Barbaria’s inhabitants, Arabians, and Indians: Anonymous author on trade and peoples on the Erythraian sea all the way to eastern India (mid-first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Barbaria’s inhabitants, Arabians, and Indians: Anonymous author on trade and peoples on the Erythraian sea all the way to eastern India (mid-first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 4, 2024,

Ancient author: Anonymous, Circumnavigation of the Erythraian Sea / Periplus Maris Erythraei, entire work (link).

Comments: The anonymous writing presented below, which dates to the mid-first century CE (based on mention of the Nabatean king Malichos [19]), is another example of the periplus (periplous), namely a record or travelogue of a voyage or circumnavigation, in this case seemingly a guide for merchants specifically (see many other instances at this link). The focus of the present Egyptian Greek author (see 29 and the Egyptian months throughout) is on trading ports on the coasts of what was then known as the “Erythraian sea.” This sea in fact encompassed our modern Red Sea proper (between Saudi Arabia and Egypt), the Oman and Persian Gulfs, and the Indian Ocean, so for clarity it is better not to translate “Erythraian” as “Red” even though that’s what it means. You will also find another travelogue on the Erythraian sea by Agatharchides on this website, where there is some overlap with peoples mentioned (link).

Although our anonymous travelogue lacks extensive descriptions of peoples, it is particularly notable for two reasons relating to ethnographic issues. First is the apparent precision with which the author progresses along every step of the shore in the territories he covers while attempting to provide guidance to merchants making voyages through these places. Along the way he sketches out what peoples and products there are in various spots. This level of specificity is not really matched by most other ancient authors on this site (including authors of other travelogues), many of whom are quite general and vague about where places and populations are located. We almost always know where this author is, particularly when he is on either side of the Red Sea and down to what is now Somalia. He begins on the western shore of the Red Sea at Berenike (now known as Berenice Troglodyticus) and progresses down along what is now Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia, past the Horn of Africa and perhaps even as far as Kenya or Tanzania. Then he restarts at Berenike and heads north and around the east coast of the Red Sea in what was then Arabia Felix and now Saudi Arabia. He then turns east and follows the southern shore of Arabia (now Yemen and Oman) before heading over to what is now Pakistan and India, perhaps ending with a distant peek at Sumatra or Malaysia (Chryse) and China (Thina). We get less and less detail as he makes his way around India, however. The result for the first half of the trip is that we get a sense of precisely where this author places peoples and the products they exchanged. The point here is not whether he is accurate or not (he may or may not be for specific groups and trade goods), which would be impossible to consistently establish. Rather, we get a picture of where peoples and products are located in the imaginative landscape of this author, which may well overlap with the perspective of other Greek and Roman authors as well, especially any who later heard or read this itinerary.

Second, this writing is significant for us because there are in fact numerous peoples and rulers’ kingdoms mentioned in passing throughout (sections which I have italicized for easy identification). Some of the staple peoples of these coastlines make their appearance, including the Ichthyophagians, the Fish-eaters. And in some cases the author is concerned to quickly characterize what a particular group or kingdom was like. It is significant that we begin to have a sketch of peoples in the lesser known territory of “Barbaria” (overlapping with what some others would call eastern Egypt and Ethiopia). Hence there are peoples here called “Barbarians” for a slightly different reason than usual, and so I have chosen to translate “inhabitants of Barbaria” for clarity (i.e. the ancient author’s use of the term is not entirely a name-calling procedure). This author has “Barbaria” starting around Berenike and continuing down the coasts to the frankincense-producing territory we now call Somalia.

With regard to his evaluations of peoples, his approach is somewhat limited as he tends to either say they were “uncivilized” or “worthless” or “rough” on the one hand or “peaceable” on the other, and further details about his attitudes are lacking. He does comment on the language and physical build of some peoples, however, and there are claims that some peoples engaged in sea-banditry. Sometimes there are indications of how a group used or prepared materials received or distributed for trade. Information about local peoples are less prominent in the sections on India, but the author does claim to know some details about customs in one locale in India and in China. Despite the limits of the information, the outcome is a map of populations and products nonetheless.

Works consulted: L. Casson, The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Princeton, NJ: PUP, 1989).


[Heading south from Berenike on the western coast of the Red Sea towards Somalia]

[Berenike and northern Barbaria]

(1) Of the designated ports on the Erythraian sea, and the trading-centres around it, the first is the Egyptian port of Myos Hormos. For those sailing down from that place, on the right hand, after eighteen hundred stadium-lengths, there is Berenike [modern Berenice Troglodytica]. The harbours of both are at the boundary of Egypt, and are bays opening from the Erythraian Sea.

(2) On the right-hand coast next below Berenike is the land of Barbaria [now the coast of Sudan down to Somalia]. Along the shore are the Ichthyophagians (Fish-eaters)), living in scattered caves in the narrow valleys. Further inland are the Barbarians [i.e. inhabitants of Barbaria], and beyond them the Agriophagians (Wild-eaters) and Moschophagians (Twig-eaters), each governed by its chief. Behind them, further inland, in the country toward the west, there lies a city called Meroe.

(3) Below the Moschophagians (Twig-eaters or Shoot-eaters) there is a little trading-centre on the shore after sailing about four thousand stadium-lengths from Berenike, called Ptolemais Theron [around Trinkitat, Sudan, on the Red Sea], from which the hunters started for the interior under the dynasty of the Ptolemies. This trading-centre has the true land-tortoise in small quantity; it is white and smaller in the shells. And here also is found a little ivory, like that of Adoulis. But the place has no harbour and is reached only by small boats.

