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KERALA - THE EGYPTIAN CONNECTION

Jee Francis Therattil

Numismatic evidences for the overseas contacts prior to the hey-days are not reported from anywhere in Kerala. The find of a coin from Trivandrum, which narrowly escaped the melting pot of a goldsmith turned to be much relevant in this context. Coin is made up of fine gold weighing 27.570g and has a diameter of 30mm.

This unusually big coin had been identified as an issue of Ptolemy II [Philadelphos], who ruled Egypt from 285BC to 246BC.1 Obverse displays diademed and draped bust of Ptolemy II, conjoined with diademed and veiled bust of Arsinoe II and a Gallic shield behind in addition to the Greek script [adelfwn meaning siblings] aligned horizontally at the top.

Obverse of the coin Page 1 of 8

Reverse displays diademed and draped bust of Ptolemy I [Soter], conjoined with diademed and veiled bust of Berenike I in addition to the Greek script [qewn meaning Gods] aligned horizontally at the top. All the busts are facing to the right side of the coin. Busts, as well as the script, on both sides are enclosed in a circle of dots for which the blank is much larger, leaving ample space all around. This Oktadrahm [Octadrahm - value of eight Drahms] is believed to have originated from the mint at Alexandria [capital of Egypt] after 265 BC.

Reverse of the coin. Ptolemy II, born in Cos on January 29, 309 BC2 as the son of Ptolemy I and Berenike I, married Arsinoe I and later Arsinoe II, his full-sister, by an Egyptian custom abhorrent to Greek morality.3 The Ptolemaic empire reached its greatest extent during his reign. Building activity was concentrated on Alexandria; the lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was finished during his reign, and he, rather than Ptolemy I, may have been the patron behind the establishment of the Mouseion and its library. The king founded a chain of harbour towns along the Red Sea coast, supporting trade with India and Arabia.4 The port at Berenike was founded by Ptolemy II, who named it after his mother.5 Ptolemy II tried to bring trade through the canal of Sesostris connecting the Gulf of Suez with the Nile and founded the port of Arsinoe [Suez] at its outlet to the sea. But this had to be abandoned owing to the difficult navigation through the Heropoolite Gulf6, which caused merchants to prefer Leuke Kome or Aelana, both linked with Petra and not with the Nile valley. Then he founded Berenike, which is linked with Coptos on the Nile. In Page 2 of 8

247BC he founded Myos Hormos, 180 miles north of Berenike, with safer harbour and a shorter journey to Coptos. But the Red Sea also had its difficulties as it was infested with pirates until Ptolemy III [Euergetes] [246 - 221 BC] stationed a fleet there to put down piracy.7 Ptolemy II is referred to in the 13th Rock Edict of Asoka as Thuramaya. Black peppercorns were found lodged in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of his mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BC. Little else is known about the use of pepper in ancient Egypt, nor how it reached the Nile. Pepper (both long and black) was known in Greece at least as early as the 4th century BC, though it was probably an uncommon and expensive item that only the very rich could afford.8 Nearchus knew that he had to wait for the northeast monsoon to make the voyage from India homewards several centuries before Hippalus.9 Eudoxus had sailed to India sometime in the third quarter of the second century BC, the route being shown him by a shipwrecked Indian seaman found near the entrance to the Red Sea.10 Several copper coins belonging to Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Macedonia, Crete, Rhodes and Thrace dating back to 3rd century BC had been reported from Karur11, but not any silver or gold ones. As these coins are in a highly worn-out condition, these may be a part of later imports for the sake of copper as metal. Dio wrote that following the death of Caligula, the Senate demonetized his coinage, and ordered that they be melted. The philosopher Epictetus wrote: Whose image does this Sestertius carry? Trajans? Give it to me. Neros? Throw it away, it is unacceptable, it is rotten. These statements justify that even in those times, coins became obsolete after some period and then it will be just as good as a piece of metal even if the condition of the coin is fine. Despite many stray finds, head-loads12 of Roman gold [Aureus13a] and silver [Denarius13b] coins have surfaced as hoards. In 1983, a hoard6 of about a thousand Aurei [plural of Aureus] was discovered at Valluvally [Paravoor Taluk, Ernakulam Dist.]. It is noteworthy that the coins, which were of a great quantity is in the first place among the imported items of merchandise cited in Periplus Maris Erythraei. This confirms the payment in large volume of coins for the value of the merchandise bought in excess of the merchandise sold. No wonder Pliny grieved that India absorbed no less than fifty million Sesterces14 of the Roman Empires wealth every year.15 The find from Vaaniyankadavu [near Kannur], in 1847, of Roman mint-fresh Aurei consisted of not less than five coolyloads, estimated to be about 8,000 pieces!16 This inclusion of coins amongst the imported items of merchandise in Periplus Maris Erythraei truly reflects the classic outlook on the consideration of coin itself as a commodity, in tally with the view expressed by the great philosopher Aristotle: As the benefits of commerce were more widely extended by importing commodities of which Page 3 of 8

