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Historical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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But where, then, and what was Thinw^ that
city so celebrated in antiquity, as forming the

THIN.'E. 477

feastern boundary of the habitable world ? There
can be no doubt as to the Thinae of Ptolemy ; it
was a city of Siam, situated near its western coast,
washed by the Indian Sea. But how can this be
reconciled with the description of Eratosthenes,
who places it at the extremity of Asia, with an
ocean on the east? According to M. Gosselin,
Eratosthenes merely heard of a great city, situat-
ed in a remote part of the coast beyond India ;
and believing that this coast, following the direc-
tion of that of Coromandel, stretched always
northward, necessarily placed Thinae to the north
of the Ganges, instead of the east and south ;
while the same cause obliged him to place it on
an eastern ocean instead of a western. On the
other hand, Dr Vincent insists, not only that
Eratosthenes could scarcely have committed so
enormous and palpable a blunder, but that his
view of the subject is supported by statements
made by the author of the Peripks, who, as a
merchant, was not here likely to be mistaken.
This writer relates, that caravans from Thinae
came regularly by the way of Bactria to Barygaza
(Baroach), a land communication which still ex-
ists. The chief commodity brought by them was
silk, then the exclusive produce of China. There
is also in the same narrative an account of a trade
between the people of Thinas and a nation who,
by the description, are evidently Tartars. From


these circumstances Dr Vincent infers, that the
Thinag of Eratosthenes and the Periplus, notwitli-
standing its inadequate distance from India, can-
not well he any other than the capital of China.

In this state of the question I shall hazard a
conjecture, which does not seem to have occurred
to former inquirers ; and which, however difficult
it must be to arrive at any positive conclusion on
subjects involved in such a depth of antiquity,
may at least present some curious coincidences.
I wish to point out the city of Tsinan, the prin-
cipal town in the Chinese province of Shantung,
and described by Duhalde as not only a great and
populous city, but as an ancient capital of the
empire ; this fact being attested by the tombs of
numerous monarchs situate in its vicinity. The
name, though it may be considered quite the
same, {th and s in Greek being convertible),
forms yet its smallest point of coincidence with
that celebrated boundary of ancient knowledge.
For, in the first place, it is precisely in the lati-
tude assigned by Eratosthenes to Thinae. This
latitude is the same as that of the great parallel
by which he measures the length of the world,
and is placed by him in the thirty-sixth degree,
or more properly, Rhodes being understood as the
standard, 36° %0' N. According to the observa-
tions of the missionaries, Tsinan is in lat. SQ"" 4f4f' ;
a difference not to be regarded. But I have to


state another coincidence, wliich may pcrliaps
astonisli tliose who have taken any interest in
those discussions : It is, that Tsinan is precisely
in the longitude assigned by Pjatosthenes to
Thinae. This, as brought out by M. Gossehn, is
126° ^25' S^" east from the meridian of the sacred
Cape of Iberia (Cape St Vincent). Tsinan, ac-
cording to the observations of the missionaries,
is E. from Pekin, - , . 0° 39' 0"

Pekin is E. from London, - 116° 27' 30"

Cape St Vincent W. from London, 8° 59' 26''

126° y56"

I do not wish to conceal all that is mysterious
in this coincidence. As all the other Asiatic lon-
gitudes of Eratosthenes are erroneous, and more
particularly that between the Indus and Thina?,
this result could not have been derived from any
data collected by himself. It can only be ac-
counted for upon the hypothesis of M. Gosselin,
though leading to an inference so opposite to that
of the learned author. This hypothesis supposes,
that in the early Asiatic empires there existed a
system of astronomical observation much superior
to what the Greeks then possessed, and rivalling
the perfection of modern science. Maps or do-
cuments founded upon these observations, are sup-
posed to have been found by Alexander in the
archives of the Asiatic empires, and to have thus


