Volume 52 1943 > Volume 52, No. 3 > The early Arab thalassocracy, by William Wesley Clemesha, p 110-131
THE EARLY ARAB THALASSOCRACY.
Greetings to thee, thou ocean everlasting!
Greetings from me, tenthousandfold
From heart exulting,
As once of old thou wast greeted
By tenthousand Grecian-hearts
—Heine, The North-sea.
“MUCH against my will, I find myself obliged to introduce those preliminary personal observations that are only too common a feature of historical works. I have no intention, however, of enlarging upon my own merits, which would, I am well aware prove singularly wearisome to my readers, or of attacking my fellow-writers as Anaximenes and Theopompus have done in the prefaces to their histories. My motive is simply to explain the reasons which have induced me personally to embark upon this work and to give some account of my sources of information.”
So said Dionysus of Halicarnassus, author of Ancient History of Rome (d. latter half of 1st century B.C.). It would be difficult to find a more appropriate apology for introducing personal details into the discussion of a historical problem, but much of what follows is the result of direct personal observation in many countries, hence the necessity for a few remarks.
The writer is an Old Man who has spent more than forty years in India, Ceylon, and Central Africa; and during his service in the Indian Medical Service, has been a great wanderer. During the war he was A.D.M.S. (Sanitation) East Africa Field Force; this opened up a new country in which he travelled widely by land and sea. The writer comes from a Yorkshire seafaring and ship-building stock; and is both a competent navigator and boat-builder. He has built several boats; his last and most successful ship was drawn and laid down by himself and built with the aid of Malayali shipwrights at Calicut on the Malabar coast (in 1928), a fine vessel of sixty tons displacement. He has sailed his own and other boats in South India, Ceylon, East Africa, and other localities, and has met the seafaring population of India and Africa, whose language he speaks fluently. So much for personal matters.
In the course of reading in historical and classical literature, which is the chief occupation of retirement, the writer has arrived at - 111 certain conclusions which he now proposes to develop. These are briefly as follows—
In the history of shipping and sea-trade in the Indian ocean there is a serious omission—practically no mention is made of the one power that built the first satisfactory seagoing ship, capable of making long blue-water voyages, that had the monopoly of the carrying-trade of Aden from the earliest times, and, to a less extent, throughout the Christian era. This power was the Arab Thalassocracy of southern Arabia and the Persian gulf.
The classical writers tell us a great deal about Phoenician, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman shipping and trade in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Scarcely one of them mention Minoan seapower which preceded all others—with the possible exception of the insignificant Egyptian efforts—by some five to eight hundred years. The first power to subdue the piratical islanders, the Carian and Lycian thieves, the marauders from Thessaly and the northern Agean, were the rulers of Knossos in Crete. Those pirates they did not destroy in the interests of peace and commerce, they recruited as personnel of a navy which policed the whole eastern half of the Mediterranean. It is only within the last half century, due largely to the work of archaeologists, that the Minoan civilization has taken its rightful place in the early Mediterranean history. Now, I maintain that something similar has happened in the Indian ocean. The Arab kingdom commenced and maintained the Eastern trade from the earliest times up to the advent of the Christian era, when Rome decided to interfere with it on her own account. From that time to the present day the Arabs have held their own, in a certain class of trade, with little or no interruption.
The parallel between Knossos and Oman, between Cretan and Arab Thalassocracy is not complete. Let us examine the conditions further. Crete was located in narrow seas, surrounded by turbulent barbarians who found piracy was an easy mode of gaining a livelihood. This condition of affairs had to be altered; so in almost British style, the rulers of Crete fought the pirates first and made them into useful sea-police afterward.
On the other hand, in the Indian ocean, the sea was wide—given a fast-sailing merchantman, commanded by a captain who was accustomed to blue water and ocean passages, who knew his weather with certainty, pirates mattered little. The captain could always avoid them; for no Indian or African race was his equal in seamanship in those far-away times; and although certain parts of the coast of India were not quite free from pirates, it was only after many centuries, from the period with which we are dealing, that they became a serious menace.
It is proposed to deal with this Arab Thalassocracy, under various heads; first the development of the ship itself; second the weather-conditions of Eastern seas; thirdly the various goods carried as cargo, and, lastly, the evidence that now exists for this Arab mercantile marine.
In matters concerning shipping and shipbuilding it is an axiom that every country develops the boat that is most suited to its natural conditions, which, of course, must include the character of the seaboard, and the weather. A great deal has been written about the Egyptian boats, i.e. the one in common use on the Nile itself. Most excellent pictures and carvings representing it are to be found as early as - 112 1500 B.C., during the 13th Dynasty, when Queen Hatshepsu despatched a great expedition to Punt. 1 This was by no means the earliest of recorded marine enterprise—journeys are mentioned as early as the 4th and even the 1st Dynasty; but probably they did not proceed outside the Red sea. Some authors seem to consider that because of the high artistic value and the great antiquity of these drawings, Egypt was largely responsible for the development of seafaring. This I consider to be most emphatically not the case. The Egyptians themselves never were successful seamen; they never developed a satisfactory type of boat for long passages, and, although they are credited by some authorities with influencing the design of the Greek and the Phoenician ships, other students of history recognize that the Egyptians were very indifferent sailors. Any efficiency in this direction which the nation eventually acquired during the course of its long history was due to other peoples, the sea-raiders (Burn) who settled in Syria and who took service with the people of the mouth of the Nile.
Mr. E. H. Bunbury states: “The Egyptians themselves have never shown any aptitude for maritime commerce” (Hist Anc, Geog. pp. 556, vol. 1).
In the famous papyrus describing Wen Amnion's journey to buy cedar from the Phoenicians, Zakar Baal, the Governor of Biblos, laughs at Egyptian seamanship, “There are indeed Egyptian ships and Egyptian crews belonging to Nasubenebded — he has no Syrian crews”. 2- 113
An instance of the misconception which has arisen is to be found in Mr. Keble Chatterton's work, Sailing Ships and Their Story. This is what he says on the subject—
“Before we close this chapter one must refer to the vexed question as to when the ancients discovered that wonderful art of sailing against the wind—tacking. In the absence of any definite knowledge, I hold the opinion that the first came into practice on the Nile about the time the nugger or dhow was introduced as the rig for sailing boats. My reasons for this supposition are: firstly the squaresail being more suitable for the open sea and making passages of some length, it would be a country having a navigable river that would be likely to discover such a rig as would enable them to sail with the stream against the prevailing northerly wind: secondly, arguing on the theory (which has many adherents) that the dhow came in about the time of the death of Alexander the Great who revolutionised at least one corner of Egypt, leaving behind his name to the port of Alexandria as an eternal memorial, I hold that the invention of this dhow rig made the ship to come very close to the wind—far closer than the old-fashioned squaresail of the earlier Egyptians. Realising, when coming down with the stream, that they could go so near to the wind when approaching the right bank, why—surely it must have occurred to such highly developed minds—could they not do the same when zigzagging across to the left shore? At first, no doubt, they pulled her head round with their oars, until, perhaps, on one occasion, she carried so much away from the last shore that she came round of her own accord—shook herself for a moment as she hung for a short time in stays—and then paid off on the other tack. After that, the whole art of going to windward was revealed. 3 My third reason is based on the fact that the Saxons, who settled around the mouth of the Elbe and subjugated the Thuringians after the death of Alexander the Great, did possess this knowledge of tacking.
“Unless it were with the intention of tacking, it is difficult to see why the dhow, or nugger rig, should have prevailed. But we do know that this form of sail was extant about the time of Alexander; therefore, tacking must be at least as old as the death of Alexander in the fourth century B.C. A squaresail-ship, whether ancient or modern, will go no nearer the wind than seven points, whereas the fore-and-after will sail as close as five. This, as soon as the fact was fully realized on the Nile, would hasten that day when tacking was first found out.
“Egypt, after flourishing mightily for so many hundreds of years, had its decline not less than its rise. Just as the earlier Egyptian sculptures are superior to the later ones in sincerity and fidelity, becoming subsequently more stiff and formal, so her shipping eventually deteriorated and the mastery of the seas passed into the hands of the Phoenicians.”
