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India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong
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India and sri lanka in the time of the roman julio claudians by Keith Armstrong

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Reveals the Roman discovery of the trade winds and Sri Lanka, a Buddhist delegation to emperor Claudius's court and on going Roman trade with India.

Reveals the Roman discovery of the trade winds and Sri Lanka, a Buddhist delegation to emperor Claudius's court and on going Roman trade with India.

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  • 1. India and Sri Lanka in the time of the Roman Julio-Claudians by Keith Armstrong 2013 London
  • 2. Acknowledgments I am grateful to Ms Julie Bowles, Miss Cecile Mairat, Miss Rachel O'Dowd, Dr Dylan Esler and Miss Eva Skoulariki for transcribing from the original text. I would also like to thank the many people who have helped me to live and given me the energy and encouragement to complete this article. This includes the people of Camden and my late mother Mrs. Nina Armstrong. I am particularly grateful to the kind members of staff at all levels within the British Library in London. ----------- I must point out that any factual errors or sentiment unwittingly suggested are my responsibility alone. The punctuation and typeface of the authors quoted have at times been modified. All rights are reserved. The author's moral rights are asserted. No part of this paper may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the author. © Copyright 2013 Keith Armstrong, London.
  • 3. Gaius Plinius Secundus, (23 - 79 CE) known as Pliny the Elder, was born during the time of Emperor Tiberius. 1 Pliny the Elder was only eighteen when Claudius came to the throne. Suetonius informs us in Vita Plinii Secundi, (titled in English as Lives of Illustrious Men): [that Pliny] after performing with energy the military service required of members of the equestrian order, administered several important stewardships in succession with the utmost justice, gave so much attention to liberal studies that hardly anyone who had complete leisure wrote more than he. For instance, he gave an account in twenty volumes of all the wars which were ever carried on with Germany, besides completing the thirty-seven books of his "Natural History." He lost his life [in 79 CE] in the disaster in Campania. He was commanding the fleet at Misenum, and setting out in a Liburnian galley during the eruption of Vesuvius to investigate the causes of the phenomenon from nearer at hand, he was unable to return because of head winds. He was suffocated by the shower of dust and ashes, although some think that he was killed by a slave, whom he begged to hasten his end when he was overcome by the intense heat. 2 He wrote a number of books, but only one by the title Natural History still survives. His writings cast light on an intriguing connection between the Romans and the South Asian island of Sri Lanka (known to the Romans as Taprobane) 3 , which lies in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka, - 'Lanka the Blessed ' (lately reconstructing itself from the recent devastation caused by the Tsunami on 26th of December 2004), and a bloody civil war, was known to English speakers as 'Ceylon' until 1972. In the History of Ceylon by Michael Zaleski it is stated that "it is a historical fact that just at the time when St. Peter was Pope and resided in Rome, and the Apostles were still living, the Roman Emperor Claudius received an embassy from a King of [Sri Lanka]." 4 Donald Obeyesekere writing on the Sri Lankan monarch, King Sanda Muhuna or Chanda Mukha Siwa (44 - 52 CE) in his Outlines of Ceylon History writes that: [...] [Chanda Mukha Siwa] signalised his reign by constructing a tank and dedicating it to Isurumunni Vihara [a Buddhist monastery]. [...] After a reign of eight years and seven months, Candamukha Siva was murdered by his younger brother Yasalaka Tissa at an aquatic festival held at the Tissa tank. 5 Second Century Roman map of Sri Lanka by Claudius Ptolemy 6
  • 4. Roman Sri Lanka
  • 5. Pliny the Elder considered Sri Lanka to be 'the Land of the Counterlanders'. It was long considered to be another world. However, he writes that Alexander the Great supplied clear proof of it being an island. Buddhist ambassadors from Sri Lanka were received by Claudius' court. From Pliny the Elder's Natural History, we learn that: [...] during the principate of Claudius, [...] an embassy actually came to Rome from the island of [Sri Lanka]. The circumstances were as follows: Annius Plocamus had obtained a contract from the Treasury to collect the taxes from the Red Sea; a freedman of his while sailing round Arabia was carried by gales [... and ] after a fortnight made the harbour of Hippuri in [Sri Lanka], where he was entertained with kind hospitality by the king, and in a period of six months acquired a thorough knowledge of the language; and afterwards in reply to the king's enquiries he gave him an account of the Romans and their emperor. The king among all that he heard was remarkably struck with admiration for Roman honesty, on the ground that among the money found on the captive the denarii were all equal in weight, although the various figures on them showed that they had been coined by several emperors. This strongly attracted his friendship, and he sent four envoys, the chief of whom was Rachias [possibly for Raja, king]. 