480 THIN^.

come under the view of Eratosthenes, who used
without fully understanding them. Without en-
tering into M. Gosselin*s view of the precise na-
ture of the errors committed, and of the delicate
process by which he seeks to efface them, I shall
only suggest the probability, that these documents
may have contained a more precise expression of
the proportion of the earth occupied by this grand
line, measuring its whole known extent, than with
regard to the partial spaces intervening ; or that
Eratosthenes, in the last case, may have preferred
the less perfect data furnished by the observation
of his own countrymen. One scarcely dares to
conceive how, at this early period, so immense a
line, embracing more than a third of the circum-
ference of the globe, could have been measured
with such extreme accuracy : Yet it is surely very
remarkable, that along with the precise name of
Thinae, we should have also the precise longitude,
the precise latitude, the precise position, and that
in a city which was, at a remote period, the capital
of China. The existence of such an observation,
could it be considered as proved, would certainly
open a striking vista into the deepest abysses of
ancient science. I do not wish, however, on so
mysterious a question, to urge any absolute con-
clusion ; but rather to submit the facts now stated
to those whose leisure and opportunities may en-
able them to investigate the subject more deeply.



The system of Eratosthenes, after a lapse of
two centuries, was succeeded and superseded by
that of Ptolemy, which seems itself to have been
little more than a correction of the previous one
of Marinus of Tyre. This system exhibits a con-
siderable extension of information, produced chief-
ly by the peaceful state of the world, and by the
search of the most distant climates, for whatever
could minister to the luxuries of the Roman ca-
pital. Yet this extended knowledge of details
was not accompanied with any improvement in
the mode of drawing the general outline of the
globe. Ptolemy, finding that land existed much
beyond the limit fixed by Eratosthenes for his ter-
minating ocean, banishes that ocean entirely from
his system, and makes Asia in these quarters ter-
minate in an indefinite extent of Terra Incognita.
The astronomical part of his geography is involv-
ed in errors still more palpable. These arise in
consequence of his adopting the measure of five
hundred stadia, instead of seven hundred, for the
degree of the great circle. The degrees compos-
ed of these smaller stadia, necessarily became
much more numerous ; and that error of excess, to
which all the early itineraries are liable, is greatly
aggravated. Ptolemy's graduation from the
meridian of the Fortunate Islands to the farthest
land known on the east, embraces the full half of
the circumference of the globe, and would carry

VOL. I. H h


Asia into the heart of the Pacific. When the as-
tronomical error however is corrected, by reduc-
ing all the longitudes in the ratio of seven to five,
they are made to approximate pretty nearly to
the truth.

The remotest eastern nations recognized in the
time of Ptolemy, were the Sinse and the Seres,
the former of whom were reached by sea in the
course of navigating beyond India, while the lat-
ter formed the terminating object of the great
land caravan which went from Byzantium across
the entire breadth of Asia. The Sinae were, by
the early European writers, identified with the
modern Chinese ; but D*Anville, whose system
it generally was to reduce the dimensions of the
world known to the ancients, placed the Magnus
Sinus of Ptolemy in the Gulf of Siam, and allow-
ed only a limited navigation along the coast of
Cambodia. M. Gosselin, still bolder, fixes the
Sinae in modern Siam, and does not allow Pto-
lemy's knowledge to have reached beyond the
Straits of Malacca. This last opinion is acceded
to by Vincent, Pinkerton, and Malte Brun, and
seems to be more generally received. In fact
the arguments in its favour appeared so strong,
that in a former essay, as well as in the first chap-
ter of the present work, I have given my assent
to them. Since that time, and during the print-
ing of the present chapter, the facts and sugges-

THE SINiE. 483

tions offered by the extensive local knowledge of
my friend Mr Crawford, have somewhat changed
my views ; and I shall state another hypothesis,
though, from the late period of receiving the ma-
terials, it has necessarily been put together in a
somewhat hasty manner.

It must be premised, that the Malays are now as-
certained not to be the original tenants of the pen-
insula which bears their name, but to have had
their first abode in the southern part of the island of
Sumatra. Now, in Ptolemy's delineation of the
Golden Chersonese, there occurs the name Ma-
layucolon, which Mr Crawford states to be the
name under which the Malays are actually known
in these seas. Ptolemy adds immediately after,
the " coast of the pirates," which points out a
feature notoriously Malay. Lastly, Sumatra ac-
tually produces a large quantity of gold, a cir-
cumstance much more conclusive than the mere
display of it in the courts of Pegu. We have thus
three features assigned by Ptolemy to the Golden
Chersonese, which agree with Sumatra, and not
at all with the southern extremity of Ava and
Pegu. The circumstance of Sumatra being an
island, will not weigh much with those who con-
sider how closely it is connected with the oppo-
site shore, and how difficult it always proves for
rude navigators to distinguish between continent
and island. The form of Sumatra, once consider-

484 THS SINiE.

ed as a peninsula, would agree much better with
the delineation of Ptolemy, than Pegu, which is
scarcely a peninsula at all.

