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Circulation of Spices in the Early Historical Period


Spice Routes after the Decline of Roman Empire till 1453



Opening of the New Spice Route and the Portuguese in



The Dutch, the English and their Trade in the New Spice


The French, the Danes, Ostenders and the Spice Trade


Exclusive Claim over the Right of Navigation in the Spice



A Study of Shipbuilding on the Malabar Coast


Life on Board the Ships that Plied the Spice Routes


European Merchant Financiers and the New Spice Route

10. Middle-men, Producers on the Malabar Coast and

Trade in the Spice Route
11. Spice Routes and Cultural Diffusion
12. Conclusion
List of spices and their local names


o my knowledge, no work dealing exclusively with

Kerala and its spice routes has been written till
date. While perusing the available articles and
books, it became quite evident that there is plenty of room
for discussing the many facets of the spice trail that
connected several countries. For instance, the decision of
the Europeans to move to Moluccas and other spice
producing areas of the Southeast Asian regions was taken
after relishing the spices made available in the Malabar
coast for the West. The spice routes themselves brought
several nationalities together which left vestiges of
different cultures in Kerala and vice-versa. So cultural
interactions between various countries linked by the spice
routes can also be highlighted in the study of the history of
the spice routes. A systematic research of the role played
by Kerala or the Malabar coast in the multifaceted
development of spice routes from the early historical
period will be highly enriching and beneficial to the
present and future generations. Anyone interested in
tracing the roots of their culture will be fascinated by the
spice route saga and its impact on civilizations. Similarly,
tourists enthralled by the lure and lore of Kerala will find a
work dwelling on the numerous events that unfolded
through the spice route journey greatly interesting.
Therefore, a humble and unpretentious attempt is made
here to trace various aspects of the history of spice routes.

hen delving into the fascinating story of spice

routes, which dates back many millennia, it
seemed highly relevant to explain some of the
terms used in this book. Since spice route has its origins in
the ancient times when different civilizations, kings and

emperors ruled the world, readers not conversant with

history could be at a loss with names of the cities,
provinces and countries of a bygone era. This book is an
attempt to retrace the lost world of spice trading cities in
Malabar or the present-day Kerala - once a much soughtafter spice destination, connected to the rest of the world
through an amazing network of land and sea routes.
Today, Kerala denotes the geographical segment
formed as one of the federal states of Indian Union.
Nestling between the Arabian Sea in the west and the
majestic Western Ghats to the east, it has an area that
stretches to 38,863 square kilometres (1.18% of Indias
landmass). Networked by an incredible array of 44 rivers,
the state is also blessed with a long, beautiful coastline
that runs some 580 km in length.
The highlands of Kerala slope down from the Western
Ghats (the Sahyadri) which rise to an average height of
900 m, with a number of peaks well over 1800 m in height.
It is 18650 sq km in area and accounts for 48 per cent of
the total land area of Kerala. Spices are cultivated chiefly
in the highlands. The midland of Kerala, located between
the mountains and the lowlands, is made up of undulating
hills and valleys with an area of 16200 sq km, which
constitutes 40 per cent of the total extent of land in the
state. The lowland or coastal region is spread over 4000 sq
km. It consists of numerous shallow lagoons, river deltas,
backwaters and beaches of the Arabian Sea. Apart from
the rivers, there are other means of water transportation,
like the lakes and backwater lagoons.
Cardamom is produced on a large scale in the hills,
widely known as Cardamom Hills. The central point of
these hills encompassing 2,800 km of mountainous
terrain with deep valleys is about 952N 7709E. Munnar,
one of the world-renowned tourist destinations is located
here. Periyar, Mullayar and Pamba rivers pass through

these areas. The region known as Cardamom Hills also

comprises Idukki Dam and the Mullaperiyar Dam. It is
adjacent to the Anaimalai Hills to the northwest, the Palani
Hills to the northeast and the Agasthyamalai Hills to the
south as far as the Ariankavu Pass (at c. 9 N). Pepper and
coffee are also cultivated in the Cardamom Hills.
The terms Malabar, Malabar coast and Kerala are
indiscriminately used in this work to indicate the same. In
fact, the first two names are used in most of the historical
writings to mean almost the same geographical area. So,
when mention is made of Malabar here, it has no
connotation in this work to the erstwhile British Malabar,
which was a district of the Madras Presidency under the
The two independent princely states of Travancore and
Cochin joined with the Union of India after India gained
independence in 1947 and merged to form TravancoreCochin on 1 July 1949. The political unit of TravancoreCochin was recognised as a state on 1 January 1950.
Subsequently, the state of Kerala was formed on 1
November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act, after
uniting the former British Malabar and the taluks of
Kasargode and South Kanara with Travancore-Cochin and
by excluding four southern taluks which were merged with
Tamil Nadu. Kerala shares its border with the state of
Karnataka in the north and the rest of it borders with Tamil
Nadu and is divided into 14 districts for administrative
The modern writers make use of the English term
spices to denote only edible and mostly culinary
aromatics, flavourings and tinctures. 1 Originally, the word
was taken from the Latin word species, which just meant
type or kind. This probably gave way to the English

John Keay, The Spice Route: a History, Berkeley, 2006, p.20.

term specie as reserved for cash in kind that is

coinage. According to the Roman usage, species
received a specific meaning that signified the type or
kind of article on which import duty was imposed as
indicated in the Alexandria Manifest, a fifth century tariff
of Justinians reign listing the goods liable to be taxed in
the port of Alexandria.2 They included different varieties of
cinnamon and cassia, ginger, white pepper, long pepper,
two types of cardamom, asafoetida and so on. Nutmeg,
mace, cloves, turmeric and black pepper were absent from
this list, probably because they were items not to be taxed.
There are differences of opinion regarding the use of
spices in Europe. It is argued by some economic historians
that spices, especially pepper, were used for the
preservation of meat in Europe. According to economic
history, the farming communities of Europe down the

Keay, op.cit, p.21, species pertinentes ad vectigal species

subject to duty.

seventeenth century at least, suffered from a chronic

shortage of winter feed for cattle. Large number of beasts
had to be slaughtered every autumn and the meat
preserved for winter consumption by being salted or
pickled.... Apart from salt, the preservative spices were all
produced in tropical countries: pepper... cinnamon...
nutmeg and mace... [and] the most valuable preservative
spice [of all] - cloves.3
Food scientists, on the other hand, affirm that spices
have very few properties for preservation, which is
effected by the generous application of salt. Of course, the
addition of spices may improve the taste of meat.4
Spice Route/s in this book includes both waterways
and land routes along which spices were taken to different
destinations through the centuries. They varied from time
to time and were not exclusively set apart for spices. The

J.H. Parry, Europe and a Wider World, London, Hutchinson, 1949,

Keay, op.cit, p.27.

John Keay, op.cit, pp.27-28.

means of transportation too differed from period to period.

In the early historical period, spices were transported
partly through waterways and partly through land by using
different kinds of pack animals. The Silk Route/s and the
Incense Route/s also served as major conduits for the
circulation of spices. As there were directions of diverse
nature through the centuries, the expression spice
routes may be more appropriate than spice route to
convey the meaning. However, both have been used
indiscriminately here.
We can describe the concept of spice route against the
backdrop of the ancient silk route, which connected a large
number of countries for several centuries and functioned
as a major conduit for the circulation of commodities,
cultures and ideologies. In this way, the spice route or
spice routes, is a set of other routes which has been
serving as an international and intercontinental means of
communication. In fact, this nomenclature has not been in
vogue and has not received the attention it deserves from
scholars. If China was the focal point of the supply of silk
and the name Silk Route was attributed to it on account of
this principal item of commodity traded in, the geopolitical segment known as Malabar currently called Kerala
was the most sought-after place in the world for spices and
so the route that connected Malabar with the East and
West is named Spice Route/s.5

John Keay, op.cit, passim.

The spice route to central Europe could be considered

to start from the Indonesian Banda Islands, the provenance
of nutmeg and mace. The route initially covered a distance
of 30,000 km, but after the discovery of the direct sea
route by Vasco da Gama, it got shortened to just 16,000
km.6 Being in the same vessel, without any disembarkation
or loading and unloading in-between, the consignment of
spices reached the European ports much faster. Another
point to be borne in mind is that since there were several
routes through the centuries we cannot think of a single
spice route and hence should speak of spice routes. 7
Although named the spice route, even elephants and
exotic animals like rhinoceros, saplings of pepper and
other plants were transported along these routes. Scores
of countries too were linked with Malabar through this
route. It served as a major transit for trade and commerce,

John Keay, op.cit, p.8.

John Keay, op.cit, p.xiii.

technology, culture, ideology and religion.

Spices from the Malabar coast were taken to Antioch,
Alexandria and other places through the ancient silk
route/s. The Seleucid (323 BCE - 30 BCE), Ptolemaic (305
BCE to 30 BCE), Parthian (247 BC - 224 CE), Aksumite (100
CE - 940 CE) and the Sasanian (224 - 651 CE) Empires
promoted trade in spices. The Ptolemies of Egypt and the
Roman Emperors, chiefly till the fall of the Empire to the
Goths, got the spices transported from the Malabar coast
to the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and further on to
Rome on the River Po via Red Sea regions through
waterways and by land, then over the desert and again by
waterways through the Nile. With the rise of
Constantinople as the headquarters of the Eastern Roman
Empire, a further diversion is noticed in the route through
which spices from the Malabar coast found their way. It
was the development of a new passage along the Persian
Gulf via the Levant and then to Eastern Mediterranean and
finally to Constantinople. Simultaneously, the incense
route too was used for transporting spices from the
Malabar coast.
The incense trade route or the incense road comprised
a network of major ancient land and sea routes linking the
Mediterranean world with Eastern and Southern sources of
incense, spices and other luxury goods, stretching from
Mediterranean ports across the Levant and Egypt through
eastern Africa and Arabia to India and beyond. It flourished
roughly between the 7th century BCE and the 2nd century
CE. The incense route served as a channel for trade in
commodities like Arabian frankincense, myrrh, Indian
spices and so on.
Trade in spices via the Red Sea regions was further
developed by the Mamluks of Egypt. It was brought under
the monopoly of the Sultan of Egypt. So, the route along
the Red Sea to Cairo and Alexandria received

unprecedented boost. The merchants from Venice and

Genoa established their factories (warehouses) in these
ports, especially in Cairo. When Constantinople fell to the
Turks, the Europeans began to work hard for an alternative
route connecting the ports of the Atlantic with those of the
Malabar coast. In this race, the Portuguese turned out
victorious and diverted the flow of spices via the Cape of
Good Hope directly to Lisbon, entirely through sea route.
Since 1511, mace, nutmeg, cloves and other spices from
the Southeast Asian Regions began to be shipped to the
Malabar coast to supplement the cargo of spices obtained
from here. Though the Portuguese did not succeed in
completely stopping the flow of spices via Red Sea,
especially after the thirties of the sixteenth century, the
subsequent contending Companies like the English, the
Dutch, the Danes and the French intensified the use of the
route via Cape of Good Hope so much that the Europeans
first thought of this as the spice route par excellence. In
fact, in any discussions on spice route, the discussants
talked only of this route. This state of affairs continued till
the opening of the Suez Canal on 17 November 1869,
construction of which began on 25 April 1859 with an
outlay of $100 million.
From the west, spices found its way to China and from
there to adjacent countries as well through the silk route.
Marco Polo may be considered the earliest informant for
the Europeans to speak of Japan (Cipangu) among the
7,450 other islands including Spice Islands situated in the
Eastern Sea of China. During his stay in the court of the
Mongol rulers, he obtained information about Japan, known
to the Chinese by the name of Jipan-ku and corrupted into
Cipango or Zipango. He also mentions about the voyage of
the Chinese vessels to this region and the huge profit
derived by the merchants trading there. Ibn Batuta too has
written about the Far East including Japan. Tom Pires, the

former apothecary of Prince Afonso, the son of King John II

of Portugal during his two and a half year stay in
Portuguese Malacca from 1512 wrote the famous work
Suma Oriental, that makes a mention of Japan.8
By now, the Portuguese controlled Ambon in the
Moluccass (Spice Islands), which was the chief spice
market in the Far East in 1512. Although Jorge Alvarez
reached the shores of southern China as early as 1513, the
Portuguese traders landed in Japan only in 1543. Slowly,
they obtained first hand information about the spice trade.
The Portuguese who came in search of Christians and
Spices brought Japan into the larger ambit of spice trade
for the first time though it was connected to the silk route
via China and had access to the spices available in the
neighbouring spice-producing islands, especially the Spice
Islands. In 1557, the Portuguese obtained a permanent
and official base from China in Amacau or Macau which
facilitated stronger commercial relations with Japan. Thus
by the middle of the 16th century, the Portuguese became
the masters of the spice route from Lisbon to the east of
the Molucca. They practically enjoyed a commercial
monopoly on transactions carried out between India and
southeast Asia as well as along the routes linking
southeast Asia to China and Japan.

Tom Pires, The Suma Oriental of Tom Pires: An account of the

East, from the Red Sea to Japan , written in Malacca and India in
1512-1515, New Delhi, AES reprint, 1990, vol 1, p.131

Initially, fine Chinese silk highly appreciated by the

Daimios and Samurais was exchanged for Japanese silver.
Gradually the Portuguese rulers granted business voyages
(Viagens) to the cities of Macao, Cochin, Malacca and also
for the Monastery of Incarnation in Madrid. 9 Whoever
purchased the right of voyages paid the stipulated amount
and sent the ships to Japan for trade. The buyer was free
to go to any part of East Asia including Japan. There was
yet another practice of granting voyages to some
prospective bridegrooms who were willing to marry the
daughters of Portuguese nobility sent to India. This was a
device to replace dowry with right for voyages. They were
allowed to fit out vessels to Southeast Asia and the Far
East to conduct trade and gain fabulous profit. While
leaving Cochin for Japan the merchants collected pepper
and other commodities and loaded them on their vessels.
They further took other kinds of spices from the Far East
for Japan. The ships involved in the voyages of this nature
stopped in Macau to catch the appropriate wind to set sail
to Japan. The merchants sold spices and other
commodities in Japan in return for large volumes of silver.
The ships that were involved in this trade were usually
known as naus da prata (silver ships meaning ships that
were carrying silver). They waited in Japan for the wind
favourable for the return voyage. Silver from Japan was

Joel Serro, ed., Dicionario de Histria de Portugal, Lisboa, 1992,

vol.3, p.358

essential for the Portuguese to exchange for the

commodities from China.
Though some of the ships in the Dutch armada (15971601) reached Japan, effective commercial contact with
them was established by the Dutch United East India
Company (VOC) only in 1609. The English too started
trading relations with Japan from 1613. Thus spice route
was extended to Japan and areas lying in the Pacific,
beyond and east of China during the sixteenth century
itself. The commercial relations between Japan and the
West through the oceanic Spice Route continued till
Tokugawa Schogunate passed the Act of Seclusion in
1636 forbidding interchange with Western Europe, but not
with East Asia. The Portuguese merchants from Macau
found it extremely difficult to continue trade with
Nagasaki. The Japanese authorities issued orders in 1639
prohibiting once and for all commercial relations between
Macau and Japan since the vessels from Macau used to
carry missionaries to Japan. Under the Tokugawa Shoguns
(1600-1868) Japan developed social and economic
Apart from the overseas routes through which spices
were transported there were other relatively short coasting
voyages for the circulation of spices. The Gujarati
merchants shipped the spices from the Malabar coast to
Gujarat through the Arabian Sea. When Vasco da Gama
came to Calicut, he found Gujarati merchants there. In
fact, the Zamorin in 1500 assigned a few Gujarati
merchants to get the Portuguese factor and his assistants
acquainted with the dynamics of spice trade in Calicut.
Similarly, there were also Chettis or traders from Tamil
Nadu trading in spices in Calicut at the time of the arrival
of the pioneering mariners under Vasco da Gama. The
Indian merchants took spices from the Malabar coast to
other destinations through maritime trade routes.

Cinnamon from Srilanka was brought to the Malabar coast

by sea.
The overseas spice routes through the different periods
connected a number of countries with the Malabar coast.
UNESCO has identified several countries linked through the
spice routes which include: Afghanistan, Beirut, Burma,
China, Denmark, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Germany,
Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon,
Malaysia, Mozambique, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan,
Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Spain, Srilanka, Syria,
Turkey, UK and Yemen. We can add a few more like
Belgium, Hungary, Japan, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland,
Russia, Sweden and Thailand. The European merchant
financiers, especially the Fuggers of Germany, who took up
the sale of spices to various regions of Europe, had set up
their factories in many parts of Belgium and the
Scandinavian countries for storing and disposing of the
consignments. The extant warehouses of the Fuggers in
Bruges, Bergen (Denmark) and such others, with their
typical architectural style, speak of the connection
established by the spice routes.
There are many historical evidences that suggest there
were land routes within the subcontinent of India through
which spices were transported from Malabar to the
Coromandel coast either for local consumption or for
export to overseas destinations of some European
merchants like the Danes. Pepper and a few other spices
available in the Malabar coast were transported to the
Eastern coast through land routes crossing the Western
Ghats. Communication between these two regions was
made possible through twenty to twenty four routes across
the Western Ghats, including two in Travancore, three in
Kayamkulam, two in Kundara, six in Tekkenkur, two in
Vadakkumkur, three in and behind the lands of Cochin, two
in the domains of the Zamorin and two in the countries of

the Kolathiri Raja. The passes across the Ghats were

Perambadi Gap to Coorg, the Peria and Thamarassery
Gaps to Wynadu and Mysore, and the Bodinayakkanur,
Kambam, Aryankavu and Aramboli Gaps in the Travancore
region. The most important pass of all was the Palghat
Gap, about 20 miles wide and not more than 970 feet high.
The bulk of the overland trade from the Malabar coast to
the eastern coast took place through this Gap.
There was a flourishing pepper export to the eastern
coast, which disturbed the Europeans engaged in trade in
spices, as they were bent on keeping monopoly over it.
Though the Portuguese and the Dutch tried their best to
stop it under monopolistic treaties, they did not succeed
on account of social, economic and military reasons. The
pattars or Tamil Brahmins enjoyed several commercial
privileges, which constituted the most important
sociological factor. The rulers on the Malabar coast granted
certain privileges to them. The most important among
them were the exemption from customs duties for the
commodities carried by them and the free boarding and
lodging in choultries or temples. The pattars were
exempted from paying tax for the loads they carried on
their backs. They were, on the other hand, bound to pay
only half the usual tax for the loads they carried on their
heads. So, every pattar used to carry two loads. Therefore,
a host of pattars were engaged in transporting spices from
the Malabar coast to the eastern coast taking advantage of
these privileges. Sometimes, they employed pack-oxen for
the same. In 1519, Hector Rodrigues, the Portuguese
Captain at Quilon seized 5,000 bullock-loads of pepper
being carried to the East Coast from the region of Quilon.
The merchants asserted that the consignment belonged to
the pattars who had been given special privileges by the
kings. Large number of pattars from Tinnelvelly, Tanjore
and Coimbatore settled in the Malabar coast giving rise to

agraharas or villages dominated by them. Their main

habitat was Palghat. Thus one can sum up a spice route as
passing from the spice producing areas of Malabar through
the Ghats to the eastern coast.
Pepper occupied a very important place among the
spices exported from the Malabar coast even during the
reign of the Ptolemies of Egypt. The Europeans were
curious to know how black and white pepper was made
available on the Malabar coast for the European markets. A
native of Genoa by the name of Jeronimo de Santo
Estevam wrote from Tripoli to Joham Jacome Mayer in
Beirut on 1 September 1499 about the method of
cultivating pepper and the preparation of black and white
pepper. He explained the details based on the experience
he had in Calicut and tried to dispel the misunderstanding
among the Europeans that pepper would not grow in
Europe because peppercorns were burnt and then sent to
Europe. He asserted that pepper saplings, not
peppercorns, were planted by the side of a tree for the
pepper plants to creep on. The sapling cut at the root is
planted at the bottom side of trees like mango or jack or
others on which pepper plant creeps up. After one or two
years, peppercorns like grapes, will be ready in bunches.
Black pepper is obtained when the corn is plucked while it
is green and dried under the sun for five to six days. When
dried, it looks like burnt corn. White pepper is made ready
when the corns are allowed to ripen thoroughly and are
covered with red pulp. The corns, after removing the pulp,
He also wrote about the cultivation of ginger in Malabar.11
The importance of pepper and its demand can be
gauged from the ransom offered to Alaric I, the King of the
10 Francisco Maria Esteves Pereira, ed., Marco Paulo-Carta de
Jeronimo de Santo Estevam, Lisboa, 1922, fol.96v.

Visigoths (395 - 410 CE) who sacked Rome in 410 CE and

paved the way for the definitive fall of the Western Roman
Empire. The first blockade of Rome was in September, 408
CE. The Roman Senate entreated for peace. After much
bargaining, the famine-stricken citizens agreed to pay a
ransom of 3000 pounds of pepper among other items like
5000 pounds of gold, 30000 pounds of silver, 4000 silken
tunics, 3000 hides dyed scarlet and 40000 freed Gothic
slaves. This shows that the taste of pepper had spread
over barbarian Europe from Rome.12
Another instance that showcases the demand for
pepper is related to the wedding of a Portuguese Princess
with a prince from Spain. The proposed dowry of Dona

11 R.H. Major, ed., Account of the Journey of Hieronimo di Santo

Stephano... in India in the Fifteenth Century being a Collection of
Narratives of Voyages to India, London, 1857, pp.4-5.

12 Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers,

London, Pelican Books, 1955, p.148.

Isabella of Portugal for her marriage with Charles V of

Spain consisted of 30,000 quintals of pepper. The Fuggers,
the German merchant financiers taking part in the sale of
pepper who imported pepper into Lisbon from the Malabar
coast for the European markets, were asked to deliver the
The volume of pepper carried in the ships setting sail
from the Malabar coast to Portugal fetched fabulous
amounts. A Spanish ship loaded with pepper from Malabar
and heading towards Lisbon in 1592 was captured by
Frobishers ships off the Azores in the Atlantic. The pepper
in the ship alone was worth 102,000/. 13 Being aware of
the great drain of wealth from Rome to the Malabar coast,
Pliny tried to dissuade the Roman citizens from the use of
pepper. He wrote in his Natural History, xii, 14 in a
derogative manner:
It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come

13 Wheeler, op.cit, pp.148-49.

so much into fashion, seeing that, in other substances

which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness and
sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice;
whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a
recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable
quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that
we import it all the way from India! Who was the first to
make trial of it as an article of food? And who, I wonder,
was the man that was not content to prepare himself by
hunger only for the satisfaction of a greedy appetite?14
International rivalries broke out when Spain too entered
in the race for spices. Spain despatched Christopher
Columbus, a Genoese navigator, across the Atlantic to
discover a shorter route to the sources of spices in the
East. He landed up in America. The intervention of
Ecclesiastical authorities was sought to diffuse the tension
arising from the competition to find a route to the sources
of spices. Mediation of Pope Alexander VI, the treaty of
Tordesillas (7 June 1494) and its ratification on 2 July 1494,
and the subsequent treaty of Zaragoza (22 April 1529)
regarding the division of the areas outside Europe between
Portugal and Spain are milestones in the conflicts
concerning the right to explore areas producing spices.
The European powers which traded in spices with the
Malabar coast gradually started colonial exploitation and
became colonial masters. The spice producing countries of
14 Quoted by Wheeler, op.cit, p.148.

the East, where the Europeans struggled hard to get a

foothold, constituted the first world before the industrial
revolution. The diligent merchant took to the distant
Indies to satiate his hunger, as Horace (65 BCE 8 BCE)
wrote.15 After a long period of colonial exploitation, almost
all these colonies were converted into the third world or
developing countries through the process of the
development of underdevelopment.
Spices were also produced in South East Asian Regions,
especially in Sumatra, Java and Moluccas known as Spice
Islands, as well as Malaya and Borneo. The Europeans
moved to these areas to supplement what they obtained
from the Malabar coast. Similarly, mace and nutmeg, both
products of the same tree, were cultivated in Banda
Islands, a group of 10 small volcanic islands in eastern
Indonesia. Prior to 1511, no European seems to have
known the source of these two items. The Portuguese
arrived at Banda Islands in 1511 by accident through a
shipwreck. The Spanish and the English entrepreneurs
followed them. But the Dutch stuck on to these Islands,
trading in these items. The local smugglers passed nutmeg
and clove saplings to a Frenchman called Pierre Poivre who
15 Impiger extremos currit mercator ad Indos per mare puperiem
fugiens. Horace, Ep.I.1.45. Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December
65 BCE 27 November 8 BCE), known in the English-speaking
world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time
of Augustus. The rhetorician Quintillian regarded his Odes as the
only Latin lyrics worth reading.

established spice farms in Mauritius and Runion.

Cinnamon was produced in Srilanka and this was reputed
to be better than the ones found on the Malabar coast.
Pepper was cultivated in the humid climate of the Malabar
coast, especially in the highlands and also in the midlands.
It should be borne in mind that pepper is not a forest
product, but a produce of intense and market-oriented
cultivation. Sometimes, the area where pepper is
cultivated in large scale may look like a forest, which
prompted the foreigners to conclude that pepper was a
forest product. The variety of pepper cultivated in north
Malabar was supposed to be better than the one from
south Malabar or the erstwhile princely state of
This book is divided into twelve chapters along with this
brief introduction on spice history. Circulation of spices in
the early historical period is discussed in the first chapter.
The role played by Muziris, the first emporium of India, in
the Indo-Roman trade forms the central theme. The
second chapter deals with the development of the spice
route via Persian Gulf and to the Eastern Mediterranean
after the decline of the Roman Empire till 1453 CE.
Following the fall of Constantinople, the effective steps
taken by the Portuguese in the opening of a direct route,
entirely sea-borne, connecting the Malabar coast with the
Portuguese ports are discussed in chapter three. This is
followed by chapters four and five, which deal with the
arrival of the English, Dutch, the French and the Danes on
the Malabar coast for obtaining spices and their conflicts
with the Portuguese as well as their ousting from coastal
Exclusive right of navigation in the Indian Ocean regions
claimed by the Portuguese, the English and the Dutch is
discussed in chapter six. Issuance of passes by the
European powers for safe oceanic voyages is also

highlighted. The subsequent chapter seven takes up the

study of building of ships in the Malabar coast for the spice
routes. Chapter eight deals with life on board the ships.
The merchant financiers from Europe were extending
financial support to the Portuguese trade with the Malabar
coast. Therefore attention is paid in chapter nine to the
role of European financiers. The part played by the
middlemen in spice trade with the Malabar coast is
discussed in chapter ten. Production of spices is also dealt
with in the same chapter.
The spices routes right from the early historical period
served as an important conduit for cultural diffusion. The
details of this are discussed in chapter eleven. Various
European powers who established their commercial
contacts with the Malabar coast came from the same
Christian background even though a few of them adopted
non-Catholic ideology from the second quarter of the
sixteenth century while retaining their basic Christian
mores. The concluding chapter twelve contains the ideas
that are derived from the foregoing chapters. A
bibliography is added to the work for the use of
prospective researchers interested in the subject.





n ancient times, the enticing aroma and flavour of

spices, particularly of the Malabar coast, lured people
from world over. Thousands of mariners and
innumerable vessels lie buried under the vast expanse of
the Indian Ocean, having involved in bloody maritime
battles to get a foothold on the Malabar coast and thus

appropriate the fabulous profit from trade in spices. The

internecine naval battles waged in the Arabian Sea sent a
host of merchant-warriors to the bosom of the sea.
Contending religious denominations from Europe vied with
each other and reached India through this route for
proselytizing activities. Gold and silver collected from the
Western Hemisphere after its discovery by the Europeans
flowed to the Malabar coast in exchange of spices.
Similarly large amount of copper from Denmark, Sweden,
Austria and Germany arranged by the merchant financiers
of Italy, Germany and Belgium found its way to the southwestern coast of India through the spice routes. The
Europeans braved turbulent oceans and seas as well as
the fully armed vessels to get a space in the staple centres
of spices on the Malabar coast. Yes, Malabar was the target
of all the European entrepreneurs till the close of the
eighteenth century.
It is held by many that, even during the Pharaonic age,
spices from the East were used in burial chambers of
Egypt. Earliest material evidence for the use of spices is
found in the wall relief of the Dayr al-Bahri funerary
monument of the Pharaonic, Queen Hatshepsut (1512 BCE
- 1482 BCE), built on the west bank of the river Nile at
Thebes, nearly 3500 years old. It is believed that from
around 1000 BCE the Phoenicians used to trade in spices.16

16 Chris and Carolyn Caldicott, The Spice Routes: Recipes and Lore,
Singapore, 2001, p.11.

From early historical times up to the fall of the united

Roman Empire, spices were circulated by different regimes
through diverse routes and various ports. Silk routes and
incense routes, a network of overland and sea trade routes
used for carrying silk from China and frankincense from
Arabia to various parts of Europe and Asia, were also
employed for the shipment of spices from India. But the
most important among them were the silk routes
consisting of branches passing entirely through land and
the other passing chiefly over sea and partially by land. 17
Even for silk there was no exclusive route as such but was
transported through several routes, on account of which,
we speak of silk routes rather than silk route. 18 The same
was the case with spices.
Though the name Silk Route was ascribed to the
specific intercontinental conduit of commodities and
17 It was a German geographer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen who
made seven expeditions to China from 1868 to 1872, who used for
the first time the term Seidenstrasse and Seidenstrassen - silk
road(s) or silk route(s) - in 1877.

18 John Keay, op.cit, p.xiii.

culture, primarily by dint of the lucrative trade in Chinese

silk, spices too were a part of the long list of products
exchanged. The silk route is said to have covered 6,500
kms from the eastern terminus of Loyang in China to
Seleucia on the Tigris or the neighbouring city of Ctesiphon
from where it branched out into two - one to Antioch, on
the Orontes river in Turkey, and the other to the Jordanian
city of Petra via the Persian Gulf. It connected China to the
Mediterranean through India of the Kushanas and the
territory of the Sassanians, who played an important role
in the Asian trade. Founded by Ardashir I, the Sassanian
Empire was the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam
and they controlled one of the most lucrative trade routes
in Asia. Seleucia on the Tigris, Mesopotamias leading city,
was the headquarters of the western silk merchants.
The silk route came into operation during the Han
Dynasty of China (206 BCE - 220 CE); the Central Asian
sections of the silk routes were expanded around 114 BCE.
The first major step in opening the silk route between the
East and the West took place with the expansion of the
empire of Alexander the Great into Central Asia. He
founded the city of Alexandria Eschate or Alexandria the
Furthest at the mouth of the Fergana Valley in Tajikistan in
August 329 BCE, which turned out to be a major staging
point on the northern silk route. The Greeks remained in
Central Asia for the coming three centuries as
administrators of the Seleucid Empire and of GrecoBactrian kingdom in Bactria, a province of the Persian
Empire, which is now northern Afghanistan.
There was another move from Emperor Wu, one of the
most ambitious emperors in the Chinese history, to open a
route across the Tarim Basin in northwest China and the
Gansu Corridor to China proper. This was successfully
materialised in 130 BCE by sending the embassies of the
Han Dynasty to Central Asia, subsequent to the reports of

the explorations conducted by ambassador Zhang Qian.

The two diplomatic missions by Zhang Qian to the Western
regions helped in connecting Chinas Xinjiang area to West
Asia, opening up the historically famed path known as Silk
Road. Following the defeat of the ancient nomadic tribes
called Xiongnu, who had a confederated state located
north of China, the Chinese Han armies established
themselves in Central Asia, giving a firm and safe footing
for the Silk Road, which became a major avenue of
international trade. The silk routes served as an important
conduit in the realms of trade, commerce and culture as
well as technological exchanges connecting ancient China,
India, Tibet, the Persian Empire and Mediterranean
countries for a long period stretching from the time of the
Han Dynasty till the discovery of the direct sea route via
Cape of Good Hope in 1498. Different branches of the silk
routes connected India with China, Central Asia, Parthia
and Rome. Important centres like Taxila, which is today a
town in Pakistan and other places in India like Mathura,
Sravasti and Kausambi of Uttar Pradesh, Vaisali in Bihar,
Pataliputra of Patna, Tamralipti in Bengal, Ujjain in Madhya
Pradesh and Barygaza of Gujarat were all linked with the
silk routes.
Though commodities of various types were carried
along the silk route, silk itself was an important and
valuable item of trade. The Roman ladies had a craze for
silk and they purchased it avidly, as a result of which the
Roman economy was badly affected. The Greek and
Roman writers of the period decried severely tendencies of
this sort and some of them wrote rather sarcastically, such
as Seneca, the elder. Wretched flocks of maids labour so
that the adulteress may be visible through her thin dress,

so that her husband has no more acquaintance than any

outsider or foreigner with his wifes body.19
There seems to have been two distinctive branches for
the overland segment of the Silk Route, namely the
northern and southern sections. Extending westwards from
the ancient commercial centres of China, the silk route was
divided into two, bypassing the Taklamakan Desert and the
Lop Nur salt lake of China. The northern branch started at
Changan (present day Xian, and the capital city of more
than ten dynasties in Chinese history), went westwards
through the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi and
split into three different routes. Two of them followed the
mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklamakan
Desert to rejoin at Kashgar, the westernmost Chinese city
and the other went north of the Tian Shan Mountains. One
of the branch routes made its way through the north of the
Aral and Caspian seas and on to the Black Sea. Another
branch started at Xian and passed through Persia and Iraq
before joining the western boundary of the Roman Empire.
The southern branch took the direction from China
through the Karakoram mountain range and continued
onto Turkestan-Khorasan region in north-eastern Iran,
Mesopotamia and then into Anatolia or Asian Turkey. A
branch crossing the high mountains passed through Syrian
Desert to the Levant (comprising Syria, Lebanon, Palestine,
Jordan, and Israel) where Mediterranean trading ships plied
19 The Elder Seneca: Declamations, vol.1, Controversiae, translated
by M. Winterbottom, London, 1974, p.175.

regularly to Italy. Another road travelled from Herat in

Afghanistan through Susa in Iran to Charax Spasinu at the
head of the Persian Gulf and across to Petra and on to
Alexandria and other eastern Mediterranean ports from
where ships carried the cargoes to Rome. The western
termini of the silk road were Antioch in Syria and
Alexandria in Egypt which in their turn had been connected
with the two inland centres of trade namely Petra in the
Nabatean kingdom and Palmyra in Syria/Jordan. The
maritime linkages between eastern Mediterranean area
and coastal western India were strengthened considerably
with the conquest and annexation of Egypt to the Roman
Empire in 30 BCE, thereby providing easy access to the
Red Sea route which brought Egypt and Alexandria into the
orbit of Indias maritime trade.
The silk road ran westwards from Xian through Lanzhou
in Gansu province and then, following the westernmost
spur of the Great Wall, passed the Gansu corridor on to the
county city of Dunhuang in western China, which was a
major stop. Near Dunhuang, the desert routes split. The
main northern route followed the southern edge of the Tian
Shan mountains, running along the north of the
Taklamakan desert and through the Chinese oasis towns of
Hami, Turfan, Korla, Kucha and Aksu before reaching
Kashgar, the westernmost Chinese city.
The southern route proceeded through the oases of
Chakhlik, Cherchen, Niya, Keriya, Khotan and Yarkand
before reaching Kashgar where it terminated. There could
have been a branch from Yarkand to Leh and Srinagar and
down to India through the Karakoram Mountains.
An alternate northern route also existed from the north
of the Tian Shan Mountains from Hami to Almalik bordering
Kazakhstan, Balasaghun of Kyrgystan and through the
cities of Tashkent, Samarkhand and Bokhara in Uzbekistan.
There were a number of routes from Kashgar through the

Hindu Kush past Tashkurgan in China to the Buddhist

kingdoms of Gandhara and Taxila. The traders travelled
north along the plains of the vast mountain ranges of
Pamirs to Samarkhand and Bokhara, or south of Pamirs to
Balkh in northern Afghanistan and thence to Merve in
Turkmenistan. From Merve, various routes led to the
Mediterranean via Baghdad to Damascus or Antioch or
Constantinople and to Trebizond on the Black Sea.20
Both the northern and southern routes ran through the
lines of oasis settlements found near the encircling
mountain ranges, which provided the oases with meltwater. Travellers like Marco Polo (c.1254-1324) noted
vividly the inclement weather experienced in the silk
routes. He wrote:
The plain, whose name is Pamir, extends fully twelve
days journey. In all these twelve days there is no
habitation or shelter, but travellers must take their
provisions with them. No birds fly there because of
the height and cold; fire is not so bright here nor of
the same colour as elsewhere, and food does not
cook well. Now let us pursue our course towards the
northeast and east. At the end of this twelve days
journey, the traveller must ride fully forty days more
east-north-east, always over mountains and along
hill-sides and gorges, traversing many rivers and
many deserts. And in this entire journey, he finds no

20 Francis Wood, The Silk Road, Berkeley, 2002, pp.11-13.

habitation or shelter, but must carry his stock of

The inhospitable terrain, especially the desert through
which the silk roads ran, was without any life as noted
again by Marco Polo who describes the condition of Tarim
Basin in the following words:
This desert is reported to be so long that it would
take a year to go from end to end and at the
narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It
consists entirely of mountains and sand and valleys.
There is nothing at all to eat. But I can tell you that
after travelling a day and a night you find drinking
water.... And all the way through the desert you must
go for a day and a night before you find water. And I
can tell you that in three or four places you find the
water bitter and blackish; but all the other watering
places, that is, twenty-eight in all, the water is good.
Beasts and birds are there none, because they find
nothing to eat.22
Silk routes served as an important means for the
transmission of religious beliefs like Christianity, Buddhism
and Islam. Odoric of Pordenone, an Italian friar and
missionary traveller and John of Montecorvino, a
Franciscan missionary and founder of the earliest Roman
21 Ronald Latham, Marco Polo: the Travels, Harmondsworth, Penguin,
1958, p.80.

22 Latham, op.cit, p.84.

Catholic missions in India and China were also among the

celebrated explorers like Marco Polo, Giovanni de
Marignoli, Nicolo de Conti and Ibn Batuta who traversed
the silk route.23
In 1453, with the capture of Constantinople by the
Ottoman Turks and the fragmentation as well as
disintegration of the Mongol Empire, the silk route stopped
serving as a shipment route. When the land route was
blocked, the sea route via Malabar coast was reopened.
Silk route, with a number of branches, connected the
subcontinent of India. It had a maritime branch with
intermittent passages through land where caravans were
employed for the transportation of commodities. Thus
Malabar coast, which produced spices, was connected to
the silk route through its sea route section and spices
found their way to various parts of the world from here.
Muziris, which was widely known at the time, served as the
major centre for the export of spices.

23 The details of such interactions are provided in a subsequent

chapter on cultural diffusion.

The expansion of the Mongols in the Asian continent

from 1207 to 1360 helped bring political stability and reestablish the silk route via Karakoram mountain range. The
Mongols replaced the monopoly trade held by the Islamic
Caliphate. Towards the end of the thirteenth century,
Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer became one of the first
Europeans to travel through the silk route to China. His
work, Travels of Marco Polo, opened the eyes of the
Europeans to the East.
Though the nomenclature Silk Route/s suggests a
continuous journey, this was not the reality. Commodities
were in fact carried through a series of routes by a number
of agents, passing through several hands before they were
delivered at the ultimate destination. Similarly, the number
of travellers who traversed the entire length of the silk
routes was also very few, save for the missionaries coming
from the West. But more significantly, these routes opened
the avenue for transportation of a variety of commodities
other than silk, although the Routes went into history as
Incense route and distribution of spices
Another passage of importance for spice trade, though
not as extensive as the silk route, was the Incense Road or
the Incense Trade Route. It comprised a network of major
ancient land and sea trade routes linking the
Mediterranean world with Eastern and Southern sources of
incense, spices and other luxury goods, extending from the
Mediterranean ports across the Levant and Egypt through
eastern Africa and Arabia to India and beyond. The trade in
incense from South Arabia to the Mediterranean through
the land route flourished roughly between the 7 th century
BCE and the 2nd century CE. This route served as a
channel for trading of goods such as Arabian frankincense
and myrrh; Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, ebony,

silk and fine textiles; and East African rare woods, feathers,
animal skins and gold.
There were a few political entities that promoted trade
in spices on account of their location and the societal
factors. We shall have a cursory glance at them.
The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state founded
by Seleucus I Nicator following the division of the empire
created by Alexander the Great. Seleucus received
Babylonia and, from there, expanded his dominions to
include much of Alexanders near eastern territories after
the latters death in Babylonia in 323 BCE. At the height of
its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant,
Mesopotamia, Kuwait, Persia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan,
and northwest parts of India. The Empire controlled the
trade networks to India before the establishment of Roman
Egypt in 30 BCE.
The Ptolemaic dynasty, sometimes also known as the
Lagids or Lagides after the name of Ptolemy Is father,
Lagus, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled
Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Ptolemy I, Soter, one of
the bodyguards of Alexander the Great, founded the
dynasty in 305 BCE. The kingdom ended with the death of
Cleopatra VII and the Roman conquest in 30 BCE. Ptolemy
declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt and created a powerful
Hellenistic dynasty that ruled an area stretching from
southern Syria to Cyrene and southwards to Nubia.
Alexandria became the capital city and a centre of Greek
culture and trade. To gain recognition from the native
Egyptian populace, they named themselves the successors
to the Pharaohs.
All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name
Ptolemy while the female ones were usually called
Cleopatra, Arsinoe or Berenice. The most famous member
of the line was the last queen, Cleopatra VII (51 BCE-30
BCE), known for her role in the Roman political battles

between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and later between

Octavian and Mark Antony. Her apparent suicide following
the conquest by Rome marked the end of Ptolemaic rule in
Egypt. Just like the Seleucid dynasty, the Ptolemaic
dynasty too controlled trade networks to India before
Egypt was brought under the Roman Empire.
The Ptolemies, by and large, promoted maritime trade
but Ptolemaic contacts with India were sporadic. There is
mention of diplomatic relations between Asoka the Great
(265- 228 BCE) and Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, as mentioned
in the Thirteenth Rock Edict of Asoka. However,
commercial interaction between Eastern Mediterranean
and areas of India in Hellenistic times and between
Ptolemaic Egypt and India was limited.24
The Parthian Empire that existed between 247 BCE
and 224 CE was another political unit that served as an
important geographical segment in the circulation of
spices in the early historical period. Also known as the
Arsacid Empire or ancient Persia, it was a major political
and cultural power in ancient Iran. Its latter name comes
from Arsaces I of Parthia, who, as leader of the Parni tribe,
founded it in the mid-3rd century BC when he conquered
the Parthia region in Irans northeast, then a
satrapy(province) in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire.
During its peak of glory, the Parthian Empire stretched
from the northern reaches of the Euphrates, in what is now
24 Steven E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice
Route, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2011, p.37.

south-eastern Turkey to eastern Iran. It was located on the

silk road trade route between the Roman Empire in the
Mediterranean Basin and Han Empire of China. On account
of its location it became an important centre of trade and
The Aksumite Empire or the kingdom of Aksum or
Axum which grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period
c. 4th century BCE, came to prominence by the first century
940 CE, playing an important role in the trade and
commerce between India and the Roman Empire. It
comprised present-day Eritrea of the African Union and
northern Ethiopia. Home of the legendary Queen of Sheba,
the kingdom minted its own coins to facilitate trade. It
converted to Christianity under Ezana (320-360 CE). The
kingdom of Axum pioneered the Red Sea Route before the
first century CE.
The Sasanian Empire also known as Sassanian,
Sasanid, or Sassanid or Neo-Persian Empire, was the last
Iranian empire before the rise of Islam. Founded by
Ardashir I, after the defeat of the last Arsacid king,
Artabanus V, and the subsequent fall of the Arsacid Empire
224 CE to 651 CE. As a successor to the Parthian Empire, it
was recognized as one of the main powers in Western and
Central Asia, alongside the RomanByzantine Empire, for a
period of more than 400 years. It comprised all of todays
Iran, Iraq, the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan,
Israel), the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Dagestan), Egypt, parts of Turkey, much of Central Asia
(Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), the
Persian Gulf countries of Yemen, Oman and Pakistan.
Roman Empire and the Spice Route

The Roman Empire came into existence as an autocratic

form of government on the ruins of the Roman Republic
and lasted for 500 years. The most important event that
marked the transition from being a Republic to Empire was
the appointment of Julius Caesar as the perpetual dictator
in 44 BCE. Another major event that orchestrated this
change was the battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Shortly
afterwards, the Roman province of Egypt was established
in 30 BCE after Octavian (the future emperor Augustus)
defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed his lover Queen
Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt
to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of
modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula, which
was later conquered by the Roman emperor, Trajan.
On 16th of January, the Roman senate granted the
honorific title Augustus to Octavian who ruled from 27
BCE to 14 CE as the first Emperor. The Roman Empire
encompassed large territorial holdings around the
Mediterranean in Europe, Africa and Asia, enjoying
unprecedented prosperity for the first two centuries. The
dissensions of the civil war ended at Actium. This period
was known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). The most
visible effect of Pax Romana was the spurt in external
trade, especially with India.25 The territorial expansion
reached its zenith during the reign of Trajan (98 25 H.G. Rawlinson, Intercourse between India and the Western World
From the Earliest Times to the Fall of Rome, New Delhi, AES
reprints, 2001, p.101.

117 CE). Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over both

Western and Eastern empire, divided the empire in 395 CE,
after making Christianity the official state religion. Rome
continued to be the capital of the western segment while
Constantinople became the headquarters of the Eastern
Roman empire, which lasted till 1453 CE. The Western
Roman Empire fell to the Goths in 476 CE.
Graeco Roman Ports related to Trade with India
The unsigned travel guide of the 1st century CE, Periplus
of Erythraean Sea mentions Myos Hormos and Bernice
(Bernike), both of which were located on the boundary of
Egypt. Further south of the same western coast was the
important port of Adulis. Myos Hormos and Bernice were
both linked by organized caravan routes with Coptos on
the Nile and hence with the Egyptian markets. Between
Bernice and Adulis, the small market-town of Ptolemaic
period provided some sort of outlet for Meroe, the decayed
capital of Nubia. Behind Adulis, lay the kingdom of the
Axumites, in what is now Ethiopia or Abyssinia.
1. Adulis
Adulis or Aduli, situated on the coast of the Northern
Red Sea region of Eritrea, about 30 miles south of
Massawat, was the port of the Kingdom of Aksum. It was a
great emporium for ivory, hides, slaves and other exports
as described in the first century work, Periplus of
Erythraean Sea. Pliny the Elder, was the earliest writer to
make a mention of this town.26
26 Naturalis Historia, 6.34.

2. Arsinoe
The Ptolemaic dynasty, taking advantage of the
strategic position of Alexandria for developing commercial
relations with India, first made use of the harbour of
Arsinoe, the present day Gulf of Suez, on the Red Sea. It
was one of the principal harbours of Egypt. The Romans
repaired and cleared out the silted up canal from the Nile
to the harbour centre of Arsinoe. It was eventually
overshadowed by the rising prominence of Myos Hormos.
The navigation to the northern ports, such as ArsinoeClysma, became difficult in comparison to Myos Hormos
due to the northern winds in the Gulf of Suez. During the
reign of Trajan, the citys fortunes declined with the
development of a new canal between the Nile and the Red
Sea which terminated at Clysma, a few kilometres to the
west of Arsinoe.
3. Berenike (Berenice Troglodytica)
Port of Berenike in Egypt was established in 275 BCE on
the Red Sea Coast in the far south of the Egyptian Eastern
Desert. Before the founding of this port, cargoes from
Muziris to Egypt had to be transported through overland
routes covering a considerable distance. Spices brought
from the East to Berenike were carried to Coptos on the
Nile by caravans and from there to Alexandria. It turned
out to be the principal point of communication between
India and Europe. The site of Berenike was discovered by
Belzoni, the great Italian explorer and archaeologist in
1818. Excavations were launched at Berenike in 1994 by a
team of archaeologists from the University of Delaware led
by Steven E. Sidebotham. At this last outpost of the Roman
Empire, a large number of significant finds has been made
providing evidence of the cargo from the Malabar coast
and the presence of people from South India. Among the
unexpected discoveries at Berenike were a range of

ancient Indian goods, including a large quantity of teak

wood, black pepper, coconuts, beads made of precious and
semi-precious stones, cameo blanks, a Tamil Brahmi
graffito etc. The details of the findings were brought out by
E. Sidebotham in 2011.27
It was an important conduit in the southern maritime
spice route which served long distance commerce ranging
from the Mediterranean basin, Egypt, and the Red Sea on
the one hand to the Indian Ocean...28 It was one of the
hubs of the ancient silk routes, incense route and the
maritime spice routes. The fact that spices, especially
pepper, were carried through this port can be confirmed
from the findings of archaeologists who worked in this site
after the rediscovery of this port by G. Belzoni. The socalled Serapis temple located on top of the highest point of
the site at Berenike was found to have two large Indianmade round-bottomed terracotta storage and shipment
jars resembling adolia. They were discovered in a
27 Steven E. Sidebotham, op.cit.

28 Steven E. Sidebotham, op.cit.

courtyard like area during the first century CE. A holding of

7.55 kg of black pepper corns was stored in one of the
containers devoid of wooden lid.29 This could suggest
widespread use of pepper in the city throughout the early
to late Roman periods as well as the shipment of pepper to
the Roman Empire through Berenike.
4. Koptos (Coptos)
Koptos, Coptos or Coptus was an ancient city in Egypt
located on the right bank of the Nile. The town was of
importance in Hellenistic times, when it was the terminus
of a caravan route to Berenike on the Red Sea. Built by
Augustus in the 3rd century CE, it was almost destroyed by
292 CE. The present day village of Qift is built on the site.
5. Myos Hormos
Myos Hormos was a Red Sea port constructed by the
Ptolemies around the 3rd century BC. Following
excavations carried out recently by David Peacock and
Lucy Blue of the University of Southampton, it is thought to
have been located on the present day site of Quseir alQuadim (old Quseir), eight kilometres north of the modern
town of Al-Qusayr in Egypt. According to Strabo (II.5.12),

29 Sidebotham and Wendrich 2001-2002:30; Cappers, R.T. J (2006)

Roman Footprints at Berenike: Archaeological Evidence of
Subsistence and Trade in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, Los
Angeles, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology: 114-119; Sidebotham
2007:74-75; Steven E. Sidebotham, op.cit, p.60.

by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships were setting sail

every year from Myos Hormos to India.
6. Barbaricum
Barbaricum, otherwise known as Barbarikon, was a port
near the modern day city of Karachi in Pakistan. It was
important in the Hellenistic era for trade in the Indian
Ocean regions. The Periplus makes mention of the port of
This river [the Indus] has seven mouths, very shallow
and marshy, so that they are not navigable, except
the one in the middle; at which by the shore, is the
market-town, Barbaricum. Before it there lies a small
island, and inland behind it is the metropolis of
Scythia, Minnagara; it is subject to Parthian princes
who are constantly driving each other out.30
The Periplus also gives information about the imports
and exports of Barbaricum:
The ships lie at anchor at Barbaricum, but all their
cargoes are carried up to the metropolis by the river,
to the King. There are imported into this market a
great deal of thin clothing, and a little spurious
figured linens, topaz, coral, storax, frankincense,
vessels of glass, silver and gold plate, and a little
wine. On the other hand there are exported costus,

30 Schoff, op.cit, p.37.

bdellium, lycium, nard, turquoise, lapis lazuli, Seric

skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn and indigo.31
7. Barygaza
Barygaza, also known as Broach or Bharuch was
situated at the confluence of Narmada river with the
Arabian sea. It was known to the Greeks, various Persian
Empires, Roman Republic and also to the Roman empire. In
Periplus, there is mention of the difficulty in entering the
port of Barygaza:
And even if the entrance to the gulf is made safely, the
mouth of the river at Barygaza is found with difficulty,
because the shore is very low and cannot be made out
until you are close upon it. And when you have found it the
passage is difficult because of the shoals at the mouth of
the river. Because of this, native fishermen in the kings
service, stationed at the very entrance in well-manned
large boats called trappaga and cotymba, go up the coast
as far as Syrastrene, from which they pilot vessels to
31 Schoff, op.cit, pp.37-38.

32 Schoff, op.cit, p.40.

There were a few more ports in the country of Damirica

or South India, which were also known to the Roman
traders. The area indicated by the term Damirica
comprised chiefly, the Tamil kingdoms of the Cholas,
Pandyas and the Cheras. It seems that the interests of the
Roman traders in spices led them to other ports on the
Malabar coast, especially Muziris.
8) Naura
Naura is identified with Kannur from where Roman coins
during the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius and Nero were
discovered. This testifies to the fact that Naura or Kannur
had commercial relations with the Roman empire. The
following mention of Naura is made in the Periplus: Then
come Naura and Tyndis, the first markets of Damirica...33
9) Tyndis
Tyndis, located in the kingdom of the Cheras or
Cerobothra,34 has been recognized as modern Ponnani. A
33 Schoff, op.cit, p.44.

34 Schoff, op.cit, p.44.

few other scholars like Burnell identify it with Kadalundi

near Beypore. It is depicted in the Periplus as a village in
plain sight on the shore.
10) Muziris
The term Muziris used in western classical sources
like Periplus, and by writers like Pliny and so on must have
had its origin from Mucciri in ancient Tamil literature. It
was situated in south-western India on the estuary of the
Pseudostomos/Chulli River/Periyar. The massive flooding of
Periyar in 1341 CE is believed to have destroyed Muziris
town. It was also known by names like Muiricode,
Marichipattanam etc. Muchiri means cleft palate and
pattanam meant a port-city. Periyar branched into two like
a cleft palate and thus came the name Muchiripattanam
according to some scholars. The word Muzirikode was
employed to indicate the same in the Jewish copper plate
of Bhaskara Ravi Varma (c. 1000 CE). The town figures in
Peutingeriana) reproduced below.
Reference to Muziris is seen in the Periplus, which
mentions its location on the bank of a river away from the
sea shore.
Muziris, of the same Kingdom [Cerobothra), abounds in
ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the
Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river
and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the
shore twenty stadia.35
Pliny the Elder (c.23-79 CE), qualifies Muziris with the
epithet primum emporium Indiae(premier emporium of
India) and shares some points as in Periplus. He writes:
They sail thence with the wind Hippalus in forty days
to the First Emporium of India, Muziris. Besides, the
35 Schoff, op.cit, p.44.

station for ships is at a great distance from the shore

and cargoes have both to be landed and shipped by
little boats. There reigned there, when I wrote this
Two important points to be underlined in the
descriptions by Pliny and those seen in Periplus are: 1) the
distance of Muziris from the sea shore which necessitates
the use of small vessels to carry the cargoes from the
shore to the emporium and vice versa 2) the statement
that Muziris was the premier emporium of India; not only of
Malabar or the kingdom of the Cheras but the whole of
India. An emporium by its nature presupposes a settlement
of merchants from outside, a market place and also a
production centre.
Ptolemy who compiled his work in 150 CE calls Muziris
an emporium, a trading post, and pre-eminently a
commercial port with rights or privileges. It is likely that in
the emporia were posted permanent agencies of the

36 Pliny, ref. W.H.S. Jones (tr.&ed.), Plinys Natural History, London,

1969, p.101.

Graeco-Roman traders, organised like factories of the

Portuguese.37 It was from here [Muziris] that the pepper
was taken away in such quantities that ships of the largest
burden anchored in the harbour which was crowded with
Greek and Arabian vessels.38 The discovery of a 2nd
century CE papyrus document from the archives of Vienna
in 1985, which deals with the maritime loan arrangements
made between the traders of Muziris and Alexandria shows
that both these places existed not in isolation, but were
brought closer by the frequent movement of commodities
and people.39
37 Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers, Pelican
Books, 1954, p.152.

38 M.P. Charlesworth, Trade Routes and Commerce of the Roman

Empire, Cambridge, 1926, p.69.

39 For details on this document, ref. H. Harrauer and P. Sijpesteijn ed,

Ein neues Dokument zu Roms Indienhadel, P. Vindob, G. 40822
in Anzeiger der sterreichischen Akademie de Wissensachaften,
Phil. His. K1.122, 1985, pp.124-155, Lcasson,
P. Vindob, G.
40822 and the Shipping of Goods from India BASP 23, 1986,

The papyrus written on both sides, contains the details

of the agreement in Greek. The agreement was between
two shippers, one of whom agrees to serve as an agent for
a cargo belonging to the other and took up the
responsibility to transport it from Muciri to Alexandria. 40
The names of the contracting parties are not available on
the papyrus. Cargo consisted primarily of products of the
ancient Chera kingdom and the value of the commodities
involved in this was so great that it could purchase 2400
acres of farmland in Nile delta as per the calculations
made by the scholars.41 Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds
pp.73-79, G. Thr Hypotheken-Urkunde eines Seedarlehens fr
eine Reise nach Muziris und Apographe fr die Tetarte in
Alexandria zu P. Vindob, G. 40822 Tyche 2, 1987, pp.241-246.

40 The Greek text is translated by Dr. Osmund Bopearachchi, Charge

de Recherch au CNRS, Centre dAcheaologie Paris and published
with notes by K.Rajan, ref. Muciri-Alexandria Trade Contract: An
Archaeological Approach. Pondicherry University Journal of Social
Sciences & Humanities, vol.1, nos.1&2, 2000, pp.93-104.

41 K. Rajan, l.cit. p.98.

recovered from the Red Sea ports of Bernike and Qusier alQadim give personal names of the Indian traders involved
in trade with Egypt under the Romans.
The classical text of Sangam literature in Tamil too
refers to the arrival of foreign ships to Muziris disturbing
the white foams of the river Periyar in search of pepper for
gold. We have the following interesting information in one
of the poems.
The well- built crafts of the Yavanas came, beating the
white foams of Chulli [Pseudostomos, or Periyar] to the
prosperous and beautiful Muchiri and then return laden
with black pepper paying for it in gold.42
12. Nelcynda
This was another important centre of trade in Malabar
during the Roman period. Known as Nelcynda, it was
situated in the kingdom of the Pandyas.
Periplus has this about Nelcynda:

42 Akanaruru, Poem no.149.

Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea

about five hundred stadia, and is of another
Kingdom, the Pandian. This place also is situated on
a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from
the sea.43
Pliny seems to have confused Nelcynda with Becare, as
can be seen from what he has written:
Another port belonging to the nation is the more
conveniently Naecydan, which is called Becare.
There reigned Pandian in an inland town, far distant
from the emporium called Madura - the region
however, from which they convey pepper to Becare
in boats formed from single logs.44
But in Periplus, it is written clearly that Nelcynda and
Becare are two different places. Here is what is mentioned
in the Periplus:

43 Schoff, op.cit, p.44.

44 Pliny ref. W.H.S. Jones (tr.&ed.) Plinys Natural History, op.cit,


There is another place at the mouth of this river, the

village of Becare; to which ships drop down on the outward
voyage from Nelcynda and anchor in the roadstead to take
on the cargoes; because the river is full of shoals and the
channels are not clear.45
Seasons of voyage for the Ptolemaic and Roman
contacts with India
The monsoon winds, used by the sailors from the Red
Sea regions, blew from the southwest between June and
September or October. This is the appropriate season to
sail to the western coast of India. A most suitable period
for the voyage from Egypt to southern India is during this
season. Return from India to the Red Sea regions is to be
organised between November and March/April.46 E.H.
Warmington has suggested that the ship bound to the
Malabar coast sailed from Berenike about mid-summer and

45 Schoff, op.cit, p.44

46 Sidebotham, op.cit, p.35.

leaving out Muza (modern Mecca), it halted at Ocelis 47 and

taking advantage of the South West Monsoon, the ship
proceeded to Muziris. The return voyage was scheduled for
December or at the latest the first week of January, when
the north-east monsoon took the ship to the Red Sea so as
to catch a south-east or east wind at the Strait.48
Pliny the Elder gives a description of voyages to India in
the 1st century CE. He refers to many Indian ports in his
work The Natural History.
To those who are bound for India, Ocelis (on the Red
Sea) is the best place for embarkation. If the wind,
called Hippalus (south-west Monsoon), happens to be
blowing it is possible to arrive in forty days at the
nearest market in India, Muziris by name. This,
however, is not a very desirable place for
disembarkation, on account of the pirates which
47 Ocelis is an ancient port on the Red Sea, on the Arabian side near
or at Bab al-Mandeb, the strait separating the Red Sea from the
Gulf of Aden.

48 E.H. Warmington, The Commerce between the Roman Empire and

India, Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1995, p.48.

frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place

called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in articles of
merchandise. Besides, the road stead for shipping is
a considerable distance from the shore, and the
cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for
loading or discharging. At the moment that I am
writing these pages, the name of the King of this
place is Caelobothras - the Chera dynasty.
Travellers set sail from India on their return to
Europe, at the beginning of the Egyptian month of
Tybia, which is our December, or at all events before
the sixth day of the Egyptian month Mechir, the
same as our Ides of January; if they do this they can
go and return in the same year. They set sail from
India with a south-east wind (Northeast Monsoon),
and upon entering the Red Sea, catch the south-west
or south.
Direction of the Roman trade route for spices
A voyage from Alexandria in Egypt to Muziris on the
Malabar coast was a long and arduous one. The merchants
in search of spices and other commodities available at
Muziris set sail from Alexandria, up the Nile to
Koptos/Coptos, situated on the right side of the river Nile.
The passage from Koptos was across the Eastern Desert by
caravan, which took about two weeks or so. There were
several stops at Roman military outposts between Koptos
and Berenike on the Red Sea shore, the southern-most
port in the Roman world. Other emporia of the Red Sea
and the Indian Ocean coast of Africa, Arabia and India were
connected with the Mediterranean basin through Berenike.
It functioned as a transit point for the movement of vast
quantities and varieties of commodities, people and ideas
from the ancient world. The merchants spent a few weeks
in Berenike awaiting suitable means of transportation and

favourable sailing conditions. They proceeded by vessels

to the south Arabian port of Qana (in modern Yemen) and
took some rest there. In the meantime, additional cargo
was loaded in their vessels. The merchants set sail from
Qana to Muziris on the Malabar coast, taking advantage of
the monsoon winds. They had the option of travelling from
Muziris via the Palghat Pass to Puduke/Arikamedu on the
Coromandel coast.
Duration of the voyage to Muziris
According to Pliny, the vessels set sail from Egypt in
midsummer and in 40 days arrived at the Straits. He
writes: If the wind called Hippalus be blowing, the Muziris,
the nearest mart of India, can be reached in forty days. 49
By the term Hippalus, he means the south-west monsoon
blowing over the western coast of India especially Malabar.
In fact, the monsoon wind is named Hippalus after the
Greek Navigator and merchant Hippalus who is credited to
have discovered the use of the monsoon winds to reach
the western coast of India.50 The recent researches on
Roman trade with India proved that a voyage from Ocelis
to Muziris with the help of south-west monsoon could be
completed in 20 days instead of the 40 days of Pliny. In
this case, the ship should start from Ocelis by late August,
when the fury of the monsoon subsides and it could then

49 Pliny, VI.23.26, and J.W. Mc Crindle, Ancient India as described in

classical literature, p.111.

reach Muziris by mid-September.51 The return voyage

should be scheduled from Muziris to the Red Sea with the
help of the north-west monsoon winds which start blowing
from October to February. The ship loaded with cargo, as in
the case of the ship Hermapollon mentioned in the midsecond century CE maritime loan contract document (now
kept in Vienna), should move from Muziris in the direction
50 Hippalus was a Greek navigator and merchant who probably lived
in the 1st century BCE. He is sometimes conjectured to have been
the captain of the Greek explorer Eudoxus of Cyzicus ship. The
anonymous writer of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (written
probably in CE 60) credited Hippalus with discovering the direct
route from the Red Sea to India over the Indian Ocean by plotting
the scheme of the sea and the correct location of the trade ports
along the Indian coast. Pliny the Elder claimed that Hippalus
discovered not the route but the monsoon wind also called
Hippalus (the south-west monsoon wind). Neither the anonymous
author nor Pliny gives any date for Hippalus. For a detailed
discussion ref. E.H. Warmington, The Commerce between the
Roman Empire and India, Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1995,
pp.44-48. He seems to approve of the first century BCE suggested
by Kornemann and Chwostow.

