Lodovico de Varthema.

The travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508 online

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the south, and so arrived at the city of Pego.

1 See note 1 on p. 206 ante.



The city of Pego is on the mainland, and is near to the
sea. On the left hand of this, that is, towards the east, there

1 In chapter viii. of his Narrative of a Mission to the Court of Ava,
Colonel Yule has arranged in chronological order a valuable collection
of Notes on the Intercourse of the Burmese countries with Western nations
up to the i)eace of Yandabo, comprising all the information available re-
specting Pegu and the adjacent kingdoms at this period. These notes,
with his own interspersed commentary, form the most authentic history of
those kingdoms extant, and the four sketch maps representing the his-
torical geography of the Burmese countries at several epochs, convey at
a glance the principal political and territorial changes which have suc-
cessively taken place in that empire since a.d. 1500. With regard to
the map illustrative of that date, I perceive that Tavoy is apparently
described as an independent state embracing the entire seabord between
the tenth and fifteenth degrees of latitude, whereas in a preceding note
on pp. 197-8, I have implied that Tenasserim, which is included within
those limits, was the principal kingdom on that part of the coast at
the period indicated, but subordinate, nevertheless, to the suzerainty of
Siam. (Towards the end of that century Tenasserim became tributary
to Pegu, and a few years later, cir. a.d. 1619, judging from the extract
quoted from Master William Methold's Relations of the King dome of
Golchonda, and other Neighbouring Nations within the Gulf of Bengode,
in the note last referred to, it appears to have reverted, for a time at
least, to the authority of Siam.) I notice this discrepancy rather by
way of suggesting a doubt as to the correctness of my own inference,
than with the idea of questioning the accuracy of my learned friend
Colonel Yule.

The following chapter from the Geography of Patavino, evidently
compiled from the travels of Nicolo de' Conti, Varthema, Ceesar Frede-
ricke, and the best authorities who succeeded them, contains so admira-
ble an account of Pegu at the date when the work was published (1597),
and when the kingdom was at the zenith of its glory, that I deem it
worthy of quotation in full : — " PEGU regnum occupat littoris spatium
300 milliarium iuxta Occidentalem oram sinus Bengalici, ab urbe scilicet
Tauay ad caput usque Nigraes ; in Mediterraneis vero valde extenditur.
Optimos habet portus, ex quibus pra;cipuus est Martabane, in quo one-
rantur circiter 40 naues ex oryza, qute in insulam Sumatram compor-
tantur. Ager huius regni pinguis ac fertilissimus est, et rei frumentarite
ut plurimum admodum accommodus ; animalia innumera nutrit, inter


is a very beautiful river, by which many ships go and come. 1
The king of this city is a Pagan. Their faith, customs,
manner of living and dress, are after the manner of Tarnas-
sari ; but with respect to their colour, they are somewhat
more white. And here, also, the air is somewhat more cold.
Their seasons are like ours. This city is walled, and has

qua; sunt equi pusilli, ad ferendurn tamen idonei, quorum ingens est
numerus, sicut etiam eliphantorum, qui in altissimis quibusdam montibus
capiuntur, ac ad belli usum adseruantur. Psittaci etiam vocaliores quam
usquam alibi, et pulchriores reperiuntur, atque etiam feles, qui zibettum
gignunt : arundines hie excrescunt ad crassitiem unius dolij : nascuntur
quoque hie rubini. Unde regnum ipsum opulentissimum est et merca-
toribus frequentissimum, qui commercijs plurimum operam nauant, et
in ipsis portubus plures sunt mercatores Mauri ac gentiles. Deferunt
autem ex hoc Regno ad Malacam oryzam, laccam, beuzuinum, museum,
lapillos preciosos, argentum, batyrum, oleum, sal, cepas, et alia huius
generis comestibilia : contra vero ex Malaca istuc ferunt porcellanas,
colores, argentum vivum, a?s, cinnabarim, Damascumrloribus contextum,
stannum, et alia. Ciuitas Regia est PEGU, clarissima totius India;,
moenibus munita, et sedibus elegantissimus ornata, qua; a mari ciciter 25
milliaribus abest, quam fluuius eiusdem nominis maximus abluit, qua;
etiam per totum regnum percurrens intumescit interdum aded, ut mag-
num terra? tradum inundet : unde ab hoc incola? oryzam copiosissiine
colligunt. Pra;ter hanc sunt insignes Tauay, Martabane, et Losmin
emporium celebre. Sunt autem Peguini mediocris statura;, magis ad
crassitiem accedentes, agiles, et viribus pra;diti, ad bellum tamen inepti :
nudi incedunt pra;ter pudenda, capita tegunt albicantis pannis ad instar
mitra; : luxuria; prasterea valde dediti sunt, qui in mulierum gratiam ad
virile membrum tintinabula aurea vel argentea appensa gestant ut sonum
reddant dum per ciuitatem deambulant. Sunt verd super mortales
omnes superstitiosissimi, et vanissimas habent circa religionem opiniones,
ac ab omni veritate alienas. Rex PEGU multa hodie possidit regna,
nempe Tangu, Prom, Melintay, Calam, Bacam, Mvrandil, Aica, Brema
[Burmah ?] ad Septentrionem exposita ; deinde regnum Siam, et portus
Martabance ac Ternasseri, et Aracam, ac Mucin regna : et appellari
quoque consueuit a scriptoribus nonnullis Rex Brema;, seu Barinse." p.