I have a very great respect for Mr. Chatterton; I have read all his books with much pleasure and a great deal of profit. He has undoubtedly spent much time studying the question of the development of ships. He is himself a practical seaman. His work on Scandinavian - 114 and Dutch ships is particularly important, but I am afraid I must entirely disagree with him in his conclusions quoted above.
Practically the only point at which we are in agreement is that the lateen sail may be a modification of the square sail such as we see in the Egyptian drawing, and that his model of the ‘nugger’ may represent an intermediate stage in the development from the river craft to the seagoing ship.
First of all, I do not think that Mr. Chatterton has lived for any length of time in the East. No Oriental would ever attempt to tack downstream if the current would take him without. Time is of no object in the East; besides, drifting with the current would be almost as quick as beating downstream. Secondly it is impossible to tack any Egyptian boat fitted with a large lateen sail; the boat has always to wear round. This would be a manoeuvre which would be impossible in a river, apart from the fact that it would be unnecessary. The huge gaff has to be put round the mast, otherwise the forward half of the sail is ‘aback’ and stops the boat; this operation is only possible in wearing ship—it cannot be done tacking. Finally, Heroditus tells us how they actually did sail downstream.
If Mr. Chatterton had ever sailed with a fair-sized craft with a lateen sail he would know that this inability to tack is the chief drawback to this rig. For open sea, the lateen is a grand rig; a boat will go to windward extremely well (lying four and a-half to five points off the wind) if it has a weatherly hull; it will run and reach with the best. But in a confined harbour or river it cannot manoeuvre quickly enough. The Chinese have so modified this sail (or a similar sail) converting it into a lug sail, as to overcome this difficulty completely; they probably did so many hundreds, if not thousands, of years B.C.
Finally I must disagree with Mr. Chatterton in his theory that rivers produce good seamen. There is a great similarity between all river-boats; those on the Irrawaddy, the Ganges, Brahmaputra, the Euphrates, Tigris, 4 and the Nile all closely resemble each other. But to suppose that these boats develop into satisfactory seaboats would be most improper; nor do the inhabitants who handle them necessarily become good seamen.
Who designed the first Arab dhow is quite unknown; its ancestry we are fairly sure of. It certainly existed for many centuries prior to Alexander the Great as we shall establish later. These craft made long open-sea voyages when the Mediterranean boats never went out of sight of land. Today they are about eighty feet over all, with a graceful, overhanging, buoyant bow and with a high stern and poop deck, and with living accommodation aft. They are about seventy to 100 tons displacement and drew not more than six feet of water loaded. They are rigged with two lateen sails; a very large one, right in the eye of the boat, and a small one over the poop. The ship balanced perfectly with the large sail only; occasionally a small topsail and a flying jib were set on a temporarily rigged bowsprit; the reefing-gear is almost non-existent—the peak could be hauled up and lashed to the gaff, but it either comes adrift or the lashing cuts the sail, if the wind is heavy; but as the ships sailed inside latitude 30°, and the captain thoroughly understood the monsoons, it was not often he was caught out. If he was, the long gaff was lowered—a difficult - 115 job in a bad sea—the boat immediately came round head to wind, the high stern making this a certainty. 5 One would give much for a glance at an Arab dhow of 1500 B.C. This, however, is impossible. There is considerable evidence that change in methods and personel have been few down the ages.
Never at any time in their long history did the seagoing craft carry oarsmen or rowers, for the simple reason that, for long ocean passages in the tropics, they could not carry sufficient water for a crowd of rowers. The dhow was a fast weatherly craft, would run, reach, and go to windward as well as a modern cruising yacht or as well as an ordinary trading coastal schooner; but the tacks must be long (as they would be in the open sea); to put the ship about (that is to wear her round) was a job for all hands, required sea room; as already stated it was no use attempting it in a confined harbour or river. Voyages were arranged to utilize favourable winds, hence there would be little windward sailing.
Arab dhows in no way resemble the Mediterranean type of craft, being superior to them in every point of sailing. They were not a modification of the northern ships but a different creation, brought into existence by an entirely different type of weather and by bolder type of seamanship.
The Mediterranean craft have been described with great thoroughness, by many classical writers, notably Mr. Chas. Torr and Thos. Seymour, and others. It is not my intention to say much concerning them. From a seagoing point of view they were very indifferent boats; their sailing capacity was very poor; it is very doubtful if, rigged as they were, they would reach or go to windward at all. With a quartering wind or one dead aft they made a fair passage. They were primarily rowing boats, and were designed to be dragged ashore, whenever the weather was rough, or actually carried over land, such as across the isthmus of Corinth, where special arrangements were made for this operation. They did, however, possess one striking advantage, namely, that when specially built for naval purposes they were much superior to any wind-driven craft of that date. 6 Under capable command, a fleet of these fast, slim, shallow, man-powered craft developed a very high degree of strategic efficiency. The early Indian ocean boats were not designed with any idea of naval warfare; they were purely cargo-carriers.
METEOROLOGY OF THE INDIAN OCEAN.
The weather and sailing conditions in the Red sea and Indian ocean first appear to have attracted the serious attention of the civilized world some time in the first century A.D.
The writer of the Periplus Maris Erythrei, Strabo and Pliny, all mention a discovery by a Greek sailor, called Hippalus, concerning the monsoon in the Indian ocean about this period.
The discovery in question was, that instead of always coasting as every Greek, Phoenician and Mediterranean-bred sailor was accustomed to do, it was possible by timing the voyage correctly for the prevailing - 116 wind (or monsoon), to shorten very much the distance travelled by making use of open sea sailing from point to point of the journey.
To go into greater details, it became known that after passing the straits of Bab-el-mandeb and coasting along the Arabian coast 7 as far as cape Fartak, it was possible to reach, or run, right to the Indian coast, across the mouth of the Persian gulf, with one monsoon wind or the other, thereby saving hundreds of miles of voyaging. This was what Hippalus first published, some time in the first century A.D., so that it became common knowledge to the merchant community of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean. To say that he was the first to discover this fact is of course absurd: it had been known and utilized by every sailor from Ceylon to Sofala in Africa for thousands of years. Every dhow-owner in Oman and the Persian gulf (not to mention the coastal craft of India) thoroughly understood the business, and all of them arranged voyages accordingly. But this information they kept to themselves.
The real discovery made by this Greek was not one of geography at all but one of meteorology. He grasped the fact that Indian ocean weather differed from Mediterranean and even Red sea conditions; for during certain months it was possible to count on monsoon winds with great certainty. Now in the Mediterranean there was “sailing weather”, mostly calm, and weather when it was impossible to sail. Prevailing winds in the latter period were inclined to be boisterous, the sea very rough, so the ships hauled out—the whole procedure is described in Homer, in Pindar's Odes, and other writings.
A wandering Greek heard, whilst on a voyage, that in the Indian ocean there were periods when sailing was unsafe, but for a period of six to eight months it was quiet; the wind during part of the quiet months was mainly north-eastern to northerly in direction, and storms and cyclones were not met with; only an occasional squall of short duration might be encountered.
Now, where did he get this information?—for Hippalus could not have been sufficiently long in the Indian ocean to have observed it for himself. There can, I think, be little doubt that some sailor from an Arab dhow, who had been accustomed to sail for many voyages under an Arab captain, took service on a Greek ship (possibly Hippalus' vessel) and explained the weather conditions of the Indian ocean to the Greek.
Unfortunately we have no copy of what Hippalus himself actually wrote, the other people's accounts (written for the most part by people who were passengers and who knew nothing of the subject) are not reliable; for it would appear that both ancient and modern commentators leave out a great deal of highly important matter; whether Hippalus did so, we do not know.