51 Lionel Casson, Romes Trade with the East: The Sea Voyages to
Africa and India, Transactions of the American Philological
Society, 110, (1978), pp.21-36.

of either Bernike or Myos Hormos. The cargo was unloaded

from the ship at Berenike or Myos Hormos from where it
was carried on the backs of camels to the Coptos on the
Nile. From Koptos the cargo was loaded on to boats on the
river Nile and then transported to Alexandria, subject to
the payment of 25 per cent customs duties.52

Commodity composition of the Indo-Roman trade

with special reference to the Malabar coast
Exports from Malabar to the Roman Empire
The most important centres of trade in the southern
part of coastal India were Muziris and Nelcynda, where the
colonies of the Yavanas or foreigners existed. The products
exported from these places were black pepper, less costly
than the long ones, malabathrum (cinnamomum tamala,
equivalent to cinnamon, but less costly),53 indigo,
cinnamon and cardamom, all grown in Malabar.54 Pepper
from the Malabar coast was an important item in the IndoRoman sea-borne trade. It must be stressed that pepper
was not a product of the forest, nor a wild produce; it was
indeed cultivated by the agriculturists in the interior parts
52 Lionel Casson, New Light on Maritime Loans: P. Vindob, G. 40822,
Zeitschrift fr Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Band84, 1990 &
Ranabir Chakravarti ed., Trade in Early India, New Delhi, 2005,

53 The author of the Periplus of Erythraean Sea distinguishes three

sorts of malabathrum, namely, those made of the largest leaves,
those of the smaller and the smallest.
Ref. Schof., op.cit, p.49.

of Kerala and was brought to Muziris by boats through the

branches of Periyar river. There was great demand for
pearls, ivory, semi-precious stones, among which were
garnets and beryl from Padiyur in the district of
Coimbatore,55 sandalwood, nutmeg, precious stones like
diamonds and sapphires from Ceylon, nard and Chinese
silks both of which came from the North-eastern coast and
tortoise shells from the island of Chryse, the Aurea

54 Wilfred H. Schoff, op.cit, p.45.

55 Beryl, from Sanskrit vaiduryam was the much priced aquamarine

of the Romans. Only two beryl mines existed in S. India, at Padiyur
and Vaniambadi.
Ref. H.G. Rawlinson, Intercourse between
India and the western world, Delhi, AES Reprint, 2001, p.101.

Cherosonesus of Ptolemy, which is the peninsula of

Malacca. Chinese silk products brought to the Eastern
coast were taken to Muziris through the Palghat pass. Pliny
testifies that use of pepper had become a fashion in
Europe among the barbarians. Alaric, the head of the
Visigoths, after defeating Rome demanded an indemnity of
two tons of pepper.56 Cinnamomum tamala, nard, macir
and cinnamon along with pearls and cotton materials sent
by land and sea from the Gangetic regions were sent to
the ports of the western coast, especially Muziris.
Periplus includes amongst the exports from the Malabar
coast, great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth,
spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum from the places
in the interior, transparent stones of all kind, diamonds
and sapphires, and tortoise shell. Diamonds from Central
India, pearls from Cape Comorin and silk from China were
brought to Muziris via the east coast of India for export to
the Mediterranean.
There is evidence to prove that foreign merchants,
especially those from the Roman Empire, resided at Muziris
as is recorded in the second century CE papyrus kept in
the Vienna Museum, Papyrus Vindobonensis G 40822. This
papyrus document is of great importance as it chronicles
the trade relations between the Mediterranean world and
India. It contains a commercial contract that foresees the
transport of goods from Muziris to the Red Sea, then on to
Coptos, and across the Nile to Alexandria. The Muziris or
56 Ref. Cimino, op.cit. p.81.

Vienna Papyrus sheds some light on the commodities of

export from Muziris. The recent researches conducted by
Casson and Federico de Romanis concludes that there
could have been large amounts of pepper in the ship
Hermapollon of which no mention was made in the
declaration. The commodities mentioned consist of
Gangetic nard, sound ivory and schidai (ivory of lower
quality), which amounts to only 11.36% of the entire
cargos value. De Romanis speculates that the remaining
88.64% of the value must have consisted of pepper and
malabathron. His argument is that without assuming the
shipping of pepper and malabathron on board the
Hermapollon, the problem of the total value of the cargo
remains unattended and unexplained.57 The ship had 60
containers of Gangetic nard, brought from the Ganga delta
to Muziris for onward shipment to the Mediterranean port
of Alexandria and probably further to various European
Imports from the Roman Empire to Malabar
Author of the Periplus speaks about the Greek
merchants from Egypt who brought wine, brass, lead, glass
etc. for sale to Muziris and Bacare, and who purchased
57 Federico de Romanis, Playing Sudoku on the Verso of the Muziris
Papyrus: Pepper, Malabathron and Tortoise Shell in the Cargo of the
Hermapollon , Journal of Ancient Indian History, XXVII, 2010-11,
pp.75-101; L. Casson, P. Vindob, G. 40822 and the Shipping of
Goods from India, BASP, 23 (1986), pp.73-79; L. Casson, New Light
on Maritime Loans; P. Vindob, G. 40822, ZPE, 84 (1990), pp.195206.

from these ports pepper, ivory betel, pearls and fine

muslin. The traders brought to the Malabar coast a large
quantity of coins, topaz, thin clothing, figured linens,
antimony, coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead, wine,
realgar and orpiment, and wheat for sailors.58 The Tabula
Peutingeriana speaks of a temple dedicated to Augustus at
Muziris. This testifies to the Roman settlement in Muziris. 59
A large cache of coins was found at Eyyal, Cochin. They
were mostly Augustan-Tiberian denarii, which further
buttresses the claim of Muziris area being a landing point
for ships coming from Roman Egypt. The stash of money
found on the slope of a hill in 1945 contained
12 Roman gold coins, 50 Roman silver coins and 12 silver
punch marked coins.60 Coins issued by Augustus reached
India, signifying trade contact with India during the reign of
emperor Augustus.
58 Schoff, op.cit, pp.44-45.

59 Cimino, Ancient Rome and India, p.172.

60 Cimino, Ancient Rome and India, p.172.

Sixty-eight finds of Roman coins are recorded in India,

of which, fifty-seven come from the south of Vindhyas.
Twenty-nine first century finds comprising aurei or denarii
ranging from Augustus to Trajan (CE98 - 117) came from
Cochin, Pudukkottai, Hyderabad, Mysore and Travancore.61
They are of gold or silver, implying Roman trade with India
during the first century.62 Pliny speaks of (vi, 101) 50
million sesterces to India. Tiberius (CE14 - 37) complained
about the reckless exportation of money. 63 The imported

61 Wheeler, op.cit, p.166.

62 Wheeler, ibid, p.167.

coins were used as bullion to be weighed out in exchange

for goods.
Identifying Muziris
Classical works in Indian and western languages give
clear indications regarding the location of Muziris on the
bank of river Periyar, slightly away from the sea shore. It is
further added that cargoes for import had to be unloaded
from the ocean-going ships to smaller vessels that could
carry the goods through the river to the town of Muziris
and commodities for export also had to be loaded on such
vessels for transfer to the big vessels anchored in the sea.
From researches and analyses conducted in Arikamedu
near Pondicherry on the eastern coast of India by scholars
from India and abroad, we learn that Puduke of the
Periplus was the same as Arikamedu on Ariyankuppam
Gingee river, away from Veerampattanam, situated on the
Bay of Bengal. The contribution of Jouveau Dubreuil who
started collecting materials from the surface of the mound
and the river bank as early as 1937, describing it as a
ville romaine and finally identifying it in 1941 with the
Puduke of the classical writers, is worth noting. In other
words, the known trade settlement of foreigners in the
early historic period was not on the sea-shore, but on the
banks of a river opening out into the sea. It is to be borne
in mind that the devastating flooding of river Periyar in
1341 played havoc to the geo-morphology of the lower
63 Wheeler, ibid, p.167.

Periyar valley. The fourth century Peutingerian table also

points out the location of Muziris. Taking all these into
account we have to assess the attempts made by scholars
in the recent past to locate Muziris of the Roman times.
Till the end of the 90s of the twentieth century,
Cranganore or Kodungalloor in Trichur district of Kerala was
considered to be the location of Muziris. A few chance
surface findings, explorations and trial excavations
prompted scholars to search for Muziris in places other
than Cranganore. Detailed explorations and excavations
were initiated with the assumption that Pattanam
(100924N 761233E) situated two kilometres north of
North Parur in Vadakkekkara village, in the District of
Ernakulam, Kerala, and nine kilometres south of
Kodungalloor could be the lost port of Muziris. Pattanam is
3.32 m above the mean sea level, with its highest point at
about three to four metres. The core area of the mound is
circa 45 hectares and is surrounded by low-lying and
marshy land.
Several attempts were made in the recent past to
situate Muziris in the lower Periyar valley. Shajan K. Paul
during his researches leading to Doctorate in the
Department of Marine Geology, Cochin University of
Science and Technology, is reported to have come across
some potteries in Pattanam, near North Parur, by around
1996/97. These potteries were identified as pieces of
Roman amphorae with the assistance of Roberta Tomber
from the British Museum and V. Selvakumar, a participant
in the excavations at Arikamedu, another Roman
settlement. Discovery of surface finds of potsherds and
beads from Pattanam by the Centre for Cultural and
Ecological Studies, Union Christian College, Aluva in late
1990s also marked the beginning of the attempts to
identifying Muziris. So two different agencies in the same
period, probably without any mutual contacts, brought to

light the potsherds pointing to the possible Roman

settlement in Pattanam. An article that appeared in 2004
in the Journal of Roman Archaeology put forward the
hypothesis that Pattanam could be associated with Muziris.
Explorations and digging of experimental trenches were
done under the aegis of the Centre for Heritage Studies,
Thripunithura, which came across evidences of commercial
activity and habitation.
The excavations headed by P.J. Cherian, Director of
Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR), under the
aegis of the Muziris Project launched by the Government of
Kerala began in Pattanam in 2007 and continued for seven
years till 2013. Interim Report of the Pattanam
excavation) has been brought out by the KCHR. The
archaeologists involved in the excavations at Pattanam
were successful in unearthing a small boat and a wharf
which could remind us of the small vessels mentioned in
the Periplus and by Pliny, used for the transportation of
commodities from and to the big ships anchored at sea to
Muziris situated on the bank of a river. The industrial
products retrieved through the excavations in Pattanam
could point to the existence of an emporium which
presupposes a production centre.
The excavations conducted during the last seven
seasons unearthed 95,213 artefacts relevant to delve
deeper into the early historic times and the period
immediately following it. The important finds of the
archaeological excavations spanning from 2007 through
2013 consists of the following items: a)Local pottery pieces
- an overwhelming quantity of nearly four million sherds
(39, 72, 059) b) Non-local pottery from distant continents
and other parts of India c) Indian Rouletted ware (10,720)
d) Fragments of turquoise glazed pottery (1736) and
torpedo jars (3684) e) Sherds of amphorae (7430) and

Terra Sigillata (160) f) Beads - glass (71,467), Semiprecious

stones (3095) and Terracotta.
The presence of large number of sherds of amphorae in
Pattanam has attracted the attention of specialists like
Roberta Tomber of the British Museum. According to her,
the majority of the sherds of Roman amphorae retrieved
from Pattanam are containers used for the transport of
wine. They belonged to Kos (Greece), Campania (Southern
Italy and Bay of Naples), Cilicia (Eastern Turkey and Syria),
Catalan (Spain), Gaul (France), Rhodes (Greece) and
Egypt.64 Terra sigillata is Italian ceramic referred to earlier
as Arretine ware. Sherds of amphorae and terra sigillata
excavated from Pattanam are deemed to be belonging to
the first century BCE to 2nd century CE.
The collaboration of eminent archaeologists from India
and abroad has been a great support for the success of
these excavations. Parts of Roman amphorae, Arretine
wares, torpedo jars and several items related to the
existence of a Roman settlement are among the finds of
these excavations, pointing to the fact that the Pattanam
site could be Muziris, though it has not been conclusively
established. It should not be ignored that a group of
writers have challenged the hypothetical identification of
Muziris with Pattanam. This in fact provides greater
enthusiasm and encouragement to the scholars involved in
64 For details about the 7th season of excavation, ref. P.J. Cherian,
Interim Report of the Pattanam Excavation / Explorations 2013,
Thiruvananthapuram, 2013.

the excavation and analysis to go deeper into the matter

and substantiate the working hypothesis with evidences.
Muziris Heritage Project
In view of the importance of Muziris as a great centre of
national and international exchanges and of its environs
pregnant with historical, cultural and touristic sites, the
Government of Kerala with the support of Government of
India launched the Muziris Heritage Project. It was initially
started as a pilot project of the Department of Cultural
Affairs, Government of Kerala in 2006, with the idea of
retrieving and preserving the historical heritage of the
North Parur-Kodungallur region. The Government accorded
sanction for an amount of Rs. 140 crores for the Muziris
Heritage Tourism Circuit. The funding by the Government
of India amounting to Rs. 40.52 crores is reported to have
been used for the visitor centres in Paravur and
Kodungalloor, performance centre at Gothuruthu, tourist
interpretation centres at different locations, conservation
of the different monuments, revitalisation of the Parur
market and so on. The execution of the project is
monitored by a co-ordination committee consisting of
seven ministers for speeding up the work. The following
come under the Heritage Project: 1) Conservation of
Paliam nalukettu and the Dutch palace 2) Conservation of
the Paravur synagogue 3) Conservation of Kottappuram
fort under the State Department of Archaeology 4)
Excavation at Pattanam under the leadership of Kerala
Council of Historical Research 5) Revitalisation of
Kottappuram market 6) Construction of 14 boat jetties 7)
Improvement of arterial roads 8) Publication of news
letters, books and brochures 9) Resource mapping of the
Muziris Heritage site 10) Capacity building of the project
11) Museums 12) International Centre for Muziris Studies
in the campus of KKTM College.

Attempts are made to establish multilateral and

bilateral cultural co-operation for safeguarding this
shared heritage of Kerala. The Spice Route Initiative
was launched in consultation with UNESCO to forge
international exchange and collaboration.65
In conclusion, it may be noted that spices from India in
general, and the Malabar coast in particular, were
circulated to various destinations during the early
historical period. The Silk Routes and the Incense Route
helped the transportation of these items to Rome and
various centres of the Roman Empire from where they
were further carried to different parts of Europe. The
movement of these commodities from the staple centre of
Muziris in the lower Periyar valley through the Red Sea to
Berenike, and then to Koptos and finally to Alexandria,
speaks of the chief spice route during the early historic
period till the decline of the united Roman Empire. There
were several empires in Africa and West Asia that
promoted trade with India. Some of them established
military posts in the ports through which spices and other
commodities were transported. The defence personnel in
these posts took care of the security of the traders and
mariners and also helped in the collection of taxes on the
cargo transhipped. Some of the details about Muziris
65 Ref. Muziris Heritage Project by Benny Kuriakose, published in
the souvenir of Seminar on Imperial Rome, Indian Ocean Regions
and Muziris 8-12 September 2013 organised jointly by IRISH; ASI,
MRA and Christ College, Irinjalakuda, pp.85-88.

furnished in the western and eastern classical works have

been identified in the excavations conducted in Pattanam
and so scholars are engaged in the working hypothesis of
identifying Pattanam with Muziris.





pices, especially pepper attracted the attention of

the Roman Empire greatly, so much so that there
were frequent expressions of concern about the
drain of gold from Rome to India and the subsequent
unfavourable balance of trade that was greatly detrimental
to the economy. The major port for obtaining large
quantities of pepper for the Roman Empire was Muziris on
the Malabar coast, the epicentre of trade in spices.
The politico-economic milieu of the Roman Empire
underwent substantial changes from the close of the fourth
century causing considerable impact on the spice trade. In
395 CE, the Roman Empire was divided into two, namely
Western and Eastern, by Theodosius the last emperor of
the United Roman Empire, on his death-bed. His two sons
Arcadius and Honorius were declared as the rulers.
Constantinople, while Honorius occupied the Western
section with Rome as his capital. Greek language and

culture were adopted in the Eastern Roman Empire. 66 The

apparent weakness of the Western Roman Empire
encouraged large numbers of Goths to cross the Danube in
376 CE and they began to slowly undermine the empire.
Rome was blockaded by the Visigoths for the first time in
408 CE. Alaric I, the King of the Visigoths (395-410) sacked
410 CE. The Roman Senate entreated for peace. The
famine-stricken citizens of Rome, after much bargaining,
agreed to pay a ransom of 3,000 pounds of pepper among
other items like 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of
silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, and
40,000 freed Gothic slaves. This substantiates the fact that
the Western Roman Empire, even in the first half of the
fifth century, had been using the spice route to import
pepper from the Malabar coast.
Finally, on 4 September 476 CE, Odoacer, the leader of
the Goths deposed the then Emperor Romulus Augustulus
and proclaimed himself the new ruler. He asked the
teenage emperor to go home and sent the imperial regalia,
sceptre and robes to the Eastern Roman Emperor with the
66 Constantinople was the capital city of the Byzantine, Latin and the
Ottoman empires. It was founded in 330 CE at ancient Byzantium,
as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great
(272-337 CE), after whom it was named. In the 12th century CE, it
was the largest and wealthiest European city. Eventually, the
empire of Christian Eastern Orthodoxy in the East was reduced to
just the capital and its environs, falling to the Ottomans in the
historic battle of 1453.

comment, We no longer have need of these or an

emperor here in Rome. With the eventual fall of the
Western Roman Empire caused by a successive rule of
weak emperors, the spice trade between the Western
Roman Empire and Malabar declined while the spice route
connecting Byzantium or Constantinople through Persian
Gulf regions with the Malabar coast continued to be rather
active. The spices available in Muziris and other centres of
production and distribution were taken to marts other than
those of the Roman Empire.
Muziris itself gave way to alternate staple centres of
trade during the period following the decline of the
Western Roman Empire till the takeover of Constantinople,
the headquarters of the Eastern Roman Empire by the
Turks in 1453. The economically important silk routes and
existing spice routes were blocked by the Turks after the
capture of Constantinople, which was renamed as Istanbul.
The spice routes from the Malabar coast had different
directions during this period, namely the one which was
towards the West comprising the routes via Persian Gulf
and Red Sea, and finally to the ports of the Mediterranean,
and the other to China. The first sector was dominated by
the Arabs. Slowly, Muziris, then renowned as a great
export centre, was replaced by Quilon and subsequently
Quilon itself was substituted by Calicut. We will take a look
at the dynamics of trade along the spice route during this
period in the following pages.
Arab domination of spice trade
By the sixth century, Arabs and the Ethiopians,
replacing the Romans, entered into trade with India. The
rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of Iran and Egypt in
the succeeding century closed direct communication
between India and Europe. The much sought-after spices
from India and other luxury items reached Venice through

the markets of the Levant where the Muslims had their

hold. Venice had a sort of monopoly over eastern
commerce and so
huge amounts of wealth was
accumulated here.
Omar succeeded Prophet Muhammad. With a large
number of followers he marched into Persia and in the
course of a few years subdued the whole of that ancient
empire and established the dominion of Khalifs and the
faith of his great predecessor on the ruins of the dynasty of
the Sassanids and the religion of Zoroaster. Egypt too fell
under their sway. Greeks were excluded from all
interactions with Alexandria, the principal staple centre of
Indian goods. The Arabs entered the mercantile enterprise
vigorously. By now, the whole of the north coast of Africa,
from the Delta of the Nile to the Straits of Gibraltar,
together with a great part of Spain had submitted to the
Islamic influence. Continuous fights between the Muslims
and the Christians prevented the Christians from
conducting trade and commerce.
In the middle of the eleventh century the empire of
Khalifs began to decline, paving the way for the upsurge of
the Turks, whose invasion of Syria and Palestine was one of
the proximate causes of the Crusades. Illustrious warriors
of the West led their armies into Palestine and became
sovereigns of the very states and cities into which the
costly products of India were so largely imported. Although
commercial relationship with the East was definitely not
the objective of the Crusaders, it became a matter of
supreme importance to the merchants who were a part of
this venture. The merchants got permission to settle in
Acre, Aleppo and other trading towns on the coast of Syria
and were also granted a great number of privileges. So,
the cities of Venice, Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa and Florence
engaged entirely in Indian trade and their mariners visited
every important port in Europe. After the partition of the

Grecian States in 1104 by the leaders of the fourth

Crusade, the Venetians got possession of a part of the
Morea and some of the most important islands of the
Archipelago, which enabled them to enjoy better
advantages in the trade with India over the rival states of
Italy. The Genoese, jealous of this superiority, conspired
with the disaffected Greeks to drive the Venetian
merchants from Constantinople and thus the entire
commerce by the Black Sea and consequently the inland
trade with India fell into their hands. The Venetians in
retaliation procured a bull of dispensation from the Pope to
trade with infidels and so they settled in different trading
cities of Egypt and Syria, establishing their ties with India
upon a more solid base. While rivalries between the two
were escalating, the Florentines under the administration
of Cosmo de Medicis sent ambassadors to Alexandria and
obtained participation in the commercial privileges
enjoyed by the Venetians. The Genoese carried on the
northern trade between India and Constantinople till the
conquest of the Greek empire by Muhammud II in 1453,
when they were finally expelled from Constantinople.
Constantinople was no longer a mart open to the nations
of the west for Indian commodities.
The kingdom of Axum pioneered the Red Sea route for
spices before the first century CE from Axum to India. 67
Islam entered into a proselytizing spree by the midseventh century CE and closed off the overland caravan
routes through Egypt and the Suez, which subsequently
sundered the community of traders in Europe. Soon, Egypt
67 The kingdom of Axum used the image of the cross on its coins. It
was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time
along with Persia, Rome, and China. At its height, Axum controlled
northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt,
Djibouti, western Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, totalling 1.25
million sq km. The geographical segment currently known as
Ethiopia or Abyssinia was in the kingdom of the Axumites.

and Iran came under the Muslims. As a result the spice

route through the Red Sea suffered a great setback. Arab
traders took over the transportation of spices and other
Indian commodities from India via the Levant. The
Venetian merchants took the spices brought to the Levant
for distribution to different parts of Europe until the rise of
the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century.
Caliphates, Jews and trade with India
The Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 CE), the fourth Islamic
caliphate, was founded by the eleventh Imam Abdullh alMahd Billah. For the first half of its existence, the empires
power rested primarily on its strength and supremacy as
its army conquered northern Africa, Palestine, Syria, and
for a short time, Baghdad. At its height, the Caliphate
included in addition to Egypt, varying areas of the
Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant and Hijaz. The Fatimids
were mainly descended from Fatima, the daughter of
Prophet Muhammad. In 909 CE the Fatimid state took
shape among the Berber Kutama, the people of Algeria,
and they established the Tunisian city of Mahdia as their
capital. In 948 CE, they shifted their capital to AlMansuriya. The Fatimid general Jawhar conquered Egypt in
969 and built a new palace city near Fustt, which he
named al-Mansriyya. In the same year, under Al-Muizz
Lideenillah, the Fatimids conquered the Ikhshidid dynasty,
founding a new capital at al-Qhira (Cairo), which became
the headquarters of the Caliphate. Egypt became the

political, cultural, and religious centre of the state. The

ruling elite of the state belonged to the Ismaili branch of
Shiism, as also the leaders of the dynasty. After Egypt, the
Fatimids continued to conquer the surrounding areas until
they ruled from Tunisia to Syria, as well as Sicily.
Egypt flourished and the Fatimids developed an
extensive trade network in both the Mediterranean and the
Indian Ocean. Their trade and diplomatic ties extended all
the way to China and its Song Dynasty, which eventually
determined the economic course of Egypt during the High
Middle Ages. The Fatimids focus on long-distance trade
was accompanied by a lack of interest in agriculture and a
neglect of the Nile irrigation system.
The Fatimids, ruling in Egypt since 973 CE, developed
commercial contacts with India. The Caliphate often
exercised a great degree of religious tolerance towards
non-Ismaili sects of Islam as well as Jews, Maltese
Christians, and Christians. Their liberal attitude towards
non-Muslims attracted the Jews who established
themselves in Fustat and expanded their commercial
activities to India. Large number of Jews migrated to India
from Egypt in the eleventh century CE probably on account
of persecution on the part of the sixth Fatimid Caliph AlHakkim (996-1021 CE) who was also known as the mad
There are frequent references in contemporary sources
about the commercial activities of the Jews in the Indian
Ocean regions, especially in India. The Geniza records
related to the period from the tenth through thirteenth

centuries have a lot of information on this.68 Seventy-seven

items figure in the list of commodities exported from India
and other countries of the Indian Ocean regions as
mentioned in the Geniza records. They can be grouped
into nine namely, 1) Spices, aromatics, dyeing and
varnishing plants and medical herbs 2) Iron and Steel 3)
Brass and Bronze vessels 4) Indian Silk and other textiles
made mainly of cotton 5) Pearls, beads, cowrie shells and
ambergris 6) Shoes and other leather work 7) Chinese
porcelain, Yemenite stone pots and African ivory 8) Tropical
fruits such as coconuts and 9) Timber as found in the
Geniza records.69

68 Cairo Geniza records constitute a collection of 300,000 fragments

of manuscripts mostly written in Arabic with Hebrew characters,
which were found in the Geniza or storeroom of the Ben Ezra
Synagogue in Fustat or Old Cairo, Egypt. Many of these documents
were written in the Aramaic language using the Hebrew script.
S.D. Goitein worked on these documents and brought out six
volumes under the title A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish
Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of
the Cairo Geniza. These Judaeo-Arabic documents relate to the
eleventh and twelfth centuries. Geniza was in fact a kind of
wastepaper basket into which discarded writings were thrown
often after they had been torn apart so that all its contents were
topsy-turvy. The documents related to India are published by
S.D. Goitein and Mordechai A. Friedman under the title, India
Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza
Indian Book in two parts, Brill, Leiden, 2011.

69 Goitein and Friedman, op.cit, pp.15-16.

The list of imports to India from the ports of the Red Sea
or from Aden included the following categories: 1) Textiles
and clothing 2) Vessels and ornaments of silver, brass,
glass and other materials 3) Household goods such as
carpets, mats, tables, frying pans etc. 4) Chemicals,
medicaments, soap, paper and books 5) Coral and 6) Food
However, in the course of the later eleventh and twelfth
centuries, the Fatimid Caliphate declined rapidly. In 1171,
the country was invaded by Salh ad-Dn, the founder of
the Ayyubid dynasty who reincorporated the state into the
Abbasid Caliphate.
Mamluks of Egypt and the spice route
Mamluk Sultanate existed in Egypt between 1250 and
1517 CE holding sway over Egypt, the Levant, Tihama and
Hejaz. Cairo was the headquarters of the Sultanate.
Construction projects initiated by the Mamluks brought
new infrastructure to the centre of the city and also

70 Goitein and Friedman, op.cit, p.18.

expanded the city outwards. Meanwhile, Cairo flourished

as a centre of Islamic scholarship and also as a crossroads
on the spice trade route among the civilisations of AfroEurasia. The Mamluk Sultans used to raise fabulous
amounts by way of customs duties on the spices that
passed through the areas under their control to Cairo and
Alexandria for onward shipment to Venice, Genoa and
other centres of trade in Europe. It was estimated that the
Sultan of Cairo collected 600,000 crusados per year by
way of customs duties on spices.71 One could assume that
the trade in spices through the Red Sea and Alexandria
which was disrupted by the fall of the Roman Empire and
the aggressive spread of Islam in the seventh century CE,
revived under the Mamluks of Egypt. The Sultan of Egypt
established monopoly over spice trade and the spice route
through the Red Sea to Cairo and Alexandria. But all that
came to an end on 20 January 1517 when the Ottoman
Sultan Selim I captured Cairo. The centre of power was
subsequently transferred to Constantinople.
Port towns on the spice route along the Red Sea
Cairo, located near the Nile Delta, was founded in 969
CE by the Fatimid Dynasty. It was one of the very
important centres of trade in spices which were brought
here through the Red Sea regions from Malabar.
Nicknamed the city of a thousand minarets for its
preponderance of Islamic architecture, it is associated with
71 Alvaro Velho, Roteiro da Primeira Viagem de Vasco da Gama
Lisboa, 1969, p.69.

ancient Egypt as it is close to the age-old cities of

Memphis, Giza and Fustat, which are near the Great Sphinx
and the pyramids of Giza. Cairos oldest Coptic churches,
including the Hanging Church, are located along the
fortress walls in a section of the city known as Coptic Cairo.
For nearly 200 years after Cairo was established, the
administrative centre of Egypt remained in Fustat.
However, in 1168 CE, the Fatimids under the leadership of
Vizier Shawar set fire to Fustat to prevent Cairos capture
by the Crusaders. Egypts capital was permanently moved
to Cairo, which was eventually expanded to include the
ruins of Fustat and the previous capitals of al-Askar and alQattai.
In 1169 CE, Saladin was appointed as the new Vizier of
Egypt by the Fatimids and two years later, he seized power
from the family of the last Fatimid Caliph, al-did. As the
first Sultan of Egypt, Saladin established the Ayyubid
dynasty based in Cairo and aligned Egypt with the
Abbasids, who were situated in Baghdad. During his reign,
Saladin also constructed the Cairo Citadel, which served as
the seat of the Egyptian government until the mid-19th
century. However, the citys status started diminishing
after discovery of a sea route around the Cape of Good
Hope, which allowed spice traders to avoid Cairo. It was
taken over by the Ottomans in 1517.
Another important city connected with trade in spices
and spice route was Alexandria founded around a small
pharaonic town in c. 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It
became an important centre of the Hellenistic civilization
and remained the capital of Hellenistic, Roman and
Byzantine Egypt for almost one thousand years until the
Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 CE when a new capital
was founded at Fustat. Hellenistic Alexandria was best
known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of
the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, its Great Library,
and the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the

Middle Ages. In 619, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid

Persians. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius
recovered it in 629 CE, in 641 CE the Arabs under the
general Amr Ibn Al-As captured it during the Muslim
conquest of Egypt, after a siege that lasted 14 months.
Following the Battle of Ridaniya in 1517, the city was
conquered by the Ottoman Turks and remained under the
Ottoman rule until 1798. Alexandria lost much of its former
importance to Rosetta during the long span of 9th to 18th
centuries, and only regained its former prominence with
the construction of the Mahmoudiyah Canal in 1807.
Jeddah and the spice route through the Red Sea
Jeddah (sometimes spelled as Jiddah or Jedda), is a city
in the Hijazi Tihama region on the coast of the Red Sea and
is the major urban center of western Saudi Arabia. It is the
largest city in Mecca (Makkah) Province, the largest sea
port on the Red Sea, and the second largest city in Saudi
Arabia after the capital city, Riyadh. With a population
currently at 4.3 million, it is an important commercial hub
in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is the principal gateway to Mecca,
Islams holiest city. It is also a gateway to Medina, the
second holiest place in Islam. Historically, Jeddah has been
well known for its legendary money changers. Ibn Battuta
(13041368), the Berber traveller from Morocco, visited
Jeddah during his world trip. Excavations in the old city
suggest that it was founded as a fishing hamlet in 500 BCE
by the Yemeni Qudaa tribe who left central Yemen to
settle in Mecca after the destruction of the Marib Dam in
Yemen. Jeddah achieved prominence around 476 CE when
the third Muslim Caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan of the Rashidum
Caliphate turned it into the port of Mecca instead of Al
Shoaiba port on the south west of Mecca. Since then,
Jeddah has been established as the main city of the
historic Hijaz province and a legendary port for pilgrims

arriving by sea to perform their Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

The citys strategic location as the gates of the Holy City
and a port on the Red Sea has caused it to be conquered
many times throughout its history. In 969 CE, the Fatimids
from Algeria took control of Egypt from the Ikhshidid
dynasty and expanded their empire to the surrounding
regions, including the Hijaz and Jeddah.
After Saladins conquest of Jerusalem in 1171, he
proclaimed himself Sultan of Egypt and established the
Ayyubid dynasty, which carried out invasions throughout
the region. Hijaz, including Jeddah, became a part of the
Ayyubid Empire in 1177 CE during the leadership of Sharif
Ibn Abul-Hashim Al-Thalab (10941201). In 1254 CE
following events in Cairo and the dissolution of the Ayyubid
Empire, Hijaz became a part of the Mamluk Sultanate.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama found
his way around the Cape and obtained pilots from the
coast of Zanzibar in 1497 CE. He pushed his way across
the Indian Ocean to the shores of Malabar and Calicut,
attacking the fleets that carried freight and Muslim
pilgrims from India to the Red Sea and striking terror into
the potentates all around. The Princes of Gujarat and
Yemen turned to Egypt for help. Accordingly, Sultan alAshraf Qansuh al-Ghawri fitted out a fleet of 50 vessels
under his Admiral, Hussein the Kurd. Jeddah was soon
fortified with forced labour, protecting Arabia and the Red
Sea, and becoming a harbour of refuge against the
Portuguese assault. Parts of the city wall survive till today
in the old city. Even though the Portuguese were
successfully repelled from the city, the fleets in the Indian
Ocean were at their mercy. This was evidenced by the
Battle of Diu (1509) between the Portuguese and the Arab
Mamluks. The Portuguese soldiers cemetery is found
within the old city today and is referred to as the Christian
graves. Selman Reis, an Ottoman admiral defended Jeddah

against a Portuguese attack in 1517. The Ottoman Turks

had conquered the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria in
1517, during the reign of Selim I. As territories of the
Mamluk Sultanate, the Hijaz, including Jeddah and the holy
city of Mecca, passed into Ottoman possession. The
Ottomans rebuilt the weak walls of Jeddah in 1525
following their victory over the Lopo Soares de Albergarias
Armada in the Red Sea.
Al-Karimi Merchants and spice trading through the
Red Sea
A group of merchants known as Al-Karimi merchants
from Cairo too traded in spices on the Malabar coast,
especially Calicut.72 A few of these merchants had settled
down in Cambay (presently Khambat in Gujarat) and from
there they came to the Malabar coast for spices. They
were very active in trade and wielded extraordinary
influence in the period between the twelfth and the
fifteenth centuries, establishing a sort of monopoly over
the spice trade in the area between Yemen and Cairo
where they had their headquarters.73 Qus, near Cairo, was
in fact the entrept of the Indian spices in which the Karimi
merchants traded.74 Ali Ibn Muhammad Kalyubi who died in

S.D. Goiten, New Light on the Beginning of the Karim Merchants
in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol.1,
Leiden, 1958, p.181. He draws on the Cairo Geniza documents to
discuss the activities of this group of merchants.

1492 was one of the richest Karimi merchants who traded

with Calicut in the second part of the fifteenth century.75
The Karimi merchants constituted an organisation or
corporation, an organised body of merchants closely knit
together, a collective group of men who associated
themselves for the pursuit of a common commercial goal trade in pepper and spices.76 Merchants other than the
Muslims were included among the Karimi merchants. 77 The
measures adopted by Sultan Barsbay in the fifteenth
century to establish a state of monopoly over the spices
trade in the Mamluk Egypt dealt a fatal blow on the Karimi
Walter J. Fischel, The Spice Trade in Mamluk Egypt in Journal of
the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol.1, Leiden, 1958,

Walter J. Fischel, ber die Gruppe der Karimi-Kaufleute in
Analecta Orientalia, no.14, Studia Arabica, Rome, 1937, p.74.

Gaston Wiet, Les Marchands DEpices sous les Sultans Mamlouks
in Cahiers DHistoire Egyptienne, serie VII, fasc.I, Cairo, 1955,

merchants and consequently a number of them left for

India and settled down here. 78 When the fleet of Cabral
reached Calicut, there were merchants from the Mamluk
Egypt doing business in Calicut. 79 They should, in all
probability, be from the group of Al-Karimi merchants.
Ottoman Turks and the Spice route

Walter J. Fischel, The Spice Trade in Mamluk Egypt, l.cit, p.165.

E. Ashtor, The Karimi Merchants in the Journal of the Royal
Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, 1956, pp.4546.

Eliyashu Ashtor, The Venetian Supremacy in Levantine Trade:

Ottoman State, a transcontinental state was founded in

1299 by Turkish tribes under Osman Bay in north-western
Anatolia. Mehmed II, the Conqueror (1444-1446 and from
1451-1481), captured Constantinople in 1453 and the
original Ottoman state was transformed into an empire.
Under Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), the power of
the Ottoman Empire reached its summit, controlling great
parts of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.
Constantinople, being the capital, the Ottoman Empire was
at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and
Western worlds for over six centuries. It had control over
vast lands around the Mediterranean basin. After the First
World War, the empire itself was dissolved and
consequently there emerged a new political regime in
Turkey with Istanbul as its capital.
Italian Merchants
Another important group of merchants who made
fortune out of spice trade with Malabar was the Italians of
Monopoly or Pre-colonialism? in the Journal of the European
Economic History, vol.3 no.1, Rome, 1974, pp.21, 27.

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.94.

Genoa and Venice, the latter being the most prominent

among them. Though they had no direct trade relations
with Malabar, they purchased these oriental commodities
from the Muslim merchants at Beirut, Aleppo, Alexandria
and Constantinople to distribute them all over Europe. The
consternation caused by the discovery of the direct sea
route to the Malabar coast by the Portuguese and the
establishment of Portuguese trade on the Malabar coast
knew no bounds. The Venetians watched doggedly the
development in the East and hoped that the Portuguese
trade did not last long.80 Their trade in spices was the
nourishment and sustenance of the Republic of Venice,81
and Venice itself was a very important commercial centre.
Its prominence kept increasing ever since the mortal
St. Mark were transferred from Egypt to Venice in the ninth

Girolamao Priuli, I Diarii di Girolamo Priuli, 1494-1512, vol.II,
Bologna, 1933, pp.156, 174, 187.

Girolamo Priuli, ibid, pp.306-07.

Constantinople and other important places where they
traded in spices and other oriental commodities. When
Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, the Venetian
merchants intensified their activities in Alexandria and
Cairo, even outdoing the competing Genoese. They
considered the spice trade as one of the major branches of
the international trade and became the sole suppliers of
these and other Indian commodities to the Central and
Eastern Europe.83 Though the Florentine, Genoese and
Catalan merchants had colonies in Alexandria, Damascus
and other centres of Levantine trade, and had some part in
the spice trade, they were not parties to be reckoned with
in comparison to the Venetian traders and their major role
in the trade in oriental commodities.
Indian merchants and spice trade before 1498
Ernst Sambaher, Merchants Make History, London, 1963, p.104.

Eliyashu Ashtor, The Venetian Supremacy in Levantine Trade:
Monopoly or Pre-Colonialism? in Journal of European Economic
History, vol.III, No.1, Rome, 1974, p.17.

An important group of Indian merchants active in the

trading centres of Malabar consisted of the Gujaratis. They
had their settlements in Cannanore, Cochin and Calicut.
But the largest number of them was found in Calicut as
this port was the most important in the fifteenth century
for international maritime trade.84 They could be compared
with the Italian merchants in the matter of trade in
spices.85 The Gujaratis had their factory in Calicut. The
area from Malacca to Eden was covered by the Gujarati
merchants who exchanged commodities according to the
needs of various localities involved in coastal trade. They
even went up to the coast of Africa with Indian products.
The merchants from Malabar too had an important role
to play in the trade conducted in the Malabar coast. They
went up to Cambay or Khambat in the north, Ceylon and
Duarte Barbosa, The Book of Duarte Barbosa - An Account of the
Countries bordering the Indian Ocean and their Inhabitants written
by Duarte Barbosa, and completed about the year 1518 A.D.,
London, 1921, vol.II, p.73; Montalbodo, op.cit, p.162.

Tom Pires, Suma Oriental of Tom Pires, New Delhi, 1990, (AES
reprint), p.45.

Maldives in the south and Pulicat on the Coromandel coast,

with their commodities of exchange.86 Calicut was the chief
centre of commodities of exchange during this period and
so the merchants operated from here.87 It is estimated that
there were at least 15,000 Moors, for the greater part
natives of the country, engaged in trade in Calicut.88 Cetis
from Tamil Nadu were also found in Calicut, engaging
Tom Pires, ibid, p.82.

Tom Pires, ibid, p.84.

Mouros or moors according to the Portuguese writers signified
the Muslims of Arabic origin born in India out of their relations with
the people of India. Ref. Jaime Corteso e David Lopes, Dominio
Ultramarino in Histria de Portugal Edio Monumental, vol.iv,
Barcelos, 1932, p.19.

themselves in the lucrative spice trade. 89 But since the

Hindus on account of religious prejudice did not enter
transoceanic trade, the entire maritime enterprise fell to
and the Muslims in general, in course of time. However,
the Muslim merchants employed the Nairs of Malabar who
were very good in accounting, in their ships.
Port towns and the spice route through the Persian
There were a few important centres of trade along the
spice routes that controlled spice trading and at the same
time generated fabulous wealth through taxation.
Aleppo, is the largest city in north-western Syria,
besides also being the biggest in the whole of the Levant.
Its importance lay in the fact that it was located at the end
Montalbodo, op.cit, p.93.

Ludovico di Varthema, The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in
Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India and
Ethiopia A.D. 1503-08, London, 1863.

of the Silk Route, which passed through Central Asia and

Mesopotamia. Alexander the Great took over the city in
333 BCE. Seleucus Nicator founded a Hellenic settlement
in the site between 301 and 286 BCE. The city fell to the
Arabs in 637 CE and later in 944 CE became the seat of an
independent Emirate under the Hamdanid Prince, Sayf alDaula. Later in the twelfth century, from 1183 CE onwards,
it came under the control of Saladin and the Ayyubid
Dynasty. Subsequently, it fell to different potentates until
finally it became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516 CE.
On account of its strategic location on the trade route
between Anatolia and the East, Aleppo rose to high
prominence during the Ottoman era and at some point of
time it was second only to Constantinople in the Ottoman
Empire. It replaced Damascus as the principal market for
people coming from the East to the Mediterranean ports
and vice-versa by the middle of the sixteenth century. Due
to its importance, the Levant Company of London, a jointstock company established in 1581 CE claiming English
monopoly of trade with the Ottoman Empire did not try to
appoint a factor in Damascus but only in Aleppo, which
served as the Companys headquarters till late eighteenth
century. The Venetian merchants frequented Aleppo to buy
pepper and other spices taken via the Persian Gulf route.
Antioch, situated on the eastern side of Orontes River,
was a great port town where the spice route and silk route
merged. Seleucus Nicator, one of the prominent generals
of Alexander the Great founded Antioch as a city by the
end of the fourth century BCE. The Persian Royal Road too
touched Antioch. It rivalled Alexandria as the principal city
of the Near East and as the chief centre of Hellenistic
Judaism and early Christianity. Known as the cradle of

Christianity, Antioch too served as a major centre of trade

in spices along the Persian Gulf regions.
The Abbasid Caliphate founded by the descendants of
Prophet Muhammads uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib
(566-653) in 750 CE, had its headquarters in Kufa initially.
The capital was later shifted in 762 CE to Baghdad. After
the fall of the first Muslim dynasty, namely the Umayyads,
the victorious Abbasid rulers wanted their own capital.
Choosing a site north of the Persian capital of Ctesiphon,
on 30 July 762 CE, the Caliph Al-Mansur commissioned the
construction of the city. The citys growth was helped by its
location, which gave it control over strategic trading routes
along the Tigris. Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital
of the Persian Empire, located some 30 km to the
southeast. Ctesiphon itself had replaced and absorbed
Seleucia, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire. Seleucia
had earlier replaced the city of Babylon. Thus Baghdad
turned out to be an important commercial city related to
spice trading conducted through the spice route via the
Persian Gulf. Spice trade brought untold wealth to the
Abbasid Caliphate, which inspired famous legends such as
that of Sinbad, the sailor. The merchants and sailors often
set sail from the port city of Bassorah and, after a long
period, returned to Baghdad with commodities like spices.
Khalif Omar founded the city of Bassorah on the west
bank of the Shatt el-Arab, between the junction of Tigris
and Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, to encourage trade. It
was set up in 636 CE as an encampment and garrison for
the Arab tribesmen who were to fight for the Rashidun
Caliph Umar, a few kilometres south of the present city. In
639 CE, Umar established this encampment as a city with
five districts and appointed Abu Musa al-Ashari as its first

governor. During the time of the Abbasids, Bassorah

became an intellectual centre as it was the home city of
the Arab polymath Ibn al-Haytham, the Arab literary giant
al-Jahiz, and the Sufi mystic Rabia Basri. It was an
important port town of the Persian Gulf and functioned as
a major entry point for spices and other commodities from
India for onward shipment to Baghdad and, eventually, to
the Mediterranean ports of Antioch, Damascus, Aleppo and
Beirut from where the Venetian merchants carried them to
Venice and other centres of trade.
Beirut was another important centre of spice trade. It
was conquered by Agrippa in 64 BCE and was assimilated
into the Roman Empire. Later it was considered the most
Roman city in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.
Beirut was brought under the Arab control in 635 CE.
During the medieval period Beirut was side-tracked by
Acre in Israel as a centre of trade in the eastern
Mediterranean. Beirut turned out to be the basis of modern
Lebanon. Spices transported through the Persian Gulf were
available in Beirut from where the Venetians purchased
them for distribution to various parts of Europe.
Damascus founded in the 3rd millennium BCE was an
important cultural and commercial centre on account of its
location at the crossroads of the Orient and the Occident,
(622-750) developed it as its capital.
Ormus and the spice route via Persian Gulf
One of the most important ports in the Middle East,
Ormusor Ormuz, controlled the seaborne trading routes
along the Persian Gulf to India and East Africa. This port
was situated on Ormus Island, which is located near the
modern city of Bandar e-Abbas. The Strait of Ormus is a

narrow, strategically important waterway, between the

Gulf of Oman in the southeast and the Persian Gulf in the
southwest. On the north coast is Iran and on the south
coast is the United Arab Emirates and Musandam. The citystate of Ormus dates back to the 13th century when it
controlled the slave market from Africa and Arabia to
Khorasan in Persia. At its zenith, between 13 th to 14th
century, Ormus was a powerful state with a large and
active trading fleet and a powerful navy. The Chinese fleet
under admiral Zheng He reached Ormus for the first time
around 1414. On account of its importance in the spice
trade via Persian Gulf, the Portuguese under Affonso de
Albuquerque landed on the island in September 1507.
Portugal occupied Ormuz from 1515 to 1622. After the
Portuguese made several abortive attempts to seize
control of Basra, the Safavid ruler Abbas I of Persia
conquered the kingdom with the help of the English, and
expelled the Portuguese from the rest of the Gulf in 1622,
with the exception of Muscat.
Chinese trade with Malabar
Besides the ancient land route connecting China with
India, a direct sea route was used from the fourth or fifth
century CE when Fa Hsien, the Chinese pilgrim, reached
200 Indian and Sinhalese merchants. Indian merchants
were found in Canton in 750 CE. There was even a Hindu
temple in Canton for the religious practices of the Indian
merchants at that time. The Chinese occupied an
important place among those who traded in spices on the
Malabar coast. Export of cotton fabrics, spices and drugs
from Malabar to China was extensively carried out even as
far back as the Sung Dynasty towards the end of the

twelfth century.91 The ports of Canton and Chuan-Chou

flourished as the most important havens of foreign trade.
Even when the south-eastern and southern provinces of
Chinac fell to the sway of the Mongols from 1277 CE, the
foreign trade went on unaltered and perhaps with greater
vigour. A few more ports such as Kingyuan (Ning-po),
Shang-hai and Kan-ju were also opened to foreign trade.
There were several exchanges of embassies from China
with Quilon and Calicut. Large amounts of copper cash and
silver was used for buying pepper. However, much of this
coinage disappeared as quickly as it was produced,
because the value of the metal was greater than the face
value of the coin. In 1296 CE, an order prohibiting
exportation of gold and silver was issued along with an
order restricting trade with Quilon and Pantalayani on the
Malabar coast to stop the flow of Chinese currency to a
foreign land.92
The enormous Chinese junks, ancient sailing vessels
that used to go up to the Persian Gulf, began to frequent
the ports on the Malabar coast since the fourteenth

For a short discussion on the commercial relations of the Malabar
coast with China, ref. W.W. Rockhill, Notes on the relations and
trade of China with the Eastern Archipelago and the coast of the
Indian Ocean during the fourteenth century in
Tong Pao,
vol.XV, Leiden, 1914, p.419.

W.W. Rockhill, ibid, p.425.

century.93 The Chinese merchants had a factory of their

own in Calicut during the first quarter of the fifteenth
century.94 It was called China kotta in the local language.95
Chinese vessels between 20 and 25 in number used to
visit Calicut with fine linen cloth and brass wares and took

Conde Ficalho, Viagens de Pedro da Covilham, Lisboa, 1898, p.89.

Montalbodo, Paesi Nouvamente Retrovati & Novo Mondo da
Alberico Vesputio Florentino Intulato, reprint with facsimile,
Princeton, 1916, p.162.

Garcia da Orta, Coloquios dos Simples e Drogas da India, Lisboa,

spices in return till the first quarter of the fifteenth

The Chinese established firm commercial footing on the
Malabar coast once the Romans withdrew from there.
Quilon and Calicut were relatively well-frequented by the
Chinese from the thirteenth century onwards. Slowly,
Quilon was replaced by Calicut with its neighbouring port,
Pantalayani kollam. They collected large amount of pepper
from Quilon initially but shifted their interest to Calicut
where they were able to purchase better pepper and other
spices in larger volumes than in Quilon. But, by the first
half of the fifteenth century, the Chinese withdrew from
Calicut too following its retreat from long distance
maritime ventures, leaving a void in the international trade
in spices on the Malabar coast.
Quilon and the Chinese trade
According to some historians, Quilon (Kollam) shares
fame with Muziris as an ancient centre of maritime trade
on the Malabar coast from the early centuries of the
1891, vol.I, p.205.

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.71.

Christian era. Kollam had a sustained commercial

reputation from the days of the Phoenicians and the
Romans. It was the chief port of the Pandyas on the west
coast and was connected with Korkai (Kayal) port on the
east coast and also through land route over the Western
Ghats. Spices, pearls, diamonds and silk were exported to
Egypt and Rome from these two ports on the southwestern coast of India. Pearls and diamonds came from
Ceylon and the south-eastern coast of India, then known
as the Pandyan kingdom.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, the Alexandrian merchant who
visited the Malabar coast in 522 CE, makes mention of
Syrian Christians in Kollam. He wrote: In the island of
Tabropane (Ceylon), there is a church of Christians, and
clerks and faithful. Likewise at Male where the pepper
grows; and in the town of Kalliana there is also a bishop
concentrated in Persia. The Nestorian Patriarch Jesujabus
who died in 660 CE makes special mention of Quilon in his
letter to Simon, Metropolitan of Persia.
Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh, two merchant leaders and
Syrian priests from Persia, reached Quilon in 823 CE with a
group of followers. The unprecedented interest shown by
Abbassid Persia to have commercial relations with the
Indian Ocean regions, especially coastal India, as
witnessed by the shifting of its headquarters from
Damascus of the Umayyad Khalifs to Baghdad, must have
prompted Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh to turn to Quilon. The
Chera King who was envisaging the development of the
new harbour town of Kurakeni Kollam permitted the
foreigners to settle there. They founded a church in Quilon
known as Tharisapally. This was the period when the
Chera-Pandya conflict was developing in the south. In 849
CE, Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal, the feudatory of the Chera
ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma, granted a number of privileges to
the mercantile community and its church in Kollam. The

privileges were inscribed on a copper plate known as

Tharisapally copper plates. The leaders of the migrant
Manigramam guilds of the Jews and Christians
respectively, to have their branches there. The church was
given the custodianship of weights and measures and was
permitted to enjoy weighing fees, besides the right to
collect taxes from stipulated items. Even as late as 1348
CE, John de Marignoli of Florence who came to India on his
return journey from China and stayed at Kollam, recorded
that the Christians of St. Thomas i.e., the Syrian Christians
were the masters of the public weighing office. 97 The
arrival of these merchant leaders indicates the prominence
of Quilon in the spice trade during this period. This would
also suggest that Muziris was no more functioning as a
centre of trade. Mar Sapor is credited with the distinction
of being the founder of the urban settlement of Quilon as
suggested in the Tharisapally copper plates. It was known
as Koulam Male in Jewish Geniza papers98 while the
Ferroli, Jesuits in Malabar, vol.I, p.66, Pius Malekandathil, Maritime
India, Delhi, 2010, pp.38-54, Haraprasad Ray, Historical Contacts
between Quilon and China in Pius Malekandathil & T. Jamal
Mohammed, eds., The Portuguese, Indian Ocean and European
Bridgeheads: Festschrift in Honour of Prof. K.S. Mathew,
Tellicherry, 2001, p.393.

Ref. S.D. Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, Princeton,
1972, p.64.

Chinese called it Gulin (Song period) and Julan (Yuan

period).99 The Arabs named it Kulam-Male.100
The Malabar era, also known as the Malayalam era,
began in 825 CE, which is regarded as the year of its
foundation. It is called Kolla Varsham on account of its
having been inaugurated in Kollam and is called Malabar
era after the region where it was and is still prevalent. That
the era was named after Kollam or Quilon reflects its
importance in the 9th century CE. Quilon was undoubtedly

Haraprasad Ray, Historical Contacts between Quilon and China
in Pius Malekandathil & T. Jamal Mohammed, eds., The
Portuguese, Indian Ocean and European Bridgeheads: Festschrift
in Honour of Prof. K.S. Mathew, Tellicherry, 2001, p.387.


the premier city of Malabar at the time. Persian merchant,

Soleyman of Siraf, who visited Malabar in 841 CE found
Quilon to be the only port in India touched by the huge
Chinese ships on their way from Canton to the Persian Gulf
as mentioned in his Salsalat-al-Taverika written in 841 CE.
Since the rise of Islam, the Arab Muslims were
interested in trade with Quilon.101 Merchant Suleiman
writes: commodities were brought from Bassorah and
Uman to Siraf and then to Muscat, from where it took a full
month to reach Koulam Mali (Quilon). From here the ships
sailed for China. At Kollam there was a dock for shipbuilding and repairs.102 In 851 CE, Abu Zayd speaks of the

Presence of Arabs settled in Quilon is mentioned in the work of
Zhao Rugua, namely Zhu fan zhi first published in 1225. The best
existing English translation is under the title, Chau Ju-kua: On the
Chinese and Arab trade in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,
edited by Friedrich Hirth (1845-1927) and William Woodville
Rockhill (1854-1914), St. Petersburg, 1911. There is a chapter on
Malabar in which 17 lines
are devoted to Quilon.

A.P. Ibrahim Kunju, Studies in Medieval Kerala History, TVM, 1975,

great exchange of merchandise between Aal-Iraq and

China and India.
The rulers of Kollam (formerly called Desinganat) also
had trade relations with China and exchanged embassies.
According to the records of the Tang Dynasty (618 CE to
913 CE)103 Quilon was their chief port of call and was given
the name Mahlai by them. The Chinese trade decreased
900 CE and was again revived in the 13th century.
Chinnakada (China-kada), the city centre, was so named
after the Chinese merchants. The increase in commercial
activity resulted in the establishment of a flourishing
Chinese settlement at Kollam.
Marco Polo, who was in Chinese service under Kublai
Khan, visited Kollam in 1293 CE on his return trip from
China to Venice. He found Christians and Jews living in
Coilum (Kollam). He also found merchants from China and
Arabia there. He has given a detailed account of Kollam in
his writings that are reproduced in the Travancore Manual.
According to Ibn Batuta, Kollam was one of the five
ports, which he had seen in the course of his travels in the
14th century. Ibn Batuta who was on the West Coast
between 1342 and 1344 CE describes the journey from
Sandabur (Goa) to Kulam as extending over a length of
two months, the latter port being the nearest of the

Travancore Manual, p.244.

Malabar towns to China and most of the merchants (from

China) come there.104
Arab ascendancy to power coincided with the decay of
Kollam as an entrept. This is also reflected in the Chinese
records. The last mission from Quilon during Yuan dynasty
is dated around September 1291 CE whereas the return
mission from China was in October 1294 CE. This shows
the decline of relations between China and Quilon. Until
Calicut came to prominence, it was Quilon that attracted
the Chinese traders. Chinese junks frequently visited
Quilon to obtain spices from there. Regular missions were
exchanged between the ruler of Quilon and the Chinese
emperor.105 The works of Wang Ta-yuan (Tao i chih lio dated
1425-1432), Fei Hein (Hsing cha shong lan dated 1436)
and Huang Shangtseng (Hsi yang chao kung tien lu dated

H.A.R. Gibb, Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-54,
London, 1924,
pp.234, 238.

W.W. Rockhill, op.cit, pp.430-43.

1520) make mention of the Chinese trade with the Malabar

John of Monte Corvino, the first Roman Catholic
Missionary to China, spent thirteen months in India
between 1291 and 1292 CE, on both the Coromandel and
the Malabar coasts. He noticed that the Chinese, Christian
and Jewish traders of Quilon were being gradually ousted
from the position of commercial prominence by the
Muslims who had begun to settle there in large numbers.
Friar Odoric of Pordenone refers to the existence of a
Jewish community in 1322 CE. John de Marignolli of
Florence who was in Quilon in 1347 CE makes mention of
receiving payments for fourteen months from the Thomas
Christians. The Chinese drainage of metallic currency on
account of trade in pepper with Quilon led to the
restriction on Chinese trade with the entire Malabar. The
situation improved with the establishment of the Mongol
power, but the fate of Quilon did not improve. The Chinese
interest had waned to such an extent that in the thirty
years during which the great voyages of Zheng He sailed
the waters of the Arabian Sea, they came to Quilon only
thrice, although this excellent port falls on the way to its
neighbouring port towns like Cochin and Calicut where the
Chinese ships anchored whenever they came to India.
The inventory of commodities traded between China
and Quilon for the 14th and early 15th century is available.
It shows that as a result of strict enforcement of trade
regulations and encouragement by Kublai Khan, China had
profitable trade with Quilon and pepper was the only
substantial item that the Chinese cared for and which was
available easily at Cochin and Calicut. During the fifteenth
century, the Zheng He entourage was still using this port
(Quilon) to their advantage though it had a lower priority in
the eyes of the Chinese. The list of commodities traded
stands proof for the state of affairs, if we compare it with

that of Calicut. The balance of trade was in Chinas favour

as the list very clearly indicates. Quilon was known as
Coulang China, probably because that was the portion
occupied by the Chinese settlement.106
In course of time, Quilon yielded place to Calicut to
which the Chinese clientele were being lured by the
Muslim traders. This is evident from the table of missions.
The Zheng He mission did not show the interest that
Quilon deserved with its glorious past as the traders
favourite rendezvous.
Cochin and the Chinese
The first Chinese mission headed by Yin Qing must have
visited Cochin kingdom in 1404. Since the Chinese had
good relations with the Calicut Zamorin, any move to
Cochin, an enemy of the Zamorin, had to be well-guarded.
With a view to keeping the Zamorin in good humour, the
Emperor of China, Youngle sent a tablet inscribed with the
following greetings:
Your kingdom is more than ten thousand Ii away from
China. Our people and products are alike and
customs similar; we enjoy identical prosperity. I
inscribe this stone so that it lasts forever as a

Haraprasad Ray, An Enquiry into the presence of the Chinese in
South and South-East Asia after the Voyages of Zheng He in early
Fifteenth Century in K.S. Mathew, ed., Mariners, Merchants and
Oceans, Dehi, 1995, p.97.

This stone was sent from China to the Zamorin in the

fleet of the first voyage of Zheng He (1405-1407). Fei Xin
and Ma Huan, both translators proficient in Arabic, who
were part of Zheng Hes expeditions had come to Cochin
and hence knew the society well.
Ma Huan describes the place based on his eyewitness
accounts: The people mostly establish gardens to
cultivate pepper for a living. Every year when the pepper is
ripe, of course, big pepper-collectors of the locality make
their purchases and establish warehouses to store it and
wait for the foreign merchants from various places to come
and buy it.108 Pepper, the most important commodity of
trade in Cochin, brought the Chinese closer to it.

Xia ag, j.3, p.103, Quoted by Haraprasad Ray, p.109 of an
unpublished report submitted to UGC in 1996 on South India
during Fifteenth Century: Studies in Sino-Indian Relations, p.109.
The King of Calicut used to come to Edappally for the confirmation
of his coronation and is said to have stepped on a piece of stone
with Chinese inscription. Probably that stone, mentioned also by
the Portuguese, could have been the stone referred here.

Yingyai, p.41.

With the death of Zheng He in 1433 CE, Chinese trade

with the western coast of India declined and so naturally
trade with Cochin also stopped. Emissaries from Cochin
had visited China eight times before this period. The other
important towns in Malabar north of Cochin with which the
Chinese had some contacts were Shinkili (Kodungalloor)
and Shaliyat (Chaliyam).109
Chinese trade with Calicut
The rise of Calicut as an important trading emporium
owes a lot to various factors. Although between the 9 th and
the 13th centuries Quilon and Cranganore respectively
occupied the pivotal place in the oceanic trade of Malabar,
the emergence of Calicut as the principal maritime port in
Malabar slowly replaced Quilon as an international
emporium of spice trade. Foreign travellers, who visited
the Malabar coast remarked about the copious availability
of spices on the Malabar coast in general and the
international trade in Calicut.
Marco Polo speaks of the abundance of spices on the
Malabar coast and trade in these items. Ibn Batuta, who at
the age of 22 or 23 started from his native place Tangier in
1324 CE to China, visited the Malabar coast on his way. He
remained for three months in Calicut where there were
Chinese junks, which indicates that the Chinese had
commercial relations with Calicut. His account of the
country and the natural products like pepper, ginger, and
Haraprasad Ray, op.cit, p.394.

other spices is remarkable. In 1342 CE he wrote: Calicut is

one of the greatest ports of the district of Malabar, and one
of the largest harbours in the world. It is visited by men
from China, Sumatra, Ceylon, the Maldives, Yemen and
Fars (Persia) and it gathers merchants from all quarters.110
Pantalayani Kollam, along with Calicut, attracted the
attention of the Chinese traders right from the thirteenth
century. Mention is made of Chinese trade with Pantalayani
or Fandaraina in a document of 1296.111 Fanderayana
(Pantalayani) figures among the port towns mentioned by
Ibn Batuta. The other towns he is reported to have visited
were Hili (Mount Deli), Jurfattam, Dahfattam and Calicut.
He saw about 13 Chinese ships at Calicut. 112 Since Calicut
did not have suitable anchorage during the time of
monsoon, especially the south-west monsoon, ships are
H.A.R. Gibb, Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-54,
London, 1929, p.234.

