, Strab. 1.63, 15.690, &c.; Steph. B. sub voce Ptol. 7.4
; Plin. Nat. 6.22. s. 24
; Mela, 3.77; Ov. ex Pont
. 1.5. 80), a very large island, now Ceylon.
It is situated to the SE. of the peninsula of Hindostán,
and is all but joined to the continent by a reef now called Adam's Bridge,
and by an island called Ramisúr
or Ramisceram Cor,
of Ptolemy (7.1.11
) and the Insula Solis of Pliny (6.22. s. 24
). (Comp. Duncan, As. Res.
v. p. 39; Ritter, Erdk.
vi. p. 63.)
Taprobane was not known to the writers of classical antiquity before the time of Alexander the Great, and the various narratives which have reached the West subsequent to his invasion of the Panjáb,
though often correct as to its natural productions, are singularly erroneous as to its position, its size, and its shape. Thus Onesicritus estimates it at 5000 stadia, though whether this number implies length, breadth, or circumference, is not stated by Strabo (xv. p.690
). If the last, he is nearly correct, Rennell considering this to be about 660 miles. (See Map, and Memoir of India.
) He adds that it was twenty days' sail from the continent--the ships being badly con-strutted and unfit for sailing; a view remarkably confirmed by Pliny, who notices the change in the length of the voyage owing to the improved kind of vessels, and the shallow character of the intervening strait (6.22. s. 24). Eratosthenes reduces the distance to a navigation of seven days--the same time as Pliny states (l.c.
); but this is far too great (Strab. xv. p.691
), as it is really little more than 50 miles from its nearest shores to the mainland of Hindostán.
(Vincent, Voy. of Nearchus,
i. p. 495; Boyd, in Ind. Ann. Regist.
1799.) Eratosthenes is still more erroneous in the position he assigns to the island, for he extends it 8000 stadia in the direction of Africa (Strab. l.c.
), while the author of the Periplus M. Erythr.
makes it reach almost to the coast of Azania (100.61, ed. Müller)--an error which has probably led to that of Edrisi, who has confounded C. Comorin
and in his map has even placed this island to the E. of Ceylon.
Strabo supposes that Ceylon
is not less than Britain (ii. p. 130), and Ptolemy gives it a length of more than 1000 miles, and a breadth of more than 700 (1.14.9, 8.28.3). (Compare with this the statement of Marco Polo, which is, as to circumference, identical with Ptolemy, l.c.;
and Caesar Frederick, ap. Hackluyt's Voy. ii. pp. 225--227.)
The history of ancient Ceylon
falls naturally into three heads: 1. What may be gathered from the writers who followed the march of Alexander. 2. What we may learn from the Roman writers. 3. What may be obtained from the Byzantines.
Of the times preceding the invasion of India by Alexander we have no distinct notice in classical history; yet it may be inferred from Pliny that some
report of its existence had reached the West, where he states that it had long been the opinion that Taprobane was another world, and bore the name of Antichthonus, but that it was determined to be an island about the aera of Alexander (6.22. s. 24): while it is not impossible that Herodotus may have heard some tradition on the subject, since he states that cinnamon is produced in those countries in which Dionysus was brought up (3.111); from which passage, however, it cannot be determined whether the true cinnamon, that is the bark of the shrub, is intended, or some other kind of cassia.
To the first class of writers belong Onesicritus, the companion of Alexander, Megasthenes and Daimachus, who were sent as ambassadors by Seleucus to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta
) and his son Amitrochates (Amitragháta
), from whose memorials almost all that is preserved in Strabo and in the earlier portion of the notice in Pliny has been taken.
There is no reason to suppose that either Onesicritus or Megasthenes themselves visited this island; they probably collected, while in India, the narratives they subsequently compiled.
The second class of writers are of the period when the vast commerce of Alexandria had extended to India subsequent to the death of Strabo, A.D. 24. (Groskurd, Proleg. in Strab.
i. p. 16.) Previous to this period, some few ships may have reached India from Egypt; but, from Strabo's own statement, they appear to have been those only of private individuals (l.c.