[Adoulis area]

(4) Below Ptolemais Theron, at a distance of about three thousand stadium-lengths, there is Adoulis [south of Massawa, Eritrea], a port established by law, lying at the inner end of a bay that runs in toward the south. Before the harbour lies the so-called Oreine (Mountain) island, about two hundred stadium-lengths sea-ward from the very head of the bay, with the shores of the mainland close to it on both sides. Ships bound for this port now anchor here because of attacks from the land. Formerly, they used to anchor at the very head of the bay, by an island called Diodoros [Mayyun island, Yemen], close to the shore, which could be reached on foot from the land. By this means the barbarous natives attacked the island. Opposite Oreine island, on the mainland twenty stadium-lengths from shore, lies Adoulis, a fair-sized village, from which there is a three-days’ journey to Koloe, an inland town and the first trading-centre for ivory. From that place to the city of of Axumites there is a five days’ journey more. All the ivory is brought to that place from the country beyond the Nile through the district called Kyeneion, and from there to Adoulis. Practically the whole number of elephants and rhinoceroses that are killed live in the places inland, although at rare intervals they are hunted on the seacoast even near Adoulis. Before the harbour of that trading-centre, out at sea on the right hand, there are a large number of little sandy islands called Alalaiou, yielding tortoise-shell, which is brought to the trading-centre there by the Ichthyophagians (Fish-eaters).

(5) About eight hundred stadium-lengths beyond there is another very deep bay, with a great mound of sand piled up at the right of the entrance. At the bottom of the bay the opsian stone is found, and this is the only place where it is produced. These places, from the Moschophagians (Twig-eaters) to the rest of the land of Barbaria, are governed by Zoscales, who is strict with possessions and always striving for more, but otherwise honourable and acquainted with Greek literature.

(6) There are imported into these places, undressed cloth made in Egypt for the Barbarians; robes from Arsinoe; cloaks of poor quality dyed in colours; double-fringed linen mantles; many articles of flint glass; transparent stone called Myrrhina produced at Diospolis; and brass, which is used for ornament and in cut pieces instead of coin; sheets of soft copper, used for cooking-utensils and cut up for bracelets and anklets for the women; and, iron, which is made into spears used against the elephants and other wild beasts, and in their wars. Besides these, small axes, adzes and swords are imported; copper drinking-cups, round and large; a little bit of denarii for the resident foreigners; wine of Laodikeia and Italy, not much; olive oil, not much; for the king, gold and silver plate made in the local style; and, for clothing, military cloaks, and thin coats of skin, of no great value. Likewise from the district of Ariaka across this sea, there are imported Indian iron, and steel, and Indian cotton cloth; the broad cloth called monachē and that called sagimtogēnē; girdles; coats of skin and mallow-coloured cloth; a few muslins; and, lac dye.

There are exported from these places ivory, and tortoise-shell and rhinoceros-horn. The most from Egypt is brought to this trading-centre from the month of January to September, that is, from Tybi to Thoth. But each season they head to sea about the month of September.

(7) From this place the Arabian gulf [Red Sea, in this case] trends toward the east and becomes narrowest just before the gulf of Avalites [or: Abalites, in modern day Djibouti or Somalia]. After about four thousand stadium-lengths, for those sailing eastward along the same coast, there are other trading-centres of the land of Barbaria, known as the “far-side” ports. Lying at intervals one after the other, without harbours but having havens where ships can anchor and lie in good weather. The first is called Avalites; to this place the voyage from Arabia to the far-side coast is the shortest. Here there is a small trading-centre called Avalites, which must be reached by boats and rafts. There are imported into this place, flint glass, assorted; juice of sour grapes from Diospolis; dressed cloth, assorted, made for the inhabitants of Barbaria; wheat, wine, and a little tin.

There are exported from the same place, and sometimes by the inhabitants of Barbaria themselves crossing on rafts to Okelis and Mouza [both by Bab al-Mandeb strait in Yemen] on the opposite shore, spices, a little ivory, tortoise-shell, and a very little myrrh, but better than the rest. The inhabitants of Barbaria settled in the place are very uncivilized (ataktoteroi).


(8) After Avalites there is another trading-centre, better than this, called Malao, about eight hundred stadium-lengths away. The anchorage is an open haven, sheltered by a spit running out from the east. Here the people are more peaceable than their neighbours.

There are imported into this place the things already mentioned, and many tunics, cloaks from Arsinoe, dressed and dyed; drinking-cups, sheets of soft copper in small quantity, iron, and gold and silver coin, not much. There are exported from these places myrrh, a little frankincense known as “far-side” (peritic), the harder cinnamon, douaka, kangkamon, and makeir, which are imported into Arabia, as well as slaves, but rarely.

(9) Two or three days sailing beyond Malao is the trading-centre of Moundou, where the ships lie at anchor more safely behind a projecting island close to the shore. There are imported into this place the things previously mentioned, and from it likewise are exported the merchandise already stated, and the incense called mokrotou. The traders who are settled here are very tough (sklēroteroi).

(10) Beyond Moundou, sailing toward the east, after another two or three days sailing, you reach Mosyllon [near Bosaso, Somalia], on a beach, with a bad anchorage. There are imported here the same things already mentioned, also silver plate, a very little iron, and glass. There are shipped from the place a great quantity of cinnamon (so that this trading-centre requires ships of larger size), and fragrant gums, spices, a little tortoise shell, and mokrotou (poorer than that of Moundou), frankincense of the “far-side” kind, ivory and myrrh in small quantities.

(11) Sailing along the coast beyond Mosyllon, after a two days’ journey you come to the so-called Neiloptolemaios, and a fine spring, and a small laurel-grove, and Cape Elephant. Then the shore recedes into a bay, and has a river, called Elephant, and a large laurel-grove called Akannai, This is the only place where “far-side” [i.e. in Somalia] frankincense is produced, and in great quantity and of the best grade.