W.W. Rockhill in his Notes on the Relations and Trade of China in
vol.xv, (Leiden 1914) p.425, alludes to Chinese
trade with this coast in CE 1296 and mentions Panam and
Fandaraina among the ports alluded to in the Yuan Shih.
Fandaraina or Pantalayani seems to be mentioned also in another
Chinese authority of the same period. (ibid, p.435, note 1).

presumed to have anchored at Pantalayani which had an

area that could give protection to the ships from the
ravages of monsoon.
Ibn Batuta writes:
Then we left Budafattan for Panderani (Fandarayna) a large and beautiful city with gardens and bazaars.
There are three Muslim quarters each of which has a
mosque, while the congregational mosque lies on the
coast. It is wonderful, and has observation-galleries
and halls overlooking the sea. The judge (Qazi) and
the orator (Khatib) of the city is a man from Oman,
and he has a brother who is accomplished. It is in
this town that ships from China winter.113
The information regarding the presence of Chinese
junks makes it very clear that the port at Pantalayani was
able to provide safe anchorage for ships with great
tonnage and also protected them against the fury of a
monsoon battered sea. The usage winter means to
spend the monsoon. Further, it gives the indication that
Mahdi Hussain, ed.&tr. Rehla of Ibn Batuta, Baroda, 1976, p.188.

Ibid, p.188.

Calicut, which had only an open sea was not suitable

during the monsoon for the anchorage of ships for a long
Nicolo Conti, a Venetian of noble family, as a merchant
resided in the city of Damascus from where he started his
voyage to the East. He passed through Persia and sailed
along the coast of Malabar and went up to Java and finally
reached Venice in 1444 after 25 years of absence. He
visited Mylapore in Chennai and was in Sumatra, spending
a year there. Amongst the natural products seen there, he
enumerates pepper, long pepper, camphor and gold in
On his return, he visited Quilon, Cochin, Kodungalloor
and Calicut as is recorded: He next proceeded to Calicut,
a maritime city, eight miles in circumference, a noble
emporium for all India, abounding in pepper, lac, ginger, a
larger kind of cinnamon, myrobalans and zedoary.114
Abdur Razzak, the Persian Ambassador from Shah Rukh
Bahadur who came to Calicut in 1442 writes:
But at Calicut, every ship, whatever place it may
come from, or wherever it may be bound, when it
puts into this port is treated like other vessels, and
has no trouble of any kind to put up with. 115 He adds:
From Calicut are vessels continually sailing for
Mecca, which are for the most part laden with
pepper. The inhabitants of Calicut are adventurous
R.H. Major, The Travels of Nicolo Conti in the East in India in the
Fifteenth Century, London, 1857, p.20.

sailors: they are known by the name of Techinibtchegan (son of the Chinese) and pirates do not
dare to attack the vessels of Calicut. In this harbour
one may find everything that can be desired.116
He wrote further:
Calicut is perfectly secured harbour, which that of
Ormuz, brings together merchants from every city and
from every country. In it are to be found abundance of
precious articles brought hither from maritime
countries, especially from Abyssinia, Zirbad and
Zansibar. From time to time ships arrive here from the
shore of the house of God and other parts of the
Hedjaz, and abide at will, for a greater or longer space,
in this harbour.117
Athanasius Nikitin from Russia writes:

R.H. Major, ed., The Narrative of the Journey of Abd-er-Razzak,
Ambassador from Shah Rokh in India in the Fifteenth Century...
London, 1857, p.14.

R.H. Major, ed., The Narrative of the Journey of Abd-er-Razzak...
in India in the Fifteenth Century, London, 1857, p.19.

Calecot (Calicut) is a port for the whole of Indian sea,

which God forbid any craft to cross, and whoever
saw it will not go over it healthy. The country
produces pepper, ginger, colour plants... cloves,
cinnamon, aromatic roots adrach and every
description of spices, and everything is cheap and
servants and maids are very good.118
Hieronimo di Santo Stefano, a man from Genoa, wrote
about his voyage to India. The report was completed on 1
September 1499 in Tripoli, Syria. He spent some time in
Calicut, which he qualified as the great City. His report
sheds interesting light on the trade route from Cairo to
Calicut and also the method of cultivating pepper and
ginger with which he got himself acquainted in Calicut.
Stefanos outward journey started from Cairo to Calicut.
Along with others, he reached Cariz and found a good port
called Cane (Keneh) after the journey of a fortnight. He
continued his journey from Cane through land, crossing
Ibid, p.20.

R.H. Major, ed., The Travels of Athanasius Nikitin in India in the
Fifteenth Century, p.20.

mountains and deserts. At the end of a week, he arrived at

Cosir (Cosseir), a port of the Red Sea from where he
embarked on board a ship, the timbers of which were sewn
together with cords and the sails made of rush. He
voyaged for twenty-five days in the ship. Then they
anchored off an island called Mazua (Massawa) located on
After spending two months in this island, he set sail
through the Red Sea for twenty-five days. At the end of the
journey he arrived at Aden situated on the left shore of the
Red sea. He spent four months there and embarked on
another ship for India. That ship had sails made of cotton
while the timber pieces for the vessel were fastened
together with cords. He travelled for twenty-five days to
reach Calicut.119
There were a number of foreign merchants who came to
the Malabar coast either solely during the season of
loading spices, or who settled down in Malabar for the sake
of trade. Merchants from Mocha, Tenasseri, Pegu, Ceylon,
Turkey, Egypt, Persia and Ethiopia were the important
merchants among the foreigners who frequented the port
of Calicut in the fifteenth century.120 It will not be surprising
to note that when Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, there
were two merchants from Tunis who were there in
connection with trade and were able to converse with the
Portuguese in Castilian and Genoese languages.121

R.H. Major, ed., op.cit, pp.3-4.

The mode of transaction between the Chinese and the

traders of Calicut as described in the Chinese sources is
brought out by Haraprasad Ray as follows:
On the Chinese side always Zheng He would lead his
team while Samuthiri always deputed his trusted
superintendent of ports called Shahbantra, who
would be assisted by the Menovan (Menon) and
Menoki. Menovans job was to check the inventory
and the account, Menokki was to act as the
middleman (Broker). The Chetty (obviously the chief
chetty called Wadangai chetty) was the chief trader
while Zheng He embodied in himself the roles of
both the merchant and the negotiator as the
representative of the emperor. The Shahbantra,
Chetty and Menovan (accountant) and Menokki go
aboard the ship to fix a date for negotiation.122

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.94; Ludovico di Varthema, Travels of
Ludovico di Varthema, London, 1863, p.151; Prospero Peragallo,
Centenario do Descobrimento da America: Memorias da
Commisso Portuguesa, Lisboa, 1892, p.31.

Alvaro Velho, Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, Porto, 1845,
vol.I, p.59.

On the fixed day, first they take out silks and other
Chinese goods from the ships and discuss the price one by
one. When the price is fixed an agreement in duplicate
stating the amount of the price is made out for each part
to keep. Then the chief (Shahbantra), the chetty and the
ambassador (Zheng He) join their hands, and the broker
says, On such a month and such day all of us clasp our
hands (showing that the price is settled), and there will be
no going back. After that, the Indian traders bring
precious stones, pearls, corals and other commodities to
negotiate with price which continues for one, two or three
months. The goods are examined minutely, and when the
sale is finalised, the quantity, for instance, of pearls to be
exchanged with hemp-silk or other articles is fixed
according to the price settled earlier with the clasping of
hands. The Chinese goods were possibly unloaded, and
kept with factors, unless the Chinese left one or two ships
The Chinese were forced to withdraw from Calicut
between the thirties and forties of the fifteenth century,
according to the reports of Joseph the Indian, a Christian
priest from Malabar who travelled extensively, dated 1505.
This was because of the outrages committed by the
Zamorin against them after which the Chinese gathered a
large armada, attacked and pillaged the city and left for
ever.123 The cause of the outrage by the local King is
ascribed to the instigation by the Arab traders envious of
Yingyali, p.45.

the Chinese competition. An echo of this is found in the

information supplied by Girolamo Sernigi to his Florentine
correspondent. It is surmised that Zheng He lost his life at
Calicut in this violence.124 The Chinese voyages (1405-33)
started with limited aim, presumably military, but
gradually transformed into a mainly commercial venture,
with the eunuch Zheng He at the helm. For sometime the
Chinese became contenders for a place in Asian trade, the
trade mission reaching out to such remote countries as
Aden, Mogadishu, Malinde and Mecca. This was seen as a
threat to the Arab merchants who used their clout in
Calicut and managed to drive them away from there. The
Chinese then shifted their interest to Tamil Nadu, in places
like Nagapattinam, during the mid-fifteenth century.
In fact, spices from Calicut were taken in two different
directions, namely to China and to the West for supply to
the Mediterranean ports either by the Red Sea regions or
W.H. Greenlee, The Voyages of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and
India, London,
1938, p.105.

Haraprasad Ray, l.cit, p.99.

Persian Gulf area. Calicut was a great trading centre in the

East West Axis connecting Malacca with the ports of the
Mediterranean via Kambhat or Cambay in Gujarat. Indeed,
Calicut was the most important emporium of international
fame on the Malabar coast in this period, which attracted
Vasco da Gama to it.
Missions of Zheng He (1405-1433)
There are three travelogues which shed light on the
Zheng-He missions: 1) Yingyai Shenglan (Overall survey of
the Oceans shores, printed in 1451) written by Ma Huan 2)
Zingcha Shenglan (Overall survey of the star-raft) by Fei
Xin in 1436 and 3) Xiang Fanguo Zhi (Record of the
Foreign countries in the Western Ocean) by Gong Zhen in
1434, all of whom had accompanied Zheng He at various
stages of his seven voyages into the Indian Ocean.
Another work, a compilation titled Xiyang Chaogong
Dianlu, prepared by Huang Schengcent appeared in 1520.
He was the official historiographer of the court at Nanjing
or Nanking, the southern capital of China. It is learnt that
ten missions were despatched from China, some of them
led personally by Zheng He, as against a total of eleven
1402 and 1433.
On the seventh expedition, the Chinese stayed at
Calicut only for five days, from 10 to 14 December 1432.
From here, a branch-fleet sailed for Mecca under the
command of Hong Bao, which returned home after a year.
It is possible that the goods were left at Calicut for sale.
The kings representatives were always there to supervise
the sale and collect duty levied on the basis of sale
price.125 The Arabs played the most active part in the

Haraprasad Ray, l.cit, pp.86-87.

trade between Calicut and China. The balance of trade

between the two was always in favour of Calicut.
Spice routes after the fall of the Roman Empire
Spices from the Malabar coast were taken to several
parts of the world through different routes. One could
distinguish a land route and two sea-routes used since the
time of the Crusades to carry spices to Europe, especially
to Western Europe.126 The land route from the Malabar
coast took the direction of the areas of Persian Gulf,
Bassorah, Baghdad, Aleppo and then through the regions
of the Gulf of Alexandretta (Iskenderun), Ankara,
Constantinople (Istanbul) and from there to other parts of
Europe. Since the land route was exposed to extraordinary
risks on account of the political reasons and piracy, the
sea-routes were preferred and they became more
important in course of time.
The main routes that were used for the purpose of trade
in spices before the arrival of the Portuguese were two:

A.H. Lybyer, The Ottoman Turks and the Routes of Oriental
Trade in The English Historical Review, no.CXX, October 1915,

One through the Persian Gulf and the other through the
Red Sea regions. Pepper, ginger and various items of
spices were shipped to Ormuz from the Malabar coast and
things needed for exchange in that area were left there.
Then the rest of the commodities were shipped to
Bassorah on the bank of the Euphrates whence a part was
transported by caravans to Armenia, Trebizonda and
Tartaria and the other to the cities of Aleppo, Damascus
and finally to Beirut on the Mediterranean. The Venetians,
Genoans and Catalans, who were the masters of the spice
trade, purchased these items from the merchants in Beirut
and carried them to other parts of Europe for resale. 127 In
certain cases, the merchants from Germany, Hungary,
Flanders, France and other places beyond the Alps went to
Venice to purchase the spices.128
Another route through the Red Sea had occupied a
more important place in the period before the arrival of the
Girolamo Priuli, I Diarii, in Rinaldo Fullin, ed., Diarii e Diaristi
Veneziani, Venezia, 1881, p.238; Joo de Barros, Decada I, parte II,
Lisboa, 1777, pp.175-79.

Girolamo Priuli, op.cit, vol.II, p.156.

Portuguese on the Malabar coast. Spices from Calicut and

other ports on the Malabar coast were taken to Aden on
the Red Sea side and from there to Djeda (Jeddah) near
Mocha.129 The merchants paid customs duties in Jidda to
the Sultana and then the consignments were loaded in
smaller vessels to be shipped to al-Tur near Mount Santa
Catharina, otherwise known as Suez. 130 Customs duties
were again paid here. Then, by means of camels hired at
four cruzados each, the merchandise was transported to
Cairo where again taxes were paid to the Sultan.131 Cairo,
Alexandria and Beirut were under the rule of the Mamluk
Sultan of Cairo till 1517. At the time of the discovery of the
direct sea route to India, Qansawh al-Ghawri was the
Sultan of Cairo. He used to collect over 600,000 cruzados

Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, op.cit, p.98;

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.94.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte II, p.178.

Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, op.cit, p.101.

per year by way of customs duties on spices.132 He was

known to the Portuguese as Conao as mentioned by the
Portuguese writers of the sixteenth century like Joo de
Barros.133 Sometimes, al-Karimi merchants who dominated
the spice trade between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries
in the area from Aden to their headquarters in Cairo, made
use of another shorter route. Instead of taking the cargo to
Suez, they stopped at Qusair on the Egyptian side of the
Red Sea and from there by means of camels and slaves

Roteiro da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, op.cit, p.69.

Barros, Decada I, parte II, p.179; E. Denison Ross, The Portuguese
in India and Arabia 1507 and 1517. Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, 1921, part I, p.548;
Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, tomo I, pp.137, 320.

the commodities were transported to Qus, an important

commercial centre of Egypt next to Cairo at that time. 134
The merchandise was then sent to Cairo through the Nile
in barques. This diversion from Qusair reduced the
duration of transport by land.
Consignments of spices were taken from Cairo in
barques through the Nile to Alexandria, with a halt at
Rosetta where customs duties were paid to the Sultan
once more.135 Then the camels carried the spices from
Rosetta to Alexandria where they were sold to the
European merchants from Venice, Genoa, Marseilles and
Barcelona.136 The merchandise found its way from Venice

W.J. Fischel, The Spice Trade... l.cit, pp.162-63.

Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, p.101.

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Historia de Descobrimento e
Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, livro II, Coimbra, 1924,

to Germany, Flanders, France, Hungary and so on as noted

Local merchants of Calicut used to get keeled ships with
a capacity of one thousand to one thousand and two
hundred bhares tonnage that were indigenously built in
Calicut during the days of its prosperity. Without using
even a single nail, these ships were built just with wooden
pegs and coir. At least fifteen of these ships were used to
take spices every year during the monsoon to the Red Sea,
Aden and Mocha.138 The merchants from the Malabar coast
navigated generally for eight months a year, i.e., from

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.77.

Barbosa, op.cit, pp.76-77.

September to the end of April, with merchandise to various

places.139 Duarte Barbosa, the Portuguese writer from the
first quarter of the sixteenth century, reports that during
every monsoon ten to fifteen ships sailed from the Malabar
coast to the Red Sea regions. They departed from the
Malabar coast, chiefly Calicut, in February and sold the
spices to the merchants of Jeddah, returning to the
Malabar coast between mid August to mid October of the
same year.
The merchants from Jeddah took these spices in small
vessels to Toro and from there to Cairo and then to
Alexandria and further to Venice.140 It was from Venice that
the Portuguese and other Europeans got the spices. The
commodities thus taken to Venice consisted chiefly of
pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, myrobalans,
tamarind, canafistula, precious stones of every kind, sea
pearls, musk, ambergris, rhubarb, aloes-wood, and so on.

Ludovico di Varthema, op.cit, p.153, Montalbodo, op.cit. p.94.

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.77.

Meanwhile merchants from the Malabar coast also

made use of the sea route to reach Kambhat in the North,
Ceylon, Maldive Islands, Pulicat on the Coromandel coast
and the ports of Orissa. They employed catures and tonees
for transportation to these places.141 About 400 cargo
vessels were found engaged in the trade around the close
of the fifteenth century.
There were also land routes connecting coastal Malabar
with the various places in the Vijayanagara Empire and the
Coromandel coast. The ghat routes via Perambadi and
Peria passes were used to take spices to the important
places of trade in the Vijayanagara Empire. Similarly,
spices were taken to the Coromandel coast via
Kanjirappally and Aryankavu pass near Punalur in the
south and in return rice was brought from there to the
Malabar coast.142
James Hornell, The Sailing Craft of Western India in The
Mariners Mirror, vol.32, Cambridge, 1946, pp.195-216.

F.C. Danvers, The Portuguese in India, vol.1, London, 1966, p.346;
Nycolo Gonalves, Livro que trata das cousas da India e do Japo,
ed. by Adelino de Almeida Calado, Coimbra, 1957, p.47.

Volume of the spice exports

Precise statistical data regarding the volume of spices
exported from the Malabar coast are lacking while random
estimates of the produce of pepper and ginger in Malabar
are provided by the foreign writers. Almost 50,000 quintals
(2622950 kg) of pepper was estimated to have been
produced in Malabar during the first decade of the
sixteenth century.143 According to another report at least
two hundred vessels engaged in trade used to visit the
port of Cannanore every year.144 If Cannanore, which was
not as important as Calicut and other ports down south
during the period of our discussion had such a very heavy
traffic, the evident conclusion which could be drawn is that
considerable volume of spices was exported from the
Malabar coast.
The Italian sources, however, furnish more detailed
statistical data regarding the volume of pepper, ginger
etc., taken to Venice either via Beirut or Alexandria, the
Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, tomo iii, Lisboa, 1908, p.258.

Ludovico di Varthema, op.cit, p.125.

two main centres to which spices from the Malabar coast

were shipped in the pre-Portuguese period of Kerala
history. The table charting the number of galleys sent by
the Venetians to Beirut and Alexandria in the period
between 1389 and 1496 shows that in a five-year cycle,
about 28 to 34 ships were made use of in carrying spices
to Venice.145 According to another calculation, the average
of galleys used in the Venetian trade with Alexandria and
Beirut in the period between 1400 and 1500 was 3.39 and
3.4 per annum respectively.146 It is estimated that though
the galley service did not increase considerably in number
during the second half of the fifteenth century, the volume
transported increased definitely as the tonnage of the

F.C. Lane, The Merchant Marine of the Venetian Republic in
Venice and History, Baltimore, 1966, p.148; Ashtor, Venetian
Supremacy...op.cit, pp.18-21.

Ruggiero Romano-Alberto Teneti-Ugo Tucci, Venise et la Route du
Cap: 1499-1517 in Mediterraneo e Oceano Indiano - Atti del Sesto
Colloquio Internazionale di Storia Maritima, tenuto aa Venezia dal
20 al 29 Settembre 1962, Firenze, 1970, p.111.

galleys in the second half of the fifteenth century was

between 1000 and 1500 butts or 600 to 900 tons.147
There are a few details of the volume of spices brought
to Venice from Alexandria and Beirut in the years 1496,
1497 and 1498. The four galleys that arrived at Venice on
11 November 1496 brought 4300 colli (2255737 kg) of
spices which included 2600 colli (1363934 kg) of pepper,
(288524.5 kg) of ginger and so on. Similarly, another set of
four galleys coming from Alexandria in the same year took
in 2401 colli (125940.5 kg) of spices which included among
other things 950 colli (498360.6 kg) of pepper, 600 colli
(314754 kg) of ginger and 350 fardi (sacks) of cinnamon.148
Spices weighing 2639 colli (1384393 kg) from Beirut and
4320 colli (2266228 kg) or 2320 colli (1217048.8 kg) as
corrected by F.C. Lane from Alexandria were carried in
1497 to Venice.149 Cargo of spices brought by the ships to

Ashtor, op.cit, pp.22-23.

Girolamo Priuli, I Diarii.. vol.I Citta de Castello, s.d. p.59.

Venice in 1498 weighed 2153 colli (1130491.4 kg) from

Alexandria and 3000 colli (1573770 kg) from Beirut.150
The important areas from where spices were sent to
other parts of India and abroad before the arrival of the
Kayamkulam and Quilon. Various sorts of spices were
collected by the merchants from the important entrept of
Cannanore on the Malabar coast either directly from the
cultivators or from the local merchants. Several merchants
frequented this port to purchase pepper, ginger,
cardamom, myrobalans, canafistula, zerumba and
zedoary.151 The merchants from Cannanore themselves
Venice and History, op.cit, p.13; Girolamo Priuli, op.cit, vol.I, p.73.

Priuli, op.cit, pp.109-10.

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.83; Varthema, op.cit, p.124.

traded with Khambat, Ormuz, Coromandel, Dabul, Chaul,

Banda, Goa, Ceylon and the Maldives. 152 Other ports like
Nileshwaram, Madai, Baliapattam and Dharmadam which
belonged to the kingdom of Cannanore or Kolathiri were
not so important as the port of Cannanore.
The next entrept south of Cannanore was Calicut,
which according to the Chinese writers of the fourteenth
century, was the most important of all the maritime
centres of trade... and principal port of western
ocean.153 Almost all of India was said to be coming
together in Calicut.154 It was reported to be bigger than

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.81.

Rockhill, op.cit, p.454.

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.162.

Lisbon towards the end of the fifteenth century. 155

Merchants from various nations had established their
factories there since it was the greatest entrept where
spices were available directly from the producers and
those brought from the South East Asian regions were in
abundance.156 Oriental spices flowed from Calicut to all
parts of the world through different routes.157 Thus the port

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.62; B. Greiff, Tagebuch des Lucas Rem,
Augsburg, 1861, p.122.

Tom Pires, op.cit, p.78: Archangelo Garavallense (Transl.),
Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in India et inde in
Occidentens et demum ad Aquilenam, Mileo, 1508, p.38.


of Calicut by the end of the fifteenth century, when Vasco

da Gama landed there, had occupied an unparalleled
position on the Malabar coast in spice trade.158 It was
compared to Bruges in Flanders and to Venice in Italy by
Dom Manuel, the King of Portugal in his letter addressed to
Queen Isabella of Castile, his mother-in-law.159
Cranganore situated further south of Calicut was wellknown to the merchants of the Middle East and the whole
of Europe in the past, although by the time the Portuguese
reached India it was in a decadent state on account of the
emergence of other ports like Cochin, Calicut and Quilon.
Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama, p.98, Richard Eden, The
First Three Books on America 1511-55, Birmingham, 1885.

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.162; Cronica do Descobrimento e Conquista
da India pelos Portugueses-Codice anonymo, Museu Brititanico,
Egerton 20901, Coimbra, 1974, p.9.

W.B. Greenle, The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral, London, 1938,
p.41; Copia de uma Carta de El-Rei de Portugal ao Rei d Castella
acerca da Viagem e successo da India Reproduced by Prospero
Peragallo, op.cit, p.13.

However, it was one of the areas from where pepper was

exported to Cairo, Persia, Syria and other places. 160 Fairly
good trade was conducted in Cranganore.
The port of Cochin which had an abundant supply of
pepper was situated further south on the same coast.
Pepper was brought from the interior parts to the port for
the merchants coming to purchase it. Kayamkulam, that
was further south of Cochin, supplied pepper to the
merchants.161 Quilon, to the south of Kayamkulam,
furnished betel nuts, pepper and other kinds of spices. It

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.90, Tom Pires, op.cit, p.83, Montalbodo,
op.cit, p.155.

Rockhill, op.cit, p.448.

occupied an important place in trade especially with China

before the rise of Calicut and Cochin, though it was not
flourishing as much when the Portuguese arrived on the
Malabar coast.
Spice trade organisations
The manner in which the trade in spices was organised
in the period before the arrival of the west Europeans on
the Malabar coast deserves special attention as it
resembles in some respect and differs in many from that of
the period after CE 1500. Almost all the foreign merchants
had their warehouses on the Malabar coast as testified by
Tom Pires.162 Some of the foreign merchants like the
Arabs, Persians, Gujaratis, Khorasanis and Deccanis had
settled down on the Malabar coast with their families,
especially in Calicut, to facilitate trade in spices. 163 The
Italian, French and Catalan merchants had their fondachi
(establishments for trade, factories) in the coastal towns of

Tom Pires, op.cit, vol.1, p.78.

Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.76.

Africa and Syria to deal with oriental spices. 164 The Karimi
merchants had their funduq or fanadig in Cairo where they
used to store the spices and other oriental commodities. 165
They had a number of such funduqs along their routes like
in Aden, Zabid, Taaz, Jeddah, Qus, Aidhab, Fostat,
Alexandria and so on, and they also established mosques
within the walls of the funduq.166 Similarly, the foreign

E. Ashtor, The Venetian Supremacy..., l.cit, pp.6,8-9; Fondachi or
fonduks - where the foreign merchants lived and stored the spices
and other commodities. Ref. Ernst Sambaher, op.cit, p.105.

W.J. Fischel, The Spice Trade in Mamluk Egypt, l.cit, p.163.


merchants had their fondachi in Venice too. 167 Thus,

factories, fondachi or funduqs played an important role in
the conduct of spice trade in the period before the
discovery of the direct sea route from Europe to the
Malabar coast.
The factors and secretaries or accountants too had a
major role to play in connection with the spice trade.
Similarly, the Venetian merchants had their fattori (factors)
through whom they purchased pepper, ginger and other
It seems that the foreign merchants frequenting the
ports on the Malabar coast and those residing there
enjoyed some privileges akin to those of an exempted
community. The Muslims who constituted the most
powerful merchant group at Calicut had their own governor
who ruled and punished the guilty without any interference
from the local ruler or king. The governor was obliged to
report to the King the nature of the course of action he
Ernst Samhaber, op.cit, p.105.

E. Ashtor, Venetian Supremacy..., op.cit, p.33.

took, only on certain matters.169 The Venetians and other

merchants in Alexandria and other ports in the Muslimruled area too enjoyed certain concessions right from 1238
CE concerning the solution of some cases arising among
themselves, without the interference of the Sultan. 170
Probably, immunity of this sort granted to foreign
merchants had its origin in the Islamic conception of nonMuslims being outside the purview of the law of Koran.171
However, it has to be noted that exemption of this sort did
not in any way mean extra-territoriality, which the
Barbosa, op.cit, p.76.

Ashtor, The Venetian Supremacy.... op.cit, pp.50-51.

Ernst Samhaber, op.cit, p.105.

Portuguese and other European colonising powers

obtained by force of arms or diplomatic manoeuvring in
the later period. Any litigation between a foreigner and a
subject of the Mamluk Kingdom had to be brought before
the Muslim judge of the sultanate.172
As it happens even now, brokers played an important
role in striking deals in spice trades on the Malabar coast.
The Zamorin of Calicut himself appointed a few brokers for
the foreign traders as soon as they arrived at Calicut.173
Chinese as well as Italian sources make mention of the
way in which the brokers interfered between the sellers
and buyers and fixed the prices. 174 The Chinese
commodities brought from China were sold at Calicut
through brokers. It is quite interesting to note the way in
Ashtor, Venetian Supremacy.... op.cit, p.53.

Duarte Barbosa, op.cit, vol.II, p.77.

Mahuan, Yng Yai Sheng in W.W. Rockhill, op.cit, p.457;
Varthema, op.cit,

which agreement between the seller and buyer was

reached through the middle man. The broker covered the
right hand of the seller with a piece of cloth and with his
two fingers next to the thumb touched the joints of the
fingers of the seller under the piece of cloth, without the
people around noticing anything. By touching the fingers
the brokers counted from any number upwards and the
amount at which the seller agreed to sell his spices would
be thus fixed secretly. Then the broker went to the buyer
and in the same way the amount at which he would be
ready to purchase the items would be fixed.175 Once the
transaction was done, the broker got a good sum in the
With the help of these brokers, the merchants coming
to the Malabar coast purchased spices of different sorts,
like pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, myrobalans,
tamarind, canafistula, musk, amber, rhubarb, aloes-wood,
almiscar, benzoin, nutmeg, cloves, mace, sandalwood,

The same practice is reported to be in vogue till date in Allepey
and other
centres in Kerala.

brazil wood and so on.176 All these items were not

produced in Malabar, but merchants from other places like
Malacca, Ceylon, Pegu etc., brought to Calicut a variety of
goods and it served as a great entrept.177
Thus, with the decline of the united Roman Empire, the
Roman trade in spices with the Malabar coast also
diminished. Still, the movement of spices to the
Mediterranean ports and China continued, albeit from
different staple centres. Till the thirteenth century CE,
Quilon was the principal export centre for spices to be
taken to China and to the West Asian regions for onward
shipment either through the Persian Gulf area or Red Sea.
We do not have any cogent argument regarding the
shifting of the movement of spices from Muziris to Quilon.
But by the thirteenth century, Calicut replaced Quilon and
turned out to be the most important emporium of spices
on the Malabar coast and the pivotal point in the East West
Montalbodo, op.cit, pp.94,161; Duarte Barbosa, op.cit, vol.ii, p.77,
Tom Pires, op.cit, pp.43, 78, Prospero Pergallo, op.cit, p.31.

Tom Pires, op.cit, vol.I, pp.82-84.

axis of international emporia trade. Even the Chinese

traders turned their attention from Quilon to Calicut.





ortugal was the pioneering European nation to open

a new spice route entirely through sea. The attempt
was made by the direct involvement of the kingdom
at large and the King in particular. Their aim was to take
the seaborne trade out of the hands of the Muslim
merchants and organisations. It was conceived as a
continuation of the reconquering activity in the Iberian
Peninsula with the moral support of the Papacy. Therefore,
the objective they set before the public was a mixture of
religious and economic benefit through seaborne trade in
spices, which fetched fabulous profits in Europe.
Subsequent attempts of the English, the Dutch, the Danes,
the French and the Ostenders were made under the
auspices of the chartered companies. They followed to a
large extent the pattern of trade set by the Portuguese
right from the first decade of the sixteenth century. The
organisation of factories as staple centres for collection,
factorisation and export of spices, administrative
establishment and also the residence of the factor who
was accountable to the Portuguese government continued
with some changes in minor details under the various East
India Companies that came to the Malabar coast following
the exit of the Portuguese. In fact, some of these
companies acquired through force of arms the factories
and fortresses set up by the Portuguese and pruned them
to reduce the expenditure needed for maintenance. So by

dwelling on the Portuguese settlements on the Malabar

coast at length, we will understand the dynamics of the
East India Companies.
Ever since Constantinople, the headquarters of the
Eastern Roman Empire fell to the Turks in 1453, access to
India and other spice producing areas in the East became
extremely difficult for the West Europeans. As the Turks
closed the traditional trade routes by land up to
Constantinople and then to the East either by sea or land,
the Arabs could no longer supply spices and other items to
the European merchants. Europes economy was badly hit
and countries vied with each other to establish direct trade
relations with the East by opening up a new sea route,
thus commencing the Age of Discovery or Age of
Exploration. Portugal, among other European nations, took
up naval explorations with a great zest. Preparations in
different directions were made by them to reach the spiceproducing areas of the East. The role played by Prince
Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) in the Portuguese
discoveries is significant. The fifth son of King John I of
Portugal, Prince Henry was made the Master of the Order
of Christ and Governor of the area of Algarves in 1415.
Thus the considerable wealth of the Order of Christ came
under his disposal. The capture of Ceuta, the city known as
the Key to the Mediterraneanin 1415 brought him great
fame, as one of the major northern trade centers of the
Islamic world was now in the possession of Portugal. This
African conquest was the beginning of a wave of European
expansion that would reach every continent on the globe.
With a view to carrying out naval explorations, Prince
Henry set up his residence in the promontory of Sagres in
Algarve, on the southern coast of Portugal, which was
named Naval Arsenal. He devoted his time to studying
astronomy and mathematics in order to dispatch the

vessels for adventurous expeditions. As a result, Porto

Santo and Madeira were discovered in 1418-20.
Meanwhile, a chance occurrence paved the way for more
serious attempts in maritime explorations. The works and
maps prepared by Marco Polo came into the hands of the
Portuguese. In fact, they were offered to Prince Peter of
Portugal who visited Venice in 1428 from whom it reached
Prince Henry, his brother. The latter carefully studied the
maps made by Marco Polo and came to the conclusion that
from the southernmost part of Africa there could be easy
access to India. Prince Henry went on collecting
information about the commerce of Africa. He sent out two
or three caravels annually along the west coast of Africa.
One of the expeditions dispatched by Prince Henry
discovered Azores in 1433 CE. Another Portuguese
expedition located Cape Bojador in 1434. He entertained
the idea that further explorations would take the
Portuguese to India via the Cape of Good Hope.
Prince Henry also cherished the plan of converting the
people of the African coast to Christianity. Therefore he
thought it wise to apprise the Pope about his plan and to
obtain papal sanction in perpetuity to the Portuguese
Crown for whatever lands might be discovered beyond
Cape Bojador to the Indies inclusively. With a view to
warding off the other European powers from the
explorations in this direction, the Portuguese King obtained
a bull from Pope Nicholas V dated 8 January 1454 under
the title Romanus Pontifex which permitted the
Portuguese King to appropriate all the territories that were
discovered or would be discovered by them.178

Levy Maria Jordo, ed., Bullarium Patronatus Portugalliae Regum
in Ecclesiis Africae, Asiae atque Oceaniae, tomo I, Lisboa, l868,

The prince obtained the services of Luigi Cadamosto, a

Venetian spice trader in 1455 and 1456 to whom the duty
of discovering Cabo Verde, an island off the coast of
Western Africa, was entrusted. The attempt met with great
success. Though he died in1460, the inspiration provided
by Prince Henry the Navigator contributed greatly to the
maritime and expansionist ventures of the Portuguese. The
navigators who were based in Sagres continued to work on
his idea that India could be reached by rounding the Cape
of Good Hope. The Portuguese possessions of Ceuta,
Madeira, Azores and Cabo Verde provided stepping-stones
for further explorations.
Pope Sixtus IV through his bull Aeterni Regis
21 July 1481 confirmed the right of the Portuguese over
the newly discovered territories. Pope Alexander VI
intervened in the controversy between the Spaniards and
the Portuguese regarding the discoveries in the East and
through the official communication Inter caetera of
1493, he approved the right of the Portuguese for their
possessions in the East. The various Popes exhorted all
other Christian powers of Europe to respect the Portuguese
right over the areas discovered and conquered by them.
The importance of the papal approval should be evaluated
against the religious authority wielded by the Pope in the
medieval period over the Christians before it was
challenged by the Protestant Reformation. Therefore,

nobody ventured into the areas the Portuguese began to

Attempts at the discovery of a direct spice route
The discovery of the oceanic routes to the West and
East Indies has been considered the greatest event since
the creation of the world, apart from the incarnation and
the death of Him who created it by Francisco Lpes de
Gmara in his work General History of the Indies dedicated
to the Emperor Charles V in 1552. Almost in the same vein,
Adam Smith viewed the discovery of America and the
passage to the East Indies via Cape of Good Hope as the
two greatest and most important events in the recorded
history of mankind.179 In fact, the Portuguese made
different attempts through sea and land to reach India.
Infant Dom Henrique, governor and administrator of the
Order of Christ, built a house of prayer in honour of
Blessed Virgin Mary, near the sea at Restello, close to
Lisbon, under the invocation of Bethlehem. A few members
of the military order of Christ stayed there. Dom Henrique
donated a lot of immovable property around it with the
condition that the Chaplain should on every Saturday offer
a holy mass in honour of Blessed Virgin Mary for him. The
priests residing there were expected to look after the
administration of sacraments like Confession and Eucharist
to those who used to take up overseas activities. Dom
Manuel who succeeded Dom Henrique as the Governor
C.R. Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415-1825, London,
Penguin Books, 1973, p.1.

and Administrator of the Order of Christ wanted to build a

huge Church at the hermitage known under the invocation
of Bethlehem. A magnificent church in a more prominent
site was built and entrusted to the Religious Order of St.
Jerome for the glory of Blessed Virgin Mary. Dom Manuel
opted the same place for his tomb. 180 It was from this site
that the Portuguese fleets left for India.
By Sea
Two ships of fifty tonnes were made ready for the
voyage of Portuguese explorer and navigator Bartholomeu
Dias, who left Portugal by the end of August 1486. Pero
dAlanquer was the pilot of the ship under him while Joo
Infante was the captain of the second ship. A third ship
captained by his brother Pero Dias carried the
provisions.181 Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good
Hope early in 1488 and proceeded some distance up the
coast of southern Africa. He returned giving the message

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte i, pp.372-77.

Joo de Barros, op.cit, p.184.

that the sea route to the Indies was open, becoming the
first European to have done so.
By land
Dom Joo II (1481-95), the King of Portugal decided to
discover a land route to the East via Jerusalem and so sent
Frei Antonio de Lisboa and Pero de Montaroyo to
Jerusalem. But the results were not satisfactory since they
did not know Arabic and did not dare to proceed further.
Knowing the importance of Arabic language for this
endeavour, the King ordered Pero Covilh, an Arabic
speaking person and his companion Afonso de Paiva, to
take up this mission. They started from Santarm on 7 May
1487 in the presence of D. Manuel, the Duke of Beja. 182
They went to Naples from where they proceeded to the
island of Rhodes and then to Alexandria. After a brief stay
cut short by illness, they made their way to Cairo and Tor
in the company of some Muslims going to Aden. Afonso de
Paiva took his route to Ethiopia while Pero Covilh set out
to India with the agreement of meeting again at Cairo.
Covilho set sail in a small vessel to Aden and from there
visited Cannanore, Calicut and Goa. He returned to Mina
de Soffala situated in Ethiopia around Egypt. Again he
went to Aden and finally to Cairo where he got the
information that Paiva had died of some illness. There he
came in contact with two Jews from Spain along with whom
there were two other Jews from Portugal - Rabi Habr
Joo de Barros, p.194.

hailing from Beja and Josepe, the shoemaker from Lemego.

They were on the lookout for Pero Covilh as instructed by
the King of Portugal.
Covilh, knowing that the King of Portugal was eager to
get information regarding India, had collected interesting
information about Babylonia which was then known as
Baghdad, situated on the Euphrates, and Ormuz in the
Persian Gulf where a flourishing trade in spices and other
riches of India was going on. He also had information
about the caravans carrying those commodities to
Damascus and Aleppo. By the time the King obtained
these details from the Jews, Pero Covilh had already
departed from Santarm. So the King instructed Josepe
and Rabi Habro, to go in search of Covilh and give him
his letter. Rabi Habro was asked to go with Covilh to
Ormuz and collect information about India from there. So,
he proceeded to Aden from where both of them set sail to
Ormuz to get informed about the caravans going to Aleppo
in Syria. Then Covilh returned to the Red Sea and finally
to the Court of Prester John after sending detailed reports
of all his findings to the King from Cairo in 1490/91. 183 It is
not certain if this report reached the King or not.
Explorative voyage under Vasco da Gama
When Joo II, King of Portugal, died without any legal
issue to succeed him, Dom Manuel the Duke of Beja who
was his cousin and the son of Infant D. Fernando and
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte i, pp.194-96.

brother of King Afonso was crowned King of Portugal on 27

October 1495 at the age of twenty six, according to the
testament of King Joo II. 184 The new King Dom Manuel
(1496-1521) in the second year of his reign sent the first
fleet to India in 1497 under the command of Vasco da
Gama who was picked up by D. Joo II, during his reign.
The king, in the course of his discourse before sending the
fleet, referred to the power wielded and the riches
accumulated by Venice, Genova, Florence and other Italian
centres through trade and commerce with a view to
enthusing the Portuguese in having maritime trade with
India.185 The King entrusted Vasco da Gama with the

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte i; pp.267-68.

For a detailed study of Vasco da Gama, ref. A.C. Teixeira de
Arago, Vasco da Gama e a Vidigueira: Estudo histrico, Lisboa,
1898; K.G. Jayne, Vasco da Gama and His Successors 1460-1580,
London, 1910; Henry E.J. Stanley, The Three Voyages of Vasco da
Gama and His Viceroyalty, London, 1869; Armando Corteso, The
Mystery of Vasco da Gama, Coimbra, 1973; Sanjay
Subrahmanyam, The Career and legend of Vasco da Gama,
Cambridge, 1997. Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte i, p.270.

banner of the Order of Christ and a letter to be handed

over to the Zamorin of Calicut.
Vasco da Gama left for India on 8 Saturday July 1497
with four vessels, namely So Gabriel commanded by
himself, So Rafael under his brother Paulo da Gama,
Brrio led by Nicolau Coelho and the fourth that carried the
provisions for the mariners had as its captain Gonalo
Nunes.186 The average tonnage of these vessels was
around 100 to 120 and there were approximately 160
persons on the voyage. On reaching Melinde in the East
African coast, Vasco da Gama obtained the services of a
Gujarati pilot who took the fleet to Kappad at the mouth of
Elatur river, about 12 kilometers or seven miles
N.W. of Calicut.187 The pilot mistook it for Calicut and
anchored the fleet off Kappad on 20 May 1498 as reported
by the anonymous author of the Diary of the first voyage
of Vasco da Gama. On the next day in the light of the
information received from the fisherman of the locality, the
fleet proceeded to Calicut. A Portuguese convict
(degradado) in the fleet of Vasco da Gama was sent to
Calicut to pass the message about the arrival of the
Portuguese. He landed at Calicut on 21 May 1498 188 and
passed on the message to the Zamorin of Calicut. In the
Ref. Memoria das armadas que de Portugal passaram ha India e
esta primeira e ha com que Vasco da Gama partio ao
descobrimento de la por mandado de El Rey Dom Manuel no
segumdo anno de seu reinado e no do nacimento de xto de 1497
(Lisboa, Facsimile edition), p.1; Joa de Barros, op.cit, Decada I,
parte i, p.279.

meantime he was asked about the purpose of the arrival of

the Portuguese by two moors from Tunis who could speak
Castilian and Genoese. He told them that the Portuguese
had come in search of Christians and spices. The Zamorin
who was at that time in Ponnani received the message
sent by Vasco da Gama regarding the arrival of the
Portuguese at Calicut.189 Immediately the Zamorin
dispatched a pilot alongside the two messengers sent by
Vasco da Gama with the orders to take them to Panderani
The Portuguese text about the arrival of the Portuguese reads: E,
em este dia [20 de Maio] tarde, fomos pousar abaixo desta
cidade de Calecute duas leguas; e isto porque ao piloto pareceu,
por uma vila que ali estava, a que chamam Capua, que era
Calecut; e abaixo desta vial est outra que se chama Pandarane
Diario da Viagem de Vasco da Gama edited with facsimile by
Damio Peres, Antonio Baio, A.De Mgalhes Basto, Porto, Texto
Actualizado, p.58; Alvaro Velho, Roteiro da Primeira Viagem de
Vasco da Gama, Lisboa,1969, p.39; E.G. Ravenstein, A Journal of
the First Voyage of Vasco da Gma 1497-1498, London, 1888, p.48.
Ferno Lopes de Castanheda and Joo de Barros call this place
Capocate. The anonymous author of the Diary of the first voyage
of Vasco da Gama says that Capau or Kappad appeared to the
Pilot as Calicut, while in fact it was not so. The information about
the landing of Vasco da Gama at Kappad, which was taken for
Calicut by the pilot, is clearly mentioned in the manuscript of the
anonymous author who accompanied Vasco da Gama in his first
voyage. This manuscript has been recently (June 2013) entered in
the UNESCOs International Memory of World Register of the
worlds most precious Documents. This must be read along with
the controversial statement of M.G.S. Narayanan who recently
expressed the opinion that Vasco da Gama landed in Koyilandi.
(ref. The Hindu, Friday 24, May 2013 page 2, Kochi edition). If a
person has no access to the original Portuguese text, he could
read the English translation of the same by .G. Ravenstein.

(Pantalayani Kollam) where the anchorage was better and

safer.190 A port frequented in the past by Chinese
merchants as well as those from West Asia, Pantalayani
about 24 kilometers north of Calicut, has one of the nine
original mosques built on the Malabar coast by Malik Ibn
The presence of a Quazi from Oman at Pantalayani
could easily lead us to the conclusion that there were a
number of Omanese traders settled in Pantalayani along
with other foreign merchants. He could be like the
Shabandar who looked after the well-being of the
merchants in foreign land. There was always a Shabandar
Joo Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.328.

When we arrived at Calicut the King was fifteen leagues away (:
in Ponnani). The captain major sent two men to him with a
message informing him that an ambassador has arrived from the
King of Portugal with letters and that if he desired it he would take
them to where the King then was. He sent a word to the captain
bidding him welcome, saying that he was about to proceed to
Qualecut. As a matter of fact, he started at once with a large
retinue, E.G. Ravenstein, ed., A Journal of the First Voyage of
Vasco da Gama 1497-99, New Delhi, AES, 1995, p.50.

in Malacca to look into the issues related to Gujarati

merchants settled there as well as those who frequented
the port regularly from Gujarat.
Pantalayani was considered a port town of importance
in the first decade of the sixteenth century as reported by
Duarte Barbosa, the Portuguese official and interpreter
who worked in the Portuguese factory at Cannanore from
1503 and later at Calicut when the Portuguese were able
to set up a fortress in 1513.191 Writing in 1515, Tom Pires
A pilot accompanied our two men, with orders to take us to a
place called Pandarani, below the place (Capuano) where we
anchored at first. At this time we were actually in front of the city
of Calicut. We were told that the anchorage at the place to which
we were to go was good, whilst at the place we were then it was
bad, with a stony bottom, which was quite true, and more over
that it was customary for the ships which came to this country to
anchor there for the sake of safety. We ourselves did not feel
comfortable, and the captain-major had no sooner received this
royal message than he ordered the sails to be set, and we
departed. We did not, however, anchor as near the shore as the
kings pilot desired. E.G. Ravenstein, ed., A Journal of the First
Voyage of Vasco da Gama 1497-99, New Delhi, AES, 1995, p.50.
The Portuguese fleet remained at Pandarani from 31 May to 23
June 1498. On 24 June, they took the merchandises to Calicut.

Passing thereby is another town on the coast called Tircore and
passing this there is another which they call Pandarani beyond
which there is yet another with a small river which they call
Capucate. This is a place of great trade and many ships, where on
the strand are found many soft sapphires Duarte Barbosa, The
Book of Duarte Barbosa, Vol.II, London, 1921 pp.85-86.

a Portuguese apothecary, speaks of Pantalayani Kollam

(Pandarani) as one of the ports on the Malabar coast
providing anchor to ships. He further adds that the port of
Pantalayani belonged to the Zamorin. This port town had
flourishing trade, merchants and ships.192
Vasco da Gama meets the Zamorin of Calicut
Accompanied by ten of his companions, Vasco da Gama
28 May to visit the Zamorin. Dressed in their best attire
they placed bombards in their boats and took trumpets
and many flags. On landing, the captain-major was
received by the alcaide, with whom were many armed and
unarmed men. They were given a rousing welcome by the
people who seemed to be pleased on seeing them. Vasco
da Gama was carried in a palanquin and on his way he
visited the Hindu temple at Puthur dedicated to goddess
Durga and another temple. Contacts with the people of
Calicut and Vasco da Gama were established through
Ferno Martins, the only person who spoke Arabic.

Tom Pires, The Suma Oriental of Tom Pires, AES Reprints, New
Delhi, 1990 vol.1, pp.74, 78.

On reaching the palace, Vasco da Gama was escorted

with great respect to the King (Zamorin) who was in a
small court, reclining on a couch. He told the Zamorin that
he was ambassador of the King of Portugal who was the
lord of many countries and the possessors of great wealth
of every description, exceeding that of any King of these
parts; and that for a period of sixty years his ancestors had
annually sent out vessels to make discoveries in the
direction of India as they knew there were kings there like
themselves. This was the reason that induced them to
discover this country, not because they sought gold or
silver, which they had in abundance. Two letters had been
entrusted to him to be presented to the King in case he
succeeded in discovering him. He had also been instructed
to say by word of mouth that he (the King of Portugal)
desired to be his friend and brother.
The letter sent by King Manuel of Portugal to the
Zamorin of Calicut was in Arabic with a translation in
Portuguese.193 Vasco da Gama kissed the letter and gave it
to the King with his knee on the ground. In reply to this,
the King said that on his part he held him as a friend and
brother and that he would send his ambassadors to
Portugal. Vasco da Gama then requested the King to seal
this friendship with a contract as the Portuguese who had
heard of his grandeur wished to trade and buy their
merchandise, above all pepper and drugs of which there
were none in Portugal. Immediately the King told him to
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.335.

ask his overseer of the treasury for whatever merchandise

he wished to take on board and to buy whatever they liked
for no one would do them any harm. Vasco da Gama bid
farewell to the Zamorin and went out with the overseer,
pleased with the success of his mission.
Return of Vasco da Gama
According to the information provided in the Journal of
the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese fleet
spent 101 days at Pantalayani during the monsoon season.
This was possible only because of the safety of the port.
The fleet left Pantalayani on 29 August 1498 for Portugal
with a letter from the Zamorin of Calicut addressed to King
Manuel of Portugal.194 The fleet reached Lisbon on 10 July
1499.195 On account of the success of the fleet in
discovering a new sea-route to the Malabar coast which
was a direct and shorter spice route, the King assumed the
title Senhor da Conquista, Navegao, e Commercio da
Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia e India (Lord of conquest,
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.357.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.370.

navigation and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and

India) and rewarded Vasco da Gama appropriately besides
granting him the title Almirante dos mares da India.196
Information about the successful endeavour of Vasco da
Gama was passed on to all the Portuguese towns and
villages by the King who asked the residents to thank God
for the graces showered on the nation due to the
marvellous victory of Vasco da Gama in reaching the
Indian shores via the Cape of Good Hope. When the
Portuguese people saw the pepper, cloves, cinnamon, seed
pearls and precious stones brought by the fleet of Vasco da
Gama which were till now taken to Lisbon in the Venetian
Galleys, they praised the King for his initiative and stated
that Dom Manuel was the most fortunate of the
Portuguese kings who, within two years of his coronation,
accomplished phenomenal deeds. The Portuguese
concluded from the experience of Vasco da Gama that the
best time to start for India was March.197
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.371.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, pp.378ff.

After realizing the importance of the maritime venture,

a decision was taken by the kings council to send a large
fleet under navigator and explorer, Pedro lvares Cabral,
which would be able to give an idea about the greatness of
the kingdom. The date of departure was fixed as 8 March
1500. The fleet consisted of thirteen vessels of different
types such as nos, navios and caravels. Eight monks of
the Franciscan order under the leadership of Fr. Henrique
and a vicar who was appointed to administer sacraments
in the proposed factory to be built in Calicut, accompanied
the fleet.198 Cabral reached Calicut on 13 September 1500
after having made a diversion and discovering Brazil for
the Portuguese crown on the way. Gaspar da India acted as
an interpreter in the meeting with the Zamorin. The letter
written in Arabic by the King of Portugal to the Zamorin
made mention of the intention of the visit namely, to deal
with details related to peace and friendship with the
Zamorin, trade in spices and other matters. The
Portuguese King offered whatever was needed for the
defence of his kingdom in terms of personnel, arms and
ammunition. The letter further noted that gold, silver and
other merchandises for the purchase of spices were
brought to Calicut under the leadership of Captain Major
Pedro lvares Cabral. Since the Captain knew that the
Zamorin was on friendly relations with his neighbouring
rulers, he was to take care only of trade and commerce
with Portugal. It was against this background that the
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte I, p.384.

Portuguese requested the permission to open a factory

with the officials at Calicut.
Establishment of a Portuguese factory and fortress
in Calicut
After several discussions, a treaty of peace and
friendship was concluded between the Zamorin and the
Portuguese and a factory near the sea, a temporary outfit,
was opened where the Portuguese flag was hoisted. The
building for the factory was offered by the Zamorin. Aires
Correa began to work as the factor. He was given a
Gujarati merchant to instruct him in the customs and
manners of the country.199 Fr. Henrique, though he was not
able to handle Malayalam, was put in charge of the
religious activities. The Zamorin signed two copies of the
treaty, one on a silver plate with gold seal and the other on
copper plate with brass seal. The former was to be taken
to the Portuguese King and the latter to be kept in the
factory at Calicut.200
However, there arose problems in obtaining the
required cargo of spices on account of the alleged
interference of the merchants dealing with Mocha, a port
Fracanzano Montalbodo, Paesi Nouvamente Retrovati & Novo
Mondo da Alberico Vesputio Intitulato, Venezia, 1597, Facsimile,
London, 1916. p.90.

Cronica do Descobrimento e conquista da India pelos
Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974, p.21.

city on the Red coast of Yemen. They managed to get only

old pepper and that too for just two vessels, although they
were looking for much more cargo. In the meantime, a ship
belonging to Mammale Marakkar and Cherina Marakkar of
Cochin loaded with seven elephants from Ceylon was
passing through the Arabian Sea to Mocha. The Zamorin
showed great interest in the elephant and wanted the
Portuguese to get hold of the ship for his sake, which they
did to please him at the insistence of Coge Cemetery, a
powerful merchant of Calicut. In fact, the Portuguese were
told that the ship belonged to the merchants from Mocha
and that it was carrying pepper, which was not true. The
Muslims of Calicut turned against the Portuguese on
account of the capture of the ship. Frustrated in their effort
to get more cargo, the Portuguese even searched a ship
loaded with pepper for Mocha. In the ensuing fight, the
indignant Muslims murdered the Portuguese factor Aires
Correa along with the majority of the people amounting to
fifty men who were there with him in the factory. Thus the
first factory established on the Malabar coast did not
survive the attack of the Muslims. The factory was razed to
the ground.201

Montalbodo, op.cit, p.96; Constancio Roque da Costa, Historia das
Relaes diplomaticas de Portugal no Oriente, Lisboa, 1895, p.22,
Leonardo da Ca Masser, Relazione... in Archivio Storico Italiano,
Appendice, tomo II, Firenze, 1845, pp.15-16.

Having been apprised of the sad event, Vasco da Gama

came for the second time to Calicut in 1502 with a fleet of
twenty-five vessels to take revenge for the atrocities that
his people had suffered. When diplomacy failed, he
stormed the city and massacred a lot of people. He sent in
a boat the heads, arms and legs separated from their
trunks as a present to the Zamorin with a letter written
in the local language saying that he came to Calicut to sell
and purchase good commodities and these were the
merchandise he could find there.202 After this encounter,
know-how to fight against the Portuguese. At the request
of the Zamorin, the Sultan of Cairo sent four Venetians who
were experts in artillery to Calicut, among whom was
presumably the famous Italian traveller and diarist,

Thom Lopes,Navegao as Indias Orientaes in Coleco de
Noticias para a Historia e Geografia das Naes ultramarinas que
vivem nos Dominios Portugueses ou lhes so visinhos, tomo II,
no.1&2, Lisboa, 1812, p.190. Eu vim a este porto com boa
mercadoria, para vender, comprar e pagar os vossos generos;
estes so os generos desta terra, eu vo-los envio do presente,
comoe tambm as el Rei also Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, parte II,

Ludovico di Varthema.203 Unable to subdue the Zamorins

forces Vasco da Gama sailed south to the port of Cochin
and formed an alliance with the King of Cochin who was
also an enemy of the Zamorin. He left for Portugal on 20
February 1503 from Cannanore whose King too nursed a
grouse with the Zamorin and so had joined hands with the
The port of Calicut was considered by Affonso de
Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor, as the biggest and
best in the whole of India and the Zamorin the most
powerful of all the rulers of Malabar. It had an abundance
of commodities and rich merchants.204 Soon after the
demise of the reigning Zamorin in 1512, his successor 205
Nambeadiri sent a message to Affonso de Albuquerque in
Goa expressing his willingness to come to terms with the
Portuguese and permitting them to have a factory and a
fortress in Calicut. Affonso de Albuquerque had already
Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conquista da ndia pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra, 1924,

Cartas de Albuquerque, Tomo I, Lisboa, 1884, p.250.

written to the King of Portugal explaining the power of the

Zamorin and the importance of the port of Calicut
frequented by very rich and powerful merchants.206 He also
informed the Portuguese King that Calicut was the ancient
emporium of Cairo and Venice.207
Affonso de Albuquerque sent his nephew Garcia de
Noronha to arrange the treaty of peace with the King of
Calicut. Francisco Nogueira was assigned captain of the
proposed fortress while Gonalo Mendes was to be the
factor and Thomas Fernandez, the master of masons to
Cartas I, p.152, Affonso de Albuquerque writes that it was the
brother of the deceased Zamorin called Nambeadiri who
expressed his willingness to come to terms with the Portuguese.
Castanheda too writes that Nambeadiri was his brother. Ref.
Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Historia do Descobrimento &
Conquista da ndia pelos Portugueses,
livro III, Coimbra, 1928,

Cartas I, p.250.

Cartas l, p.137.

build the factory.208 He underlined the fact that Calicut

would be the true emporium of pepper and ginger for
Portugal and would provide cargo for the ships coming
from Cochin.209 He further reasoned out that the only way
to stop the flow of spices from Calicut to Cairo was to have
a fortress in the place offered by the Zamorin and to have
eighty men in the fortress. It would be rather impossible to
stop the diversion of spices through waging naval
battles.210 Garcia de Noronha, on behalf of Affonso de
Albuquerque, signed the agreement with the Zamorin of

Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo ii, Coimbra, 1923 p.330,
Cartas I, p.152.

Cartas I, p.152.

Calicut on 24 December 1513.211 The Portuguese took the

responsibility of bringing to Calicut coral, silk cloths,
scarlet, quicksilver, vermillion, lead, copper, saffron, alum
stone and other commodities available with them. The
Zamorin undertook to supply all the necessary spices and
drugs found in the region of Malabar needed for the
The Portuguese bound themselves to pay the usual
taxes for the commodities purchased by them. The buyers
of the commodities were asked to pay the customs duties
to the King of Calicut. The merchants from Ormuz,
Cambay, Malacca, Sumatra, Pegu, Tennasserim, Bengal,
Coromandel, Ceylon, Jafnapattanam, and Chael were
bound to pay the usual taxes to the King of Portugal.
Similarly, the Portuguese who brought horses or elephants
Cartas I, p.153.

Julio Firmino Judice Biker, Colleco de Tratados e Concertos de
Pazes que o Estado da India Portuguez fez com os Reis e Senhores
com quem teve Relaes nas partes da Asia e Africa Oriental
desde o Principio da conquista at ao fim do Seculo XVIII, Lisboa,
1881, pp.21-23.

to Calicut were asked to pay the usual taxes to the

Zamorin. Zambuks (wooden ship) coming to Calicut except
those from Cochin and Cannanore were expected to collect
cartazes (passes) from the Portuguese captain at Calicut.
On account of the damage caused to the Portuguese King
in Calicut, the Zamorin agreed to deliver one thousand
bhares of pepper according to the unit of weight used in
Cranganore, in three installments as compensation. The
local people were to be punished by the Zamorin while the
Portuguese would be disciplined by their captain for the
crime committed by them.
The Zamorin agreed to pay to the Portuguese half of
the income from the customs houses at Calicut. As desired
by the Zamorin, another treaty was ratified by the King of
Portugal on 26 February 1515.212 He further sent his
relative to Portugal as an emissary. The boy deputed by
the Zamorin became a Christian and received the habit of
the Order of Christ. He was called Dom John of the Cross
and stayed in Portugal for five years. 213 Fifty Nairs worked
as guards in the fort of Calicut in 1514 and out of them 20
used to reside in the fort night and day. They were under a
Panikkar. All of them were paid special amount and
materials during the local festivals.214

Biker, Tratados, pp.28-33.

Gaspar Correa, Lendas, tomo ii, p.334.

But for the fact that the sagacious new ruler of Calicut
(1513-1522) saw that his best interests lay in peace, not in
war, the treaty signed on December 1513 would not have
survived the death of Albuquerque in 1515. For instance,
Lopo Soares, the third governor of Portuguese India who
superseded Albuquerque demanded that the Zamorin
should repair the Portuguese fort and wait upon him.
Hostilities were averted by the good sense of the
Portuguese captains, who refused to draw their sword in
such a silly and unjust cause.215 The King of Cochin did not

Cartas, vol.VII, p.131.

Hermann Gundert ed., Kerala Palama (1498-1531) Kottayam,
1959, p.145.

like the treaty and so he looked for opportunities to create

hostilities between the Portuguese and the Zamorin. The
Mappilas and the locals who perceived the growing
prowess of the Portuguese as a threat also wanted to drive
them away from their country. But the Zamorin who
realized the declining powers of the Moors and the growing
influence of the European traders refused to intervene.
After completing the building of the fortress, the
Portuguese too insisted on passes for the Muslim
merchants. The death of the Zamorin who concluded the
treaty made matters worse. The new Zamorin (1522-1531)
was less friendly towards the Portuguese than his
predecessor. In 1523 the Moors insulted the Portuguese
governor Duarte Meneses,216 and in 1524 an open fight
took place in the bazaar between them and the Portuguese
soldiers.217 The captain of the fortress sent exaggerated
Kerala Palama, p.166.

The Tohufut-ul-Mujahideen, p.117; Gaspar Correa gives details
about the fight put up by the Zamorin of Calicut against the
Portuguese and the fortress at Calicut, ref. Gaspar Correa, op.cit,
tomo ii, part ii. pp.81ff., pp.890-918; ibid, pp.941-64.

reports about the event which precipitated the crisis. 218 At

this juncture Vasco da Gama arrived at Goa as the viceroy
in September 1524. In September, he sent DSouza with
300 men to assist the captain at Calicut. Vasco da Gama
on reaching Cochin adopted more vigorous measures
against the Zamorin. But within three months of becoming
the viceroy, he fell ill and died in Cochin on 23 or 24
December 1524. Henry Meneses succeeded him. There
followed more fights between the Portuguese and the
people of Calicut. The fortress in Calicut was as strong as
the one in Cochin and shaped similarly, but on account of
constant disturbances from the local merchants it was
abandoned by the Portuguese in 1525. 219 Soon the
Portuguese were expulsed from Calicut.
Fortress at Chaliyam
A new Zamorin came to the throne in 1531. The
Portuguese were very much interested in having a fortress
at least in the neighbourhood of Calicut to stop the flow of
a great deal of pepper and other spices to the Red Sea
regions. It is believed that the governor gave some gifts to
extract consent from the ruler of Chaliyam.220
The Rajas of Bettet, Beypore and Chaliyam who were
Kshatriyas and vassals of the Zamorin gave up their
allegiance to the Zamorin. The Portuguese tried to build a
fortress at Tanur. But for some reasons they did not
succeed. Nuno da Cunha, the Portuguese Governor took it
R.S. Whiteway, The Rise of the Portuguese Power in India 14981550, London,1899, p.204.

up and discussed the matter with the rulers of Tanur,

Chaliyam and Beypore. Then they turned to Chaliyam on
the road to Ponnani and Cochin. Its Raja, Unni Rama
listened to the plan being plotted with the Raja of Bettet.
But he did not want to irritate the Zamorin. So the
Portuguese sent a messenger to the Zamorin seeking his
approval to build the fortress. The Zamorin approved of it
Barros, Da sia, Decada IV, part II (Lisboa, 1973, reprint), pp.45152, Duarte Barbosa describes the fortress Two leagues beyond
this place (Capucate) is the city of Calicut where in more trade
was carried on, and yet is, by foreigners than by the natives of the
land, where also the King our Lord, with the full assent of the King
thereof, holds a very strong fortress. To the south of this city there
is a river on which lies another town called Chiliate, where dwell
many moor, natives of the land who are merchants and have
many ships in which they sail. Duarte Barbosa, The Book of
Duarte Barbosa, London, 1921, vol.II, pp.86-87. The fort was built
on the right bank of the Kallayi river at the southern end of the
town close to the old jetty stormed by Albuquerque in 1510. In
shape and size it was exactly like the Cochin fort. On the sea side
there were two towers and the wall connecting them was pierced
by a wicket gate so that the garrison might have easy and
uninterrupted communication with the sea. The keep had three
storeys. On the land side also there were towers and between
them was the principal entrance of the fort defended by bastion.
Ref. Barbosa. op.cit, p.87 foot note.

