Muziris

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Silk Road, ancient trade route that, linking China with the West, carried goods and ideas between the two great civilizations of Rome and China. The land routes are red, and the water routes are blue.

Muziris (in Greco-Roman sources, Muciri in Tamil and Muyirikkottu in Malayalam) was an ancient seaport and urban center in south-western India (in Kerala) that existed as far back as the 1st century BC, or even before it. Muziris has found mention in the bardic Sangam literature and a number of classical European historical sources.[1][2][3]

The port was a key to the trade between southern India and the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Roman Empire.[4] The important known commodities exported from Muziris were spices (such as black pepper and malabathron), semi-precious stones (such as beryl), pearls, diamonds, sapphires, ivory, Chinese silk, Gangetic spikenard and tortoise shells. The Romans brought money (in gold coins), peridots, thin clothing, figured linens, multicoloured textiles, sulfide of antimony, copper, tin, lead, coral, raw glass, wine, realgar and orpiment.[5][6] Location of coin hoards unearthed suggest an inland trade link from Muziris via the Palghat Gap and along the Kaveri Valley to the east coast of India. Though the Roman trade declined from the 5th century AD, the former Muziris attracted the attention of other nationalities, particularly the Chinese and the Arabs, presumably till the devastating floods of Periyar in the 14th century.

The exact location of Muziris is still not known to historians and archaeologists. It is generally speculated to be situated around present day Kodungallur, a town situated 18 miles north of Cochin.[7] Kodungallur in central Kerala figures prominently in the ancient history of southern India as a vibrant urban hub of the Chera rulers.[8] A series of excavations were conducted at the village of Pattanam (near Kodungallur) by the autonomous institution Kerala Council for Historical Research (outsourced by Kerala State Department of Archaeology) in 2006-07 and it was immediately announced that the lost port of Muziris was found.[3][9][10] The rapid conclusion invited criticism from historians and archaeologists and started a healthy debate among historians of south India.[11][12][13]

Etymology[edit]

The derivation of the name "Muziris" is said to be from the native Tamil name to the port, "muciri". In the region, Periyar river perhaps branched into two like a cleft palate (an abnormal facial development) and thus gave it the name "Muciri." It is frequently referred to as Muciri in Sangam poems, Muracippattanam in Sanskrit epic Ramayana, and as Muyirikkottu in a copper plate of a 11th-century Chera ruler.

Early descriptions[edit]

Sangam literature[edit]

A tantalizing description of Muziris is in Akanaṉūṟu, an anthology of early Tamil bardic poems (poem number 149.7-11) in Eṭṭuttokai[14]

"the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Culli [Periyar], river of the Chera, arriving with gold and departing with pepper-when that Muciri, brimming with prosperity, was besieged by the din of war."

The Purananuru described Muziris as a bustling port city where interior goods were exchanged for imported gold.[15] It seems the Chera chiefs regarded their contacts with the Roman traders as a form of gift exchange rather than straightforward commercial dealings.[16]

"With its streets, its houses, its covered fishing boats, where they sell fish, where they pile up rice-with the shifting and mingling crowd of a boisterous river-bank were the sacks of pepper are heaped up-with its gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats, the city of the gold-collared Kuttuvan (Chera chief), the city that bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately, and the merchants of the mountains, and the merchants of the sea, the city where liquor abounds, yes, this Muciri, were the rumbling ocean roars, is give to me like a marvel, a treasure. ."

Akananuru describes Pandya attacks on the Chera port of Muciri. This episode is impossible to date, but the attack seems to have succeeded in diverting Roman trade from Muziris.[16]

"It is suffering like that experienced by the warriors who were mortally wounded and slain by the war elephants. Suffering that was seen when the Pandya prince came to besiege the port of Muciri on his flag-bearing chariot with decorated horses."

"Riding on his great and superior war elephant the Pandya prince has conquered in battle. He has seized the sacred images after winning the battle for rich Muciri."

Navigation of the Red Sea[edit]

The author of the Greek travel book Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century AD) gives an elaborate description of the Chera Kingdom.[17]

"...then come Naura and Tyndis, the first markets of Lymrike, and then Muziris and Nelkynda, which are now of leading importance. Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, in the same Kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea 500 stadia, and up the river from the shore 20 stadia...