1 Symes says : " The Pegue river is called by the natives Bagoo
Kioup, or Pegue rivulet, to distinguish it from Mioup, or river. It is
navigable but a very few miles to the northward of the city of Pegue,
and for this it is indebted wholly to the action of the tide." Pinker-
ton, vol. ix., p. 446.


good houses and palaces built of stone, with lime. 1 The
king is extremely powerful in men, both foot and horse,
and has with him more than a thousand Christians of the
country which has been above mentioned to you. 2 And he

1 So Ralph Fitch eighty years after Varthema :— " Pegu is a city very
great, strong, and very fair, with walls of stone, and great ditches round
about it. There are two towns, the old and the new. In the old town
are all the merchants strangers, and very many merchants of the coun-
try. All the goods are sold in the old town, which is very great, and
hath many suburbs round about it, and all the houses are made of canes,
which they call bambos, and are covered with straw." {Id., pp. 416-7.)
Symes says : " The extent of ancient Pegue may still be accurately
traced by the ruins of the ditch and wall that surrounded it : from this
it appears to have been a quadrangle, each side measuring nearly a mile
and a half. In several places the ditch is filled up with rubbish that has
been cast into it, and the falling of its own banks ; sufficient, however,
still remains to show that it was no contemptible defence." He de-
scribes the streets of the new town as well paved with the bricks brought
from the old city, but all the houses of the former as being made of
mats, or sheathing boards, supported on bamboos or posts, " the king
having prohibited the use of brick or stone in private buildings, from
the apprehension that if people got leave to build brick houses, they
might erect brick fortifications." Id., pp. 436-8.

2 We have Colonel Yule's authority for believing that Armenians,
who were most probably petty merchants like their representatives there
at the present day, have long frequented the Burmese court and capital ;
but the existence of a regiment of Armenians or Nestorians in the service
of an Indian potentate at this period may be set down as a fable, and I
read of no native Christians in Pegu prior to the advent of the Portu-
guese a few years later. Conti, who visited several parts of the country
in 1444, states that the people turned towards the East every morning,
and with clasped hands said : " God in Trinity and His Law defend us !"
Varthema probably heard that a similar belief was professed by a por-
tion of the Pegu army, and forthwith christianized them. Yule makes
the following remark on the Burmese prayer above quoted : — " This,
which at first sight looks like fiction, is really an evidence of Conti's
veracity. He had doubtless heard of the ' Three Precious Ones,' the
Triad of Buddha, Dharma, and Sang a, the Buddha, the Law, and the
Clergy." And he adds in a foot-note, that " in a letter which the King of
Ava wrote to the Governor-General of India, in 1830, his majesty speaks
of his ' observing the three objects of worship, namely, God, his Pre-
cepts, and his Attendants or Priests.' " Mission to the Court of Ava,
p. 208.


gives to each, for pay, six golden pardai per month and his
expenses. In this country there is a great abundance of
grain, of flesh of every kind, and of fruits of the same as at
Calicut. These people have not many elephants, but they
possess great numbers of all other animals ; they also have
all the kinds of birds which are found at Calicut. But there
are here the most beautiful and the best parrots I had ever
seen. Timber grows here in great quantities, long, and I
think the thickest that can possibly be found. In like
manner I do not know if there can be found in the world
such thick canes as I found here, of which I saw some which
were really as thick as a barrel. Civet-cats are found in
this country in great numbers, three or four of which are
sold for a ducat. The sole merchandise of these people is
jewels, that is, rubies, which come from another city called
Capellan, 1 which is distant from this thirty days' journey ; not
that I have seen it, but by what I have heard from mer-
chants. You must know that in the said city, a large
pearl and diamond are worth more here than with us, and
also an emerald. When we arrived in this country, the
king was fifteen days' journey distant, fighting with another
who was called king of Ava. 2 Seeing this, we determined to

