Plinio’s Description of “Taprobane”

Piero Perondi, whose chosen title was “THE SPLENDID TAPROBANE ALIAS SRI LANKA””

The main ancient source on Taprobane is the Roman historian Plinio the Old, in his manuscript “Natural History”, which does not fail to briefly retrace the testimonies of previous authors. He states that only in the time of Alexander the Great was it made clear that Taprobane was an island; before it was considered almost another world, the “land of the Antichthone ” (i.e. the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere).

Megasthenes claimed that the island was divided in two by a river and that its
inhabitants were richer in gold and large pearls than the Indians. Eratosthenes gave 7000×5000 stadiums as measurements (1 Alexandrian stadium ≈ 185 meters), and asserted that there were no cities but 750 villages.

According to an already old opinion at the time of Plinio, Taprobane was 20
days of navigation from the Prasi region (lower course of the Ganges), but
later the distance was estimated at only 7 days of navigation.
The sea between the island and India was deep “no more than six paces
deep,” although in places the sea was so deep that the anchor did not touch
the bottom.
Plinio also reports other information, obtained from an embassy from the
island that arrived in Rome at the time of the emperor Claudius, (10ac, 54ac)
led by a certain "Rachia" (perhaps a Latin rendering of the title of rajà).
Some time before a freedman of Annius Plocamos (tax collector in the Red
Sea area for Rome), while sailing off Arabia, had been caught in a storm and
after 15 days of navigation, driven by the north-east wind, had landed at the
port of Ippuri in Taprobane. The king had welcomed him and, once he
learned of the existence of the Romans and their great Civilization, he had
sent ambassadors to establish relations with them.

The ambassadors explained that there were 500 cities on the island, the most
important of which was Palesimundo, which housed the royal palace, had a
port facing south and had a whopping 200,000 inhabitants. Inside the island
was the lake of Megisba, with a circumference of 375 miles (1 Roman mile ≈
1480 meters) and internal islands rich in pastures; two rivers arose from the
lake: the Cidara, which flowed north, and the Palesimundo, 15 stadia wide at
its widest point, which reached the port of the city of the same name and
flowed into the sea through three channels.

The promontory of India closest to Taprobane was called Coliaco and was
located 4 days ' navigation away; midway was the Isle of the Sun. The coast of the island southeast of India measured 10,000 stadia.  During the holidays, the population dedicated themselves to hunting, especially tigers and elephants; fishing for tortoises was also practiced, whose shells were so large that they could cover the roofs of houses (!).
There were many cultivated fields, but no vineyards. Gold and silver were of
great value, but pearls, gems and “a type of marble whose appearance
resembles that of a tortoise shel”l were also highly prized.
Pliny also reports that the ambassadors "were amazed at the Ursa Major and the Pleiades, as if they were under a completely new sky… But the thing that amazed them most was that their shadows fell to the north and not to the
south and that the sun would rise on the left and set on the right instead of
doing the opposite”.


1°) La Misteriosa Isola di Taprobane, by "Il Merlo Bianco"
2°)  Image of the Map is part of my collection of ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka) (No Copyright): ……….. The most famous islands in the world described by;Tommaso Porcacchi;, engraved in etching by the Paduan Girolamo Porro and printed in Venice by Simone Galignani in the MDLXXVI (1576)


Leave a comment

Filed under ancient civilisations, art & allure bewitching, cultural transmission, education, heritage, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, literary achievements, politIcal discourse, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, the imaginary and the real, travelogue, unusual people, world affairs

Leave a Reply