Richard Henry Major.

India in the fifteenth century : being a collection of narratives of voyages to India, in the century preceeding the Portugese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope ; from Latin, Persian, Russian, and Italian sources, now first translated online

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Online LibraryRichard Henry MajorIndia in the fifteenth century : being a collection of narratives of voyages to India, in the century preceeding the Portugese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope ; from Latin, Persian, Russian, and Italian sources, now first translated → online text (page 1 of 18)
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K H. MAJOR, Eso., F.S.A.

'^/^'i- ' LONDON;





Hon. Mem. Imp. Ao»d. 8c 8t Petertburg, Ac., Ac, PaistDirt.

The Mabqdib of LAN8D0WNE.

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Rbab-Admibai. 8ir FRAMGI8 BEAUFORT, K.O.D., F.aS.


JOHN BRUCE, Esq., F.8.A.


Th« Right R«t. thb LORD BISHOP OF 8T. DAVID'S.


Rt. Hon. Sib DAVID, DUNDA8.

Sir henry ELLIS, K.H., F.R.8.


R W. GREY, Esq., M.P.



P. LEVE8QUE, Esq., P.8JL




Thb Rbt. W. WHEWELL, D.D.

R H. MAJOR, Esq., F.8.A., Hokorary Sbobbtart.



Nabbatitb or the Votaoe of Abd-sb-Razzak, Ambassador
from Shah Rukh, a.h. 845, a.d. 1442. Translated from the
Persian into French by M. Quatbembbb. Rendered into
English, with Notes, by R. H. Majob, Esq., F.S.A.

The Tbatels op Nicol6 Conti in the East in the eabit
FABT of THE FIFTEENTH Centttbt. Translated from the
original of Poooio Bbacciolini, with Notes, by J. Winteb
Jones, Esq., F.S.A., Keeper of the Printed Books, British

The Tbatels of AtBANAsitrs Nikitik, a native of Twer.
Translated from the Russian, with Notes, by Count Wiil-
HOBSKT, late Secretary of the Russian Ijegation at the Court
of St. James's.

"^^-^The Joubnbt Of HiEBOKiMo Di Santo Stbfano, a Genoese.
Translated, by R. H. Maxob, Esq., F.S.A.


The present collective volume has been produced by
the joint labours of three different persons, and hence^
in a great measure, has arisen the delay which has
taken place in its completion. In the first instance,
the translation of the interesting manuscript of Niki*
tin, procured for the Society from Moscow, through
the instrumentality of our president, Sir Roderick
I. Murchison, was undertaken by the late estimable
Count Wielhorsky, Secretary of the Russian Lega-
tion at the Court of St. James's, and by great good
fortune was completed by him before his recall. The
smallness of this document made it unfit to form a
separate work ; and it was thought that by bringing
together a collection of voyages in the seme century/
previously untranslated into English, an interesting
volume might be formed. Mr, Winter Jones, the

ii editor's frbfacs.

present Keeper of the Printed Books in the British
Museum, was requested to edit such a volume, which
he obligingly undertook to do, though with much
hesitation, in consequence of the increasing pressure
of his important duties in the Museum. After trans-
lating and annotating the voyage of Nicol6 de' Conti
and seeing it through the press, he felt compelled by
the claims of his present responsible position to give
up a task which he would otherwise gladly have
completed, but which he could not continue with
justice to the members of the Society or to himself.
In the spring of the present year, the Honorary
Secretary of the Society volunteered to complete what
Mr. Jones had left undone, a task which, although
laborious, has been performed under the advantage
of not having in any way to interfere with the
labours of his predecessor.

While thus called upon to refer to the contribu-
tors to this volume, the editor cannot deny himself
the satisfaction of recording in this place the fol-
lowing exalted testimony to the generous conduct of
his lamented friend. Count Wielhorsky, after his
return to Bussia. The following autograph letter


from the present Empress of Russia to the Count's
father, the Count Michel Wielhorskyj was published
in the Journal de St Peterihourg of the 3rd January,
1856, and its translation into English appeared in
The Times of the 12th of the same month.

" Count Michel Yourievitch, — Appreciating the generous Bcnli-
ment which led yout son to express the desire to go to the aid of
the suffering among our hrave soldiers wounded in the army of the
Crimea, I intrusted to him, in this sacred work, the accomplishment
of my views and intentions.

