3. The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk.


The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk. Translated from the Greek, and Edited, with Notes and Introduction by J. W. McCrindle, 1st series, 98, 1897.

Cosmas, writing in sixth century Alexandria is best known as an important figure in the history of cartography, and also for his strenuously learned attempts to challenge the contemporary spherical orthodoxy with his conviction that the world was flat. His work throws interesting light on knowledge and thinking about the world in the last Christian century of the East Roman Empire. However, it cannot be said to have been influential in European history, because it was only rediscovered in the late seventeenth century and translated into Latin by Montfaucon in the early eighteenth century. This edition is a translation from an 1864 edition of Montfaucon. At the time of publication the only other full translation had been into Norwegian. It is helpfully edited with black-and-white versions of some of the maps and plans from Montfaucon, and an index. J. W. McCrindle was a former member of the Bengal Educational Service and promoter of women’s education in India who in retirement as a luminary of the Royal Asiatic Society combined his classical scholarship with his Indian interests to produce numerous scholarly publications.

Cosmas' map of the world

Some references to India are scattered among the geographical arguments, and chapter XI is devoted to information about India, its flora and fauna, etc. and to Taprobane / Sri Lanka. What comes across strongly is the picture of the west coast from the Indus river estuary down to Sri Lanka as an active trading zone with regular visits by Persian and Chinese merchants. He notes a Christian presence in the region but makes no mention of its foundation by Saint Thomas. His sobriquet of Indicopleustes / Indian Navigator notwithstanding, it is not certain that he visited this region personally. In his presumed life as a merchant before he became a monk, we can be fairly sure that he travelled in Abyssinia and the east coast of Africa. However, the term India in antiquity often included this region. His own claim to have visited the subcontinent itself is a little ambiguous. The editor thinks so: some have been doubtful, for example, J. B. Bury in his History of the Later Roman Empire.

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