1 Fitch mentions the same locality : — "Caplan is the place where they
find the rubies, saphires, and the spinelles: it standeth six days' journey
from Ava, in the kingdom of Pegu. There are many great hills out of
which they dig them." _(Pinkerton, vol. ix. p. 421.) Tavernier, " that
rambling jeweller, who had read nothing, but had seen so much and so
well," as Gibbon describes him, has the following on the same subject : —
" There are but two places in the east in which coloured stones are
found, that is, the kingdom of Pegu and the island of Ceylon. The first
is a mountain about a dozen days' journey from Siren [Sirian], on the
north-east, and is called Capelan. This is the mine which produces the
greatest quantity of rubies and spinels, otherwise called the mother of
rubies, yellow topazes, jacinths, amethysts, and other stones of different
colours." Id. vol. viii. p. 250.

2 Pegu was also at war with Ava when visited hy Hieronimo di San
Stephano in 1496. In 1544, and again in 1552, it was subjected by the
neighbouring King of Toungoo, called by Portuguese writers " King of


go and find the king where he was, in order to give him
these corals. And so we departed thence in a ship made all
of one piece, 1 and more than fifteen or sixteen paces long.
The oars of this vessel were made of cane. Understand well
in what manner : where the oar takes the water it was cloven,
and they insert a flat piece of board fastened by cords, so
that the said vessel went with more power than a brigantine.
The mast of it was a cane as thick as a barrel where they
put in the provisions. In three days we arrived at a village
where we found certain merchants, who had not been able
to enter into the said city of Ava on account of the war.
Hearing this, we returned with them to Pego, and five days
afterwards the king returned to the said city, who had
gained a very great victory over his enemy. On the second
day after the return of the king, our Christian companions
took us to speak with him.


Do not imagine that the king of Pego enjoys as great a
reputation as the king of Calicut, although he is so humane
and domestic that an infant might speak to him, and he

the Burraas," who extended his conquests over Ava, Magoung, Jan-
gornai (Zinime), the west of Yunan, and other adjoining states. This
monarch appears to have been still on the throne when Caesar Fredericke
was at Pegu in 1586, and the extract from Patavino's Geography, quoted
on pp. 215-6, gives an apparently authentic account of the different de-
pendencies of the kingdom towards the end of that century. About that
time, however, the empire began to decline, and its fall was as rapid as
its rise : in 1600, Pegu was besieged by the kings of Aracan and
Toungoo, and its sovereign put to death ; and thirteen years later the
King of Ava was crowned at Pegu, from which period may be dated the
dominance of the Avan monarchy over the lower provinces. See Yule's
Narrative of a Mission to the Court of Ava, pp. 208-213.

1 The fj.ovoi,v\a of the author of the Periplus. See Vincent's Com.
and Nav. of the Ancients, vol. ii. p. 521.


wears more rubies on him than the value of a very large
city, and he wears them on all his toes. And on his legs he
wears certain great rings of gold, all fall of the most beau-
tiful rubies ; also his arms and his fingers all full. His ears
hang down half a palm, through the great weight of the
many jewels he wears there, so that seeing the person of the
king by a light at night, he shines so much that he appears
to be a sun. 1 The said Christians spoke with him, and told
him of our merchandise. The king replied : " That we
should return to him the clay after the next, because on the
next day he had to sacrifice to the devil for the victory
which he had gained." When the time mentioned was past,
the king, as soon as he had eaten, sent for the said Chris-
tians, and for my companion, in order that he might carry to
him his merchandise. When the king saw such beautiful
corals he was quite astonished and greatly pleased; for, in
truth, among the other corals there were two branches, the
like of which had never before entered India. This king
asked what people we were. The Christians answered :
" Sir, these are Persians." Said the king to the interpreter :
" Ask them if they are willing to sell these things." My
companions answered : " That the articles were at the service
of his highness." Then the king began to say : " That he had
been at war with the king of Ava for two years, and on that