" Count Wielhorski Matuschkine completely justified my choice
and my confidence, hy wise measures and indefatigable activity,
which were joined, in the midst of incessant labours, to his
feelings of humanity and ardent zeal. Thousands of wounded
men, thousands of mourning families have blessed, and still bless,
the attentions, so full of humanity and Christian sentiment, which
your son lavished upon them. It gave me pleasure to think that,
on his return to St. Petersburg, I should have the heartfelt joy of
expressing to him my sincere gratitude for his arduous laboursi
and for haviiig so well divined my wishes and carried them out
with to much success. He had already worthily received a testi-
mony of the high satisfaction of His Majesty the Emperor, at the
period of his visit to the Crimea.

<( The Most High has otherwise ordained. It is with keen sorrow
that I have leitimed the premature and unexpected death of your
son. I appreciate the extent of your grief, and I am imable to
express the interest and sympathy with which it inspires me. One
consolation remains to your sorrow — it is the secret thought that
your son, in his short career, has known how to distinguish him-
self by a useful activity in the performance of his professional
duties, and that Divine Grace has granted him an end that every
Christian may envy.

^* Deprived of the satisfaction of expressing my thankfulness to


your toil himielf, it U in hit name and in remembrance of him that
I address myself to you. It was in the paternal house and in the
example of the family that he imbibed the principles which formed
the rule of his life, and which, after his death, will assure to his
memory to imperishable fame.

<' I remain, ever yours, very affectionately,


" St. PetcMburg, Dec. 26, 1865."

To those who knew Count Wielhorsky in Eng-
land the noble conduct thus feelingly appreciated
by the Empress will occasion no surprise ; while, by
those who did not, it is hoped that this testimony to
the worth of one, now gone, who obligingly rendered
his best services to our Society, will not be deemed

R. H. M.


Before the days when Alexander of Macedon sought
to add to his triumphs the conquest of the Eastern
world, India had been pronounced by Herodotus to
be the wealthiest and most populous country on the
face of the earth. The subsequent history of com-
merce has proved the correctness of his assertion.
Yet, though endowed with a soil and climate on
which nature has poured forth her choicest gifts
with the most partial profusion, and at the same time
boasting a civilisation even far beyond the limits
of authentic history, it is remarkable that India has
never been thoroughly explored till within the last
century. No era in the history of the explora-
tion of such a country can be without its interest^
but the period treated of ia the collection of docu-
ments which are here for the first time laid before
the English reader, claims a peculiarly honourable
place in the chain of our information respecting
it. It is true that it was no longer possible at that
period to speak, as Horace poetically did of old, of
the " intacti thesauri divitis Indise", yet the time had
not yet come when Vasco de Oaiha, by rounding the



Cape of Good Hope, had opened up a readier track
to that more active commerce, hy which these riches
should become the property of the whole western
world. The interest which attaches to these docu-
ments, however, will be best appreciated by our
taking a brief retrospect of the intercourse of the
West with India, and bringing under review the
earlier voyages ma'le to that country ; it being pre-
mised that the word India is here used in its most
extended sense, comprising India within and beyond
the Ganges, with the East Indian Islands.

I Although it is now well ascertained that In-
dia was the country from which the Phojnician
pilots of King Solomon's fleets " brought gold and
silver, ivory, apes and peacocks", inasmuch as the
original designations of these various importations
are not Hebrew but Sanscrit, yet even so late as the
days of Herodotus the knowledge of that country
was extremely limited. The earliest fact which he
has recorded respecting the intercourse of Indians
with other nations, is the conquest of the western
part of Hindostan by Darius I. He also states that
Indians served in tho Persian armies. The sway of
the Persians over that country was, however, but of
brief duration. With the conquest of Darius III by
Alexander, and the death of that prince in the year
330, A. c, the Persian empire ceased.