there was a deficiency and exporting those of which there was an excess, the use of a currency was an indispensable device. As the necessaries of Nature were not all easily portable, people agreed, for purposes of barter, mutually to give and receive some article, which, while it was itself a commodity, was practically easy to handle in the business of life; some such article as iron or silver, which was at first defined simply by size and weight, although, finally, they went further, and set a stamp upon every coin to relieve them from the trouble of weighing it, as the stamp impressed upon the coin was an indication of quantity.17 The hoarded coins must have been treated just as a commodity, having stamps on them as an indication of their quantity, for purposes of barter - in full agreement with the philosophy of Aristotle. The coins however carried the bust of emperors, Gods and scripts. The native authorities, in the initial stage, slashed the bust of the emperor - the icon of authority - with a chisel, cancelling the sting of authority, symbolically declaring that the embedded slogan which indirectly boasts volumes, was of no relevance, and the only thing natives were bothered is its intrinsic value. Akananooru imparts us a clear idea on what trade was from the view point of common folks:

yavanar thantha vinaima nal kalam


[Yavanas of whom good merchandise ships]

ponnodu vanthu kariyodu peyarum18


[Comes with gold and goes with pepper19] The inflow of huge amount of wealth had its impact directly in the countrys economy. Rulers donated profusely to poets who praised them, resulting in the composition of profuse literary works, what later got compiled and came to be known as Samgham works. Construction of new offices, houses, emporiums, places of worship etc. made people right from the masons and head-loaders to architects and sculptors prosper. The Peutinger Table shows even a Temple of Augustus at Muziris. State was in need of more employees - from administrators to soldiers; and a part of the royal revenue passed on to the public directly this way. It must be due to the impetus which got induced during this period [the beginning of the Christian era], made Keralites carry on through generations, an unusual affinity for gold. Augustus [27 BC 14 AD] controlled Rome militarily and politically, he put the provinces in the hands of intelligent, less ambitious, and virtuous men; for the first time since Rome began to build its empire, the provinces settled down into peace and prosperity - this peace and prosperity would be the hallmark of the Age of Augustus.20 Romans now could spend a lot on luxury; developed many habits and in Plinys [77 AD] words, ...the use of pepper has come so much into fashion ...its only desirable quality being certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India! 21 Page 4 of 8

Besides the prosperity of the Roman Empire and the huge demand for pepper there, one discovery changed the fate of maritime trade - Hippalus! Hippalus was the pilot who by observing the location of the ports and the conditions of the sea first discovered how to lay his course straight across the ocean. For at the same time when with us the Etesian winds are blowing, on the shores of India the wind sets in from the ocean, and this southwest wind is called Hippalus, from the name of him who first discovered the passage across.22 It should be noted that the previous voyages were not directly destined to Muziris.