). Pliny, the writer of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Marcian of Heraclea, Mela, and Ptolemy, belong to this class, and, in the fulness of their narratives, show clearly how much additional knowledge had been acquired during the extension of the power of the early emperors of Rome.
Lastly, under the head of Byzantine writers, we have the remarkable account of the island in Cosmas Indicopleustes, the latest which belongs to the period of ancient or classical history.
The most important notice is that of Pliny (l.c.
), who states that ambassadors from the island were received at Rome by the emperor Claudius, through the instrumentality of the freedman of a certain Annius Plocamus, who, after having been driven out of his course upon the island, remained there six months, and became intimate with the people and their rulers.
He states that Plocamus landed at a port he calls Hippuros, which may be identified with the modern Kudremalai,
which means the same in Sanscrit; and that the name of the king was Rachia, evidently the Indian Rájah:
he adds that the island contained 500 towns, the chief of which was called Palaesimundum, and a vast lake Megisba, from which flowed two rivers, one called Cydara (Kundara
in the Annals,
It is not possible accurately to determine what modern place is to be identified with Megisba, but the Mahawanso
speaks of enormous works of this nature attributed to Vasabha and other early kings. (Mah.
pp. 65, 210, 221, 215.) Pliny adds some astronomical facts, which are not equally coincident with the truth; and remarks on the richness of the island in precious stones and metals, and on the fineness of the climate, which extended the life of man beyond its usual limits.
We may mention also, that Diodorus tells a remarkable story, which has been generally held to refer to Ceylon,
though this is not capable of proof.
According to him Iambulus, the son of a merchant, on his way to the spice countries, was taken prisoner [p. 2.1092]
by the Aethiopians, and, after a time, with one other companion, placed in a boat and left to his fate.
After a long voyage, he came to an island, rich in all kinds of natural productions and 5000 stadia round (στρογγύλῃ μὲν ὑπαρχούση τῷ σχήματι
). Iambulus stayed there seven years, and thence went to Palibothra, where he was well received by the king, who is said to have been φιλέλλην
That the details of this voyage are fabulous no one can doubt, yet the narrative is probably founded on fact, and points to an early intercourse between the shores of Eastern Africa and India.
The fullest and by far the most interesting account of Ceylon,
is that preserved by Cosmas Indicopleustes, which was published by Montfaucon (Coll. Nov. Patr.
ii. p. 336), Cosmas, who flourished in the reign of Justinian, about A.D. 535, states that he obtained his information from a Greek named Sopatrus, whom he met at Adulis.
According to this writer, the Taprobane of the Greeks is the Sielediba of the Hindus, an island lying beyond the Pepper Coast, or Malabar,
and having near it a great number of small islands (i. e. the Maldives
He reckons it about 900 miles in length and breadth, a measure he deduces from a native measure called Gaudia
(still said to be known in the island, and the same as the Tamil naliguaí,
Vincent, ii. p. 506).
There were, at the time he received his information, two kings in the island, one the possessor of the Hyacinth (i. e. of the mountain districts which abound in precious stones), and the other of the plain country and coast, where in later times the Arabians, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, have in succession established factories. A Christian church, he adds, was established there ἐπιδημοῦντων Περσῶν Χριστιανῶν,
with a priest and deacon ordained in Persia.
There is no doubt that these were Nestorians, whose Catholicos resided at Ctesiphon, and who, on the Malabar coast, are often called Christians of St. Thomas.
He determines the position of Sielediba, by stating that it is as far from it to China, as from the Persian Gulf
to the island (p. 138). Again, he says, which is less correct, that Sielediba is five days' sail from the continent; and that on the continent is a place named Marallo (Mearawar
), which produces the pearl oysters; and adds, that the king of Ceylon
sells elephants for their height; and that in India elephants are trained for war, while in Africa they are captured for their ivory. Horses imported from Persia pay no tax.