1 Both Gasparo Balbi and Ralph Fitch describe the richness of the
King of Pegu's dress and the splendour of his court retinue in their
time. The former saw him start on a war expedition against the King
of Ava "all over covered with gold and jewels ;" and the latter says :
" When the king rideth abroad, he rideth with a great guard, and many
noblemen, often on an elephant with a fine castle upon him, very fairly
gilded with gold, and sometimes in a great frame like a horse litter,
which hath a little house upon it covered overhead, but open on the sides,
which is all gilded with gold, and set with many rubies and saphires,
whereof he hath infinite store in his country, and is carried on sixteen
or eighteen men's shoulders.... He hath also houses full of gold and silver,
and bringing in often, but spendeth very little.'''' Pikkerton, vol. ix.
pp. 404, 418.


account he had no money ; but that if we were willing to
barter for so many rubies, he would amply satisfy us." We
caused him to be. told by these Christians that we desired
nothing further from him than his friendship, — that he
should take the commodities and do whatever he pleased. 1
The Christians repeated to him what my companion had
charged them to say, by telling the king that he might take
the corals without money or jewels. He hearing this liberality
answered : " I know that the Persians are very liberal, but
I never saAV one so liberal as this man;" and he swore by
God and by the devil that he would see which would be the
more liberal, he or a Persian. And then he desired one of
his confidential servants to bring him a certain little box
which was two palms in length, worked all round in gold,
and was full of rubies, within and without. And when he
had opened it, there were six separate divisions, all full of
different rubies ; and he placed it before us, telling us we
should take what we wished. My companion answered :
" O, sir, you show me so much kindness, that by the faith
which I bear to Mahomet I make you a present of all these
things. And know, sir, that I do not travel about the world
to collect property, but only to see different people and dif-
ferent customs." The king answered : " I cannot conquer
you in liberality, but take this which I give you." And so
he took a good handful of rubies from each of the divisions
of the said casket, and gave them to him. These rubies
might be about two hundred, and in giving them he said :
" Take these for the liberality you have exercised towards

1 A thoroughly oriental way of driving a good bargain, though ex-
tensively copied by tradesmen on the continent of Europe. The artifice
is as old as the days of Abraham, who was a long time in getting the
children of Heth to name the price of Machpelah. At length Ephron,
overcoming his modesty, ventured to say : " My lord, the land is worth
four hundred shekels of silver," (which was most probably ten times its
value,) but politely added ; " What is that betwixt me and thee 1 "
Genesis, chap, xxiii.



me." And in like manner he gave to the said Christians
two rubies each, which were estimated at a thousand ducats,
and those of my companions were estimated at about one
hundred thousand ducats. Wherefore by .this he may be
considered to be the most liberal king in the world, and
every year he has an income of about one million in gold.
And this because in his country there is found much lacca, 1
a good deal of sandal-wood, very much brazil-wood, cotton
and silk 2 in great quantities, and he gives all his income to
his soldiers. The people in this country are very sensual.
After some days, the said Christians took leave for them-
selves and for us. The king ordered a room to be given to
us, furnished with all that was requisite for so long as we
wished to remain there ; and so it was done. We remained
in the said room five days. At this time there arrived news
that the king of Ava was coming with a great army to make
war upon him, on hearing which, this one [of Pego] went to
meet him half way with a great many men, horse and foot.
The next day we saw two women burnt alive voluntarily,
in the manner as I have described it in Tarnassari.

1 This I take to be the colouring matter produced by the lac insect, or
coccus ficus, which is abundaut throughout the Burmese provinces. Bar-
bosa speaks of it as one of the principal exports from Martaban, and
says that the Indians and Persians called it Laco Martabani. He does
not seem, however, to have been aware how it was produced : — " They
say this lacca is the gum of trees ; others state that it is produced on the
branches of trees, just as the grane grow in our parts, and this account
seems more natural and probable. They carry it in small vases, because
they may not gather too much of it." (Ramusio, vol. i. p. 317.) Alberti,
in his definition of grane, says : — " Sono coccole d'un albero, simili quasi
alle coccole dell' ellera, colle quali si tingono i panni in rosso o paonazzo
ed e preziosa tinta. Oggidi si potrebbe anche dire CochenUle" The early
Italian travellers appear to have used the same word, lacca, to describe
both the lac and the lacca-wood.