[Tabai / Horn of Africa]

(12) Beyond this place, the coast trending toward the south, there is the Spice (Aremata) trading-centre, an abrupt promontory, at the very end of the coast of Barbaria [i.e. in Somalia] coast toward the east. The anchorage is dangerous at times from the ground-swell, because the place is exposed to the north. A sign of an approaching storm which is peculiar to the place, is that the deep water becomes more turbid and changes its colour. When this happens they all run to a large promontory called Tabai [i.e. the Horn of Africa / Cape Guardifui, Somalia], which offers safe shelter. There are imported into this trading-centre the things already mentioned; and there are produced in it cinnamon (and in its different varieties of gizeir, asypha, arebo, magla, and moto) and frankincense.


(13) Beyond Tabai, after four hundred stadium-lengths, there is the village of Pano. And then, after sailing four hundred stadium-lengths along a promontory (with the current drawing you to the place) there is another trading-centre called Opone [Xaafuun, Somalia], into which the same things are imported as those already mentioned, and in it the greatest quantity of cinnamon is produced (the arebo and moto), and slaves of the better sort, which are brought to Egypt in increasing numbers, as well as a great quantity of tortoise-shell, better than that found elsewhere.

(14) The voyage to all these “far-side” trading-centres is made from Egypt about the month of July, that is Epiphi. And ships are also customarily fitted out from the places across this sea, from Ariaka [further inland from Barygaza] and Barygaza [Bharuch, India], bringing to these far-side trading-centres the products of their own places: wheat, rice, clarified butter, sesame oil, cotton cloth (the monachē and the sagmatogēnē), girdles, and cane-sugar. Some make the voyage especially to these trading-centres, and others exchange their cargoes while sailing along the coast. This country is not subject to a king, but each trading-centre is ruled by its separate chief.


(15) Beyond Opone, the shore trending more toward the south, first there are the small and great bluffs of Azania [perhaps overlapping with modern Kenya or Tanzania]. This coast is destitute of harbours, but there are places where ships can lie at anchor, the shore being abrupt. This route is of six days, the direction being south-west. Then come the small and great beach for another six days’ journey and after that in order, the routes of Azania, the first being called Sarapion and the next Nikon. After that are several rivers and other anchorages, one after the other, separately a rest and a run for each day, seven in all, until the Pyralaoi islands and what is called the channel. Beyond this, a little to the south of south-west, after two journeys of a day and night . . . [text missing in manuscript] is the island Menouthesia, about three hundred stadium-lengths from the main-land, low and wooded, in which there are rivers and many kinds of birds and the mountain-tortoise. There are no wild beasts except the crocodiles, but they do not attack men there. In this place there are boats that are sewn, and canoes hollowed from single logs, which they use for fishing and catching tortoise. In this island they also catch them in a peculiar way, in wicker baskets, which they fasten across the channel-opening between the breakers.

(16) Two days’ sail beyond, there lies the very last trading-centre of the continent of Azania, which is called Rhapta (literally “Sewn”), named after the “Sewn” boats already mentioned. There is ivory in great quantity, and tortoise-shell. Along this coast live men with very large bodies, and under separate chiefs for each place. The Mapharitic chief rules it under some ancient right that subjects it to the sovereignty of the earlier kingdom in Arabia. And the people of Mouza [near the Bab al-Mandeb strait in Yemen] now hold it under his authority, and send to there many large ships. They use Arab captains and agents, who are familiar with the natives and intermarry with them, and who know the whole coast and understand the language.

(17) There are imported into these trading-centres the lances made at Mouza especially for this trade, and hatchets and daggers and awls, and various kinds of glass; and at some places a little wine, and wheat, not for trade, but to serve for getting the good-will of the savages. There are exported from these places a great quantity of ivory, but inferior to that of Adoulis, and rhinoceros-horn and tortoise-shell (which is in best demand after that from India), and a little palm-oil.

(18) And these trading-centres of Azania are the very last of the continent that stretches down on the right hand from Berenike. Beyond these places the unexplored ocean curves around toward the west and, running along by the regions to the south of Ethiopia, Libya and Africa, it mingles with the western sea.

[Heading north from Berenike on the Red Sea coast]

[Arabia on the eastern coast of the Red Sea]

(19) Now to the left of Berenike, sailing for two or three days from Myos Hormos eastward across the adjacent gulf, there is another harbour and fortified place, which is called Leuke Kome (White Village) [the main Nabatean port; perhaps Al Wajh, Saudi Arabia], from which there is a road to Petra [in what is now Jordon], which is subject to Malichos, king of the Nabateans. It holds the position of a trading-centre for the small vessels sent there from Arabia. So a [Roman] centurion is stationed there as a collector of one-fourth of the merchandise imported, with an armed force, as a garrison.

(20) Directly below this place is the adjoining country of Arabia, in its length bordering a great distance on the Erythraian Sea. Different peoples (ethnē) inhabit the country, differing in their speech, some partially different, and some altogether different. The land next to the sea is similarly dotted here and there with caves of the Ichthyophagians (Fish-eaters), but the country inland is inhabited by worthless (ponēroi) men speaking two languages, who live in villages and nomadic camps. Those who sail from the middle course are plundered by them, and those surviving shipwrecks are taken for slaves. So they too are continually taken prisoners by the chiefs and kings of Arabia, and they are called Karnaitians (Karnaitai).

