus assuring the full merits of the construction of the stupa to the King and King alone.The question we need to ask ourselves is, from where did the King obtain his wealth to erect such an enormous stupa in the second century BC ?Our own view is that the king’s treasury had sufficient resources which came in as royal taxes from the many ships that transacted business in the ports of this country. The reason for the absence of such comments in the chronicles is simply that the chronicles were diaries maintained in the monasteries and therefore, had no access to royal transactions nor were they interested in recording business deals which were the purview of the Crown.
We do not wish to tax you further in this extended lecture but hope that we have placed before you sufficient digestive material that will rouse your interest and your imagination in your pursuit in linking the traditional routes of Silk and Spice from Peking to Rome. May your own researches be fruitful, enjoyable and inspiring
The Endnotes will follow in the final print out.