or ERYTHRAEUM MARE
(ἡ ἐρυθρὰ θάλασσα
, Hdt. 1.180
; Plb. 5.54.12
; Strab. i. pp. 32, 33, 50, 56, xvi. pp. 765, 779, xvii. pp. 804, 815; Pomp. Mela, 3.8.1; Plin. Nat. 6.2. s. 7
The sea called Erythra in Herodotus has a wide extension, including the Indian Ocean,
and its two gulfs the Red Sea
and the Persian Gulf
], which latter he does not seem to have considered as a gulf, but as part of a continuous sealine; when the Red Sea
specifically is meant it bears the name of Arabicus Sinus [ARABICUS SINUS
The thick, wall-like masses of coral which form the shores or fringing reefs of the cleft by which the waters of the Indian Ocean
advance through the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb,
with their red and purple hues, were no doubt the original source of the name. Thus also in Hebrew (Exod.
10.19, 13.18; Ps.
106.7, 9, 22) it was called “yam sûph,” or the “weedy sea,” from the coralline forests lying below the surface of the water. Ramses Miamoum (Sesostris) was the first (from 1388 to 1322, B.C.)--so said the priests--who with long ships subjected to his dominion the dwellers on the coast of the Erythraean, until at length sailing onwards, he arrived at a sea so shallow as to be no longer navigable. Diodorus (1.55
; comp. Hdt. 2.102
) asserts that this conqueror advanced in India beyond the Ganges, while Strabo (xvi. p.760
) speaks of a memorial pillar of Sesostris near the strait of Deire or Bab-el-Mandeb.
It appears that the Persian Gulf
had been opened out to Phoenician navigation as three places were found there which bore similar if not identical names with those of Phoenicia, Tylus or Tyrus, Aradus, and Dora (Strab. xvi. pp. 766, 784, comp. i. p. 42), in which were temples resembling those of Phoenicia (comp. Kenrick, Phoenicia,
The expeditions of Hiram and Solomon, conjoint undertakings of the Tyrians and Israelites, sailed from Ezion Geber through the Straits of Babel-Mandeb
to Ophir, one locality of which may be fixed in the basin of the Erythraean or Indian Ocean
]. The Lagid kings of Aegypt availed themselves with great success of the channel by which nature brought the traffic and intercourse of the Indian Ocean,
within a few miles of the coast of the Interior Sea. Their vessels visited the whole western peninsula of India from the gulf of Barygaza, Guzerat,
along the coasts of Malabar
to the Brahminical sanctuaries of Cape Comorin,
and to the great island of Taprobane or Ceylon.
Nearchus and the companions of Alexander were not ignorant of the existence of the periodical winds or monsoons which favour the navigation between the E. coast of Africa, and the N. and W. coasts of India. From the further knowledge acquired by navigators of this remarkable local direction of the wind, they were afterwards emboldened to sail from Ocelis in the straits of Babel-Mandeb
and hold a direct course along the open sea to Muziris, the great mart on the Malabar
coast (S. of Mangalor
), to which internal traffic brought articles of commerce from the E. coast of the Indian peninsula, and even gold from the remote Chryse. The Roman empire in its greatest extent on its E. limit reached only to the meridian of the Persian Gulf,
but Strabo (i. p.14
, ii. p. 118, xvi. p. 781, xvii. pp. 798, 815) saw in Aegypt with surprise the number of ships which sailed from Myos Hormos to India. From the Zend and Sanscrit words which have been preserved in the geographical nomenclature of Ptolemy, his tabular geography remains an historic monument of the commercial relations between the West and the most distant regions of Southern and Central Asia.
At the same time Ptolemy (4.9
) did not give up the fable of the “unknown southern land” connecting Prasum Prom. with Cattigara and Thinae (Sinarum Metropolis), and therefore joined E. Africa with the land of Tsin or China.
This isthmus-hypothesis, derived from views which may be traced back to Hipparchus and Marinus of Tyre, in which, however, Strabo did not concur, made the Indian Ocean
a Mediterranean sea. About half a century later than Ptolemy a minute, and as it appears [p. 2.858]
a very faithful, account of the coast was given in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (a work erroneously attributed to Arrian, and probably not anterior to Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla) (comp. Cooley, Claudius Ptolemy and the Nile,
p. 56). During the long wars with Persia, the Aegyptian and Syrian population, cut off from their ordinary communication with Persia and India, were supplied by the channel which the shores of the Persian Gulf
and the Red Sea afforded; and in the reign of Justinian this commerce was very important.
After the disturbances caused by the wars of Heraclius and Chosroes, the Arabs or Saracens placed upon the confines of Syria, Aegypt, and Persia, had the greatest portion of the rich trade with Aethiopia, S. Africa, and India thrown into their hands. From the middle of the ninth century the Arab population of the Hedjaz
maintained commercial relations with the northern countries of Europe
and with Madagascar,
with E. Africa, India,
diffusing their language, their coins, and the Indian system of numbers.
But from the time that the Kaliph Al-Mansur closed the canal connecting the Red Sea with the Nile, the important line of communication between the commerce of Aegypt and India and the E. coast of S. Africa has never been restored. For all that concerns the data furnished by the ancient writers to the geography of the Erythraean sea the Atlas appended by Müller to his Geographi Graeci Minores
(Paris, 1855) should be consulted.
He has brought together the positions of Agatharchides, Artemidorus, Pliny, Ptolemy, and the Pseudo-Arrian, and compared them with the recent surveys made by Moresby, Carless, and others. E. B. J.]