Should we suppose Sumatra to be the Golden
Chersonese, we must then carry farther to the
east the knowledge of the ancients, though it
would be difficult to make out any approach to
correctness in the delineation of the ulterior
shores. Java (Jabadiu) would then appear in its
proper relative position to Sumatra, though too
distant, and much too small ; but the Saba divce
insidce are probably another part, erroneously de-
tached from it. The question would then recur,
whether the Sinae were not the Chinese ? and it
seems difficult to suppose that navigators could
have proceeded far in the seas beyond Sumatra,
without learning the existence of that vast em-
pire. This would make Ptolemy agree with the
author of the Periplus, who evidently considers
the Singe as the same people with the Seres, and
silk as the produce of their country. A bold
conjecture might even place Cattigara at Canton.
This would indeed imply a false orienting of the
coast of the Sinae, in making it extend from south
to north instead of from east to west. Such a
mistake, however, is by no means so rare, even in
nearer coasts, as to make it wonderful that it
should take place at this faint and farthest ex-
tremity of ancient knowledge.


The next question, which relates to tlie position
of the Seres, has been the subject of still greater
controversy. This people have been found in
Thibet, in Little Bucharia, in the country of tlie
Eygurs, and even in Sirinagur, a province of the
north of India. The writer of this has elsewhere
explained the grounds on which he conceives it
to be undoubtedly China. The merchants stated
to Marinus, that from the Stone tower, a position
not entirely fixed, but considerably east from the
sources of the Oxus, the journey to the capital of
Serica occupied seven months, being more than
they had spent in travelling to this point from
Byzantium. This period, after making every
allowance for the obstacles and difficulties of the
road, was amply sufficient to bring them into the
very heart of China. All the physical and politi-
cal features of that great empire exactly coincide
with those ascribed by the ancients to Serica.
Its extensive and cultivated plains, the produc-
tion and manufacture of silk, which is even call-
ed " the Seric substance ;" the mild, industrious,
timid, and quiet disposition of the inhabitants ;
their aversion to and jealousy of strangers, and
their carrying on trade only at one frontier sta-
tion ; all these are common to the ancient Serica
with the modern China. Ptolemy indeed de-
scribes it as bounded on the east by unknown


lands ; but this might arise from his information
faUing short of the eastern sea, besides that this
bounding Terra Incognita appears to have been
with him quite a favourite theory. Pliny and
Mela, who both, like Eratosthenes, consider Asia
as bounded on the east by an ocean, represent
that ocean as the boundary of Serica j Pliny even
calls it the Seric Ocean.

"We have formerly had occasion to observe,
that the descriptions of India, founded on the ex-
peditions of Alexander, discover little knowledge
of that region beyond the boundary of the Pun-
jaub, where his career terminated. The Ganges
was recognized as the greatest river of this part of
the world ; but the embassy of Megasthenes con-
veyed little more than a general idea of the di-
mensions of India, and of the existence of its
great capital of Palibothra. The Roman arms did
not at any time approach the frontier of India ;
yet, from sources not fully explained, Ptolemy
and Pliny have been enabled to give delineations
of this country, the accuracy of which has been
more highly estimated, in proportion as modern
knowledge has become more extensive. In fact,
several of the most remarkable discoveries recent-
ly made in Indian geography, are mere restora-
tions of the maps of Ptolemy. Among these are


the existence of the source of the Ganges on the
southern side of the Himmaleh, after, upon the
erroneous authority of Chinese surveys, it had
been placed in the heart of Thibet. The fact
also, ascertained by the mission to Caubul, that
the five rivers of the Punjaub unite into one
before joining the Indus, equally coincides with
that ancient authority. There is some difficulty
in tracing what materials Ptolemy and Pliny pos-
sessed, in addition to those collected by the his-
torians of Alexander. We may presume them to
have been derived, as in other cases, from mer-
cantile caravans. Ptolemy even makes an inci-
dental mention of one, which came from Serica
by the way of Palibothra, though it does not
seem to have been on nearly so great a scale as
that which proceeded along the southern border
of India.