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento e
conquista da India pelos Portugueses, Coimbra, 1924, livro VIII,
p.270. An amount of 1000 golden pardaos was given to the ruler
for the consent.

and accepted the offer of half of the customs duties on the

traffic that passed through the river. The Portuguese built a
fortress at Chaliyam in 1531.221 A church, house for the
captain and the soldiers, and an armoury etc. were
constructed at Chaliyam under the orders of the Governor
Nuno da Cunha. The ruler of Chaliyam was approached to
have Jangada (Changathi) for the security of the fortress.222

Barros, Da sia, Decada IV, part I, pp.470-75; Simo Botelho, O
Tombo de Estado da India, in Rodrigo Jos de Lima Felner,
Subsidios para Historia da India Portugueza, Lisboa, 1868, pp.13032. Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada IV, Lisboa, 1973 (reprint),
part ii, pp.196ff. Chaliyam is an island formed by the Beypore and
Kadalundi rivers, held by the Portuguese after they left Calicut in
1525. A mound where stood the Portuguese fort destroyed by the
Zamorin in 1571 is still visible at the seas edge. Ref. Barbosa,
op.cit vol.II; p.87, footnote. This fortress at Chale/Chaliyam was
called Santa Maria do Castello, ref. Gaspar Correa, op.cit, tomo iii,
part I, pp.435-37.

Diogo de Couto, op.cit, Decada VI, part ii, pp.210-11 gives the
nature of the work of Jangada or Changathi.

The Chaliyam River was suited for the anchorage of a large

number of vessels and also for the cargo of pepper. It was
considered to be the best for navigation on the Malabar
The peace with the Zamorin lasted only for a few
years.224 Troubles continued. However, the Zamorin sent
Chinakuttiali, a merchant of Calicut in 1539 to the Viceroy
in Goa asking for peace and friendship. At that time, the
Portuguese fortress at Chaliyam was under Captain Manuel

Gaspar Correa, op.cit, tomo III, part i, p.435. The details of the
structure are furnished by Correa, ibid. pp.437-38. He says that
there was no problem for this fortress till 1563 when he was
writing the history. The plan of the fortress is given by Correa in
tomo = II, part II, before page 439. The plan shows a church and
houses outside the fortress.

Castanheda, op.cit. livro VIII; pp.429-36.

de Brito.225 The ruler of Tanur represented to the King of

Calicut while the details of the terms of the agreement
were finalized. The Portuguese Viceroy Dom Garcia de
Noronha made a treaty with the King of Calicut on the ship
St. Mattheus at Ponnani on 1 January 1540. 226 Accordingly,
the King of Calicut promised to supply necessary pepper
and other commodities to the Portuguese and also agreed
to stop sending ships to Mocha or receive any ships from
there. Peace lasted for ten years. Fight between the
Portuguese and the Zamorin broke out again in 1550. The
fortress at Chaliyam was besieged by the Zamorin. 227
D. Jorge de Castro was its captain at the time. The fortress
was completely razed to the ground in 1570 and
Castanheda, op.cit, livro IX, p.560; Castanheda gives the details of
the agreement ibid.

Biker, Tratados, pp.88-94: Simo Botelho, O Tombo de Estado da
India, pp.249-254.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada viii, p.459.

ultimately, the Portuguese with their wives, left Chaliyam

on 4 November 1571.228
D. Francisco Coutinho, the Count of Redondo, who was
appointed Viceroy of Goa in1561 established peace with
the Zamorin in 1662.229 He set out from Cochin with a big
contingent and met the Zamorin near Ticodi. The Zamorin
was accompanied by a militia consisting of 40,000 Nairs
and a number of Brahmins, Kaimals, Panikkars and so on.
After usual courtesies, the Zamorin made an oath assisted

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada ix, p.9.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada vii, part ii, p.495.

by his Brahmin priests and the Viceroy took the oath

touching the Missal and the Crucifix.230
Fortress at Ponnani
Ponnani was an important centre of trade located
between Calicut and Cochin. There were several
merchants in Ponnani who traded via Red Sea with Mocha
and other parts of the world.231 The Portuguese attempts to
stop the flow of commodities to the Red Sea regions made
the merchants of Ponnani thoroughly disgruntled with
them. In November 1507, Kuttiali, a powerful captain of
the Zamorin supported by more than seven thousand
armed persons from among the Hindus and Muslims, put
up a fierce fight against the Portuguese. But the
Portuguese led by their naval commander, Tristo da
Cunha, defeated them and confiscated their arms and
Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada VII, part II, pp.516-18.

For details of the route of trade in spices before the arrival of the
Portuguese, and the advantage reaped by the Sultan of Cairo
through trade in this route, refer Ferno Lopes de Castanheda,
Histria do Descobrimento & Conquista da India pelos
Portugueses, Coimbra, 1924, livro.1, pp.381-83.

ammunitions. The commodities that were made ready for

dispatch to Mocha were also taken over by the
Finally, in 1584 the Zamorin permitted the Portuguese
to establish a fortress at Ponnani. The Portuguese Viceroy,
D. Duarte de Meneses being aware of the importance of
the river at Ponnani and the necessity of stopping the flow
of spices to the Red Sea regions, diverted the attention of
the Turks by sending a fleet from here to the Red Sea while
looking into the matter of setting up a fortress in
Ponnani.233 Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas, the captain of the
Cochin fortress, was instrumental in signing the contract
with the Zamorin.234 Hence he was appointed the captain
of the fortress at Ponnani and Ruy Gonsalves de Camara
Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, Coimbra,1924, livro.1,

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part II, p.144.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii, pp.27-29.

was made captain of the north and of the armada in

1585.235 Rui Gomes de Gram in his capacity as captain of
the fortress increased its fortification in course of time. 236
Later Rui Gomes visited the Zamorin at his residence and
paid homage.237 He was given a rousing welcome in the
presence of Mangat Achan, the chief of the administrators
of the Zamorin and others.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii. pp.148-49.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii, pp.186-193.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii, pp.190-93.

By 1586, relations between Zamorin and his Muslim

naval chief Kunhali had soured. Gaspar Fagundes who was
in the fortress at Ponnani was asked by the Governor to
offer his services to the Zamorin against Kunhali. 238 A few
Portuguese were captured by Kunhali and later insulted in
his fortress.239
The new Zamorin who came to power in 1587 was also
friendly with the Portuguese.240 The new viceroy Dom
Manoel de Sousa Coutinho who succeeded Dom Duarte de
Menezes sent an armada against Kunhali. 241 The Zamorin
was highly impressed with the naval might of the

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii, p.315.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada X, part ii, pp.340-43.

Portuguese. Padre Francisco da Costa, a Jesuit who was at

that time a captive in the fortress of Kunhali succeeded in
liberating himself and his companions from captivity and
joined the Portuguese. This Jesuit with the consent of the
Abranches and explained the plan of concluding peace
with the Zamorin.242 The viceroy was informed of it and a
treaty was concluded in 1591 with the Zamorin who gave
freedom to the Jesuits to do their missionary activities. In
Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada VII, part II, p.528. He writes
that this Zamorin continued to rule till 1610.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada XI, pp.72ff.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada XI, pp.72-73.

accordance with the provisions of the treaty, the Zamorin

himself laid the foundation stone for a church in Calicut. 243
He allowed the Portuguese to settle in Calicut and
generously granted not only the site but also the building
A Portuguese factor under Belchior Ferreira244 who was
with the Zamorins army was allowed to look after trade
and endowed with the authority to issue passes to the
During the time of Viceroy Dom Antnio de Noronha,
Kunhali obtained permission from the Zamorin to establish
a fortress near Pudupattanam, with a view to attacking the
ships loaded with pepper that passed through the Malabar
coast. As per the terms of the treaty of 1591, the Zamorin
was expected to keep all the pirates away from his land.
Therefore he had the obligation of stopping the piratical
activities of Kunhali too. Mahamet Kunhali Marakkar, the
nephew of the previous Kunhali, succeeded him and
Diogo de Couto Da sia, Decada XI, pp.73,184.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada XII, p.70.

started strengthening his settlement and fortress with

more arms and ammunitions.245 The Viceroy Mathias de
Albuquerque sent Dom Alvaro de Abranches who was
insulted by Kunhali to the Zamorin cautioning him about
his growth. Then an agreement with the Zamorin was
concluded for joint action against Kunhali.246
After some time, the Zamorin violated the peace
established with the Portuguese. The Portuguese
confronted three ships off Calicut and killed more than two
thousand people on board.247 This was during the time of
Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada XI, pp.185-86.

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada XI, p.188.

Diogo de Couto, op.cit, Decada XI p.177.

Viceroy Dom Mathias de Albuquerque. Later the viceroy

was told about the intention of the Zamorin to start war
with Kunhali and to destroy his fortress. 248 The negotiations
between the Portuguese and the Zamorin were not
promptly concluded.
understanding with the Zamorin in 1599, in the light of
which the Zamorin promised to give a number of
chieftains, petty rulers like the prince of Tanur and
Chaliam, the administrator of Chaliam and so on to attack
the fortress of Kunhali Marikkar.249 It was further agreed
that as soon as the fortress of Kunhali was conquered, it
would be immediately razed to the ground. The captain
Diogo de Couto, op.cit, Decada XII, p.67.

For the details of the fortress and the way in which Kunhali was
caught and beheaded ref. Pyrard de Laval, The Voyage of Franois
Pyrard of Laval, vol.1, London, 1887, pp.350-58: Diogo do Couto,
Da sia, Decada XII. The plan of the fortress of Kunhali at
Kottackal is reproduced in the work of Francisco Pyrard de Laval,
The Voyage of Franois Pyrard of Laval, vol.2, part II, between
pp.510-511. This is reproduced from Livro da India of P. Barreto de
Resende, Sloane Collection, no.97.

promised to build a church and also establish a factory in

Again on 15 December 1605 the Portuguese made
another agreement with the Zamorin and promised to give
the church and the priests at Calicut for spiritual service to
the people as also the factor and other officials.251
Portuguese factory in Cochin
We find a totally different reaction to the Portuguese on
the part of the King of Cochin vis--vis that of the Zamorin
of Calicut. In 1500, when Pedro lvares Cabral faced great
resistance from the merchants in Calicut and indifference
of the Zamorin, he left for Cochin. It was reported by
Portuguese chronicler Gaspar da India that there was
greater abundance of pepper in Cochin than at Calicut
though the King of the place was not as powerful as the
Zamorin.252 Though the Portuguese were afraid of the
possible indignation of the King of Cochin on account of
Biker, Tratados, pp.186-88; Couto, Da sia, Decada xii, liv.iv,

Biker, Tratados, p.189.

the capture of the ship belonging to the two merchants of

Cochin (Mammale Marakkar and Cherina Marakkar), they
were received warmly by the King in view of the setback
suffered by the Portuguese at Calicut as informed by
Miguel, a convert to Christianity. Both the Hindu and
Muslim merchants of Cochin including Mammale Marakkar
and Cherina Marakkar supported the kings view of
extending help to the Portuguese. Cabral asked Gonalo
Gil Barbosa to be the factor at Cochin, Loureno Moreno
and Bastio lvares to function as writers, Gonalo
Madeira from Tangir as interpreter and a few others to
work in the factory. The Portuguese obtained large
amounts of pepper and other spices from Cranganore also.
Cabral was taken up by the generous gesture of the King
of Cochin who promised to help them and fight for their
interests even if his men would have to lose their lives. It
was here that the Portuguese met a number of Christian
followers of St. Thomas. Among them were two brothers
Mathias and Joseph, who travelled back in the fleet of
Cabral to Lisbon. Mathias died after visiting Lisbon but
Joseph proceeded from there to Rome, Venice Jerusalem
and finally Armenia to visit the Patriarch. 253 When in
Venice, Joseph described the customs and manners of the

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part I, pp.440-41.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part I, pp.446-47.

St. Thomas Christians, a summary of which has been

incorporated in the Latin Book entitled Novus Orbis.
Joo da Nova was informed through the letters left by
Cabral at Mombasa on the African coast that the ports of
Cochin and Cannanore would be friendly with Portugal.254
Based on this piece of advice he visited Cochin after first
seeing the King of Cannanore.255 Cabral had posted
Portuguese officials like Gonalo Gil Barbosa there and so
it was judged right to take the cargo from Cochin. Even
when Joo da Nova did not have sufficient funds to pay for
the spices he wanted to purchase, the King of Cochin stood

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, p.466.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, p.467.

as surety and the merchants supplied pepper, ginger,

cinnamon and cloths to Joo da Nova.256
With a view to taking revenge upon the people of
Calicut, Vasco da Gama led a fleet of twenty five vessels to
India in 1502. Five of them were for the protection of the
Portuguese factories at Cochin and Cannanore. When
Vasco da Gama arrived at Cochin, representatives of the
30,000 Christians living in the vicinity of Cranganore
visited him and gifted him a red rod of justice with three
bells made of silver that looked like a scepter. 257 Vasco da
Gama left Diogo Fernandez Correa who came as a factor
for Cochin258 to stay safely in the wooden building made
for this purpose. Thirty persons were also ordered to be
with him there. Loureno Moreno and Alvaro Vaz were
Letter of Giovanni Francesco de Affaitadi, Sanuto, I Diarii, tomo IV,

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part II, p.63.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part II, p.23.

asked to continue as writers to the factory. Vasco da Gama

requested the King of Cochin to reach an agreement
regarding the price of spices. The King told him that they
belonged to the Muslim merchants and the matter had to
be discussed and settled with them. In fact, this was also
the attitude of the King of Cannanore when Vasco da Gama
wanted to fix the price of spices. After long discussions
with the merchants of Cochin, the prices of spices were
fixed on 3 January 1503. 259 Finally, Vasco da Gama left for
Cannanore on 18 January 1503 and from there after
signing the contract, left for Lisbon where he arrived on
10 November 1504.
Establishment of the Portuguese fortress in Cochin
The two brothers, Affonso de Albuquerque and
Francisco de Albuquerque started from Lisbon on 6 and 14
April 1503 respectively, with six vessels each. On his
arrival Francisco de Albuquerque discussed with the King

Thom Lopes, Navegao as Indias Orientaes in Colleco de
Noticias para a Historia e Geografia das Naes ultramarinas que
vivem nos Dominios Portugueses ou lhes so visinhas, tomo II,
no.1&2, Lisboa, 1812, pp.199-200.

of Cochin the proposal of the Portuguese King to build a

fortress at Cochin that met with approval.260 The King
showed the place for the construction of the fortress. Work
of the first Portuguese fortress was started in Cochin under
the supervision of Francisco de Albuquerque. Affonso de
Albuquerque who reached Cochin only by the end of
September took over the work from his brother.
Simultaneously, foundation for a church in honour of
St. Bartholomeu was laid on 26 September 1503 and
erected shortly. The fortress made of timber was named
Santiago and the church, St. Bartholomeu.
The Zamorin did not like the warm reception given by
the King of Cochin to the Portuguese. He prepared himself
to oust the Portuguese from the Malabar coast and to fight
against the King of Cochin. Armed men of the Zamorin
took position in Vendurutty to start the fight. Affonso de
Albuquerque accompanied by 800 Portuguese soldiers and
the prince of Cochin with 8000 Nairs proceeded to face the
enemy. Duarte Pacheco was put in charge of the naval
forces of the Portuguese. The Zamorins forces comprised
of approximately 15,000 Nairs. The joint forces of the
Portuguese and the King of Cochin valiantly fought and
defeated those of the Zamorin. The principal Kaimals,
especially the five (later known as anjikaimals) who lived in
the frontier areas of Cochin, paid their obeisance to the
King of Cochin and promised to be loyal to him. 261 The
valiant and successful defence put up by Duarte Pacheco
Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tom.I, Coimbra, 1922, pp.384-93.

has gone into the annals of history of the Portuguese in

India in golden letters.
Cochin, the capital of Portuguese India
The next calculated move on the part of the Portuguese
to secure more spices came about in 1505 when Dom
Francisco de Almeida, the first Viceroy appointed, came to
Cochin to establish the headquarters of Portuguese India.
He was commissioned by the Portuguese King to construct
a stronger fortress in Cochin and begin all the
governmental activities. He was also asked to annex the
territory of Cochin after the death of the then king, if
possible.262 When the Viceroy reached Cochin, the
Tirumulpad (Trimumpara), the ruler of Cochin, being old
had retired from work and the affairs of the kingdom were
(Nambeadora). Another nephew of the ruler was fighting
for the same position but then he was not favourable to
Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tom.I, Coimbra, 1922, pp.387-93.

Bulho Pato, Raymundo Antnio de, ed., Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, tomo ii, Lisboa, 1898, pp.323.

the Portuguese. Having been informed of the situation,

Almeida decided to play his role as a diplomat and
arranged a grand reception for Nambeadiri. Setting aside
the claims of the other nephew, he crowned Nambeadiri
solemnly in Cochin with the golden crown that the King of
Portugal had sent from Europe. An annuity of 600 cruzados
per year was sanctioned to the King as a sort of
compensation for the death of his two uncles and other
losses he suffered in the fight against the Zamorin for the
Portuguese.264 A written document to this effect was
handed over to him. Being formally crowned by the
Portuguese viceroy, the King of Cochin accepted the
vassalage of the former. The viceroy then requested him to
permit the construction of a strong masonry fortress in
place of the wooden fortress. Albeit reluctantly, the King
agreed to this request and as per his suggestion the
Joo de Barros, Da sia, Decada I, parte II, Lisboa, 1777, p.351.

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conquista da ndia pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra, 1924,
p.255; Joo de Barros, Da sia Decada I, part ii, Lisboa, 1777,
pp.355, 356.

fortress was named Fort Manuel or Manuel kotta in the

local language. The formula of coronation and the
investiture of the King of Cochin continued to be the same
for several years.265
The friendly relations with the King of Cochin began to
sour in the period between 1512 and 1516 on account of
the treaty that the Portuguese concluded with the Zamorin
and the establishment of a factory and fortress in Calicut.
The King of Cochin wrote letter after letter to the King of
Portugal concerning the promises he had made to make
him the greatest King of India and never to make any
treaty of peace with the King of Calicut without his
consent.266 However, there was no satisfactory response
from him and hence he tried to dissuade Affonso de
Albuquerque from making any agreement with the
Zamorin. Once the King knew that the treaty was ratified
Silva Rego, Antnio da, ed., Documentao Ultramarina
Portguesa, III, Lisboa, 1963, pp.355ff.

Bulho Pato, Raymundo Antnio de, ed., Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, tomo iii, Lisboa, 1903, pp.39, 73-84; Barros, Da sia,
Decada I, part II, p.356.

by the Portuguese king, his displeasure knew no bounds.

So, in 1516 he wrote to the King of Portugal saying that it
would be impossible for him to arrange spices at the rate
fixed by them, which was quite below the market rate at
Cochin. He alluded to the fact that spices were being taken
by the merchants to places other than the Portuguese
factories on account of this.267
The Portuguese went so far as to try and convert the
King of Cochin to Christianity. But he refused saying that
this was a serious matter affecting the whole country.268
Finally the Portuguese gave up the idea. Apart from this
sort of occasional silent protests and renewal of friendship,
nothing happened in the subsequent period that made the
King withdraw his loyalty to the Portuguese. Cochin
continued to be the major staple centre of spices under
the Portuguese and functioned as the commercial

Bulho Pato, Raymundo Antnio de, ed., Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, tomo iv, pp.71-73.

Bulho Pato, Raymundo Antnio de, ed., Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, tomo I, pp.367-69.

headquarters of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean

regions till 1663 when it was taken over by the Dutch.
When Pedro lvares Cabral was loading his ships with
pepper and other spices at Cochin in 1500/01, messengers
from the kingdom of Cannanore met him and requested
him to send his ships to the port of Cannanore to purchase
spices and pepper. Cabral thanked the ruler of Cannanore
but excused himself for not being able to take cargo from
there at that time.269 However, he informed the
messengers that he would like to purchase some ginger
from Cannanore on his way back to Portugal. The King of
Cannanore sent two vessels in which one of the influential
persons of the kingdom boarded and was asked to insist
that lvares visited Cannanore port. He offered to the
Portuguese spices of all sorts at the port as well as peace
and friendship. A number of vessels loaded with ginger
and cinnamon appeared at the port of Cannanore when
Cabral reached there. He took only some ginger and
cinnamon since his fleet was already loaded with required
commodities from Cochin. He made it very clear that it
was not because of the lack of funds which must have
been robbed by the people at Calicut. He thanked the King
for his generosity to offer the spices on credit and
promised to take more cargo when the next fleet would be
sent to India. Knowing that two people from Cochin were
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, p.448.

on their way to Portugal in the fleet of Cabral, the King of

Cannanore too sent his ambassador along with some
presents to the King of Portugal in the same fleet. Cabral
left Cannanore on 16 January 1501 for Portugal.270
Even before the arrival of the fleet of Cabral in Lisbon,
the King dispatched another fleet of four ships on 5 March
1501 under Joo da Nova according to the royal decision to
send a fleet every year to India. The fleet under Joo da
Nova which left Lisbon on 5 March 1501 had the
information that there were two ports on the Malabar coast
which would be friendly with Portugal. One was the port of
Cannanore and the other that of Cochin. Joo da Nova
decided to make his way to Cochin and touch Cannanore
en route.271 The King of Cannanore received him very
cordially. He had orders from the Portuguese King that he
should first take cargo from Cochin where the officials were
posted by Cabral and later on the way back to Lisbon to
purchase commodities from Cannanore. Joo da Nova left
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, pp.456-58.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, pp.467.

five persons in Cannanore to start a factory there. Payo

Rodrigues from the ship of Dom Alvaro, brother of the
Duke of Bragana under Diogo Barbosa, the captain who
was to be the head of the five persons was left with the
King of Cannanore. Another factor was from the side of
Bartholomeu of Florence left by Captain Ferno Vinet. 272 He
returned to Cannanore quickly after collecting the required
cargo from Cochin. He obtained the commodities like
ginger, cinnamon and other spices from Cannanore and
left a few more persons with Payo Rodrigues. He reached
Lisbon on 11 September 1502.273
When Vasco da Gama set sail from Lisbon the following
year, he brought the ambassadors of the King of
Cannanore back home.274 Before proceeding to Cochin,
Vasco da Gama visited the port of Cannanore and held
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, p.473.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part i, p.478.

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part ii, p.24.

discussions with the king.275 He wanted to get the prices of

spices and pepper fixed at Cannanore. But he was
annoyed with the words of two Hindu and two Muslim
merchants sent by the local King in this regard since their
attitude was totally different from that of the king.
Disgruntled as he was, he left for Calicut and Cochin.
Subsequently, on being informed of the indignation of
Vasco da Gama, the King of Cannanore sent Payo
Rodrigues to Cochin to inform Vasco da Gama about his
willingness to reach an agreement regarding trade and
commerce which would please the latter.
After having completed the assigned works in Cochin,
Vasco da Gama returned to Cannanore in January 1503. He
left Gonalo Gil Barbosa as factor at Cannanore besides
Bastio lvares and Diogo Godinho as writers and twenty
men to take care of the needs of the factory. Contract with
the local King was concluded. 276 The foundation stone for
the fortress was laid by Francisco de Almeida in 1505. By
1507 when the viceroy came to Cannanore from Angediv,
the walls of the fortress were completed. Houses for eight

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part ii, pp.39-40.

men were built within the fortress. The church of St. James,
(Santiago) was constructed inside the fortress and the
walls. There were several thatched houses (with olascadjan leaves) made of earth near the fortress but close to
Sea where the Portuguese who were put in charge of
watching the fortress resided.277 An entrance from the bay
to the fortress was also arranged for the people. The
fortress was completed in March 1508. It was named
Santogil (St. Angelo) in accordance with the castle of
St. Angelo in Rome.278 A lot of pieces of artillery including
those brought from Angediv were installed in the fortress.
The viceroy became convinced that the water in
Cannanore was very good for refining saltpeter used for
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, parte II, pp.74-75; O Tombo do Estado da
por Simo Botelho, pp.28-29.

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conqista da India pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra,1924, p.307.

Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo I, part I, Coimbra, 1922,
pp.583, 728.

making ammunitions. So, he asked Timoja, the advisor of

the Honavar fleet to send saltpeter to the fortress at
Close to the sea, there was a hermitage under the
invocation of Our Lady of Victory. As ordered by the
viceroy, a hospital was constructed next to it. Since
Cannanore had a salubrious weather and water that could
cure diseases contracted in the course of the voyage from
Lisbon, the hospital attracted several sick people,
especially those who were suffering from scurvy. The
viceroy instructed the physicians at Cochin to send the sick
to Cannanore for getting cured.279
By 1507, the ruler of Cannanore who established peace
and friendship with the Portuguese was succeeded by his
nephew. The new King was influenced by the Zamorin and
turned against the Portuguese settled in the fortress. A
ship belonging to one of the chief merchants of Cannanore
loaded with horses from Ormuz was captured by the
Portuguese though it had the cartaz or pass issued by

Gaspar Correa, Lendas, op.cit, pp.729-30.

them.280 This gave rise to great unrest in Cannanore. The

fortress was besieged by the people and there ensued a
furious fight between the local people and the Portuguese.
With the assistance of the Zamorin, the King of Cannanore
put up a stiff fight against the Portuguese. But then the
Portuguese succeeded in defeating the King who settled
for a peace agreement.281 A treaty of peace between the
King and the Portuguese was signed with the help of the
Commander of the Portuguese fleet to India, Tristo da
Cunha.282 With the exception of the trouble in 1507
relations were fairly cordial and the King became close to
Raymondo Antnio de Bulho Pato, Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, Lisboa, 1898, tomo II, p.401.

Barros, op.cit, Decada II, part I, pp.62-76, Damio de Gois,
Cronica do Felicissimo Rei D. Manuel, Pt. II, Coimbra, 1953,
pp.50ff., Cronica do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos
Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974, pp.158-59.

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra, 1924,

the Portuguese for the rest of his reign. The fortress and
the factory at Cannanore also functioned satisfactorily. He
wrote to the King of Portugal in 1516 to ensure that horses
from Gujarat and ropes from Ormuz came to Cannanore in
abundance.283 The fortress at Cannanore, a staple centre
for spices, remained in the hands of the Portuguese till it
was captured by the Dutch in 1663.
When Vasco da Gama came to Cochin after taking
revenge upon Calicut in 1502, the Queen of Quilon
requested him to send two ships to Quilon to buy spices.
Da Gama willingly sent the vessels to Quilon. A certain
Mathias, a Christian from Kayamkulam helped the
Portuguese load the ships with spices.284 Again in 1503

Joo de Souza, Vestigios da Lingua Arabica em Portugal, ou
Lexicon Etymologico des Palavras e nomes Portugueses que tem
origem arabica, Lisboa, 1789, p.81.

Bulho Pato, Raymundo Antnio de, Cartas de Affonso de
Albuquerque, tomo ii, Lisboa, 1898 p.268.

when Affonso de Albuquerque and Francisco de

Albuquerque were busy taking cargo from Cochin, the
Queen of Quilon sent messengers requesting them to send
two ships to Quilon to purchase spices from there. Affonso
de Albuquerque went to Quilon, concluded a treaty with
the ruler and collected required volume of spices from
there.285 The ruler gave him a grand reception with all the
solemnities. During the interview, the King promised to
give Albuquerque all the spices he needed and signed a
treaty of friendship with the Portuguese. Albuquerque
established a factory at Quilon in 1503 itself.286 Though
with reluctance, the King gave in to the request of having a
Portuguese man to look after the matters of administration
of justice for those Portuguese to be left in Quilon as well

Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento &
Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra, 1924,

Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo I, part i, Coimbra, 1922,

as for the local Christians who, according to the report of

eyewitnesses, amounted to 3,000.287 Antonio de S de
Santarm was left there as factor along with two writers,
namely Ruy de Araujo and Lopo Rabello besides twenty
men to look into the needs of the factory.288 The agreement
was inscribed on a silver plate. Mathias from Kayamkulam
and his brother always remained committed to the
Portuguese, procuring spices for them as they did for

Empoli, Giovanni da, Viagem as Indias Orientaes in Colleco
de Noticias para a Historia e Geografia das naes ultramarinas,
que vivem nos dominios portugueses ou lhes so visnhos, tomo II,
no.1&2, Lisboa, 1812, pp.224-27.

Barros, op.cit, Decada, I, part II; p.99, Gaspar Correa, Lendas da
India, tomo i. p.407

Vasco da Gama initially. They were greatly jubilant over the

arrival of the Portuguese at Quilon, especially on account
of the common Christian faith.289
Quilon was the principal town of Malabar before the rise
of Calicut. The richest town in the entire Malabar coast, it
had trade relations with Coromandel, Ceylon, Maldives,
Bengal, Pegu, Sumatra, Malacca and China. It was also
famed for the church with miracle powers believed to have
been built by St. Thomas the apostle (known as Martama),
when he went there to preach the Christian faith as has
been testified by Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, a
Portuguese writer of the sixteenth century.290
Dom Francisco de Almeida, while at Cochin in
November 1505, received a message informing him about
the murder of the Portuguese factor Antnio de S, other
Bulho Pato, op.cit, tomo ii, p.268.

The local tradition regarding the construction of the church at
Quilon and the departure from there to the Coromandel coast is
described by Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do
Descobrimento & Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, livro I,
Coimbra, 1924, pp.126-27.

Portuguese men and the destruction of the church of St.

Thomas in Quilon. So, he sent his son D. Loureno de
Almeida to chastise the people involved in the case. 291
After having put the Muslims of Quilon to flight, he
returned to Cochin. In fact, Dom Francisco de Almeida was
against setting up a fortress at Quilon. He was of the
opinion that larger the number of fortresses in India, the
weaker would be the Portuguese power in India, as the
entire force had to be concentrated on the sea in view of
the fight with the Venetians and Turkish sultan. 292 The
damages caused to the Portuguese were repaired in the
light of a treaty of peace and commerce signed by the
ruler of Quilon and Governor Lopo Soares in the name of
the King of Portugal on 25 September 1516.293 Irnacalao
(Iravimangalam), the King of Desinganat (ancient name of
the kingdom of Quilon), Caycoy Irnacalao, his sister and
Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part 2, pp.345-49; Cronica de
Descobrimento, pp.144-45; Damio de Gois, op.cit, part II, pp.2427;
tomo II, p.401.

Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo 1, part 1, Coimbra, 1922,

the governors agreed to rebuild the church of St. Thomas

destroyed in 1505, to deliver 500 bhars of pepper as
compensation for the death of the Portuguese factor and
to give all the spices in future to the Portuguese factory at
the same price as in Cochin and not to levy any customs
duties for the trade conducted by the Portuguese.
According to the terms agreed upon, if anybody wanted to
conduct trade, he had to take the pass from the captain of
Cochin or the captain-in-chief. In the matter of
administration of justice, the Portuguese were given some
sort of an exemption in the sense that if the natives of
Quilon were found guilty on account of their quarrels with
the Portuguese or the local Christians, the judgement
would be pronounced and punishment executed by the
Portuguese captain. As per the secret agreement
concluded with the queen of Quilon, Eytor Rodrigues the
Factor of Quilon started the construction of a factory and a
fortress in September 1519.294 The fortress was named St.
Simo Botelho, Tombo do Estado da India, Lisboa, 1868, pp.30-34.

Simo Botelho, Tombo do Estado da India, Lisboa, pp.34-35.

Thomas. The treaty with the queen signed in 1519 was in

favour of the Portuguese.295
In the same year about 5,000 bullock loads of pepper
taken from Quilon via Aryankavu pass were captured by
the Portuguese factor since the ruler refused to intervene
saying that it was the wealth of the Brahmins
(Brahmaswam).296 The people of the locality besieged the
fortress and in the subsequent encounter the Portuguese
defeated the enemies. Another treaty was concluded on 17
November 1520.297 Accordingly, the Queen was obliged to
Ref. Tomo do Estado da India por Simo Botelho in Rodriguo Jos
de Lima Felner, ed., Subsidios para a Historia da India Portugueza,
Lisboa, 1868, p.34; Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo II, p.577.

Herman Gundert, Kerala Palama, Kottayam, 1868, pp.140ff.

Simo Botelho, l.cit, pp.35-36.

deliver the pepper due to the Portuguese immediately and

all the Portuguese having trade in Quilon were expected to
give customs duties to the ruler of Quilon as in Cochin. The
captain of the fortress was to issue cartazes to the
merchants of the locality. No pepper was to be sold to
anyone except the Portuguese factor.298 This treaty
continued to be in force till 1543. On 25 October 1543
Governor Martim Afonso de Sousa signed another contract
with the ruler of Quilon containing the details of trade and
the terms regarding the treatment of Portuguese and
native criminals.299 The Portuguese establishment in Quilon
remained with them till it was taken over by the Dutch
around 1663.
Fortress at Cranganore
Cranganore was the entry point for Zamorin and his
people to the principality of Edappally where the
coronation ceremony used to be conducted. Edappally was
attached to the kingdom of Cochin. On account of the
Simo Botelho, Tomo do Estado da India, pp.35-36.

Simo Botelho, l.cit, pp.36-39.

strategic importance of Cranganore, Dom Francisco de

Almeida back in 1508 wrote to the Portuguese King that it
would be good to have a fortress at Cranganore by the
side of a river that had connection to Calicut. If this was
done, the flow of pepper through this river could be
completely stopped.300 This was also necessitated by the
prevailing political conditions. The entire population of
Malabar as indicated by Portuguese historian Diogo de
Couto was divided into two camps - the one that favoured
the Zamorin who were generally called paydaricuros and
the other that supported the King of Cochin called
logiricuros.301 The powerful people on the side of the King
of Cochin besides large number of Christians who were the
descendants of those converted by St. Thomas living in the
vicinity would be the vassals of the King of Portugal. At last
in 1536, Martim Afonso de Sousa issued orders to set up a
fortress in Cranganore. Diogo Pereira was given charge as
captain and was supplied with gunners and twenty men.
Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo i, parte I Coimbra, 1922,

Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada V, part I, Lisboa, 1779, p.3.

He started the work immediately. Subsequently, a college

for the training of the local clergy was also set up. Founded
Frei Vicente de Lagos, a member of the Franciscan province
of Piedade in 1540, the seminary or college was meant
exclusively for the training of the clergy for the St. Thomas
Christians.302 According to the report of Simo Botelho, by
the middle of the sixteenth century there were a captain
and a writer for the factory, a parish priest, local cleric, a
college for the training of the clergy, and a church under
the invocation of St. James at Cranganore.303 The castle
was called St. Thomas. It was attacked and conquered by
the Dutch in 1662.
Apart from the factories and fortresses mentioned
above, Kayamkulam and its surrounding regions which
were rich in spices, had a weighing place for pepper and
This was the first seminary built in India by the Portuguese. The
seminary at Goa was established only in 1541. Ref. Panduronga
S.S. Pissurlencar, Regimentos das Fortalezas da India, Bastora,
1951, pp.229 f.n.

Tombo do Estado da India pp.27-28.

other spices. Merchants and cultivators used to bring their

products here for sale. The place was known as
Caleicoulao in the Portuguese documents and was under
the Portuguese fortress at Quilon.
Special measures adopted by the Portuguese to
maximize the collection of spices
The King of Cochin had no right to be crowned and no
right to mint coins or to have tiled roof for his residence.
He could be seated and unseated by the Zamorin of
Calicut at his whims and fancies. The Portuguese who
could not find a friendly ally in the Zamorin fled to Cochin
in 1500 and made friends with the ruler. The King of
Cochin found a saviour in the Portuguese to set him free
from the feudal clutches of the Zamorin. They too, looking
for a strong support to set up commercial establishments
on the Malabar coast, took great interest in making him a
crowned king. So, in 1505 Francisco de Almeida officially
crowned him King and made him take an oath of fealty to
the Portuguese king. He readily accepted the vassalage of
Portugal. The King of Cochin was given a large sum every
year as copa (640 cruzados) in view of the fact that he
lost his relatives in the battle waged against the Zamorin
for the Portuguese.304 This amount was paid to him at the
The records preserved in the Portuguese factory at Cochin
mention the payment of the copa to the King of Cochin even
before 1533. He was also getting tenas besides the copa, ref. the
Francisco da Costa, Relatrio sobre o Trato da pimenta in
Documentaco Ultramarina Portuguesa vol.III, Lisboa, 1963,

time of loading the ships with pepper accompanied by

some solemn ceremonies.305
Lagoons and some rivers originating in the hilly tracts
and passing through the pepper producing areas were
easily connected with the port of Cochin and so it was
made the principal place of export of pepper and other
spices coming from the entire Malabar coast. Pepper was
brought to Cochin in small country vessels or tonis through
these waterways. The Portuguese knew that unless they
obtained the support of the King of Cochin and that of the
lesser kings and the chieftains having authority over the
regions where the water transportation was feasible, they
would not get the required cargo at the port of Cochin.
Since the Portuguese insisted on the rate of payment for
pepper fixed in 1503 and did not revise it for more than
seven decades or so despite the fluctuation of price in the
world market, diversion of pepper to other areas was
becoming common. Therefore, they had to make friends
with the lesser kings, chieftains and local rulers. It is
against this backdrop that the Portuguese established
friendship with a few authorities in the neighbourhood of
the kingdom of Cochin. Annually, a fixed amount called
tenas that may be conveniently translated as annuity was
given to these authorities. Small vessels were employed in
giving protection to the country crafts carrying pepper
from the hinterland through the Pampa river, Meenachel
Panduronga S.S. Pissurlencar, ed., Regimentos das Fortalezas da
India Bastora (Goa), 1951, p.217.

river, Moovattupuzha river, Periyar river and also the

Chetwai river to lagoons like the Vempanattu Kayal and
finally to Cochin. The authorities to whom the tenas were
paid saw to it that pepper was delivered at the Portuguese
factory in Cochin without any diversion or attack from the
Simo Botelho, the sixth Comptroller of Finances (vedor
da Fazenda) of Portuguese India (appointed in 1545) who
prepared the Tombo do Estado da India in 1554 writes that
Pero Vaz, Comptroller of Finances, and Captain of Cochin
started paying the annuities to the local rulers in the
context of the battle the Zamorin of Calicut waged in
connection with his passage to Edappally for coronation.
The neighbouring rulers to whom the annuities were paid
helped the Portuguese in this battle. As a result the
Portuguese obtained large volumes of pepper regularly.
Later, Martim Affonso de Sousa the Portuguese Governor
(1542-1545), stopped the payment since he wanted to cut
down on expenses and felt that everything was at peace
as far as Cochin was concerned. But the Zamorin crossed
to the kingdom of Vadakkumkur and made adoption from
there. The neighbouring kings did not come to the help of
the King of Cochin or the Portuguese captain at Cochin
since their annuities were terminated. Hence the
Portuguese suffered a great loss from not obtaining the
required cargo of pepper. Thus in 1549 and 1550, the
Portuguese did not get sufficient pepper for export from
Cochin though they had incurred a lot of expenditure in
fitting out the surveillance fleet to stop the diversion of
pepper. Therefore the Portuguese Viceroy Dom Affonso de
Noronha (1550-1554) revived the payment of tenas to the
neighbouring rulers and decision was taken not to stop the
payment of annuities under any circumstance in future.
Subsequently, Dom Antonio de Noronha, the Portuguese
viceroy issued an order (Regimento) specifying the names

of the recipients and the quantum of annuity in 1564 since

till then there was no written provision. 306 It was further
decided to give additional presents to these rulers along
with the annuities.307 Records of the early seventeenth
century are available wherein details of such payments to
the local rulers were made. Diogo de Couto in his fifth
Decada gives further details on the origin of the disbursal
of annuities and narrates the circumstances under which
the Portuguese became friendly with the neighbouring
rulers of the King of Cochin.
The Chinese in the long past had left a sacred stone in
Cochin where the chief rulers of Malabar were supposed to
be crowned with the help of a Brahmin. This stone was
removed from Cochin in course of time and was installed
at Edappally. As was the norm, the new Zamorin of Calicut
decided to have his coronation in the hands of a Brahmin
from Cochin at the place where the stone (seat) was left.
He therefore associated himself with the ruler of Edappally
Francisco da Costa, op.cit, p.310.

Simo Botelho, O tombo do Estado da India, pp.25-26.

and came with all his forces. The King of Cochin too was
duly informed. He conveyed the news to Dr. Pero Vaz do
Amaral, Captain and Comptroller of Finances of the
Portuguese at Cochin and requested him to help prevent
the entry of the Zamorin into the island where the
ceremony was to take place. Besides, the King of Cochin
brought together the rulers of Vadakkumkur, Purakkad,
Udayamperur, Palluruthy, Kaimals of Mangat (Alengattu)
and the Carta of Alwaye. Pero Vaz passed the message to
Nuno Da Cunha, the Governor (1529-1538), who sent
Martim Affonso de Sousa, the Captain-in-Chief with three
galleys and thirty vessels propelled by oars to help the
King of Cochin in the battle against the Zamorin. 308 With
the help of all these allies, the King of Cochin won the
battle. The ruler of Edappally and the Zamorin had to flee
from the place. When the Portuguese Governor of India
Jorge Cabral started loading the ships with pepper, the
local rulers who came together at the request of the King
of Cochin helped them in obtaining large amounts of
pepper. The King of Portugal having been informed of the
service rendered by these local rulers and chieftains and in
view of the opinion of the Portuguese captains who took
part in the battle ordered Pero Vaz Amaral to grant a sum
every year to every one of the local rulers mentioned
above. This is how the disbursal of tenas to local rulers
started. This continued without any interruption with a
Diogo de Couto, Da sia, Decada V, part I, Lisboa, 1974, pp.4-7;

short break during the term of office of Martim Affonso de

Sousa as governor.309
A writer of the Portuguese factory at Cochin, Francisco
da Costa who consulted the then existing records of the
factory states that the annuities were agreed upon since
1537.310 The King of Cochin used to get the copa of
640 cruzados even in 1533. 311 The rulers of Vadakkumkur,
the King of Purakkad, the ruler of Diamper (Udayamperur),
the chieftain of Paravoor, the Kaimal of Mangat and the
Karta of Alwaye figure in the list of the recipients of
Diogo de Couto, op.cit, pp.43-44.

Francisco da Costa, op.cit. p.310.

Francisco da Costa, op.cit. p.310.

annuities in 1554.312 Except the Karta of Alwaye, others

were given the same amount (i.e., 240 pardaos per year)
while he was given only a smaller amount (140 pardaos).
The detailed budget of the Estado da India prepared by
Antnio Abreu Mergulho gives the names of the recipients
of the annuities in 1571.313 They were the King of
Vadakkenkur, King of Purakkad, King of Chirima (?), King of
Mangat, King of Diamper, King of Parur, Karta of Alwaye
and the rulers of Tekkenkutes (Thekkenkur). Here we
240 pardaos per year in 1554 were now entitled to only
Simo Botelho, op.cit, p.25.

The document was entitled Oramento do que rende o Estado da
India, e o que despende ordinariamente e asi o extraordinario,
que se pode alcansar por contas orado huns anos por outros, o
qual se fez por mandado do Senhor Vice-Rey Dom Antonio de
Noronha, anode se declara miudamente o em que se fez tal
despeza and has been preserved in the Biblioteca de Ajuda
(Lisboa) in the collection entitled Rellaccion de las ciudades y
fortalezas da la India y de los Reynos vizinhos dellas, assi de pax
como de guerra,
ref. BA, 51-VII-32, fls.2v - 40v. This has
been edited by Artur Teodoro de Matos under the title O
Oramento do Estado da ndia 1571, Lisboa,1999.

200 pardaos. Another point to be noted is that even the

mother of the King of Vadakkenkur was paid an amount of
100 pardaos per year. Besides, we find that the Portuguese
by 1571 had extended the network to include the rulers of
Thekkenkur and they were paid the same amount as the
King of Purakkad. Of course, the Karta of Alwaye was paid
only a lesser amount in comparison with the other
The budget prepared for the year 1574 by naval officer
Antonio DAbreu under the orders of Diogo Velho, a noble
man of the house of the King and comptroller of finances
for Portuguese India, speaks of the annuities paid to the
local rulers who bound themselves to help the Portuguese
in getting the required volume of pepper every year. 315
They had also accepted the duty to see to it that pepper
Artur Teodoro de Matos, op.cit, p.104.

Two copies of the Oramento of 1574 are found published. One
copy is edited and published by Jean Aubin in Studia vol.4, Lisboa,
Julho 1959 pp.169 to 289 while another copy is edited and
published by Panduronga S.S. Piusserlencar, in Regimentos das
Fortalezas da India, op.cit. pp.1ff. The two differ in some details.

from their territories was not diverted to any place other

than the Portuguese factory at Cochin. The details of the
payment of annuities were entered into the book of tenas
kept in the Portuguese factory at Cochin.316
The recipients were again the King of Vadakkemkur, his
mother, Georama/Chirama?, King of Mangat, King of
Purakkad, King of Diamper, King of Parur, Karta of Alwaye
and two princes of Thekkenkur.317 The Karta of Alwaye was
given only 140 pardaos while all others got 200 per year.
Special presents were also given after the resumption of
the payment since 1554.
Another budget for the year 1581 preserved in the
Fundo Antigo No.845 in the National Archives of Portugal
and edited and published by Artur Teodoro de Matos
contains the details of the annuities paid to the local rulers
Panduronga S.S. Pissurlencar, ed., Regimentos das Fortalezas da
ndia, Bastora (Goa), 1951, pp.218-219.

The principalities of Ambalapuzha (Purakkad), Parur, Vadakkenkur
and Alengad (Mangat) were called the four pillars of the kingdom
of Cochin for they formed
the main support of the kings of
Cochin. Ref. K.P. Padmanabha Menon,
History of Kerala, p.480.

of Malabar.318 The same recipients figure in the list of the

beneficiaries of the annuities, such as the King of
Vadakkenkur and his mother Chirama (200+100 pardaos),
King of Mangat (200 pardaos), King of Purakkad (200
pardaos), King of Diamper (200 pardaos), King of Parur
(200 pardaos), Karta of Alwaye (140 pardaos) and the two
princes of Thekkenkur (100 pardaos each). All these
payees had taken upon themselves the responsibility of
helping the Portuguese in getting the required volume of
pepper and to see that pepper was not taken to any other
place other than the Portuguese factory at Cochin.319
The payment of annuities to the local rulers continued
to be in vogue even in the first quarter of the seventeenth
century. The recipients remained the same. But the writer
of the Portuguese factory at Cochin suggested that the
annuities should be given only to those who helped the
Portuguese in getting sufficient cargo of pepper and that
Artur Teodoro de Matos, O Estado da ndia nos anos de 1581 -1588
Estrutura Administrativa e Econmica alguns Elementos para o
seu estudo, Ponta Delgada, 1982 pp.70-72.

Artur Teodoro de Matos, op.cit, pp.70-72.

the King of Cochin should be made responsible for this.

This was because he found that the King of Purakkad did
not supply pepper to the Portuguese factory in the first
decade of the seventeenth century. Similarly, the kings of
Mangat, Parur and Karta of Alwaye very rarely supplied
pepper. On the other hand, the King of Turuguly320 was
given annuities in 1603, 1604 and 1605 since he supplied
pepper to the Portuguese factory at Cochin.321
While complaining about the non-compliance of the
obligation of the recipients of the annuities, the writer of
the Portuguese factory at Cochin in the first decade of the
seventeenth century explained the reason. These rulers
did not see to the delivery of pepper to the Portuguese
factory because they permitted pepper to be taken to the
hilly regions. The merchants from the interior places knew
that some of these rulers were getting only 100 cruzados
as annuity from the Portuguese. If they were given one
cruzado more, they would forget their obligation to send
Difficult to be identified.

Francisco da Costa, op.cit, p.312.

pepper to Cochin. When Dom Anto de Noronha, the

Portuguese Viceroy (1564-1568) issued the order regarding
the payment of annuities to the local rulers, he just
mentioned that annuities would be paid to them for
helping the Portuguese get pepper in plenty. But it was not
stated that the annuities would be withheld if they did not
co-operate. The writer of the factory was of the opinion
that the absence of rigour322 in the order caused the
Factors and factories trading in spices
The Portuguese government, intent on putting into
effect a perfect control on the overseas trade in spices
appointed a chief factor for the entire armada and
individual factors for the various ships in the fleet. 323 Aires
Correa served as the chief factor of a fleet of 1500 under
the command of lvares Cabral.324 He was second to the
captain-in-chief of the fleet and had the authority to make

Francisco da Costa, op.cit, pp.312-13.

Cartas..., tomo II, p.49.

commercial treaties.325 There were other factors in a fleet

in charge of various vessels who were subordinate to the
chief factor. In fact, they were the most important persons
in the Carreira da India (India Run) as far as trade was
concerned. The navigational decisions were however,
taken by the captain-in-chief and other captains. The
money and the commodities taken to India were always
under the care of the factors of the ships. The members of
the crew as well as the private merchants interested in
trading with Malabar were expected to entrust such things
to the factor of the respective ships. 326 Similarly, it was the
duty of the factor of the ship to entrust the cash and
commodities for trade to the factors on the Malabar coast
as soon as the ships reached the destination. 327 All the
small purchases during the voyage were also done only
Montalbodo, op.cit, p.89.


Cartas... tomo II, p.303.

though the factor of the ship. When the ships returned to

Portugal, the factors of the ship who got the commodities
from the various other factors on the Malabar coast had to
submit the book of cargos received from the factories and
other statements of accounts regarding the entire voyage
to the casa da India (India House) in Lisbon.328
The writers and treasurers in the Carreira da India
helped the factor in his work of keeping the accounts and
cash. While the writers kept the accounts and saw to the
entries, the treasurers were in charge of the booty
received on the way and the slaves captured from other

Cartas, tomo II, p.304.

Dmio Perres, Regimento das Casas das Indias. p.35.

ships. They also had to be responsible for the cash from

the sales on the way.329
For the purpose of the present study, a factory could be
defined as a commercial organization having an
autonomous existence set up within the Portuguese
empire, or in the protectorate with the consent granted by
the local rulers.330 A factor had at his service writers,
interpreters and other persons necessary for the works
connected with the trade. He was subject to the
Portuguese King to whom at the end of every four years he
had to submit the detailed account of his activities as a
factor and get the certificate of acquittance (carta de
quitao).331 He was a confidential agent of the crown who
Cartas.. tomo I, pp.71-72, Damio Pires, op.cit, p.35.

V.M. Gondinho, LEconomie de LEmpire Portugals aux XV e et XVI
e Siecles, Paris, 1969, pp.49-50.

Damio Peres, op.cit, pp.29-30; Fortunato dse Almeida, Historia
de Portugal, tomo III (Coimbra, 1925, p.563).

promoted economic, financial and administrative activities

of all sorts and in all situations where fidelity to and
deference of royal and national interests were the most
important considerations.332 He received the orders from
Portugal for purchase and sale of commodities and was
expected to keep himself abreast on the rate of prices of
the commodities in various markets, explore new ones for
the sale of articles sent from Portugal, receive the
commodities sent from there and load the ships with
oriental commodities to be taken to Portugal.
When the ships from Portugal came to the Malabar
coast, the respective factors of the place received the
letters and the statement regarding the cargo sent to the
factory along with the commodities. 333 At the time other
officials of the factory would also be present and he issued

Viriginia Rau, Feitores e Feitorias, Instrumentos do comercio
International Portugues no seculo XVI in Broteria, vol.81, no.5,
Lisboa, 1965, p.462.

Cartas. tomo II, p.300.

receipts regarding the commodities and cash to the factors

of the ship. Similarly, the factors in the various factories on
the Malabar coast entrusted the merchandise to the
factors of the ships and got the receipts duly signed by
them.334 Nobody was permitted to purchase spices from
Malabar except through the factors and the other officials
under him. Therefore, all the money invested by the king,
the private merchants and mariners and those interested
in trade with Malabar was to be entrusted with the factor
of the place through the factor of the respective ship. At
the time of loading the ships, the factor was to see to it
that a book of cargo (caderno do cargo) was prepared
regarding the commodities loaded in each ship with the
particulars of purchase and so on. This book was to be
entrusted to the factor of the ship who in his turn had to
hand it over to the factor of the Casa da India in Lisbon on
his return. Though there was a suggestion for appointing a
chief factor (Feitor Principal) in the second decade of the
sixteenth century at Cochin under whom all the other
factors on the Malabar coast were expected to discharge
their duties, such an appointment did not take place.
However, the factors at Cochin had the pre-eminence in


the matter of trade since Cochin remained the

headquarters of the Portuguese India till 1530 and the
commercial headquarters throughout the period of the
Portuguese hold on Malabar.
Besides being the office of the factor, the factory also
served as the store of the merchandise brought from
Portugal as well as for the spices and other commodities
collected from Malabar with a view to dispatching them to
Portugal. The commodities brought from Portugal could not
be sold out within the short period of the anchorage of the
vessels and so they had to be stored in the factories. Also,
as the ships that depended on the winds for its voyage had
to depart for Portugal before the harvest season of pepper
and ginger, these commodities had to be purchased in
advance between February and May and stored in the
factories so that there would be enough cargo at the time
of the arrival of the ships in September or October. Affonso
de Albuquerque took measures to stock the factories on
the Malabar coast with as much commodities as would be
needed for the cargo of ships for two or three years to
avoid difficulties at the time of the arrival of the ships. 335
Manuel Botelho, the factor in Cochin, stored more than
385192.4 kgs of pepper in the factory in 1524 for the ships
coming from Portugal.336 The King of Cochin informed the
King of Portugal that the Portuguese factory in Cochin was

Cartas, tomo I., p.70.

filled with merchandise and what was needed was more

ships to take delivery of it.337
There were a number of Portuguese and local personnel
in the factory assigned to work with the factor. Two writers
were given to a factor for keeping the records of
transactions and to make reports to be sent to Portugal
every year along with the cargo. Pedro lvares Cabral left
two writers to help Gonalo Gil Barbosa, the Factor of
Cochin in 1501.338 Vasco da Gama in his second voyage
appointed Loureno Moreno and Alvaro Vaz as writers to
ANTT, Cartas dos Vicereis da India no.16.

Cartas, tomo III, pp.39-40.

Barros, Decada I, part I, p.445.

help Diogo Fernandez Correia, the Factor at Cochin while

Bastio lvares and Diogo Godinho were designated in
Cannanore to help Gonalo Gil Barbosa. 339 Affonso de
Albuquerque asked the King to increase the number of
writers to three in the factory at Cochin on account of the
heavy work.340 Two or three Nair writers from Malabar
called Kanakkappillai were also appointed to help the
factor at Cochin taking into account the work load.341

Barros, op.cit, part II, pp.74, 75.

Cartas, tomo III, p.316.

Cartas, tomo I, p.271, Simo Botelho, op.cit, p.24, Panduronga SS.
Pissurlencar, ed., Regimento das Fortalezas, Bastora, 1951, p.233.

Another important post in the factory was that of

treasurer. There were two treasurers in Cochin - the
treasurer of spices and the treasurer of cash and other
commodities. Thus, Ruy Daraujo functioned as the
treasurer of spices, while Andr Dias was treasurer of cash
and other commodities in the factory at Cochin in 1509. 342
But in other factories the same person performed both the
duties and was named treasurer of cash, spices and other
merchandises, as did Diogo Pereira in 1509 at
Cannanore.343 In certain cases the same duty was
entrusted to the factor himself and therefore in factories
like Quilon and at times even in Cannanore there was no
person with the designation of treasurer.344
The Portuguese factories, for the sake of having trade
relations with the local people had to employ interpreters.
Cartas, tomo II, pp.436-37.

Cartas, tomo IV, pp.201-02.

Simo Botelho, op.cit, pp.29, 38.

Cabral appointed Gonalo Madeira de Tangir to the factory

at Cochin in 1501 to this post. 345 The same year, Joam
Carcas served as interpreter in the factory at Cannanore. 346
In course of time the Portuguese employed interpreters
from among the people of Malabar. Thus a certain Pedro
served as an interpreter in the factory at Calicut in 1515.347
At times there were more than one interpreter serving in

Barros, op.cit, Decada I, pt. I, p.445.

Cartas, tomo VI, p.407.

Cartas, tomo VI, p.244.

the factory of Cochin. One of them was attached to the

King of Cochin for having contacts with the Portuguese and
the other interpreter was for the Portuguese contact who
had to interact with the local merchants and cultivators
according to the circumstance.348
Another official who helped the factor was the judge of
the weighing place (juiz de peso) who worked with him in
getting the necessary spices to the weighing place for
checking the weights and measures. Belchior Carvalho
served as the judge of the weighing place in Cochin in
1513.349 The magistrate (ouvidor) attached to the factory
was expected to intervene in cases of contraband or
robbery and to see that commodities were not taken to
any place other than the Portuguese factories. It seems

Simo Botelho, op.cit, p.24; Pissurlencar, op.cit, p.19.

Cartas, tomo V, p.353.

that in the early part of the sixteenth century there was a

magistrate only in the factory of Cochin.350
Most of the factories established by the Portuguese in
the coastal Malabar were fortified and fortresses were
established for the sake of security of the factories as well
as to keep strict monopoly on trade and navigation in the
Indian Ocean regions. Though there were differences of
opinion regarding the advisability of having many
fortresses, the King yielded to the suggestion of having a
chain of them and so there were the fortresses of
Cannanore, Calicut, Chaliyam, Cranganore, Cochin, and
Quilon of which Cannanore remains almost intact except
for the fact that the Dutch had reduced its size. With the
establishment of fortresses around the factories, the
Portuguese settlements in these areas began to have
various other establishments to cater to the needs of the
Keeping pace with the growth of the Portuguese
population residing in the Malabar coast, the number of
officials also went on increasing. There was an officer in
charge of victuals (almoxarife de mantimentos) with his
clerks, and another in charge of the stores (almoxarife do
almazem) in Cochin. While Joo Froles was the almoxarife
de mantimentos in 1509, Ferno de Almeida was the
almoxarife do almazem in the same year in the same
factory at Cochin.351 But in the factories like that at
Cannanore, one and the same person looked after both the
Cartas, tomo VII, p.57, Simo Botelho, op.cit, p.19.

duties. Thus Lopo lvares performed both the functions in

Cannanore.352 Almost all the fortresses in the Malabar
coast had a hospital attached to it for the residents and
the mariners under a purveyor in charge of the hospital. It
was Gonalo Afonso Mealheiro who discharged the duty as
purveyor of the hospital in Cochin in 1512.353 There was
also a purveyor in charge of the deceased (provedor dos
defuntos), but in certain cases he also played the role of
the purveyor of the hospital, as was the case of Diogo
Fernandes in Cannanore during 1510 and Joam Frade in
Cartas, tomo IV, pp.203, 208.

Cartas, tomo II, p.98.

Ibid, p.204.

1516 in Cochin.354 But there were two distinct officials at

Cochin in 1512 for these different posts; Duarte Pereira
was engaged in the capacity of the purveyor of the
deceased and Gonalo Afonso Mealheiro as that of the
Every fortress was placed under the supervision of a
captain who was expected to be in charge of the
administration of justice with regard to the people of the
factory and those on the ships plying the Indian Ocean.
Thus Francisco Nogueyra functioned as the captain of the
fortress in Calicut while Gonalo Mendes was the factor in
1513.356Another important person in the fortress was the
alcaide-mor (Governor) who had the charge of providing
for the ships that came to take delivery of commodities
and those engaged in bringing spices and other
Ibid, tomo VI, p.398, tomo VII, p.156.

Cartas, tomo V, pp.204, 485.

Cartas, tomo I, p.426, tomo v, p.460.

commodities to the respective factories. Though in Cochin,

the alcaide-mor was distinct from the factor, in some
fortresses like the ones at Calicut and Quilon, the factor
himself discharged the duties of the alcaide-mor. Thus,
Antonio Reall was the alcaide-mor in Cochin while Andre
Dias was the factor.357 But Gonalo Mendes served as both
factor and alcaide-mor of the Calicut fortress in 1514. This
was the same case at Quilon in 1554.
There were other officials like the constable
(condestabre) and usherer (meirinho) in the fortresses at
Cochin and Cannanore. A few Nairs were appointed in the
factory to look after the elephants used in the shipyard
and for the loading of cargo and other activities. Cochin
being an important settlement of the Portuguese where
ships were built and repaired under the supervision of the
factor, a number of other officials came into existence
such as the chief of the carpenters of the shipyard (mestre
dos carpinteiros da ribeira), chief of the masons (mestre
dos pedreiros), chief of the carpenters for houses (mestre
dos carpinteiros de casas), chief of the blacksmiths
(mestre dos ferreiros), chief of the coir-workers (mestre

Cartas, tomo II, pp. 134 & 428.

dos cordoeiros), officer in charge of the people on land and

the chief of minting.358 The Portuguese ships guarding the
Malabar coast used to capture ships that did not have
passes issued by the Portuguese. This was an important
source of income for conducting trade and therefore the
Portuguese government appointed a factor of booty to
whom all the proceeds from piracy were to be entrusted.
There was also a writer to help him. Francisco Novaes
functioned as the factor of booty in 1509 and Manuel da
Costa in 1515.359 A new office was created by the King who
divided the Portuguese possessions in the Indian Ocean
region in 1508 into two captaincies - one comprising the
area from Sofala on the Mozambican coast to Diu and the
other from Diu to Cape Comorin. The person in charge of
the second sector was named captain-in-chief of the Indian
Ocean (capito-mor dos Mares da India) and was expected
to reside in Cochin during the time of loading the ships
with pepper and other commodities. He had a wide range
Cartas, tomo II, pp.433-38, Simo Botelho, op.cit, p.21.

Cartas, tomo II, p.436.

of powers including that of concluding treaties with rulers

on the Malabar coast. Thus Garcia da Noronha, the nephew
of Affonso de Albuquerque concluded the treaty with the
Zamorin of Calicut in 1513 in his capacity as captain-inchief of the Indian Ocean and gave orders to the
Portuguese officials working in various factories.360
Another post of great importance as far as trade in
spices was concerned was that of comptroller of finances
(Vedor da Fazenda). Since 1510 there was a suggestion to
appoint a principal factor for the whole of Malabar who
should be in charge of matters related to trade and would
be above all the local factors and directly under the
viceroy or governor as the case might be. It was put into
effect in 1517 when Ferno Alcaova was appointed as the
first comptroller of Finances. He was given all the powers
regarding trade on the Malabar coast and beyond, to such
an extent that only defence and administration of justice
remained for the viceroy.
The powers of the comptroller of finances were clearly
defined in 1524 in the document issued by King John III
when he appointed Afonso Mexia as the Comptroller of
Finances.361 He was entrusted with the duty of seeing to
the purchase and sale of commodities, loading and
Barros, Decada II, part I, p.213, Cartas, tomo vi, pp.104-05ff.