Navigation is dangerous along this whole coast of Arabia, which is without harbours, with bad anchorages, foul, inaccessible because of breakers and rocks, and terrible in every way. Therefore we hold our course down the middle of the gulf and pass on as fast as possible by the country of Arabia until we come to the Katakekaumene (Burned) island. Directly below this there are regions of peaceful people, nomadic, pasturers of cattle, sheep and camels.

[Mouza, Saua, and Saphar]

(21) Beyond these places, in a bay at the foot of the left side of this gulf, there is a place by the shore called Mouza [near Mokha, Yemen], a trading-centre established by law, distant altogether from Berenike for those sailing southward, about twelve thousand stadium-lengths. And the whole place is crowded with Arabian ship-owners and seafaring men, and is busy with the affairs of commerce. For they carry on a trade with the far-side coast and with Barygaza [Bharuch, India], sending their own ships there. (22) Three days inland from this port there is a city called Saua, in the midst of the region called Mapharitis. There is a vassal-chief named Cholaibos who lives in that city. (23) And after nine days more there is Saphar, the metropolis, in which lives Charibael, lawful king of two peoples, the Homerites and those living next to them, called the Sabaians. Through continual embassies and gifts, he is a friend of the emperors.

(24) The trading-centre of Mouza is without a harbour, but has a good haven and anchorage because of the sandy bottom there, where the anchors hold safely. The merchandise imported there consists of purple cloths, both fine and coarse; clothing in the Arabian style, with sleeves, plain, ordinary, embroidered, or interwoven with gold; saffron; sweet rush; muslins; cloaks; blankets but not many, some plain and others made in the local fashion; sashes of different colours, fragrant ointments in moderate quantity; wine; and wheat, but not much. For the country produces grain in moderate amount, and a great deal of wine. And to the king and the chief are given horses and mules, vessels of gold and polished silver, finely woven clothing and copper vessels.

There are exported from the same place the things produced in the country: selected myrrh, and the Gebanite-Minaian staktē, alabaster and all the things already mentioned from Avalites and the “far-side” coast. The voyage to this place is made best about the month of September, that is Thoth; but there is nothing to prevent it even earlier.


(25) After sailing beyond this place about three hundred stadium-lengths, the coast of Arabia and the land of Barbaria around the Avalitic gulf now coming close together, there is a channel, not long in extent. This channel forces the sea together and shuts it into a narrow strait, the passage through which, sixty stadium-lengths in length, the island Diodoros [Mayyun, Yemen] divides. Therefore the route through it is beset with rushing currents and with strong winds blowing down from the adjacent ridge of mountains. Directly on this strait by the shore there is a village of Arabians, subject to the same chief, called Okelis. Okelis is not so much a trading-centre as it is an anchorage and watering-place and the first landing for those sailing into the gulf.

[Southern coast of Arabia Felix (Yemen and Oman)]

[Eudaimon, Kana, and Sabbatha]

(26) Beyond Okelis, the sea widening again toward the east and soon giving a view of the open ocean [through the Gulf of Aden], after about twelve hundred stadium-lengths there is Arabian Eudaimon [perhaps Aden, Yemen], a village by the shore, also belonging to the kingdom of Charibael, and having convenient anchorages, and watering-places, sweeter and better than those at Okelis. This lies at the entrance of a bay, and the land recedes from it. It was called Eudaimon because in the early days of the city – when the voyage was not yet made from India to Egypt and when they did not dare to sail from Egypt to the ports across this ocean, but all came together at this place – it received the cargoes from both countries, just as Alexandria now receives the things brought both from abroad and from Egypt. But not long before our own time Charibael destroyed the place.

(27) After Arabian Eudaimon there is a continuous length of coast, and a bay extending two thousand stadium-lengths or more, along which there are nomads and Ichthyophagians (Fish-eaters) living in villages. Just beyond the cape projecting from this bay there is another trading-centre by the shore, Kana, belonging to the kingdom of Eleazos, the frankincense producing land. Facing it there are two desert islands, one called Orneon (Bird) island and the the other called Trullas (Dome) island, one hundred and twenty stadium-lengths from Kana.

Inland from this place lies the metropolis Sabbatha, in which the king lives. All the frankincense produced in the country is brought by camels to that place to be stored, and to Kana on rafts held up by inflated skins after the manner of the country, and in boats. And this place also trades with the far-side ports – Barygaza [Bharuch, India], Skythia, Ommana – and the neighbouring coast of Persia.

(28) There are imported into this place: from Egypt a little wheat and wine, as at Mouza; clothing in the Arabian style, plain and common and most of it spurious; copper and tin and coral and storax and other things such as go to Mouza; and, for the king, usually wrought gold and silver plate, as well as horses, images, and thin clothing of fine quality. And there are exported from this place: native produce, frankincense and aloes, and the rest of the things that enter into the trade of the other ports. The voyage to this place is best made at the same time as that to Mouza, or rather earlier.


(29) Beyond Kana, the land receding greatly, there follows a very deep bay stretching a great way across, which is called Sachalites. The frankincense producing land, mountainous and forbidding, wrapped in thick clouds and fog, and yielding frankincense from the trees. These incense-bearing trees are not of great height or thickness. The trees bear the frankincense sticking in drops on the bark, just as the trees among us in Egypt [note identification of the Greek author’s location in Egypt] weep their gum. The frankincense is gathered by the king’s slaves and those who are sent to this service for punishment. For these places are very unhealthy, and pestilential even to those sailing along the coast, but almost always fatal to those working there, who also perish often from lack of food.

