|Location||Kerala state, India|
|Part of||Malabar Coast|
|Founded||ca. 1000 BC|
|Abandoned||ca. 1341 AD|
|Excavation dates||Started in 2007|
|Archaeologists||Archaeological Survey of India [ASI], Archaeology Department, Govt. of Kerala|
|Public access||Prior permission necessary for visitors.|
|Website||http://www.keralahistory.ac.in/ , http://www.keralatourism.org/muziris/|
Muziris (in Roman sources, Mucciri in classical Tamil literature) was an ancient seaport and urban center in south-western India on the estuary of the Pseudostomos/Chulli River that existed from around the 1st century AD. Muziris has found mention in the classical Tamil Sangam literature and a number of ancient European historical sources.
In a massive flood of the Periyar (generally identified with Pseudostomos) in 1341 AD, Muziris was said to have been destroyed and the centre of commerce was shifted to other ports in the region. 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 series of controversial excavations were conducted at Pattanam, near North Paravur, recently and it was immediately announced that the lost port of Muziris was found.   The studies suggested that When KCHR chairman P J Cherian presented the paper on Pattanam excavation, it invited severe criticism from eminent archaeologists. Renowned historians such as R. Nagaswamy and M. G. S. Narayanan disagreed with the conclusion and called for further analysis. According to M. G. S. Narayanan there is a deliberate move by the vested interests to keep away the major institutions in the area including the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) from the developments taking place at the site. He later called upon the Kerala Council for Historical Research to hand over the excavation activity to the Archeological Survey of India.
The derivation of the Latin name Muziris is said to be from the native name to the port "Muchiri-pattanam," "muchiri" means "cleft palate" and "pattanam" means "port/city". In the region, Periyar branched into two like a cleft palate (an abnormal facial development) and thus perhaps gave it the name "Muchiripattanam."
Other names that are often used are Murachipattanam, Marichipattanam, or Muzirikkodu. It is referred to as Muchiri in Sangam literature's Akananuru, Murachipattanam in Valmiki's Ramayana, and as Muzirikode in the Jewish Copper Plate of Bhaskara Ravi Varma (c. 1000 AD). In his Brihtsamhita Varaha Mihira refers to both Baladevapattanam and Marichipattanam as important towns in Kerala. Kern, Varaha Mihira’s translator, identifies these places with the Baliapattana and the Muziris of Ptolemy and other Greek geographers, respectively. Muziris was also mentioned in the 1st century Natural History of Pliny the Elder, the 2nd century Geographia of Ptolemy, the 2nd century Muziris Papyrus (p. Vindob G480822), and the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana.
- All major ports in ancient times were situated at river mouths.
- The Malabar Manual of William Logan, Collector of Malabar District during the British raj, assumed Kodungallur, hub of the Chera dynasty and with its medieval forts and monuments, was Muziris
- North Paravur, Kodungallur’s status as the gateway to all three major religions in India— Judaism, Christianity and Islam —contributed to this belief.
- Jews (the Jews have formed the part of the community in Kerala from very early days) claim that it was to North Paravur that their ancestors sailed sometime in the 1st century AD. According to tradition they came to the region in 68 AD in order to escape religious persecution at home. However, there is no direct evidence to support this tradition.
- Christians in Kerala believe it was in Muziris that Saint Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in AD 52, bringing Christianity to the Indian subcontinent. A Church supposed to be built by St. Thomas and first Jewish synagogue of India could be seen at North Parur (Paravur) close to Kodungallur.
- It is believed Cheraman Perumal sent a missionary group, headed by Malik Ibn Dinar, to spread the faith and build mosques in India. So that’s how the Cheraman Juma Masjid, said to be India’s first mosque, came to be in Kodungallur.
It is not hard to see why Kodungallur thought of itself as Muziris. But a series of excavations there, starting 1945, yielded nothing that went back to before the 13th century. However, archaeological evidences began to emerge from the region in the excavations conducted in the early 1980s.
In 1983, a large hoard of Roman coins was found at a site about six miles from Kodungallur in a small village called Pattanam on the northern shore of Paravur Thodu, a branch of Periyar. The site is situated in the Chittatukara panchayat, of Eranakulam district, 2 km north of North Paravur and 25 km north of Kochi. Now this village is one of the most significant archaeological sites in South Asia. The excavations carried out at Pattanam from 2007 to 2011 have again uncovered evidences which may support its being the location of ancient seaport Muziris. Historian M. G. S. Narayanan has criticized attempts to commercialise the Pattanam excavations in the name of Muziris conservation project. He points out the need for collecting sufficient evidence before proclaiming the site as Muziris. According to M. G. S., there is a deliberate move keep away the major institutions including the Archeological Survey of India from the developments taking place at the excavation site.