ANTT, Chancellarias de Dom Joo II, Doaes, liv.45 fl.132v.

unloading of the ships engaged in trade with India to

payment of the salaries and entitlements (quintaladas)
due to the Portuguese personnel, checking of accounts of
all the officials and other persons who received and spent
the money of the king, supplying necessary capital to the
various factories and for provisions to the stores, supplying
victuals for the Portuguese employees and finally,
equipping the ships. In short, everything needed for the
upkeep of the Portuguese trade was under the supervision
of the comptroller of finances.
The post of viceroy was created in 1505 with the
appointment of Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese
Viceroy to India, who took up his residence in Cochin.
Though the Portuguese King did not have any large
territorial possessions except the area granted by the local
ruler for the fortress and other establishments, the viceroy
represented the King and discharged the duties towards
his subjects in Cochin and other fortresses on the Malabar
coast besides those in Goa from 1510. A sort of
extraterritorial jurisdiction came into existence in these
Portuguese pockets. The residence of the Portuguese
viceroy continued to be in Cochin till 1530 when it was
shifted to Goa in view of the extensive territory acquired
by the Portuguese there and also to be nearer to Diu,
which was one of the chief attractions of the Portuguese.
Besides, the diversion of the transportation of spices to
Gujarat and West Asia as well as commercial relations with
the South East Asian regions could be effectively controlled
from Goa.

It may be categorically stated that the credit of opening

the spice route entirely through sea goes solely to the
Portuguese. Though, financially and territorially, Portugal
did not come to the level of the other West European
powers, the enthusiasm of Prince Henry the Navigator, and
the encouragement received from him by the assiduous
and sedulous mariners, coupled with the rock-like will
power of Vasco da Gama led them to conquer great
heights of exploration and discovery. They set up factories
and fortresses on the coastal western India, both as staple
centres and defensive mechanisms and also penetrated
into the spice producing hinterland directly or through local
merchants. These centres were later acquired through
force of arms by some of the great sea-faring nations of
the West like England, Netherlands, Denmark and France.
They emulated the system of commercial operations set
up by the Portuguese to a great extent. The significant
difference in the spice trade conducted on the new spice
route by the Portuguese and the other West Europeans
powers lies in the role played by the state or the king. The
Portuguese King took the initiative in the spice trade and it
was a state enterprise on account of which a lot of
bureaucracy was brought into play. On the other hand, the
East India Companies were set up by the entrepreneurs of
Western Europe under the charters issued by the
respective rulers for conducting trade in spices through the
new spice route. Consequently, the Portuguese King had to
raise the capital for transactions and appoint personnel for
the commercial and navigational operations besides
maintaining them. The East India Companies in their turn
conducted the entire commercial activities on their own
with the help of a board of directors.
Another interesting fact that emerges from the above is
that with the opening of the new spice route, the
subcontinent of India also opened up to the political

hegemony of the Europeans through their trade in spices

on the Malabar coast which ended up in the imperial
authority wielded by Great Britain over India, and the
colonial power exerted by the French and the Portuguese
over their Indian possessions till 1957 and 1961
respectively. The Portuguese who discovered the new spice
route entirely through sea to the Malabar coast turned out
to be the last to leave coastal India. It may be further
added that spice route was originally intended and used
for the transportation of spices and finished goods from
India and other spice-producing areas to Europe, but in the
wake of the industrial revolution, the same spice route was
used for the export of raw materials from India besides
transfer of huge amounts of money and the import of
finished goods from Great Britain to India. The world of
spices which was sought after by the Europeans as the first
world for their maritime activities, became the third world
or developing area after a couple of centuries paving the
way for the development of under development.





continued to invade Europe and wage war against
their enemies. The Christian powers refused to
trade with the Muslim Turks and vice-versa. As we saw
earlier, the Portuguese had obtained papal authorisation
through bulls to discover, conquer and appropriate new
lands in the East. They went so far as to obtain papal
dispensation and remission for the sins committed by
them through conducting trade with non-believers. For fear

of incurring papal wrath, the other Europeans did not

venture to challenge the Portuguese monopoly in the
Eastern waters. However, in the first quarter of the
sixteenth century, the Papal authority was challenged by a
German Catholic priest, Martin Luther. The Anglicans,
Calvinists, Zwinglians and the Protestants in general
followed suit.
In 1580, the absence of a legal heir to the throne
facilitated the takeover of Portugal and its overseas
possessions by Philip II of Spain. But the fanatic attitude of
the Spaniards prevented the non-Catholics from trading
with Portugal under the Spanish Crown. Soon the myth
about the invincibility of the Iberian naval forces was also
exploded by the miserable defeat of the Spanish Armada
in 1588. It led to Englands emergence as a naval power
and the spread of Protestantism to other lands. Following
Portugal and Spain, the French, the English and then the
Dutch too entered the realm of exploration, discovering
new sea routes to the north and into the Pacific and Indian
oceans to the East. Private individuals and groups began to
prove their mettle by successfully trading in spices. It was
against this backdrop that the various East India
Companies originated and developed towards the
beginning of the seventeenth century. With a view to
having direct access to the spices available in the Malabar
coast and other spice producing areas in the East and
entrepreneurs established trading companies and finally
became authorities that ruled over the Indian
The establishment of the Dutch East India Company
(VOC or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) and the
English East India Company to conduct trade in spices, as
well as the dynamics of the trade conducted by them,
explains the importance of spices produced in the East.

Though the English East India Company was established

prior to the VOC, it was the Dutch who came and started
trading in spices on the Malabar coast even before the

The Dutch East India Company, trade in spices

and the Spice Route
The seven northern provinces of the Low Countries
comprising Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelderland,
Overijssel, Groningen and Friesland bound themselves
together in 1579 and in 1580, renounced their allegiance
to Spain. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland became
the nucleus of a maritime federation. The authority of
these seven united provinces was vested in their
delegates, the States-General led by Prince William of
Orange. He headed the Dutch revolt against the Spanish,
which lasted for eight years and eventually culminated in
the formal independence of the United Province in 1648.
Philip II of Spain who became Philip I of Portugal after
the unification of Spain and Portugal closed the Iberian
ports in 1585, 1595 and 1597 to the Dutch seafarers. Even
the cargo vessels belonging to these provinces were
confiscated by his orders. This situation compelled the
Dutch merchants to search for sources from where spices
could be collected.
John Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutch merchant and
traveller, served as secretary to the Archbishop of Goa for
five years before returning to the Netherlands in 1589.
While in India he had collected detailed information about
the weaknesses of the Portuguese naval forces and the
fabulous profit that could be reaped through trade in
spices. He incorporated these in his manuscript Itinerario
and also gave valuable information about the navigational
routes that enabled the passage to the elusive East Indies
to be opened up to the English and the Dutch. The historic

discovery of a sea route to the East, led to the

establishment of The Company of Far Lands in
Amsterdam in 1594, with the purpose of sending fleets to
Indonesia for spices. Following the success of this voyage,
a Dutch squadron under Cornelius Houtman was sent to
Java in 1596. A large amount of spices and other oriental
commodities were successfully brought back to Texel in
Netherlands by the squadron in 1597. Inspired by this feat,
a fleet of twenty-two ships was sent to the East via the
Cape of Good Hope in 1598 from the Netherlands. The
fleet owned by Far Lands Company of Amsterdam
commanded by Jakob van Neck returned to Holland after
15 months with a valuable cargo of spices that brought
400 per cent profit over the capital invested.
Encouraged by the success of this endeavour they sent
another group of 14 fleets comprising 65 vessels which
sailed for the East Indies in 1601 from the Netherlands.
The fleets sent to the East belonged to rival companies
and so the price of spices in the East fluctuated a lot on
account of competition. At last, on 24 March 1602, the
States General succeeded in amalgamating the rival
companies into a United Dutch East India Company with a
capital of 6,500,000 florins. The charter issued by the
States General offered VOC monopoly of trade to east of
the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan
for 21 years. The activities of the Company guided by 17
directors referred to as Heeren XVII empowered the VOC to
conclude treaties with foreign powers, build fortresses,
factories and wage war against the Portuguese in the
Indies. VOC established its headquarters first at Bantam
near the western end of Java where they routed the
Portuguese and later at Batavia (Jakarta) on the northwest
Although the papal bulls had granted exclusive rights to
the Portuguese for discovery of new territories and

conducting trade relationships with them, writers like Hugo

Grotious strongly criticized the monopoly enjoyed by the
Portuguese over the oriental lands in lieu of these grants.
Soon many others too raised their voice against the
exclusion of foreign powers other than Portuguese and
Spain, challenging the verdict of the Pope that refused
permission to infidels for carrying trade relations with the
East. This changing view and defiance of papal authority
allowed the Dutch to compete with the Portuguese in their
new venture in maritime trade with India and other

The Dutch in Calicut

The spices available in Malabar attracted the attention
of the United East India Company. Admiral Stevenvan der
Haghen, the head of a fleet consisting of thirteen ships
owned by the Company set his target on Calicut. A fleet of
this size was organised to put up a strong resistance
against the Spanish-Portuguese monopoly over the spice
route and spices. On 18 December 1603, the fleet left
Netherlands and reached the Malabar coast on 11 October
1604, leaving behind three ships in Africa. The admiral
carried with him letters written in Portuguese. But despite
a show of friendliness, the King of Cannanore did not want
to incur the wrath of the Portuguese and so no commercial
contact could be established with Cannanore. The fleet
proceeded to Calicut where the Zamorin received them
with open arms. Though the Portuguese tried to attack the
Dutch fleet, the admiral met the Zamorin in Chettuwai
after defeating the Portuguese forces. Shortly afterwards,
on 11 November 1604, an agreement with the Zamorin
was concluded in the name of the States-General and
Maurice, Prince of Orange. Accordingly, it was agreed that
both the parties would jointly drive the Portuguese away
from the Malabar coast, establish a fortress in Calicut with

merchants to conduct trade and allow no vessel from the

area south of Goa and north of Cape Comorin to leave the
coast without a passport from the Zamorin. But the
Directors of the VOC did not proceed to establish a fortress
at that time as promised to the Zamorin.
Admiral Verhof visited Calicut in 1608 and another
treaty was concluded with the Zamorin confirming the
terms agreed in 1604. A storehouse was offered to them
by the Zamorin for storing commodities. Three Dutch ships
came to Calicut in 1610 and again a fresh treaty with the
Zamorin was concluded by which the Dutch agreed to pay
2 per cent tax on imports and exports from Calicut. Van
den Broecke, the Dutch trade-director visited the Zamorin
in 1616 exploring the possibility of an alliance with the
rulers in Kerala to oust the Portuguese. Van Speult who
figured in the gruesome Amboyna Massacre of 1623 (the
Ambon island or present day Malaku in Indonesia where 20
men, ten of whom where in the service of the English East
India Company was tortured and executed by agents of the
Dutch East India Company on accusations of treason)
visited the Zamorin in 1625 and obtained permission to
start a factory in his dominion. The Zamorin promised to
supply 3,000 candies of pepper annually to the Dutch.

The Dutch in Purakkad and Kayamkulam

In May 1642, the Dutch negotiated a treaty with the
Raja of Purakkad (Chempakassery) for the delivery of
pepper and ginger. They were given permission to build a
factory in Purakkad. Fresh treaties were concluded in 1643
between the Dutch on one side and the princes of
Purakkad and Kayamkulam on the other. With this the
Dutch obtained permission to build a factory in
Kayamkulam too. The prince of Kayamkulam promised not
to send pepper to the Portuguese factories on the Malabar
coast while the prince of Purakkad offered right of

preference to the Dutch. The Dutch obtained pepper from

Cannanore, Kayamkulam, Calicut, Purakkad and Quilon as
early as 1645. In 1647, the Dutch left an under-merchant
in Kayamkulam for the first time in Malabar to acquire
pepper in exchange for the unsold Dutch cargoes. Thus,
the Dutch started the first permanent settlement on the
Malabar coast. The rulers of Purakkad and Quilon agreed to
supply all the pepper produced in their dominions besides
opium and sandalwood.
The Governor-General and the Council at Batavia, the
Dutch headquarters in the East, approved the negotiations
begun by Van den Broeck who made good progress in
obtaining pepper during the monsoon of 1650-51 at
Kayamkulam and Quilon. Relations with the Portuguese
were tense as they made it a point to capture all ships with
Dutch passes. The Portuguese were short of cash and so
the Dutch managed to prosper in pepper trade. At the
time, the Dutch possessed only unfortified settlements in
Cannanore and Kayamkulam. Although the Company got
permission and wanted to build a fort in Kayamkulam, it
never materialised.

The Dutch in Quilon and Travancore

Van den Broeck, the Dutch under-merchant in Quilon,
visited the kings of Quilon and Travancore in 1647.
Appropriate presents were offered to them and in return
both the rulers promised to be helpful to the Dutch. In
1650, a warehouse was built in Quilon with the permission
of the local ruler. On 16 September 1657, Van Goens
proceeded to Quilon with his men and conquered the
Portuguese fortress there. Although an expedition under
Admiral Ryckloff van Goens conquered the Portuguese
fortress at Quilon on 29 December 1658, a year later the
Portuguese recaptured it. A treaty with the Queen of
Quilon was concluded on 7 January 1759 by which

exclusive monopoly of the spice trade in Quilon was

offered to the Dutch. The Dutch also managed to sign a
treaty for monopoly of pepper trade with the ruler of
Travancore in March 1662.

The King of Cochin woos the Dutch

The King of Cochin, on account of the harsh treatment
at the hands of the Portuguese, invited the Dutch in 1618
to his kingdom. But the Dutch did not pay any serious
attention for nearly half a century. The Dutch and the
English, in view of an understanding reached in 1619,
decided to act together to get rid of the Portuguese from
the Malabar coast. In the autumn of 1621, a joint
expedition was despatched under the Dutch Admiral Dedel
and the English Vice-Admiral Fitzherbert to blockade the
Portuguese possessions on the Malabar coast. There is no
commander of the fleets dispatched from the Netherlands
between 1636 and 1644 to besiege Goa was given
instructions to deal with the pepper trade in Malabar.
The Dutch got abundant pepper from the Indonesian
Archipelago where the price was cheaper than in Malabar.
As a result, the Dutch Governor of Ceylon sent a yacht to
the Malabar coast for collecting debts and stopped
voyages to the coast in 1653. In 1655, they resumed
sending ships for pepper from Malabar. The VOC thought
that more blockading of Goa would keep the foreign
merchants away from Malabar.

The Dutch acquisition of Portuguese possessions

in Malabar
The policy of aggression assumed by the Dutch
Company helped them to take possession of the
Portuguese settlements in Cochin, Quilon, Cranganore and
Cannanore. Their experience in pepper trade on the
Malabar coast during the early years had convinced them

that unless they made an impression on the people

through military triumphs their trade would not thrive.
After the capture of Colombo from the Portuguese in
1656 by the Dutch, danger from the Portuguese
strongholds on the Malabar coast became imminent.
Ryckloff van Goens who reached Batavia on 1 July 1657 as
Council Extraordinary and Commander of the fleet, took
charge of a projected plan to drive the Portuguese away
from India. The forces under his command first captured
Jaffna on 16 September 1657 and then turned their
attention on Tuticorin, Mannar and Nagapattanam. With
the fall of these three places, the Coromandel coast came
largely under the Dutch influence. To ensure a Dutch
victory against the Portuguese in Malabar, a day of fast
and prayer was observed on 15 September 1657 at
Batavia, the Dutch capital in Indonesia. On 16 September
1657, Van Goens proceeded to Quilon with his men and
conquered the Portuguese fortress there. After that he left
for Cannanore but was asked to desist from further action
and hence he returned to Quilon. The Dutch governor of
Ceylon, Van der Meyden, withdrew the Dutch garrison from
Quilon on 14 April 1659. But before returning to Batavia on
25 January 1660, Van Goens left a garrison in Quilon to
guard the mud fort put up by them. After his departure the
combined forces of the Portuguese and the Nairs attacked
the Dutch garrison in Quilon and slaughtered a large
number of people. But in December 1661, Quilon was
captured by Van Goens. They occupied the palace of the
Queen of Quilon and destroyed seven Portuguese churches
there besides the town hall.
The capture of the Portuguese fortress at Quilon was
necessary to subdue the rulers of Travancore and Quilon
(Desinganat). The Governor General at Batavia decreed
that Cochin and Cranganore should be conquered by the

Dutch under Van Goens who captured Quilon. Cannanore

too was conquered by the Dutch in February 1663.

The Dutch trade in Cochin and the neighbouring

When the Raja of Cochin died in 1658 the Portuguese
nominated a Vettom prince from the Tanur principality
(also belonging to the junior branch of the royal family) to
succeed to the throne. He was crowned by the Portuguese
at the Cathedral of Cochin as usual. On the advice of
Paliath Achan, hereditary prime ministers to the Raja of
Cochin, Vira Kerala Varma of the senior line (Mutha
Thavazhi) of Cochin Royal family, who was dispossessed by
the Portuguese sailed to Colombo and laid his case before
the Dutch commander Van der Meyden.
The friendly attitude of the Zamorin, Paliath Achan and
the ruling chiefs of Vadakkenkur and Tekkenkur
emboldened the Dutch to interfere in the dispute in favour
of the Mutha Thavazhi prince. Van der Mayden was sent
from Ceylon to attack Palliport that was occupied by the
Dutch in 1661 but was later retaken by the Portuguese.
The Dutch fleet under Van der Meyden captured Pallipuram
fort (Ayakotta) in the Vaipin Island from the Portuguese in
March 1661 and handed it over to the Zamorin. Then, on
15 January 1662, Van Goens sailed to Cranganore and laid
siege to it with the connivance of Paliath Achan who
disclosed a weak spot in the fort. The Dutch dislodged the
Portuguese from Cranganore and returned it to the
Cranganore Raja. With a view to conquering Cochin, the
Dutch forces occupied the Island of Vaipin and attacked
Cochin in 1662. But the Portuguese got the support of the
Raja of Chempakassery (Purakkad) and the forces from
Goa to fight back the Dutch. Van Goens had to retreat to
Colombo without success on 2 March 1662.

The second siege of Cochin under Henrick Van Rheede,

took place after monsoon. The Zamorin came to
Elankunnapuza to help the Dutch who under Van Goens
laid siege to the Mattancherry Palace after bombarding
Cochin from Vaipin Island. The reigning Raja, two princes
and most of the ministers of Cochin were killed. Rani
Gangadhara Lakshmi, sister of Vira Kerala Varma, was
captured by Henrick Van Rheede, then an ordinary soldier
of the Dutch. Van Goens obtained a pledge from the Queen
to recognise the prince of the Mutha Thavazhi, Vira Kerala
Varma, as the ruler of Cochin. With the help of Vira Kerala
Varma and Paliath Achan, the Dutch put up a stiff fight and
finally the Portuguese surrendered Cochin on 6 January
1663 to the Dutch.
Vira Kerala Varma, the Chazhur adoptee into the Mutha
Thavazhi as indicated by the aged Rani Gangadhara
Lakshmi Bhai was installed as King of Cochin on 6 March
1663. He was formally and solemnly crowned in the same
way as the Cochin kings used to be crowned by the
Portuguese after 1505. Van Goens himself placed a Golden
crown with the inscription of VOC on his head. Van Goens
who was the governor of Colombo now settled down in Fort
Cochin. The King granted the VOC monopoly of trade in
pepper and cinnamon in his country and in return, he was
allowed to retain the customs duties and other revenues
as in the Portuguese period.
After a week, Van Goens made an agreement with the
chief of Purakkad according to which pepper and cinnamon
production of the principality would be sold to the Dutch.
Papen islands, Mosquito islands and Vendurutty islands,
once possessed by the Portuguese were ceded to the
Dutch. Purakkad also belonged to the areas handed over
to the Dutch. All the pepper and wild cinnamon produced
in the Cochin islands were to be delivered to the Dutch
ships. On 14 March 1663, Van Goens got the ruler of

Purakkad to sign an agreement and brought him under the

King of Cochin. The ruler of Purakkad was asked to be loyal
to the VOC as he was to the Portuguese. He agreed not to
weigh pepper and cinnamon for export without the
consent of the Company and the King of Cochin. A formal
treaty was concluded between the King and the Dutch on
20 March 1663. The King authorised the VOC to refuse
admission to ships carrying opium with the exception that
the merchants who had entered into a contract would not
be denied their rights.362
The main aim of the Dutch was to export pepper and
import opium to the exclusion of the other Europeans and
Indian merchants for which they decided to ally
themselves with the local rulers. During this period, the
English had only one factory on the Malabar coast, namely
at Purakkad. With a view of maintaining pepper monopoly,
the King advised the Dutch to erect three fortresses, one
for the security of the river Cranganore at Palliport, the
second for the security of the river of Cochin at Vypin
opposite to the town, and the third at Purakkad. The
customary tolls and duties were to be paid to the king.
Raja of Mangat (Alangad) lying north of Cochin, as well as
the rulers of Vadakkenkur and Thekkenkur promised to
offer help to the VOC. Vadakkenkur, Parur, Alangad and
Edappilly entered into treaties with the Dutch in 1663. The
For details about the agreement, ref. T.I. Punnen, The Dutch
Hegemony in Malabar and its Collapse, Trivandrum, University of
Kerala Publication, n.d. pp.29-31.

rulers of Kayamkulam, Purakkad, Marta and Quilon

concluded treaties with the Dutch in 1664 through captain
Nieuhoff. They gave monopoly of pepper trade to the
Jacob Hustaert, the VOC Governor of Ceylon (who also
commanded the VOC establishments in Malabar till 1669)
wrote to his subordinates in 1664:
...considering that the pepper trade is the bride
around which everything dances, we recommend
Your Honours to bend your best efforts to bring great
quantities of Malabar pepper into Company hands
every year... while at the same time preventing the
indigenes from transporting [it] elsewhere by sea or
land in secret.363
Though the English had their factory in Purakkad, the
VOC held the view that Purakkad was conquered by them.
Soon the Purakkad Raja broke off his contacts with the
English. The confrontation between the English and the
Dutch on account of Purakkad came to an end in 1665 and
the fate of the English was sealed once and forever. The
English factors at Purakkad reported about the
monopolistic hold of the Dutch in Kerala:
The Dutch by their contract with this King will not
suffer any buyers or sellers in any part of the country
but themselves.... The Dutch have lined the whole
coast with their factories, thereby to ingrosse all
George Winius and Marcus P.M. Vink, The Merchant-Warrior
Pacified, Delhi, OUP 1991, p.35.

manner of profitable commodities to themselves

both of selling and buying and not giving passports
to any that meddle with them in what they call the
Companys commodities as cotton, cloth, lead,
opium, silk, sugar, Angalyn boards etc, and for
pepper they have a design to contact with the inland
kings not to let any to pass the hills to the other
coast, which doing we may judge the hand they will
make thereof.364
The Dutch looked upon their military triumph as ample
justification for monopolistic control of the pepper trade in
Malabar to the exclusion of all rival commercial agencies,
whether European or Asiatic. They managed to have
control over the King of Cochin and regulate the expenses
of the kingdom. Baron van Rheede tot Drekensteyn, known
as van Rheede was appointed governor of Cochin in 1673.
The treaty of 1674 was nothing other than a regulation and
order for the King of Cochin. The Dutch thought that trade
in Cochin would prosper if the Cochin royal family was
excluded from the administration of the state and the Nair
nobility should be obliged to help the Dutch in their
commercial transactions. Paliath Achan was made directly
responsible to the Dutch commander of Cochin. The King
became a vassal of the Dutch and had no say in any
matter of the state.
By 1678, the Dutch had entered into treaty relations
with the Zamorin, rulers of Travancore, Kayamkulam,
T.I. Poonen, op.cit, p.58.

Cannanore, Marta (Karunagapally), Ali Raja of Arackal, the

queen of Quilon, Thekkenkur, Vadakkenkur and Nairs of
Kururnad, Carapuram (Mutan) and of various other places.
With this treaty, the Dutch managed to hand over the post
de facto power of the kingdom of Cochin to Paliath Achan
or their nominee who had to act according to the orders of
the Dutch. The King was reduced to a cipher. Through
another treaty dated May 1681, the Dutch obtained the
authority to appoint a Dutch official as the Rajas minister
and treasurer. On the death of Paliath Achan in 1684, his
minor son was put in charge with Hendrik Reins, a senior
merchant, as regent. The Dutch appointed Henrick Reins
as Prime minister of Cochin.
After 1697, the Cochin fort was reduced to half its size.
When Rama Varma of Cochin, became the successor to
Ravi Varma in 1698, Zwaardercroom managed to get a
new treaty signed with him. Accordingly, pepper could only
be sold to the Dutch.
In 1710, the Dutch took Chetwai from the Zamorin and
built a fort there, which was later extended in 1714.
However, it was retaken by the Zamorin with the
assistance of the English on 22 January 1715 through a
sudden attack. But the Dutch recaptured it in 1716 along
with Pappinivattam. The Dutch confronted the forces of the
Zamorin in 1717 and defeated them. In spite of that, the
hostilities were terminated in 1718 and the Zamorin
surrendered Chetwai and all his possessions in Cochin
territory to the Dutch. The treaty of Chetwai was signed by
the Dutch and the Zamorin. Besides giving a large amount
by way of indemnity, the Zamorin promised to exclude all
other Europeans from trading in his territories. In 1755, the
Zamorin regained Chetwai and a few other places from the
Dutch influence.

The Dutch in Cannanore

The Dutch conquered the Portuguese fortress of
Cannanore in February 1663. Cannanore occupied the
prime position by being the leading port town of the
kingdom of Kolathunadu, also known as the kingdom of
Cannanore. Kolathunadu was one of the most prominent
kingdoms on the Malabar coast and hence the central
point of socio-economic and political dynamics in the
region. The Cannanore King was informed about the
strength of the Dutch and the advantage of having pepper
trade with them. The VOC through Lucas van Werden got a
treaty signed by the ruler of Kolathunadu, on
20 March 1663. This treaty regarding the export of pepper
and cardamom and import of opium was vague. So, on 11
February 1664, Adriaan Jacob Hustaert got a new contract
concluded whereby the merchant prince of Kolathunadu
was permitted only one sixth of the export of pepper and
cardamom and of the import of opium. The shares of the
proceeds of the passport money to the King were
guaranteed besides the toll as he had been receiving
during the Portuguese times. The Company was to enjoy
freedom from tolls and the United East India Company
promised to fulfil the kings wishes for rare objects.
Ali Raja of Arackal too signed a treaty with the Dutch on
11 February 1664, according to which the volume of
pepper and cardamom to be exported by him was limited.
Yet, he was interested in keeping his independent trade. So
he tried to evade the obligations of the treaty. Other rulers
on the Malabar coast were also unhappy about the
monopolistic approach of the Dutch.
Pepper from Malabar was considered the finest in India
and the Dutch, although obliged to pay double the price at
which they could obtain abundant supplies in Batavia and
Jambee, made strong efforts to monopolise the market but
without effect. They stigmatised the sale of pepper to

other nations as contraband trade and endeavoured to

blockade the ports of Malabar, but with so little effect that
they could not even prevent the natives from maintaining
an open traffic with the notorious pirate Kidd.
Kolathiri Raja through a treaty dated 13 March 1681
gave an Ola of freedom from tolls inscribed on a silver
plate to the Upper head at Cannanore. It reads:
I command all customs officers and their subordinates
of my land covering 52 miles (156 English miles) that
no one shall have the authority to collect any toll from
the Companys wares whether they are taken from the
fort to the land or from the land to the fortress. The
Honble Companys people shall withdraw the
molestation of a passport pass in to my lands. All the
merchants who wish to trade with the Company shall be
allowed a pass, but the usual tolls, according to the
custom of the land, shall be collected from them. Those
who contravene these orders shall be punished with
loss of lives and goods.365
The period from 1679 to 1728 could be considered the
heyday of the Dutch trade in Malabar. Almost all the rulers
of Malabar had, either voluntarily or as a result of armed
onslaught by the Dutch, entered into treaties which
stipulated the absolute exclusion of rival European nations
from their lands. Cochin had become abject feudatory of
the Dutch in whom complete political and economic
Batavia Dagh Register, 1681, pp.488-97, quoted by Poonen, op.cit

control of the kingdom was vested. In view of a treaty

between the King of Cochin and the Dutch dated 7 July
1682, the prince of Cochin was bound to facilitate the
Companys trade by providing manpower for the transport
of pepper besides rendering other services. In 1737, the
Dutch signed a treaty with the King of Kolathunad for the
supply of 1,000 candies of pepper at Rs. 56 per candy.
The failure of the Company to turn Cannanore into a
commercially viable settlement and the fear of a possible
return of the English or the Portuguese prompted the
Dutch to reduce the size of the fortress. The walls of the
fortresses of Cannanore and Cranganore were pruned to
include only the inner buildings and towers. In order to
economize on the settlement, the size of the garrisons was
scaled down to 56 and 79 men respectively. The fortress at
Quilon too faced the same fate. Eventually, the Cannanore
fort was sold to Ali Raja in 1771.

The Dutch in Travancore

The kingdom of Travancore that was at the
southernmost end of the western coast of India did not
attract considerable attention of the Dutch in the 17 th
century who were busy trading with Calicut and Cochin.
Though the ruler of Travancore entered into a voluntary
treaty with the Dutch in 1662 and 1664, he did not permit
them to buy pepper and other commodities at their
pleasure to the exclusion of other European nations. Hence
the portals of foreign trade were open to other countries
through Travancore and the Zamorins land where the
Dutch did not have much influence. The Dutch had a
factory at Tengapattnam but it was attacked by the forces
26 August 1694.
Marthanda Varma, who came to the throne of
Travancore in 1729 (1729-58), put up a stiff fight against

the monopolistic attitude of the Dutch. He also fought for

the expansion of his territory and in the process took on
the Dutch. His attacks on Eledattu Swarupam
(Kottarakkara), Perakattavali (Nedumangad), Marta or
Karunagapally, Attingal, Peritally, Desinganat (Quilon) and
later on Kayamkulam, alarmed the Dutch. When
Marthanda Varma started his expansion activities in 1731,
the Dutch wanted to save Kayamkulam, Quilon and the
Vadakkumkur, Tekkenkur, Maruthkulangara, Peritally and
Attingal, but he did not yield. The Dutch had factories in
Kayamkulam and Quilon. So, when Marthanda Varma
conquered Kayamkulam (1734) and started attacking
Quilon, the Dutch supported Quilon, Cochin and Purakkad.
The Dutch stormed the Travancore lines on 12 November
1739. However, the King of Travancore got support from
the English in Anjengo. Marthanda Varma attacked and
defeated the Dutch at the famous battle of Colachel.
On 7 August 1741, the Dutch garrison surrendered. Three
hundred and fifty of the men were taken as prisoners and
enlisted into the service of Marthanda Varma. Famous
among them was Eustache Benedict de Lannoy, a French
man in the service of the Dutch. After his capture, the ruler
of Travancore appointed him as commander-in-chief of the
Rajas forces which had 50000 men. De Lannoy served
Travancore for 36 years.
The defeat at Colachel signalled a turning point for the
Dutch in Malabar. They became convinced that if they
wanted to remain in Malabar they could do so only as
merchants without any political pretentions. The Dutch had

exported nearly two million pounds of pepper in 1726

while in 1746 it dropped to 540,000 pounds.366
Though the Travancore King permitted the Dutch to
build a fort at Colachel, peace did not prevail. The Dutch
entered into a treaty with the ruler of Travancore in 1748
and agreed not to disturb the English factories at Anjengo,
Vizhinjam and Edava in Travancore. The Dutch agreed to
maintain neutrality in the matters of Travancore. The
English at Anjengo recorded the gradual takeover of
pepper trade by the State of Travancore.367 The King
advised the English officials at Anjengo as to whom they
should contact for pepper contract.
Beset with problems on all sides, the Dutch realised
that peace with the Raja of Travancore was necessary.
Since Marthanda Varma granted a number of privileges to
the English, the Dutch became panicky and subsequently
the treaty of Mavelikara dated 15 August 1753 was
concluded with the mediation of Ezekiel Rahabi and
Owen C. Kail, The Dutch in India, Delhi, 1981, p.187.

Ashin Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian Trade 1740-1800, Cambridge,
1967, pp.33-34.

Silvester Mendes, a Dutch subject of Portuguese origin.

Accordingly, they agreed not to stand in the way of
expansion initiated by the King of Travancore. The Dutch
promised to supply arms and ammunitions to Marthanda
Varma worth Rs. 12,000 every year. The king, in his turn,
agreed to make available to the Dutch 3000 candies of
pepper at the rate of Rs. 65 per candy from Travancore
and Attingal and another consignment of 2000 candies at
Rs. 55 per candy from newly conquered principalities. It
was also agreed to deliver to the Dutch Company in Quilon
and Peso (to the south of Marta) 1200 candies of good dry
pepper at Rs. 54 per candy of 500 pounds. After the treaty
of Mavelikara, the Dutch collected ten million pounds of
pepper in the four years ending in 1756 at the rate of four
annas or six pence for every twenty-five pounds of pepper.
On the other hand, this treaty helped Travancore
(Chembakassery), and the portion of the kingdom of
Cochin between Purakkad and Arukkutty. Kayamkulam,
Quilon, Attingal, Marta, Eledattu Swarupam and Peritally
were already brought under Travancore. Accordingly, all
the agreements the Dutch had with them became null and
void. Thus, the kingdom of Travancore became the
mightiest in Kerala. This treaty known as the Treaty of
Mavelikara marked the complete humiliation of the Dutch
and their eclipse as a political power in Kerala.
Marthanda Varma built forts along the boundaries of
Travancore and erected the famous Travancore Lines which
held back Haidar Ali. Marthanda Varma went on expanding
his territory up to Cranganore, the southern boundary of
Calicut. He created a new kind of bureaucratic state after
demolishing the Nair aristocracy. To finance this, he also
built a commercial department that began by establishing
a strict monopoly in pepper trade and later included other
commodities as well. The merchants of Travancore proper

were turned into employees of the state or made entirely

dependent on it. Thus, the merchants of the principalities
between Travancore and Calicut were put out of business.
Even the powerful merchants of Cochin had to give up
trading in pepper. So the Dutch dream of a revived
monopoly of pepper had to be given up.
Marthanda Varma was succeeded by his nephew Rama
Varma, also known as Dharma Raja (1758-98). During his
reign, he retained all the territories that Marthanda Varma
had ceded and also successfully administered his kingdom.
With the annexation of most of the spice producing
territories to Travancore, the flow of spices to the port of
Cochin was badly affected causing much damage to the
Dutch commerce. Finally, Travancore challenged and broke
the Dutch blockade of the coast. This was done not by
another naval battle but by establishing a new port in
1762 at Alleppey, a little south of Cochin, which the Dutch
were forced to leave alone. This struck a great blow to the
Dutch as it reduced the importance of the port of Cochin.
The rulers of Cochin began to be friendly with the Raja
of Travancore and joined hands against the Dutch. Rama
Varma of Cochin known as Sakthan Tampuran, who ruled
from 1790 to 1805, became friendly with the English.
During his reign, the Dutch surrendered Cochin to the
English (10 October 1795). Meanwhile, the Dutch sold
Cranganore and Ayakotta to the Raja of Travancore while
the Cochin King ceded Paravur, Alangad and other districts
to Travancore.
The Companys policy of economizing initiated in 1697
reduced the size of their fortresses in Malabar acquired
from the Portuguese. The reduction was in the size of the
fortresses and the force of men and so Cochin was
authorised to have 300 men, Chetwai 144, Cannanore 79
and Cranganore 56. Cochin fort was renamed New
Orange. Its walls were originally eight kilometres in

circumference. The reduced semi-circular fort was served

by six bastions, a tower on the southern or land side and
the whole structure surrounded by a moat. The forts in
Vypin, Cranganore and Ayakotta (Palliport) were sold to the
King of Travancore in 1789. By now the Dutch were left
with just the Cochin fort and Thangasserry.
The Dutch used to intervene in the local politics, pitting
one king against the other. The senior position in a Dutch
establishment was held by a merchant with the rank of
opperkoopman (senior merchant). He was also the
president of the factory council. People from Norway,
Denmark, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium and
England were appointed to various posts in the
settlements of the VOC. Though there was a strict order
against the appointment of Roman Catholics, often this
ruling was ignored. Franois Caron, a French man, joined
VOC as a cook in the ship and rose to the position of the
Director General of Trade at Batavia in 1647 before he
went to the French East India Company after a service of
20 years in VOC.

Mysorean invasions and the Dutch trade on the

Malabar coast
Being the only Muslim rulers in Malabar, the Arackal
family was spurred by the rise of Haider Ali. They invited
him to invade Malabar so that they could gain complete
independence from the Hindu rulers of Chirakkal (former
Kolathunadu) who were their staunch enemies. Thus
Haider Ali of Mysore and the Ali Raja of Arackal joined
hands. Hyder succeeded in conquering Kolathunadu in
1766. The King of Kolathunadu and his family took refuge
in Travancore. Haider Ali entrusted the administration of
the newly conquered kingdom to Ali Raja. After that,
Haider turned his attention to Calicut and pitted his forces
against the Zamorin. Without much difficulty or casualties

he routed the Zamorins army and captured the kingdom.

Unable to concede defeat, the Zamorin committed suicide.
Since the Marathas were marching towards Mysore, Haider
left Calicut after reinstating the heir apparent of Zamorin
(Eralpad) under certain conditions.
After settling the problems in Mysore, Haider returned
to Calicut in 1773 to take revenge upon the new Zamorin
who did not abide by his terms and conditions. The Dutch
could not do anything much against Haider since their
forces were weak. Instead, they sent a messenger to
compliment Haider and requested some favour from him.
Hyder Ali died on 12 December 1782 and his son, Tipu,
succeeded him. In 1789, Tipu came to Malabar via
Thamarassery pass to implement his social policies in
Malabar. He wanted to attack Travancore for which he
decided to buy the forts of Cranganore and Pallipuram
(Ayakkotta). But the ruler of Travancore purchased these
forts from the Dutch. Still Tipu proceeded to Travancore in
1789 and arrived at Trichur on 14 December 1789. He
entered the fort of Cranganore and subsequently, the forts
of Kuriappilly and Ayakotta (Pallipuram) fell to him. Then
he subdued Paravur and Alangad after which the Mysore
troops camped at Alwaye. At the time, Tipu got the
message that the English had declared war on Mysore and
were marching towards Seringapattam, his capital. This
compelled him to withdraw his forces to Mysore. Gradually
the whole of Malabar slipped from Tipus hands and,
through the treaty of Seringapattam signed in February
1792, he ceded Malabar except Wynadu to the English.
Cochin state and Coorg were among the surrendered
territories. Since the Dutch were rather weak, the rulers of
Cochin and Travancore ignored them. The English became
the suzerain power over Cochin and Travancore.

Dutch establishments in Kerala at the beginning

of the 18th century
VOC had several establishments on the Malabar coast
namely, Quilon, Kayamkulam, Purakkad, Cranganore,
Vypin, Chetwai, Cannanore and Fort Cochin besides lodges
at Tengapattnam and Ponnani. Vengurla, the town north of
Goa, was under the Commander of Malabar who had his
office in Cochin. But the Malabar Command itself was
subordinate to the Governor of Sri Lanka. Slowly but surely
the English were making their presence felt in Kerala by
annexing territories. The Dutch surrendered their
possessions in Malabar to the English in 1795.
By way of an overview, it can be said that the Dutch
who came as traders interfered in the local politics and
tried their best to gain monopoly over the spice trade as
the Portuguese did in the sixteenth century. This attempt
was not easily accepted by the local rulers and merchants
who insisted on the prevailing market rate from any trader.
Marthanda Varma came forward with his undertaking to
monopolise trade in spices and so the Dutch had to bite
the bullet and cross swords with him. The battle of
Colachel dealt a fatal blow on the Dutch ambitions. Spices
had to be purchased through contracts concluded with
Marthanda Varmas officials in the department of
commerce. The Kings military power was further
enhanced with the help of De Lannoy of VOC who joined
his army. The treaty of Mavelikara could be considered the
last nail in the coffin of the VOC in Malabar. Eventually, the
Dutch relinquished Cochin, their valuable headquarters in
Malabar, to the English East India Company and withdrew
from the new spice route to Malabar.

The English East India Company and the Spice


Queen Elizabeth of England declared to the Spanish

Ambassador in 1580, the Ocean was free to all, for as
much as neither nature nor regard of public use do permit
the exclusive possession thereof.368 The English had been
engaged in spice trade through the Levant. As early as the
thirteenth century an organisation called Merchant
Adventurers was actively involved in overseas trade.
There were in fact several distinct bodies under the
general caption. The group called Merchant Adventurers
of London traded with the Low Countries through their
establishments in Antwerp and Bruges. Antwerp was an
important centre where the Portuguese merchants used to
bring oriental spices and buy other commodities in
Spain invaded the Netherlands in the mid-sixteenth
century and closed the Dutch markets to the English
merchants. They were expelled from Antwerp from where
they used to get spices. Though the Dutch got themselves
liberated from the Spanish domination, they kept up the
price of pepper at eight shillings per pound in 1597 which
caused great heart-burn for the English.
A group of English merchants interested in obtaining
spices through Venice established the Venice Company in
the mid-sixteenth century. Queen Elizabeth of England
sent William Harburn, an English merchant, to Turkey in
1579 and obtained from the Sultan Amurath III equal
privileges of trade in Turkey for the English merchants as
William Camden, History of Elizabeth, London, 1675, p.255.

enjoyed by the Germans, Venetians and the French. This

enabled the English to set up the Turkey Company in 1581
which was amalgamated in 1583 with Venice Company to
form the Levant Company. The setting up of the new
company paved the way for the English to acquire spices
at a rate cheaper than earlier and to regulate their trade
with Turkey and the Levant. Despite the losses suffered at
the hands of the Spanish cruisers in the harbour of
Gibraltar, the Levant Company managed to reap three-fold
profit over their investment.
The success of the Levant Company encouraged the
English to reach India, the source of spices. When they
became convinced that the North West or North East
passage did not help them reach India directly, they
decided to try the route via Cape of Good Hope discovered
by the Portuguese towards the end of the fifteenth century.
The experience of Francis Drake who succeeded in
circumnavigating the Cape of Good Hope and arrived at
Spice Islands in 1580, as well as that of Cavendish in 1586,
enthused the English merchants to take effective steps to
reach the sources of spices. England and Holland
questioned the validity of the Papal bulls based on which
the Portuguese claimed exclusive right over the navigation
in the Indian Ocean regions. They specified their objective
as to occupy (the lands) not yet occupied by any friendly
powers and stressed on the effective occupation
challenging the Portuguese and Spanish claims. Philip II of
Spain who became Philip I of Portugal had closed the port
of Lisbon to the English and the Dutch as mentioned
Persecution of the Catholics in England intensified and
Father Thomas Stephens of Whilstire fled to Rome in 1578
and from there he intended to go to Goa to visit the tomb
of St. Francis Xavier where miracles were being worked. He
left for India in 1579 as a missionary. On reaching India, he

worked as the rector of the Jesuit College in Goa. His

letters to his father, an important merchant of London,
prompted the merchants from London to send a group of
chosen adventurers to learn the commercial prospects of
India. The plan was to conduct overland trade with India
which helped the Venetians amass huge profit during the
middle ages. But fear of the Portuguese in Ormuz and the
Spaniards at Gibraltar prevented them from pursuing the
project. Later, heeding the suggestion by John Newbery in
1583, Ralph Fitch in the company of John Newbery, William
Leeds and Mr. Story proceeded to India by land. They
reached Cochin in 1588. Only Ralph Fitch returned to
London in 1591. The report given by Fitch influenced the
Queen to take a favourable decision in support of the
enterprise. The London merchants obtained from Ralph
Fitch detailed information about the resources of Malabar
and the prospects of trade in spices.
Meanwhile, the strained relationship with Turkey further
stimulated the English interest towards establishing direct
commercial contact with India. It was because of this that
a group of English merchants presented a memorandum in
October 1589 to Queen Elizabeth seeking permission to
send merchant ships to India for trade. The permission was
readily granted. They organised a series of naval
expeditions and though no monetary advantage was
received, the feasibility of the scheme was established.
The report of John Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611)
who spent five years in Goa from 1583 was translated into
English and published in 1598. This helped the English
understand the weaknesses of the Portuguese in India and
the advantage that could be reaped through trade in
spices. A London merchant, John Mildenhall, reached India
in 1599 through land route.
The English merchants did not want the Dutch to take
advantage of the spice trade in the Malabar coast.

Therefore, a body of London citizens met in the Founders

Hall under the chairmanship of Stephen Soame, the Lord
Mayor of London, on 22 September 1599. One hundred
adventurers volunteered to finance a new Company. Each
of them agreed to pay a sum of two hundred pounds.
There were 101 shares and their contribution constituted
the capital of 30133-6-0. Queen Elizabeth issued a
Charter on 31 December 1600 in response to the petition
submitted by them. The interested were brought under
The Governor and Company of London, Trading into the
East Indies. The charter was for fifteen years and the
Company was given monopoly of trade in the Eastern
waters. In addition, the Company was allowed to keep an
armed naval force for its protection. This was the first
organised attempt of the English to trade in spices with

Servants of the Company in India

The servants of the Company according to the
ascending order of seniority were: Apprentice, Writer,
Factor, Junior Merchant, Chief Agent or Senior Merchant,
Councillor, President and Governor. There were also
officials like Chaplains, Surgeons and Masters. The board of
the Tellicherry factory in 1772 had one chief, two senior
merchants, four junior merchants, two factors and two
writers. There were one chief, two senior merchants, four
junior merchants, two factors and one writer in 1774 in
their establishment at Tellicherry. The board in 1775
consisted of one chief, two junior merchants, two
chaplains, three writers and one factor. There was an
instruction from Bombay that the board should consist only
of a chief, two counsellors and two adjutants. The factory
officials held correspondence with presidencies and other
factories. Communications were carried out by Pattars or
Brahmins who could move freely anywhere on account of

their caste immunity. The linguist or interpreter was an

important official of a factory and was a good mediator
between the Company and the native rulers. Many of the
treaties were executed in Portuguese which served as a
common language for transactions. The chief of the
Company controlled the civil, military and judicial matters
of the factory as well as executed treaties and agreements
with the native rulers. He also made contracts with the
native merchants for the supply of pepper, sandalwood,
cardamom and paid money in advance.

The English innings in Kerala

The Portuguese were overpowered by the English in the
1612 battle waged in the area of Surat, which greatly
enhanced the prestige of the English. Following this feat,
Captain Keeling with three English ships reached Calicut in
1615 on his way from Surat to Bantam. The officers of the
Zamorin took them to Cranganore where they received
kind usage and concluded to settle a factory. Accordingly
three factors, a gunner and boy were left at Cranganore
with George Woolman as chief. This was the first English
factory on the Malabar coast and later these officials were
shifted to Calicut where too they did not thrive. The
Zamorin made an agreement with Keeling and permitted
the English to have duty-free trade in his territory. The
treaty was concluded on 10 March 1615. 369 Through the
treaty, the Zamorin agreed to collaborate with the English
John Bruce, Annals of the English East India Company, I.p.178;
Francis Day, The Land of Perumals, pp.177-78.

to attack the Portuguese in Cochin, share the booty and to

hand over Cochin territory to the English. Since the English
had fixed their eyes on the spices in the Malayan
Archipelago where they had to face the Dutch, they did not
do anything to fight the Portuguese in Cochin. Only after
the massacre of Amboyna, which resulted in the expulsion
of the English from the Spice Archipelago, they
concentrated their attention on Malabar. But by this time
the Dutch were also strongly established in Malabar and so
they had to confront them again here.
Nevertheless, the English Company was slowly getting
powerful. In 1634/35 during the last days of the
Portuguese power, the English entered into an agreement
with them for getting access to all the Portuguese
fortresses and ports in Kerala. By 1636 the British
merchants began exporting pepper to England from Cochin
for the first time.
With the treaty of Madrid in 1640, all hostilities between
the English and the Portuguese ended and subsequently,
by the treaty of July 1654, Portugal recognised the rights of
the English to the Eastern trade. In 1657, the English
Company was converted into one continuous joint stock
by a charter and was freed from the nature of a medieval
trade-guild. However, the Company had to face the threats
from the English interlopers, the Dutch and the
Portuguese. But with the treaty of 1661 the English bound
themselves to support the Portuguese in their fight against
the Dutch in India.
Though there was a treaty concluded by the Zamorin
with the Dutch on 7 March 1662, the Dutch after the
acquisition of the Portuguese possessions in Malabar did
not pay any heed to the Zamorin. Hence, he was
compelled to seek an alliance with the English and sent
several invitations to them. When Cochin was conquered
by the Dutch in 1663, the English men in Cochin left for

Ponnani. The Zamorin permitted the English in 1664 to

build a factory at Calicut. And in the same year the English
obtained permission from the ruler of Venad to build a
factory at Vizhinjam.
The British Parliament was averse to the idea of
monopoly enjoyed by the Company and so towards the
last decade of the seventeenth century the Parliament
granted permission for another Company. This too followed
the same pattern as the former. With a view to avoiding
competition between the two companies and any loss to
the treasury, it was agreed to have reconciliation between
the two and a Charter of Union was promulgated in 1708
by the Crown. The new company was named United
Company of Merchants of England trading to the East
Indies and was popularly known as the English East India
Company. The court of directors elected by the
shareholders managed the affairs of the Company.

The English in Calicut and other places on the

Malabar coast
According to the agreement that Captain Keeling had
with the Zamorin of Calicut on 9 March 1616, he was
permitted to open a factory in Calicut. It worked well for
some time. But it was closed down on 21 March 1617 by
Captain Pepwell since its functioning was not satisfactory.
Despite the agreement with the Dutch, the Zamorin
permitted the English to have their factory in Calicut in
1664.Though the English factory in Calicut was brought
under Tellicherry, it was important for the trade in pepper.
The Zamorin allowed a reduction of 25 per cent in the duty
on exports from Calicut in 1699 and sanctioned some
special privileges to the English. An English trading agency
was once again established in Calicut during 1668/69.


In 1710, the Zamorin ceded Chetwai to the Dutch,

which was considered detrimental to the English trade in
opium from Bengal in that area. The Zamorin permitted
the English in 1715 to build a factory in Chetwai for the
procurement of pepper. However, the Dutch destroyed it
when they recaptured Chetwai.

In the meantime, the English obtained a foothold for a
factory at Baliapattam, near Cannanore, from the Kolathiri
Raja in 1664 where there was an old fort known as Cota
Cunna.The Dutch bribed the local merchants not to sell
any spices to the English or the French.
The English had some difficulty in purchasing pepper
from the bazaar of Cannanore. They were bound to pay
some dues to the Masjid as per the tradition. But the
English were not in favour of this. An official by name Petit
was appointed as the chief of the factory at Baliapattam,
Calicut and Ponnani. The factory at Baliapattam was closed
down in March 1675.

Tellicherry factory
The English started a factory in Dharmapattam close to
Tellicherry in 1671 and the movable items from
Baliapattam were shifted to the new factory. Chase and
Mitchell were the English officials in this factory. When they
heard that the French in Tellicherry left their establishment
in 1682, the officials approached the Kolathiri ruler to
permit them to occupy the factory left vacant by the
French. They promised to pay Rs. 4 as tax for a candy of
cardamom and Rs. 2 as tax for a candy of pepper to the
ruler of Kolathunadu. They were allowed to occupy the
factory vacated by the French, but the Dutch did not like it
and so took every step to oust the English. However, the
local ruler extended protection to the English factors and a
number of Nair soldiers were appointed to protect the

factory. Since the English were expelled from Bantam

which provided large amounts of pepper for them, they
found Tellicherry a very important source for spices and
hence concentrated their attention there. The factory was
strengthened and enlarged as instructed by the Court of
Directors. Tellicherry commanded the trade of pepper
available in the principality of Kottayam and the kingdom
of Kolathiri. The factory in Calicut got subordinated to that
of Tellicherry on account of its strategic importance. It was
in proximity to the finest pepper and cardamom lands in
Malabar as reported by the English.370
A new warehouse was built on a site offered to the
English by Vadakkilamkur, the northern regent of
Kolathunadu or Kolathiri kingdom. But one of the rival
Kolathiri princes of the Udayamangalam branch along with
neighbouring Nair chieftain, Kurungot Nair of Iruvanad
broke into the warehouse of the English. When the English
approached the northern regent for redressal, the latter
asked them to fortify the factory. The Company bought a
house site of a certain Ponattil Poduval and a hill named
Thiruvalappan Kunnu of Vallura Tangal for building the
fort and fort house. The fort was built under the personal
supervision of Robert Adams who was serving as the chief
of the factory. On completion of the fortification, the fort
was formally handed over to the English on 20 August
1708 by Vadakkilamkur. In 1719, Kurungot Nair patched up
his differences with the English in the presence of Adams
Innes and Ivans, The Gazetteer of Malabar, p.55.

who was in the English factory at Tellicherry. This permitted

the English to buy pepper from Punole and other places
belonging to him without any tax. Thus they got the
pepper monopoly in the region under Kurungot Nair.
To safeguard against the French, Robert Adams
negotiated with the ruler of Kolathunadu for a royal grant
excluding other Europeans from the trade in spices.
Consequently, the Raja issued a royal order in 1721 to this
effect, which included a special clause if any other
Europeans or any other stranger came to this our country,
the English Company can, in our name, punish, prevent
and drive away. This amounted to monopoly of trade in
spices for the English along with the Dutch.
As a result of the monopoly trade by the English in
Tellicherry, a few capitalists like Chovakaran Moosa came
into the picture. He founded an affluent family of traders
known as Keyis. Buchanan in 1800 wrote: The Company
has always made its purchase by a contract entered into
with a few native merchants or in fact for many years
almost with one only that is with Choucara Mousa of
Tellicherry; several others have also dealing with the
Company; but one of them is Mousas brother and the
others are in a great measure his dependants.371 Moosa
sent his ships to Mocha even challenging the King of
Cochin. The merchants like Moosa supported the English

Francis Buchanan, A Journey from Madras through the Countries of
Mysore, Canara and Malabar, II. p.178.

wholeheartedly during the wars with the Mysorean

Nearby, Randatara was brought under the political
influence of the English in Tellicherry during the period
after 1738. Moylan, Tellicherry, Dharmapattam, Randatara
and Grove Island were now under the English Company.
Some local merchants of repute, during the harvesting
season, entered into contracts with the English to supply
them a stipulated quantity of pepper at a fixed price and
received half of the money in advance from the factory.
These merchants purchased pepper at the lowest rate of
640 lb. a candy and supplied to the Company at 600 lb. a
candy. Like Chovakaran Moosa, a few other merchants too
in Tellicherry area emerged as affluent persons including,
Edakkat Chatoo, Muccatum Packy, Cheriyandi Kunhamad
and Muttingal Sealy.
The colonial conflict between the English and the French
came to an end by the treaty of Paris in 1763. When the
port of Manglore fell to Nawab Hyder Ali, the English in
Tellicherry came to an agreement with him. This was
necessitated because of the fact that the English used to
get large amounts of rice from Manglore. The English were
requested to supply arms and ammunitions to Hyder Ali
who camped in the Madai fort during his campaign against
Malabar. Haider promised monopolistic right for the
purchase of pepper and other products of Malabar to the
English if he became victorious. The English gave up their
By 1766, Haider Ali had conquered the kingdoms of
Kottayam, Kolathunadu, Kadathanad and Calicut. The
respective rulers took refuge in Travancore.
With the treaty of Seringapattam in 1792, the English
assumed authority over Malabar. For over a century
Tellicherry factory had struggled hard to obtain commercial
concessions and political privileges from the Malabar

kingdoms through agreements and treaties and also to

wipe out the French and the Dutch influences. Now, the
long cherished ambition of the English was fulfilled and
they became the real masters of the coast of Malabar
extending over the whole of the tract of the country below
the Ghats lying between Travancore and the Kaway River.
Commissioners were appointed by the Bombay council for
Malabar and they were asked to deal with the local rajas
using mild language. Now the Tellicherry factory was
made a subordinate agency responsible to the
Many of the Rajas who fled to other parts of Kerala
returned to their respective kingdoms in view of the treaty
made with Haider Alis son, Tipu Sultan. New
understandings with the rulers of Chirakkal and Kottayam
were agreed upon and they were made loyal to the
A diwan or resident was appointed to each of the
kingdoms. A share of the pepper produced was assigned to
the Company at reduced price according to the settlement
with the Raja of Kadathanad dated 25 April 1792. Chirakkal
Raja too became a party of this agreement. But the ruler of
Kottayam did not accept the assumption of real power by
the Company.
Iruvanad and Randatara were retained under the direct
control of the Company. This was done with a view to
avoiding smuggling of pepper to Mahe. The Bombay
Commissioners made preliminary arrangements with the
Malabar chieftains, excepting the Bibi of Arackal, to realise
the tributes. Wynadu was still under Tipu and so it was not
included in the treaty of 1792. On 20 December 1792,
freedom of trade in all the articles except pepper, was
approved. This was to encourage trade in the ceded
territories. Subsequently, the Malabar Rajas were forced to
surrender four-fifths of the revenue to the Company and

expected to be satisfied with the remaining one-fifth

revenue. Mahe was brought under the English on 16 July
1793. This was the third time that Mahe had surrendered
to the English East India Company.
The linguist of the Tellicherry factory purchased Callay
(Kallayi) from the prince of Chirakkal and planted pepper
vines there. By 1773, this plantation was able to supply
100 candies of pepper to the factory. A large-scale
plantation consisting of 200 acres at Randatara was
started with the investments by the Company in 1798. This
became known as the cinnamon plantation of Anjarakandy.
Murdock Brown was appointed as the overseer of the
plantation. Later, he added 3,000 acres of land to this
plantation by illegal means. Malabar was transferred to the
Madras Presidency in 1800 and subsequently, Brown
managed to have full ownership of the plantation.
emphatically recommended in 1793 the abolition of the
Tellicherry factory and the establishment of a commercial
residency in its place similar to the one that functioned in
Calicut. On 30 March, Malabar was divided into two
administrative divisions viz., Northern and Southern, with
headquarters at Tellicherry and Cherpulasseri respectively.
A Supervisor and Chief Magistrate were appointed for the
whole of Malabar with Calicut as the headquarters,
wielding authority over the superintendents of the two
divisions. By the instructions of the Governor General in
Council, dated 27 July 1794, Tellicherry factory came to an

English occupation of Dharmapattam

The English found it necessary to occupy the small
island known as Dharmapattam after 1734, to be on guard
against the French. So they inhabited the island of
Dharmapattam known as Kakkadvip with the consent of

the Beebi of Arackal. A small English garrison was

stationed there along with the men of Beebi. The
possession of Dharmapattam island was hailed by the
English as remarked here below:
The situation of this island by being in the centre of the
pepper countries, surrounded with rivers which afford a
proper conveyance for bringing it promises a better
security to the trade, than any other place, exclusive of the
advantages that may be made through its becoming the
immediate property of our Honble Masters, and
encouraging a resort to people to settle there who in all
times may be useful in defending it.372
Dharmapattam was near Randatara, an important
centre for the production of pepper, and other pepper
producing areas. The English started cultivating on their
own, pepper, coconuts and other crops in Dharmapattam
from 1740. Cinnamon was also cultivated. A collector was
appointed to collect revenue from Dharmapattam in 1740.

The English in Attingal

It is held by historians of Kerala that Attingal emerged
in the fourteenth century with the adoption of two
princesses from the Kolathiri Royal family by the ruler of
Venad. It was a small principality having 60 miles of
coastal region in the southern part of Kerala, bordering
Quilon in the north, Travancore in the south, the kingdom
of Peritally and the Western Ghats on the east and the
Letters I, IV, Tellicherry to Bombay, 17 November 1735, p.32.

Arabian Sea on the west. The head of this principality was

always a female member of the royal family, the male
members being barred from becoming the ruler. The
Queen of Attingal along with the Queen of Quilon waged
war against the Portuguese in 1519. The ruling family of
Attingal was closely connected with that of Travancore and
is sometimes reckoned as a part of the Venad kingdom.
When the English turned their attention to the Malabar
coast to procure spices, they had to face the rivalry of the
Dutch who were powerful there. With a view to avoiding
any direct confrontation with the Dutch and to get large
volumes of pepper, the English opted to start an
establishment in the kingdom of Attingal. Peritally in its
neighbourhood produced great quantity of pepper.
Although Attingal did not come to the level of Peritally in
the production of pepper, the Queen of Attingal was known
as Pepper Queen because of her ability to supply the
spice in abundance. The Attingal Queen was looking for a
chance to shake off her dependence on the Dutch and so
in 1678 she sent a message to the English in Calicut
asking them to open a factory in the kingdom of Attingal.
Anjengo was offered to the English as the site for a factory.
Initially the English did not show any serious interest since
they had to confront the Dutch and the administrators of
the kingdom, namely the Pillais.
However, an English factory broker Verdaman Beca,
was sent to Attingal. In view of his report, John Child the
President at Surat, ordered the merchants of the English
East India Company in 1684to procure as much pepper as
possible from Attingal. Even before the establishment of a
factory at Anjengo in Attingal, Thomas Mitchell, later the
chief of the English factory at Tellicherry, came to Attingal
in 1687 and purchased 1200 candies of pepper after

bribing the Queen and offering presents to her. 373 The

Queen permitted the English in 1694 to purchase all the
pepper her country produced. The Company officials
contacted the merchants and advanced money to them for
pepper to be brought to the factory at Anjengo. Boats were
used for transporting pepper. The Queen was paid custom
duty of 5 rajas for every candy of pepper.
Apart from the contracts with the merchants, the
English purchased pepper through on-the-spot payment.
But this was not very profitable for the Company even
though private merchants of Malabar made good profit
from this mode of purchase. By 1688, the English
established their factories in Retorah and Brinjohn on the
sea shore in the kingdom of Attingal. They had two other
small factories, one at Betture and the other at Kalliquille
or Mangat in the same kingdom. These were the earliest
factories of the English in Attingal. 374 Though the English
wanted to fortify their factory, permission from the Queen
was delayed. At last, after a series of protracted
negotiations, it was agreed that they could fortify Anjengo.
A treaty with the Queen was concluded on 29 June 1694.
Anjengo Factory Records, 1704-1749, John Brabourne, Anjengo to
Court of Directors, London, June 1704, p.7.