(30) On this bay there is a very great promontory facing the east, called Syagros. On this promontory is a fort for the defense of the country, and a harbour and storehouse for the frankincense that is collected; and opposite this cape, well out at sea, there is an island, lying between it and the promontory of Spices opposite it, but nearer Syagrus: it is called Dioscorides, and is very large but desert and marshy, having rivers in it and crocodiles and many snakes and great lizards. They eat the flesh and use the melted fat of these instead of olive oil. The island yields no fruit, neither vine nor grain.

The inhabitants are few and they live on the coast toward the north, which from this side faces the continent. They are settlers, a mixture of Arabians, Indians and Greeks, who have emigrated to carry on trade there. The island produces the true sea-tortoise, the land-tortoise, the white tortoise (which is very numerous and preferred for its large shells), the mountain-tortoise (which is largest of all and has the thickest shell). The worthless specimens of the mountain-tortoise cannot be cut apart on the under side, because they are even too hard. But those of value are cut apart and the shells made whole into caskets, small plates, cake-dishes and that sort of ware. There is also produced in this island cinnabar, that called Indian, which is collected in drops from the trees.

(31) It happens that just as Azania is subject to Charibael and the chief of Mapharitis, this island is subject to the king of the frankincense producing land. Trade is also carried on there by some people from Mouza and by those who chance to go there on the voyage from Limyrikes (Damirika) and Barygaza [Bharuch, India]. They bring in rice, wheat, Indian cloth, and a few female slaves. They take for their exchange cargoes, a great quantity of tortoise-shell. Now the island is farmed out under the kings and is garrisoned.

(32) Immediately beyond Syagros the bay of Omana cuts deep into the coast-line, the width of it being six hundred stadium-lengths. Beyond this there are mount, high and rocky and steep, inhabited by cave-dwellers for five hundred stadium-lengths more. Beyond this is a port established for receiving the Sachalitic frankincense. The harbour is called Moscha, and ships from Kana go there regularly, as well as ships returning from Limyrikes [in India, likely the Malabar coast] and Barygaza [Bharuch, India], if the season is late, winter there, and trade with the king’s officers, exchanging their cloth and wheat and sesame oil for frankincense, which lies in heaps all over the Sachalitic country, open and unguarded, as if the place were under the protection of the gods. It cannot be loaded on ship – neither openly nor by stealth – without the king’s permission. If a single grain was loaded without this, the ship could not clear from the harbour.

(33) Beyond the harbour of Moscha for about fifteen hundred stadium-lengths as far as Asich, a mountain range runs along the shore. At the end of this lie seven islands in a row, called the islands of Zenobios [perhaps the Khuriya Muriya Islands off the coast of Oman]. Beyond these there is a barbarian region which is no longer of the same kingdom, but now belongs to Persia. Sailing along this coast well out at sea for two thousand stadium-lengths from the islands of Zenobios, one comes to an island called Sarapis, about one hundred and twenty stadium-lengths from the mainland. It is about two hundred stadium-lengths wide and six hundred long, inhabited by three villages of the holy men of Ichthyophagians (Fish-eaters), who use the Arabian language and wear loin-cloths of palm-leaves. The island produces considerable tortoise-shell of fine quality, and small sail-boats and cargo-ships are sent there regularly from Kana.

[Persian gulf area and Pakistan]

(34) Sailing along the coast, which trends northward toward the entrance of the Persian sea [i.e. the Persian Gulf in modern terms], there are many islands known as the Kalaios, after about two thousand stadium-lengths, extending along the shore. The inhabitants are worthless (ponēroi) men who do not do much looking around during the day.

(35) At the upper end of these Kalaios islands is Kalon mountain, as it is called, and there follows not far beyond the mouth of the Persian gulf, where there is much diving for the pearl oysters. To the left of the straits are great mountains called Asabo, and to the right there rises in full view another round and high mountain called Semiramis. Between them the passage across the strait is about six hundred stadium-lengths. Beyond this is that very great and broad sea, the Persian gulf, reaching far into the interior. At the upper end of this gulf there is a trading-centre designated by law, called Apologos, situated near Charax Spasinou and the river Euphrates.

(36) Sailing through the mouth of the gulf, after a six-days’ journey there is another trading-centre of Persia called Ommana. To both of these trading-centres large vessels are regularly sent from Barygaza [Bharuch, India], loaded with copper and sandalwood and timbers of teakwood and logs of blackwood and ebony. To Ommana frankincense is also brought from Kana, and from Ommana to Arabia with boats sewed together in keeping with the custom of the place: these are known as madarata. From each of these trading-centres, there are exported to Barygaza [Bharuch, India] and also to Arabia, many pearls, but these are inferior to those of India; purple clothing after the local style, wine, a great quantity of dates, gold and slaves.

(37) Beyond the Ommanitic region there is a country also of the Parsidai, of another kingdom, and the bay of Gedrosia, from the middle of which . . . [missing words in manuscript]. . . juts out into the bay. Here there is a river affording an entrance for ships, with a little trading-centre at the mouth, called Oraia [Ormara, Pakistan]. Back from the place there is an in-land city, distant a seven days’ journey from the sea, in which also is the king’s court called . . . [words missing in manuscript]. This country yields much wheat, wine, rice and dates; but along the coast there is nothing but bdellium.

(38) Beyond this region, the continent making a wide curve from the east across the depths of the bays, there follows the coast district of Skythia, which lies above toward the north. The whole area is marshy. From this flows down the river Sinthos [Indus], the greatest of all the rivers that flow into the Erythraian sea [i.e. the Indian Ocean in modern terms], bringing down an enormous volume of water. So much so that, a long way out at sea before reaching this country, the water of the ocean is fresh from it. Now as a sign of approach to this country to those coming from the sea are serpents coming forth from the depths to meet you; and a sign of the places just mentioned and in Persia, are those called graia. This river has seven mouths, very shallow and marshy, so that they are not navigable, except the one in the middle. At the middle one by the shore is the trading-centre, Barbarikon [near Karachi, Pakistan]. Before it there lies a small island, and inland behind it is the metropolis of Skythia, Minnagara [in what is now Pakistan]; it is subject to Parthian princes who are constantly driving each other out.

