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Tracing an ancient trading route

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SHEDDING NEW LIGHT: Classical archaeologist and visiting fellow, Southampton University, Roberta Tomber, presenting a paper at the Kerala Council of Historial Research in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. Photo: S. Mahinsha
SHEDDING NEW LIGHT: Classical archaeologist and visiting fellow, Southampton University, Roberta Tomber, presenting a paper at the Kerala Council of Historial Research in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. Photo: S. Mahinsha

Even though archaeological excavations at two Roman-era ports in Egypt and at Pattanam on the Malabar coast have yielded strong evidence of sustained trade between India and the Roman empire, further research is required before it can be stated with finality that Pattanam is indeed the port of `Muziris' described in the `Periplus Maris Erythraei' written in the first century by a sea-faring, Greek-speaking Egyptian merchant.

This was stated by classical archaeologist and visiting fellow of Southampton University, Roberta Tambor, on Tuesday.

She was presenting a paper on `From Egypt to the Malabar Coast: Rome's Oriental Trade' at a programme organised by the Kerala Council for Historical Research here.

Excavations at Myos Hormos and Berenike two ancient ports on the Red Sea have yielded fragments of Indian-made pottery. At one of these sites, a large vessel found intact even contained 7.5 kg of black pepper; the variety grown along the Malabar coast.

Teak planks that could have been part of ships, pieces of Indian-made cotton that could have been part of a sail and even pieces of embroidered cloth were found at these sites. Moreover, the excavations also yielded coins -- one of King Rudrasena the third, that has been dated to the fourth century -- and pots with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, she said.

Pattanam, on the other hand, has yielded amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and those made elsewhere in the Persian Gulf.

This shows that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf, she added.

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