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Ptolemy's Taprobane
Ptolemy's Taprobana as published in Cosmographia Claudii Ptolomaei Alexandrini, 1535

Taprobana (also Taprobane) was the historical name for an island in the Indian Ocean. The name was first reported to Europeans by the Greek geographer Megasthenes around 290 BCE, and was later adopted by Claudius Ptolemy in his own geographical treatise to identify a relatively large island south of continental Asia.[1] Though the exact place to which the name referred remains uncertain, the likely possibilities include:

It is mentioned in the first strophe of the Portuguese epic poem The Lusiads by Luís de Camões (c. 1524 – 10 June 1580). 'Taprobana' may be the Greek rendition of 'Tamraparni' or 'Thambapanni' (copper-coloured), the descriptive name of one of the ancient ports of Sri Lanka, Kudiramalai. It might also be a hidden reference to Tribhuvana, the great Hindu Triad. This could mean that Luís de Camões was implying that the Portuguese were going beyond the Earth, the Atmosphere, and the Sky in their epic quest, The Lusiads, as noted by Dalila Pereira da Costa.[citation needed]

In the fifteenth century, Niccolò de' Conti mistakenly identified Taprobana with a much smaller island, probably Sumatra.[2] Taprobana is also mentioned in Tommaso Campanella's Civitas Solis, written in 1602.

According to Western legend, the inhabitants had a single giant foot which they used to protect themselves from the sun.


  1. ^ Suárez, Thomas. Early Mapping of Southeast Asia. Periplus Editions. p. 100. ISBN 962-593-470-7. 
  2. ^ R. H. Major, ed. (1857). India in the fifteenth century. p. xlii.