In the Indian ocean and the bay of Bengal there are two monsoons; first and most important the south-west monsoon. This commences to blow gently from the south-west practically all over these seas at the end of March or early April and continues to do so with increasing strength till the middle of June, when very extensive cyclones develop; these strike the west coast of India and the head of the bay of Bengal. During part of June, all July, August, September and part of October the wind is (or may be) boisterous, the sea stormy, and the rainfall in India is usually ninety inches on the coast during these months. In - 117 ancient times (and also today) no sailing was done during this period. It was quite usual for the dhow captains to sail during March, April and May—they frequently left Rapta during March, as soon as the south-west made, and sailed straight across the Indian ocean to the mouth of the Persian gulf with a quartering wind. On other occasions they went to Aden at the same time of the year, or a little later, on which route they were helped by a current that runs up the coast of Africa with this monsoon, so that even if the wind failed, they would be carried seventy to eighty miles a day on their journey. But cape Gardafui and Socotra were very unhealthy spots if they had not a good leading wind. If a dhow started late on these two courses they were fairly safe, because the June cyclones were always well to the south of them; the wind would be strong, hence fast, but rough passages were made. They are made today. All Arab ships left the Malabar coast for the shelter of the Persian gulf by the end of April or early May.
That Hippalus omitted to mention this period of very violent storms I do not believe, though it has escaped the notice of those describing his work.
The second, or the north-east monsoon, usually commences in the middle of November, blows very lightly and intermittently during November and December and fairly strongly for January and February and part of March. The wind itself is not accompanied by cyclones in the northern part of the Indian ocean, the Persian gulf or the head of the bay of Bengal, but from October to December a series of cyclones sweep across the lower part of the bay of Bengal giving rainfall to the south of India, Ceylon, and the Madras coast. These always cease at Christmas. The north-east monsoon is pre-eminently the period when sailing was done and the transport of merchandise effected. On the Malabar coasts no trade is possible from June to September for another reason, viz., there is no place in the world where extensive maritime business was carried on from such unsatisfactory harbours. From the whole of this important coast south of Karwar, there is no really safe harbourage. Today, the best is probably Cochin. The old city of Crangannore, situated at the mouth of the Periyar river was probably, in early ages, better suited for trading than it is today; but all these ports suffer from the same disadvantage, namely, that sand drifts up and down the coast with the change of monsoons, and is liable to block up the mouth of any harbour with a bar and render it useless even for boats drawing as little as six feet. Today Cochin has an easy entrance, but dredging to keep the channel open to the sea has to be resorted to. From October onwards when trade is active, all coastal boats and native craft still lie off the shore in open roadsteads, entirely devoid of any protection. This has been the rule from the earliest times. Consequently it may be definitely stated that the period for maritime activity on this coast is restricted to the winter and spring months.
Mr. Warmington (in his book Commerce between Roman Empire and India) makes a remark concerning the monsoon in the bay of Bengal, saying it is irregular. As a matter of fact this is in no way correct; there is no part of the ocean where the weather behaves more according to rule than the bay of Bengal, and in no part is it easier to forecast the weather conditions. A glance at the map will show at once that barometer readings down the Coromandel coast of India and the Arakan coast of Burma provide very accurate data for the weather in the bay itself.- 118
It is much more difficult for the Meteorological Office to obtain information of cyclones in the Indian ocean north of the equator, owing to the lack of reporting stations anywhere near the point of origin of the disturbances.
It is difficult for anybody unaccustomed to tropical weather to understand the extreme regularity of storms, rain, and winds in those regions. Mr. Frank Bullen, who has done a lot of seafaring, says in describing native craft, “The same absence of even the most elementary notions of comfort; the same touching faith in its being always fine weather as evinced by the absence of any precaution against storm”. In the first place Mr. Bullen would say exactly the same if he saw these peoples' houses; one would hardly expect comfort on a boat when there is none (according to our ideas) in the house, and secondly the weather is always fine when sailing is possible, and the sailor knows when it is dangerous to go to sea and stays ashore. Aberrant cyclones are very rare; they only occur about once in ten or twelve years; then, of course, there are casulties. 8
Mr. Warmington gives the following time-table for Roman ships (1st century A.D.):
There are several points in this time-table that I shall discuss. First of all, Mr. Warmington says that ships leave the Red sea ports about midsummer for a voyage of seventy days. Mr. Charlesworth says, “A man could now leave Egypt in July and reach the Indian port by the end of September”. Both times are too early in the year. But as far as the Indian ocean passage is concerned it would be most unsound to leave either cape Fartak or Gardafui before early October. The risk of running right into the last cyclone of the year would be considerable. After that date the last of the south-west (monsoon) would be a very useful wind; any decent sailing-ship would certainly average more than one hundred sea miles a day. Dhows frequently go from the African coast, near Bagomoyo (ancient Rapta) to the mouth of the Persian gulf, a distance of 2, 000 miles, in about three weeks with the south-west-wind.
Mr. Warmington does not say what type of ship made these journeys. The Arab ships would be capable of greatly improving on these times in the Indian ocean but not to any extent in the Red sea.
Of all the poisonous places in the world for a sailing ship to make a passage in, the Red sea is the worst, particularly if the journey is from south to north. Almost all the year round there is a strong north wind in the gulfs of Suez and Akaba, and the top third of the sea. In the summer it frequently blows almost the whole length, to within a few miles of Perim. Southerly winds are to be expected in - 119 the months of November to March at the Perim end of the sea, but they frequently are very weak or absent altogether. Both shores are thick with reefs; navigation is difficult; progress is slow for many months of the year.
In the pre-Suez canal days, the government of India used to send the mails by sea to Suez and overland to Alexandria. They had fast weatherly schooners to perform the journey—the skippers have left on record that they could often make a very good journey across the Indian ocean and, with a little luck, half way up the Red sea; but the last three to four hundred miles, from ‘The Brothers’ or the ‘Shadwan’ lights, frequently took as much time as the previous 2, 500 miles. These schooners were still to be seen in Bombay in the early part of my service. 9
It is well known that the Phoenicians had practically the monopoly of the Red sea trade from about 1000 B.C. to Roman Empire times. They did not voyage into the Indian ocean. What type of vessel they found best suited to this traffic is unfortunately not known; very likely a slightly modified Pentaconter or Triaconter, with a crew of oarsmen, and with the square sail altered to a lateen (it is hardly conceivable that they would stick rigidly to a very unsatisfactory design of a square sail). Possibly they practically adopted the dhow from the Arabs. For purely Red sea work, a sort of hybrid between the two types would possess some advantage.
The weather conditions at the head of the Red sea give the explanation to several facts in history. The most important of these is that the attempt to join the Nile with the Red sea at Suez was a failure from a commercial point of view. There were two very cogent reasons for this—(1) the upkeep of the canal was difficult and costly, due to the desert sand blowing into it; (2) every sailor, from the earliest times, who understood the weather conditions in the gulf of Suez, avoided the place like the plague. This canal, apparently so important, has had a chequered existence. Starting from the Pelusiac branch of the Nile near Bubastis, it wound through the desert, skirted some low hills and opened into the sea not far from Suez—the ruins of the outlet, locks and sluices are still seen there. It was commenced by Sethos 1 about 1326 B.C., and probably was not completed. In 612 B.C. Necho tried to finish the work and open it. He is reported in Herodotus to have lost 120, 000 workers in the attempt. Mr. Glover, in his book Pericles to Philip (p. 221) remarks: “Very likely an exaggeration”. If the disease was either bacillary dysentery, pneumonic plague, or epidemic malaria—any one of which would account for the incident—the death-rate is probably seriously underrated—the cutting was eighty miles in length. We are told an Oracle said, “He (Necho) was making it for the barbarian”, so work ceased. It is more probable what really happened was, some hoary old Phoenician skipper (Necho always used Phoenician sailors) told him the canal was in the wrong place and useless; that the road and river journey via Coptos or Berenice was the cheaper and quicker than beating or rowing a heavy cargo boat 400 miles against a raging north wind, past the reefs at the mouth of the gulf of Suez.
Darius probably completed the canal and Ptolemy 1 and 2 certainly used it, apparently for some years circa 320 B.C. The Alexandrine - 120 canal between the Pelusiac and the Canopic mouth of the Nile was cut about this time.