(39) The ships lie at anchor at Barbarikon, but all their cargoes are carried up to the metropolis by the river, to the king. There are imported into this trading-centre: a great deal of thin clothing, and a little spurious; figured linens, topaz, coral, storax, frankincense, vessels of glass, silver and gold plate, and a little wine. On the other hand there are exported: costus, bdellium, lycium, nard, turquoise, lapis lazuli, Seric skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, and indigo. And sailors set out from there with the Indian Etesian winds, about the month of July, that is Epiphi. It is more dangerous then, but through these winds the voyage is more direct, and sooner completed.


(40) Beyond the river Sinthus there is another gulf, not navigable, running in toward the north; it is called Eirinon. Its parts are called separately the small gulf and the great. In both parts the water is shallow, with shifting sandbanks occurring continually and a great way from shore. The result is that very often when the shore is not even in sight, ships run aground, and if they attempt to hold their course they are wrecked. A promontory stands out from this gulf, curving around from Eirinon toward the east, then south, then west, and enclosing the gulf called Baraka [Gulf of Kutch, India], which contains seven islands. Those who come to the entrance of this bay escape it by putting about a little and standing further out to sea. But those who are drawn inside into the gulf of Baraka are lost because the waves are high and very violent, and the sea is tumultuous and foul, and has eddies and rushing whirlpools. The bottom is in some places abrupt, and in others rocky and sharp, so that the anchors lying there are parted, some being quickly cut off, and others chafing on the bottom. As a sign of these places to those approaching from the sea there are serpents, very large and black. At the other places on this coast and around Barygaza [Bharuch, India], they are smaller, and in colour bright green, running into gold.

(41) Beyond the gulf of Baraka is that of Barygaza [Bharuch, India] and the coast of the country of Ariaka, which is the beginning of the kingdom of Nambanos and of all India. That part of it lying inland and adjoining Skythia is called Abiria, but the coast is called Syrastrene. It is a fertile country, yielding wheat and rice and sesame oil and clarified butter, cotton and the coarser sort of Indian cloths made from that cotton. Very many cattle are pastured there, and the men are of great stature and black (melanes) in colour.

The metropolis of this country is Minnagara, from which much cotton cloth is brought down to Barygaza [Bharuch, India]. In these places there remain even to the present time signs of the expedition of Alexander, such as ancient shrines, walls of forts and great wells. The sailing route along this coast, from Barbarikon to the promontory called Papika, opposite Barygaza [Bharuch, India], and before Astakampra, is of three thousand stadium-lengths.

(42) Beyond this there is another gulf exposed to the sea-waves, running up toward the north, at the mouth of which there is an island called Baeones: at its innermost part there is a great river called Mais. Those sailing to Barygaza [Bharuch, India] pass across this gulf, which is three hundred stadium-lengths in width, leaving behind to their left the island just visible from their tops toward the east, straight to the very mouth of the river of Barygaza [Bharuch, India]; and this river is called Nammadus.

(43) This gulf is very narrow to Barygaza [Bharuch, India] and very hard to navigate for those coming from the ocean; this is the case with both the right and left passages, but there is a better passage through the left. For on the right at the very mouth of the gulf there lies a shoal, long and narrow, and full of rocks, called Herone, facing the village of Kammoni; and opposite this on the left projects the promontory that lies before Astakampra, which is called Papika, and is a bad anchorage because of the strong current setting in around it and because the anchors are cut off, the bottom being rough and rocky. And even if the entrance to the gulf is made safely, the mouth of the river at Barygaza [Bharuch, India] is found with difficulty, because the shore is very low and cannot be made out until you are close upon it. And when you have found it the passage is difficult because of the shoals at the mouth of the river.

(44) Because of this, native fishermen in the king’s service, stationed at the very entrance in well-manned large boats called trappaga and kotymba, go up the coast as far as Syrastrene, from which they pilot vessels to Barygaza [Bharuch, India]. And they steer them straight from the mouth of the bay between the shoals with their crews; and they tow them to fixed stations, going up with the beginning of the flood, and lying through the ebb at anchorages and in basins. These basins are deeper places in the river as far as Barygaza [Bharuch, India]; which lies by the river, about three hundred stadium-lengths up from the mouth.

(45) Now the whole country of India has very many rivers, and very great ebb and flow of the tides. They increase at the new moon, and at the full moon for three days, and recede during the intervening days of the moon. But about Barygaza [Bharuch, India] it is much greater, so that the bottom is suddenly seen, and now parts of the dry land are sea, and now it is dry where ships were sailing just before. The rivers, under the inrush of the flood tide, when the whole force of the sea is directed against them, are driven upwards more strongly against their natural current, for many stadium-lengths.

(46) For this reason entrance and departure of vessels is very dangerous to those who are inexperienced or who come to this trading-centre for the first time. For the rush of waters at the incoming tide is irresistible, and the anchors cannot hold against it; so that large ships are caught up by the force of it, turned broadside on through the speed of the current, and so driven on the shoals and wrecked; and smaller boats are over-turned; and those that have been turned aside among the channels by the receding waters at the ebb, are left on their sides, and if not held on an even keel by props, the flood tide comes upon them suddenly and under the first head of the current they are filled with water. For there is so great force in the rush of the sea at the new moon, especially during the flood tide at night, that if you begin the entrance at the moment when the waters are still, on the instant there is borne to you at the mouth of the river, a noise like the cries of an army heard from afar; and very soon the sea itself comes rushing in over the shoals with a hoarse roar.