"There is exported pepper, which is produced in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonara."

The Periplus reveals how Muziris became the main trade port for the Chera chiefdom. The author explains that this large settlement owed its prosperity to foreign commerce, including shipping arriving from northern India and the Roman empire. Black pepper from the hills was brought to the port by the local producers and stacked high in warehouses to await the arrival of Roman merchants. As the shallows at Muziris prevented deep-hulled vessels from sailing upriver to the port, Roman freighters were forced to shelter at the edge of the lagoon while their cargoes were transferred upstream on smaller craft.[16]

The Periplus records that special consignments of grain were sent to places like Muziris and scholars suggest that these deliveries were intended for resident Romans who needed something to supplement the local diet of rice.[16]

Pliny the Elder[edit]

Pliny the Elder gives a description of voyages to India in the 1st century AD. He refers to many Indian ports in his The Natural History .[18] However, by the time of Pliny, Muziris was no longer a favoured location in Roman trade dealing with Southern India.[19]

"To those who are bound for India, Ocelis (on the Red Sea) is the best place for embarkation. If the wind, called Hippalus (south-west Monsoon), happens to be blowing it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market in India, Muziris by name. This, however, is not a very desirable place for disembarkation, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in articles of merchandise. Besides, the road stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging. At the moment that I am writing these pages, the name of the King of this place is Celebothras."

Claudius Ptolemy[edit]

Claudius Ptolemy placed Muziris emporium north of the mouth of the Pseudostomus river in his Geographia.[20] Pseudostomus (literally "false mouth") is generally identified with modern day Periyar river.

Muziris papyrus[edit]

This Greek papyrus of the 2nd century AD documents a contract involving an Alexandrian merchant importer and a financier that concerns cargoes, especially of pepper and spices from Muziris.[21] The fragmentary papyrus records details about a cargo consignment (valued at around nine million sesterces) brought back from Muziris on board a Roman merchant ship called the Hermapollon. The discovery opened a strong base to ancient international and trade laws in particular and has been studied at length by economists, lawyers as well as historians.[22][23]

Peutinger's Map[edit]

Muziris, as shown in the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana.

Peutinger Map, an odd-sized medieval copy of an ancient Roman road map, “with information which could date back to 2nd century AD”, in which both Muziris and Tondis are well marked, “with a large lake indicated behind Muziris, and beside which is an icon marked Templ(um) Augusti, widely taken to mean a “Temple of Augustus”.[24] A large number of Roman subjects must have spent months in this region awaiting favourable conditions for return sailings to the Empire. This could explain why the Map records the existence of an Augustan temple.[16]

Great "floods" of Periyar[edit]

Muziris disappeared from every known map of antiquity, and without a trace, presumably because of a cataclysmic event in 1341, a “cyclone and floods” in the Periyar that altered the geography of the region. The historians Rajan Gurukkal and Dick Whittakker say in a study titled “In Search of Muziris” that the event, which opened up the present harbour at Kochi and the Vembanad backwater system to the sea and formed a new deposit of land now known as the Vypeen Island near Kochi, “doubtless changed access to the Periyar river, but geologically it was only the most spectacular of the physical changes and land formation that have been going on [there] from time immemorial”. According to them, for example, a geophysical survey of the region has shown that 200-300 years ago the shoreline lay about three kilometres east of the present coast and that some 2,000 years earlier it lay even further east, about 6.5 km inland. “If Muziris had been situated somewhere here in Roman times, the coast at that time would have run some 4-5 km east of its present line. The regular silting up of the river mouth finally forced it to cease activity as a port.”[25]

Archaeological excavations[edit]

A series of excavations conducted at Kodungallur starting from 1945, yielded nothing that went back to before the 13th century. Another excavation was carried out in 1969 by the Archaeological Survey of India at Ceraman Parambu, 2 km north of Kodungallur. Only antiquities of the 13th and 16th century were recovered.[26]

Pattanam excavations and debate among historians[edit]