These waterways were the means of diverting the traffic from Tyre and Sidon to Alexandria. Trade “which had been previously carried across the Isthmus of Suez to the Mediterranean and thence to Tyre” (E.H.B., vol. 1, p. 577). But Ptolemy Philadelphos, about thirty years later, evidently discovering the truth, complained, “Suez was a dangerous harbour” (which was untrue), and restored the Nile and land-route via Coptos, Berenice (later Myos Hormos was used because this shortened the road journey).
In Roman times the canal (possibly on a slightly altered alignment) was still in use, for Trajan did repairs and work on it. Hadrian, the next Emperor, appears to have obtained some skilled naval advice, did not continue the policy but instead he made a good Roman road, with wells and rest camps, from Coptos to Berenice.
In Mahomedan times, the Khaliph Omar opened up the canal, not with a view to Eastern trade, but simply to supply wheat to Arabia, for which purpose it was obviously satisfactory. It was closed 134 years afterward by the second Abbasid Khaliph El Abdul Gaffur to cut off this supply to an enemy.
The Alexandrine canal was again opened up by Mahomed Ali about A.D. 1000, this time with a reported loss of 10, 000 workers. By this time smallpox must be added to the possible causes of death; that would not be operative in Necho's time. The casualties are obviously not reported correctly.
From the above brief outline of the chequered history of this important engineering work it is apparent that there was some factor, besides the blowing about of sand, that operated against its usefulness. This is to be found in the normal weather-conditions at the head of the Red sea when sailing ships (and those propelled by rowing) were the usual mode of conveying goods. It required the advent of the steamer to make the enterprise a paying proposition.
It may also be noted that the same weather-conditions were a predominating factor in restricting the trade via the gulf of Akaba. After David's conquest of Edom, a trade was started by the Pheonicians from Eloth and Ezim-Gebir (1 Kings 9, 26, 27) in which Solomon shared, first with Ophir and later with Aden. This route never came into prominence any more than the Suez, Red sea, and Nile canal route.
There is one last point to be mentioned from the time-table given by Mr. Warmington. He makes no mention of the Roman ships passing the canal. He further states (Part 1, Chap. 2, pp. 74) “In spite of the size of the canal leading from the Nile to Arsenoe it is probable that such long voyages were made with a change of sea vessel in Egypt; for the ships used in the Indian seas were specially large and lower speed of travel than in the Mediterranean, so that the journey from Berenice to Muziri took seventy days”.
These extracts support my contention that goods did not use the canal to any extent. Naval squadrons certainly did. The Ptolemies and the Romans sent their fleets into the Red sea. No more unsuitable ships than a trireme, still less a quadrireme or quipuerime, could be imagined for Red sea or Indian ocean traffic.
If Aelius Gallus' expedition to Arabia—a combined naval and military enterprise—may be taken as a sample, there can be little doubt that the failure was due in part to the unsuitable equipment of both services.- 121
There is one last point: Mr. C. E. P. Brooks in his “Climate through the Ages” points out that according to the records kept by Claudius Ptolemaeus in Alexandria in the first century A.D.—“These observations point to a climate very different from the present summer climate of Alexandria, and resembling much more Northern Greece”. The figures quoted in this work only apply June to August, and even then there is still a large percentage (37%) of north-west wind prevalent during these months, though at the present time north and north-west account for no less than 82%.
In spite of this I still think that the gulf of Suez was avoided by merchant ships, on account of the delays due to northerlies in the earliest times, and that is the correct explanation of the failure of the canal route and the retention of the Nile and land route. 10
ORIGIN OF THE TRADE AND THE GOODS CARRIED.
Let us now say something about the goods that gave rise to the early trade in the Indian ocean (c. 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1) for, as we shall see, the early trade in the Indian ocean differed radically from that in the Mediterranean and also from that of a later date. Mr. Warmington, in his admirable work, gives a full account of all the various spices, drugs, minerals, and manufactured goods that were in demand during the Empire period at Rome. The list is complete and extraordinarily interesting. This, however, was when trade was at its maximum development (A.D. 100); we must say something of the beginning of things.
We have already seen that the ship and the weather in the Indian ocean differed from those of the Mediterranean; there is another strong point of dissimilarity. Along most of the northern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, timber for the construction of ships was plentiful and easily available. The Phoenicians had the Lebanon and Antilebanus close at hand. Forests existed more or less plentifully along the southern shore of Asia Minor; the mountains in Greece, the Troad, Crete, and Cyprus, all produced suitable straight-grained wood that is so necessary for keels, planking, and also spars of boats. A variety of oak and cypress provided the frames. Egypt from earliest times produced cordage and sailcloth.
In the Indian ocean, from Kathiawar in India in the east to the mouth of the Zambesi in Africa in the west, there is not a mile of coast that could provide any timber good enough for boat-building. The whole of the Persian gulf, the Arabian, Somali and African coasts were useless in this respect. When Alexander wished to build ships in Mesopotamia there was only a little inferior wood available from the Cossaei country—all his ships had to be constructed in the Mediterranean, carried overland in pieces, erected and launched at Thapsacus on the Euphrates.
The only place where the materials for ships could be obtained in the Indian ocean was the Malabar coast of India. This was the origin of the great importance of the trade with southern India. It is no exaggeration to say that practically every ship that was built in - 122 the Indian ocean (excluding catamarans and sampans) was built with Malabar timber. Africa in its primitive state produced no timber; there were plenty of forests inland, but there was very little near the seaboard; and the inhabitants were not sufficiently civilized to engage in trade of this description.
Not only did the forests on the western Ghauts produce an adequate quantity but the quality was of the finest in the world. It is today. For outside planking, keels, stem and stern posts, Malabar teak (Tectona grandis) cannot be beaten. Another wood, Velamadhu (Terminalia tomentosum), was preferred for keels in ancient days; “aine” (Autocarupus Hirsuta) was also used. Frames (ribs) were usually constructed of “jack” (Autocarpus intergrifolia); “pun” (Calophyllum tomentosum) made the most perfect masts; and “pali” (Palaquum ellipticum) the long lateen gaffs—a very flexible and practically unbreakable wood.
The resemblance between the Malabar coast and Phoenicia (also to a less extent Cicilia, Lycia) should be noticed. The forests in both cases were within a few miles (twenty to thirty) of the sea-coast. The timber was felled, dragged down hill by elephants in Malabar, and put into rivers, and on the next rains the logs were picked up at the river mouth. All the hard-wood timber was seasoned in water.
There were other furniture-woods available—a beautiful kind of rose-wood; sandal-wood; an ebony; this trade was of ancient date—Ur, Erech, Nippur, Babylon (places completely destitute of wood, except palm-trees) certainly bought ornamental timber from Malabar. The almug tree of the Scriptures has never been identified with certainty—some consider it to be sandal-wood—but it may just as likely be Malabar teak. Even if sandal-wood is correct, it still comes from Mysore forests, and was in demand in Solomon's time.
The Malabar coast is a home of the coconut-palm, and the people are the most skilled workers in coconut-fibre or ‘coir’ as it is called, all types of cordage being manufactured for fitting out the ships. It should be remembered that in the earliest times the outside planking was largely sewn on to the frames with cord. ‘Treenails’ were used to some extent, but a supply of soft iron nails was not available 1000 B.C., so the importance of the cordage industry increased. 11
It is no exaggeration to say that all the Sabaean and Musa ships—those owned and built at Bahrein, Gerrha, Muscat, Koweit, Cane, Rapta, and Sofala, and probably the Red sea ships as well—were constructed from Malabar timber and fitted out with cables, sails, and cordage produced in that neighbourhood. It was this trade which opened up the country in early times and made it the most important - 123 trading centre, educating the inhabitants to business ideas; later on other products, such as spices, gems, and manufactured goods became even more important articles of commerce, and if Mr. Warmington and other writers are correct, goods, silks, etc., from China and the Far East were brought overland to be disposed of to merchants visiting India. The fons et origo of the trade was undoubtedly shipbuilding timber and necessities.