It is also postulated that the name Pattanam is an abbreviation of what was originally Musiripattanam, the local name of Muziris.
Pliny the Elder
"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 Caelobothras (Chera the Chera dynasty). Another port, and a much more convenient one, is that which lies in the territory of the people called Neacyndi, Barace by name. Here king Pandion (Pandya) used to reign, dwelling at a considerable distance from the market in the interior, at a city known as Modiera (Madurai). The district from which pepper is carried down to Barace in boats hollowed out of a single tree is known as Cottonara (Cattamara).
"Travellers set sail from India on their return to Europe, at the beginning of the Egyptian month of Tybia, which is our December, or at all events before the sixth day of the Egyptian month Mechir, the same as our Ides of January; if they do this they can go and return in the same year. They set sail from India with a south-east wind (Northeast Monsoon), and upon entering the Red Sea, catch the south-west or south."
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
"...then come Naura and Tyndis, the first markets of Damirica (Limyrike), and then Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance. Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, of 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...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about 500 stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian (Pandya kingdom). This place also is situated on a river, about 120 stadia from the sea...
"There is exported pepper, which is produced in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonara (Kottppura)"
Decline and fall
It is not clear, however, why its activities as a major trade port ended and what led to its decline:
- Though trade continued with the other Indian ocean ports, one theory attributes it to an earthquake or the great flood of 1341 recorded in history, which caused the change of course of the [Periyar and silting up of the Muziris harbor.
- With the decline of the transit ports: during the Ptolemaic Roman period (3rd century BC to 6th century AD), Berenike and Myos served as key transit ports between ancient Egypt and Rome on one side and Muziris on the other. With the fall of Roman Empire these transit ports slowly disappeared.
- The transfer of the capital of Roman Empire to Byzantium in the year 330 AD had far reaching effects on the effects on the trade with Rome. Then other Indian Ocean regions took charge of the commerce and spread it to other seaports of India and South Asia.
Early Contacts with Rome
Muziris to Rome
Indo-Roman relations were built on trade. The route from Muziris in South India to Rome in Italy started in Muziris; reached Berenice or Myos Hormos at the Red Sea coast of Roman Egypt; by overland caravans to Nile river; by boats to Alexandia and finally by ships to Rome.
Myos Hormos was a Red Sea port constructed by the Ptolemies around the 3rd century BC. Following excavations carried out recently by David Peacock and Lucy Blue of the University of Southampton, it is thought to have been located on the present-day site of Quseir al-Quadim (old Quseir), eight kilometres north of the modern town of Al-Qusayr in Egypt. According to Strabo (II.5.12), by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India:
"At any rate, when Gallus was prefect of Egypt, I accompanied him and ascended the Nile as far as Syene and the frontiers of Ethiopia, and I learned that as many as one hundred and twenty vessels were sailing from Myos Hormos to India, whereas formerly, under the Ptolemies, only a very few ventured to undertake the voyage and to carry on traffic in Indian merchandise."—Strabo II.5.12. 
Berenike (Berenice Troglodytica)
Berenice Troglodytica, now known as Medinet-el Haras, is located on the Red Sea Coast in the far south of the Egyptian Eastern Desert. It was built in 275 BC, to bring in Indian elephants to be used in wars. Before the founding of this port, cargoes from Muziris to Egypt have to be conveyed by overland routes covering a considerable distance.
Excavations were launched at Berenike in 1994 by a team of archaeologists from the University of Delaware led by Prof. Steven E. Sidebotham, continued till 2001. At this last outpost of the Roman Empire, large number of significant finds have been made providing evidence of the cargo from the Malabar Coast and the presence of people from South India. Among the unexpected discoveries at Berenike were a range of ancient Indian goods, including a large quantity of teak wood, black pepper, coconuts, beads made of precious and semi-precious stones, cameo blanks; a Tamil Brahmi graffito, etc.
When did Egyptians start trading with Muziris is not known, but a document discovered in Egypt in 1980 and first published in 1985 confirms that by 2nd century AD it was well established. Known as the Muziris papyrus or the Vienna papyrus it is now preserved in a Vienna Museum. This papyrus document mentions a loan agreement made by an Egyptian merchant and a merchant in Muziris, for exporting Gangetic Nard, ivorys and textiles. It also estimates the value of goods and a 25% tax for the items.
That Egyptian merchant gave this agreement to the Roman government as a guarantee for a loan and that is how this agreement survived through the ages. This discovery has 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.