Periplus Maris Erythraei tells us that the ships start sailing form Mussel Harbour
or from Berenike, 1,800 Stadia [283.5 Km] distant from the former. The harbours of both are at the boundary of Egypt, and are bays opening from the Erythraean Sea.23 Romans took over Ptolemaic [Hellenistic] Egypt in 30 BC and it provided them direct access to India through the ports in the west coast of the Red Sea. Travelling by sea begins at midsummer before the Dog Star [Sirius] rises or immediately after its rising, and it takes about thirty days to reach the Arabian port of Cella. The most advantageous way of sailing to India is to set out from Cella; from that port it is a 40 days voyage. The first trading station in India is Muziris .24 Now onwards voyages became more fruitful, first by avoiding Arabian middlemen for getting Indian goods, secondly, the route was shortest to the land of origin of pepper, the most preferred commodity, and thirdly, as the procurement was direct, they could get it in the best possible prices. Muziris, as observed by the unknown author of the Periplus Maris Erythraei, was then abundant with ships sent by the Greeks. Samgham work Akanaanooru testifies this scenario and provides us the name of the river also - Periyaar [Periyar].25 Travelers set sail from India on the return voyage at the beginning of the Egyptian month Tybis, which is our December, or at all events before the sixth day of the Egyptian Mechir, which works out at before January 13 in our calendar - so making it possible to return home in the same year. They set sail from India with a southwest wind and after entering the Red Sea; continue the voyage with a southwest or a south wind.26 We know how the merchandise from the Damirica reached Roman Empire. The port at Alexandria, the erstwhile capital of Ptolemaic Egypt was the hub. A detailed sketch of the travel between Alexandria and Berenike is provided by Pliny: Two miles from Alexandria is the town of Juliopolis. The voyage up the Nile from there to Keft [Coptos] is 309 miles, and takes 12 days when the midsummer trade-winds are blowing. From Keft the journey is made with camels, stations being placed at intervals for the purpose of watering; the first, a stage of 22 miles, is called Hydreuma; the second is in the mountains, a days journey on; the third at a second place named Hydreuma, 85 miles Page 5 of 8

from Keft; the next is in the mountains; next we come to Apollos Hydreuma, 184 miles from Keft; again a station in the mountains; then we get to New Hydreuma, 230 miles from Keft. There is also another old Hydreuma known by the name of Trogodyticum, where a guard is stationed on outpost duty at a caravanserai accommodating two thousand travellers; it is seven miles from New Hydreuma. Then comes the town of Berenice where there is a harbour on the Red Sea, 257 miles from Keft. But as the greater part of the journey is done by night because of the heat and the days are spent at stations, the whole journey from Keft to Berenice takes twelve days.27 Even though the port at Mussel Harbour - Myos Hormos - is nearer, neglecting the advantage of gaining six or seven days from the port of Berenike overland, was of a better option when considering the loss of about one month for covering the 230 nautical miles between them because of the adverse winds. The Hydreumas provided in the Egyptian desert region by the Roman authorities was a boon to the merchants who had to travel between Coptos and Berenike. At the south-east corner of the Berenike site a deep trench [no. 5], excavated over three seasons, conducted by University of Delaware - Leiden University showed that this part of the site was used over a long period. It was here that clear indications of trade with India were found, such as large quantities of peppercorns and Indian ceramics.28 The trench no.10 yielded a storage vessel with the largest amount of pepper found in an archaeological context anywhere in the ancient world. An amphora shred found in a trench [BE95-4] bore in it a Tamil-Brahmi graffito Korapuman among a locus dated c.60-70AD.29 Red Sea coast [Quseir al-Qadim] earlier provided two shreds having names Kanan and Catan recorded in them using TamilBrahmi script, which is now dated to as of first century AD.30 The archaeologists from UCLA and the University of Delaware uncovered from Berenike, the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea, including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity - 16 pounds - ever excavated in the former Roman Empire. The team dates these peppercorns to the first century AD.31 The observation in Periplus Maris Erythraei32 is that the place [worth mentioning] between Bacare and Comari is Balita with a fine harbor and a village by the shore. Balita is identified as Vizhinjam.33 This coin in excellent condition must have reached Vizhinjam during the third century BC itself.