Alexander, in his famous expedition, when he had
reached the Hyphasis, or Gharra, one of the Hwe
great affluents of the Indus constituting the Punjab,
was compelled, by the discontent of his troops, to re-


linquish the design of advancing any further. To
this expedition, nevertheless, apparently so unsuc-
cessful, was due the commencement of that Indian
trade, which has subsequently proved of such vast
importance to Europe. The Macedonian conqueror,
by founding several cities on the branches of the
Indus, and by commissioning Nearchus to survey the
coasts from the mouth of the Indus to that of the
Tigris, laid open the means of a communication with
India both by land and by sea. It was evidently his
plan that the treasures of that country might thus be
carried through the Persian Gulf into the interior of
his Asiatic dominions, while by the Red Sea they
might be conveyed to Alexandria. The untimely
death of this great monarch, however, suddenly
arrested the prosecution of these grand conceptions.

The narratives which we have had handed down
to us respecting India, through a long series of ages,
have been mixed up largely with the fabulous. The
earliest dealer in these fictions was Megasthenes, who
was sent by Seleucus, one of the immediate successors
of Alexander, to negociate a peace with Sandracottus
[Chandra-gupta], an Indian prince ; Seleucus himself
being compelled to withdraw from India to encounter
Antigonus, his rival for the throne. Megasthenes was,
perhaps, the first European who had ever beheld the
Ganges. He dwelt for several years in Palibothra, on
the banks of that river, — a city supposed to have occu-
pied the site of the modern Fatna, — and afterwards
wrote an account of the country, which, though now
lost, has probably been transmitted to us pretty closely


in th0 narratives of Diodorue Siculus, Strabo, and Ar-
rian. Yet though his rainuter details seem— nay, in
many respects, are — totally undeserving of credit, his
geographical description of India may, curiously
enough, be commended for its accuracy. Moreover,
it is to Oncsicritus, one of the companions of Megas<-
thenes, that wo are indebted for the earliest account
of Ceylon or Taprobane. From him we first hear
of its trained elephants, its pearls, and its gold.

The development of the plans of Alexander was
not lost sight of under the enlightened government
of the Ptolemies. By the establishment of the port
of Berenice, on the Red Sea, goods brought from the
East were conveyed by caravans to Coptus on the
Nile, and hence to Alexandria. Thus Egypt became
the principal point of communication between India |
and Europe. I

Meanwhile the Persians, notoriously addicted to |
refined and effeminate luxuries, could by no means
dispense with the costly productions and elegant
manufactures of India. These people, however,
seem to have had an unconquerable aversion lo the
8ea,< — a ludicrous example ot which we have in the
singular instance of the voyage, now first rendered
into English in the following pages, of Abderrazzak,
the ambassador of Shah Rokh to the Court of Bij-
nagar. The droll pathos with which he bemoans
his sad lot in having to undergo so many hardships,
loses nothing from the florid exaggeration of oriental
hyperbole. But of this hereafter. The supply of
Indian commodities to the various provinces of Persia


was eiFected by camels, from the banks of the Indus
to those of the Oxus, down which river they were
conveyed to the Caspian, and thence circulated either
by land-carriage, or by the navigable rivers, through
the various parts of the country.
. It was the opinion of Major Rennell, an authority
always deserving to be listened to with deference, that
"under the Ptolemies the Egyptians extended their
navigations to the extreme points of the Indian con-
tinent, and even sailed up the Ganges to Palibothra";
and it is certain that Strabo, who wrote a little before
the commencement of the Christian sera, states that
some, though few, of the traders from the Red Sea
had reached the Ganges.

By this time, however, Rome had become the mis-
tress of Egypt,^ — the great highway of Indian maritime
commerce to the west, — and the luxurious and costly
articles which tliat distant country alone could furnish,
became necessary to feed the pleasures and maint'^in
the grandeur of an empire glutted to satiety with the
successes of conquest. It was about eighty years after
Egypt had been annexed to the Roman empire, — that
is, about the year a.d. 50, — that a discovery was made
of the greatest importance both to geography and
commerce. During the many voyages made by the
navigators of Egypt and Syria, it was scarcely possible
that the regular shiftihgs of the periodical winds, or
monsoons, blowing during one part of the year from
the east, and during the other from the west, could
have failed to be observed. It is by the author of thd
Periplui of the Erytkrean Sea (supposed to .be Arrian^


4;o whom we are indebted for the earliest mention of
the peninsula of the Deccan, and whose details are
remarkable for their correctness), that we are in-
formed' that Hippalus, the commander of a vessel
in the Indian trade, had the hardihood to stretch
out to sea from the mouth of the Arabian Gulf,
and practically tested the more theoretical observa- |
tions of his predecessors. His experiment was sue- |
cessful, and he found himself carried by the south- |
western monsoon to Musiris, a port on the coast of
Malabar, in all probability Mangalore. This bold
adventure gained for him the honour of having his
name attached to the wind by which he was enabled
to perform this novel voyage.

