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Cosmas or Cosmas Indicopleustes , literally "Cosmas who sailed to India" was an Alexandrian merchant and later hermit.[1]

Voyages to India

He was a 6th-century traveller, who made several voyages to India during the reign of emperor Justinian. His work Christian Topography contained some of the earliest and most famous world maps. Cosmas was a pupil of the East Syrian Patriarch Aba I and was himself follower of the Church of the East.

Christian Topography

Around 550 AD Cosmas wrote the once-copiously illustrated Christian Topography, a work partly based on his personal experiences as a merchant on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the early 6th century. His description of India and Sri Lanka during the 6th century is invaluable to historians. Cosmas seems to have personally visited the Kingdom of Axum in modern Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea, India, and Sri Lanka.


"Indicopleustes" means "Indian voyager". While it is known from classical literature, especially the Periplus Maris Erythraei that there had been trade between the Roman Empire and India from the 1st century BC onwards, Cosmas's report is one of the few from individuals who had actually made the journey. He described and sketched some of what he saw in his Topography. Some of these have been copied into the existing manuscripts, the oldest dating to the 9th century.

In 522 AD, he visited the Malabar Coast (South India). He is the first traveller to mention Syrian Christians in India. He wrote, "In the Island of Taprobane (Ceylon), there is a church of the Christians, and clerks and faithful. Likewise at Malé where the pepper grows; and in the town of Kalliana, The present Day Kalyan where Comas used to rule, there is also a bishop consecrated in Persia." [2]

Cosmology aside, Cosmas proves to be an interesting and reliable guide, providing a window into a world that has since disappeared. He happened to be in Adulis on the Red Sea Coast of modern Eritrea at the time (c. 525 AD) when the King of Axum was preparing a military expedition to attack the Jewish king Dhu Nuwas in Yemen, who had recently been persecuting Christians. On request of the Axumite king and in preparation for this campaign, he recorded now-vanished inscriptions such as the Monumentum Adulitanum (which he mistakenly attributed to Ptolemy III Euergetes).


  1. Beatrice Nicolini, Penelope-Jane Watson, Makran, Oman, and Zanzibar: Three-terminal Cultural Corridor in the Western Indian Ocean (1799–1856), 2004, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-13780-7.
  2. Travancore Manual, page 248.

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