In the time of Ptolemy and Pliny, Palibothra
continued still to be the capital of India, and the
grandest feature of its interior regions. Here re-
sided the monarch of the Prasii, whose dominions
included all the magnificent plains watered by
the Ganges and its tributaries, at all times the
most powerful seat of Indian empire. Frequent,
however, and ample as is the mention of Pali-
bothra among all the writers on ancient geogra-
phy, there is no question which has been more
contested than where that metropolis actually


stood. D'Anville, followed by Dr Robertson,
placed it at Allahabad, situated on the junction of
the Jumna and the Ganges. This is founded on
the statement made by Arrian on the authority of
Megasthenes, that Palibothra was situated at the
junction of the Ganges with another river, called
by him the Erranaboas, and which was the third
in India as to magnitude, being only inferior to it
and the Indus. It is also observed, that the place
is still called by the Indians Praeg, and the peo-
ple of the district Praegi, which bears strong
similarity to the name of the Prasii, whose capital
Palibothra was. Allahabad itself is held in such
reverence by the Hindoos, as to be called the
" king of holy cities ;" the territory for forty
miles round is esteemed sacred ; and many of the
numerous pilgrims drown themselves at the junc-
tion of the two rivers, thinking thereby to obtain
a sure passport to heaven. From these considera-
tions, there certainly arises an apparently plausible
ground for concluding Allahabad to be the an-
cient capital of the Prasii. It does not appear,
however, that these proofs can stand against the
positive contradiction given by Ptolemy and
Pliny, the two greatest geographical authorities
of antiquity. Pliny, in his itinerary through
India, does not merely place Palibothra in quite
a different position, but, making the junction of
the Jumna and Ganges one of the points of his


line, he places Palibothra four hundred and
twenty-five miles from that junction. If we sub-
scribe, therefore, to the opinion of D' Anville, we
must suppose Pliny to have written quite at ran-
dom, and without the least knowledge of the
country which he was describing. But besides
his general reputation, it is understood that the
English officers, who have acquired the best
knowledge of the interior of India, have been led
to entertain a very high idea of his accuracy.
It is observable, also, that besides the Jomanes
(Jumna), he mentions, as quite a different river,
the Erranaboas, or that which Arrian states to
fall into the Ganges at Palibothra. The delinea-
tion of Ptolemy coincides with that of Pliny, ex-
cept that he makes the city somewhat farther still
below the junction, and nearer the discharge of
the Ganges into the ocean.

The greater credit seems due to this geo-
grapher, since we find him in his map delineating
with accuracy the leading features in this part of
India, several of which are not mentioned by any
other writer. The Jumna, the Sarayu or Gogra,
and the Soane, are derived from their real
sources, and made to join the Ganges in nearly
their true relative position. The Vindia moun-
tains are also exhibited in their proper place,
with the Namadus (Nerbuddah) flowing from
them on the one side, and the Soane on the


other. It appears to be, therefore, by the state-
ments of Ptolemy and Pliny, that the question
must be decided. Although the authority of
Arrian be good, yet his statement respecting the
river here joining the Ganges, and its place
among the rivers of India, stands single, and is
not supported or repeated by any other writer.
It rests solely upon the somewhat confused re-
port of Megasthenes, who if, as was very likely,
he went from the Punjaub along the north of
India, might pass along the head of the other
rivers, and might not estimate duly the magni-
tude of any except the Erranaboas.