Pliny has very fully described to us the shortened
route thus gained. He says: "The subject is well
worthy of our notice, inasmuch as in no year does
India drain our empire of less than five hundred and
fifty millions of sesterces, giving back her. own wares
in exchange, which are sold at fully one hundred
times their prime cost." The sum here mentioned
may be computed at about £1,400,000 of our money.
The first point he mentions, from Alexandria, is Julio-
polis, which Mannert considers to be that suburb of
Alexandria called by Strabo Eleusis. From Julio-
polis to Coptos, on the Nile, is three hundred miles.
From Coptos to Berenice are noted various vBpevfiara^
or watering places, at which the travellers rested
during the day time, the greater part of the distance
being travelled by night, on account of the extreme
heat. The entire distance from Coptos to Berenice


occupied twelve days. The traces of several of these
vBpcvfiara were found by Belzoni, and the site of
Berenice, whose ruins still exist, was ascertained by
Moresby and Carless, at the bottom of the inlet known
as the Sinus Immundus, or Foul Bay. The distance
from Coptos was two hundred and fifty-seven miles.
The voyage from Berenice was generally commenced
before or immediately after the rising of the Dog-
Star, and thirty days brought them to Ocelis, now
called Gehla, a harbour at the south-western point of
Arabia Felix, or else to Cave, which D'Anville iden*
tifies with Cava Canim Bay, near Mount Hissan
Ghorib, at the foot of which ruins are still to be seen.
Pliny states that Ocelis was the best place for em-
barkation, and if Hippalus^ or the west wind, were
blowing, it was possible to reach Musiris, to which
we have already referred, in forty days. He describes
this place, however, as dangerous for disembarcation,
on account of the pirates which frequent the neigh-
bourhood, and as the roadstead was at a considerable
distance from the shore, cargoes had to be conveyed
thither in boats. A much more convenient port was
Barace, to which pepper was conveyed, in boats JioU
lowed out of a single tree, from Cottonara, the Cot-
tiara of Ptolemy, supposed to be either Calicut of

In the present advanced stage of our acquaintance
with India, we are accustomed to receive from that
country, in large supply, a vast variety of important
articles, such as cotton, silk, wool, gums, spices, indigoi
hnd coffee. In the days of which we write, conimerc^


was confined to commodities more immediately meet-
ing the requirements of the most luxurious subjects of
a verv luxurious kingdom. The importations at that
time consisted mainly of precious stones and pearls,
spices and silk. Diamonds and pearls, which history
tells us were so much in demand amongst the Romans,
were principally supplied from India. Spices, such as
frankincense, cassia, and cinnamon, were largely used,
not only in their religious worship, but in burning
the bodies of the dead ; and silk, at that time de-
rived alone from India, was sought for eagerly by the
wealthiest Roman ladies, and so late as the time of
Aurelian, in the later half of the third century of
our era, was valued at its weight in gold.

The great geographer Ptolemy, who wrote at the
commencement of the second century, describes the
peninsula of India with far less accuracy than Arrian,
who wrote but shortly after him and in the same
century, and who correctly represented it as extend-
ing from north to south, while Ptolemy commits the
egregious error of making the coast line run nearly
west and east, the mouths of the Ganges being re- |
moved sufficiently eastward to allow room for the
insertion of the numerous names of places of which
he had gained information. The abundance of topo-
graphical information, for which his writings are
remarkable, was due to the great extension which
commercial intercourse had received in the century
immediately preceding, and to the facility which his •
residence in Alexandria, the centre of a large propor-
tion of the commerce of the day, afforded him of


consulting the itineraries of various merchants. He
was, in short, the Ilakluyt of that day. He first
acquaints us with the names of six different mouths
of the Ganges, and describes their positions. He de-
lineates, with great inaccuracy as to its general form,
but with wonderful copiousness of detail as to the
names of towns, rivers, and headlands, that part of
India which lies beyond the Ganges. His Aurea
Chersonesus has been shown by D'Anville to be the
Malay Peninsula, and his Sin-hoa, the western part
of the kingdom of Cochin China.