(47) The country inland from Barygaza [Bharuch, India] is inhabited by numerous peoples (ethnē), such as the Arattians, the Arachosians, the Gandaraians and those of Poclais, where Boukephalos Alexandria is located. Above these is the very war-like people of the Baktrians, who are under their own king. And Alexander, setting out from these parts, penetrated to the Ganges, leaving aside Limyrikes and the southern part of India; and to the present day ancient drachma are current in Barygaza [Bharuch, India], coming from this country, bearing inscriptions in Greek letters, and the devices of those who reigned after Alexander, Apollodotus and Menander.

(48) Inland from this place and to the east, is the city called Ozene, formerly a royal capital. From this place are brought down all things needed for the welfare of the country around Barygaza [Bharuch, India], and many things for our trade: agate and carnelian, Indian muslins and mallow cloth, and much ordinary cloth. Through this same region and from the upper country is brought the spikenard that comes through Poclais; that is, the Caspapyrene and Paropanisene and Cabolitic and that brought through the adjoining country of Skythia, as well as costus and bdellium.

(49) There are imported into this trading-centre, wine, Italian preferred, also Laodikeian and Arabian; copper, tin, and lead; coral and topaz; thin clothing and inferior sorts of all kinds; bright-coloured girdles a cubit wide; storax, sweet clover, flint glass, realgar, antimony, gold and silver coin, on which there is a profit when exchanged for the money of the country; and ointment, but not very costly and not much. And for the king there are brought into those places very costly vessels of silver, singing boys, beautiful maidens for the harem, fine wines, thin clothing of the finest weaves, and the choicest ointments. There are exported from these places spikenard, costus, bdellium, ivory, agate and carnelian, lycium, cotton cloth of all kinds, silk cloth, mallow cloth, yarn, long pepper and such other things as are brought here from the various trading-centres. Those bound for this trading-centre from Egypt make the voyage favourably about the month of July, that is Epiphi.

(50) Beyond Barygaza [Bharuch, India] the adjoining coast extends in a straight line from north to south; and so this region is called Dachinabades, for dachanos in the language of the natives means “south.” The inland country back from the coast toward the east comprises many desert regions and great mountains. There are all kinds of wild beasts: leopards, tigers, elephants, enormous serpents, hyenas, and baboons of many sorts. There are many peoples with large populations as far as the Ganges.

(51) Among the trading-centres of Dachinabades there are two of special importance: Paethana, distant about twenty days’ journey south from Barygaza [Bharuch, India]; beyond which, about ten days’ journey east, there is another very great city, Tagara. There are brought down to Barygaza from these places by wagons and through great tracts without roads, from Paithana carnelian in great quantity, and from Tagara much common cloth, all kinds of muslins and mallow cloth, and other merchandise brought there locally from the regions along the sea-coast. And the whole journey to the end of Limyrikes is seven thousand stadium-lengths; but the distance is greater to the Coast Country.

(52) The trading-centres of this region are, in order, after Barygaza [Bharuch, India]: Suppara [near Mumbai], and the city of Kalliena [also near Mumbai], which in the time of the elder Saraganos became a lawful trading-centre. However, since it came into the possession of Sandares, the port is considerably hindered, and Greek ships landing there may chance to be taken to Barygaza under guard.

(53) Beyond Kalliena there are other trading-centres of this region: Semylla, Mandagora, Palaipatmai, Melizigara, Byzantion, Togaron and Aurannoboas. Then there are the islands called Sesekrienai and that of the Aigidioi, and that of the Kainitai, opposite the place called Chersonesos (and in these places there are pirates), and after this the White island. Then come Naura and Tyndis, the first trading-centres of Limyrakes, and then Mouziris and Nelkynda, which are now of leading importance.

(54) Tyndis belongs to the kingdom of Kerobothra [modern Kerala, in southwestern India]. This is a village in plain sight by the sea. Mouziris [around Kodungallur], of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia and the Greeks. It is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadium-lengths, and up the river from the shore twenty stadium-lengths. Nelkynda is distant from Mouziris by river and sea about five hundred stadium-lengths, and is of another kingdom, the Pandian [i.e. the territory of the Panyan kingdom of southern India]. This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadium-lengths from the sea.

(55) There is another place at the mouth of this river, the village of Bakare [perhaps Purakkad]. Ships drop down here on the outward voyage from Nelkynda, and anchor in the haven to take on their cargoes, because the river is full of shoals and the channels are not clear. The kings of both these trading-centres live in the interior. And as a sign to those approaching these places from the sea there are serpents coming forth to meet you, black in colour, but shorter, like snakes in the head, and with blood-red eyes.

(56) They send large ships to these trading-centres on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper and malabathrum [a cinnamon-like substance]. There are imported here, in the first place, a great quantity of coin; topaz; thin clothing, but not not much; figured linens; antimony; coral; crude glass; copper; tin; lead; wine, but not much yet as much as at Barygaza [Bharuch, India]; realgar and orpiment; and, wheat that is enough for the sailors, for this is not dealt in by the merchants there.

There is exported pepper which is produced in quantity in only one region near these trading-centres, a district called Kottonara. Besides this there are exported great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum from the places in the interior, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds, sapphires, and tortoise-shell, both that from Chryse island and that taken from among the islands along the coast of Limyrikes. They make the voyage to this place in a favourable season, setting out from Egypt about the month of July, that is Epiphi.