Leena More, English East India Company and the Local Rulers in
Kerala: A Case Study of Attingal and Travancore, Tellicherry, 2003,

The text of the treaty clearly brings out the earnest desire
of the English East India Company to have monopoly of
pepper trade in that region and also underlines the issue of
passes for the safety of ships, a system which was started
by the Portuguese in 1502. A glance at the text of the
treaty (1694) will help us understand how the Europeans
strived hard among the contending powers for greater
intake of spices from the Malabar coast.
Because the English, I called hither have always bin
(sic) obedient to mee, I do hereby grant unto them
the following privileges; I give unto them the hill of
the Iouges that is at Anjengo, to fortify with stone
and to abide there forever, And I will send thither my
officers to set forth and appoint with stone Landmarks the limits of Land that belong unto Mee, that
on each side of the said hill the Company may build
warehouses for their goods, and houses for their
people to dwell in, within which limits they shall rule,
without any impediment, being obedient to me; I
give unto the English Company all the pepper in my
country that they may contract, and pay for it, at the
price currant (sic), And if any other do buy pepper,
and carry it forth by sea; then shall the Company bye
diligence, and take the vessels and goods, and one
half that is taken they shall give unto mee; and the
other half the Company shall have; For every candy
of pepper that the Company buy, they shall pay me
5 Rajas, and for other goods that they embarque, or
disembarque, they shall pay Custome to me 2.5 per

cent. Once every year before they weigh pepper,

they shall visit me with 75 Chequeens; and they shall
take my people to be present at the weighing of
pepper; and for the pepper weighed, they shall pay
custome to my officers; and that pepper that is
weighed they may ship off, whey they please. Any
English vessels that shall be shipwrecked in my
dominions shall be decided, half for me and half for
the Company. They shall give passports to the
Merchants of my dominions and if because of my
dominions and if because of these passports the
Dutch take the vessels, the English shall satisfy for
the boats and goods to the Merchants, and so I do
order this Contract to be made in writing to the
English Company at Quilon this 29th of June 1694.375

a. Anjengo
Foundation stone for the fortress in Anjengo was laid in
October 1696. It took time to complete the fortress. In the
meantime, there were conflicts between the Queen and
the English. Differences with Queen Umayamma Rani were
soon patched. The fort was completed by the beginning of
The fortified Anjengo offered the best security to carry
on trade in spices, especially pepper. It had easy access to
the principality of Peritally, the biggest producer of pepper
Ms. Bombay Letters Received, 1694, India Office Library, London
and National Archives Delhi (Microfilm). Ref. Leena More, op.cit,

in South Kerala. Anjengo was placed under the Bombay

Presidency and was ranked as a very important centre of
trade. Prices fluctuated from Rs. 65 to 95 per candy of
pepper in the early period of the Companys trade in
The Queen who succeeded Umayamma Rani was weak
and so the Pillais who were the local rulers created
problems for her. The local people hated the corrupt
English factors and in the first organised uprising against
the English East India Company in Kerala, the people of
Attingal put to death 150 English men and laid siege to the
Anjengo fort. After the revolt of 1721, Alexander Orme, the
Chief of Anjengo, succeeded in restoring peace with the
Queen of Attingal in 1722 and a new treaty was concluded.
The Company reasserted its exclusive right over the trade
in pepper as was one of the clauses of the treaty
guaranteed by the King of Quilon, the brother of the
Queen. Another treaty between the Queen of Attingal and
the English was concluded on 5 April 1729, by which the
English were bound to pay customs duties of
5 rajas (50 chakrams) for every candy of pepper, from
which she allotted 20 per cent for the Company. The
Queen further agreed to assure the transportation of
pepper to the fort free of all hindrances in the region. By
1726, the Dutch in Attingal began to contact the
merchants and obtained pepper from them creating
difficulties for the English. They sometimes seized the
boats bringing pepper for the English. In 1727, the queen
of Attingal demanded arms and ammunitions from the
English and promised to remove all the obstructions in the
pepper trade. In all the subsequent contracts, the supply
of arms and ammunitions to the Queen against the
delivery of pepper was included as an essential item. The
insurgence of the Pillais often disturbed the trade in
pepper conducted by the Company. Also, the Dutch in

Cochin used to threaten the pepper merchants of Attingal

and instructed them not to supply pepper to the English.
After Marthanda Varma of Travancore took over Attingal
in 1743, a drastic change was brought about as far as
trade in pepper was concerned. He appointed his own
merchants to procure pepper from the cultivators and sell
directly to the English. Nobody else was allowed to supply
pepper to the English. He asserted his right to all the
revenues of Attingal. He instructed the officials of the
Company to contact the specific merchants appointed by
the King for pepper. This was a great innovation in the
trade of pepper which dealt a great blow to the European
merchants. The English became indignant when the King
permitted the French to trade in Retorah in Attingal. The
Company officials indulged in getting pepper smuggled by
merchants. The King insisted on getting more and more
arms and ammunitions against the supply of pepper to the
English. He held the view No warlike stores, no pepper.
In 1749, the King of Travancore entered into a treaty with
the officials at Anjengo for the supply of 500 candies of
pepper at the rate of Rs. 75 per candy. By 1811, the
English trading settlement in Anjengo was nearly wound

b. Edawa
The Queen of Attingal in 1726 granted permission to
the English to build a factory at Edawa with a view to
enhancing her income. The Company accepted it. Yet the
English did not want to improve their relations with the
Queen who did not wield real authority over Attingal on
account of the split among the administrators. They were
more inclined to strengthen their relations with the Raja of

The English in Travancore

Alexander Orme stationed in Anjengo, realising the

weakness of the Queen of Attingal, approached Marthanda
Varma of Travancore. A treaty was concluded on 25 April
1723 according to which the Company was allowed to
erect a fort at Colachel. The Company was also permitted
to build a mint to coin fanams. In return, the Company
agreed to supply arms and ammunitions to the King of
In 1728, Marthanda Varma with the support of the Naik
of Madurai, defeated the defiant Pillais. By 1743, Attingal
kingdom was brought under Travancore and the English at
Anjengo paid their taxes and customary presents to the
King of Travancore thereafter. On 6 July 1758 the English
entered into a contract with the King of Travancore for 1500
candies of pepper at the rate of Rs. 82 per candy and again
in 1759 signed another contract for 2000 candies. But in
1759, Marthanda Varma passed away to the great relief of
the English. He was the architect of the monopoly of
pepper trade in Kerala. However, Marthanda Varmas
objective of taking over the pepper trade as a state
monopoly was short-lived. His policies failed chiefly due to
the economic decline of Europe. Also, better pepper was
available in British Malabar in the north.
Marthanda Varmas successor Rama Varma from the
Kolathiri family was in dire need of money. So the English
Medumpilla Meter against the supply of pepper. But even
by 1761 only 799 candies of pepper were delivered to the
Company. In 1764 a new contract was concluded for 2000
candies of pepper at the rate of Rs. 82 per candy in return
for arms and ammunitions. For every 500 candies of
pepper the Company was to supply 200 stands of arms.
Clandestine sale of pepper to Carnatic and also to the
Danes brought down the supply of pepper during the
period from 1771 to 1773. Pepper trade was affected from

1774 to 1777 with the invasion of Haider Ali. Travancore

was involved in war with Tipu Sultan from 1784 onwards.
Unrest caused by the threat of Tipu disrupted trade in
Travancore till 1792. Yet the Company concluded a
contract with the Raja of Travancore in 1788 for the supply
of 1400 candies of pepper. In 1791, the Raja signed
another contract for the supply of 2000 candies of pepper.
This too remained unfulfilled. The English defeated Tipu in
1792 and brought the northern parts of Malabar under
their sway. In 1794, Major Dow forced the Raja of
Travancore to sign a contract for 4000 candies of pepper.
Since the kingdom was involved in war, it was in financial
crisis and took loans from the English against the supply of
pepper. Murdock Brown, who worked for some time under
the French in Mahe and later shifted to Anjarakandy under
the English, used to buy large quantities of pepper from
the Raja of Travancore though he had loans from the
The King of Travancore accepted the supremacy of the
English in 1795. Col. Macaulay was appointed as the
British Resident in Travancore. Tipu started disturbing
Travancore again in 1796. To add to it, the King was unable
to supply the stipulated volume of pepper to the English
because of the price. The private merchants purchased
pepper at 165 to 175 rupees per candy while the price
offered by the English was much lower. Finally the English
agreed to pay Rs. 145 per candy. The King stated that he
delivered pepper to the English even after buying at the
rate of Rs. 200 per candy from outside. He added that the
other foreign merchants bought pepper at prices ranging
between Rs. 165 and Rs. 180 per candy. So he implored
the English to help him recover from his loss.
The Companys pepper trade in Travancore began to
decline after 1802. The Company, however, made an
agreement in 1803 with the King through Velu Thambi

Dalawa for the supply of 3000 candies of pepper a year for

five years. Gradually, the Company officials in India were
asked to buy pepper from the market rather than looking
for a contract for years. The Company realised that pepper
from the province of British Malabar was better than that
of Travancore. By then, there was a glut in the market in
Europe and so during the period from 1807 to 1808, the
officials at Anjengo were told not to buy pepper from the
region except the quantity to be received from the Raja in
view of the agreement with him since the contract was to
expire only in 1808. Contract with the Raja was not
renewed even though he insisted on it. Anjengo did not
buy pepper any more.
Subsequently, in 1805 another treaty was concluded,
according to which Travancore became subsidiary ally of
the British and hence protection was extended to
Travancore by the English. Velu Tampi Dalava was involved
in the concluding of this treaty. But later, the Dalava
turned against them on account of their high-handed
activities and especially, remission of large amount of
taxes due from the merchant Mathu Tharakan to the
exchequer. Velu Thampi Dalava joined hands with Paliath
Achan of Cochin to fight against the English. He issued the
famous Kundara Proclamation on 11 January 1809 to fight
unitedly against the British. He did not succeed and finally
committed suicide after having been deserted by the Raja.
Paliath Achan was deported to Madras.

The English in Cochin

Through a treaty signed in 1791, the Raja of Cochin
became a vassal of the English and agreed to pay an
annual tribute to the Company. During the Napoleonic war
in which the Dutch fought against the English, the English
force under Major Petrie marched against Cochin from
Calicut and enforced the surrender of the Cochin fort under

Van Spail. This was on 20 October 1795. At the end of the

war in Europe, the Dutch ceded their territories in Kerala
including Cochin to the English. The formal cession took
place by the convention of Paris in 1814. In 1800, Cochin
was placed under the Madras Presidency. By a treaty
concluded on 8 May 1809, Cochin became a subsidiary ally
of the British and accepted a British force for its protection.
Thus, Cochin passed into the political control of the
English. Local Divan, Kunhikrishna Menon was sacked and
Col. Munro was appointed Diwan in 1812. From this time
till 1947, the office of the Diwan was always occupied by
the appointees of the Company, mostly Indians.
The opening of the spice route and the trade through it
made way for the political hegemony of the English over
Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. In other words, spices
available in the geographical segment known currently as
Kerala, and the spice route, attracted the English and
finally led to their domination of the rest of the Indian
subcontinent. Indeed, Malabar, the northern part of Kerala,
which produced better pepper and other spices than the
princely states of Travancore and Cochin, became part of
the prized possessions of the English. The British went on
developing Cochin by the creation of Wellington Island and
other urban structures and institutions meant for the urban
population. Gradually a railway terminal, airstrip and naval
headquarters of the Southern command came up on the
Island. Thus the patronage extended by Portugal at the
dawn of the sixteenth century to Cochin, that was greatly
detrimental to the port of Calicut bears fruit now. The new
spice route opened by Vasco da Gama, the admiral of the
Indian Ocean, paved the way for the growth of Cochin
replacing Muziris of the Roman times, which according to
the classical writers of the time was the prime city of the
region. Cochin emerged as the prime port town for trade in
spices in the whole of India.





he Portuguese who discovered the new spice route

entirely through the sea to India opened up the
Malabar coast for the whole of the European
continent. The challenges posed by the leaders of
Protestant movements in the sixteenth century and the
unification of the Spanish Crown with that of Portugal
coupled with the weakening of the Spanish Armada and
the diminishing hold of the Portuguese in their overseas
possessions prompted many others to challenge the
monopoly wielded by the more enterprising countries who
reached the Indian shores earlier. Following the Dutch and
the English, it was now the turn of the French, the Danes
and the Ostenders to stake a claim to their share in the
lucrative spice trade of the East.

The French attempt to discover the spice route

via the North West
The turn of events following the fall of Constantinople
adversely affected the spice trade for the West Europeans
as well and made France too look for a direct route to Asia.
The search for the source of spices through a new seaway,
instead of bringing them to Asia, took them to the coast of
North America and an entirely new destination which later
came to be known as Canada. Already, explorations by
John Cabot, (Giovanni Caboto or Zuan Chabotto 14501499), a Venetian under Henry VII of England who was
commissioned with the same aim as the French, instead
arrived at a new place in the North American coast in 1497

which he named Newfoundland and also landed on the

island of Cape Breton, although he believed that he had
reached Cathay or northern China. He went down with
his ship in 1498 while on a second voyage to establish
spice trade in the newly discovered lands. Following his
footsteps, the Corte Real brothers, Joo Fernandes and
perhaps John Cabots son Sebastian, explored parts of the
northeastern coast of the continent. They could not find
any trace of the Chinese empire. In view of the negative
results of the explorations, the Europeans began to
suspect that the newly discovered land lay between
Europe and Asia. So, they began to search for a passage
through the new land to Asia. Giovanni Verrazano, a
maritime explorer sent by King Francis I of France to
explore the east coast of North America, chartered the first
continuous voyage along the coast between Florida and
Cape Breton in 1524. A few months later, Estvan Gomez
repeated the feat for Spain. John Rut is believed to have
sailed along the same coast in 1527 for the English. But
none of them succeeded in discovering the route to Asia.
After Verrazano and Gomez, the principal search for a
water route to the Orient was directed further north.
In 1534, Francis I authorised Jacques Cartier to conduct
further explorations. He made three voyages in eight years
and paved the way for colonising the newly discovered
area, namely the Gulf of St. Lawrence by Sieur de
Roberval. The belief that the St. Lawrence might provide a
riverine route to Asia was another result of his
explorations. After seeing the nature of the discovered
lands, Cartier wrote: I think that this is the land which God
gave as his portion to Cain. However, the attempt to
reach the sources of spices through Canada did not bear
any fruit and so instead, they entered the fur trade.
Further attempts at colonising Canada were effectively
made in the seventeenth century.

Early attempts to trade in spices with India via

the Cape of Good Hope
A series of expeditions took place before the French
finally reached the Indian shores. Paulmier de Bonneville,
during the reign of Louis XII sailed in his ship lEspoir from
the port of Havre in 1502 towards the Indian Ocean,
doubling the Cape of Good Hope. A storm took his ship to
Brazil.376 In 1526, some merchants of Rouen in France sent
their ships commanded by a Portuguese mariner named
Estevo Dias Brigas from the port of Dieppe with some
pieces of artillery towards the East which reached Diu in
1527 via the Cape of Good Hope. Jean Ango, a famous ship
owner, fitted out two ships named Sacre and Pense in
1529 with two brothers Raoul and Jean Parementire as a
commercial expedition towards the East Indies from the
port of Dieppe. They visited Sumatra, Malacca, Maldives
and Madagascar and then returned to France.
King Francis I, successor to Louis XII, encouraged his
merchants to take long voyages though he did not want to
challenge the Portuguese who prevented others from
entering into their areas of influence. Pierre Vemperue, a
ship owner of Rouen, maintained a fleet of seventeen ships
which in 1600 were employed in the Indian commerce. A
St. Malo on 18 May 1601 which fitted out two vessels, Le
Henri Weber, La Compagnie Franaise des Indes1604-1875, Paris,
1904, p.53.

400 tons burthen and Le Corbin of 200 tons to

Madagascar. Franois Pyrard de Laval who visited India
travelled in one of these ships. Le Croissant touched the
shores of Maldives, Ceylon, Nicobar and Sumatra Island
before going back to France.
The French East India Company was established in 1604
with the letter patent issued by Henry IV of France to take
advantage of the spice trade. Exclusive trading privileges
for fifteen years were initially granted to the Company.
Trade declined for want of funds when the project was
renewed in 1611. Though attempts were made by some
merchants of Rouen to get the privileges transferred to
them, the King did not yield. He reorganised the Company
on 2 July 1615 and a new name, Compagnie des Maluques,
was given. The Company fitted out two ships namely,
Saint Louis and Saint Michel in 1616 that sailed from Saint
Malo in France to Sumatra and Java. A few other ships
were also sent by the Company to the East Indies.
Cardinal Richelieu who became the finance Minister of
France was fully aware of the importance of French
commerce in the East. Through diplomatic manoeuvrings
in Europe he obtained the Dutch favour of non-interference
in the French trade in the East and West Indies. At the
French Assembly in 1626, Richelieu declared that as in the
neighbouring countries he was going to form big trading
companies and compel the French merchants to
participate in the eastern trade. He also stated that he
would be giving them privileges as in the neighbouring
countries. Richelieu was proclaimed as the Great Master
Chief and Superintendent General of the Navigation and
Commerce of France in October 1626. Gilles de Regimont
from Dieppe travelled to India and the Persian Gulf
between 1630 and 1632. Several voyages were
undertaken to the East by the Society headquartered in
Dieppe during the period from 1633 to 1637. King Louis

XIII, as per suggestion by the Cardinal, signed patented

letters on 15 February 1642 and changed the name of the
Society of Dieppe to Compagniedel Orient. Exclusive
privileges for ten years were granted to the Company by
the King through another letter patent signed on 24 June
The French sailors explored the sea route to India
through the Cape of Good Hope and their vessels
frequently visited coastal India from 1650 to 1660. They
also did not neglect the much shorter land routes to India
through Aleppo, Baghdad, Isfahan, Qandahar and Multan
through which several French travellers like Jean de
Bapitste Tavernier and Capuchin missionaries like Father
Raphael du Mans reached India.
Renewed interest in spice trade was seen in France
when Jean Colbert took office as Finance Minister after the
demise of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661. He believed in
mercantilism and tried to strengthen the nation through
trade. He desired France to be at the forefront of
prosperous countries of Europe by securing for her a right
place in international trade. Colbert decided to have direct
trade relations with India to secure his target of
strengthening the nation economically. A company named
La Royal Compagnie de France aux Indes Orientales
having a capital of one thousand livres was established
with the consent of his master Louis XIV. It was placed
under the general management of a General Chamber
comprising of twenty one directors. The charter of this
company was registered in the parliament on 1 September
1664 and was given exclusive privileges for fifty years to
trade with India.
Franois Caron who was in the service of the Dutch East
India Company and had gained useful experience from
their trade with the East joined the service of Colbert who

received him eagerly. He was appointed as Director

General of French commerce in India. An expedition under
Caron and a Persian named Marcara was organized in 1666
to the East. On reaching Madagascar and finding the
situation bad, Caron decided to establish direct
commercial relations with India. Passing through Cochin,
he reached Surat in 1668 where he met Beber who
obtained a firman (order) from Aurangzeb, the Mughal
ruler. The French established their first factory in Surat on
the strength of this firman. Caron later sent Marcara to
Masulipattam (Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh) where a
factory was set up with the permission of the ruler of
Golconda and Aurangzeb in 1670. Another factory was
established in Tellicherry in 1670. The French captured
Santhome near Mylapore of Chennai in 1672 from the
Sultan of Golconda. When Sher Khan Lodi of nearby
Valikondapuram came to know of it, he contacted the
French and offered a site for them in his territory. After few
fights with the Sultan of Golconda, the French decided to
establish their factory in Pondicherry. Franois Martin built
a factory in Pondicherry in April 1674 on the strength of
the letter from Sher Khan Lodi. They strengthened their
position in Pondicherry and acquired territories from
various local rulers and gradually extended their trade to
other parts of coastal India like Mahe.

Spice trade on the Malabar coast by the French

The French opened a factory at Baliapattam in 1670
followed by another in Tellicherry in the same year. Later,
under Caron, they went inside the walls of Calicut in 1672
in view of an invitation extended to them and a treaty was
concluded with the Zamorin. The factory in Tellicherry was
not at all prosperous. Franois de Flacourt, a junior
merchant along with a clerk was in charge of the French
establishment. The French officials at Tellicherry eventually

fled with bag and baggage when the companys trading

post became a losing venture. The post was fully
abandoned in 1682 after their loss of the lodge in
Tellicherry to the English. Nevertheless, the French
continued to cherish the idea of having a lodge there and
so contacted Kannankutty (Cononutty/Kurungot Nair) and
obtained permission to have a warehouse at Punole on 18
May 1702. The French established a trading post in Calicut
in 1719. But the Dutch who were powerful on the Malabar
coast drove them away from Calicut after two years.
When Lenoir became the Governor of Pondicherry in
1720, he realised the importance of Mahe and understood
that the Company could conduct a profitable trade in
pepper. The French established trade relations with the
local chief Kurungot Nair and opened a factory near Mahe
River in 1721. Gradually, they obtained some areas in
Mahe and settled down there. They collected pepper,
cardamom, ginger, cloves and sandalwood from Mahe.
Pepper was brought from the interior parts to Mahe
through the Mayyazhi River in small boats covering a
distance of about 34 kms. Andre Mollindin, the French chief
at Calicut, successfully signed an agreement with one of
the Nair princes of the Malabar coast, Kadathanad Raja,
known as Valunnor of Badagara, to take possession of
Mahe. Valunnor stated that he would not give pepper of his
country under any pretext to any of the Europeans without
supplying it to the French company first and that too at a
price to be fixed by Mollindin. It was virtually a monopoly
in favour of the French excluding other Europeans like the
English. The French were allowed to fortify the area and
obtained the sole right to purchase pepper from the
kingdom of the Valunnor under the condition that they
paid a tax of thirteen fanams of Calicut per candy of
pepper and twenty six fanams per candy of cardamom to
the Valunnor.

The English at Tellicherry became apprehensive about the

exclusive rights given to the French. But the French did not
invest money to purchase the entire produce, which made the
Valunnor unhappy. Consequently, the French were driven
away from Mahe for some time. Again in December 1721,
Marquis de Pavilion recaptured Mahe from the hands of the
Nairs. The French appreciated the quality of spices from
Malabar and as John Splinter Stavortinus, a French Traveller on
the Malabar coast points out, the pepper of Malabar was
esteemed the best of all that was produced in Asia and was
the most sought after by all nations.377 Valunnor signed a
treaty with the French on 18 December 1722 by which a
stretch of land was allotted for their settlement and also
permitted the French to hoist their flag. He excluded other
Europeans from trading with his country.
The English exploited the discontent of the Valunnor
who ousted the French from Mahe again in 1725 and
welcomed the English as a better alternative to carry on
trade. But the French recaptured Mahe in the same year
due to the planned efforts and skill of Mahe de la
Bourdonnais, a French naval captain. Since the French East
India Company did not have sufficient funds to purchase
pepper from Mahe, the Superior Council at Pondicherry in
1725 decided to invite private capital to buy pepper from
Mahe in the name of the French company in view of the
agreement with the Valunnor. Later the French Company
John Splinter Stavortinus, Voyage to the East Indies 1775-78,
London, 1803, vol.III, p.220.

managed to buy pepper without the financial support of

the private merchants although there was shortage of
pepper and a hike in prices. In 1722 one candy of pepper
cost Rs. 60 while in 1739 it went up to Rs. 90 per candy.
As in Pondicherry, a Governor and a few factors were
employed by the Company in this trading post to look after
the business. They took an active part in the development
of overseas trade of Mahe with other Asian countries, like
the ports in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean
islands besides the trade with France. The Company had
already established factories at Bandar Abbas and
Bassorah in the Persian Gulf region and employed the
Companys agents there. Coromandel textiles had great
demand in the Persian Gulf regions and so the French took
them to their factories there and in return brought copper,
tea, wheat, rosewater, perfumes, silk, alum, dry fruits,
dates, pearls, amber, silver and Persian horses to Mahe.
Part of the consignment was taken to Pondicherry. The
French privateers were also allowed to enter into trade in
this region.
Mahe made good trade relations with Mocha and Jeddah
in the Red Sea region under the French who brought a few
Chandernagore and other South East Asian regions. The
two cities became main receivers of commodities from
Mahe and in return profitable trade in coffee was
conducted by Mocha. Pepper and cinnamon collected from
the interior parts of Mahe were also loaded on the ships
bound for Mocha and Jeddah. It is calculated that about
one million pounds of cinnamon were exported by the
French every year from Mahe to the ports in the Persian
Gulf and Red Sea regions against the import of Arab horses
and coffee and broad cloth from Mocha.
Textiles from Coromandel coast were brought to Mahe
by the French and they collected pepper from there and

sent the ships loaded with these items to Mocha. Besides

the Company, individual merchants too jointly traded with
the ports of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf carrying
commodities through Mahe. They made investments
jointly and divided the profits according to the quantum of
investment. For instance, the ship named Chandernagore
belonging to Dupleix, plied between Pondicherry and
Mocha and Jeddah touching Mahe. It carried pepper from
Mahe along with textiles from the Coromandel region to
Mocha and Jeddah and brought back coffee from there to
Mahe for shipment to France. The French extended
commercial relations to Maldives from where the ships
brought coconuts, cowries, ambergris, marine products,
coir, mats and so on to Mahe. From Mahe, these items
were shipped to Pondicherry and Chandernagore in West
Bengal. Cowries were used in Pondicherry and
Chandernagore as token currency. Coir was utilised for
shipbuilding in the Coromandel regions.
Mascareigne Island became the receiver of goods from
Mahe. The factors posted in Mahe collected cotton fabrics
such as lampasses, coarse blue cloths; painted cloths
called chintzs and lungies from Pondicherry and loaded
them on the ships bound for Mascareigne Island. Fowls,
sheep, rice and other provisions collected from Mahe were
also shipped to the same destination. Silver bars brought
from France were found among the imports to Mahe from
where they were shipped to Pondicherry for minting
fanams for the purchase of commodities from
Mahe developed commercial relations with the island of
Mauritius where the French had a factory. Vessels of 150 to
200 tonnages which undertook regular voyage between
Pondicherry and Mauritius always visited Mahe. Livestock,
grains, wine; plants of chirez trees and seeds of indigo
collected from various centres were exported from Mahe to

this island. Cotton textiles from Coromandel were taken to

Mauritius for the use of slaves in the island. Pepper, cloves,
cinnamon and cardamom were shipped along with spices
brought from South East Asian countries to this island and
from there further to France. Wheat and timber from
Mauritius were brought to Mahe and then taken to
The island of Bourbon also emerged as a main centre to
receive commodities from Mahe. The factors at Mahe
imported cotton fabrics, rice, oil and sugar from
Pondicherry and other centres and shipped them to the
island of Bourbon for sale among the slaves. Livestock,
poultry, seeds and plants like cinnamon were collected
from the interior parts of Mahe and exported to the island
to be sold to the workers in the plantations.
Madagascar was another place with which Mahe was
connected by the French. Being located en route,
Madagascar acted as a halting place for the ships coming
from France to Pondicherry and vice-versa. The French
Company had a factory in Mozambique to which coarse
cotton textiles from Mahe were exported by the Company.
Pepper and cinnamon from Mahe were exported directly
to France. Pepper weighing 1500 to 1600 candies was
annually exported from Mahe to France in the Companys
Spices from Mahe were carried to Portuguese Goa by
the private merchants during the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries. The Mhamays, native family of Goa,
were appointed as official brokers of the French in Goa as
informed by Picot de la Motte, the French commandant in

Mahe till he left for France in 1773.378 They dealt with

French private traders too.379 A French private merchant
establishment in Goa. He was always assisted by the
Mhamays for obtaining the required cargo for Moracin, a
senior official of the French East India Company who had
been in India under the service of the French since 1765.
Moracin who occupied a high position in the French
company amassed great wealth through his private trade
with Goa. When Frederic Breauchaud died, the Mhamays
took up the responsibility of looking after the business
interests of Moracin in Goa. Private merchants in Mahe
The Mhamays were of a Brahmin family from South Goa (Guirdolim
village of Salcete). They sought shelter in Sunda territory to
escape the attempts for conversion made by the Portuguese
during the sixteenth century. The family seems to have moved to
the capital of Goa for business. One of the family members shifted
their residence and business house to Panjim, next to the
Secretariat when the office of the Viceroy was shifted in 1759 to

T.R. de Sousa, Goa-Mahe Trade Links (Late 18th-Early 19th
Centuries) - A New Source Material in K.S. Mathew, ed., Studies in
Maritime Trade, Pondicherry, 1990, p.169.

de Canaple, de Court, Boyer, Barthe, Jooda Silva, Murdoch
Brown and Thomas Dineur kept commercial relations with
Goa through the Mhamays. Brown and Dineur informed the
Mhamays about the difficulty in procuring spices through
the Mapillas on account of the invasion of Tipu Sultan of
Mysore. Jooda Silva despatched 25 candies of pepper in
1789 from Mahe to a French man in Goa and later the
Mhamays were asked to dispose off is available the pepper
in view of the absence of the French man from there. 380
After Murdoch Brown started his farm, consignments of
pepper and cinnamon were sent to the Mhamays in Goa. In
fact, the biggest orders from the Mhamays were for
pepper, wild cinnamon and other items. There were three
to four regular patamaris plying between Mahe and Goa.
Brown obtained workers from among the Christians and
Kanarese workers through the Mhamays for his farm in
Malabar. Thus Mahe maintained active commercial
relations with Goa, especially in connection with spices,
and that too mainly pepper.

Danish trade in spices

The Danish King Christian IV (1588-1648) founded the
first Danish East India Company (Ostindisk Kompagni) in
1614. Denmark started direct trade with India as early as
1616 with the establishment of the Company. Tranquebar,
150 miles south of Madras was acquired by the Company
T.R. de Sousa, op.cit, p.171.

in 1620. In 1650, the first Danish East India Company was

dissolved. The second East India Company was then
founded in 1670 which lasted till 1729. After a couple of
years, the Danish trade was reorganised and the Asiatic
Company founded. Since then, the Asiatic Company
administered the Danish possessions in India from 1732 to
The Asiatic Company was a joint-stock company
controlled by a group of Copenhagen merchants who were
the members of the Board. The Company had its
permanent factory at Canton. The Indian possessions of
the Danes were under the administration of the Company.
Trade with China was conducted through Canton while that
with India was concentrated in Tranquebar and Serampore.
Some of the ships bound for China used to come to
Tranquebar first and then proceed to Canton. Tranquebar
was the capital of Indian possessions administered by the
Company till the Crown took them over in 1777. The
Danish Governor with his 25 European civil officials resided
in Tranquebar. In small stations like Calicut and Colachel,
the Company rarely had more than one European
representative. The Companys factor at Calicut supplied
weapons to Haider Ali of Mysore while the factor at
Colachel delivered the required arms and ammunitions to
the King of Travancore. Sale of weapons to the ruler of
Mysore and of Travancore was only secondary to the
Company while the primary concern was to procure pepper
for its Indian return cargo. The English and the Dutch
treaties with the ruler of Travancore made the
procurement of pepper rather difficult for the Danish
Company. Sometimes, by supplying horses from Acheh to
Travancore, the Dutch Company obtained pepper from

Travancore.381 Even in the face of the English protest, the

King of Travancore sold pepper through his minister to the
Danes threatening that he would buy arms and
ammunitions from Tranquebar. Though modest, the Danish
trade in pepper and munitions continued in Travancore
throughout the 1770s. The council at Tranquebar kept
friendly relations with Rawson Hart Boddam, the English
resident at Tellicherry, which helped the Company procure
pepper from that area. He used to remit his fortunes to
Europe by means of the Danish Companys bills of
exchange and offered cash to the Danish official at Calicut
in return for the bills.
The charter of the Asiatic Company was renewed in
1772. A new charter was issued on 23 July 1772 to the
Royal Danish Asiatic Company. The Companys Indian
monopoly was abolished in 1772 up to the British
occupation of the Danish possessions in 1808; private
merchants competed with the Asiatic Company to trade
with India under the Danish flag. In order to ensure the
equality of these two branches of the trade, the Danish
crown took over the administration of the Asiatic
Companys possessions and factories in India in 1777, and
thereafter the Company and the Danish merchants
competed on formally equal terms with Copenhagen as the
European staple town of this trade. In number of ships
employed and quantity of spices transported, the period

Feldbaeck, Ibid, p.20.

from 1772 to 1808 marks the peak of Danish-Indian

trade.382 The possessions acquired after that were under
the Danish administration without a break, except during
the occupation by the English from 1808 to 1815, until
they were sold to the English East India Company. The
Asiatic Company was dissolved in 1843 and the Danish
possessions in India were sold to the English in 1845.
Spices, especially pepper from the Malabar coast, were
purchased by the Danes just one year after their
acquisition of Tranquebar. It is assumed that in the 1620s
pepper was carried to Tranquebar across the Western
Ghats and Palghat to Tanjore or a place called Peta
identified as Ayyampettai and finally to Tranquebar. Dutch
sources testify that in the years from 1621 to 1624
transportation of pepper from the Malabar coast to
Tranquebar took this direction. The alternate sea route via
Cape Comorin was also used since 1621 to collect pepper
from the Malabar coast.383
When the Company realised that it was difficult to get
sufficient supply of pepper through land route as well as
sea route from the Malabar coast, they shifted to South
Ole Feldbaek, India Trade under the Danish Flag 1772-1808,
Odense (Denmark), 1969, p.10.

Martin Krieger, Pepper, Guns and the Scattered Existence of
Danish Factories in Malabar in K.S. Mathew, ed., Maritime
Malabar and the Europeans, New Delhi, 2003, p.448.

East Asian pepper, which was purchased through Mergui or

Bantam. They purchased cloves from Makassar after 1625.
The interest in spices from the Malabar coast rose again by
the end of the seventeenth century because demand for
pepper grew in Denmark itself during this period. Captain
Kidd openly traded with the chief of Kayamkulam,
regardless of the latters treaties with the Dutch. Moreover,
the Danes were pushed out of their South East Asian
settlement at Bantam in 1682 from where they purchased
pepper initially.
Political change in Malabar helped the Danes to
penetrate the pepper trade after 1739. The Travancore
King, Marthanda Varma, wanted to establish monopoly in
pepper trade much against the vigorous resistance of the
Dutch and for that he made an unique arrangement. The
Government made the merchants its agents to supply
pepper to the state depots run by the commercial
department at fixed prices and obtained their commission.
The agriculturists who produced pepper were given a price
The Government reaped large profits eventually from the
sale. Since the Dutch controlled the movement of pepper
around Cochin, the King of Travancore sent the pepper to
the eastern coast through the passes in the Ghats. The
military attack launched by the Dutch was defeated by the
Travancore forces in 1741 and the pepper market in
Malabar was re-opened to other European competitors
under the auspices of the pepper monopoly of Travancore.
King Rama Varma of Travancore opened a port at Aleppey

in the 1780s and took care of the direct demand in the

Indian Ocean Regions. The Dutch could not do anything to
prevent the flow of pepper from Malabar. 384 Still the Danes
continued to concentrate their commercial activities in a
few places in Malabar
such as Edavai, Calicut and

After the resumption of intercontinental trade between
Tranquebar and Denmark, the demand for pepper as a
commodity for the markets at home rose again. Moreover,
the loss of Bantam and South East Asian market in general
and the increasing demand for pepper raised the Danes
interest in Malabar again. In the 1690s, Danish ships again
headed for Malabar after a long break of around seven
decades. The first voyages were succeeded by the
establishment of a small factory at Edavai near Attingal in
1698. Edavai is known as Oddeway Torre in Danish
documents. Though the trade was limited, the Dutch tried
to get rid of the competition from other trading companies
after 1700. The Danish resident, Hans Bertelsen left Edavai
in 1702 since the establishment did not yield the desired
profit. Some years later, the Danes again took possession
of the factory and finally it was abandoned in 1720.

Calicut (1752-1790)
Ashin Das Gupta, India and the Indian Ocean in the Eighteenth
Century in Ashin Das Gupta & M.N. Pearson, eds, India and the
Indian Ocean 1500 -1800, Delhi, 1987, p.142.

The Secret Council of Tranquebar sent its member Jacob

Christopher Soetman to Calicut for assessing the
conditions to establish a new factory. Based on his report,
the Danes founded a factory at Calicut in 1752. For
decades, the Danes were able to maintain a moderate but
regular trade through this place. The town not only served
as an emporium for trade with the rulers of Travancore and
Mysore, but also as a port for indigenous trade with Surat
and other places in the north.
Danish vessels left Tranquebar either in January or
February and returned from Calicut in April or May,
bringing mainly pepper to Tranquebar. Weapons for the
rulers of Mysore were sent from Travancore to the north
Malabar coast. From 1777, Haider Ali became a regular
customer of the Danes and frequently ordered Danish
weapons and ship equipments. The Danes issued sea
passes to indigenous or private European merchants and
obtained income. Haider Ali launched a military expedition
against Travancore in 1778 which affected the Danish
trade in Calicut. Without having any resources to maintain
it, the factory plunged into a poor condition. Tipu Sultan
captured Calicut in 1791 and even though the English
managed to expel the Mysorean forces after some time,
the Danish trade in Calicut did not flourish. But the Danes
gave up their settlement in Calicut only in 1824.

Colachel (1755-1821)
Though the Danish factory in Edavai was abandoned in
1720, they later started another factory in Colachel near
Edavai. In 1755, Friedrich Car Thomsen, the Resident of
Calicut went for negotiations with the local ruler of
Travancore to Colachel, though without success. In 1755
they founded a factory in Colachel, some 40 kms north of
Cape Comorin, belonging to the kingdom of Travancore.
There was a strong demand for weapons in Colachel in

exchange for pepper. The Raja of Travancore was the most

important partner in this trade. He maintained a strict
monopoly in pepper trade in his kingdom and fixed the
rates. Therefore, the Danes depended on the local ruler to
a high degree and they always tried to gain his goodwill
mainly by handing over gracious donations such as textiles
or liquors to him or to his subordinates. Between 1755 and
1760, at least one ship of the Danish Company reached
Colachel from Tranquebar annually. Later this became less
frequent and irregular. In the 1770s and the beginning of
the 1780s, there were voyages only every two to three
years from Tranquebar to Colachel. This diminished the
supply of weapons to be exchanged for pepper. In 1762,
the Raja of Travancore fought against the Zamorin of
Calicut and demanded Danish weapons, accusing them of
breaking their promise.
The weapons supplied to the Raja by the Danes were of
low quality so the ruler of Travancore demanded weapons
of another origin from the Danes. He sent samples of
English guns to the Danish factory at Colachel regularly
and requested the Scandinavians to supply him with larger
numbers. They never convinced the Raja of the quality of
Danish weapons and hence, in 1783, he organised a testshooting with Danish guns. The barrel of 32 out of 100
guns burst. Additionally, it was found out that the barrels
which were rotten on the upper side had been fixed upside
down to yield better optical impression.
From 1790, the increasing influence of the English East
India Company led to the decay of Danish trade via
Colachel. The British succeeded in limiting the Danish
trade in Colachel by containing their weapon business. The
factory buildings were no more in use after 1800,
especially during the British occupation of Tranquebar and
other Danish settlements in India between 1808 and 1815.
Danes officially still kept their possession at Colachel so as

not to abandon their entire presence in Malabar with the

loss of their factory at Calicut.

Ostend Company
Southern Netherlands undertook East India trade by
establishing the Ostend Company in December 1722.
Many of the captains and a substantial part of the crew
were then British and a common complaint by the Flemish
sailors and officers was that they were treated unjustly vis-vis their colleagues. But after 1722 almost all the
captains were Flemish and complaints of discrimination
diminished substantially. The Ostend Company was
dissolved when the so-called Asiatic Association was
established in Antwerp in 1775.385
Asiatic Association, a trading partnership, was truly an
international organisation. The initiator was the Dutch-born
Willem Bolts, veteran of the English East India Company in
Bengal, who had fallen into disgrace because of his
egregious behaviour, especially after the publication in the
early months of 1772 of his Consideration of Indian
affairs... a pamphlet in the form of a sustained and
copiously documented attack on Clive, his associate and
successor. Bolts now set up a combine with an
unscrupulous Antwerp promoter, the merchant-banker
Count Charles de Proli, son of a former director of the old
John Everaert, Willem Bolts: India Regained and Lost: Indiamen,
Imperial Factories and Country Trade (1775-1785) in K.S.Mathew,
ed., Mariners, Merchants and Oceans: Studies in Maritime History,
Delhi, 1995, pp.363-69.

Ostend Company. He sought to reopen an indirect East

India Trade for the Austrian Netherlands under the imperial
flag. The use of Trieste and Leghorn as home ports meant
a mere cover-up to bypass the Anglo-Austrian agreement
prohibiting the revival of the Ostend Company. Bolts
intended to integrate the Asiatic Association as quickly as
possible under the rivalling European trading companies.
His sound experience in the service of the East India
Company led him to a two-pronged strategy wherein, first
he would try to obtain a firm footing in East Africa, on the
Indian west coast (Malabar) as well as the Nicobar Islands
and secondly, from these points of support, he will
participate in country trade.
Fitted out under the imperial flag, the ship Joseph &
Theresia left the Tuscan port of Leghorn in September
1776. Willem Bolts acted as both captain of the ship as
well as the commander of twenty-five Austrian soldiers on
board. After spending some time in Surat as the guest of
the French, he set sail to the spice producing coast of
Malabar that was his main target. He had with him a huge
cache of arms and ammunitions. Haider Ali of Mysore was
inclined to procure both and so Bolts went to Mysore. The
mission was a success. A part of the Malabar coast was
under Haider Ali at that time. Bolts obtained commercial
concessions for the trade with Malabar coast. He set up a
factory at Mangalore, the home port of Haider Alis navy.
When the ship Joseph & Theresia returned to Leghorn,
strangely, there was no consignment of spices in it.
Dissatisfied with the performance of Bolts, the Antwerp
stock holders took over the East Indian possessions of the
Asiatic Association in August 1781.
Thus, spices in general and pepper from Malabar in
particular, attracted the attention of various European
powers. They organised companies of different types to
accumulate capital from trade in spices. Though the French

established the headquarters of their overseas enterprise

in the Coromandel coast, they had their eyes fixed on the
Malabar coast and opened their first factory in Tellicherry.
But the rivalry of the English made them shift their
interests to Mahe where they obtained territorial
possessions and kept them under their control till 1956 (de
(de jure transfer) when they finally relinquished their hold
on Mahe. The Danes too set up their headquarters in
Tranquebar on the Coromandel coast. But they established
their factories on the Malabar coast to procure pepper and
other spices. The supply of arms and ammunitions both to
the ruler of Travancore and Haider Ali of Mysore helped
them keep the spices trade alive until they sold their
possessions to the English. The Ostenders too started a
joint-stock company to take part in the spice trade with the
Malabar coast. This speaks volumes about the importance
of spices available in Malabar and of the spice route.





s discussed earlier, the Portuguese took the

initiative of opening a spice route connecting the
Malabar coast directly with the ports in the Atlantic
Ocean regions aided by the express sanction of the Popes
who had great influence in the Christian world. The papal
bulls regarding the authorization to discover, conquer and
appropriate the oriental areas were obtained by the
Portuguese with a view to keeping other possible naval
powers at bay. Even against this backdrop, there arose
conflicts when the Spaniards and the Portuguese

proceeded with their activities of discovery. Pope

Alexander VI was approached to settle the problem as an
arbitrator and the treaty of Tordesillas between the
Spaniards and the Portuguese was subsequently concluded
7 June 1494 to avoid future confrontation among the
powers bent on opening a direct spice route to India. It was
signed at Tordesillas, now in the province of Valladolid in
Spain, and authenticated at Setbal, Portugal. The treaty
succeeded in resolving the problem partially by dividing
between them the land discovered newly by the Spaniards
and the Portuguese outside Europe along a meridian 370
leagues west of Cabo Verde, off the west coast of Africa.
This line of demarcation was about halfway between the
Cabo Verde Islands in the hands of the Portuguese and the
islands discovered by Christopher Columbus under Spanish
patronage on his first voyage (claimed for Spain), named
in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia (Cuba and Hispaniola).
The lands to the east of this divide would belong to
Portugal and the lands to the west were assigned to Spain.
The treaty was ratified by Spain (at the time, the Crowns of
Castile and Aragon) on 2 July 1494 and by Portugal on 5
September 1494. The other side of the world was divided a
few decades later based on the Treaty of Zaragoza,
concluded on 22 April 1529, which specified the
antemeridian to the line of demarcation specified in the
Treaty of Tordesillas. The originals of these two treaties are
preserved in the Archivo Generalde Indias in Spain and at
the Arquivo Nacionalda Torredo Tombo in Lisbon, Portugal.
As long as the authority of the Pope remained
unchallenged, there was no disturbance to the overseas
enterprises of the European powers. But subsequent to the
revolution initiated by leaders like Martin Luther of
Germany (1483-1546), Henry VIII of England (1491-1547),
John Calvin (1509-1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531),

papal authority was questioned. Non-Catholic powers

came forward to have a share of the fabulous profit in
spice trade with the Malabar coast. This became more
vigorous ever since Portugal was taken over by
conservative Spain under Philip II in 1580, which did not
permit the non-Catholics of Europe to purchase spices
either from Portugal or Spain. The English and the Dutch
were the first to set up joint stock companies to send their
ships to the East to obtain spices directly from the regions
of production. The Dutch captured a Portuguese ship in the
Straits of Malacca and they considered it their bounden
duty to justify the capture and so, they invited a scholar of
jurisprudence for legal defence. A tract was prepared by
the jurist, which went counter to their interest. This was
followed by a series of theoretical expositions on the part
of the English and the Portuguese. A brief attempt is made
here to derive a birds eye view of the claims for exclusive
right of navigation in the newly opened spice route.

The Portuguese claims

The Portuguese claimed exclusive right for navigating in
the Indian Ocean regions and explained it through several
arguments. In fact, they tried to establish their exclusive
right over the Indian Ocean and the maritime trade in the
Indian Ocean regions by taking practical steps and also
propounding their arguments based on various titles.
The Portuguese determined to maintain a strict
monopoly in the Indian Ocean regions asserted their
exclusive right of passage. The King of Portugal, from the
beginning of the sixteenth century, assumed a
controversial title that compelled any others interested in
navigating the Indian Ocean to take a pass from the
Portuguese. This was extended even to the Indian rulers.
The Portuguese based their claims on various

Papal authority
Right from the commencement of the activities of
expansion and maritime explorations, the Portuguese
prepared themselves for the exclusive claims. As religion
and religious heads held great importance in the late
medieval Europe, they saw to it that with the intervention
of the Pope their contenders were kept away from the
Indian Ocean regions as well as the territories they were
planning to discover and conquer. The Portuguese, intent
on obtaining complete right over the Indian Ocean regions
and proprietary claim over the lands and seas to be
discovered in course of time, equipped themselves with
papal bulls which permitted them to discover, conquer and
appropriate whatever area they liked. Whenever they were
challenged by anyone in connection with their claim, they
referred to the papal authorization and argued for their
special right. Therefore, it will be worth examining the
tenor of papal bulls adduced by the Portuguese in this
The organized plan for the overseas expansion of the
Portuguese was executed by the Military Order of Christ
which received ecclesiastical approval from Pope John XXII

on 15 March 1319.386 The Portuguese Kings, Edward and

Affonso, granted the jurisdiction over the conquered
territories to the Military Order of Christ and its grand
master, Infant Dom Henrique which was confirmed by Pope
Eugene IV through his bull Etsi Suscepti issued on 9
January, 1442. Subsequently, King Affonso V of Portugal
obtained authorization from Pope Nicholas to conquer the
kingdoms, principalities as well as lands occupied by nonChristians anywhere in the world and bring them to
subjection. The Portuguese could appropriate all their
possessions in terms of movable and immovable goods.
They were also permitted to enslave the enemies of Christ
perpetually in the light of the bull Dum Diversas issued by
Pope Nicholas V on 18 June 1452.387
Pope Nicholas V issued a document of great significance
on the basis of which the Portuguese argued for exclusive
The Military Order of Christ which got the papal approval in 1319
was the successor of the Military Order of the Templars
established in Jerusalem in 1119 to fight against the infidels. The
Templars settled themselves in Tomar not far from Santarm in
Portugal since 1159. The same site was later occupied by the
Military Order of Christ in 1356. If the declared aim of the Templars
was to fight against the Muslims, the new Order of Christ was to
play a significant role in the overseas and maritime expansion of
Portugal with their headquarters at Tomar. The members of the
Templars were incorporated into this new order which finally was
secularized in 1789 and continued only as a honorific order. Pope
John XXII through his bull Ad Ea dated March 15, 1319, granted
papal recognition to this new Military Order of Christ. Ref. Levy
Maria Jordo, ed., Bullarium Patronatus Portugalliae Regum in
Ecclesiis Africae, Asiae atque Oceaniae (hereafter Bullarium),
tomo I, Olisipone, 1868, pp.2-6.

right for overseas possessions, especially the Indian Ocean

regions on 8 January 1454. Some historians rightly
interpret the papal bull entitled Romanus Pontifex as the
charter of Portuguese imperialism. The Pope appreciated
the overseas activities of Dom Henrique, uncle of Affonso
V, the King of Portugal since 1419, which promoted to a
large extent the salvation of souls and glory of God, the
Creator. He shared the view of Prince Henry the Navigator,
that the ocean up to India was not crossed by anybody and
that the Pope held Indians who worshipped the name of
Christ in great esteem.
The Pope appreciated the opinion of the prince that the
Portuguese could circumnavigate the African continent and
with the help of the Indians who were reported to be
believers in Christ, they could bring to subjection not only
the Muslims but also all others who did not believe in
Christ and were not affected by the religious tenets of
Muslims. The possibility of preaching the name of Christ to
the non-Christians due to the extraordinary pains taken by
the Portuguese was highly commended by the Pope.
Therefore, he permitted them to invade, conquer and
appropriate territories and kingdoms of all those who were
outside the Christian faith and reduce them to perpetual
slavery. Full power in this regard was granted to Dom
Henrique, Affonso, the King and all his successors. This
was done by the Pope motu proprio within the fullness of
his apostolic power and wisdom as he himself made it
Bullarium, p.21.

clear in this bull. The Pope further approved the

Portuguese monopoly of navigation and trade, and
extended it to India. Others were forbidden to interfere in
any way with the Portuguese monopoly of discovery,
conquest and trade under penalty of excommunication.388
The Portuguese, keen on making known to others the
full purport of the Papal largesse, organised a public
proclamation of the bull in the S Cathedral, Lisbon on 5
October 1455, before a large congregation. Foreign
communities like the French, the English, Castilians,
Galicians and Basques were invited to witness the
ceremony wherein both the Latin original and the
Portuguese translation were made available to the public.
This was a calculated move to make others keep off the
areas of the Portuguese interest.
Pope Calixtus III further buttressed the monopoly over
the Indian Ocean regions claimed by the Portuguese
through his bull Inter caetera issued on 13 March 1455.389
Ibid. pp.31-34

Ibid. pp.36-37.

Confirming the order of Pope Nicholas V, the new Pontiff

conceded to the Order of Christ under Prince Henry, the
spiritual jurisdiction over the areas conquered and to be
conquered by the Portuguese. The Grand Prior of the order
was given the power to nominate the incumbents to all the
benefices, both spiritual and temporal. Thus, the Order of
Christ was given a very extensive jurisdiction overseas. On
the death of Prince Henry in 1460, King Affonso was made
the Grand Master of the Order of Christ through the bull
Dum tuam issued by Pope Pius II on 26 January 1460. 390
Pope Sixtus IV confirmed the bulls of Nicholas V and
Calixtus III on 21 June 1481 through his order popularly
known as Aeterni Regis.391
They saw to it that their neighbouring rulers of Spain
too were kept off from the territories that would be
discovered by them. The Spanish monarchy that became
stronger after the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and
Isabella of Castile in 1469, and especially after the
Ibid. p.39.

Ibid. pp.47-52.

Reconquista and annexation of Granada in 1492, soon

entered the scene of explorations. The maritime activities
of discovery sponsored by the Catholic kings of Spain to
find a safe sea route to India without trespassing on the
Portuguese preserves were conducted by sailing northward
across the Atlantic. No sooner did Columbus under the
Spanish patronage make the landfall in the Caribbean and
named it West Indies a historical blunder than the
then Pope, Spaniard Alexander VI, grant Ferdinand and
Isabella exclusive rights over the islands discovered to the
west of Azores. The Portuguese who had already obtained
from the Popes unbounded rights and laid unprecedented
claims over the newly discovered territories interpreted
this new papal sanction as an infringement on their rights
and so remonstrated. The conflicting claims were finally
defined and settled by the treaty of Tordesillas. The Pope
issued a document called Inter Caetera in 1494 ratifying
the treaty of Tordesillas.
The Portuguese wanted to tighten their authority over
the area between the Cape of Good Hope and the
subcontinent of India by acquiring the prerogative to
nominate Apostolic Commissar. So they approached Pope
Alexander VI who issued the bull cum sicut on 26 March
1500, granting the right to the Portuguese King in view of
the request made through the Cardinal of Lisbon.392
After the return of Joo da Nova from India to Portugal
on 11 September 1502, the Portuguese King took a new
Ibid. p.59.

title namely, Senhor da Navegao, Conquista, e

Commercio da Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, e India (Lord of
navigation, conquest and trade of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia
and India).393
The King of Portugal, Dom Manuel I, known as the
Grocer King of Europe decided to obtain the papal
sanction for the conduct of trade and commerce with the
Muslims and other non-Christians and to exonerate his
predecessor as well as himself from the sins committed by
them in doing it. This was thought to be indispensable for
asserting the absolute monopoly of trade with the Indian
Ocean regions inhabited chiefly by Muslims and Hindus. In
fact, all those who traded with Muslims and other nonChristians without special permission from the Pope
incurred grave sin as well as the penalty of
excommunication. Hence, the Portuguese Kings John II and
Manuel I who established commercial relations with
Muslims and Hindus in their overseas enterprises were
deemed to have committed serious sins and incurred
supplicated before the Pope for remission of sins
committed by him and his predecessors as well as his
Pope Julius II listened to the petition sympathetically
and issued the bull Sedes Apostolica on 4 July 1505,
making arrangements for the remission of sins and the
reparation. Everyone who incurred ecclesiastical censures
Joo de Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, part 2, Lisboa, 1777, p.11.

by conducting unauthorized trade with Muslims and Hindus

was given the permission to choose for himself a confessor
who would recommend the penance to be performed for
such sins. The Pope issued an order of this nature solely in
view of the fact that the Portuguese trade and commerce
with the people of Guinea and India brought salutary effect
to Portugal and the Church at large, and promoted
salvation of souls and the glory of God. He further
absolved all the sins committed by the kings of Portugal. 394
The same Pope issued another bull Deisderas ut nobis on 2
April 1506, permitting Dom Manuel to conduct trade with
Muslims and Hindus since the desire of the King was born
out of his interest for the salvation of souls.395
With the permission given by the Popes, the Portuguese
went on intensifying their overseas activities in the East
and came to clash with the Spaniards who too were
interested in attempts of this sort. Finally, they had to
come to terms regarding the limits of the sphere of their
Ibid. pp.60-61.

Ibid. p.73.

activities and an agreement was reached. Dom Manuel

wanted to buttress this treaty with the approval of the
Pope and therefore he approached Pope Julius II who
through his bull, Ea quae dated 24 January 1506 ratified
it.396 Thus the possible clash and encroachment on the part
of the Spaniards were averted and the sphere of influence
of the Portuguese was kept zealously away from the
The Portuguese rulers were quite keen on seeing that
their accomplishments were brought to the notice of the
Popes and hence took steps to make others understand
that whatever they did in the East was with the sanction of
the Pope. This was calculated to guard their conquests
from the encroachment of others and to confirm their
monopoly. As soon as they conquered Malacca, the most
important emporium of international maritime trade which
connected the East with Venice in the East-West axis of
emporia trade, this was brought to the knowledge of Pope
Leo X. Likewise, when Affonso de Albuquerque after his
conquest of Goa brought the coveted emporium of the
East under the Portuguese, the fact was announced to the
Cardinals in the consistory. Through the bull Significavit
nobis issued on 5 September 1513, the Pope thanked King
Manuel of Portugal.397 Thus Portuguese rulers always tried
to give a religious tint to their activities, with a view to
keeping others away from interfering with their valuable
acquisitions. To enhance this feature of their feats in the
Ibid. p.70.

East, they obtained from Pope Leo X the authority to bring

all the ecclesiastical institutions and benefices in the areas
conquered and to be conquered from the non-Christians
under the vicar of Thomas, the seat of the military Order of
By setting a religious motive to the overseas enterprise,
the Portuguese ran the risk of encroachment by the clerics
on the fiercely guarded monopoly of trade. The clerics who
enjoyed the special privilege of not being judged and
prosecuted by the civil authorities as well as being
exempted from freight charges, entered into trade and
commerce with India as it was highly profitable. This was
considered an infringement on the monopoly of the
Portuguese King and detrimental to the finances of the
kingdom. So the King petitioned the Pope for a favourable
disposal of the case. Since the Pope was aware of the fact
that the Portuguese trade and commerce were beneficial
to the Church at large in more ways than one, he issued an
Ibid. pp.81-82.

Ibid. pp.98-99. Bull Dum Fidei issued by Pope Leo X on 7
January, 1514.

order on 27 April 1521, whereby the chief chaplain of the

king was given the right to punish clerics of minor orders
for offences of this type.399
The Portuguese who were thus protected by the Papal
authority from any infringement of their all-pervading
authority over the Indian Ocean regions were rendered
extremely powerful as to dictate the price of spices in the
international market. They did not have any competitors.
Hence it was notified to the Popes that they were
exploiting the situation and were amassing wealth through
extraordinary profit in the spice trade. Italians as well as
people from the rest of the Christendom made
representations to the Pope to interfere in this matter.
Therefore, Pope Clement VII issued an order to King John III
of Portugal on 9 April 1524 asking him to reduce the profit
he made in spice trading and bring down the sale price.400
The close interaction of this nature between the Papacy
and the Portuguese kingdom emboldened the clerics to
Ibid. pp.122-23.

Ibid. p.137.

derive profit from trade and at the same time cling on to

the clerical privilege of not being under the secular laws.
This brought about great fiscal problems to the Portuguese
crown. So, King Sebastian approached the Pope for
necessary provisions in this regard. Pope Pius IV issued a
bull on 4 October 1563, admonishing the clerics and
permitting the Portuguese crown to judge the clerics
involved in trade and commerce without ecclesiastical
authorization.401 The privilege so far enjoyed by the clerics
was done away with. The Portuguese crown benefited a lot
from this in putting into effect their monopoly and plugging
all the possible loopholes even by bringing the recalcitrant
clerics under the royal orders.
Apart from taking steps to guard the newly discovered
territories and maritime trade in the Indian Ocean regions
from other powers with the assistance of the ecclesiastical
authorities, some important steps of secular nature were
also taken by the Portuguese King as well as the writers
under the orders given by him. After the discovery of the
sea route connecting India with the Atlantic ports and the
establishment of commercial relations by Joo da Nova,
Vasco da Gama, who had been to India for the second
time, devised a system whereby the ships plying in the
Indian Ocean regions were constrained to take a pass
(cartaz) from the Portuguese authorities lest they should
be captured and confiscated by the Portuguese. 402 Though
the payment for the pass was only nominal in the initial
Ibid. pp.206-207

stages, in course of time ships equipped with passes were

bound to visit the stipulated ports under the Portuguese
and pay customs duties for the items carried in the ships.
Assumption of the title as well as the insistence on the
obligation of cartaz, a humiliating one as far as the Indian
merchants, nobles and rulers were concerned, were two
important steps taken by the King in the direction of
asserting his supremacy over the Indian Ocean regions
and to restrict the right of navigation.
A Portuguese historian, Joo de Barros in the first half of
the sixteenth century, justified the Portuguese claim for
monopoly over trade and navigation in the Indian Ocean
regions, in a very graphic manner. His argument is
summarized below for the better understanding of the
position taken by him and other Portuguese writers of this
period. First of all, the assumption of the title Senhor da
Navegao, Conquista, e Commercio da Ethiopia, Arabia,
Persia, e India is explained by him. The King rightly
assumed the title in the wake of the discovery of the sea
route by Vasco da Gama and especially after the return of
Pedro lvares Cabral. In fact, the King took possession of
whatever was discovered and was conceded and granted
to him by the supreme pontiffs. This grant was made
because of the large expenditure incurred by Portugal in
terms of bloodshed, sacrifice of lives of the Portuguese,
dangers encountered as well as for a thousand different
variety of works involved.
Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo 1, Coimbra, 1922, p.298.

Dom Manuel I, the King of Portugal took the title

because the supreme Pontiffs beginning with Pope Eugene
IV and Pope Nicholas V to Pope Sixtus IV granted Portugal
everything from Cape Bojador to the end of the East that
would be discovered by the Portuguese. Entire India,
islands, seas, ports, fisheries and so on were clearly
included in the papal donations. The King ordered Vasco da
Gama and Pedro lvares Cabral to discover three things
which none of the Kings of Europe cared for, nor tried to
discover. As per his instructions, the Portuguese explorers
sponsored by him discovered the navigation of the
unknown seas through which people travelled from
Portugal to India in the East; they took possession of the
route of navigation by navigating in it; and thirdly, they
discovered the lands inhabited by the idolatrous gentiles
and heretical Muslims that were to be conquered and
taken away from those hands who were unlawful holders
since they denied to God the glory due to Him as Creator
and Redeemer. Hence, the King assumed the title over
these lands. He discovered the trade in spices which were
dealt by those infidels. Just as he was the lord of the
route and of the conquest of the land it was only befitting
that he be the lord of the trade of that land. The King
wanted to take possession of these three things which
were very essential in the whole of the Orient.
Barros added that there was no need for any further
justification for these titles assumed by the King other than
the early apostolic grants. These titles based on the papal
grant were again confirmed by the right of usucaption or
prescription, as seen in the course of the history of the
Portuguese in the East. Here, the writer refers to the
undisturbed and pacific possession of the land for a
stipulated period which gave proprietary right by the legal
title called prescription.