Wharf and a canoe
The most remarkable find at KCHR (Kerala Council for Historical Research) Pattanam excavations in 2007, is 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 boat 6 meters long was made of Artocarpus hirsutus (Anhili, in Malayalam), a tree common in Malabar Coast, out of which boats are made off. It was identified by the Kerala Forest Institute, Thrissur.
The wood of the boat is carbon dated by scientists from Bhuveneshwar institute of physics. Radiocarbon dating using AMS Radio Carbon revealed that the date range of the canoe sample is 1300 BC to 100 BC, (that is, 700 plus or minus 600 BC with 95 per cent probability), making it the earliest watercraft excavated from an archeological context in India.
Three Tamil-Brahmi scripts are found in the Pattanam excavations. In a trial trench, laid earlier by Professor V. Selvakumar and K.P. Shajan, a pot-sherd with the Tamil-Brahmi letters reading "ur pa ve o" was found. Later, another Tamil-Brahmi script with the letters "ca ta [n]" was found. The last Tamil-Brahmi script (dated to c. 2nd century AD, probably reading "a-ma-na", meaning "a Jaina" in Tamil) was found on another pot-rim at Pattanam during the sixth season. 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. The three Tamil-Brahmi letters are followed by two Megalithic Graffiti symbols which could not be identified. This is for the first time the excavators are getting direct evidence relating to a religious system in ancient Kerala.
Project Muziris Heritage
The project was launched by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Kerala in 2006 to scientifically retrieve and preserve the historical heritage of the N. Paravur-Kodungallur region. The project envisage a combination of heritage management initiatives in its restoration, conservation and access to the public. Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), identified as the nodal agency for Muziris Heritage Project, provides academic guidance and undertakes archaeological and historical research in the region.
Until recently its location was hypothetically identified in Kodungallur in Thrissur district, Kerala. However, a series of recent archaeological studies conducted under the leadership of Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) suggest that the location of the disappeared port could have been at Pattanam, a small town 2 km north of North Paravur, Ernakulam district and 9 km south of Kodungallur. Pattanam was also the first site in the coastal regions of Indian Ocean to yield archaeological evidence for Mediterranean, North African, West Asian and Chinese maritime contacts.
The site for archaeological research by Kerala Council for Historical Society (KCHR) at Pattanam ( ) near N. Parur covers about 45 hectares. Archaeological work done in this area from 2007 has revealed that the four-metre thick soil conceals the ancient maritime history of the world. This site seems to have been first occupied by indigenous population around 1000 BCE and continued to be active until the 10th century. This might be part of the ancient port Muziris.
- Berenice Troglodytica
- Indian maritime history
- Indo-Roman relations
- Myos Hormos
- South Asian Stone Age
- "Historian cautions on Pattanam excavations". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2012-02-06.
- "Search for India's ancient city". BBC News. 2006-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- "Hunting for Muziris". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2004-03-28.
- "Excavations highlight Malabar maritime heritage". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2007-04-01.
- First English translation by Philemon Holland
- The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54
- Kulke 2004: 108
- Muziris papyrus, discovered in 1980
- Encyclopedia Americana, Vol 13. (1967) p.389.
- South Indians in Roman Egypt? R. Krishnakumar Frontline Volume 27 - Issue 08 :: April 10–23, 2010.
- Mathew, N.M. History of the Marthoma Church (Malayalam), Volume 1.p.28. (2006), Pub. E.J.Institute, Thiruvalla.
- For the full text in Greek and its translation, see http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1990/084pdf/084195.pdf
- KCHR reports 2007. P.J. Cherian et.al.
- Chambers, W. 1875. Chambers's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. London. p. 513.
- Subramanian, T. S. (2011-03-14). "Tamil-Brahmi script found at Pattanam in Kerala". The Hindu (Chennai, India).
- Kerala Council for Historical Research [KCHR -> Research Projects ]
- "Pattanam finds throw more light on trade". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2011-06-12.
- Dr. P.J. Cherian, Director, KCHR at a seminar on Ancient Indian Ocean Corridors, at Oxford University, London. The Hindu, November 18, 2009 page 18.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Muziris|
- BBC report, Search for India's ancient city
- Pattanam Excavations (Comprehensive Resource)
- Pattanam Muziris Maps and Excavations
- Ancient Muziris Story
- Pattanam excavation significant
- http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=10.1571922&lon=76.2096047&z=18&l=0&m=b Current Excavation Site
- Dr. Nagaswamy R., 1995, Roman Karur 
- Raghava Aiyangar, R.,1932, Vanci Managar, Madras.
- Current Excavation Location 
- In search of Muziris (The Hindu, May 1, 2010)
- 'Discovering Idukki' to document heritage.