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The Kingdom of Ormus (also known as Ohrmuzd, Hormuz, and Ohrmazd; Portuguese Ormuz) was a 10th to 17th century kingdom located within the Persian Gulf and extending as far as the Strait of Hormuz. The Kingdom was established by Arab princes in the 10th century who in 1262 came under the suzerainty of Persia, before becoming a client state of the Portuguese Empire.
The kingdom received its name from the fortified port city which served as its capital. It was one of the most important ports in the Middle East at the time as it controlled seaway trading routes through the Persian Gulf to India and East Africa. This port was probably located on Hormuz Island, which is located near the modern city of Bandar-e Abbas.
The name of the port, the island, and the kingdom is Iranian and ultimately derives from that of the Zoroastrian deity, Ahura Mazda, which becomes Ohrmazd in Pahlavi, Hirmiz in Manichaean Middle Persian, and Hormoz in New-Persian.
The Strait of Hormuz (Arabic: مضيق هرمز - Madīq Hurmuz, Persian: تنگه هرمز - Tangeh-ye Hormoz,) is a narrow, strategically important waterway between the Gulf of Oman in the southeast and the Persian Gulf in the southwest. On the north coast is Iran and on the south coast is the United Arab Emirates and Musandam, an exclave of Oman.
The city-state of Ormus dates back to the 13th century when it controlled the slave market from Africa and Arabia to Khorasan in Persia. At its zenith in 13th to 14th century, Ormus (or Ormuz) was a powerful naval state with a large and active trading fleet and a powerful navy. Petrashevsky reports the size of the fleet to be up to 500 fighting ships. These ships were not armed with cannons.
The fleet of Chinese admiral Zheng He reached Ormus for the first time around 1414.
In September 1507, the Portuguese Afonso de Albuquerque landed on the island. Portugal occupied Ormuz from 1515 to 1622. It was during the Portuguese occupation of the island that the Mandaeans first came to western attention. The Mandaeans were fleeing persecution in the vilayet of Baghdad (which, at the time, included Basra) and Khuzestan in Iran. When the Portuguese first encountered them, they mistakenly identified them as "St. John Christians," analogous to the St. Thomas Christians of India. The Mandaeans, for their part, were all too willing to take advantage of the confusion, offering to accept papal authority and Portuguese suzerainty if the Portuguese would invade the Ottoman Empire and liberate their coreligionists. The Portuguese were attracted by the prospect of what appeared to be a large Christian community under Muslim rule. It was not until after the Portuguese had committed themselves to the conquest of Basra that they came to realize that the Mandaeans were not what they claimed to be.
As vassals of the Portuguese state, the Kingdom of Ormus jointly participated in the 1521 invasion of Bahrain that ended Jabrid rule of the Persian Gulf archipelago. The Jabrid ruler was nominally a vassal of Ormus, but the Jabrid King, Muqrin ibn Zamil had refused to pay the tribute Ormus demanded, prompting the invasion under the command of the Portuguese conqueror, António Correia. In the fighting for Bahrain, most of the combat was carried out by Portuguese troops, while the Ormusi admiral, Reis Xarafo, looked on. The Portuguese ruled Bahrain through a series of Ormusi governors. However, the Sunni Ormusi were not popular with Bahrain's Shia population which suffered religious disadvantages, prompting rebellion. In one case, the Ormusi governor was crucified by rebels, and Portuguese rule came to an end in 1602 after the Ormusi governor, who was a relative of the Ormusi king, started executing members of Bahrain's leading families.
After the Portuguese made several abortive attempts to seize control of Basra, the Safavid ruler Abbas I of Persia conquered the kingdom with the help of the English, and expelled the Portuguese from the rest of the Persian Gulf, with the exception of Muscat. The Portuguese returned to the Persian Gulf in the following year as allies of Afrasiyab, the Pasha of Basra, against the Persians. Afrasiyab was formerly an Ottoman vassal but had been effectively independent since 1612. They never returned to Ormus.