Concerning the other important branches of trade in the Indian ocean, let us say a little. Of these by far the most ancient was that of incense and gums made use of in temples and religious ceremonies, such as frankincense, myrrh, and other resins derived from trees. The home of frankincense was the highland near the south coast of Arabia and the highland of the Yemen. The Somaliland coast, the island of Socotra, the African coast below cape Gardafui, produced myrrh and other gums. These products were in great demand for the temples in Egypt, in Babylon, and in the old Chaldean and Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia. The antiquity of the commerce is beyond all doubt. It is certain that much of the material was transported by caravans overland both to Egypt and to Babylonia; but ships were necessary to reach the Somali and African coasts, the island of Socotra, and India. When once the merchants of Arabia possessed ships it was cheaper, safer, and more expeditious to send the goods by sea. There was another advantage, viz., that the actual place of supply could be kept a secret with greater ease than by caravan and road transport.
In very early times pearls and gems formed an important item of commerce in south India. The pearl-banks round Ceylon and in the Palk strait were fished by the Governments who laid claim to them. Ceylon itself produced gems in very large numbers, and often of good quality.
Anyone who has ever visited a pearl fishery whether in the Persian gulf, Ceylon, or northern Australia, knows what an extraordinary collection of humanity is to be found there. Dealers of every nationality and colour come from miles, mostly on foot or in small boats. Malabar was an important market at a very early date, certainly in Babylonian times.
The condiment trade, spices, pepper, cinnamon, developed into remunerative proportions during the first millenium, till, in Roman times, it became of paramount importance, and probably overshadowed other produce.
The gold-mining industry of Mashonaland, to which we shall refer later, which exported the metal through Sofala, was another important branch of commerce in the Indian ocean, and probably dated from 200 B.C. to A.D. 500.
It may, I think, be safely stated that commerce along the first two lines—timber for ships and frankincense—resulted in the formation of an extensive Arab mercantile marine based at Cane, Aden, Musa in south Arabia, and Gerrha, Muscat, Caraxa, Ur, Erech in the Persian gulf. The ships were built at most of these ports as well as on the Malabar coast, but always with Indian timber. These fleets had practically the monopoly of the Indian ocean trade from Ceylon to the mouth of the Zambesi.
In the Red sea, as already stated, the Phoenicians, who were closely allied to the Arabs, early developed the monopoly of the carrying trade. They did not quarrel with the Arabs. A sort of - 124 modus vivendi was established between the two races — the Arabs worked the African and the Indian trade, the Phoenicians the Red sea; this, of course, gave them control of the Egyptian and Mediterranean markets. The Phoenicians' ships went no further east than Aden (‘further east than longitude 53° E.’ Prof. Rawlinson); whether the Arabs kept out of the Red sea to a large extent, we do not know; but it seems doubtful, as Musa was an important centre. Both races combined to keep Indian coastal boats—a few of which were owned in Kathiawar around Barygaza—out of the Red sea; but they encouraged visits as far as Socotra. Both races with the assistance of the Nabataean Arabs in the northern half of the Red sea, were capable of pirating any unfortunate Egyptian ship and also the early Mediterranean-owned Greek and Roman ships. This, of course, brought its own retribution. 12
Pharaoh Necho, Darius, the Ptolemies, and last of all the Romans, were not likely to sit quiet under that sort of treatment, so the fleets of naval ships made their appearance in the Red sea. The Ptolemies, as we have already stated, drew off the commerce to Alexandria by opening the Nile, Coptos, Berenice route (from 300 B.C.) the Alexandrine and Red sea canal helped to some extent. Shortly before the Christian era Egypt became a Roman province. The Romans had absorbed Greece and the Grecian archipelago in the two centuries previous to this, so that Greek merchants moved to Rome, consequently Greek initiative and business talent became linked with Roman administrative ability. The Romans made roads, policed provinces, put down pirates, pushed trade and were prepared to break up opposing combines. So that in the first century A.D. (possibly a little earlier) the Greco-Roman merchants' ships invaded the Red sea and proceeded in search of the source of supply of various commodities they had been accustomed to obtain from middlemen in Alexandria or Tyre and Sidon. The Greeks objected to middlemen in general and the Phoenicians in particular; they had already pushed them out of many of the lucrative trades on the shores of the Mediterranean. A century of expanding trade and geographical knowledge of the East followed. The four stages through which the voyage to India passed, described in Mr. Warmington's work, succeeded each other in due course. Greek merchants settled in various Indian ports; they bought the produce of the country direct from the producer, or middleman, paying for it with wine, glassware, coral, and Roman money. There can be little doubt that they were bitterly opposed by the Arab-Phoenician combine, so that for a brief period, probably about A.D. 40-80 or a little longer, the wholly unsuitable, cumbersome, oar-propelled Mediterranean ships may have found their way through the Red sea canal and ultimately reached Indian ports. In these early days those on board must have had a very bad time; the heat, the overcrowding due to rowers, and the very short water-supply, must have occasioned much suffering.- 125
The advent of foreign ships in Malabar would slowly bring the Arabs to their senses. The Arabs suffered by comparison with the newcomers in several respects. First they were not particularly popular. Although the dhow captain is a man of culture, and a gentleman when dealing with equals, he has a contemptuous manner with inferiors and he cannot see any other point of view but his own. He was inclined to be grasping in business, and very secretive. Second, he could not pay in cash, consequently he had to barter for produce, and it was not always easy for him to bring attractive wares. Frankincense probably helped, and he used unminted gold in small quantities. Finally he was neither very enterprising nor very intelligent in business matters.
The Greek, on the other hand, was more intelligent, better mannered, and produced cash in gold or silver, all very attractive qualities to the Indian middleman. Against these obvious advantages the Arab would find things decidedly difficult. In the course of time he found that the local merchant was open to charter his craft, as he had been for centuries before the advent of the stranger, to carry produce to the westward or northward to the gulf ports. This suited both parties; it would be cheaper, safer, and quicker, to use the Arab ship than to bring the Mediterranean variety out of their sea into one that it was not suited to. So again, gradually, a modus vivendi was arrived at. The best ship, commanded by the best man, asserted its superiority in spite of certain racial prejudices.
One thing is quite certain, the European ship very soon ceased to be seen east of Suez, and it never survived in the Red sea or the Indian ocean—it is quite doubtful if it ever did the journey; at any rate it left no trace behind it. The Arab dhow is there today with, it is safe to say, little or no alteration in 3000 years; it has not been seriously affected by the advent of the Portuguese, the Dutch, or the British. It is still built of Malabar timber; it is still commanded by a first-class navigator and seaman. It still has the enormous lateen sail, and it still makes fast passages with the monsoon-winds and avoids the cyclonic months. It is true it is now fastened with iron nails and often sheathed with yellow metal to keep out the teredo. Not infrequently it is owned by Bombay merchants. When honest goods-traffic deserted it, it acquired an unsavoury reputation as a ‘slaver’. The ancient town of Rapta—now Bagamoyo—is situated at the end of a main road leading into the heart of Africa; 13 along this via dolorosa came parties of harmless Africans to be shipped off to the Persian gulf. The trade probably commenced as early as A.D. 1000 or even before that, and continued until it was put a stop to in recent times by the British.
We have already stated that the Arabs had many secrets in the Indian ocean trade, two of which we will now discuss.
The most amazing, and the most instructive of Arab methods, is the myth that cinnamon grew in Somaliland and Socotra. It is well known now that the tree only lives in south India and Ceylon. It would appear that the erroneous idea was deliberately spread abroad by the Sabaean Arabs to deceive the Greeks.
Mr. Warmington says, “This strange secret of the Arabs and then the Africans as well, is the most remarkable one of all. At the beginning of the Roman Empire, cinnamon is constantly attributed to the Sabaeans of their country, Arabia Felix, but there are signs here and there that the Greek merchants had found a leakage and obtained an - 126 inkling of the truth. Strabo says in one place ‘according to some the greater part of cassia is brought from India’, and again ‘South India, like Arabia and Ethiopa, produces cinnamo’”.
