MANTAI THE GREAT EMPORIUM OF Cosmas Indicopleustus by Dr. Roland Silva President, National Trust -Sri Lanka
Chairman, Distinguished Guests, 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
Slide 2 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
Pambem Passage Mannar Channel 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at Mantota.The popularity and the usage of Mantota as a major highway port is clear from the many and continuous historical references to this port in the different trade records and chronicles.These names include Mahatitagama, Mahavoti, Mahavutu, Mavatutota, Matottam, Mahatitiha and Modouttou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.
Slide 5 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
DOVER NIJMEGEN LYON TOULOUSE
MILANO STRAATSBURG KOBLENZE VENTIMIGLIA TIMGAD [AF] MARSALE
CORSICA MILAAN REGENSBURG VERONA SALZBURG SARDINIE SIENA
TEBESSA[AF] RAVENNA TARQUINIA CIVITAVECCHIA
ROMA SALONA SOUSSE[AF] OSTIA CARTHAGE [AF]
NAPELS SKOPJE POMPEI SALERNO SABARATA SORRENTO TRIPOLI[AF]
SOFIA SALONIKI LAEPTIS MAGNA[AF] SPARTA CORINTHE CYTHERA OLYMPIA PATRAS ATHENE PHILIPPI
ISTANBOEL CONSTANTSA CYRENE BENGASI de NIJL[AF] KRETA
TYRUS EPHESUS ANKARA RHODOS PERGAMON NIJLDELTA[AF] JERUSALEM JERICHO SIDON
ALEPPO DAMASCUS ANTIOCHIE PALMIRA ARABIA
MESAPOTAMIA BABYLON de TIGRIS
Ara ALEXANDRI INDUS de GANGES TAPROBANE (SRI LANKA) ALEXANDRIA BUCEFALOS
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. • Name Century Author or Text • Amradvipa 6th AD Bodh Gaya- Inscription 6 • Ceilan 17th Mercator’s Atlas-1606 7 • Ceilan 17th (circa) Dutch Map 8 • Ceylan 17th de Queyroz 9 • Ceylao 17th de Queyroz 10 • Ceylon 17th Robert Knox 11 • Che-tseu-Kouo 5th Fa-Hsien 12 • Chinilao 17th de Queyroz 13 • Elankai - Tamil 14 • Hsi -lan 6th Feng Che,ng-chu..n’s • 15th Ying-yai sheng-lan Ma Huan and Ming • Shih 15
I l.am 11th Tirumukku-d.al Inscription 16 Ilerane 17th de Queyroz 17 Jazirat Al Yákút 9th Arab Historian 18 Lam. ka- 4th-2nd BC Ra-ma-yan.a 19 Lam.ka-di-pa 4th AD Di-pavam. sa 20 Lang-ya 6th Ming Shib 21 Man.d.adipa 4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 22 Ojadi-pa 4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 23 Ophir 17th (circa) Dutch Map 24 Palaesimundu 1st AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea 25 Palaiogonoi 3rd BC Megasthenes 26
Palasimudae 1st AD Marcian of Heraclea 27 Pallessimonda 17th de Queyroz 28 Pao-tchou 7th Hsuen-Tsang 29 Parasamudra 4th BC Kaut.ilya 30 P’o-lo-men 8th Tou Hoan 31 Rachius 1st AD Sanchoniathou 32 Ratnadi-pa 6th Manimekala-i 33 Salabham 14th (circa) Tamil 34 Salice 15th Map Colombo Museum 35 Salikeib 2nd AD Ptolemy 36 SaÈng-kia-lo 7th Hsuen-Tsang 37 Sarandib 2nd AD Samaritan Pentateuch 38 Saylan 15th Fra Mauro’s Map 39 Scrilanea 17th de Queyroz 40 Seilan 15th Martin.Behaim’s uremburg Globe41 Selendive - Arab author 42 Senda-n 8th Arab author 43 Se-ng-ka-lo 7th I-tsing 44 Serendivi 4th AD Emperor Julian 45
Shi-tyi-kuo - Chinese author 46 Sielediba 6th Cosmas Indicopleustes 47 Sihadi-pa 5th Tchou Tche 48 Si-lan 12th ling wai tai ta 49 Silangiri 7th Hsuen Tsang 50 Si-louen-tie - Chau Ju-kua 51 Sim.hala 4th AD Di-pavam.sa 52 Sim.haladvipa – Indian author 53 Simonda 17th de Queyroz 54 Simondi 15th Map - Colombo Museum 55 Simondou 2nd AD Ptolemy 56 Si-nan 7th Chau Ju-kua 57 Sin-t’an 8th Tou Hoau 58 Siyalan - Arab author 59 S´ri -Lan.ka 14th Nika-yasam.graha 60 Sseu-li - 61 Sseu no-t’lao 5th Tcnou Icne 62 Sseu-tiao 3rd AD K’ang T’ai 63
Suvarn.advi-pa 10th Ati-sa 64 Tambapan.n.i 3rd BC Bodh Gaya Railing Inscription also Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 65 Tapobra-na 17th de Queyroz and Erastothenes 66 Taproba 14th Catalan Map 67 Taprobana 2nd AD Ptolemy Map and 13th Hereford Map 68 Taprobane 4th BC Onesioritus 69 Tenarezim 17th de Queyroz 70 Tenasiria 17th Pyrard de Laval 71 Ternasseri 17th de Queyroz 72 Tranate 17th de Queyroz 73 Triku-t.a 4th-2nd BC Ra-ma-yan.a 74 Varadipa 4th and 6th Di-pavam.sa and Maha-vam.sa 75 Zaylon 17th de Queyroz 76 Zeilan 17th Petrus 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.
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 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 -Brahmi Inscription
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