In 1983, a large hoard of Roman coins was found at a site around six miles from Pattanam. A series of pioneering excavations carried out by Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR, an autonomous institution) at Pattanam from 2007 uncovered a large number of artefacts.[27][28][29][30][31] So far, seven seasons of excavations (2007-14) are completed by KCHR at Pattanam.[32]

The identification of Pattanam as Muziris is a divisive subject among some of the historians of south India. When KCHR announced the possible finding of Muziris based on Pattanam finds, it invited criticism from some historians and archaeologists. Historians such as R Nagaswamy, KN Panikkar and MGS Narayanan disagreed with the identification and called for further analysis.[12][24][31] "Whether Pattanam was Muziris is not of immediate concern to us," the chief of the Kerala Council for Historical Research recently stated to the media.[33] Even the last field report on the excavations (2013) explicitly shows Pattanam as Muziris. [34]

MGS Narayanan, who insists Muziris got marooned in the floods in AD 1341, categorically rules out Pattanam as Muziris, calling for fresh surveys to locate the lost port.[11] He discounts the findings saying amphora shards are available all along the west coast. [35] "There is nothing to prove that modern Pattanam and Muziris were the same place. Yet, there is a wide-spread belief that they are," says Narayanan.[36] According to Narayanan, excavations made at Pattanam so far only indicate that it was a "bead-making centre" where there was plenty of trade. Only more detailed excavations can establish beyond dispute that Pattanam and Muziris were the same place. "Only a small compound has been excavated at Pattanam. Sites like Mohenjo-daro and Arikamedu stretch across acres. There should be proper exploration by trained archaeologists of the Archeological Survey of India," says Prof. MGS Narayanan.[37]

According to MGS, there is a deliberate move by the "vested interests" to keep away the Archeological Survey of India from the developments taking place at Pattanam.[11][13] He said it had not yet received the required licence from the Archaeological Survey of India.[38] In late 2013, KCHR Director Dr. Cherian said the Government of India had granted licence to him as Director of the KCHR for carrying out the excavations for the eighth year running as recommended by the Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).[39]

MGS also criticized attempts to commercialise the Pattanam excavations in the name of Muziris conservation projects.[40] The effort made by "some interested quarters" to link the Muziris excavations with the visit of Thomas the Apostle was criticized by eminent archaeologist R. Nagaswamy. Stating that it was too early to conclude that Pattanam is Muziris, he said that there was need for more excavations and concrete evidence.[41]

"Historians still had a great deal to do with Pattanam. The nature of the settlement there, for instance, was one to be explored. Whether it was just a warehouse, or where goods were produced for trade, or whether it was a port or a site that had sequential historical development – were all matters of intrigue," historian Romila Thapar remarked in 2013.[42] In mid-2014, to a question on whether Pattanam was the lost port town of Muziris, Oxford archaeologist Chris Gosden said that it is not a question of utmost importance to him.[43]

While historian and academic Rajan Gurukkal throws his weight behind the ‘salvage of historic relics at Pattanam’ by KCHR given the sites disturbance due to continual human habitation and activity, he thinks it [ancient Muziris] was no more than a colony of merchants from the Mediterranean. “The abundance of material from the Mediterranean suggests that traders arrived here using favourable monsoon winds and returned using the next after short sojourns,” he says. Feeder vessels transported them between their ships and the wharf, but it would be incorrect to say that it was a sophisticated port in an urban setting. The place did not have any evolved administration nor any sophistication. I believe it [Pattanam] was Muziris. Had it been elsewhere, Pattanam wharf and colony would’ve found a mention in available records, he says.[44]

Discoveries from Pattanam[edit]

Archaeological research has shown that Pattanam was a port frequented by Romans and it has a long history of habitation dating back to 10 century BC. Its trade links with Rome peaked between 1st century BC and 4th century AD.[45]

A large quantity of artifacts represents the maritime contacts of the site with Mediterranean, Red Sea and Indian Ocean rims. The major finds include ceramics, lapidary-related objects, metal objects, coins, architectural ruins, geological, zoological and botanical remains. [46]

