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Κοσμᾶς), commonly called INDICOPLEUSTES (Indian navigator), an Egyptian monk, who flourished in the reign of Justinian, about A. D. 535. In early life he followed the employment of a merchant, and was extensively engaged in traffic. He navigated the Red Sea, advanced to India, visited various nations, Ethiopia, Syria, Arabia, Persia, and almost all places of the East. Impelled, as it would appear, more by curiosity than by desire of gain, eager to inspect the habits and manners of distant people, he carried on a commerce amid dangers sufficient to appal the most adventurous. There is abundant reason for believing, that he was an attentive observer of every thing that met his eye, and that he carefully registered his remarks upon the scenes and objects which presented themselves. But a migratory life became irksome. After many years spent in this manner, he bade adieu to worldly occupations, took up his residence in a monastery, and devoted himself to a contemplative life.


Possessed of multifarious knowledge acquired in many lands, and doubtless learned according to the standard of his times, Cosmas began to embody his information in books.

Τοπογραφία Χριστιανική (

His chief work is his Τοπογραφία Χριστιανική, Topographia Christiana, sive Christianorum Opinio de Mundo, in twelve books. The last book, as hitherto published, is imperfect at the end. The object of the treatise is to shew, in opposition to the universal opinion of astronomers, that the earth is not spherical, but an extended surface. The arguments adduced in proof of such a position are drawn from Scripture, reason, testimony, and the authority of the fathers. Weapons of every kind are employed against the prevailing theory, and the earth is affirmed to be a vast oblong plain, its length from east to west being more than twice its breadth, the whole enclosed by the ocean. The only value of the work consists in the geographical and historical information it contains. Its author describes in general with great accuracy the situation of countries, the manners of their people, their modes of commercial intercourse, the nature and properties of plants and animals, and many other particulars of a like kind, which serve to throw light on the Scriptures. His illustrations, which are far from being methodically arranged, touch upon subjects the most diverse. He speaks, for example, of the locality where the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, their garments in the wilderness, the terrestrial paradise, the epistle to the Hebrews, the birthday of the Lord, the rite of baptism, the catholic epistles, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the state of the Christians in India, their bishops, priests, &c.

But the most curious and interesting piece of antiquarian information relates to that celebrated monument of antiquity which was placed at the entrance of the city Adulite, consisting of a royal seat of white marble consecrated to Mars, with the images of Hercules and Mercury sculptured upon it. On every side of this monument Greek letters were written, and an ample inscription had been added, as has been generally supposed, by Ptolemy II. Euergetes (B. C. 247-222). This was copied by Cosmas, and is given, with notes, in the second book of the Topography. It appears, however, from the researches of Mr. Salt, that Cosmas has made two different inscriptions into one, and that while the first part refers to Ptolemy Euergetes, the second relates to some Ethiopian king, whose conquests are commemorated on the inscription. The author also inserts in the work, in illustration of his sentiments, astronomical figures and tables. We meet too with several passages from writings of the fathers now lost, and fragments of epistles, especially from Athanasius.

Photius (cod. 36) reviewed this production without mentioning the writer's name, probably because it was not in the copy he had before him. He speaks of it under the titles of Χριστιανοῦ Βίβλος, Christianorum Liber, Expositio in Octateuchum; the former, as containing the opinion of Christians concerning the earth; the latter, because the first part of the work treats of the tabernacle of Moses and other things described in the Pentateuch. The same writer affirms, that many of Cosmas's narratives are fabulous. The monk, however, relates events as they were commonly received and viewed in his own time. His diction is plain and familiar. So far is it from approaching elegance or elevation, that it is even below mediocrity. He did not aim at pompous or polished phraseology; and in several places he modestly acknowledges that his mode of expression is homely and inelegant.


Manuscripts vary much in the contents of the work. It was composed at different times. At first it consisted of five books; but in consequence of various attacks, the author added the remaining seven at different periods, enlarging, correcting, and curtailing, so as best to meet the arguments of those who still contended that the earth was spherical. This accounts for the longer and shorter forms of the production in different manuscript copies.


The entire treatise was first published by Bernard de Montfaucon, from a MS. of the tenth century, in Greek and Latin, in his Collectio Nova Patrum et Scriptorum Graecorum, fol., Paris, 1706, vol. ii. pp. 113-346, to which the editor prefixed an able and learned preface. This is the best edition. It is also printed in the Bibliotheca Vett. Patrum edited by Gallandi, Ven. 1765, vol. ix.

Other Works

We learn from Cosmas himself, that he composed a Universal Cosmography, as also Astronomical tables, in which the motions of the stars were described. He was likewise the author of a Commentary on the Canticles and an exposition on the Psalms. These are now lost.

Leo Allatius thinks that he wrote the Chronicon Alexandrinum; but it is more correct to affirm, with Cave, that the author of the Chronicle borrowed largely from Cosmas, copying without scruple, and in the same words, many of his observations.

Further Information

Montfaucon, Nova Collectio Patr. et Scriptor. Graecor. vol. ii.; Cave, Historia Literaria, vol. i. pp. 515-16, Oxford, 1740; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. iv. p. 255.


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