The hypothesis of Major Rennell accords bet-
ter with the above statements. He places the
site of this early capital near Patna, where there
is said to have been a great city called Patel-poo-
ther or Pataleputra. No considerable river now
falls into the Ganges at this point, but it is re-
ported that the Soane, which now joins it twenty-
two miles higher, flowed formerly under the walls
of Patna. This hypothesis rests certainly on a
much more solid foundation than the other ; yet
it is liable to considerable objections. From Alla-
habad to Patna, instead of four hundred and twen-
ty-five miles, is only about two hundred (English).
In the ancient itineraries, remote spaces are usu-
ally exaggerated, and the English mile is some-
what greater than the Roman. Yet the discre-


pancy appears still too great. According to Pliny,
from the junction to Palibothra is four hundred
and twenty-five miles ; from Palibothra to tiie
mouth of the Ganges is six hundred and thirty-
eight. Allowing, therefore, for a general exagge-
ration, the city ought at least to be at two-fifths
of the distance between the first and last point.
It is not, however, above a third. Pliny besides
mentions both the Soane (Sonus), and also the
Erranaboas, quite as distinct rivers. Ptolemy
also places Palibothra at a very great distance
below the junction of the Soane with the Ganges.
Amid these difficulties I shall mention a place
considerably lower down the river called Boglij)oor.
In the Greek orthography of Asiatic names, the
letters h and J9, a and o,* are used almost indiscri-
minately. Making these conversions, and soften-
ing, according to the Greek euphonic system, the
harsh combination gU Boglipoor is converted into
Paliboor, which requires only a Greek termina-
tion to make it Palibothra. The position answers
very exactly to that assigned to it in Ptolemy, con-
sidered in relation to the leading natural features
which occur upon the course of the Ganges. In
reference to Pliny, it is too much in the middle

• According to Mr Hamilton the o in the first syllable here
really ought to be a. See Gazetteer of India, art. Doglipoor.


between the junction of the Jumna and the
mouth of the Ganges, and errs as nauch on one
side as Patna does on the other. In another view,
the great extent might enable it to reach the vici-
nity of Monghir, which even now is sometimes
inchided in the district of Boglipoor. The Erra-
naboas would then be the river of Nepaul, which
passes by Catmandoo ; a river of great magni-
tude, though it holds but a second place amid the
mighty streams with which this region is watered.
Upon the whole then, without rejecting the possi-
bility of Patna, I would consider this as most
strongly supported by ancient authorities, as the
site of this once mighty capital of India.

Having thus considered the views entertained
by the ancients during the period of their most
extended knowledge, it can be of little conse-
quence to contemplate the erroneous theories into
which they fell, when progressive barbarism gra-
dually shut in from their view all these distant
regions. The darkness which was now involving
the western world, appears evidently in the work
published in the eighth century by the anony-
mous geographer of Ravenna. He discovers in-
deed some tolerably correct ideas in regard to the
coasts of India, the navigation to which continued
long unaffected by the general revolutions of
Asia. But all its inland parts, with Serica, are


confounded together under the general appella-
tion of Seric-India ; a term which is made to com-
prehend Bactriana, and in short all Central and
Eastern Asia. He thus proves himself to have
viewed these re<?ions in the manner natural to i"-.
norance, as a dim and indistinct mass, the features
of which were all blended together. He revives
the error of making the Caspian a gulf of the
Northern Ocean. In short, his age seems charac-
terized by the almost total extinction, in regard
to these remote regions, of the geographical lights
which had shone upon the age of Pliny and

Asia underwent now a new destiny. The
Arabs, under the standard of Mahomet and his
successors, diffused widely through it their new
religion, their language, and their literature.
These, by the empire which knowledge always
exercises over mankind, subdued the barbarous
conquerors who poured in from the north ; and
the greater part of Asia became Mahometan.
Arabic science under the Caliphs, though not
perhaps so extensive as it has sometimes been re-
presented, was undoubtedly superior to that of
Europe. A great share also of their knowledge
and activity was turned in the direction of com-
merce and geography. Notice has already been
taken in the first chapter, of the countries, rarely


or not at all visited by the Greeks and llomang,
to which their arms and commerce were extended.
Little remains to be added here, as their systems
consist rather of the detail of particular facts
than of general views or methodical arrangement.
They restored the correct outline of Asia, by
making it surrounded by an ocean, which, in the
case of China and the countries beyond India,
was doubtless founded upon accurate informa-
tion. In regard to the remoter extremities, we
may doubt whether it did not rest chiefly on the
renewed theory of a circumambient ocean, though
we have seen that some vague rumours had reach-
ed them respecting its frozen confines.

These informations, which were possessed by
the Arabian scholars, did not much avail the
learned of Europe. The complete difference of
language, and antipathy of religion, wholly ob-

Online LibraryHugh MurrayHistorical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 28 of 30)