8 The adventurous Roman freedman mentioned by Pliny is known as Hippalus. James Tennent, in viewing the role played by the Roman captain, writing in his Ceylon: an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, states that: An exploit so adventurous and so triumphant, rendered Hippalus the Columbus of his age, and his countrymen, to perpetuate his renown, called the winds which he had mastered by his name. His discovery gave a new direction to navigation, altered the dimensions and build of the ships frequenting those seas, and imparted so great an impulse to trade, that within a very brief period it became a subject of apprehension at Rome, lest the empire should be drained of its specie [payment in kind e.g. coins] to maintain the commerce with India; — silver to the value of nearly a million and a half sterling, being annually required to pay for the spices, gems, pearls, and silks, imported through Egypt. An extensive acquaintance was now acquired with the sea-coast of India, and the great work of Pliny, compiled less than fifty years after the discovery of Hippalus, serves to attest the additional knowledge regarding [Sri Lanka], which had been collected during the interval. 9 The Romans learned much about Sri Lanka from Rachias and his party of diplomats. Pliny compares the two societies at the time of Claudius: [... Sri Lanka], although banished by Nature beyond the confines of the world, is not without the vices that belong to us: gold and silver are valued there also, and a kind of marble resembling tortoise-shell and pearls and precious stones are held in honour; in fact the whole mass of luxury is there carried to a far higher pitch than ours. They told us that there was greater wealth in their own country than in ours, but that we made more use of our riches: with them nobody kept a slave, everybody got up at sunrise and nobody took a siesta in the middle of the day; their buildings were of only moderate height; the price of corn was never inflated; there were no law
  • 6. courts and no litigation; the deity worshipped was Hercules [Pliny's name for Buddha]; the king was elected by the people on the grounds of age and gentleness of disposition, and as having no children, and if he afterwards had a child, he was deposed, to prevent the monarchy from becoming hereditary. 10 Pliny continues: Thirty Governors, they told us, were assigned to the king by the people, and capital punishment could only be inflicted by a vote of a majority of these; and even then there was a right of appeal to the people, and a jury of seventy members was appointed to try the case, and if these acquitted the accused the thirty Governors were no more held in any esteem, being utterly disgraced. [...] If the king committed a delinquency he was punished by being condemned to death, though nobody executed the sentence, but the Hercules and the Golden Apple whole of the people turned their backs on him and refused to have any communication with him or even to speak to him. [...] Agriculture was industriously practised, but the vine was not grown, although orchard fruit was abundant. [...] They looked upon a hundred years as a moderate span of life. 11
  • 7. Tennent, in examining Pliny's account of the discovery, considers that: It is impossible to read this narrative of Pliny without being struck with its fidelity to truth in many particulars; and even one passage, to which exception has been taken as an imposture of the Singhalese [Sinhalese] envoys, when they manifested surprise at the quarters in which the sun rose and set in Italy, has been referred to the peculiar system of the Hindus, in whose maps north and south are left and right; but it may be explained by the fact of the sun passing over and to the north of [Sri Lanka], in his transit to the summer solstice; instead of hanging about the south, as in Italy. 12 Pliny's reference to the god Hercules might suggest that the Sri Lankan delegation first arrived on the Roman mainland at Ostia. Russell Meiggs points out in his Roman Ostia, that: The finding of a large temple to Hercules was one of the great surprises of the excavation programme begun in 1938; for there was little to suggest in the inscriptions and earlier excavation of Ostia that Hercules held an emphatic position in the religious life of the town. [...] The type of workmanship of the cella walls and the substantial use of travertine indicate that this temple dates from the last quarter of the second century, or the first half of the first century [BCE]. The large altar in front of the temple is dedicated to Hercules Invictus. [...] 13 From Pliny's account, Sri Lankan society at that time appears to have been more forward thinking and advanced than the so-called civilised western societies of today. Zaleski considers that "for at that time India and [Sri Lanka] were in communication with the Roman Empire, and better known in Europe, than they were a thousand years later." 14 Ajoy Kumar Singh, writing in The Indo-Roman Trade, points out that India itself had no direct contact with Rome; however, Singh states that: Imperial Rome had certainly close commercial relations with India and this is confirmed by the recovery of Imperial coins to India. Augustus inaugurated an era of commercial contacts. Six finds of coins exclusively of his period are on record. The expansion of Roman contacts during the reign of Tiberius is borne out from the five finds which contain exclusively the coins of Tiberius. Three finds of the period of Claudius have also been unearthed which have exclusively the coins from Augustus to Claudius. The commercial activities of the Roman Empire also continued during the time of Nero as we have four finds where the contents of the hoards end with the coins of Nero. Most likely the tempo of the Roman trade lasted only for about three quarters of a century. After Nero we do not get any finds of Roman coins. The finds of the Roman coins, thus, indicate that the Roman trade in the first century [CE] was brisk in India and the entire peninsula was buzzing with the activities of the Roman merchants. 15 Tamilnadu or Tamil Nadu is the southern most state of India and in Roman Antiquities in Tamilnadu by S. Suresh, it is reported that "early Roman coins abound in Tamilnadu (including those of Claudius I). The majority of the finds occur as hoards, usually in earthenware pots." 16