Kapelois is the word for traders in Greek. Parallels in Dravidian etymology represent ship [kappal - Malayalam and Tamil; kappali - Telugu]. Imagine a person somewhere in the Damirican coast shouting kappal... kappal... on seeing a ship in the
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vicinity, some 2000 years back. What might have he meant for kappal in those times - the ship or the kapelois in it? Is the transformation of the thing denoted by kappal seems too unjustifiable? When tapioca arrived in ship, much later, it came to be known among the natives by the name kappa [derived from kappal kizhangu] [kizhangu = tuber]!

References and Notes:

1. Kraay / Hirmer 801; Svoronos 603; BMC Ptolemies page 40, 2; SNG Copenhagen 132; Dewing 2752. 2. E. J. Bickermann, Chronology of the Ancient World, 2nd edition 1980. 3. Wikipedia. 4. Digital Egypt for Universities, University College, London. 5. Excavations at Berenike, Egypt; by Peter Francis, Jr. 6. Strabo, 16, 4, 6. 7. Diod., 2, 43, 4. 8. Black Pepper, Wikipedia (html). 9. Arrian, Indica, 21, 1. 10. Strabo, 2, 8, 4. 11. Page 19, vol.III, and page 29, vol. V, Studies in South Indian Coins. 12. Paula J. Turner, Roman Coins from India, London, 1989, page 28. 13. 1 Aureus = 25 Denarius. 14. 4 Sesterces (Sestertius in Greek) = 1 Denarius. 15. Pliny: Natural History 6.101. Teubner, 1933 reprint of the 1905 edition. 16. Coins Catalogue - 2, Madras Government Museum, Edgar Thurston, 1894, page12. 17. Politics. i. 6, 14-16. Translated by Welldon. 18. Lines 9-11, Akam 149, Akananooru, vol. II, tr. & ed. Nenmara P. Viswanathan Nair, Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1983. 19. Translation by the author. 20. Rome - The Age of Augustus, Richard Hooker, 1966. 21. Book XII, The Natural History of Trees. The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. Ed. John Bostock, Taylor and Francis, London, 1855. 22. 57, Periplus Maris Erythraei - The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century, translation of William H. Schoff, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1912. 23. 1, Periplus Maris Erythraei. 24. Pliny: Natural History, 6.105. Teubner, 1933 reprint of the 1905 edition. 25. Chulliyaam periyaattu... Line 8, Akam 149. 26. Pliny; Natural History, 6.106. Teubner, 1933 reprint of the 1905 edition. 27. Pliny: Natural History, 6.102 & 103. 28. Berenike1994-1999, Archbase. 29. Berenike 1995, Preliminary Report, page 205. Page 7 of 8

30. Whitcomb and Johnson 1979: pl.27j; 1982: pl. 61.O; Salomon 1991: 738-736; Berenike 1995, Preliminary Report, page 207. 31. Popular Science, April 1, 2004. 32. 58, Periplus Maris Erythraei. 33. Page 60, Pracheena Keralam, K. Sivasankaran Nair, India Books, Thiruvananthapuram, August 2006.

Presented and got certified at the National Seminar on Recent Advances in Indian Archaeological Studies organized jointly by Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala and Archaeological Survey of India [on 20th February 2008 at Thiruvananthapuram], discussing the coin of Ptolemy II [Philadelphos], the ruler of Egypt [285 - 246 BC], found from Thiruvananthapuram. Paper got published as the 4th one in the journal titled Archaeology in Kerala: Emerging Trends released during the joint annual conferences of The Indian Archaeological Society [45th]; Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies [39th]; and The Indian History and Culture Society [35th], held by the Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala, in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India, Thrissur Circle, at Thiruvananthapuram on November 11, 2011.

jeefrancis@gmail.com

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