The deception was very successful; many classical atlases today contain maps with the Somali coast marked Regio Cinnamonifera. It is difficult to see exactly how the Arabs were going to profit by these tactics: presumably they wished to control the market; but with Greek merchants on the Malabar coast we should have thought this would be difficult. I suggest that the Arabs possibly were the earliest race to cure the cinnamon for export properly; for it is not an easy process. The local Malayalese use it fresh and uncured.
The second secret is more doubtful, but more important and interesting: it never became known to the classical authors at all, and will not be found in modern writers till very recent times. The trade secret may be described as the Mashonaland gold-mining enterprise. It is obviously impossible to do full justice to so obscure a problem in history in a short article. Many points are involved; these include the correct explanation of the Mashonaland ruins, the people who constructed them, and the period when they were built—all very difficult problems and not completely satisfactorily explained to the present day. There is no doubt as to the very large quantity of gold exported—both Bent and Maund agree that the quantity was astounding. The available authorities who describe the undertaking are all Arabs and of a much later date. These are Abu-Zeid Hassan who visited Africa and the land of “Zendy” north of Sofala (A.D. 900). Al Byrony describes Sofala traffic about A.D. 1000. Edrisi describes Sofala as ‘a country of gold’ A.D. 1150. Several others in the 13th and 15th centuries write in the same strain. All these establish the fact that gold was exported from this country “at a period many centuries ago”. Several of these authorities state definitely that the industry was managed by a colony of Persians. The Arab historian Mahsudi tells us that the Persian colony had disappeared by about the 10th century and that the last remnants were Mahommedans, not Zoroastrians. Not a hint of this important enterprise is to be found in Greek or Roman authors; nor have we any reason to suppose they ever suspected the secret.
Dr. Schlichter deals with this point at length in his paper before the Royal Geographical Society 1893 (vol. 2, p. 44). He points out gold is often referred to in the Bible (Solomon's period) and by Ezekiel, also by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. Not a word of mining or trading in the metal with south Africa is to be found in Periplus, Erathosthenes, Strabo, Ptolemy, nor the Roman classical writers. He describes the Arab trade with Africa from Musa, Aden, and agrees that it was both important, extensive, and very old standing. “But nowhere is the slightest hint to be found that gold was a trading article of the southern Arabs during the classical period”. Concerning the ruins, he agrees with Bent that the buildings are “Arab” in origin, and dates them a few centuries before the Christian era (vide infra). Hall and Neal consider they may be as old as 2000 B.C., but this is hardly possible in view of what follows. Dr. Schlichter concludes that this absence of information shows the trade had ceased about 200 B.C. I submit this is not correct and does not follow from the above, and that there is a more satisfactory explanation, viz., that the Arabs deliberately kept this a secret from Greeks, Romans, and possibly to a less extent from the Phoenicians also. Hall and Neal consider that this latter race had knowledge of this enter- - 127 prise, because Phoenician inscriptions and ingot-moulds are found in Mashonaland.
It is hardly necessary to discuss the question of the ruins themselves: a few points may be noted.
Scattered all over the Mashonaland, but particularly at the famous Zimbabwe, are ruins. According to P. S. Nazarhoff, these are dakhmas, a peculiar building for the disposal of the dead, which was only used by the Mazdaist Persians. Mr. P. S. Nazaroff has seen those in Africa and identically the same structures in Persia and Turkestan. I have seen dakhmas; from the literature on Zimbabwe I am convinced that Mr. Nazaroff's explanation is the correct one. Unfortunately, when in Africa I did not visit Zimbabwe.
This connection with Zoroastrian Persia enables us to date the colony with certain limits. Assuming the facts are correct, the remains are not pre-historic, but must be put into a period after approximately, 700 B.C.—since the teaching of Zoroasther probably commenced then. The cult or religion practically disappeared in A.D. 641 when the Mahommedan Arabs destroyed the last of the Sassanid dynasty, but it existed in Persia in small scattered groups for long after.
Mr. Nazaroff considers that the period of activity of this colony must be placed about two centuries B.C. and four or five in the Christian era—just the time that Dr. Schlichter considers the industry died out. There can be no doubt that the Arab merchant ships carried the gold to Sabaea and the Persian gulf, for there were no other carriers available, but when this commenced and when it ceased is still a matter of uncertainty.
It would not be difficult to cover the traffic; the ships required would be few and the cargo small in amount—a bulky agricultural produce such as cinnamon, myrrh, etc., would present much more difficulty. Yet as Mr. Warmington points out, the Arabs for centuries completely misled the Greco-Roman merchants as to the correct place of origin of these commodities.
We have already dealt with Hippalus' discovery of the use of monsoon winds. There can be little doubt that there was a definite Phoenicio-Arab conspiracy to mislead the Greco-Roman ships when they first appeared in the Indian ocean, but as every shore-dweller on that coast understood the weather, it would not succeed for very long.
The Indian trade with the Roman Empire decreased rapidly after the time of Marcus Aurelius; various forces ultimately brought about its decline. Amongst the most important of these was the terrible visitation of typhus which swept the whole of the Roman Empire from the hills of Parthia to Gaul in A.D. 165 et seq., concerning which Niebuhr says, “The ancient world never recovered from the blow inflicted upon it by the plague which visited it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius”.
The market for Indian produce declined and temporarily died out. The Greeks and Phoenicians departed from Malabar, and the Arabs had things in their own way once more. The Portuguese found them in possession when they appeared in the 15th century. Vasco da Gama and his fellow countrymen naively remarked, that they could teach the Arabs nothing about navigation or seafaring that they did not already know. Considering that all the scientific knowledge the Portuguese themselves possessed on these subjects was derived from identically the same source through the Moors and Jews, there was no - 128 Let us say a little about the various Arab communities living on the Arabian coast, who first sent their ships to India and Africa in search of merchandise, for it is obvious that if it is established that these trading communities existed in ancient times (about 1000 B.C., or earlier); it is equally certain that their shipping ventures must have been an important means of livelihood, which in its turn proves the existence of the Arab Thassalocracy.
It is not necessary to say much concerning the Phoenicians; many modern writers have dealt with their history and origin in a very great detail, and the position they occupied in Greek, Roman, and Asiatic history is thoroughly established.
It is, however, necessary to point out that in Solomon's time (circa 1000 B.C.) they had established trading centres in the Red sea and Indian ocean as far south as Aden. The writer of the first Book of Kings describes the trade in ivory, apes, and peacocks (1 chap. 10, 22) and in the sixth century B.C. Ezekiel, in his famous prophecy about the doom of Tyre, in the twenty-sixth chapter says “Haran, Canneh and Eden were thy merchants”.
One last point: Mr. Burn in his delightful book, Minoan, Philistine and Greek, maintains that the Phoenician learnt his navigation from the ‘Sea-readers’ (a mixed crowd of wanderers from Asia Minor and Thessaly); he says, “The age of the Sea Raiders which follows was of profound importance in Phoenician history since it ultimately (as we shall see) brought a vigorous seafaring population to the Syrian coast from whom the Canaanites of the coast towns—‘Chna’ as the Phoenicians called themselves—of old a mercantile but not, it, seems, a sea-faring stock, presently learned to sail a trafficking on their own account”. Now, if Mr. Burn refers to sailing-masters (mates), sailors, helmsmen, riggers, and rowers, one might agree. The absorption of the Raiders (which Mr. Burn himself says was both rapid and complete) would greatly stimulate seafaring, because throughout the world good crews are, at all times, usually much more difficult to obtain than good ships. But it should be borne in mind that the family relationship between the Semitic Chaldean, Arab, and Phoenicians was very close. It is fairly certain that the Phoenician was perfectly conversant with the astronomical researches of Chaldea, as the Arab must certainly was. Navigation and seamanship are two different sciences. Admitting the fact that the sea-raiders possessed the latter, without which it would be impossible to put to sea, they were not educated or scientific people; the brain controlling the enterprise would be a Phoenician. There are plenty of similar instances in modern times; and even in Greek history, there is the great Pytheas himself. He was no sea-captain, but an astronomer and mathematician; we find him carefully obtaining the latitude of Marseilles, as a point of departure, for probably the most scientific, adventurous, mercantile expedition in the world's history.