  • 8. Suresh continues: [...] some of the Roman finds from North-West India (Ahin-Posh, Kabul valley and Manikyala) were part of ritualistic deposits within Buddhist stupas, the use of Roman coins as ritualistic offerings was almost unknown in the south. The finds of Roman coins below the foundations of an old Hindu temple at Nellore and maybe at Saidapet (within Madras city) are the only known exceptions. 17 The importation of exotic animals and animal products such as ivory and pearls, as well as expensive spices, herbs and precious stones caused a major trade imbalance between Rome and the Indian subcontinent. It was to have an unfavourable impact on the Roman economy. 18 In Pompeii: The Living City by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence, it is reported that: Sometime around the middle of the first century [CE], such a caravan transported a carved ivory tripod table on the first stage of its journey from Satavahana in the northern Indian kingdom of Deccan to Pompeii, where it would end up in fragments. All that remains of it today is a section of one leg that was found in the House of the Four Styles: a caryatid [a pillar in the form of a draped ornamental female figure] in the shapely form of the goddess Lakshmi [the Hindu goddess of wealth and beauty], two tiny acolytes by her side, posed in a manner that bears an uncanny resemblance to statues of the equivalent Roman goddess, Venus. 19 Eric Warmington states in The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India that: [...] outside the eastern boundaries of the Empire the specially large ships being sent to the coast of Malabar, [...] all larger vessels used or needed by the Romans in the Indian Ocean were not so much for taking imperial products to India as for bringing large quantities of Indian products into the Roman Empire; and, to speak generally, the very nature of the articles of merchandise which formed this trade reveals that the separate articles of exportation from the Empire to India, often suited to the tastes of the receivers, consisted largely of materials much weightier and bulkier than those which were brought from India, [...] 20 The larger animals such as elephants came by land. Warmington adds that: Of the developments detrimental to the silver currency of the Roman Empire the exportation of it to India was at first the most serious because the trade between India and the Roman Empire was the greatest traffic of antiquity, and while approaching in a way that of more modern times, was at the same time conducted without the economic background which was required for a state of economic safety. But of these same developments it appears to me to have been in the long run not the most detrimental because it was the only one which was checked in any way. There was no economic reserve-that was the fault [...] 21
  • 9. The Roman Empire traded in Europe and also with Africa and Asia. 22 It is conceivable that the fame or infamy of the Roman Empire reached (to some degree at least) even as far as Tibet. 23
  • 10. End Notes Note 1: Professor John Healy writing in his introduction to The Natural history: a selection considers that Pliny holds a place of exceptional importance in the tradition and diffusion of Western culture. This book gives an: [...] encyclopaedic account of the state of Roman scientific knowledge in the first century [...] contains material from works no longer extant and is of unique value for our assessment of early imperial science and technology. Healy notes that: While he was in charge of a Roman fleet at Misenum his scientific curiosity, ironically, led to his death. He lingered too long observing the eruption of Vesuvius and died on 24 August, 79 CE. He was also the uncle of Pliny the Younger. Healy, John F., (1991, 2004: i), The Natural history : a selection / Pliny the Elder ; [Trans. from the Latin] with an introduction and notes by John F. Healy, (London : Penguin). Note 2: Suetonius, Tranquillus, Caius, (1997, 2001: 480-481). The Lives of the Caesars : Lives of Illustrious Men: Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library No. 38, [Trans. from the Latin by J. C. Rolfe], (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press). Note 3: Tennent, James Emerson, (1860: 321), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Note 4: Zaleski, Ladislao Michael, (1913: 8 - 9), History of Ceylon / an abridged translation [from the French] of Professor Peter Courtenay's work by M. G. Francis, (Mangalore : Codialbail Press). Note 5: Obeyesekere, Donald, (1911: 53), Outlines of Ceylon History, (Colombo ; London : Times of Ceylon). Note 6: Tennent, James Emerson, (1860: 599), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Note 7: Tennent, James Emerson, (1860: 321), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Note 8: Pliny (The Elder), (1942, 1999: 401), Natural History, Books 3-7: VI. XXIV, [Trans. from the Latin by H. Rackham], (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library). Note 9: Tennent, James Emerson, (1860: 555), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Note 10: Pliny (The Elder), (1942, 1999: 405, 407), Natural History, Books 3-7: VI. XXIV, [Trans. from the Latin by H. Rackham], (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library).