It is remarkable that this notice of the elephants is in strict accordance with that of Aelian, who asserts that they were bred in Ceylon
and transported in large native vessels to the opposite continent, and sold to the king of Calingae (Hist. An.
26.18). Pliny (l.c.
), on the authority of Onesicritus, affirms that larger and more warlike elephants are reared in this island than anywhere else in India, and that the hunting of them was a constant sport: and Ptolemy places under the Malea M. (Adam's Peak
) his ἐλεφάντων νομαὶ,
in the exact position in which they were, till lately, most abundant (7.4.8).
The testimony of all modern travellers on the subject of the Ceylon
elephant is, that those bearing great tusks, and therefore valuable for their ivory, are extremely rare in the island. (Compare also Dionys. Perieg. 5.593
, who calls Ceylon μήτερα Ἀσιηγενέων ἐλεφάντων;
Alex. Lychn. in Steph. B. sub voce
who speaks of εὔρρινοι ἐλεφάντες
as the product of the island; Solin. 100.56
; and Tzetzes Chil.
215). Cosmas concludes his remarkable story with a notice of a conference between the king of Ceylon
and Sopatrus, in which the latter convinced the king that the Romans were a greater people than the Persians, by exhibiting some gold coins of Byzantium.
It confirms the veracity of the narrator that we know from other sources that the Sassanian princes of the sixth century had only silver money, while at the capital of the Eastern Empire gold coin was not rare.
There were many temples in the island, one of them famous for a hyacinth of extraordinary size.
Few islands have borne, at different times, so large a number of names: as many of these have considerable interest, we shall notice them in succession.
The first, as we have stated, by which it was known to the Greeks was Ταπροβάνη.
Several explanations have been given of this name; the best is probably Tamraparni
(Sanscrit for red-leaved; cf. Burnouf, Journ. Asiat.
viii. p. 147; Mahawanso,
ed. Turnour, p. 50; Lassen, Inst. Ling. Pracrit.
p. 246), a form slightly changed from the Pali Támbapanni,
the spot where the first king Vigaya is said to have landed (Mahawanso, l. c
This name is not unknown in other Indian writings: thus we find so named a place on the adjoining continent of Hindostán,
and a river of the same district which flows from the Gháts
into the sea near Tinnevelly
(Wilson, Vishnu Purana,
p. 176); and a pearl-fishery at the mouth of this stream is noticed in the Raghu-vansa
(iv. p. 50; cf. also Vishnu Purana,
p. 175, and Asiat. Research.
viii. p. 330). Other interpretations of Taprobane may be found in Bochart (Geogr. Sacra,
p. 692), who, after the fashion of the scholars of his day, derives it from two Hebrew words, and imagines it the Ophir
of the Bible; Wahl (Erdbeschr. v. Ost-Indien,
2.682, 683), Mannert (v. p. 285), Duncan (Asiat. Research.
v. p. 39), Gladwin (Ayin Akberi,
3.36), Bohlen (Altes Indien, i.
27), Vincent (Periplus,
ii. p. 493), none of which are, however, free from objection.
There can be no doubt that the early language of Ceylon
approximated very closely to that of the adjoining continent, and was, in fact, a form of Tamil.
(Cf. Rask, Cingal. Skrift.
p. 1, Colombo, 1821; Buchanan Hamilton, ap. M. Martin‘s East India,
ii. p. 795; cf. also Ptol. 8.1.80
It may be observed that the name Támbapanni
is found in the Girnar
inscription of Asoka (B.C. 280), and would therefore naturally be known to the Seleucidan Greeks. (As. Journ. Beng.
vii. p. 159.)
We may add that Pliny states that the ancient inhabitants were called by Megasthenes Palaeogoni
), doubtless the translation into Greek of some Indian name.
It is not impossible that Megasthenes may have been acquainted with the Indian fable, which made the Rakshasas,
or Giants, the children of the Earth, the earliest inhabitants of this island.