As regards the little group of Arab Kingdoms, one cannot do better than quote Strabo—
“The extreme part of Arabia is occupied by four of the largest tribes; Minaeans on the other side of the Red sea, whose largest city was Carne, next the Sabaeans whose metropolis is Meriba, third the Cattabanians whose territory extends to the straits and the passage across the Arabian gulf whose Royal seat is Tamna, and furthest towards the east the Chatramolitae whose city is Sabata, the Cattabanians produced frankincense and the Chatramolitae myrrh; both these and other aromatics are bartered to merchants.”- 129
Some of these little kingdoms confined their attentions to caravan traffic, but certainly three out of four had ships of their own. Agatharchides describes the merchants of Musa as carrying on an extensive commerce and sending their own ships to the east coast of Africa and to the well known Indian ports. The writer of the Periplus substantiates this. He (Periplus) also says, “A place called Arabai Eudaemon (Aden) had formerly been a city and flourishing place when navigators did not venture on the long voyage from Egypt to India or the reverse, and this port had served as a place for mutual interchange of their commodities”. As Mr. Bunbury says, “This passage is important as proving that the trade with India had long been carried on in this manner”. Kameru says, “At this time (6th century B.C.) Aden had a position in commerce afterwards held by Alexandria in the Eastern Mediterranean. Aden was known from very early times”.
We have already quoted the Scriptural reference to Aden, dated 6th century B.C.
There were also several smaller but very important kingdoms in the Persian gulf and Oman coast. That around the town of Gerrha was the oldest and richest. Muscat was also important. Gerrha certainly traded with India, Sabaea, and Africa by sea, and from this city very large caravans started across the desert for Tema, Dedan, Petra, and thence across the Sinaiatic peninsula to Egypt or, turning to the north, passed through Syria to Phoenicia. The pearl-fisheries of Tylos (Bahrein) were also very old, and were important in the time of Nebuchadnazzar (585 B.C.) and Alexander (330 B.C.). The port of Raamah just at the entrance of the gulf was sufficiently important and old to be mentioned by Ezekiel ‘the traffickers of Sheba and Raamah’ in his famous chapter 26. Dedan, though not near the coast, is mentioned by Isaiah (21, 13) as a caravan centre.
These facts, with the acknowledged antiquity of the frankincense trade, certainly demonstrate the activity of Arab shipping at a very early date.
There is another line of argument which also confirms the importance of early marine traffic in the Indian ocean.
These small Arab states had colonies on islands and in Africa—not quite after the model of Greek and Phoenician it is true, but still important commercial maritime centres.
Rapta (modern Arab town of Bagomoyo) was subject in virtue of an old established right to the sovereign of the Mapharitic territory in Arabia, from whom the merchants of Musa (Mocha) rented it and carried on a regular trade thither with their own ships.
Zanzibar and the neighbouring coast have long been subject to the Sultan of Muscat. When this commenced it is not possible to say, but Rapta and Zanzibar are close together on the African coast, only about twenty-five miles apart. Zanzibar itself is of course on one island and was famous for cloves from very ancient times.
The island of Socotra is subject to the sheikh of Kashin, but formerly was under the ancient kingdom of the Chattabanians from Sabatta.
Obviously colonies without ships and commerce would be useless.
The ancient history of Arabia itself proves the great value of the trade that was carried on. It is perfectly true the caravan-traffic largely predominated from the earliest times (from as early as the first dynasty of Ur), but these caravans did not exclusively carry the produce of Arabia. It is admitted that goods from Africa and India - 130 formed a very large proportion of the trade, hence the maritime portion of it was both extensive and of old standing.
The profits accruing to the parties excited the cupidity of nearly every important ruler, from earliest time to the Roman Caesars. Amongst these the following invaded Arabia itself, broke up and destroyed kingdoms, captured much spoil and either diverted the traffic, or attempted to do so, to enable them to reap the profit of the trade.
Sennacherib (688-682 B.C.) completely destroyed the kingdom of Duma to the north and proceeded south.
Esarhaddon (681 circa).
Ashurbanapal (655 B.C.) reached Red sea, caused terrible destruction in Hejaz.
Nebuchadnazzar (circa 580 B.C.) went as far south as Mariba and Sabaea and straits of Bab-el-Mandeb.
Narbonid (550 B.C.) made Tema subsidiary capital to Babylon in order to control caravan-routes.
Alexander the Great (324 circa) proposed to capture Arabia and colonize all the Persian gulf with Greeks.
There are others, but this will suffice.
In this paper it was my intention not to discuss the Indian ocean shipping prior to 1000 B.C. or thereabouts. The reason for this choice of period is to be found in the fact that between that date and the Christian era historical records are fairly plentiful, and evidence of the truth of my contention that the Arabs were the great carrying community of that era is fairly easily obtained. That evidence has been reviewed above.
It must not be supposed that this Arab thalassocracy sprang into being suddenly. It was obviously a matter of slow growth and development; consequently we should allow many hundreds of years for this process. When did this Arab mercantile marine come into being? Now, it is certainly very strange that, thanks to the painstaking efforts of erudite men and the archaeological researches of the last forty years, we know as much, or more, about the civilization that existed between 4000-2000 B.C. than we do about that of 1000 B.C. The work done in Egypt at Badari, on the pre-Dynastic civilization, the investigation of the Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia, and, most recent of all, the discovery of the culture at Mahenjo Daro, in the Indus valley, Harappa in the Punjab, all of which are roughly contemporaneous, and all of which are in a measure linked together by trade, opens a page of ancient history which one can only describe as truly wonderful. It is not by intention to describe or discuss this work, and all that it implies, even if I were capable of doing so. I shall merely quote from authorities concerning one aspect of it, viz., that of the earliest seaborne trade; for here we find the true origin of the Arab thalassocracy that we have been describing. “We have a bill of lading of a ship commissioned by the temple of Nin-Gal of Ur for the Gulf trade; it had been absent two years at Dilmun when in the eighth year of Sumu-ilum of Larsa (c. 2048 B.C.) it unloaded at the quay of Ur; in its cargo were gold, copper ore, ivory, precious woods and fine stone for making statues and vases . . . the merchants of the South had their agencies or branch houses in distant towns, with whom they kept up a correspondence and did business by letters of credit . . . ” (Wooley's Sumerians, p. 116).
“The first prosperity of Sumer was bound up with Indian intercourse.” (Prof. Gordon Childe, The Most Ancient East, p. 199).
“Commercial intercourse is proved up to the hilt.” Ibid, p. 211.- 131
“The regularity and intimacy of the intercourse with India is proved by the occurrence on Sumerian sites of objects imported from the Indus valley. The oldest indisputable instances, in the world of manufactured goods of precisely defined provenance, being transported for long distances from the centre of their fabrication. At Umma, Lagash, Ur, Kisk, in the last two instances in pre-Sargonic deposits, have been found rectangular stamp seals of steatite, in some instances glazed, which agree precisely in shape and material and design with those found in great abundance in the ruins of prehistoric cities in the Indus valley . . . ” Ibid, p. 200.
“Here reaching back into the fourth millenium before our era we find on the now impoverished banks of the distant Indus a brilliant civilization in touch at once with the pre-diluvian villages of the Iranian plateau, and the nascent city states of Babylon . . . already the Arabian sea was ploughed by dhows freighted with stuffs of Sindhe consigned to Babylonian river towns.” Ibid, p. 213.
“It is worth while dwelling up the implication of this picture. Part of the commerce between the Indus and the Euphrates was surely conducted by sea. . . But neither the Indus folk nor the Sumarians appear to us as seafarers. . . The inference is that there was a fourth party, a maritime people who acted as intermediaries between Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. Now, throughout historical times the Southern coast of Arabia and especially the region of Oman has been the home of bold sailors trading with Ethiopia, Sindhe and Gulf ports. The Arabian sea is named after them. . . It is perfectly legitimate to infer that such centres of maritime commerce flourished even in the fourth millenium. Only so does the peculiar indirectness of the relations between Sumer, Egypt in the late pre-dynastic period become intelligible.” Ibid, p. 214.