  • 11. Note 11: ibid. Note 12: Tennent, James Emerson, (1860: 558), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Note 13: Meiggs, Russell, Roman (1973, 1997: 347 - 348), Ostia, (2nd Ed.), (Oxford: Clarendon Press). Note 14: Zaleski, Ladislao Michael, (1913: 8 - 9), History of Ceylon / an abridged translation [from the French] of Professor Peter Courtenay's work by M. G. Francis, (Mangalore : Codialbail Press). Note 15: Singh, Ajoy Kumar, (1988: 101), Indo-Roman trade, (New Delhi, India : Commonwealth Publishers). Note 16: Suresh, S., (1992: 11) Roman Antiquities in Tamilnadu, (Madras: C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation). Note 17: Suresh, S., (1992: 11), Roman Antiquities in Tamilnadu, (Madras: C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation). Note 18: Warmington, Eric Herbert, (1928: 272 - 318), The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Note 19: Butterworth, Alex, and Laurence, Ray, (2005: 54 - 55), Pompeii The Living City, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson). Lay, Paul (ed.), in The Lure of the Orient, History Today Ltd, History Today, vol 60.8, 2010 Note 20: Warmington, Eric Herbert, (1928: 273), The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Note 21: Warmington, Eric Herbert, (1928: 317), The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Discoveries published on the Internet in 2006 could indicate that some trade continued with the Romans much later than was previously thought. The marine branch of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has found Roman artefacts dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries on Elephanta Island. The find included artefacts like wine amphorae (vases), pot sheds, storage devices, and stone anchors. The discovery indicates that trade between Rome and India continued much later than previously thought. Historians believed that the trade, which was conducted via Arabia in the early period of the Roman Empire, declined by the turn of the first millennium. BBC 24: 'Search for India's ancient city' as retrieved on 11 June 2006. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4970452.stm>. Sheth, Ninad D., 'Roman relics found near Elephanta' (NDA), as retrieved on 15 September 2006. <http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1053100>
  • 12. Note 22: Smith, William, (Ed.), (1842: 567), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, (London: Taylor and Walton). Note 23: Dylan Esler (a scholar in Tibetan studies from the London School of Oriental and African Studies: SOAS) states that during the expansion of the Tibetan Empire in the 7th and 8th centuries CE, the Tibetans came into contact with the Arab conquerors in western Central Asia, from whom they gained some knowledge (albeit hearsay) of Rome and Byzantine. It is probable that Rome (Tibetan Khrom) represented for Tibetans a mighty empire, of whose location they were, nevertheless, uncertain. See Snellgrove, David L., and Richardson, Hugh, (2003: 49), A Cultural History of Tibet, (Bangkok: Orchid Press). Bibliography BBC 24: 'Search for India's ancient city' as retrieved on 11 June 2006. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4970452.stm>. Butterworth, Alex, and Laurence, Ray, (2005), Pompeii The Living City, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson). Healy, John F., (1991), The Natural history : a selection / Pliny the Elder ; [Trans. from the Latin] with an introduction and notes by John F. Healy, (London : Penguin). Lay, Paul (ed.), in The Lure of the Orient, History Today Ltd, History Today, vol 60.8, 2010 Meiggs, Russell, Roman (1973, 1997), Ostia, (2nd Ed.), (Oxford: Clarendon Press). Obeyesekere, Donald, (1911), Outlines of Ceylon History, (Colombo ; London : Times of Ceylon). Pliny (The Elder), (1942, 1999), Natural History, Books 3-7: VI. XXIV, [Trans. from the Latin by H. Rackham], (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library). Sheth, Ninad D., 'Roman relics found near Elephanta' (NDA), as retrieved on 15 September 2006. <http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1053100> Singh, Ajoy Kumar, (1988), Indo-Roman trade, (New Delhi, India : Commonwealth Publishers). Smith, William, (Ed.), (1842), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, (London: Taylor and Walton). See Snellgrove, David L., and Richardson, Hugh, (2003: 49), A Cultural History of Tibet, (Bangkok: Orchid Press). Suetonius, Tranquillus, Caius, (1997, 2001). The Lives of the Caesars : Lives of Illustrious Men: Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library No. 38, [Trans. from the Latin by J. C. Rolfe], (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press). Suresh, S., (1992), Roman Antiquities in Tamilnadu, (Madras: C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation).
  • 13. Tennent, James Emerson, (1860), Ceylon : an account of the island, physical, historical and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions, Vol. I, (5th Ed.), (London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). Warmington, Eric Herbert, (1928), The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Zaleski, Ladislao Michael, (1913), History of Ceylon / an abridged translation [from the French] of Professor Peter Courtenay's work by M. G. Francis, (Mangalore : Codialbail Press).

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