The next name we find applied to Ceylon was that of Simundu
which is found after the time of Strabo, but had, nevertheless, gone out of use before Ptolemy. (Ptol. l.c.; Steph. B. sub voce s. v. Taprobane; Peripl. M. E.,
ed. Hudson, p. 2; Marcian, ed. Hudson, p. 26, and pp. 2, 9.)
There is a difficulty at first sight about these names, as to which form is the correct one: on the whole, we are inclined to acquiesce in that of Palaesimundu (Παλαισιμούνδου
), on the authority of Marcian (l.c.
) and of the Periplus ( § 61, ed. Müller. Pliny, too, in his account of the embassy to Rome, calls the city, where the royal palace was, Palaesimundu.
There can be little doubt that this word is the Graecised form of the Sanscrit Páli-Simanta,
the [p. 2.1093]
Head of the Holy Law, which is confirmed by another name of analogous character, Andrasimundu (Ptol. 7.4
), a promontory now called Calpentyn
The ancient city noticed by Pliny, with the royal palace, must be that elsewhere called Anurogrammon,
and by the natives Anurájápura,
the royal seat of empire from B.C. 267 to A.D. 769 (iMahawanso, Intr.
p. lxi.). (For other derivations of Palaesimundu, see Dodwell, Dissert. de Geogr. Min.
p. 95; Wahl, Erdbeschr.
ii. p. 684; Renaudot, Anc. Relat. des Indes,
p. 133; Malte-Brun, Précis de Géogr.
4.113; Mannert, i. p. 210; Paolino-a-St. Barth, Voyage aux Indes,
ii. p. 482.)
The conjecture of Wilford (As. Res.
x. p. 148) that it may be Sumatra,
and of Heeren (Soc. Reg. Götting.
vol. vii. p. 32) that it is the town of “Pontgemolle,” do not need refutation.
The other names which this island has borne appear to have been as follow: Salice, with its inhabitants, the Salae, Serendivus, Sielediba, Serendib, Zeilan, Ceylon.
These are all closely connnected and in reality euphonic modifications of one original form.
The first, Salice,--perhaps more correctly Saline,--which seems to have been in use when Ptolemy wrote the common name of Taprobane (l.c.
), is certainly derivable from Sinala,
form of Sinhala
cap. vii. p. 50): from this would naturally come the Σιελε
of Cosmas (Cosm. Indicopl. l.c.
); the termination of this name, διβα,
being nothing more than the Sanscrit d'wípa,
an island. (Cf. in the same neighbourhood the Lakkadive
islands.), The slight and common interchange of the L and R gives the Serendivus of Ammianus (22.7). From this, again, we obtain the more modern forms of the Arabic, Dutch, and English. Sinhala
would mean the abode of lions--which word is found with the same sense, and the form Sengkialo,
in the narrative of the Chinese travellers who visited Ceylon
in A.D. 412. (Foe-koue-ki,
p. xli., cf. p. 328, Annot. p. 336). Besides these names there is one other whereby alone this island is known in the sacred Brahminical writings.
This is Lanka
2.30, 5.1177, 3.100.278, &c.).
It is most likely that this name had passed out of use before the time of Alexander, as it is not mentioned by any of the classical writers: it has been, however, preserved by the Buddhists, as may be seen from the notices in the Mahawanso
(pp. 2, 3, 49, &c.). (Comp. also Colebrooke, Ess.
ii. p. 427; Davis in As. Res.
ii. p. 229.)
Ceylon is a very mountainous island, the greater masses being grouped towards the southern end, and forming thereby the watershed for most of its rivers.
The ancients had a tolerably accurate knowledge of the position of these hills. To the N. were the Montes Galibi, terminating in a promontory called Boreum (now Cape Pedro
), and overlooking the principal capital, Anurájápura.
