Roman Remains in India and China

I've covered this topic before (Rome and the East and Far East of Rome). As has Adrian Murdoch (his most recent post is Roman India: Bet Dwarka and Elephanta). Roman and Greek trade with the East (India and China) is a topic that interests me a great deal, and I am thrilled to see how many news stories are coming out. A Belgian dealer at the Biennale in Paris has a Sassanian incense burner she says was excavated in China, but ... no proof of the provenance ...

This coin in the British Museum was found in the Astana cemetery, near Turfan, north-west China. It dates to the 6th century AD and imitates a Byzantine coin.

Byzantine coins were popular around the world because of their high gold content, to the point where emperors had to try to ban their export. A whole variety of real and imitation Byzantine gold coins have been found in Gansu province in China. Most were excavated in tombs belonging to men whose surname was Shi - Zoroastrian officials, originally from Central Asia, who served under the Tang.

Aurel Stein brought this example back, and there are contemporary records of the burial contents of other tombs at Astana which also mention gold coins (which the Chinese did not have).

From DNA.com:

Roman relics found near Elephanta

by Ninad D Sheth
Friday, September 15, 2006 00:37 IST

New Delhi: The marine branch of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered Roman artefacts dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries from the inter-tidal zone (the area between the high-tide and low-tide lines) of Elephanta Island.

The find, made last winter, includes artefacts like wine amphorae (vases), pot sheds, storage devices, and stone anchors.

The discovery shows that trade between Rome and India continued much later than previously thought.

Historians believed that the trade, which was conducted via Arabia in the early period of the Roman Empire, declined by the turn of the first millennium.

The discovery indicates that contacts between India and Rome flourished well into the late Roman era.

Alok Tripathi, ASI’s head of underwater archaeology, said, “The entire Maharashtra coast has evidence of Roman contact on a large scale. We are particularly interested in Elephanta, Sindhudurg, Malvan, and Vijaydurg. The Roman artefacts that we have found in Elephanta include some that have survived in excellent condition. The find points to robust trading contact in the late Roman period. This is a first-of-its-kind find on the West Coast.”

The ASI underwater unit plans to carry out fresh excavations in November with the navy. The joint effort will look at sites in Gujarat and Mahabalipuram, besides Elephanta. Come winter and the Indian seas could yield more surprises.

From Indian Express:

ASI to fish out Elephanta island’s Roman links


NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 13 Underwater archaeologists are set to uncover unknown secrets of Elephanta island, buried in the Arabian Sea. Extensive explorations on the island—its shores and the beaches—have revealed a treasure indicating existence of a rich trade with the late Roman Empire during the 4th to 7th century AD.

The findings establish it as a significant port of the period—a fact hitherto unknown. And that people on the west coast liked imported goods and Roman wine. The small island, east of Mumbai, was, so far, best known for its cave temples and rock-cut images, specially of the monolithic elephant which once stood on its southern tip.

With the Underwater Archaeology Wing of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) finding late Roman amphorae, coins and sherds of pottery — including red polished ware, black slipped ware, red ware and some gray ware — on Elephanta, the stage is now set for a proper excavation around the island. The finding had come as a surprise, since so far, large number of amphorae were found only in Kanchipuram and Arikamedu.

Amphora is one of the principal vessel shapes in Greek pottery. They are handled pots used to transport a variety of things including olives, cereals, oil, wine, fish and even metal.

Head of ASI’s Underwater Archaeology Wing Dr Alok Tripathi had been quietly exploring the island since 1988, but it’s only in the last two years that extensive explorations were done. The richest site turned out to be the area around village Mora Bandar on the island.

‘‘The discovery of a large variety of amphorae and other antiquities on the island may solve some of the historical riddles,’’ said Tripathi. In addition to indicating continuity of trade with the western world during 5th-7th century AD, the findings may also answer why Chalukya King Pulakesin II of Badami had invaded this small island with a tiny population and limited natural resources in 634 AD.

‘‘We probably know why he did it. Elephanta appears to have been a prosperous island with a thriving trade,’’ said the underwater archaeologist. It is all the more significant since around the same period, the cave temple on the island, enshrining Mahesmurti, was excavated.

Since the explorations had yielded rich treasures, the next logical thing is to undertake detailed survey and excavation. Tripathi said that the area around Mora Bandar is strewn with a large number of potsherds. ‘‘Even the sand on the shore, at the north and the east of the village, is full of potsherds washed away and rolled by the waves,’’ he said.

‘‘We will start excavation in the ongoing field season of 2005-06. Since exploration results have been encouraging, we expect Elephanta to be a rich heritage site,’’ Tripathi added. This is the second site which the wing will excavate, after Mahabalipuram.

From Kerala Online:

Govt to preserve legacy of 'Musiris'


Ministers, leading historians and social activists in the state visited the various historical sites and monuments in Kodungalloor and nearby areas and discussed the course of action to be taken to preserve the rich historic legacy of the ancient town, known in ancient times as Musiris.
The historians- K.N. Panikkar, Rajan Gurukkal, Michael Tharakan, P.J. Cherian and M.R. Raghava Varrier,Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran and the former Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University B. Ekbal were among those who teamed up to take the first step for the unique initiative as a sequel to an announcement made in the State Budget, which had set apart Rs.50 lakh for working out a comprehensive plan to protect the historical heritage of Kodungalloor.

A committee with Dr. Panikkar as chairman was formed to prepare a plan of action and the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) chosen as the nodal agency and the committee would prepare a plan within two months.

The project aims to develop areas of ancient historical importance such as Kodungalloor Bhagavathi temple, Cheraman Masjid, Azhikkode Mosque, Kodungalloor Kovilakom, Kottappuram fort, archeological area of Pattanam and the Jewish synagogue in Chendamangalam, and will be implemented with the help of the Union Government.

Kodungalloor was a critical trade link in India's ancient maritime history. It was known as Musiris to Pliny the Elder, who describes it as "primum emporium Indiae".

Roman gold and silver coins bearing impressions of Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero were discovered in the village of Parur near the town during 2000.

The town was nearly completely destroyed by the Portuguese on September 1, 1504 in retaliation for the Samoothiri Raja's actions against them.

ACV News

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