We have already spoken of the trade which had
long before been opened into the interior of Persia,
and to the countries bordering on the Caspian and
Black Sea by land carriage through the provinces
that stretch along the northern frontier of India. Of
the distant inland regions thus traversed Ptolemy
was enabled to gain some general information, though
the inaccuracy of his geographical delineations throws
great obscurity over the identification of most of the
points he lays down.

From the age of Ptolemy until the reign of the
Emperor Justinian but small addition was made to
geographical knowledge concerning India. That the
communication between the east and west in the
fourth century was tolerably frequent and regular, may
be gathered from the language of Ammianus Marcelli-
nus, who, wishing to pay homage to the memory of the
Emperor Julian, says that on the first rumour of his
accession to the throne, deputations came from the
farthest east to congratulate him. His words are;



** Inde nationibus Indicis certatim cum donis opti-
mates mittentibus ante tempus abusque Divis et
Serendivis. (Lib. 22, cap. vii.)

Aft^r the partition of the Roman empire, the inter-
course between Rome and India by way of the Red
Sea began to decline ; but while the Greek empire flou-
rished, Constantinople was the centre of commerce be-
tween Asia and Europe. The caravans came by Can-
dahar into Persia, but through Egypt especially the
Greeks received an enormous quantity of the costly
products of the East. This latter channel of com-
merce, however, was doomed to receive an almost
fatal blow under the following circumstances. The
Persians, who, as we have already said, had in earlier
times manifested an extreme dislike to maritime com-
merce, began, after the subversion of the Parthian
empire, to entertain a more reasonable notion of its
importance and value. Having learned from the
small Indian traders who frequented the various
ports in the Persian Gulf, with what safety and
rapidity the voyage from thence to Malabar and
Ceylon might be performed, they fitted out vessels
which made this voyage annually, and thus, in ex-
change for specie and some of the commodities of
their own country, they brought home not only the
costly products of India, but also those of China,
which they were enabled to procure at Ceylon. By
this channel the luxurious inhabitants of Constan-
tinople were furnished in large abundance with the
manufactures of Hindustan ; and by this means, in
conjunction with other causes, the Egyptian trade'


was subjected to a depression almost amounting to

The success of the Persians in their commerce with
India, which was mainly due to the advantages of
their physical situation, increased to such an extent,
that at length the whole of the silk trade, which
from time immemorial had been imported into Ceylon
from China, fell into their hands. As at the same
time the frequent wars between the Persians and the
Imperial government of Constantinople afforded the
former a pretext for seizing the caravans by which
the manufactures of China were conveyed through
Tartary into Greece, it followed that the Greeks
were obliged to purchase from their enemies at an
exorbitant rate all those valuable commodities of the
East, which had now become to them almost a neces-
sity. The Emperor Justinian, after making some
fruitless efforts to rescue the commerce of his subjects
from the exactions of the Persians, had the satisfac-
tion of seeing his wish partially gratified by the
occurrence of a curious and unexpected circumstance.
Two monks of the Nestorian persuasion, who had
been sent as missionaries to India and China, and
had during their residence in the latter country
acquired a knowledge of the methods not only of
training the silkworm, but of inanufecturing silk into
those beautiful fabrics that were so much admired
in Europe, returned to Constantinople and imparted
to Justinian the important discovery which they had
made. The emperor encouraged them to go out
again to China, itnd in the course of a few years tht


moiiks returned from their mission, bringing with
them the eggs of the silkworm concealed in a hollow
cane. , They were hatched by the heat of a dunghill,
and fed with the leaves of the mulberry. They multi-
plied rapidly, and extensive silk manufactures wore
soon established in the Peloponnesus and in some of
the Greek Islands, The subjects of the Greek empe-
rors wore no longer indebted to the Persians for their
silks : ev^n Chinese silks underwent a temporary de-
preciation in the European markets, and thus an
important change was effected in the commercial

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Online LibraryRichard Henry MajorIndia in the fifteenth century : being a collection of narratives of voyages to India, in the century preceeding the Portugese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope ; from Latin, Persian, Russian, and Italian sources, now first translated → online text (page 1 of 18)