To the S. the great chain was known by the generic name of Malea,
doubtless a form derived from the Sanscrit Mala,
The centre of this group is the wellknown Adam's Peak
--in the native Pali
language, Samana Kúta
(the Mountain of the Gods) (Upham, Sacred Books of Ceylon,
iii. p. 202), and the high land now called Neura-Ellia.
The principal rivers of Ceylon, as known to the ancients, were the Phasis, which flowed from the Montes Galibi in a northern direction; the Ganges (now Mahávalí
--Ganga), the chief of all the streams whereby the island is watered, the principal source of which is in the S. range, of which Adam's Peak
is the pre-eminent mountain (Brooke on Mahavella--Ganga, Roy. Geography. Journ.
iii. p. 223), and whose course is nearly NE.; the Baraces, which rose in the M. Malea, and flowed SE.; and the Soanas, which flows from the same source in a westerly direction. Besides these rivers was the celebrated lake called Megisba, the size of which has been extravagantly overstated by Pliny (6.22. s. 24
It is probable that this lake was formed by the connecting together of several great tanks, many remains of which still exist; and thus Forbiger suggests that it may be near the mouths of the Mahávalí--Ganga,
in which neighbourhood there are still extraordinary remains of canals. earthworks, &c. (Brooke, l.c.
It was on the shores of this lake that Pliny placed the capital Palaesimundum, with a population of 200,000 souls.
The island was rich in towns and peoples, which are not clearly distinguished by ancient writers; of these the Anurogrammi with the town Anurogrammon (now Anurájápura
) is the most important.
The greatness of this place, which was the royal residence of the kings from B.C. 267 to A.D. 769 (Mahawanso, Introd.
p. lxi.), is shown by the vast remains which still exist on the spot. (Chapman, Ancient Anurájápura,
in Trans. Roy. As. Soc.
ii. pl. ii. p. 463).
Other less known peoples and places were the Soani, Sandocandae, Rhogandani, Danae (now Tangalle
), the Morduli with their seaport Mordulamne, the Nagadibi, Spartana (now Trincomalli
), Maagrammon (probably Tamankadawe
), and the Modutti. For these and many more we are indebted to Ptolemy, who. from his own account (1.17.4), examined the journals and conversed with several persons who had visited the island.
It is a strong confirmation of what he states, that a considerable number of the names preserved can be re-produced in. the native Indian form.
The people who inhabited the island were for the most part of Indian descent, their. language being very nearly connected with the Palí,
one of the most widely spread Indian dialects. To this race belong all the monuments which remain of its former greatness, together with a very curious and authentic series of annals which have been of late brought to light by the exertions of Sir Alexander Johnston and the critical acumen of Mr. Turnour (Mahawanso
) and Upham (Sacr. Hist. Books
There are, however, still existing in the island some few specimens of a wholly different race, locally known by the name of the Veddahs.
These wild and uncivilised people are found in the valleys and woods to the E. and S. of the Mahávalí--Ganga;
and are, in all probability, the remains of the aboriginal race who dwelt in the land antecedent to the arrival of Vigaya and his Indian followers.
In physiognomy and colour they bear a striking resemblance to the earliest inhabitants of the S. provinces of Hindostán
and are, most likely, of similarly Scythic origin. (Knox, Account of Ceylon,
Lond. 1657; Perceval, Account of Ceylon,
Lond. 1803; Gardiner, Descr. of Ceylon,
Lond. 1807; Davy, Ceylon and its Inhabitants,
Lond. 1821; W. Hamilton, India,
2.522; Ritter, 4.2. p. 226; Lassen, Indische Alterth.
i. p. 198; Dissert. de Taprobane,
Bonn, 1832; Turnour, Mahawanso,
Ceylon, 1836; Jour. Asiat. Beng.
6.856; Chapman, Anc. City of Anurájápura,
in Tr. R. As. Soc.
3.463; Chitty, Ruins of Tammana Nuwera,
in R. As. Soc.
6.242; Brooke, Mahavella-Ganga, R. Geogr. Soc.
] [p. 2.1094]