Here we have the origin of the Arab thalassocracy beyond all doubt. In the fourth millenium the seafarers may not have been quite like the Arab of the present day, but they must have been their lineal forebears. The boats were built at Muscat, at a port close to Gerrha (Calara, probably the present day el Khaliff), at the island of Bahrein, Tylos, and Koweit (Coromanis) and other suitable harbours: in all probability also at Aden, Carne, and Musa. Every ounce of timber, rope, had to be imported from the coast of India. If a safe place could be found in that country (India) and a local rajah's exactions were not too exorbitant—Arab dhows were in all probability built on the Indian coast; but in earlier times it was too risky an undertaking; too many accidents might happen to the unfortunate owner; in spite of the extra expense, the materials were purchased and taken to the gulf ports. The rainless nature of the gulf makes ship-building in the open quite satisfactory: further the Arab method of construction (which the writer has seen in operation and understands) necessitates much long-length timber; without which the whole plan of construction would require radical alteration. It is for this reason that the writer states so dogmatically that Malayalee wood was used. Where else but the Malabar coast could you get logs fifty to seventy feet in length, of sound hard wood? An astounding lot of nonsense is written and talked about boats; the quality and sizes of the materials available is a very important factor in the design and the appearance of the finished article, a fact which was more apparent in early times than today.
It will, I think, be admitted that the sum of all this evidence is large, and it all points to the existence of a large wealthy Arab mercantile-trade in the Indian ocean which dates back to the very earliest times. The Arab thalassocracy is as well established a fact as the Minoan in the Mediteranean.
1 The account of this expedition makes very amusing reading, the main details are as follows:—In the ninth year of Queen Hatshepu's reign an expedition of five ships was sent to Punt from Thebes. The flotilla passed down the Nile to the Delta through the Wadi Tumilat to the Red Sea [the Nile must have been full at the time]. It coasted down the Egyptian shore to the Straits of Bab el Mandeb and arrived safely at the bay of Zeilah. No dates or details are given of the voyage either outward or inward. The most extraordinary collection of goods formed the cargo for the return journey. Great piles of resins, myrrh, thirty-one myrrh trees with roots, ebony, ivory [whole tusks], cassia, gold, cinnamon-wood, with countless animals, dogs baboons, a giraffe, five leopards, cynocephali [Maspero], three thousand three hundred small cattle [Camb. Anc. Hist.]—all in five boats—which could not have drawn more than three and a half or four feet of water, and were typical river-craft utterly unsuited to cargo carrying. Presumably the dogs and the leopards were fed on some of the small cattle; even then the drinking water for the menagerie and the crew must have presented serious difficulty; there is practically no water on the Somaliland and Egyptian coasts. The outfit is reported to have arrived at Thebes without any loss. There certainly must have been a special providence watching over it. On later expeditions wrecks of the Elephant boats were very common and are mentioned by Agartharcides [Geog. Graeco i.171] and the Petric papyrus [II. xl. a26].
I think the Cynocephalic and the green monkeys gives the clue to the correct interpretation. The expedition certainly brought back a lot of strange things, besides the myrrh trees, and the artist did the rest. Prof. Maspero himself says concerning the cattle “Whose number increased a hundredfold in accounts . . . with the usual official exaggeration”.
2 Prof. Bury in Cambridge Ancient History does not agree with this opinion. He still considers the Egyptians were sailors. He quotes the battle of Salamis and Navarino in support of this. It seems to me that at Salamis the fleet was largely manned by “sea-raiders” from the lower Syrian sea coast. Also it is all a matter of what you consider “sea-faring”. Rowing a boat along the shores of the Red sea though a dangerous and arduous occupation can hardly be called sea-faring; there is no navigation in this. The main difficulties would be water supply of the crew, avoiding outlying reefs, and preventing killing the oarsmen by pulling against head winds. The Egyptians very early established a trade in live animals between Ptolemais, Theron and Adulis on the Red sea and Berenice and Cosseir. But the distance is only about six hundred, all coasting, and even then the ships were always coming to grief.
3 Herodotus describes how the ship did sail down the Nile thus: “When travelling with the current they threw from the head of the vessel a ‘hurdle’ made of tamarisk fastened together with reeds: they also have a perforated stone of two talents this they let fall at the stern secured by a rope . . . the above hurdle . . . draws them swiftly along, the stone at the stern regulates the motion [i.e. speed].
4 The Euphrates and Tigris boats of ancient times were certainly the strangest of all but this can be explained by the facts of the great scarcity of timber so that reeds and inflated skins had to be utilized.
5 The method of construction of these ships rendered them unsuitable to rough weather for long periods.
6 The account of the sea fight between the Roman fleet and the Veneti on the Brittany coast is an example. In that engagement the Romans cut the halliards and the heavy leather sails came down leaving the enemy's vessel without any way on her and helpless.
7 On this coast it is possible “to work land and sea breezes” very satisfactorily as usually both are strong.
8 A very bad one occurred in November, 1926, on the Malabar coast. One of the usual cyclones of the Madras coast crossed the Indian peninsula—it is normally stopped by the hills of the plateau—and caught the fisherman of Malabar at sea with disastrous results.
9 In 1839 the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Navigation Co. used the land route from Koseir to Kanneh on the Nile. The land route was 111 miles. [Note in a sketch map of Two Routes in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. E. A. Floyer, Pro. Royal Geog. Soc., 1887, vol. 9, pp. 662].
10 Since writing the above I see Prof. Mahaffy in his Empire of The Ptolemies quotes Mr. Floyer's essay [Pro. Royal Geog. Soc., 1887, pp. 662] which supporty my contention that the northern half of the Red sea was avoided by seamen. He says “I suppose the best camels and the worst ships would choose Berenice whilst the best ships and the worst camels would carry on the Kosseir traffic”. Ships may have been both good and bad but the weather was equally unsuited to any kind until steamers were built. Prof. Mahaffy says “Ptolemy did not use camels”. But very likely transport contractors in this desert did.
11 The Mohammedan geographer Ibn Battuta was one time “Kazi” in the Maldive islands about A.D. 1350. He describes the boats and the method of sewing the planking. Today Maldive taxes are paid in kind with coir-rope and coir-fibre produce. Whilst these facts do not amount to proof of the truth of my contention, they are valuable confirmatory evidence as anyone with knowledge of the East will admit.
He goes on to say that a ship fastened with nails falls to pieces if it strikes a rock—one sewn has “a certain resiliance and does not fall to pieces”. By the time of Ludovic Varthema A.D. 1503-8 iron nails were in use; he describes the excellence of the workmanship and the use of “an immense number of iron nails”. A sewn ship will not stand prolonged battering by the sea; hence the captains avoided sailing in cyclone months. Today Arab ships are built too light according to English ideas.
Marco Polo, 1254-1324, who was accustomed to Venetian ships nailed together, was very contemptuous of the Arab sewn ship; he says they were sorry affairs always being lost at sea. He did not understand seafaring or the Indian ocean weather, though he fought at the naval battle of Curzola and was taken prisoner.
12 Mr. Charlesworth says “Arabs . . . made themselves troublesome in every way but their efforts were useless. Aden was taken and sacked”. He does not say by whom or give any date. Mr. Dodwell maintains it could be none other than Trajan. Dr. Vincent refers it to Claudius’ time. Dr. C. Muller considers it was not brought about by any Roman expedition at all but a local Arab or by King Eleazar of the Hadramut. Whilst hardly competent to discuss the classical aspect of the problem I most certainly agree with Dr. Muller, simply on the grounds that a naval expedition the whole length of the Red sea in the ships of that date (1st century B.C.) would be a very large undertaking, and some mention of it would certainly have been made by historians. It would probably have succeeded no better than Gallus' expedition in A.D. 24; hence it seems likely that some local Arab kingdom was probably the aggressor.
13 The writer has been very many miles along this road.