  • Mediterranean: (100 BCE to CE 400) Amphora, terra sigillata sherds, Roman glass fragments and gaming counters.
  • West Asian, South Arabian & Mesopotamian: (300 BCE - CE1000 ) Turquoise glazed pottery, torpedo jar fragments and frankincense crumbs.
  • Chinese: (CE 1600 – CE 1900) Blue on white porcelain sherds.
  • Regional/Local: (1000 BCE to CE 2000) Black and red ware sherds, Indian rouletted ware, gemstones, glass beads, semi precious stone beads/inlays/intaglio, cameo–blanks, coins, spices, pottery and terracotta objects.
  • Urban life: (100 BCE to CE 400) burnt bricks, rooftiles, ring-wells, storage jars, toilet features, lamps, coins, stylus, personal adornment items and scripts on pottery.
  • Industrial character: (100 BCE to CE 400) Metallurgy reflected in iron, copper, gold and lead objects, crucibles, slag, furnace installations, lapidary remains of semi-precious stones and spindle whorls indicating weaving.
  • Maritime features: (100 BCE to CE 400) Wharf, warehouse, canoe, bollards.

The major discoveries from Pattanam include thousands of beads (made of semi-precious stone), sherds of Roman amphora, Chera-era coins made of copper alloys and lead, fragments of Roman glass pillar bowls, terra sigillata, remains of a long wooden boat and associated bollards made of teak and a wharf made of fired brick.[5][47]

The most remarkable find at Pattanam excavations in 2007 was a brick structural wharf complex, with nine bollards to harbour boats and in the midst of this, a highly decayed canoe, all perfectly mummified in mud. The canoe (6 meters long) was made of Artocarpus hirsutus, a tree common in Malabar Coast, out of which boats are made off.[48] The bollards some of which are still in satisfactory condition was made of teak.[49]

Three Tamil-Brahmi scripts were also found in the Pattanam excavations. The last Tamil-Brahmi script (dated to c. 2nd century AD, probably reading "a-ma-na", meaning "a Jaina" in Tamil) was found on a pot-rim at Pattanam. If the rendering and the meaning is not mistaken, it establishes that Jainism was prevalent on the Malabar Coast at least from the 2nd century. This is for the first time the excavators are getting direct evidence relating to a religious system in ancient Kerala.[50]

Muziris Heritage Project[edit]

Muziris Heritage Project is a tourism venture by Tourism Department of Kerala to "reinstate the historical and cultural significance Muziris". The idea of the project came after the extensive excavations and discoveries at Pattanam by Kerala Council for Historical Research.[51] The project also covers various other historically significant sites and monuments in central Kerala.

