A few words regarding the commercial importance of Ceylon will not be out of place. According to Cosmos, Ceylon was at one time the centre of Hindu commerce, for which purpose, indeed, its natural situation and commodious havens afforded singular opportunities.’
Ceylon has been known by a variety of names in the East as well as in Europe. It was called Taprobane, a name first used by “ Onesicritus”4 and ingeniously derived from Tap, an Island, and Rahan or Ravan, an ancient king conquered by Maharaja Ram Chandra.5 Ptolemy remarks that it was formerly called Palwsimundi
1Some were called Sangara, others Colandiaphonta, and so on. 211istorical Researches, Vol. II, p. 29G.
3Professor Heeren says: “Commercial history of India is mainly dependent on that of Ceylon,”—Historical Researches, Vol II, p. 440. 4Historical Researches, Vol. II, p. 417.
5 Asiatic Researches, Vol. V, p. 89.
(Which Pliny confirms), but that in his own time it was Called Salice, and the natives Saloe ( whence Selan and Ceylon). It was called Sanhed Dvipa by the Hindus.
In Ptolemy’s accounts of Ceylon we find its coasts well furnished with commercial ports.’ Talacori, Modutti, Amurogramum, Moagramum (Mahagram, a great city) are among the principal commercial cities described by him. Professor Heeren says: “It (Ceylon) was noted for commercial navigation before 500 B.C.”2
From Arrian we know that the northern part of Ceylon was in a very highly-civilized state, and that it was a seat of extensive commerce with the countries from the farthest China in the East to Italy in the West.’
Pliny says: “Taprobane was for a long time considered to be a second world and went by the appellation of Antichthones,” which proves its reputation as a seat of commerce and civilization.
Some ide.a of the extent of the ancient commerce of Ceylon can be gathered from the accounts which Cosmos gives of it, though at a comparatively later date. After describing the situation of the island and the name by .which the Hindus called it, he says: “From all India, Persia, Ethiopia, between which countries it is situated in the middle, an infinite number of vessels arrive at, as well as go from, Ceylon. From the interior of the continent, as for,instance from China and other commercial countries, it receives silk, aloes, cloves, and other productions, which it exports to Malabar, where the pepper grows, and to Calliene (near Bombay), whence
‘Ptolemy, Chapter XII.
2Historical Researches, Vol. II, p. 437.
3 Historical Researches, Vol, II, p, 432.
is brought steel and cloth, for this latter is also a great commercial port. It likewise makes consignments to Sindh on the borders of. India, whence come musk and castoreum; and also to Persia, Yemen, and Adule. From all these countries it receives articles of produce, which again it transmits into the interior, together with its own productions. Selandiv (Sinhal Dwipa) is consequently a great emporium, and being situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it receives merchandise from, as well as sends it to, all parts of the world.”‘
Professor Heeren adds: “From Pliny, who quotes the testimony of ancient historians, namely, those of Alexander’s age, who first discovered Taprobane to be an island, we learn that Ceylon enjoyed this commercial reputation in the time of the Ptolemies, and even in that of Alexander. If we extend this period but a century and a half further back, which no one surely will consider unreasonable, we come at once to the interesting historical fact that during a space of a thousand years, that is from 500 B. C. to 500 A.D., the island of Ceylon, so conveniently situated for such a purpose, continued to be the great emporium of the Hindu-carrying trade, from Adule on the cost of Africa, Yemen and Malabar and the Ultra Gangetic Peninsula, even to China.” He also says: “Ceylon was the common mart of Australian commerce.”2
That a considerable portion of ancient India is closely connected with that of Ceylon is clear, not only from the remains of Hindu civilization still everywhere visible in the island, but also from the express testimony
I Historical. Researches, Vol. 11, p. 298. 2 H istorical Researches, Vol. II, p. 426.
of the writers on the subject. The island of Ceylon has been celebrated in the historical and fabulous writings of India as being very prosperous and wealthy. “ Golden Lanka “ is a trite phrase in India. The island was politically, socially, in religion, and, till very recently, even physically—after Ram Chandra’s celebrated stone bridge—a part of India. It was inhabited by Hindus, who, so far as nationality, language, religion and civilization are concerned, belonged to the same stock as their brethren of India. It enjoyed, therefore, an equally considerable refinement and civilization. When the British first went to Ceylon, “ they beheld with astonishment the stupendous remains of ancient civilization, not merely temples and other edifices, but what is still more extraordinary, tanks of such amazing extent as to deserve the name of lakes.” Her ancient prosperity, her material strength, her moral and social achievements have all been testified to by many European writers. Arrian, Cosmos,’ and a host of other great writers, travellers and annalists of the first centuries of the Christian era unanimously declare that Ceylon occupied the foremost position in the commercial transactions of the ancient world.
It has already been remarked that the Alexandrian historians were the first to discover that Ceylon was an island. Professor Heeren says: “It is, however, quite evident from the testimony of A rrian that much of what is advanced respecting the trade of Ceylon may, with equal justice, be applied to the opposite coast of Malabar.”
The sea-coast of India was naturally well furnished With harbours and havens to cope with commerce on
IA merchant who travelled about 560 A.D. in the reign of Emperor Justinian II as far as Adule, at that time a celebrated port behoging to the King of Axume, in Ethiopia, near Arkeeko.
a gigantic scale. Professor Heeren says: “Commercial towns and ports existed on the Coromandel coast from time immemorial. The coast of Coromandel, and specially the southern part, is represented by Ptolemy to have been thickly-studded with a series of commercial towns.”
Extensive commerce bespeaks advanced civilization. Mr. Elphinstone says: “The numerous commercial cities and ports for foreign trade which are mentioned in Periplus, attest the progress of the Indians in a deuartment which, more than any other, shows an advanced condition of the nation.”2