2 See note 1 on p. 198 ante.





The next clay we embarked on board a ship and went to
a city called Melacha, 1 which is situated towards the west,
at which we arrived in eight days. Near to the said city we
found an extremely great fiumara, as large as any we had
ever seen, which they call Gaza, 2 which is evidently more
than twenty-five miles wide. And opposite to the said river
there is a very large island, which is called Sumatra. The
inhabitants of it say that the circumference of it is four
thousand five hundred miles. I will tell you about the said
island at the proper time. When we had arrived at the city
of Melacha, we were immediately presented to the Sultan,
who is a Moor, as is also all his kingdom. 3 The said city is

1 Malacca, or, more correctly, Malaca, the well-known town on the
western side of the Malay peninsula. Our traveller was the first to
make Europe acquainted with its name and situation.

2 By " fiumara" Varthema undoubtedly means the Straits, which are
about twenty-five miles broad opposite Malacca. " Gaza," I take to be
a contraction of Boghdz, the Arabic for a strait. The Arabs of the
present day use the same word to denote the passage between the island
of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula, calling it Boghdz Malaca, or
Boghdz Singafura. I notice that Crawfurd, in his Descriptive Diction-
ary, sub voce Archipelago, remarks that Varthema underrates the
breadth of the Strait ; but he quotes our traveller from Bamusio as de-
scribing the fiumara to be only " about fifteen miles broad." (Id. sub
voce Malacca Straits.) Crawfurd himself says in one place, that the
town of Malacca is " washed by the Straits which bear its name, and
which are here about five-and-twenty miles broad ;" and in another, that
" the town of Malacca is distant from the nearest shore of Sumatra
about forty-five miles," (Id. 'sub voce Malacca, pp. 238, 249;) the ap-
pi'oximate measurements being apparently given, in the one case, between
Malacca and the island of Pvupat directly opposite, and in the other
between Malacca and the mainland of Sumatra.

3 " Of the time in which the Muhammedan religion was embraced by
the people of Malacca, there is no precise statement. The Malay ac-
count assigns the event to the reign of a prince called Sultan Muhani-


on the mainland and pays tribute to the king of Cini, 1 who
caused this place to be built about eighty years ago, because
there is a good port there, which is the principal port of the
main ocean. And, truly I believe, that more ships arrive
here than in any other place in the world, 3 and especially
there come here all sorts of spices and an immense quantity

raed Shah, who ascended the throne in 1276... The statement of De
Barros respecting the conversion is as follows : — ' The greatness of
Malacca induced the kings who followed Xaquem Darsa [Sekandar
Shah,] to throw off their dependency on the kings of Siam, and this
chiefly, since the time when induced by the Persians and Gujrati Moors,
who came to Malacca and resided there, for the purpose of trade, from
Gentiles to become converts to the sect of Muhammed.' " Crawfurd's
Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands, etc., p. 245.

- If by Cini is meant Siam, the statement is corroborated, generally,
by the learned researches of Mr. Crawfurd, who writes : — " The subjec-
tion of Malacca to Siam seems, indeed, to be admitted by all parties.
Four of the most northerly of the States of the Peninsula are still subject
to it ; while a claim of supremacy is made for, at least, three more.
The author of the Commentaries of Albuquerque, giving a greater ex-
tension to Malacca than De Barros, thus describes it and its subjection
to Siam : — ' The kingdom of Malacca on one side borders on Queda; and
on the other, Pam [Pahang]. It has one hundred leagues of coast, and
inland extends to a chain of mountains where it is parted from Siam,
a breadth of ten leagues. All this land was anciently subject to Siam.'"
Id., p. 244-5.

" The port is an open road, but, notwithstanding, safe at all seasons,
not being within the latitude of hurricanes, nor within the influence of
either monsoons ; or, as the Commentaries of Albuquerque express it : —
' it is the beginning of one monsoon, and the end of another.' " Id.,
p. 249.

2 " The flourishing condition of Malacca, at the time it was attacked
by the Portuguese, [five years after Varthema's visit,] has no doubt been
much exaggerated ; but making every abatement, enough will remain
to show that it was a place of considerable commercial importance,
judging it by the ideas of the beginning of the 16th century, and by
the peculiar value then attached to some of the commodities of which
its trade consisted. ' In matters of trade,' says De Barros, ' the people

Online LibraryLodovico de VarthemaThe travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508 → online text (page 31 of 41)