[Method of voyage from Arabia to India]

(57) They used to make this whole voyage as above described, from Kana and Arabian Eudaimon, in small vessels, sailing close around the shores of the gulfs. Hippalos was the pilot who by observing the location of the ports and the conditions of the sea, first discovered how to lay his course straight across the ocean. For at the same time when with us the Etesian winds are blowing, on the shores of India the wind sets in from the ocean, and this southwest wind is called Hippalos, from the name of him who first discovered the passage across. From that time to the present day ships start, some direct from Kana, and some from the Cape of Spices. Those bound for Limyrakes [southern India] throw the ship’s head considerably off the wind. While those bound for Barygaza [northern India] and Skythia keep along shore not more than three days and for the rest of the time hold the same course straight out to sea from that region, with a favourable wind, quite a distance from the land, and so sail outside past the previously mentioned gulfs.

[Southernmost India]

(58) Beyond Bakare there is Red Mountain, and another district . . . [missing words] stretching along the coast toward the south, called Paralia. The first place is called Balita. It has a fine harbour and a village by the shore. Beyond this there is another place called Komari at which are the Cape of Komari and a harbour. This is where those men who wish to consecrate themselves for the rest of their lives come from, and bathe and dwell in celibacy. Women also do the same. This is because it is told that a goddess once lived here and bathed.

(59) From Komari toward the south this region extends to Kolchi, where the pearl-fisheries are (these are worked by condemned criminals). This belongs to the Pandian kingdom. Beyond Kolchi there follows another district called the Coast country, which lies on a bay, and has a region inland called Argarou. At this place, and nowhere else, are bought the pearls gathered on the coast around there. From there are exported muslins, those called Argaritic.

(60) Among the trading-centres of these countries, and the harbours where the ships put in from Limyrikes and from the north, the most important are, in order as they lie, first Kamara, then Poduka, then Sopatma, where there are ships of the country coasting along the shore as far as Limyrikes. Other very large vessels made of single logs bound together, called sangara: but those which make the voyage to Chryse and to the Ganges are called kolandia, and are very large. There are imported into these places everything made in Limyrikes, and the greatest part of what is brought at any time from Egypt comes here, together with most kinds of all the things that are brought from Limyrikes and of those that are carried through Paralia.

[Sri Lanka and southeastern and eastern India]

(61) About the following region, the direction trending toward the east, lying out at sea toward the west is the island Palaisimundou, called by the ancients Taprobane [i.e. Sri Lanka]. The northern part is a day’s journey distant, and the southern part trends gradually toward the west, and almost touches the opposite shore of Azania. It produces pearls, transparent stones, muslins, and tortoise-shell.

(62) About these places is the region of Masalia [perhaps Machilipatnam] stretching a great way along the coast before the inland country. A large quantity of muslins is made there. Beyond this region, sailing toward the east and crossing the adjacent bay, there is the region of Dosarene, yielding the ivory known as Dosarenic. Beyond this, the direction trending toward the north, there are many barbarian peoples, among whom are the Kirrhadians, a descent group (genos) of men with flattened noses, very savage (agrios). There are also another people (ethnos), the Bargysians, and the Hippioprosopians (Horse-faces), who are said to be man-eaters (anthrõpophagoi).

[Further east still]

(63) After these, the course turns toward the east again, and sailing with the ocean to the right and the shore remaining beyond to the left, Ganges comes into view, and near it the very last land toward the east, Chryse [perhaps Burma, Malaysia, or Sumatra is in mind]. There is a river near it called the Ganges, and it rises and falls in the same way as the Nile. On its bank is a trading-centre which has the same name as the river, Ganges. Through this place are brought malabathrum, Gangetic spikenard, pearls, and muslins of the finest sorts, which are called Gangetic. It is said that there are gold-mines near these places, and there is a gold coin which is called kaltis. Just opposite this river there is an island in the ocean, the last part of the inhabited world toward the east, under the rising sun itself. It is called Chryse, and it has the best tortoise-shell of all the places on the Erythraian Sea.

[Land of Thina / China]

(64) After this region under the very north, where the sea ends, there is a very great inland city called Thina [China], from which raw silk, silk yarn and silk cloth are brought on foot through Baktria to Barygaza, and are also exported to Limyrikes by way of the river Ganges. But the land of Thina is not easy of access. Few men come from there, and seldom. The country lies under the constellation of the Lesser Bear, and is said to border on the farthest parts of Pontos [the Black Sea] and the Caspian sea, next to which lies lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov]. All of these empty into the ocean.

(65) Every year on the borders of the land of Thina there comes together a people (ethnos) with short bodies and broad, flat faces. . . [missing words] . . . called Sesatians . . . [missing words]. They come with their wives and children, carrying great packs and plaited baskets of what looks like green grape-leaves. They meet in a place between their own country and the land of This. There they hold a feast for several days, spreading out the baskets under themselves as mats, and then return to their own places in the interior. And then the natives watching them come into that place and gather up their mats. They pick out from the braids the fibres which they call petri. They lay the leaves closely together in several layers and make them into balls, which they pierce with the fibres from the mats. And there are three sorts: those made of the largest leaves are called the large-ball malabathrum; those of the smaller, the medium-ball; and those of the smallest, the small-ball. So there are three sorts of malabathrum, and it is brought into India by those who prepare it.

(66) The regions beyond these places are either difficult to access because of their excessive winters and great cold, or else cannot be explored because of some divine influence of the gods.


Source of the translation: W.H. Schoff, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912), public domain, adapted by Harland using the Greek critical edition in H. Frisk, Le Périple de la mer Érythrée, suivi d’une étude sur la tradition et la langue (Göteborg: Elanders boktryckeri aktiebolag, 1927).

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