Cosmas Indicopleustes

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[pp. 1-3]

COSMAS INDICOPLEUSTES

(547 A.D.)

Cosmas, an Egyptian merchant and later a monk, visited Adulis in 522, and wrote Christian Topography in 547 A.D. (P.G. 78, cols. 10-476).

Ed. : McCrindle, J.W., The Christian Topography of Cosmas, New York 1897 (transl.) ; Winstedt, E.O., The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes (critical ed.) Cambridge 1909.

T.: P.G. 88 G:4


Every other year the king of the Aksumites, by the help of the chieftains of the Agau, sends traders thither [i.e. to the land of Sasu][1] to buy gold. They make the journey with other traders, altogether over five hundred. They take with them oxen, salt and iron. When they arrive in that country, they choose a place for their camp, which they fence all around with thorns, while they dwell within the fence. They slaughter their oxen, cut the meat into slices which they lay on the fence together with salt and iron bars. The natives come bringing little lumps of gold which they call "tanchāra". Each one lays there one, two or three of these lumps near a portion of meat or a bar of salt or iron, as he may like, standing outside. Then the owner of the ox returns. If he is satisfied with the offer, he takes the gold and the native takes away the meat, or the salt or the iron bar. If not, he leaves the gold untouched. When the customer comes again and finds that the gold was not accepted, he either adds some more gold, or withdraws his offer and leaves. This is the way in which they make their transactions as [p. 2] they do not know each other's language and have no interpreter. The traders remain in that place about five days, according to the chance of successful transaction until they have sold all their goods.

On their return journey, they are all armed, as they fear that robbers may attack them to steal the gold they carry. The whole expedition lasts about six months, from the time of departure to their return. On the outwards journey they walk slowly, especially because of the animals they have; but on the return journey they walk as fast as they can to avoid being caught by the winter rains while on their way.

The sources of the Nile are near their [the Aksumites'] land. In winter, the roads are impassable because of the many river beds filled by the torrential rains. The winter season occurs in their country during our summer, as it begins in the month which the Egyptians call Epip [= July- August], until Thoth [= September-October]. [During this period] rains are abundant and form many rivers which flow into the Nile.

All these things I knew for myself or I heard from others who took part in these trade expeditions, and I have put them in writing. (P.G. 88, col. 98).

Like-wise[2], in Ethiopia (Aithiopia),[3] at Axum and in all its environs, among the peoples of Arabia Felix who are called Omeritae, throughout Arabia and Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria and Antioch, down to Mesopotamia, among the Nobadae (Nobātas) and the Garamantes, in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis, In Africa and Mauritania till Gadeir (Gadeiron) southwards, everywhere there are churches of [p. 3] Christians, bishops, martyrs, monks, and hermits (monazontes, hesichastai), where the Gospel of Christ is announced. (P.G. 88, col. 170).

  1. "Sasu" to be probably located in the Wollega province. (Conti Rossini, Storia d'Et., p. 169) ; The Agau seem to be people the living in Goggiam (Bagameder).
  2. After a description of the Churches of Middle East
  3. By ""Ethiopia"", Cosmas means all the East African coast, South of Egypt to the Equator

Bibliographic updates and remarks

Addenda and corrigenda by R. Seignobos (17 Jan 2014)

Cosmas Indicopleustes

alias Constantine of Antioch (see below)

6th cent, wrote his Christian topography around 550

On the author : as W. Wolska-Conus pointed out, Cosmas Indicopleustes is a mere nickname, which does not appear in the manuscripts before the 11th cent. The genuine author of this work should be identified with a scholar known as Constantine of Antioch to whom the Armenian Ananias of Shirak ascribed a Christian Topography. Cf. W. Wolska-Conus, « Stephanos d’Athènes et Stephanos d’Alexandrie : Essai d’identification et de biographie », Revue des études byzantines, 47 / 1, 1989, pp. 27-30 [1].

Editions : critical edition by W. Wolska-Conus, Topographie chrétienne: Introduction, texte critique, illustration, traduction et notes par Wanda Wolska-Conus, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1968, 3 vol.

Translations :

French translation by W. Wolska-Conus, Topographie chrétienne… (see above).

Italian translation by A. Garzya, Cosma Indicopleusta. Topografia cristiana : libri I-V, Naples, M. D’Aura, 1992.

Further references : W. Wolska-Conus, La topographie chrétienne de Cosmas Indicopleustès: théologie et science au VIe siècle, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1962.

External links : online version of McCrindle’s English translation, with a preface by Roger Pearse [2].

Remarks : whilst the authoritative edition by W. Wolska-Conus had been available for a few years, Vantini used the older and less reliable edition of the work given in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca. He was probably not aware of its existence at that time, as the absence of any reference to it in the bio-bibliographic preamble tends to show. The fact that he still preferred the PG edition to the slightly more recent and satisfactory one by Winstedt (1909), is perhaps more surprising and may have been motivated by the easier availability of the PG.

Concordance :

P.G. 88, col. 98 = Wolska-Conus, II, 51-53, vol. I, pp. 360-363.

P.G. 88, col. 170 = Wolska-Conus, III, 66, vol. I, pp. 504-505.