Accounts of Ormus society
Situated between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, Ormus was a "by-word for wealth and luxury", perhaps best captured in the Arab saying: ‘If all the world were a golden ring, Ormus would be the jewel in it’. The city was also known for its licentiousness according to accounts by Portuguese visitors; Duarte Barbosa, one of the first Portuguese to travel to Ormuz in the late 14th century found:
|“||The merchants of this isle and city are Persians and Arabs. The Persians [speak Arabic and another language which they call Psa], are tall and well-looking, and a fine and up-standing folk, both men and women; they are stout and comfortable. They hold the creed of Mafamede in great honour. They indulge themselves greatly, so much so that they keep among them youths for the purpose of abominable wickedness. They are musicians, and have instruments of diverse kinds. The Arabs are blacker and swarthier than they.||”|
|“||Its moral state was enormously and infamously bad. It was the home of the foulest sensuality, and of all the most corrupted forms of every religion in the East. The Christians were as bad as the rest in the extreme license of their lives. There were few priests, but they were a disgrace to their name.
The Arabs and the Persians had introduced and made common the most detestable forms of vice. Ormuz was said to be a Babel for its confusion of tongues, and for its moral abominations to match the cities of the Plain. A lawful marriage was a rare exception. Foreigners, soldiers and merchants, threw off all restraint in the indulgence of their passions...Avarice was made a science: it was studied and practiced, not for gain, but for its own sake, and for the pleasure of cheating. Evil had become good, and it was thought good trade to break promises and think nothing of engagements...
Depiction in literature
The following text was written by John Speed in 1626:
|“||The Kingdome of Ormus hath his owne King tributarie vnto the King of Luſitania. it containeth the whole shore of Arabia from the paſsage of the riuer Euphrates vntil C. Raz. algati, likewiſe part of the Kingdome of Perſia w. adioyneth to the Sea Baſora and almoſt al the Ilands of the perſian Gulfe. whose mother Citie is Ormus in the Iland Geru a famous mart||”|
Note that some of this text is missing due to printing faults.
|“||ORMVS Regnum, peculiarem habet Regem Lusitaniæ Regi tributarium: continetque totam Arabiam littoralem ab Euphratis fl. ostio vsque ad C. Razalqati, nec nom partem Regni Persidis quæ adiacet freto Basoræ, atque insulas fere omnes sinus Persici. Cuius metropolis est vrbs Ormus in insula Geru sita, emporium celebre.||”|
[The Kingdom of Ormus has as a distinctive feature a king who is a tributary to the king of Lusitania. It comprises all the Arab coasts from the mouth of the Euphrates to Cape Razalqati, the part of the Persian Empire bordering on the Bazora straits and almost all islands in the Persian Gulf. Its capital is the city of Ormus on the isle of Gerus, a famous market town.]
Line 20 of Andrew Marvell's poem 'Bermudas' reads:
|“||Jewels more rich than Ormus shows||”|
|“||High on a throne of royal state, which far
outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Show'rs on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat,
- Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p122
- Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama, Cambridge University Press, 1997, 288
- James Silk Buckingham Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia, Oxford University Press, 1829, p459
- Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War, IB Tauris, 2007 pp39
- Charles Belgrave, Personal Column, Hutchinson, 1960 p98
- Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p6
- Curtis E. Larsen. Life and Land Use on the Bahrain Islands: The Geoarchaeology of an Ancient Society University Of Chicago Press, 1984 p69
- Peter Padfield, Tide of Empires: Decisive Naval Campaigns in the Rise of the West, Routledge 1979 p65
- pesh, a Semitic root for 'mouth', often connotes speech.
- The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and their inhabitants, written by Duarte Barbosa and completed about the year 1518 AD, 1812 translation by the Royal Academy of Sciences Lisbon, Asian Educational Services 2005
- Francis Xavier, Henry James Coleridge, The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier 1506-1556, Asian Educational Services 1997 Edition p104-5