The nearby site of Kottapuram, a 16th century fort, was also excavated (from May 2010) as part of the Muziris Heritage Project.[52]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Artefacts from the lost Port of Muziris." The Hindu. December 3, 2014.
  2. ^ Krishnakumar, P. "Muziris, at last?". www.frontline.in Frontline, Apr. 10-23 2010. Web. [1]
  3. ^ a b "Pattanam richest Indo-Roman site on Indian Ocean rim." The Hindu. May 3, 2009.
  4. ^ "Search for India's ancient city". bbc.co.uk BBC World News, 11 June 2006. Web [2]
  5. ^ a b Steven E. Sidebotham. Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route, pp 191. University of California Press 2011
  6. ^ George Gheverghese Joseph (2009). A Passage to Infinity. New Delhi: SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd. p. 13. ISBN 978-81-321-0168-0. 
  7. ^ Romila Thapar. The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. pp 46, Penguin Books India, 2003
  8. ^ Krishnakumar, P. "Muziris, at last?". www.frontline.in Frontline, Apr. 10-23 2010. Web. [3]
  9. ^ Basheer, K. P. M. Pattanam finds throw more light on trade. The Hindu [Madras]. 12 June 2011. Web. [4]
  10. ^ Smitha, Ajayan. Traces of controversies. Deccan Chronicle. 20 Feb. 2013. Web. [5]
  11. ^ a b c "Historian cautions on Pattanam excavations". The Hindu [Madras]. 6 February 2012. Web. [6]
  12. ^ a b Archaeologist calls for excavations at Kodungalloor. The Hindu [Madras]. 5 August 2011. Web. [7]
  13. ^ a b "KCHR asked to hand over Pattanam excavation". ibnlive.in.com CNN-IBN, 16 Nov. 16 2011. Web. [8]
  14. ^ Kulke, Hermann; Dietmar Rothermund (2004). A History of India. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32919-1.
  15. ^ Peter Francis. Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present, pp . 120 University of Hawaii Press, 01-Jan-2002
  16. ^ a b c d e Raoul McLaughlin. Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China. pp 48-50, Continuum (2010)
  17. ^ The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54
  18. ^ First English translation by Philemon Holland
  19. ^ Pliny's Natural History. In Thirty-seven Books, Volumes 1-3 by Pliny (the Elder.) p.135.
  20. ^ Peter Francis. Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present, pp . 119 University of Hawaii Press, 01-Jan-2002
  21. ^ Romila Thapar. The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. Penguin Books India, 2003
  22. ^ Raoul McLaughlin. Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China. pp 40, Continuum (2010)
  23. ^ For the full text in Greek and its translation, see http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1990/084pdf/084195.pdf
  24. ^ a b http://www.frontline.in/navigation/?type=static&page=flonnet&rdurl=fl2708/stories/20100423270806200.htm
  25. ^ Krishnakumar, P. "Muziris, at last?". www.frontline.in Frontline, Apr. 10-23 2010. Web. [9]
  26. ^ Srivathsan, A. "In search of Muziris". The Hindu [Madras]. 2 May 2010. Web. [10]
  27. ^ "Search for India's ancient city". BBC News. 2006-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  28. ^ http://www.hinduonnet.com/2004/03/23/stories/2004032303340500.htm
  29. ^ "Hunting for Muziris". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2004-03-28. 
  30. ^ "Excavations highlight Malabar maritime heritage". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2007-04-01. 
  31. ^ a b Rajagopal, Shyama; Surendranath, Nidhi (30 August 2013). "Archaeology Dept. lumbering under shortage of manpower". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  32. ^ Srivathsan, A. (22 May 2013). "Pattanam antiquity authenticated by radiocarbon dating". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  33. ^ S. ANANDAN Was Pattanam an urban trade centre? May 28, 2014 The Hindu [11]
  34. ^ KCHR Pattanam Seventh Season Handbook [12]
  35. ^ Kerala historians at loggerheads over archaeological findings at Pattanam KOCHI, May 28, 2014 The Hindu [13]
  36. ^ "More studies needed at Pattanam". The Hindu [Madras]. 24 May 2013. Web. [14]
  37. ^ ‘More studies needed at Pattanam’ KOCHI, May 24, 2013 The Hindu
  38. ^ Basheer, K.P.M. (7 March 2013). "Historian doubts intention behind museum project". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  39. ^ Oxford University to join Pattanam excavations THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, December 25, 2013 The Hindu [15]
  40. ^ "Historian cautions on Pattanam excavations". The Hindu [Madras]. 6 February 2012. Web.[16]
  41. ^ Prabhat Nair Expert nails false propaganda on Muziris Aug 5, 2011 The New Indian Express [17]
  42. ^ "Pattanam throws open many questions: Romila Thapar". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 13 September 2013. 
  43. ^ Oxford University to join Pattanam excavations THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, December 25, 2013 The Hindu [18]
  44. ^ Kerala historians at loggerheads over archaeological findings at Pattanam KOCHI, May 28, 2014 The Hindu [19]
  45. ^ Oxford University to join Pattanam excavations THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, December 25, 2013 The Hindu [20]
  46. ^ KCHR Pattanam Seventh Season Handbook [21]
  47. ^ "Excavations highlight Malabar maritime heritage". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 1 April 2007. 
  48. ^ KCHR reports 2007. P.J. Cherian et al.
  49. ^ Chambers, W. 1875. Chambers's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. London. p. 513.
  50. ^ Subramanian, T. S. (2011-03-14). "Tamil-Brahmi script found at Pattanam in Kerala". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  51. ^ "Introduction". www.keralatourism.org Kerala Tourism
  52. ^ "Exhibition on Kottappuram Fort excavations" THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, December 16, 2010 'The Hindu' [22]