As far as navigation was concerned, the power of the

Portuguese fleets in the Indian Ocean regions was so great
that they were the lord of the seas. This made both the
Hindus and the Muslims ask for certificates of safe
conducts called cartaz from the Portuguese officials posted
in India so that they could peacefully and safely send their
ships. If an infidel from places where there were no
Portuguese fortresses or with which the Portuguese had no
friendly relations was found, he could be rightfully
captured as in a just war.
The Portuguese writers of this period recognized the
fact that seas had to be regarded as open to everyone
since there was no other public passage. They held that a
Christian through faith and baptism was brought under the
jurisdiction of Roman Church and thereby he was subject
to Roman law. They further held the view that the common
right of passage in the seas for navigators and the
obligation of respecting the property of those navigating in
the seas were applicable only in Europe and that too only
to Christians. Portugal and other kingdoms directly under
the Pope observed this law not because they were subject
to the imperial law as feudatories, but because these laws
were just and agreeable to reason which was considered
the mother of law.
The Muslims and Hindus were not considered to be
privileged to enjoy the advantages of the laws observed by
the Portuguese since they were outside the law of Christ
which was the only true one to be respected and held in
esteem by everyone under pain of eternal fire. The Hindus
and Muslims were not members of the evangelical
community though they were in potency and on the way
as long as they were alive and were capable of entering
into it. Evidently they lost the common right referred to
above because they did not accept the Christian faith.
Further, even those who received that faith were not

entitled to this right in the oriental regions because, before

the Portuguese entered India and took possession of it,
none of them had acquired any property by way of
inheritance or conquest. So, nobody except the
Portuguese, had any rights in India. This state of affairs
was based on the natural principle and common law
according to Barros.
With regard to the title of conquest, Soffala, Quiloa,
Mombasa, Ormuz, Goa, Malacca and Moluccas with all the
islands were already brought under the jurisdiction of the
Portuguese King before the end of the first half of the
sixteenth century. Besides, the city of Diu and Bassein with
the lands attached to them in the kingdom of Gujarat were
also in the possession of Portugal. All fortresses and
officials for the administration were under the Portuguese
king. Quiloa and Mombasa were given up on account of
sickness and lack of any good results. Islands of Socotra
and Angediv being not essential were also given up.
Moreover, there were other areas, the ports of which were
on friendly relations with the Portuguese and received their
vessels as though Portugal was their ruling power.
The title of trade was also due to the King of Portugal.
This was clear from the fact that several ships carrying
spices and other sorts of commodities used to reach
Portugal from India every year. Commercial relations of
this nature presupposed the agreement of two contracting
parties which entailed peace, friendship and observance or
obedience to the contract. Beyond this general convention,
Portugal had trade with India in three ways. First, trade
was conducted with the conquered areas of the Indian
Ocean regions by establishing commercial relations with
the local people as vassals with their lords whose revenue
for entry and exit belonged to the Crown of Portugal.
Secondly, the Portuguese concluded permanent contracts
with the local kings and rulers regarding the prices of

commodities purchased and sold by them as was done

with the kings of Cannanore, Chale, Cochin, Quilon and
Ceylon. They were the lords of all the spices available in
India. The said contract was only for the supply of spices to
the officials of the Portuguese King stationed in his
factories in India for the annual fleet going over to
Portugal. The commodities other than spices were free to
be purchased by the Portuguese privateers and local
people at any price mutually agreed upon by the seller and
buyer. Thirdly, the Portuguese merchant vessels plied
through all the parts of the Indian Ocean conforming
themselves to the practice of the place and exchanging
commodities with the local people at prices agreed among
The monopoly claimed by the Portuguese in the light of
the papal bulls and other legal presumptions prompted
them to keep the entire Indian Ocean regions under their
control through the introduction of cartazes, the
establishment of well-fortified fortresses in strategic places
and surveillance fleet (cafila). Of all these, the most
important for the Portuguese and most humiliating for the
people of the Indian Ocean regions was the system of
passes (cartazes) which shall be discussed first.
The background against which the passes began to be
insisted upon provides some idea about its working. After
Pedro lvares Cabral met with a serious rebuff from the
Zamorin (the King of Calicut), when the Portuguese in a
Barros, op.cit., pp.11-19.

highhanded fashion demanded exclusive rights to trade

with Calicut, Vasco da Gama reached the Malabar coast in
1502 with a fleet of fifteen well-equipped ships ready to
fight against his rivals in this region. As the rulers of
Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon were, for various reasons,
sympathetic towards the Portuguese, Vasco da Gama
decided to spare the ships belonging to those three
kingdoms from attack. The Portuguese Admiral placed the
demand before the Zamorin that he should expel all the
Muslim merchants, both Indian and foreign, from Calicut
and not a single Muslim should be permitted to have any
relations with any port in his kingdom. There were about
5000 Muslim families residing in Calicut itself at that time.
The Zamorin stated in unequivocal terms that his port and
kingdom would remain open to everyone and thus he
turned a deaf ear to the Portuguese request. So, fierce
naval battles were fought in this region and the
Portuguese, with a view to sparing the vessels of the
above mentioned kingdoms introduced an expedient under
which those ships that were not to be attacked were
required to carry a certificate duly signed by the
Portuguese authorities, namely the royal factor, or the
captain of the fortress. This certificate was called cartaz
and it was for the first time initiated and issued in 1502.
Later, the Portuguese officials were detailed to guard
the coastal regions with a view to preventing other ships
from conducting trade with any part of India and they were
asked to capture and confiscate all the ships that were not
equipped with cartazes.404 Merchants and rulers interested
in sending their commodities to various places like Ormuz,
or coming to the different ports of India were constrained
Ibid., Decada I, part 2, p.21; Decada II, part I, p.181.

to take cartazes from the Portuguese as they found it

necessary, and this became a regular practice.405 The
captain of the respective fortress or the official of the
factory issued the cartazes. Lopo Soares, the Governor of
Portuguese India issued orders in 1518 that there should
be a register in which all the cartazes issued from time to
time could be entered and was to be shown to him
whenever he desired to consult it. The cartazes were to be
made out by the writers of the factory who were entitled to
have a share in the perquisites, but they were to be signed
by the authorities of the factory or fortress.406 At times an

Marino Sanuto, I Diarii di Marino Sanuto, tomo IV, Venice, 1881,
col. 367.

J.H. Cunha Rivara, ed., Arquivo Portuguez Oriental, fsciculo v, part
I, New Delhi, 1992 (reprint), pp.30-31.

amount of five pardaos for each cartaz was charged to the

parties concerned.407
A cartaz thus issued contained the reference to the
circumstance in which it was given. The name and tonnage
of the ship, name and age of its captain, the port of
embarkation as well as disembarkation, and the
approximate date of departure were also indicated in the
cartaz. Mention was made of the arms and ammunitions
carried in the ship and the items that were prohibited to be
transported were also declared. Lastly, the names of the
writers and of the issuing authority were given along with
the date of issue.408
The insistence on the obligation of taking cartazes for
the vessels belonging to rulers and merchants as well as
the strict naval surveillance instituted to implement the
system effectively called for international resistance. On
account of the humiliating treatment meted out, the
Zamorin of Calicut came forward to muster support for a
MSS. Historical Archives of Goa (hereafter HAG) codex no.3027,

Mss. Ibid, codex no. 1043, fl.50.

global confrontation. He was rather upset with the highhandedness of the Portuguese who warned that the
merchants from Mocha, Tennasserim, Pegu, Ceylon, Turkey,
Egypt, Persia, Ethiopia and Gujarat who frequented the
port of Calicut should be kept away from his port. 409 The
flourishing spice trade had brought significant revenues to
the exchequer of the Zamorin, but with the arrival of the
Portuguese things began to take a different turn
altogether. They sacked the city in 1500 and insisted on
the expulsion of all the Muslim merchants from Calicut. 410
Vasco da Gama in 1502/03 demanded that the Zamorin
should not allow any Muslim vessel to anchor off any of his
ports or have any sort of trade relations with them.411 Since
the Zamorin did not accede to the demands of the
Fracansano Montalbodo, Paesi Nouvamente Retrovati & Novo
Modo da Alberto Vesputio Florentino Intitulato, Venice, 1507, p.94;
Ludovico di Varthema, The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in
Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India and
Ethiopia A.D. 1503-08, translated from the original edition of 1510,
London, 1863, p.151; Prospero Peragallo, ed., Carta del Rei D.
Manuel ao Rei Catholico Narrandolhe as Viagens Portuguesas a
India desde 1500 ate 1505 in Centenario do Descobrimento da
America, Lisboa, 1892, p.31.

Thome Lopes, Navegaco as Indias Orientais in Colleo de
Noticias para a Historia e Geografia das Nacoes Ultramarinas que
vivem nos dominios Portugueses ou so vizinhas, tomo II, nos
1&2, Lisboa, 1812, p.187; Joo de Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, part
2, Lisboa, 1977, (reprint) p.49.

Portuguese, they bombarded the city and captured a

number of vessels.412 As a result of the frequent attacks of
the Portuguese and the strict watch kept on the movement
of the vessels in the Indian Ocean, the trade that
flourished for several years in the port of Calicut was
dislocated; the merchants fled to other places. Besides,
the Portuguese established cordial relations with the other
kings like those of Quilon, Cochin and Cannanore where
they constructed their factories and fortresses in due
course of time. This was a great blow to the prestige of the
Zamorin who had till then held sway over all the kings on

Cronica do Descobrimento e Conquista da India Pelos
Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974, p.33.

Report of Giovanni Francisco de Affaitati in Marino Sanuto, I Diarii
di Marino Sanuto 1496-1533, tomo V, Venice, 1881, col.129.

the Malabar coast. So, he wanted to retaliate against the

Portuguese, and as on his own he was not powerful
enough to face them squarely, he sent envoys to Q
ansawh al-Ghawri, Sultan of Cairo, Malik Ayaz, the
governor of Diu, and to the ruler of Gujarat seeking their
help to form a united front against the Portuguese.413
The kingdom of Gujarat too held a pre-eminent position
in trade before the arrival of the Portuguese. Many of the
Gujarati merchants had their settlements in Calicut,
Cannanore and Cochin. The most important of them was
the one at Calicut.414 The Gujaratis who were compared to
the Italian merchants in the matter of trade in spices
extended their trading operations up to Malacca in the
SGaspar Correia, op.cit., tomo I, p.746, Fernao Lopes de
Castanheda, Historia do Descobrimento & Conquista da India
pelos Portugueses, livro ii, Coimbra, 1924,
3rd edition, p.384.


Copia de uma carta de el-rei de Portugal enviada ao Rei de

Castella acerca da Viagem e successo da India in Centenario do
Descobrimento da America, p.29; Duarte Barbosa, The Book of
Duarte Barbosa: An account of the countries bordering on the
Indian Ocean and their inhabitants, New Delhi, 1989 (reprint)
vol.II, pp.86-87.

south.415 They took spices and other commodities to the

African coast too. Now that the Portuguese began to
establish their authority over the passage in the Indian
Ocean and forbade other ships to navigate in this region,
the Gujarati vessels could not go to the ports on the
Malabar coast to take cargo to Gujarat and finally to Mocha
where they reaped great profit from the trade. Muhammad
Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat had appointed Malik Ayyaz as
the Governor of Diu who took up the cause of the Gujarati
merchants. As soon as he got the complaint from the
Zamorin regarding the harassment of the merchants by
the Portuguese, he sent word through the merchants from
Mocha to the Sultan of Cairo offering his cooperation in
evicting the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean.416
The joint forces of the Sultan of Cairo, the Zamorin and
those of Gujarat dealt fatal blow to the Portuguese in the
naval battle waged in 1508 near Chaul. But the retaliation
taken up by Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese Viceroy
to avenge the death of his valiant son Loureno de

Tome Pires, Suma Oriental of Tome Pires, London, 1944, vol.I. p.45.


Gaspar Correia, op.cit., p.746.

Almeida, re-established the Portuguese hold on the Indian

Ocean region. In fact, even the Venetian forces that were
sent under the command of Amir Husayan, the Governor of
Jidda, were put to flight by the Portuguese. Thus, the
resistance shown by the Afro-Asian front against the
Portuguese claims over Indian Ocean and their restriction
of the sea passage did not meet with success. This
enabled the Portuguese to tighten their authority over the
Indian Ocean regions.417
The acquisition of Goa in 1510 and that of Malacca in
1511 provided them with better opportunity to assert their
exclusive claim over the Indian Ocean. These historical
events made the Portuguese writers elaborate the theories
regarding the control of the Portuguese over the maritime
routes. Thus, the claim established by the Portuguese
theoretically and practically continued to be unchallenged
considerably till the fourth quarter of the sixteenth century.
Queen Elizabeth of England declared to the Spanish
Ambassador in 1580 that the Ocean was free to all, for as
much as neither nature nor regard of public use do permit
the exclusive possession thereof.418
The Dutch who were deprived of their right to purchase
spices and other commodities after the assumption of the
authority over Portugal by Filipe II of Spain in 1580 looked
for opportunities to reach the source of spices in the east.

K.S. Mathew, The First Mercantile Battle in the Indian Ocean: The
Afro-Asian Front against the Portuguese (1508-1509) in Luis de
Albuquerque & Inacio Guerreiro (ds.), II Seminario International
de Historia Indo-Portuguesa: Actas, Lisboa, 1985, pp.177ff.

Captain Heemskerck of the Dutch East India Company

captured a large Portuguese galleon in the straits of
Malacca in 1602. Some of the members who were able to
distinguish between trade with East Indies and the capture
of the Portuguese vessels refused to have any share in the
prize and others sold their shares in the company. A few
others decided to justify the capture of the Portuguese
galleon. Hugo Grotius, a young Dutch scholar and lawyer,
was called upon to bring out arguments in support of the
As noted above, the Popes had issued a number of bulls
granting the Portuguese right to the territories already
discovered or to be discovered. The Portuguese writers like
Joo de Barros made much of the papal grants. But, Hugo
Grotius very clearly denied the right of the Portuguese to
the Oriental lands based on the papal grants. Because, the
Pope could not have any temporal authority and even
granted that he could have, he had nothing to do with the
infidels and to expropriate them in so far as they did not
belong to the Church. He refuted the argument that the
Portuguese had right to India on the basis of war and
conquest, except in the case of Goa. The Indians being
unbelievers could not be subjugated by force just because
they were infidels. Nor could they be justified in saying
that they fought the Indians for the sake of spreading the
Christian faith, because the Portuguese were amassing


William Camden, History of Elizabeth, London, 1675, p.255.

wealth even to the neglect of their religious duties. He

Mare igitur proprium omnino alicujus fieri non potest,
quia natura commune hoc esse no permittit, sed
jubet, immo ne litus quidem;....Omnes igitur vident
eum qui alterum navigare prohibeat nullo jure
Hugo Grotius argued in 1604/5 that the Indian Ocean
and the navigation thereof could not be appropriated by
anyone and in support of his views he brought out the
opinions of jurists and philosophers. He vehemently
challenged the claims laid by the Portuguese for the
exclusive possession of the Indian Ocean and the
navigation therein.
Grotius refuted also the theories regarding the exclusive
right claimed by the Portuguese for dominion over the
Indian Ocean since the titles such as papal donation,
occupation and prescription or custom did not hold good in
this regard. In the same way, claim to the monopoly of
trade based on the titles of occupation, papal donation and
prescription had been denied. Thus Grotius argued that the
trade with India as well as the right to navigate in the
Indian Ocean should not be considered a monopoly of the
Portuguese, but on the contrary, open to all.

Therefore the sea can in no way become the private property of

any one, because nature not only allows but enjoins its common
use;..... It is clear, therefore, to every one that he who prevents
another from navigating the sea has no support in law, Donellus
IV, 2.

The English did not want to remain silent spectators.

Mare Liberum of Grotius was written to refute the claims of
the Portuguese as well as those of the Spaniards over the
Indian Ocean and the trade thereof. There was no support
for the English claims to the high seas to the south and
east of England as well as to undefined regions to the
north and west. William Welwood, professor of Civil Law at
the University of Aberdeen, published a book entitled An
Abridgement of all the Sea-Lawes in 1613 defending the
English claim. He dealt with the community and property
of the seas. Two years later, Welwood himself published
another book in Latin entitled De Dominio Maris
Juribusquead Dominium praecipue Spectantibus Assertio
Brevis ac Methodica. Subsequently, John Selden, a famous
layer and scholar, came forward to defend the claims of
the English. He wrote Mare Clausum in 1617 or 1618. This
was aimed at refuting the arguments of Grotius and was
published in 1635. In the note of dedication to King Charles
I, Selden mentioned the rash attempts of the foreign
writers to attribute the more southern and eastern sea
belonging to the King of England to their princes, and to
prove in view of ancient Caesarian laws that all seas were
common to the universality of mankind. Seldons thesis
was two-fold: a) The Sea, by law of nature or nations is
not common to all men, but capable of private dominion or
property as well as the land b) The King of Great Britain is
lord of the sea flowing about, as an inseparable and
perpetual appendant of the British Empire. Grotius did not
accept what was propounded by Welwood and prepared a
reply under the title Defensio Capitis Quinti Maris Liberi
Oppugnati a Gulielmo Welwodo Juris Civilis Professore,
Capite XXVII ejus Libri Scripti AnglicaSermone cui Titulum
Fecit Compendium Legum Maritimarum. It was considered
the commentary of De Jure Praedae. It was published in
1872 in Mullers Mare Clausum, Bijdrage totde

geschiedenis der rivaliteit van Engelanden Nederland in de

Once the work of Grotius was published and began to
be discussed, the Portuguese took up the challenge and
Frei Serafim de Freitas came up with his De Justo Imperio
Lusitanorum Asiatico published at Valladolid in 1625.
Freitas upheld the right of the Portuguese to the East
Indies, especially India, on the basis of the freedom to
propagate the Christian faith in non-Christian areas and
thus evaded the objections proposed by Grotius. He
admitted that the Pope did not have direct jurisdiction over
the infidels in India, but he affirmed the indirect
jurisdiction. The Pope, being the universal pastor, had the
right and duty to send missionaries to the areas of nonbelievers and force the infidels to hear the word of God
preached by the missionaries. He could also insist upon
the infidel ruler not to prevent the preaching of the
missionaries and the conversion of the people even by
waging war against the ruler. Thus the Pope had indirect
jurisdiction on the infidels. Freitas added that the Pope who
had indirect jurisdiction over the infidels and the right to
send the missionaries could delegate the power to any
particular nation of his choice as he did in the case of the
Portuguese and he was empowered to restrict the right of
navigation to these areas only to a certain nation as the
missionaries were to be taken by ship. Moreover, the Pope
also had the power to assign the monopoly of trade to
these people and exclude others since the missionary
activities needed money for their survival. This was the
fundamental argument Freitas had to offer in support of
the validity of papal grants to the Portuguese in regard to
their jurisdiction on the infidels of India, the navigation
thereof and the commerce with India, against the
objections raised by Grotius. He added that the papal
grants regarding these points would not have any validity

if they were prescinded from the missionary activities and

that the King of Portugal could not claim the monopoly if
he did not send missionaries to India.
Similarly, regarding the occupation of Indian Ocean,
which by its nature was not a thing to be occupied, he
seems to have admitted the possibility of quasi-possession
or quasi-occupation by reason of the privileges granted by
a sovereign authority such as Pope for the sake of the
activities of the propagation of faith, since he had
jurisdiction all over the world. Therefore, one could acquire
the right to prevent anyone from causing trouble to the
peaceful navigation of the occupant of the Ocean. The
explanation given for the system of cartazes in the Indian
Ocean also was based on the papal grant, which implied
that nobody else should navigate in the Indian Ocean
regions without the permission of the Portuguese. As the
Arabs from the very beginning of the entry of the
Portuguese in the Indian Ocean tried to oust them and
destroy their properties by inciting the oriental rulers, it
was necessary for the Portuguese to introduce such
measures with a view to curbing their dangerous attempt.
This step was also necessitated by the fact that the
Christians themselves, who lost sight of their communality
of faith and fought against the Portuguese, helped the
Turks and the Egyptians.
Thus all those interested in trading in spices came forward
with their arguments to have an exclusive right of
navigation in the spice route. Some of the arguments,
being based on reasoning, went counter to the interests of
the parties concerned. High seas could not be appropriated
reasonably by anybody. Therefore, there were always
conflicting approaches and finally, force of arms turned out
to be the arbitrator in the spice route for a few centuries.




hen the Portuguese started their commercial

activities in 1500, they soon realised the best
timber suited to build the ships to ply the
Indian Ocean was available in the western coast of India,
especially the Malabar coast. They understood that the
timber used for ships in the Atlantic Ocean would not be
useful for the Indian Ocean where the temperature of
water differs. The sap of the timber in India was capable of
keeping wood-worms away and protect the ships from the
attack of these worms. So they began building ships with
the help of the local carpenters and other workers. The
other West European powers like the English, Dutch, Danes
and the French learned from the experience of the
Portuguese and did accordingly. By throwing light on the
ships built on the Malabar coast, specifically for the spice
route and also the centres of shipbuilding, we can get an
idea about the navigational supremacy of the Portuguese.
The original ships of an Indian armada were typically
car racks or naus (large ships) that grew in size with time.
From modest ships that rarely exceeded 100 tons and
carried 40-60 men, bigger car racks of 200 tn and 300 tn
were used for the India run as the amount of cargo taken
in the vessels went on increasing by leaps and bounds.
Since the Portuguese also faced stiff competition from the
Asian as well as the West European merchants, naval
confrontations became a common feature in the newly
opened spice route. Right from the first decade of the
sixteenth century and especially with the appearance of
the merchant marines of the Dutch and the English
towards the close of the sixteenth and the beginning of the
seventeenth centuries, marine combats turned out to be

an usual affair which resulted in the damage of ships. To

make matters worse, there was great shortage of vessels
and timber suited for building ships in Portugal. The
Portuguese naus for the India runs were not built to last
longer than four to five years. In fact, it was a great
achievement if a ship managed to survive a single India
run. Few ships of any other nation were able to stay at sea
even for a quarter of that time without giving away at the
The Portuguese administrators became convinced that
ships could be built in India itself making use of the timber
suited for navigation in the Indian Ocean regions. Further
they found that carpenters in India excelled in the
selection of appropriate timber. They were familiar with
building of ships for voyages in the high seas. Similarly,
they came across instruments of navigation employed by
the Indian mariners. The Portuguese also came to know
the critical need of setting up installations for careening
the ships in which they travelled from Portugal. It was
against this background that the Portuguese started
setting up installations in India for careening and building
ships. They interacted with the local carpenters who were
experts in shipbuilding and related works.
The tonnage of the ships built by the Portuguese
differed greatly in tune with the unprecedented and
consistent increase in the volume of commodities exported
from India to Portugal. The early vessels, especially those
under the command of Vasco da Gama for his first voyage,
were of minimal tonnage. The four ships in the fleet of
Vasco da Gama that left for India from the River Tejo (Tags)
in 1497 did not exceed a tonnage between 100 and 200 as
reported by the official chronicler of Portuguese India, Joo
de Barros. But very soon, along with the escalation of
cargoes, the number and status of the passengers too
increased. Members of ecclesiastical and civil nobility like

Archbishops, bishops, governors and viceroys started

travelling in the ships along the new spice route. The long
duration of voyage from Portugal to India and vice-versa
necessitated the enhancement of the tonnage as well as
accommodation facilities of the vessels. More amenities
had to be provided in the ship taking into account the
nature and number of passengers. Similarly, on account of
the naval encounters with the competing West Europeans
for a share in the maritime trade of India, the Portuguese
were forced to mount more cannons and other equipment
for naval battles. This too reflected in the volume and
architecture of the vessels belonging to the sixteenth
The Portuguese set up their fortresses and other naval
establishments in places like Cochin, Cannanore, Calicut,
Quilon and Cranganore. On the Malabar coast, Cochin was
an important centre of shipbuilding and repairs for the
Portuguese till 1663. They used more Indian timber
especially teak, angely and so on, according to the
suggestions of local carpenters whose services were
sought by the Portuguese. The masts were made of timber
different from those used for the hull and other external
parts. Timber from the interior was brought via River
Meenachil, Pamba etc., and then through the backwaters
to Cochin. Another route from where timber was brought to
Cochin was the one via Periyar and Chetwai. The
Portuguese officials made use of the local expertise. Local
carpenters were employed in selecting the suitable trees
and felling them in the appropriate season. Iron nails
brought from Biscay in Spain were profusely used on
account of the increase in the tonnage of the ships and
also for strengthening the vessels against attacks from
other contending powers like the English and the Dutch. In
caulking, the Portuguese seems to have followed the
Indian method. Elaborate narrations are found in the

contemporary Portuguese writings of Fernando Oliveira,

Joo Baptista Lavanha, Dutch historian John Huygen van
Linschoten and Ludovico di Varthema, the Italian.
The western coast of India was famous for teakwood,
the best variety of timber for shipbuilding. Moreover, the
southern extremity of the western coast, namely Malabar,
had a vast network of lagoons and small rivers connecting
the hinterland with ports like Cochin, Cranganore, Calicut
and Cannanore. Therefore, from time immemorial, vessels
were built in Beypore near Calicut, and not in Cochin,
which developed as a major port only subsequent to the
flooding of Periyar River in 1341 and the geophysical
changes that took place at the time.
Meanwhile in Europe, since the time the Portuguese
obtained a copy of the map used by Marco Polo, they
worked on it and made substantial progress in marine
cartography and navigation. They developed the most
suitable type of vessels to reach India based on the
experience accumulated through years of maritime
activities initiated by Dom Henry, the Navigator. Not only
the tonnage of ships, but the number of decks also went
on increasing in tune with the cargo taken from India to
Portugal and the unprecedented growth of trade and
movement of personnel. Though, under Dom Manuel I
(1495-1521) and Dom Joo III (1521-1557), some of the
ships had only three decks, on account of the flourishing
trade the number of decks went up to six disregarding the
existing rules concerning the construction of ships. Dom
Sebastio put an end to the lawlessness in the
construction of ships and consequent shipwrecks. He was
constrained to issue an order to limit the tonnage of ships
of the India run (Carreira da India) to 450. But, after the
death of Dom Sebastio, the tonnage of ships began to
exceed the limit set by him. Again in 1621, the Portuguese
King Philip asked the opinion of the board of experts on the

subject of tonnage and the number of decks in a ship. In

other words, the tonnage of the ship and naval
architecture in general were always in the process of
change in Portugal as well as in Portuguese India.
Cochin on the Malabar coast had a royal shipbuilding
complex (Ribeira das Naus) from the first decade of the
sixteenth century. Later, Calicut was chosen, though for a
short period, by the Portuguese as a shipbuilding centre on
account of the availability of timber in the hinterland and
the possibility of getting the material transported easily to
the site of construction through various rivers. The
Portuguese shipwrights and the theoreticians had written a
lot about timber of various types that could be used for the
construction of ships. They had been highly appreciative of
the timber available on the Malabar coast and the vast
network of waterways that helped its transportation to the
important centres of shipbuilding. The specifications
prescribed in Lisbon from time to time were binding on the
shipyards of Portuguese India in general and those on the
Malabar coast in particular.
Just as the Portuguese were the pioneers in using the
maritime route via the Cape of Good Hope to directly
connect the western coast of India with the Iberian ports
on the Atlantic Ocean, they excelled, by and large, over
the other European powers in the specifications of naval

architecture too.420 The writings of the Portuguese were

scientific and systematic, giving even detailed sketches to
scale for the building of ships. They realized the
importance of scientific construction of ships and so
several works dealing with the construction of ships were
written by experts. These are preserved in various archives
in several parts of Europe.421

This is not to forget the fragmentary contribution of the Italian

shipwrights whose narratives are contained in the Fabrica de
Galere, the original of which is lost. But two copies of the same are
available, one in the Bibliotheca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, col.
Mag., cl.xix, 7, Fabrica de Galere - probably of the fifteenth
century - and another in the Australian National Library, Marco
Foscarini collection Cod. 6391, Arte di far galee e navi perhaps
from the sixteenth century). The master shipwrights of Northern
Italy recited aloud the essentials of their projects to their pupils
and assistants while the work progressed. Such verses were in
course of time rendered to writing and collected to form the
earliest written shipbuilding instructions, lyrical in form and based
primarily on word and number. The authorities in Northern Italy
began to regulate state shipbuilding by the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries through decretti / decrees related primarily to
galley building. The shipwrights developed specific building
directions from these documents. The oldest surviving
shipbuilding manuscripts are based on these decrees dating from
the early fifteenth century. Georgio Trombetta provides drawings
of individual ship components showing the deliberate use of
parallel perspective projections, dating from 1441 to 1449.


Some of these writings have been brought out with facsimiles in

the wake of new publications related to the celebrations of the

Different aspects of naval architecture are discussed in

detail by the Portuguese authors of the period. They were
very essential for building durable and steady seaworthy
vessels on the Malabar coast under the Portuguese. Some
of the 16th century writers and contemporary naval
architects like Fernando Oliveira had great experience in
the shipbuilding centres of various parts of the world such
as Spain, France, Italy, England and the land of the Arabs.
Understanding the crucial importance of scientific
construction of ships, Oliveira wrote:
whereas a ship, even though built of good wood
and well strongly fastened, will be useless, unless it
is properly symmetrical. If it is lower than it should
be, the sea will swamp it, if it is too high the wind will
overcome it, if too narrow, it will be unable to carry
sail, if too wide, it will steer badly, if one side is
higher than the other, it will heel over to the great
detriment of those who are in it.422

Timber and its qualities

Teakwood and similar varieties of sturdy trees that grew
in the hinterland of Malabar attracted the Portuguese,
Portuguese discoveries. They are: Fernando Oliveira, O Livro da
Fabrica das Naus, Lisboa, Academia de Marinha, 1991. Manuel
Fernandez, O Livor de Traas de Carpintaria, Lisboa, Academia de
Marinha, 1989, Joo Baptista Lavanha, Livro Primeiro da
Architectura Naval, Lisboa, Academia de Marinha, 1996.


Fernando Oliveira, O Livro da Fabrica das Naus, Lisboa, 1991,


which prompted them to set up shipbuilding centres on the

Malabar coast. All those who wrote about shipbuilding laid
great emphasis on the timber used which was the most
important element in the making of ships in the preindustrial era. Therefore, the Portuguese who started
shipbuilding right in the first decade of the sixteenth
century on the Malabar coast dwelt on the quality of
timber and the various aspects of its use.
Ocean-going vessels of the pre-industrial era were
made chiefly of timber, the importance of which was
recognized by people like Anacharsis, the Scythian. He
visited Athens ca. 590 BCE and is reported to have made
an interesting and relevant statement regarding the crucial
role played by timber planks in the construction of ships.
He stated that the ships side being four fingers thick, the
passengers in the ship was only that far from death
(i.e., four fingers). A Portuguese writer in the seventeenth
century speaking of naval architecture quoted Anacharsis,
the Scythian and wrote that nobody should take lightly the
selection of suitable variety of timber for ships since the
salvation of the sailors depended on the plank of
insignificant thickness set between them and death.423
It is evident that depending on the exposure of the
various parts of the vessel to water, wind and other forces
of nature, different varieties of timber were chosen. The


Joo Bapitsta Lavanha, O Livro Primeiro da Architectura Naval,

Lisboa, 1996, p.140.

entire vessel was not made of one and the same type of
timber.424 Fernando Oliveira speaks of the quality of timber
for ships, comparing the ocean-going vessel with the body
of an animal: The skeleton of the body can be likened to
the frames of ships because it supports, strengthens and
gives shape to the body. The frames of the ship do the
same in the hull. The planking of the ship is compared to
the skin of animals. Therefore, the construction of the hull
of a ship requires strong and hard timber. It has to bear all


B. Arunachalam Timber Traditions in Indian Boat Technology in

K.S. Mathew ed., Shipbuilding and Navigation in the Indian Ocean
Region A.D. 1400-1800, New Delhi, 1997 pp.12-19. He makes
mention of a Tamil palm leaf manuscript in a mutilated form under
the title Navoy Sastram, which could be older to the Kappal
Sastram of Tarangambadi (1620), that goes into the details of
timber quality, namely, its physical defects, colour, appearance of
fresh-cut section of the log and so on. Navoy Sastram forms part
of the Mackenzie collection in the Madras Archives. Arunachalam
further refers to a Muslim Tamil Cala-Vettu Pattu of Nagapattinam
that classifies timber as masculine, feminine and eunuch. Kappal
Sastram, in fact, speaks of various varieties of timber that are
useful for different parts of the vessel. Karimarudu, according to
Arunachalam, was the most commonly used timber for the keel of
a ship. This conclusion is arrived through the extensive field study
conducted by him and also based on the Kulathurayyan kappal
pattu. He identifies several types of timber such
as punnai, aini, benteak, jack tree, teak, kongu, karunelli, vembu
and karimarudu used for various parts of a ship. He brings out the
point that an ocean-going vessel was
built not with one type of timber alone.

the weight of the ship and withstand the forces of the sea
and wind. The planking, on the other hand, must have
softness allowing it to be bent and joined to the frame
according to the curves of the ships side.425 In general,
timber for the construction of ocean-going vessels should
be tough, dry, of bitter and resinous sap. It should be
tough and strong to withstand the impact of sea and wind.
It has to be dry from dampness of the waters before the
ship is conserved in the water. If only the sap of the tree is
resinous, it can get itself rid of water. Bitter sap can keep
off the shipworms. Pliability is required for the timber in
bending and joining as mentioned in the case of planking
The Portuguese writers of the period wrote that teak
(teca) and angely (andira) of the Malabar coast were the
only trees that had all the above-mentioned qualities so as
to say that nature created them exclusively for naval


Oliveira Fernandes, O Livro da Fabrica das Naus, Lisboa, 1991



Lavanha, op.ict, p.141

architecture.427 This clearly shows the appreciation of the

Portuguese for teak and angely from the Malabar coast
and the chief factor that impelled them to start
shipbuilding centres on the Malabar coast.
Though Portugal had other kinds of timber ideally suited
for the small vessels of the period of discoveries, it was
rather difficult to find trees capable of producing timber in
the size required for the vessels of the India run, when the
volume of shipment grew beyond expectation. So,
attempts were made to establish shipyards in various parts
of coastal Malabar where there was large supply of angely
and teak that provided long and sturdy pieces of timber.
Moreover, the nature and the temperature of water in the
Indian Ocean required timber different from that which was
used for ships plying in the colder waters of the Atlantic
and Europe in general. Shipworms were born either inside
the timber or entered into the timber from outside, in the
waters of the hot climate. Therefore, Fernando Oliveira
recommended and approved the selection of timber for
ships according to the climate of the area where they were
to ply. He adds that the ships should be built with the
timber of the land they were to visit. This would mean that
ships plying to and fro in the Indian Ocean regions should
be constructed with the timber available in these regions.
All these further explains the greater interest shown by the
Portuguese to get shipyards established in India and to



obtain timber of angely and teak from the Malabar coast

and other areas of coastal India.
The required number of suitable trees was cut during
the summer from the hilly regions of Malabar, sometimes
under the supervision of the Portuguese officials. They
were dragged to the riverside by elephants so that during
the monsoon season they could be floated on the water
and brought to the respective places for building ships, as
described by one of the Portuguese master carpenters in
the Cochin shipyard, without any freight charge. The
Portuguese did not pay any taxes for timber to anybody.
Joo Anes who was in Cochin for over fifty years since
1502 and was the master carpenter of the Portuguese
shipyard in Cochin wrote about the way in which timber
from the hilly regions in Malabar was brought to Cochin
through river. He wrote that two elephants were kept in the
summer season in areas where trees were cut. With the
help of these elephants, the logs were brought to the
places of shipbuilding without any custom duties to be
paid to anyone.428 This was a common sight in the Kallai
and Chaliyam rivers.
It was reported on 10 November 1518 from Cochin by
Joo Anes that two galeotas and one Galeo were built in


Archivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo hereafter as ANTT (Lisboa),

Corpo Chronologico, part i, mao 87, document 74; ANTT Gavetas,
15, mao 12, Document no.6; A.da Silva Rego, ed., As Gavetas da
Torre do Tombo, vol.iv, Lisboa, 1964, pp.384-85.

Ponnani and two fustas in Paliporto near Cranganore.

These were much better than those built at Calicut.429
A number of rivers flow from the hilly regions of Kerala
to the big lagoons, which again connect these hilly regions
to the port of Cochin. It was through these rivers that the
Portuguese got the required timber to the shipyards from
the interior places as described in the Portuguese reports
of the sixteenth century. A lot of angely timber was
brought to Cochin during the monsoon through the
Cranganore River which touches Chetwai, north of
Cranganore. The land through which the river flows
belonged to the ruler of Udayamperur.
Another river connecting the island of Chembu, which
belonged to the ruler of Vadakankur, went further to the
interior regions. There was another place called Velloor
near this river and a lot of merchants living there dealt in
the timber business. It is through this river that they
brought the required timber to the Cochin shipyard. To the
south of Vaduthala, there was Pallipuram, also belonging to
the King of Vadakankur. Vaikom and Thalayalam too were
in the same kingdom. A lot of timber used to pass through
Thalayalam to Cochin via the river that flowed by
Kudamaloor. This river touching Vechur, Kudavechur and
Kudamaloor originated in the hill ranges from where large
numbers of teak and angely was brought to Cochin.
Ponnani, located north of Cochin, was connected to the
interior places by another river that flowed through its

As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, vol.IV, p.387.

terrain. Cochin received masts for ships and teakwood from

there. There is yet another river north of Ponnani passing by
the lands of kaimals to the hilly regions which belonged to
the Zamorin, the King of Calicut. Timber was also brought to
Cochin through this river. The river joining Cranganore and
flowing through Alengatt and Parur brought a lot of
teakwood and masts of angely to the Cochin shipyard
regularly since the rulers of these regions were friends of
the Portuguese. Angely timber was also brought to Cochin
through Parur in the north. But the best variety of timber
that was brought to Cochin came via the river east of Parur
that also flowed through the land belonging to the ruler of
Anapamparao (Anapamparambu?) used to bring a lot of
timber from the interior places to Cochin. 430 Thus we find
that Cochin was supplied with plenty of the best timber got
from teak and angely suited to shipbuilding, which obtained
great fame in Portugal. The anonymous author of
Lembranas speaks of a large number of vessels available
in India some of which were constructed in Cochin in view of
the availability of good variety of timber. 431
The availability of the finest timber for shipbuilding
encouraged the Portuguese to open a shipbuilding centre
at Calicut in the period after 1513, though it did not
survive long. A lot of teakwood was available in the
hinterland of Calicut, especially in the present Nilambur

Nycolo Gomalves, Livro em que trata das cousas da India e do

Japo, ed. Adelino da Almeida Calado, Coimbra, 1957, pp.43-48.

forest from where through the river it could be brought to

Beypore, renowned for shipbuilding from early times.
The Portuguese took the good varieties of timber like
teak and angely to Lisbon for the construction of ships.
Apart from the timber available in India, the Portuguese
shipwrights had to depend on those available locally in
Portugal to build ships to be sent to Indian waters.
Portuguese experts, writing regarding naval architecture
and selection of good varieties of timber, refer frequently
to the scholarly suggestion given by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
(c. 90 - c. 20 BCE), Roman engineer, scholar and builder
who wrote De Architectura in ten volumes. Wooden
materials were selected taking into account the need of
having hard timber for frames and timber for planking. The
Portuguese carpenters coming over to India were asked to
find out suitable timber as specified in Lisbon for various
parts of the ship. But these were not easily available here
in India.432 They were asked to work on cork and oak
(Pinheiro manso, Quercus suber) for the frames (Hull), and
on stone pine (Pinho manso, Pinus pinea) for planking, in
The carpenters engaged in shipbuilding in Portugal and
Portuguese India were advised by the contemporary naval
architects to give greater attention to the specific quality

Lembranas de cousas da India em 1525 in Rodrigo Jos de Lima

Felner, ed., Subsidios para a Historia da India Portuguesa, Lisboa,
1868, pp.21-31. Here the author gives the number of various
types of vessels, such as galees, gales, galeotas, bargamtyns,
round ships with lateen sails, canoes, and small boats found in
India around 1525. Some of them were built in Cochin.

of the timber used in shipbuilding rather than relying on

the specie of the tree. They were supposed to select strong
wood for frames. For planking, the timber should be
flexible, solid and close-grained below the water, light in
the upper works and long, straight and clean for masts. For
all these it was recommended that the tree should be
healthy and free of knots, which caused the Latins to call it
spotty wood.433 The best results were obtained when the
trees used for shipbuilding were not very young or very
old. The timber of the young ones was not strong and that
of the old trees was generally affected by woodworm and
was liable to rot. The naval architects of the period
recommended to the carpenters engaged in shipbuilding
the use of different types of timber for different parts of
the ship. In other words, a ship in Portuguese India was not
made only of one kind of timber. 434 They attached great
importance to the climatic condition of the area in which a
ship was to ply. Moreover, the qualities suitable for
longevity and type of seawater into which the ship was to

Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.144.


Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.146.

be launched were the prime consideration rather than the

species of timber, since the quality of timber differed from
place to place and from site to site, regardless of the
species. Hence, Portuguese carpenters coming to the
Malabar coast were supposed to take into confidence the
people of the place where the ship was to be built to find
out the best variety of timber suitable for the construction.
The Portuguese shipwrights in India took the assistance of
a number of local carpenters who were very skilled.
Impressed by them, the Portuguese master-carpenter in
Cochin wrote to the King of Portugal about the availability
of good carpenters in places like Cochin, and discouraged
sending carpenters from Portuguese to India.435

A local ritual song of the Malabar coast describes the way in which
a carpenter selected suitable timber from trees of different sorts
for various parts of a vessel like pandi (keel), kal (rib), aniyam
(stern), tattu (floor), kombu (mast), tandu (oar), chukkan (rudder),
namkuram (anchor) and kalli (compartment) built on the Malabar
Ref. K. Chandera, ed. Kannakiyum Chermakkavum,
Kottayam, 1973 (Malayalam) and also K.K.N. Kurup, Indigenous
Navigation and Shipbuilding on the Malabar coast in K.S. Mathew,
ed., Shipbuilding and Navigation in the Indian Ocean Regions A.D.
1400-1800, Delhi, 1997, pp.20-25.


Archivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisboa) Gaveta 15, Mao 12,

Document no.6; Sousa Viterbo, Trabalhos nauticos dos
Portugueses, seculos xvi e xvii, Liboa, 1898, pp.24-37

If the tree is not properly mature and not cut in the

proper season, the desired advantage of the best type of
timber for shipbuilding will not be obtained. Hence, the
Portuguese writers instructed the carpenters and persons
connected with shipbuilding that the trees should be cut
only when they were ripe. However, they added that the
trees should not be very old for fear of woodworms. If they
were not mature, the timber would be soft and get spoiled
quickly. Timber of immature trees caused shrinking and
opening up of joints and created changes in the work as
well. It was further indicated that the time for maturity
differed from tree to tree according to the species and
even within the same species difference is noticed
according to the countries and also the sites where the
tree grew. Maturity is obtained faster in hot climate than in
cold climate. Because of the heat, the trees in India
attained maturity earlier as compared to those in
The Portuguese writers differentiated the seasons in
India and Portugal so that trees were cut only in the
stipulated seasons. Quoting Vitruvius, Fernando Oliveira
said that trees in summer in Europe were like women who
became pregnant and gave birth and raised their offspring,
and then became less strong, for they passed on the great


Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, pp.146-48, Lavanha, op.cit, p.143.

part of their sustenance to the young ones, both in the

womb and outside and in the same way, the trees passed
on their sustenance to the fruits and thus became weak
and constituted the source of new wood as well.437 So, he
suggested that the trees in Portugal should be cut only
during the period of two months, namely one month before
the beginning of winter, ie, by 24 December and one
month after the beginning of winter. During this season,
the sun is quite far away from the trees putting them to
rest and making them recuperate all the energy and
strength spent during the active life in spring and summer.
He added that it is the sun that made trees give birth to
fruit. By autumn, the trees began to take rest after these
activities. Therefore, the best season for cutting trees in
Portugal for shipbuilding, was the one suggested above.
The major part of India, being in the tropical region, has
a longer summer. Oliveira, therefore, advised the persons
concerned with shipbuilding to get the trees cut during the
solstice. He said that angely and teak trees being closer to
the Sun, got a lot of sustenance with its help. So they were
always strong.438 They could be cut when the fruits were

Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.147


Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.149

ripe. Great care was to be taken in cutting the trees meant

for shipbuilding. Hence, the naval architect should employ
more diligence than the civil architect. As suggested by
the contemporary Portuguese writers, the weakness of the
timber used in the construction of a house was of little
consequence compared to that of a planked ship. Realizing
the importance of this, they went further into the details of
the moon. Since the moon is closer to the earth than any
other planet, it feels the impact of the earth faster as the
earth too does. Just as the distance of the sun affects the
trees, that of the moon also affects them. 439 During the
waning phase of the moon, the dampness in the trees may
be greatly reduced. This makes the trees become dry and
so the woodworm does not affect them either. The general
suggestion therefore, was to cut the trees for shipbuilding
during the time when the moon was on the wane within
the period prescribed, taking into account the condition of
the tropics.440


Lavanha, op.cit, pp.145-46


Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.149

The contemporary Portuguese writers suggested that it

was better to leave the trees half-cut for three or four days
to permit the dampness to disappear and drain out.
Further, they insisted that the felled trees should be left
many days in the field or in the shipyard or in the salt
water. If the timber was immediately worked on, it might
shrink while drying, and may open up cracks that are
greatly detrimental to shipbuilding. The dried timber
should again be soaked before work is started on it.441
extraordinary diligence in the preparation of timber for
shipbuilding since even the smallest plank in a ship was of
immense importance and the life of the passengers and
crew was always in danger if the plank was not good.
The different materials to be made ready for building
diverse types of ships, the measurement of the various
parts of the ships, the way in which they had to be joined
together, caulking and other details of maintenance of the
ships are given in detail even with specific design by the
Portuguese writers of the period. The earliest written
prescriptions for building the ships for the India run are
from Fernando Oliveira. Similarly, Joo Baptista Lavanha
and Manuel Fernandes provide the details of the entire
operation of shipbuilding emphasizing the stages from the


Fernando Oliveira, op.cit, p.150.

felling of the trees, seasoning of the timber, design of the

keel, stem, sternpost, master frame, braos, aposturas,
transom and fashion pieces besides the drawing of
All credit for the success of the India nau is solely due
to the fifteenth century innovations in Portuguese
shipbuilding. In fact, the innovative use of iron nails
instead of the wooden pegs to hold planks together, the
mixing of lead in the seams, and a caulking technique that
improved upon traditional oakum with galagala paste - a
mixture of oakum, lime and olive oil that produced a kind
of putty which could be pressed between the planks,
greatly improved the seaworthiness and longevity of the
ship. The hulls of the ships were amply coated in pitch and
pine tar imported in bulk amounts from northern Germany
and gave the India naus their famous and unique dark

Use of nails
Many of the early sixteenth century reports regarding
the vessels used in the Arabian Sea belonging to the
Indians lay stress on the use of coir for joining the planks
of the ships together. Indians used iron nails sparingly
because the ships with iron nails could easily sink when
they came into contact with the magnetic zone found in
the rocks under water. The contemporary writers noted
with great surprise that, unlike the Europeans, the Indians

Joo Baptista Lavanha, op.cit, pp.148-167; Fernando Oliveira,

op.cit, pp.146-211 Manoel Fernandez, op.cit, pp.117-212.

did not use iron nails in the construction of ships. 443

Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna who spent some time in
Calicut during this period gives us a report about the
vessels built in Calicut before the Portuguese opened their
shipbuilding centre there. According to him, vessels of
three hundred to four hundred butts were built in Calicut.
Though carpenters did not apply any oakum between one
plank and another, the planks were so well joined that
water was repelled in the most excellent way. Pitch was
used outside. Cotton sails were used for ships in Calicut. At
the foot of the sails, they used to carry another sail with a
view to catching more wind. Varthema holds the view that
the use of a second sail in India was totally different from
the practice of the Italians who used only one sail. The
anchors used by the people of Calicut were marble pieces
of eight palms length and two palms breadth attached to
two large ropes. He praises the quality and volume of
timber for shipbuilding available in Calicut and points out
that his country did not have as good a variety of timber. It
must be mentioned that these ocean-going vessels were
not very small. To cite an example, we have reports in
Portuguese about a ship owned by two merchants of
Cochin namely, Mammale Marakkar and Cherinina
Marakkar, which was approximately of 600 tonnes and

But it is curious to note that Ludovico di Varthema who spent

some time in Calicut speaks of the way in which native ships were
built with a lot of iron nails.
Ref. Ludovico di Varthema, The
Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna from 1502 to 1508,
London, 1928, pp.62-63.

carried seven elephants and over three hundred men on

board. This naturally was far superior to the Portuguese
ships of those times and was an enormous ship in the
context of the time.444
The Portuguese writings lay stress on the marvelous
victories courted by the Portuguese seamen over Indian
ships and attribute such victories chiefly to the weakness
of Indian ships. With a small number of Portuguese vessels
and mariners, a large number of Indian ships were
destroyed or captured along with the crew. They
specifically mention that since the Indian vessels were not
built with iron nails, it was easy for the Europeans to
overpower the coir-sewn vessels of the Malabar coast.
Such vessels were not able to withstand the impact of
cannon shots fired from the Portuguese ships. 445 The

Joo de Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, Lisbo, 1778, pp.424-32, Gaspar

Correa, Lendas da India, tomo i, part i, Coimbra, 1992, pp.1956202; Ferno Lopes de Castanheda, Histria do Descobrimento e
Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, livro I, Coimbra, 1924,


K.S. Mathew, ed., Shipbuilding and Navigation in the Indian Ocean

Region A.D. 1400-1800, New Delhi, 1997, p.40.

joining of planks by coir and even by wooden nails gave

way on the impact of cannon fired from the Portuguese
The Portuguese naval architects of the time mention
about wooden nails used in France, Holland, Zeeland and
England for building ships. These nails had the advantage
of not getting rusted. But these architects insisted on the
exclusion of wooden nails for the ships plying in the Indian
Ocean regions for a couple of reasons. First, the wooden
nails had to be used more closely than the iron nails and
had to be thicker than the latter. The use of bigger and
larger number of wooden nails in ships weakened the
timber used in shipbuilding. The timber being closely
bored for wooden nails naturally becomes frail.
The vessels that were used in the Indian Ocean regions
had to be in water of a higher temperature than that in
Europe. The temperature of the Indian Ocean is more
conducive to the growth of woodworms than that of the
Atlantic. These worms could easily attack the wooden nails
and the ships would be in danger within a short span of its
lifetime. Hence, wooden nails were not recommended for
ships in the Indian Ocean regions.
Another important factor that prevented the Portuguese
from using wooden nails in the construction of ships in
India and Portugal for the India runs was the size of the
timber used in vessels of higher tonnage. As trade and the
movement of the people between Portugal and India grew
unprecedentedly, the tonnage of ships went up from 150
to 600, 800, 1000 and even 1200. Hence the timber used
in such ships had to be thicker than the one used in the
early days of discovery. The wooden nails, if at all they
were used, also had to be thicker and longer in proportion
to the pieces of timber for construction, necessitating close
boring of a lot of area in the timber, which, in its turn,
weakened the structure of the ship. Therefore wooden

nails could not be used in such vessels if they were to be

durable and strong.446 The other alternative was to use
nails made of copper or iron. Oxidation could not consume
copper nails as quickly as iron nails nor could moisture
corrupt copper nails as it could do with iron nails. Hiero
Syracuse is said to have built a ship by using copper nails.
This was very lasting and well-known. But copper nails
were quite expensive though durability of such vessels
would compensate for the high investment. Therefore the
best solution suggested by the architects for the
construction of ships in India was to use iron nails.447
Iron nails should be well-tempered, strong and wellcast. The best variety of iron nails was imported into
Portugal from Biscay in Spain and from there to India. The
people in Biscay knew how to make well-tempered iron
nails, which would not break during driving and riveting.
The iron nails made in Lisbon were not as good as the ones
available in Biscay. So iron nails that were generally used
in the Indo-Portuguese shipbuilding centres like Cochin

Lavanha, op.cit, pp.145-146; Oliveira, op.cit, p.151.


Lavanha, op.cit, pp.146-47; Oliveira, op.cit, p.192.

were those brought from Biscay via Lisbon. The mastercarpenter in Cochin shipyard used to write directly to the
King of Portugal to ensure that iron nails and iron in sheets
were sent from Portugal to Cochin as they were cheaper
and of better quality than the ones available in India.448
Discussing the reasons why iron nails were brought
from Portugal to India for shipbuilding, a sixteenth century
document presents two points. The quality of iron available
in India was much inferior to the one brought from Europe.
Chaul, Bassein and the kingdom of Vijayanagar used to
provide iron. This iron was the best available in India. Even
that was much inferior to the quality of iron imported from
Portugal. Besides, iron from India while being worked on,
incurred a lot of loss. The people working on iron in India
were also not as skilled and hardworking as the Europeans
and so the quality of Indian iron was inferior. Apart from
the quality of the nails, the price of iron after all its loss
was much lower in Portugal than in India. A quintal of nails
used to cost three cruzados in Portugal while in India it was
6.5-8.2 cruzados (8-10 pardaos).449 Even if one quintal of

Ref. letter of Joo Anes dated 6 January 1533, in Viterbo, op.cit,

pp.412, 419.


One cruzado at that time could be equal to 390 reis while one
pardo fetched 320 reis.

iron was available for 450 reales in India after the wastage
while being worked on, it would cost the same in Portugal.
Iron as such cost 600 reales per quintal in Portugal and
was available in plenty, supplied by the contractors of
Belgium to Lisbon. So it was recommended that the iron
materials for shipbuilding in Portuguese India were to be
imported from Portugal.450 In order that the iron nails
driven into the timber permanently avoid entry of water,
A number of items were used for caulking.451

Tonnage of ships in Portuguese India

The naus of the Portuguese in India, especially those
involved in trade between the Malabar coast and Portugal
underwent a drastic change from the time Vasco da Gama
reached India in 1498. The tonnage of the ships in the first


Calado, op.cit, pp.60-62.


Oliveira, op.cit, p.151.

voyage of Vasco da Gama was between 50 and 150 or

maximum 200.452 The tonnage of a ship of an Indian
merchant captured by Cabral in 1502 near Ponnani
definitely was much higher than the Portuguese caravel
under the admiral of the Indian Ocean, Vasco da Gama, in
his first voyage, because it carried seven elephants and
300 passengers besides victuals and so on. This vessel
owned by the merchants from Cochin had a tonnage of
approximately 600. The ships that plied in the Arabian Sea
with cargo meant for distant places like the Red Sea or
Persian Gulf regions in the West or Malacca in the East
were of great size. In other words, the cargo ships used for
long distance trade were always huge to justify the
expenses involved for distances to be covered and the
risks to be faced.
The Portuguese, as soon as their trade and
transportation of personnel began to pick up, understood
the need of having vessels of significant tonnage.
Therefore, they launched the construction of large ships
(naus) of different ranges of tonnage. The mounting of
heavy artillery for combating the enemies in the Indian
Ocean region also compelled them to have large vessels.
They realized the significance of the resistance put up by
the Zamorin of Calicut and Malik Ayaz of Diu in
collaboration with the Arabs supported by the Venetians in

One ton = 2 pipas or 1.606 cubic meter. Pipa was Portuguese

tridimensional measure Ref. Lavanha, op.cit, p.230. Eugenio
Estanislaus de Barros, Traado e Construo das Naus
Portuguesas dos seculos XVI e XVII, Lisboa, 1933, pp.12-13.

1508 and 1509 at Chaul and Diu respectively. Hence, after

the discovery of the direct sea route via the Cape of Good
Hope and the establishment of commercial relations under
the Portuguese King, Dom Manuel, the tonnage of the
ships in the India run increased. The average tonnage of
these ships under Dom Manuel and Joo III was between
500 and 1000. Fernando Oliveira states that there were
several vessels of tonnage between 800 and 1000, and
these always made for the best and the safest voyages.453
But it seems that the tonnage of the ships of the Carreira
da India was higher and that there were even ships with
seven decks. On account of the great abuse and
shipwrecks caused probably by overloading in violation of
all the existing instructions, King Sebastian of Portugal was
constrained to reduce the tonnage to 450. But after his
death, the tonnage of the ships in Portuguese India rose
higher. This situation prevailed till 1621. A board was set
up in 1622 to go into the details of the tonnage and
opinions were collected from concerned persons.454 Even in

Oliveira, op.cit, p.164.


Constantino Barcellos, Construes de Naus em Lisboa e Goa

Bolletim da Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, 17 serie, 1898-99,
no.1, pp.29ff.

the 1570s, as reported by Fernando Oliveira, there were a

people who argued, probably on account of the large
investment needed for bigger vessels, for ships of lower
tonnage. He very scientifically and convincingly argued for
ships of higher tonnage for long distance voyages to
Portuguese India.
The proposals to have higher tonnage for the vessels of
Portuguese India were defended very logically in the
second half of the sixteenth century. Transportation of
large volume of cargo required vessels of great tonnage.
Vessels of bigger size were not easily liable to sink while
narrow ships were quicker to submerge. This was
demonstrated by an example. If a plank is thrown flat upon
the water, it will remain afloat. If on the contrary, the same
plank is thrown on water on its edge it will immediately go
down in the water until it remains in the same position,
even though the weight of the plank is the same. The
different reactions seen here are on account of the
resistance of the water that it holds beneath itself. When
the ship is wide it has a lot of water under it and the
resistance of the water will keep the vessel floating. A
narrow ship will not have as much water under it for
resisting its submersion as a wide ship. The same fact can
be clarified from another point of vantage. This is in the
context of equipoise or matching the weight, which is not
clearly distinct from the earlier point. The water beneath
the wide plank or ship weighs more than the plank or ship.
A heavier object will keep less heavy object above in case
of a liquid substance. So, the water under big ships will
sustain the ships floating and prevent them from sinking.
Air being lighter than water, the wide-bodied ships
containing large volume of air will be kept floating on the
water. The water beneath the ships draws such beamy
ships upwards and provides them resistance from sinking.

The beamier the ships are, the more air they contain.
Therefore, wide-bodied ships in proper proportion are safer
than narrow-bodied ships of the same proportion.
The long voyages undertaken by the ships of
Portuguese India required large volumes of victuals. If the
ships were small, they would be filled with mariners and
their victuals leaving no space for merchandise. Fernando
Oliveira argues out his case for large vessels against the
proponents of small ships for the India run. He states that
if the tonnage of the ships was less, the expenditure would
exceed the gain. Small ships were less safe than the larger
ones for two reasons. First, more men and armaments
could be accommodated in big vessels and they could be
used against robbers both on sea and in the ports they
visited. Small ships could not accommodate a large
number of artillery and men, and therefore they were less
powerful to fight against robbers. Secondly, the very sight
of larger vessels could terrorize the enemy who would not
dare attack them. Countering the arguments of those who
would say that when larger vessels would be lost, the loss
would be greater, he says that only in very rare cases the
loss of large ships was found whereas the case to the
contrary was much more common. So, he very strongly
upheld the idea that the tonnage of the ships should be
enhanced, and advised the Portuguese to follow the
tradition prevalent during the period of Dom Manuel and
D. Joo III.
Fernando Oliveira buttressed his suggestion of building
ships with higher tonnage by citing the practices of
antiquity. The grain ship of Ptolemy Philopator was able to
carry 400 sailors and 3000 fighting men. Similarly, Hiero,
the King of Sicily, had larger ships of more than 1000 tons.
Hence, even by citing cases from the remote past, he
reinforced his argument that Portuguese India should build
vessels of greater tonnage for long distance voyages. The

opinion given by Fernando Oliveira seems to have

influenced the shipbuilders for Portuguese India greatly.
The Portuguese Admiral, Joo Corte Real who was in the
service of the Portuguese King for sixteen years,
suggested that the ships should have four decks, not
three, so that more cargo and personnel could be
transported. This could help in naval battles while
confronting other ships.455 This opinion was submitted to
the King according to the ideas of the officials of the
shipyard and Admiral Corte Real. The discussion given by
Admiral Corte Real with his opinion regarding the size of
the ships to be built for Portuguese India was submitted to
the King on 1 January 1622. The document is entitled
Discurso que fez sobre as naus da Carreira da India and
is found in mao 347 of the collection Conselho
Ultramarino de Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa. But another
trend began to gain popularity against such massive
structure of ships, which prompted the then King to refer
the matter to a committee of experts. A letter issued on 22
January 1622 resolved that there should be only three
decks for the ships involved in trade in Portuguese India.
Even after giving the order on 22 January 1622, the King
conducted further inquiries and sought opinions from
several individuals and committees regarding the size of
naus. The long discussion is contained in more than forty-


Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa, Consultas resolvidas, Conselho

Ultramarino No.348 Numero de ordem 796. mao.2, Barcellos,
op.cit. pp.24ff.

two printed pages which show the importance given by the

King to the matter.

Centres of shipbuilding on the Malabar coast

Malabar coast, as indicated above, had a number of
centres where ships could be built. The availability of
timber and the water transportation prompted the
Portuguese to start shipbuilding on a firm footing here. But
the political atmosphere too played an important role. That
is why, even though Calicut, especially Beypore, was the
most important centre of shipbuilding for centuries, the
Portuguese shipbuilding activities could not thrive there on
account of the hostile attitude of the Zamorin and his
Muslim lieutenants. But Cochin, which turned out to be a
good natural port after the flood in the Periyar river, was
able to provide the most congenial centre for shipbuilding.
This was further enhanced by the amicable attitude of the
King of Cochin.

On account of geological changes in the confluence of
the river near Cochin in the fourteenth century,
particularly Periyar, Cochin emerged as a port. The seat of
the Perumpadappu Swarupam too was shifted to Cochin.
While it was taking shape as a port town, the Portuguese
who met with a rebuff at the hands of the Zamorin of
Calicut in 1502, took the historic decision of setting up
their commercial establishments in Cochin with the help of
the local king. They set up a warehouse under the care of
a factor and in 1503 a fortress too was built there. This
was later strengthened by masonry in 1505. It became the
seat of the Portuguese viceroy in the same year and the
headquarters of the Portuguese in India from 1505 to
1530. Several installations for trade, commerce, naval
activities and religious functions were set up slowly. One

among them was the shipyard established by the

Portuguese in Cochin.
Dom Manuel, while sending Francisco de Almeida as the
first viceroy to India in 1505, instructed him to start a
shipbuilding centre in Cochin on account of the availability
of timber of good variety and the geographical location of
Cochin and to build oared ships. 456 It is reported that the
mast used in the ship So Gabriel belonging to the first
voyage of Vasco da Gama was dismantled at Cochin in
1506 for building another vessel there.457 Around 1509,
even private persons were involved in building ships in the
vicinity of Vypin since a large supply of timber was
available there. A certain Jorge Barreto, captain of the
Cochin fortress, obtained timber from the King of Cochin to
build ships for himself rather than for the king. Joo Anes,
the master carpenter of the royal shipyard, testified to the
fact that timber was obtained for the personal use of

Raymundo Antonio de Bulho Pato, ed., Cartas de Affonso de

Albuquerque (hereafter Cartas), tomo ii, Liboa, 1898, p.319.


A. da Silva Rego, ed. Documentao para a Historia das Misses

do Padroad Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947, p.141.

Barreto.458 The naval establishments in Cochin were used

for equipping and repairing the necessary number of
vessels that were sent to Goa in 1510 for its conquest by
Affonso de Albuquerque.459 The ship called Santa Catharina
de Monte Sinai of 800 tons (10,800 quintals) was built in
Cochin under the orders given by the then Governor
Affonso de Albuquerque. This ship that needed water for a
ship of 200 tons only was constructed between 1510 and
1512.460 Another ship was built in the Cochin shipyard in

Cartas, tomo II, pp.430 ff.


Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo ii, Coimbra, 1923, p.139.


Gaspar Correa, op.cit p.488: Henriques Lopes de Mendona,

Estudos sobre Navios Portugueses nos seculos XV e XVI in
Centenario do Descobrimento da America: Memorias da
Commisso Portuguesa, Lisboa, 1892, p.10. This ship afterwards
was sent to Portugal for the use of Dona Beatriz, the daughter of
Dom Manuel I.

1512.461 The ship Santa Catharina de Monte Sinai was

sent to Lisbon in 1518 loaded with commodities. 462
By October 1514, three caravels were built in Cochin
and the construction of two galeotas was also undertaken
in the same year. 463 Several vessels like galeos, galees
and very small vessels as nau Santa Cruz and galeota


Cartas, tomo 1, Lisboa,1884, p.68.


Archivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Lisboa, Mss. Nucleo Antigo,

no. 705 fl.13.


Cartas, tomo 1, pp.303, 295.

were built in Cochin in 1527. 464 Nuno da Cunha, the

Governor, left Antnio Saldanha as Captain of Cochin in
1530 and asked him to complete the work of the
shipyard, the building of ships under construction and
preparation of ammunitions and other things needed for
the takeover of Diu. Saldanha is reported to have got six
caravels, 26 large longboats fitted with artillery, and
prepared the mantelets, the scaling ladders, barrows,
petards and two gunboats, each able to fire a basilisk
from the prow. 465 The ship Santa Cruz was taken by Joo
de Sepulveda as the flagship to Lisbon in 1545. 466 There
was a host of people in the various departments of the
shipyard in Cochin towards 1554 such as master of the
shipyard, master of caulking, master of the blacksmiths,
master of cordage and master of cooperage. 467 The
viceroys and governors of Portuguese India took great
care in the development of the Cochin shipyard. Governor

A. da Silva Rego, ed. As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, vol.X, Lisboa,

1974, p.661.


Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, tomo iii, Lisboa, 1967 p.342;

Alexandre Lobato, Antnio de Saldanha: His Times and his
Achievements, Lisbon, 1962, p.91.

Francisco Barreto in 1558 issued an order prohibiting the

transport of timber from Cochin. In 1572, Viceroy Dom
Antonio de Noronha issued another order setting apart
the one per cent duty levied from the port of Cochin for
shipbuilding at Cochin. In 1573 the Viceroy asked the
municipality of Cochin to elect two officials, one for
supervising the construction of ships and another for the
collection of the one per cent duty from the port to help
in the shipbuilding activities. 468 Mathias de Albuquerque,

Elaine Sanceau, ed., Coleco de So Loureno, vol.II Lisboa,

1975, p.4.


Simo Botelho, Tombo do Estado da India in Rodrigo Jos de

Lima Felner, Subsidios para Historia da India Portuguesa, Lisboa,
1868, pp.20-21.


K.S. Mathew and Afzal Ahmed, eds, Emergence of Cochin in the

Pre-Industrial Era: A study of Portuguese Cochin, Pondicherry,
1990, pp.47, 58-59.

the Viceroy in India reported to the King of Portugal that

Cochin was an ideal centre for shipbuilding for Portugal.
King Philip ordered that at least two large vessels be built
in Cochin every year. 469 Even at a later date, Aires de
Saldanha, the Viceroy was asked by the King of Portugal to
encourage the shipbuilding activities in Cochin. 470 Right
from the time when the Portuguese contact had been
established, the King of Cochin often helped the
Portuguese to get necessary timber for the building of
ships. The timber available in Cochin, especially teakwood,
was reported to be far superior to that available in Bassein.
For this reason shipbuilding activities continued to
progress well in Cochin under the Portuguese.


K.S. Mathew, Cochin and the Portuguese Trade with India during
the 16th century Indica, March 1989, p.80.


Historical Archives of Goa, Mss. Livros das Mones, no.7 (16001603) fols.113-115.

The master carpenter in the shipyard at Cochin was

Joo Anes, who worked there from 1519 to 1557. However,
he was on the Malabar coast from the time of Affonso de
Albuquerque and Lopo Soares. The latter appointed him as
the master carpenter in 1519.471

Calicut and Cannanore

Calicut had been known as a great centre of
shipbuilding and navigation for centuries. The Portuguese
established a factory at Calicut in 1500. It had a short life.
So, no attempt was made to start shipbuilding at Calicut in
the first decade of the sixteenth century. But, as soon as
the fortress was established in Calicut in view of the
agreement of peace and friendship signed on
24 December 1513, Affonso de Albuquerque issued orders
to build a galley there in 1514.472 The King of Calicut
himself suggested to Affonso de Albuquerque that on
account of the abundant supply of all varieties of timber at
a cheaper rate in Chaliyam, the Portuguese could start
building ships there.473


Ref. Trelado de huu Alvara do capitam moor Diogo Lopes de

Sequeira. Per este ey por bem que Joanne Anes, metre dos
caprinteiros da ribeira de Cochym, aja de mamtymento em cada
huu mees outro tanto como ha joo Luys, comdestabre dos
bombardeiros, que he o que ele mesmo soya daver em tempo da
dalbquerque que Deus aja, e em tempo de Lopo Soarez segumdo
tynha per seus alvaraes, que lheu eu ora confirmey. E per este
mando ao feytor desta feytoria de Cochim que lhe pague como
aquy faaz memam sem nenhua duvida nem embargo que lhe
seja posto. Feito em Cochin aos xiiij de Junho de 1519.

The Portuguese adopted measures to take advantage of

the facilities at Calicut, especially the availability of the
best variety of timber. Affonso de Albuquerque, in
September 1515, ordered two ships to be built at the
Portuguese shipyard of Calicut at the cost of Chettis,
merchants of Calicut, under the supervision of Duarte
Barbosa who was appointed as factor to deal with the
construction of these ships.474 In the same year, Duarte
Barbosa who was in charge of shipbuilding at Calicut got
constructed two galleys for the Muslim merchants of

Cartas tomo I, p.295.


Cartas tomo I, p.253, letter written by Affonso de Albuquerque at

Cannanore on
24 December 1513.


Cartas tomo I, p.375.

Mocha. This was done when Francisco Nogueira was the

captain of the fortress and Gonallo Mendez functioned as
the factor at Calicut. Affonso de Albuquerque, the then
Portuguese Governor, sanctioned the payment of a certain
amount of money to Barbosa.475
Thus, since 1514, the Portuguese installations at Calicut
built ships both for themselves as well as for others under
their supervision. We find that galleys were the ones
constructed here. This must be on account of the
availability of better timber in abundance at lower rates.
Timber for shipbuilding at Chaliyam near Calicut was
comparatively cheap. Another ship was made ready in the
shipyard at Calicut by October of the same year. 476 The
Portuguese could not go ahead with shipbuilding in Calicut
for long. By 1525, their fortress was demolished. Hence,
the Portuguese continued building ships chiefly in Cochin
and occasionally in Cannanore. A caravel was made ready


Raymundo Antnio de Bulho Pato, ed., Cartas de Affonso de

Albuquerque, tomo ii, Lisboa, 1898, p.137.


Cartas, tomo I, p.303.

there in 1514.477 Though a new fortress was established at

Chaliyam in 1531, we have no details of shipbuilding there.
The short discussion on shipbuilding under the Portuguese
brings home the following points related to the building of
ships: a) the temperature of the water in the Indian Ocean
demands special type of timber to avoid woodworms. b)
the size of the ships and the tonnage are determined by
the environment, quantity of arms and ammunitions,
increased cargo and personnel. c) use of iron nails to make
the ship strong and durable. d) technology is influenced by





he attempt to discover a new spice route entirely

through sea by the Portuguese was an enterprise
directly under the royal patronage. Unlike in the
case of the East India Companies, the government directed
navigation by the Portuguese in this new spice route.
Therefore, the entire crew and the merchants in every
voyage, with the exception of the representatives of the
merchant financiers permitted by the government to take
part in the overseas enterprise under the Portuguese flag,

Cartas, tomo I, p.303.

were directly responsible to the King. The King, in his turn,

gave a missionary dimension to the overseas enterprise
right from the very beginning. Therefore, we come across
missionaries and those appointed for the spiritual care on
board the ships bound to India and back. Religious
activities and preponderance of spiritual well-being
occupied an important place in the life on board the
Portuguese ships. Though the other merchant companies
of the English, the Dutch and the Danes did not share the
Catholic faith of the Portuguese, the dynamics of the life
on board the Portuguese vessels reflected the common
trend and so we can apply mutatis mutandis to that of the
other West European Companies as well. Availability of
reliable and extensive data in Portuguese manuscripts
throws light on the life aboard the Portuguese ships that
16 and early 17 CE.
The passengers and crew of the Portuguese vessels
constituted a microcosm of people who had their own
hierarchy of authority and values. They had to be
accommodated for several months on board the ship.
Because of the change in climate and hardships endured
during the journey, the passengers contracted diseases
peculiar to the tropics besides other common diseases.
The mental, religious and physical aspects of their life
should be taken into account to get a clear picture of their
many months on the sea. Some entertainment had to be
provided besides religious celebrations to keep the
passengers under control and to keep them spiritual
throughout the voyage, taking into account the religious
obligation of the country.
A reader going through the reports of the voyage of
Vasco da Gama in 1497-98 will be taken aback by the
insurgence put up by the crew of the fleet commanded by
him. More surprising is the strong determination evinced

by the Portuguese admiral and the power wielded in

quelling the rebellion. Similarly, a study on the religious
expressions of the crew while facing a tempest at sea and
the psychological tensions they underwent reveals many
facts on how this long and arduous voyage was endured.

Social composition and hierarchy on board

The social composition and the interpersonal relation
among those who manned the Portuguese vessels
constitute an interesting field of study. Usually a fleet
leaving Portugal for India had on an average five to six
vessels. The exploratory fleet commanded by Vasco da
Gama in 1497 consisted of only four vessels. But the
second one under the same adventurer sent to Calicut to
take revenge upon the Zamorin and his allies in 1502 had
ten big ships and five caravels. Similarly, the fleet under
the command of Francisco de Almeida, the first Viceroy to
India had 21 vessels. A fleet was always under a captainin-chief who was, by and large, drawn from the ranks of
nobility during the sixteenth century. Vasco da Gama,
according to the contemporary historian Gaspar Correa,
was from a family of nobles. Appointment as captain-inchief was usually awarded to a person taking into account
the services rendered by him in any field whatsoever
without any reference to navigation. The captains in
charge of the respective vessels were under the captain-inchief of the fleet. The post of captain too was, on the
whole, reserved to persons of noble birth and was offered
to them in view of the services rendered by them in
whatever field they were. This leads us to the conclusion
that the captains or captain-in-chief were not persons
experienced in navigation. So presumably, Vasco da Gama
actually did not have the required experience in
navigation. Only when Paulo da Gama, the older brother of
Vasco da Gama excused himself from being the captain-in-

chief on account of some previous wound, was the post

conferred on him.
The captain-in-chief had a lot of authority with regard to
discipline in the fleet or vessel and a great deal of
autonomy in relation with the passengers and the crew of
the vessels. A captain of a ship had the supreme authority
over the vessel and all those who were in it. Even the
person of highest nobility who might be travelling in the
ship had the obligation of obeying the commands of the
captain. However, when a decision of great importance
had to be taken, the captain was expected to call for a
meeting of all the officials, noblemen and the merchants
who were asked to sign the resolution taken in the
meeting. The captain had to abide by the decision taken in
such meetings. He did not have the jurisdiction to
condemn any criminals to death. But he was permitted to
inflict corporal punishments on board. He had the power to
punish a person for civil offences and impose penalty up to
200 cruzados without any appeal. In addition, the captain
was also allowed to keep an arrested person in chains
around his feet throughout the voyage and on arrival at
the destination, hand him over to the judge.478

Viagem de Francisco Pyrard de Laval, Contendo a Noticia de sua

navegao as Indias Orientais, Ilhas de Maldiva, Maldiva, Maluco e
ao Brasil, e os differentes casos que lhe aconteceram na mesma
viagem nos dez anos que andou nestes paises (1601-1611) com a
descri o exacta dos costumes, leis, usos, policia e governo: do
Trato e Comercio que neles ha:dos Animais Arvores frutas doutras
singularidades que ali se encontram, Porto 1944, vol.2, pp.142-43.

The actual navigation was in the hands of the pilot,

second pilot (sotapilote) and the rest of the subservient
crew. Thus, Pero dAlanquer, the pilot of the ship
commanded by Vasco da Gama was an experienced
person who was in the fleet of Bertholameu Dias that
discovered the Cape of Good Hope. 479 The pilot was the
one who was sometimes seen on top of the stern poop
(popa) with one of the three magnetic needles (bussalas)
found in every ship. A mariner who would transmit down
the messages given by the pilot often accompanied him.
He also had the obligation of writing the logbook, 480 and
was second only to the captain. Bound always to watch the
compass and magnetic needles, he was assisted by the
second pilot (sotapilote). The pilot had his cabin above, in
the rear part of the ship on the right side with two or three
rooms. He would be always found in the same cabin
without moving to the hatchways or any other area of
vessels. He commanded the master of the ship to do the

Barros, op.cit, p.279, Castanheda, op.cit, p.9.


Francois Pyrard de Lavl, op.cit, vol.2, p.143.

needful. The master under the instructions given by the

pilot arranged the position of the sails.481
Master of the ship (mestre) was next to the pilot. He
was directly in charge of all the mariners (marinheiros),
cabin boys (grumete) and others in service of the ship. The
master had the responsibility to look after the
management of the ship from the stern poop to the great
mast and to strike sails and all other necessary services.
He had his cabin just behind that of the pilot on the left
side of the vessel with the same number of rooms and
space as the pilot. He commanded from there with the use
of a silver whistle. He looked after the main mast and its
sails. Further, he was in charge of the entire vessel and its
belongings. He took care of the making and repairing of
the sails with the assistance of the sailors. Similarly, any
repair to be done in the vessel was executed under his
care. According to the need, the cannon was taken out and
put back in its place under the instructions given by the
master. Whenever he wanted any cloth for sail, nails, ropes
or anything needed for the ship, he could obtain them from
the factor of the ship or purser. He was expected to sign on
a note after getting the required items.482
The boatswain or foreman (contramestre) was
appointed to help the master of the ship. He was expected
to be in charge of the area of the ship from the stem (proa)
to the mizzen mast (maestro de mezena) inclusively. He

John Huyghen van Linschoten, The Voyage of John Huyghen van

Linschoten to the East Indies, London, 1875 (AES reprint, New
Delhi), vol.II, p.231.

did in this section all what was done by the master in the
poop though he could not issue any orders. He controlled
the work of other seamen and was in charge of the ships
rigging, boats and anchors. The foreman had the charge of
the cargo in the ship, as well as loading and unloading the
consignment on reaching the destination. He had his cabin
in the forecastle and had command over the fouke mast
and the fore-sails. He too had a silver whistle like the
master and took care of all things belonging to the fouke
mast. He had to look after the anchors when they were
found to be fastened.483 He was not expected to leave the
poop. The King appointed all these personnel.
There was a writer for every Portuguese vessel who was
to be accountable to the king. Everything of importance for
the King as well as the individuals in the ship had to be
brought to the notice of the writer and be registered by
him. All the orders and duties of the people travelling in
the ship were to be approved by him as they had some
value unlike those of the French. He was bound to keep all

Ibid, p.231.



the records related to justice in a separate office. When

somebody from among those in the vessel passed away,
he was supposed to make an inventory of all his
belongings in the ship and to dispose of them through
auction to the highest bidder and also give that money on
interest. On reaching the destination, a copy of the
inventory had to be given to the relatives of the deceased.
They were expected to defray the expenses incurred, if
any. The writer played an important role in the vessel.
Nothing could take place without his nod and counsel. All
the victuals in the ship, even a pint of water, were
distributed only with his knowledge. He even had the
custody of the keys to the hatchways of the ship, so much
so that even when the captain wanted to go down to the
cellar or stowage, the writer was expected to accompany
The guardians or quartermaster of the ship had his
cabin close to the great mast outward on the left hand
side. The place on the right was used to dress meat for
cooking. He too had a silver whistle and had command
over all the cabin boys (grumetes), including those who
swabbed the deck with the use of pumps. He was
accommodated along with the cabin boys during the day
and late night in the space between the great mast and
the mizzen mast whether it rained or not. They used
leather clothing made of the hide of bull or cow to cover

Pyrard de Laval, op.cit, p.144.

The cabin boys were under the command of the master

on board the ship. If they did not come promptly at the
second whistle to do the work commanded by him, they
were beaten with big sticks. They were the lowest in rank
among the people on board and inferior to the mariners.
They did not climb the masts nor did they go to the deck of
the ship. Neither did they know how to handle the rudder
of the ship.485 The cabin boys did all the hard physical
labour like cleaning the ship and any other work on board
and helped the mariners as servants or assistants and
were reprimanded or even beaten up by the latter. They
were bound to do work of all sorts on board and outside.
The mariners in a ship were highly respected. By and
large every one of them knew to read and write because
this was necessary for the art of navigation. The word
mariner was used to signify persons knowing very well
everything related to navigation. The control of the ship
depended entirely on them, according to different degrees
of their knowledge. In big and sturdy vessels, each mariner
was given one or two cabin boys or helpers. They saw to
the spreading and striking of the sails, handling cordage
and similar other activities. But they never cleaned the
vessel nor arranged guns except in situations of urgent
They were separated into three sections during the
night - one under the pilot, another under the master of
the ship, and the third under the boatswain. The cabin

Pyrard de Laval, op.cit, p.141.

boys with them were also divided in the same way. Each
group had to keep awake for four hours at night. Every one
had to be at the rudder of the ship for two hours. There
were three compasses or magnetic needles in big vessels,
one for the pilot on the top of the poop, another on the
deck with the mariner to hear the voices of the pilots
because those who went to the rudder below could not
hear him and the third for the mariner in the middle which
repeated the voice of the pilot. There were two chief
mariners who were called trinqueiros who took care of
cordage and arrangement as well as the repair of sails.
There were four boy servants or pages who did not do any
work other than call people for respective works and
shouted from the foot of the main mast with all their
strength. They called the people on board for specific
duties assigned to them, and conveyed the message from
the master and other officials. The page boys also
collected the belongings of those who died on board.
There was a bailiff (meirinho) or alcaide who executed
the orders of the captain as far as administration of justice
was concerned. The prisons were situated near the pump
and the culprits were put here usually with chains around
their feet. Only the bailiff was allowed to go there. Besides,
there were small prisons on the deck made of planks with
holes into which the feet of the imprisoned persons were
put with chains lest they escape. The bailiff was in charge
of gunpowder, arms and ammunitions and the fireplace on
board. There were two big kitchens with fireplaces on
every deck of the ship, near the mast. The bailiff lighted
the fireplaces around 8 or 9 o clock in the evening. Two
watchmen were appointed to see that no disaster took
place on account of the fire and that nobody took the fire
If anyone enjoying the confidence of the captain wanted to
go to the cellar of the ship to see his belongings, the bailiff

gave him a lighted candle in his hand and then closed the
exit with chains. If not, the bailiff himself accompanied him
to the cellar. He had to see that the fire was put out at 4
oclock in the morning.
The ships coming to India from Lisbon had artisans and
craftsmen of all sorts on board for necessary repairs, such
as carpenters, caulkers, coopers and others. A great part
of the cabin boys were attached to them for different
works. Four of these boys were expected to sleep in the
crows nest (cesto da gavea) and others according to
quartermaster, and the chief of the gunners had their own
silver whistles hanging from the silver chain on the neck to
call respective people for specific work, namely, the
master and the boatswain to call the mariners, the chief of
the gunners to call all the gunners, the guardian to call the
cabin boys and the pages.
There were two dispensers in charge of the stores, one
for the soldiers and another for the mariners. But nothing
from the stores could be distributed, except in the
presence of the writer of the ship. These dispensers were
posted by the king.486
The number of people travelling in a ship of medium
tonnage fluctuated from 500 to 1000. There were
approximately sixty mariners, seventy cabin boys, chief
gunner with twenty five gunners, a chaplain, a writer, four
pages, a bailiff, one or two dispensers, one or two artisans

Pyrard de Laval, op.cit, p.146.

or craftsmen in different fields like surgeons, carpenters,

caulkers, coopers, which, in all, amounted to 150. Then
there were soldiers, noblemen, merchants, ecclesiastics
and several men and women who travelled on board the
Portuguese ship.487 Sometimes the number of soldiers
varied from 700 to 800 in big vessels, as described by
Pyrard de Laval.

Tensions on board
The social composition of the people on board was quite
varied and capable of tensions considering the perceptions
of the living conditions inside a ship. Some scholars
identify the most important tensions on board as those
arising from the relations between the merchants and
navigating officers like the captain as well as between the
navigating officers and the common sailors as was usual
with the East India man of the Netherlands. Also, the strict
discipline and the brutality of the commanders vis--vis
the robust solidarity among the common sailors could
sometimes pose a serious problem and create severe
The difference of interests played a great role in
creating strained relations. At times when faced with
problems of overloading and unfavourable conditions of
the sea, some cargo had to be thrown out for saving the

Francisco Contente Domingues e Inacio Guerreiro, A Vida a Bordo

la Carreira da India (seculo XVI). Instituto de Investigao
cientifica Trotical, Lisboa, 1988, p.198; Pyrard de Laval, op.cit,

ship loaded with cargoes and people. It could so happen

that the people would suggest throwing out pepper
belonging to the King rather than their own consignments.
There could also be tensions between the captain-in-chief
and the other captains of the fleet on account of
differences of opinion. Similarly, the mariners might have
some sort of antagonism towards the captains who
belonged to the nobility on land. The mariners would have
liked to elect a captain from their own to whom they swore
allegiance. They might even reject the authority of a noble

Kren Degryse, Social Conditions and Tensions on Board the

Eighteenth Century East India Ships in K.S Mathew, ed., Mariners,
Merchants, and Oceans: Studies in Maritime History, New Delhi,
1995, pp.341-46. While dwelling on the grounds for tension
between the merchants and the naval officers of Dutch ships,
Degryse says that the supercargos or merchants of the East India
Company were appointed by the Company and were the real
leaders of the expedition while the captain did not enjoy the
prestige of the supercargos. The captain did not have any
jurisdiction over the merchants though as far as navigation was
concerned he held the upper hand. At times the captain belonged
to different nationality compared to the supercargos. Another
source of tension identified by him was the differences between
the navigating officers and the common sailors. The captain had
to maintain the order and discipline on the ship and he usually
ruled with a strong fist. The punishments meted out to the sailors
were out of all proportions. Against the harsh discipline by the
captain, there could be strong solidarity among the common
sailors. Degryse gives an example of sodomical relation between
the sailors who were put in chains for the rest of voyage, sodomy
being capital crime to be judged by the higher court. Some of the
accomplices helped each other to escape from the chains and
leave the ship when the ships anchored. We come across prisons
in Portuguese ships for criminals.

man on board. Sometimes in critical moments the

mariners would take a decision contrary to that favoured
by men on the top of the social hierarchy so much so that
the latter had to keep silent. The social environment
ashore was made more pronounced on board to create a
wedge between the captain and the mariners. As
mentioned, the captain was normally from the nobility of
birth while the mariners were not. Moreover, there were
noble men and ecclesiastical nobility on board who,
according to the code of social conduct in Portugal, held
the upper hand.489
Apart from the friction in relations between the captains
and the captain-in-chief and between the captains and the
mariners, there were other factors that contributed to the
building up of tensions. The persons on board were
separated from their families and their beloved ones for
months together during their voyage to far off

Once on a shore, one of the first acts of homens do mar was to

elect a captain from among their own and to whom they swore
loyalty. Here it was the forces of social conformity, and the
imposition of sanctions by the nobles or pseudo-gentry ceased to
apply. The seamen emerged as sub centre, adopting their own
norms of behaviour, values and rules of conduct. Such was their
dominance that nobles and priests were forced to remain silent in
the face of blatant assaults on the prevailing Portuguese codes of
behavior and values.. Social environment ashore was replicated
afloat with but minor modifications and that social distinctions
based on birth and rank were not only preserved but were all the
more in evidence: A.J. Russel-Wood, men under stress: The Social
Environment of the carreira da India, 1550-1750 in Luis de
Albuquerque & Inacio Guerreiro, eds., II Seminario Internacional de
Historia Indo-Portuguesa: Actas, Lisboa, 1985, pp.19-35.

destinations. Hence, tensions arising from emotional

deprivation were quite natural. Instances of sodomy, a
crime inviting capital punishment according to the moral
conduct of the time, were not uncommon. Generally,
women were not allowed to take part in voyages and
especially so in a male dominated society for such a long
time. Presence of the few lone women, either clandestinely
or legally, especially in case of a new governor, could be
the focus of tension in a male dominated group of people
on board. The Jesuits used to check the ships at the time of
the departure from Lisbon to find out if there were any
women on board. Thus Fernandes da Cunha on 16 March
1562, before setting sail for Lisbon, checked the ship
thoroughly to see if any women were found on board. 490
Delinquents were severely punished.
Fear complex was another important factor that
disturbed the people on board - fear of death, and fear to
travel aboard a ship in general. Dom Gonalo has given a
vivid and picturesque description about the agony and
anguish of death evinced by the persons on board the ship
in his letter written in 1557 from Cochin. He says that the
feelings of those who approached death were beyond
description. They seemed not to have heard about death
at any time in their life. Especially, when the copassengers saw several of their friends succumbing to
death, their own agony and anguish knew no limits. The

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.V (1561-1563), Roma,

1958, pp.569-70.

limbs were sometimes frozen on account of the wind that

blew over the Cape of Good Hope. 491 As soon as some
tempest was sighted, everyone got panicky, began to pray
and even went to confess so that he could be better
prepared. The pilots and the physicians had to spend a lot
of time consoling the people on board. It has been
appropriately said by the same priest that people on board
died several deaths till they reached their destination. The

A. Silva Rego, ed., Documentao para a Histria das Misses do

Padorado Portuguese do Oriente, vol.VI Lisboa, 1951, pp.188-90.
Deixando a recordacao da navegao que fizemos desse para
este outro mundo, porque assi como a morte nao a pinta senao
quem more, nem se pode ser pintada seno vendo quem est
morrenda, assi o trago que passo os que navegam de Portugal a
India, no o pode cntar seno quem o passa nem o pode enterder
seno que o ve passar.E assi, como os homens que primeira vez
se viram na hora da morte, Ihes parece que nunqua oviram de
faller nella, assi quem se vio em aquelles golfos no Ihe
alembrava cousa que Ihe tivessem ditto de verdade e terror
presente, e sua, que passada, nem bem imaginar se pode. Assi, e
sem maise nem menos, a angustita e agonia em que se vem os
passageiros desde occidente ao oriente, em que estamos os que
nos vemos for a dela nunqua a podemos vivamente representar
comnosco mesmos,.Nunqua se viro suores de morte como os
que se suo na Costa da Guine Nunqua se viro membros frios
como os que corto os ventos de Boa Esperana Nunqua se vio
morrer homem cercado de termores e saudades do que neste
mundo deixa e no spera, como os que se vem nesta carriera,
vendo muytos mortos e landados ao mar e todos os outros, antre
os quais ficam velhos ainda para morrer de fome, de sede, de
doenas, gravisimmas e de perigos do mar innumaraveis, de
boxos, de penedos, de costas, de encontros de naos e de servo de
mares. De modo que se pode dizer que tantas vezes morrem os
que fazem esta viajem, quantos pontos de morte vem claramente
que ande passar, tendo to provado ficar em algum delles.

moment they reached some ports, their joy knew no

bounds. They shouted with happiness and gladness. So,
one can imagine the anguish of those on board.

Diet on board
Before the ships left Lisbon for India, they were fully
provided with necessary victuals. The problem of
managing food for such a big group of men on board a
Portuguese ship that took several months to reach the
destination under the conditions of those times devoid of
the facilities for refrigeration was very complicated. The
tremendous change of climate when the ship passed
through the tropical regions could badly affect the victuals.
Sometimes, on account of contrary winds, the vessels were
bound to spend several days near the Ecuador where the
food items could be spoiled on account of the tropical heat. It
was reported by the passengers that a greater part of
edible and potable items like butter, oil, marmalade, water,
figs, raisins and honey got spoiled on account of the hot
weather.492 The same was the case with salted meat that
got completely perished near the coast of Guinea on
account of being soaked.493
Water was very essential for life on board and potable
water was always a rare and expensive item in the ships.
Moreover, it used to get spoiled fast on account of the
climatic changes on the way from Lisbon to India and back.
Travellers used to mention the adverse effect of heat

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VI (1563-1566), Rome,

1960, p.35.

experienced on the African coast that used to damage

potable water. Sometimes, the passengers aboard had to
shut their eyes and close the nostrils while drinking the
water provided on the ship from the region of Moambique
when on its way to India, on account of the high degree of
pollution as reported by an eyewitness.494
Therefore, water was very carefully distributed daily by
the dispenser. At times, to get extra water, one had to pay
a lot. It was reported that after twenty days post the
departure from Lisbon, potable water became quite scanty
and expensive, so much so that a unit of 32 litres of water
(almude) was sold for 480 reis in 1567.495 On account of
the importance of water management, an inspector from
among the priests, a certain Estevo Lopes was appointed
to look after its distribution and to take special care not to
waste it.496 Each passenger had to be satisfied with two
and a half ports of drinking water a day. It was insisted that

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VIII (1569-1573), Rome,

1964, p.279.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VI (1563-1566), Rome,

1964, p.228.

nobody should go for more water than ordered. On

account of the scarcity and lack of good quality water,
some compared it with the water they used to have at
vora in Portugal and even prayed to God to give them
better water. Therefore, attempts were made to have
stopovers, where pure water could be fetched for the life
on board. Sometimes, on account of the dependence of
the voyage on monsoon winds, it was difficult to reach the
desired stopover or hauling stations. Hence, it was
suggested to collect rainwater and store for drinking
With a view to avoiding decomposition of victuals on
board, living beings that could be used for food were
transported on board the ships. Thus fowls, castrated
rams, pork, sheep and cocks were taken on the vessels of
the sixteenth century. Cocks were useful also to find out
the time based on their morning singing. Sometimes the

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VII (1566-1569), Rome,

1962, pp.364-65.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VIII (1569-1573), Rome,

1964, p.228.

prices of these living beings shot up beyond imagination

just as in the case of water. At times the price of a fowl
500 maravedis.497 There were often complaints that even
by paying one thousand reales it was difficult to buy a fowl
on board.498
Bread could be obtained as and when the people on
board wanted, from the respective dispenser, according to
ones need. Wine and water were distributed daily
according to a stipulated measurement namely, 2.622
litres (half a canada) per person.499 Food stuffs like salted
meat were supplied once a month. Approximately 13.11
kgs of meat were the ration per person for a month. Oil,
vinegar, salt, onion and fish were also distributed in the
same proportion on a monthly basis. All this was done in
the presence of the writer who took account of everything.
If a person did not drink wine he could sell it to other

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VI, p.38. The price of a

hen went up to 500 maravedis in 1563. Maravedi was an old
Gothic coin used in Portugal and Spain.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VI, p.383.

persons or he could return it to the dispenser to exchange

it for any other item. Those who had victuals for sale could
sell them at whatever price they wanted.
Fish was a much sought after item for those on board,
especially when they spent many days without any fresh
food. There were many fishing areas on the way from
Lisbon to India and back where they could catch fish. The
zone around the Cape of Good Hope abounded in fish of
various species. Portuguese mariners used to catch fish in
this area in abundance during that stretch of the voyage.500
The victuals supplied in raw form had to be cooked by
each individual according to his needs which was
considered very detestable by some passengers. At a time
there were 80 to 100 pans on fire since each person was
expected to cook for himself.501 In fact the sick passengers
were put in great trouble since there was no common
cook. A Dutch priest, Gaspar Braz by name, on board a

Canada was the unit of ancient measurement of liquids in Portugal

which was equal to 2.622 litres. 300 canadas made a pipa.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.XI (1577-1580), pp.75758.

Portuguese vessel in 1948 complained that there was no

one to cook for him while he was sick. All the colleagues
were busy cooking for themselves and at last he had to do
the same. Even the cabin boys did not help him in cooking.
The difficulty continued until a certain Henrique Macedo
instructed his own servant to cook for this priest. 502 Of
course, the nobility and the officials on board had their
own cooks from among their slaves or servants. On some
festive occasions all passengers were given food cooked
by the cabin boys and others employed in the ship. But
this was not a regular phenomenon.503

People on board and religion

In the face of indomitable nature and the vagaries of
weather, especially in the tropical regions, people took

Pyrard de Laval, who travelled on a Portuguese ship, reminds the

readers that this practice was rather burdensome and that the
French and Dutch navigators had common cooks for those on
board. He adds that at a time six persons ate from the same plate
on board these vessels. Ref. Pyrard de Laval, op.cit,147-48.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.I (1540-1549), pp.38384.

recourse to religion to an extent unknown to those on land.

The religious practices on board the ship evinced the faith
the Portuguese of the period had. Every Portuguese ship
had a captain and a priest aboard for the religious services
to be performed for those who travelled in it. They were
paid by the King. The priest was bound to celebrate the
Holy Mass every day including the holy days. But Blessed
Sacrament was not allowed to be preserved in the vessel.
The priest had the obligation to hear confessions, give
homily and to perform all ecclesiastical functions. Besides,
other religious persons too used to travel in those vessels
to India without having any such obligations, against
payment, though they performed religious duties
voluntarily.504 Some of the sacramentals of the Catholic
religion too were at the disposal of those who wanted to
lead a pious life on board. Holy water was preserved in the
vessels. Lent, feast days and processions were observed
on board. The oratories and the chapels in the vessels

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.V (1561-1563), Rome,

1958, p.217.


Pyrard de Laval, op.cit, p.142.

were beautifully decorated with panels of framed pictures

giving a congenial atmosphere for prayer. When someone
passed away on board, the master of the ship informed
others about it. Through his whistle he called them to pray
for the repose of the soul. But there were no shots as usual
on lands to proclaim the death. Every night at nine, the
master invited everybody for prayer through his whistle.
All those on board as a group recited one Our Father and
one Hail Mary, after which at the sound of another whistle
by the master every one retired to his post or quarters to
fulfill ones own obligation to pray. Similarly at dawn, the
cabin boys intoned a hymn, which was repeated by all
those on board. In the subsequent prayer everyone made
mention of the ship and all the things in it. This prayer
lasted for a good hour. Every one prayed in a loud voice.505
The life of prayer found aboard the Portuguese ship was
quite enviable. A lot of activities of piety were performed
on board. Several factors were considered to be
responsible for active religious life. The most important
was that the voyage started from Lisbon usually in the
month of March and it continued through the Lenten
season during which every conscientious Christian was
supposed to perform a lot of pious activities. This was
further accentuated by the presence of the priests and the
religious superiors on board who used to preach the Good
News of Christ, singing hymns in honour of Blessed Virgin
Mary who was considered the patroness of voyages,

Pyrard de Laval, op.cit, pp.149-50.

leading processions and hearing confessions of the people

aboard. Moreover, there was a conviction among the
people that the success of voyage, to a great extent,
depended on purity of life on board. Therefore, the Jesuit
fathers removed two women of suspicious character from
among the persons on board to avert punishment from
God.506 This seems to be a conviction shared by many
coastal people especially fishermen all over the world. 507 A
life of piety was considered necessary to avoid violent
tempests at sea, epidemics and Gods punishment.
Invariably, the voyage from Lisbon to India always
started during the period of Lent, which demanded a life of
transgressions of religious principles in the past and
revitalization of a life based on moral injunctions. Lenten
prescriptions like confessions and other religious rituals

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.V, p.530.


Coastal Society in South India shared the view that even the
ladies remaining at home should lead a life of purity to bring
safety to the persons going for fishing in the sea. The case of
Karuthamma and Parekkutty in the famous novel, Chemmeen,
may be recalled here in this connection.

were very sedulously observed. Palm Sunday, Maundy

Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and the Sunday in white
during the paschal season were very carefully and
solemnly celebrated. Washing of feet, procession,
discussions on the passion of Christ and chanting of hymns
were conducted on Maundy Thursday under the leadership
of the Jesuits in the fleet of 1562. Confessions of a number
of people on board were heard by the priests in the ship. 508
It must be remembered that faced with a tempest in the
sea and prospective disaster, several people went to
confession as a preparation for a good death.
On Palm Sunday, the priest on board the ship
conducted the accustomed ceremonies of blessing the
palms, reading of Passion narrative and celebration of
solemn mass. Instructions on the observations for the holy
week were given to the people as usual.509 Everyday seven
psalms or rosary was recited in groups as an expression of
pious life. The sermons were so heart-rending that the
people in large numbers went to confessions with deep-felt

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.V, pp.530-31.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.V, pp.572-73.

repentance. Sometimes when a person on board was

found sick, he was asked to go for confession, bleeding
and to prepare his testament and have a clean and a good
conscience.510 It was held by the priest and the faithful that
bodily cure should be preceded by the purification of

Spiritual services
The Jesuits (members of the Company of Jesus) who
were often found on board the ships of the India run did a
lot of service for the people travelling from Lisbon to India
and back. A few details about them are given below:
Preaching the Good News to the men on board the ship
for the consolidation of faith was one of the important
services done by the members of the Company of Jesus
during the voyage from Lisbon to India. Even during the
stopover in Moambique on the East African coast en route
to India, preaching the Gospel, penitential services,
preparation of the severely sick people for death and

As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, vol.V, Lisboa, 1965, p.357.


Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.VII, p.284.

distribution of holy communion to the crew and the

passengers enabling them to obtain plenary indulgences
granted by the Pope, were some of the routine services
performed by the Master Xavier and his companions. A
letter written in Spanish on 1 January 1542 at Moambique
by Francis Xavier gives the details of such activities.512 A
sixteenth century dictum was: If you want to learn to
pray, enter into sea.513 The most important factor that
made the people on board interested in prayer was the
imminent and likely danger of their life on board and the
preparedness to embrace death at any moment. They had
to be ready to accept it without any hesitation. Another
circumstance was the Lenten season during which half of
the voyage was conducted. There were orders from the
King regarding the presence of priests on board to satisfy
the spiritual needs of the passengers.


Schurhammer & Wicki, Documenta Indica, vol.I, Rome, 1948,



Wicki, Documenta Indica, vol.VI, Rome, 1960, p.306.

The Jesuit missionaries on board carried with them the

necessary articles of liturgical and paraliturgical
services.514 They even carried the branches of olive from
Portugal for the ceremonies of Palm Sunday. After the
celebration of the holy mass in which all the people on
board participated, a feast used to be organised to the
satisfaction of all the passengers, crew and the officials.
We have an instance of a solemn celebration of the Palm
Sunday on board on 22 March 1962 described graphically
by Fernando da Cunha from Bassein in the present
Maharashtra.515 Similarly, the washing of the feet,
processions and other religious ceremonies were
performed on board very meticulously by the members of
the Company of Jesus.516 Effective sermons were preached
on Good Friday along with the chanting of the lamentations
and solemn divine office. Young boys were invited to sing
hymns and in some cases even profane songs to keep the
people instructed in religion and also entertained. Solemn
vespers were also sung with the people. In fact, the

Wicki, op.cit, vol.V, p.572.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.V, pp.568-580.

Company of Jesus did everything on board to win the

St. Paul to the Corinthians.
At times when the winds
were unfavourable and disaster was in the offing, the Jesuit
Fathers gave spiritual exhortation to the people on board
to embolden them to face the inclemency of weather.
The Jesuits often took part in profane activities with the
persons on board so that they would willingly come and
join the spiritual activities as reported by Father Melchior
Nunes Barreto in 1551. They used to conduct special
services on holy days and Sundays and continued to be
very accommodative with the people so that they would
willingly receive the doctrine preached by the Fathers. The
crew and the passengers became very well disposed after
giving up blasphemies and perjury.518

Wicki, op.cit, vol.V, p.530.


St. Paul to Corinthians I, chapter 9, versicles 20-21.


The practice of conducting solemn processions

continued to be in vogue later. Very often the processions
were organised as thanksgiving for escaping violent
tempests or for getting favourable wind for the voyage,
deliverance from pestilence or sickness. Crucifix and relics
of saints were carried in the processions organised on
board. Solemn chanting of hymns, Litany (Ladinha) and
special prayers were offered through the intercession of
the Blessed Virgin Mary.519 Trumpets were also used to add
solemnity to the processions and chants.520 Hail Marys and
Salve Regina were often solemnly sung on board. Many a
time, the religious celebrations on board exceeded those in
parishes in their solemnity. The pilot was also involved in

Wicki, op.cit, vol.II, p.241.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.III, p.110.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.III, p.109.

such celebrations.521 Sometimes three of the Fathers of the

Company of Jesus conducted services of Litany in three
different places simultaneously aboard the same ship. We
know of Father Peter Ramon, Father Anon Veles and Father
Vallone performing such sacraments for the people on
board in 1563.
The Fathers of the Company of Jesus sometimes
converted some of the people on board to Christianity. A
report dated 28 November 1574 refers to the conversion of
a Muslim on board. He was seriously sick. Several times
they asked him about his willingness to become a
Christian, but he always refused. Later they commended
him to God and prayed for his conversion. Once again they
asked him his willingness. He immediately agreed to
become a Christian and, all of a sudden, he convalesced.
Administration of the sacrament of penance was an
important aspect of the life on board the ship. Many of the
people were in great existential anguish about their life
whenever the sea became rough or some of their
colleagues died of some disease. Therefore many of them
confessed their sins and got absolution from the priests on
1 January 1542 states that on the way from Lisbon to India,
he kept himself busy with the confessions and distribution
of Holy Communion.522
A report refers to the administration of sacrament of
baptism for an infant born of a married woman on board.

Wicki, op.cit, vol.VI, pp.34.

Father Peter Ramon baptized the child. Later, the child

died and so the last rites were performed for it. Three
persons, who were helped for spiritual and temporal needs
by the Fathers, were given the sacrament of the sick.
When they died, the Father performed the last rites for
them on board.523
The Fathers of the Company went on deepening their
knowledge of theology and sacred scripture on their way
to India. Experienced and learned persons from among
themselves gave lectures on theology and the New
Testament to the members of the Company. Besides, they
also performed several spiritual exercises for themselves
on board.524

The Jesuits take care of the sick

St. Francis Xavier, in his first voyage to India started
looking after the sick, setting an example to his
successors. Lack of any appropriate provision on board for
this prompted him to take up the work. A number of

Schurhammer & Wicki, op.cit, vol.I, p.91.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.IX, p.458.

people on the ship that left Lisbon on 7 April 1541 became

sick, especially after they crossed the coast of Guinea. So,
St. Francis and his companions took charge of the sick and
helped them die in peace. 525 The Jesuits willingly took up
the care for the sick on board from the time of Francis
Xavier. Brother Jacome de Braga of the Company of Jesus
gives a picturesque description about the appalling
condition of the sick on board in 1563. They were so sick
that they could not eat anything having lost all appetite
and taste for food and beverages. He says that three to
four persons died every day on account of sickness. The
Fathers of the Jesuit Society tried to help them both
spiritually and corporally by extending whatever help they
could. As soon as someone became sick, he was advised
to go for the sacrament of penitence to keep his soul
purified. Right from the time the ships set sail, a number of
the passengers used to fall sick.526 The condition of the sick
became aggravated for lack of qualified doctors and

Wicki, op.cit, vol.IX, p.237.


Schurhammer & Wiki, Epistolae S.Francisci Xaverii, Tomus I,

Romae, 1944, p.91.

nurses. Hence, the Jesuits did whatever they could, even

by providing them with better meals cooked by them, to
ameliorate the situation.527
The Jesuit fathers who travelled from Lisbon to India
played the role of nurses and dispensers of medicines and
victuals. In fact, they were forbidden to follow medical
practice at that time. A report of 28 November 1754
speaks of Father Vallone taking care of the sick. Later
Father Peter Ramon took this up with great enthusiasm.
His services were keenly watched by others. Some of them
went to the extent of cooking meat and serving the poor
and the sick on board.

Maintenance of discipline
The society on board the caravels of the Carreira da
India was one that was dominated by men. Taking into
account the long duration of the voyage and the possible
hazards of life, women by and large were prevented from
travelling aboard the ships to India in the sixteenth

Wicki, Documenta Indica, vol.VI, Romae, 1960, pp.56-57, 772.


Wicki, op.cit vol.I, Romae, 1948, p.384.

century. Despite the prohibition for women from Portugal

to travel to India, some were found on board the ships
leaving for India. Further, some women of bad reputation,
clandestinely travelled aboard the ships. Thus Father
Gaspar Barzeus writing in 1548, says that there were many
women of dubious character on board the ships coming to
India.528 The Jesuit Fathers travelling in the ships for India
identified some and took sufficient precautions to keep
them under control. They asked the captain to send them
out as soon as the ship anchored near the coast. 529 Some
of them were advised by the Jesuits to give up their bad
life after making a good confession.530
In certain cases, to keep discipline on board, the few
women on board were totally kept in isolation.
Occasionally, at the time of setting sail at Lisbon, the
women, especially those of dubious character who were
found on board were asked to leave immediately. A letter
written by a certain Antonius de Quadros, SJ on 18

Joseph Wicki, ed., Documenta Indica, vol.I (1540-1549), Roma,

1948, p.384.


Wicki, op.cit. vol.I, p.384

December 1555 at Goa, also made mention of a woman of

doubtful fame discovered aboard the ship in which he was
travelling to India. She was briefly shifted to another ship
in which some of the members of the Company were
travelling. Later, on account of some inconveniences, the
captain-in-chief made arrangements for her in the ship
Assuno and a special chamber was set apart for her
where she was kept locked with a couple of watchmen. On
reaching India, she was taken to the house of a married
woman in Goa and was put there so that she might amend
her way of life.531 The Company of Jesus was very much
active in getting rid of women of suspicious character from
the ships. This attempt on their side continued to be in
vogue throughout the century. Thus, in 1562, they drove
away two women of dubious character at the very time of
departure from Lisbon. A certain Brother Vicencio took
great interest in contacting the captain to see that women
of such nature were sent away from the ship.532

Wicki, op.cit, vol.I, pp.388-89.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.III, p.387.

The Jesuit Fathers tried fervently to keep the people at

peace with one another and made them forgive the
offences committed by others on board. The captain and
other officials of the ships of the India run became quite
satisfied with the activities of the Fathers of the Company
of Jesus since their presence and spiritual care helped
them keep discipline on board.

Theatrical performance and the entertainment on

Scholars have begun to study the theatrical
performance of different types on board.533 Among various
activities directed towards entertainment and religious
instruction, the Passion plays conducted during the Lent
reminded the passengers of the suffering and the death of
Jesus Christ. Though the people on board did not have a lot
of time for entertainment and were busy with many things,
some theatrical performances were held occasionally.

Wicki, op.cit, vol.V, p.530.


Maria Martins, Teatro quinhentista das naus da India, Lisboa, ed.

Broteria, 1973, is an example of studies of this nature.

Some of them were meant for their edification and

expression of piety during the season of Lent. The voyage
from Lisbon to India took eight to ten months on the
average and also about the same duration for the return.
The people on board always needed some entertainment
to get rid of their boredom.

Entertainment on board
The hard life on board coupled with anxiety,
psychological tension and fear of the enemies prompted
them to follow a very strict religious life. Auctions were
also conducted occasionally. As soon as a passenger died,
his belongings were auctioned. Similarly, after a lot of
fishing on the way, there was auction. These auctions also
kept people on board busy and entertained.
It was reported by the close of the sixteenth century
that approximately 1500 soldiers were sent from Portugal
to India every year out of which about one per cent only
returned to Portugal. As for the rest, some died, some were
murdered and some could not return to Portugal on
account of penury. Therefore the last category of soldiers
stayed in India though they did not want to. If by chance
any soldiers returned, it was with the viceroys or nobles
who were allowed to take a few soldiers with them on their
return to Lisbon. So, twenty to thirty solders were always
accommodated on board the ships. In addition, those who
held some important office in Portuguese India were
allowed to take a few slaves and black people with them

when they returned to Lisbon. Therefore they too were

accommodated on board a ship returning to Lisbon.534
The Company of Jesus devised ways and means to
inculcate into the hearts of the people on board religious
ideas and ideals through theatrical performances that
served a dual purpose. We have the earliest reference to
such a performance in a letter written by Father
Bartholomeu Vallone SJ at Bassein on 28 November
1574.535 Another drama on the life of Sta. Barbara was
staged during the sector after the Cape of Good Hope.
There were thus a number of theatrical performances
related to the saints, Christ and various aspects of
Christian life. He makes mention of a couple of religious
dramas played aboard Santa Barbara which left Lisbon for
India on 21 March 1574 along with four other ships,
namely Chagas, F, Anunciada, and Santa Catharina.536
Easter fell on 11 April 1574 and a theatrical performance

John Huyghen van Linschoten, The Voyage of John Huyghen van

Linschoten to the Indies, vol.2, London, 1885, p.230.


Mario Martin, Teatro Quinhentista nas Naus da India, Lisboa,

1973, pp.15-16.

12 April, the day after Easter. Father Vallone composed a
play in Portuguese known as the Dialogo das Trs Marias,
representing the visit of the sepulcher in the liturgy. The
three Marys were Maria Salome, Maria Cleophas and Maria
Magdalena. While approaching the sepulchre of Jesus
Christ they asked who would remove the stone at its
entrance. A performance of this type in the liturgy was
conducted in the Cathedral of Ruan in the thirteenth
century. The Biblical event of the appearance of the angel
dressed in white garment has also been presented here. 537
Another performance was conducted on the feast of
Corpus Christi which was celebrated on 10 June 1574. A
solemn procession in the candlelight was conducted on the
day as if it would look like a procession in a great city.
Afterwards, the drama composed in Spanish by Father
Peter Ramon of the Company of Jesus was staged.
During the voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to
India, the comedy of Sta. Barbara was enacted. Father

Wicki, op.cit, vol.IX, pp.451-59.


Mario Martin, op.cit, pp.22-35.

Vallone composed the script in Portuguese. All the people

on board liked this so much that they suggested that it
could have been conducted even in a city. The patroness of
Sta. Barbara who suffered martyrdom. The script was
Sta. Barbara. Diogo Sanchez of Badajoz (+ 1549) had
earlier written a farce on Sta. Barbara.
Another drama, the script of which was prepared in
Portuguese by Father Bartholomeu Vallone, was staged on
board the same ship. It was about the miracle of Our Lady
(Dialogus miraculi Dominae Nostrae). The dramatis
personae were Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, a sinner
and the devils. It was so appealing that even the superior
of the members of the Society of Jesus on board shed
tears.538 A drama used to be staged aboard on the
occasion of Pentecost too. Flavius Gregorius, in his letter
dated 3 December 1583, writes about such a theatrical
performance on board the ship St. Francisco coming to
India. This was called Imperador. The Portuguese had the
custom of electing a young man of lower status as the
emperor for a short period. People of even higher status
were expected to serve him and pay obeisance. 539 The
morale of this was to show that the glory of this world
lasted only for a short time. The governors appointed to
India had usually a term of three years only and they were
to take this into account. Hence, according to the practice

Wicki, op.cit, vol.IX, p.457.

in Portugal, on the day of the Pentecost, this play was

staged aboard the ship St. Francisco, on 29 May 1583. A
boy was elected as the Emperor on the vigil of Pentecost.
He was clad in costly garments and an imperial crown was
A few noblemen were elected to serve him as officials and
assistants. The captain of the ship was appointed as the
administrator of his house. All the officials of the ship were
also enlisted to assist him in one way or other. They
prepared an altar in the most prominent and spacious
place on board. The Emperor elect was escorted with
fanfare to the altar and was seated on a velvet chair with
cushions. He wore the crown and held the scepter. Gun
salutes were also arranged during the mass. Later a great
banquet was organised in which even the nobles had to
serve him though he belonged to the lower stratum of the
society. Approximately 300 people on board paid
obeisance to him. Another drama on the life and death of
St. John the Baptist was also staged on the same day
aboard the ship.540

Wicki, op.cit, vol.III, p.103.


Wicki, op.cit, vol.XII, p.881.

Health care on board

It was reported by those who travelled on board the
Portuguese ships that many got sick on their voyage from
Portugal to India and vice-versa. Falling prey to the
vagaries of climate and risk of navigation, they became
sick and usually died in three or four days. 541 This report
given by a Jesuit priest may look rather exaggerated. But
the incidence of sickness and subsequent demise was very
common especially after the ships crossed the Island of
Tristo da Cunha. In fact, right from the start of the voyage
from Tagus River in Lisbon, large number of people used to
fall sick either from diseases they carried with them from
the land or contracted during the voyage. Sometimes they
were under the impression that they were going to the
other side of the river. They did not possess sufficient
provisions for the long voyage. Some of them had just a
barrel or two of drinking water and expected to get more
on board. During the course of the voyage, they came to
understand that their conception about the whole voyage
was incorrect and they repented their decision to take the
risk. This aggravated the sickness.
The priests who travelled to India from Lisbon
suggested that there should be a person appointed as
chief of those who took care of the sick. Seeing the
necessity of some arrangement for the sick, these priests
recommended that a chief physician be appointed to every
vessel leaving Portugal for India and that they willingly

Wicki, op.cit, vol.VI, pp.56-57.

take care of the sick. They offered to provide the sick with
some special items like chicken and other edible things,
according to their need. Sometimes they provided coat
and bed to the sick. These priests gave special care to
those sick persons who were not properly treated. Even
those who took care of the sick, fell prey to the same
sickness. The number of sick went on increasing. Many
people were put to bleeding by the barbers who were
considered as surgeons. The captain stored a lot of
oranges in the ship, which were distributed to the sick. He
used to visit them in the company of a priest every
morning to impart courage to them.
Against such
difficulties, the priests on board took special care of the
sick as reported by those who travelled aboard the ships
bound for India. Some of them died aboard suffering from
fever and other ailments prevailing among the passengers.
The ordinary mariners often suffered from the lack of food.
They depended on the goodwill of the officials, noblemen
and the priests on board.542
A few common diseases suffered by passengers aboard
the Portuguese ships in the India run includes Scurvy or
Luandan disease. Caused by a lack of certain vitamins,
Scurvy was one of the most frequent and dangerous
diseases of all found among the sea voyagers. The feet
and hands swelled and the gums grew over the teeth so
that they could not eat or drink anything. This was

Wicki, op.cit, vol.V, p.570.

difficulties and other organic disorders. Nausea, Petechial

fever, Yellow fever, Small pox, Typhoid, Diarrheic disease of
new slaves, Disease of the torrid zone which was
manifested by grievous pain in the stomach, sores, ulcers
and open wounds plagued the voyagers from time to time.
Other diseases like cough, common cold, fever, malarial
fever, measles, carbuncle or anthrax and syphilis also
affected the people on board.

Dispensaries (Boutiques)
On account of the long duration of voyage from Europe
to India and back lasting between eight to twelve months,
the captains of the respective ships in the fleet saw to it
that every ship was equipped with one or more boutiques
where several types of remedies were preserved.
The common treatment for almost all the ailments on
board the ship consisted of bleeding for which barbers
were appointed. They believed that the malignant blood
should be permitted to be bled. There were no surgeons in
the modern sense of the term for this purpose and so
barbers experienced in this profession were posted in the
vessels. There was no qualified physician to look after the
sick. Chiefly, it was the Jesuit priests who, though
prevented from practising medicine, voluntarily did the
nursing of the sick. Vivid descriptions about the healthcare
extended by them are found in a number of documents in
Portuguese and Spanish.543 Besides the natural remedies,
supernatural ones in the form of prayers, celebration of

Wicki, op.cit, vol.V: pp.570 ff. Vol VI pp.772 ff.

holy mass, processions, special novenas and confessions

of sins were performed by the Jesuit priests who looked
after them. They took care of the cure of the soul and
body.544 They believed in the dictum Mens sana incorpore
sano (healthy mind is in a healthy body).





he success of the new spice route connecting the

ports of Malabar coast with those of the Atlantic
regions by Portugal spread far and wide. It opened
up a fresh avenue for many merchant financiers to invest
their resources in the spice trade with a view to enhancing
their capital. It was a great blow to those European
merchant financiers who used to flock together in Venice
for the oriental spices. Even the Venetians were greatly
anxious about the possible loss of their income from trade
in spices. So, they sent their spies to Portugal and its
neighbourhood to obtain as much details as possible about
the new spice route and the commercial activities of the
Portuguese. The Venetians, aiming to divert the attention
of the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean regions, contrived
a plan. As soon as they got the information about the

Wicki, op.cit, vol.VI, pp.57, 774.

Portuguese enterprise in the East and also some news

about the hostile activities of the Turks in the Venetian
possessions in Greece, they sent a deputation to the Pope
in 1501. They requested the Pope to intercede with the
King of Portugal to send military help to fight against the
Turks in the Mediterranean.545 The Pope contacted the King
of Portugal, Dom Manuel I through the Nuncio and
consequently, they sent thirty ships and caravels to help
15 June 1501.
The Venetian Emissary, Doctor Pietro Pasqualigo,
delivered the formal address to King Manuel on 20 August
1501 thanking Portugal for the help extended. He also
tried to play on the religious sentiments and vanity of Dom
Manuel as a protector of true Catholic faith. He added that
the most important need of the time was to fight the
enemy at close quarters than the one in the far away land,
meaning thereby the attempts against the Muslims in
India.546 In fact the purport of the embassy was to divert
the attention of the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean
regions and to protect the commercial interests of the
Venetians in the Mediterranean which were threatened by
the Turks. Some of the members in the Venetian
delegation to Lisbon managed to contact a few men
brought by Cabral from Malabar to Portugal and tried
to convince them that the Portuguese King did not have as

F.M. da Costa Lobo, A Aco Diplomatica dos Portugueses nos

seculos XV e XVI, destinada a realizo de descubertas
conquitaas, Lisboa, 1937, p.139.

much money as the Venetians and that the King depended

on the foreigners to find the necessary funds to fit out the
fleet to India.547
The Venetian diarists, from the moment they came to
know of the new spice route via Cape of Good Hope, began
to bewail the imminent ruin of the Venetian Republic that
could be caused by the Portuguese discovery and their
entry into the spice trade. They added further that the
merchants from Flanders, Hungary, France, England and
Germany would purchase spices from the Portuguese
rather than from Venetians.548 The Venetians were aware of

Donald Weinstein, Ambassador from Venice Pietro Pasqualigo in

Lisbon, 1501, Minneapolis, 1960, p.47.


Cronica de Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos

Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974, p.29.


Girolamo Priuli, op.cit, vol.II, p.156.

the after-effects of the Portuguese discovery from the

letters received from Alexandria in 1499 as well as from
the report of Il Cretico published in 1501. Il Cretico was the
special secretary of Domenico Pisani, the Venetian
Ambassador to Spain and Portugal. He went to Lisbon to
express condolence over the demise of the infant son of D.
Manuel I. Afterwards, he wrote in detail about the fleet of
Pedro lvares Cabral sent to India and the possibility of
obstructing the trade of the Mamluks with India, thereby
causing harm to the Venetian traders.549
The financial weakness of Portugal to conduct trade in
spices with the Malabar coast and the inevitability of
dependence on foreign merchant financiers were clearly
brought out by Leonardo da Ca Masser, a Venetian spy
sent to Lisbon. During his stay of two years in Lisbon, he
collected a lot of information and sent the report to the
Venetian Senate. It is a revealing account which will give
an idea about the attempts by the Portuguese King to woo
the European merchant financiers to get involved in the
trade offered by the new spice-route.
The anguish of the Venetians about the Portuguese
enterprise in the East can be understood from another
incident of international dimension. The Venetians who were
Catholics joined hands with Qansawh al-Ghawri, the


Montalbodo, op.cit, pp.142-45.

Mamluk Sultan of Cairo, by sending him arms and

ammunitions to fight against the Portuguese, who pioneered
the propagation of Catholic faith in the East. The Sultan had
his own grievances. He used to collect over 600,000
cruzados per year by way of customs duties for pepper and
other spices traded in the territories under his jurisdiction. 550
With the diversion of spices through the new spice route
attempted by the Portuguese, the volume of commodities
reaching Alexandria and Beirut began to dwindle. 551 The
Venetian and other European merchants trading with
Alexandria, Cairo and Beirut soon began to remonstrate and
warned the Sultan of Cairo that they would withdraw their
galleys from going to Alexandria and Beirut. Similarly, the
Arab merchants at Calicut faced problems in getting pepper
from there. Therefore, instead of dealing directly with the
Portuguese, the Sultan sent his ambassador to the Zamorin
of Calicut in 1501 to ask him not to receive any Portuguese
vessels in Calicut.

Alvaro Velho, Roteiro..., p.69.


Priuli, op.cit, p.185.

Vasco da Gama put the Arab spice merchants in trouble

during his second voyage to Calicut in 1502. By the
beginning of 1504 the Sultan was reported to be taking
serious steps against the Portuguese.552 He sent Frei Mouro
d Espanha, a member of the Franciscan Mendicant Order
residing in Jerusalem, to the Pope asking him to dissuade
the Portuguese from trading in spices with Malabar. He
made it very clear that if the Portuguese did not stop
sending the ships to Malabar, he would destroy the Holy
Sepulchre of Jesus Christ and the Monastery of Mount Sinai
together with the church.553 The Friar returned with a letter
from the Pope who disclosed the opinion of the King of
Portugal in this matter.554 The letter was not at all
satisfactory and so the Sultan made arrangements with
the Zamorin of Calicut, the Turks and the ruler of Gujarat
to get rid of the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean
regions.555 The Venetian galleys returned from Alexandria
without any spices in 1504, something unheard of till then.

Girolamo Priuli, op.cit, p.335.


Ibid, Barros, Decada I, part ii, pp.183-86. The full text of the letter
of the Sultan is found in Cronica do Descobrimento... pp.137-139.

So, the Venetian Senate sent a letter of approval and their

collaboration to the Sultan very secretly on account of the
fear about other Christian powers. Confident about the
support from Venice, Gujarat and Calicut, the Sultan
appointed Amir Husayan, the Governor of Jidda as the
captain of the fleet to be sent to India. Sultan Muhamed
Shah Begara of Gujarat, the rulers of Ahmed Nagar and
Bijapur extended help to the Egyptian. Malik Ayaz,
Governor of Diu was deputed by the Sultan of Gujarat. The
combined forces of Arabs and the Indians confronted the
Portuguese forces near Chaul in 1508 and the son of the
Viceroy Dom. Francisco de Almeida was put to death
ending in the defeat of the Portuguese. Later the united
forces were put to flight by the Portuguese under the
leadership of Francisco de Almeida in February 1509. The
who supplied arms and ammunitions to the
united front accused them for not being able to handle the
arms supplied by them. Only by 1521 did the Venetian
merchants begin to go to the port of Lisbon for buying

Barros, op.cit, Decada II, part i, p.173.


Priuli, op.cit, vol.II, p.405.

spices despite several invitations from the King of Portugal.

Thus it becomes clear that the opening of the new spice
route by the Portuguese had tremendous impact on the
merchants and merchant financiers besides the Arab rulers
and Indian
counterparts cutting across religious
Analysing the financial aspects of the Portuguese
enterprise in the recently discovered spice route from
1500 to 1506 CE, Ca Masser made the following
calculations. The annual income of Portugal amounted to
350,000 ducats out of which 300,000 ducats were spent on
the ordinary expenses of the kingdom. Consequently only
50,000 ducats were at the disposal of the King for the
overseas commercial enterprise in the East. Even though
the salary of the crew and the officers was deplorably low,
an amount of 120,000 ducats was needed for fitting out an
average of twelve ships a year including the expenses of
the crew for fifteen months involved in the carreira da
India. Another amount of 100,000 ducats was required for
the purchase of spices from the Malabar coast for eight to
nine ships a year. Hence the total investment needed for
the conduct of trade in spices every year was about
The Portuguese King supplied only one-fourth of the total
amount required for the purchase of spices and other
commodities while the rest of the amount was provided by

Vincenzo Quirini, Le Relazioni degli Ambasciatori Veneti al

Senato, in Eugenio Alberi, ed., Firenze, 1863, p.16.

the merchants and financiers. Commodities worth 25,000

ducats were brought to the Malabar coast every year from
Europe via Lisbon.557 Dom Manuel, the Fortunate, known as
the Grocer king found himself unable to exploit the vast
potentialities of the Malabar coast and the trade in spices.
So, in 1500 CE, he had to seek the help of financiers. There
were two ships fitted out by private merchants in the fleet
consisting of twelve ships under the command of Pedro
lvares Cabral that came to Calicut.558
Being aware of the necessity of depending on the
investment of merchant financiers to conduct trade
through the spice route, the King of Portugal on 29 June
1500 issued an order permitting native as well as foreign
merchants to fit out their own vessels to the Malabar
coast.559 In view of the royal order, merchant financiers
from Italy, Germany and other places came forward to take
advantage of the situation.


Ibid, p.6.


Marino Sanuto, I Diarii di Marino Sanuto: 1496-1533, Venice, 18971903 (58 vols.) tomo iv, cols. 66-67.

The Italian merchant financiers

The Italians, especially the Florentines, occupied an
important place in Portugal among the financiers who were
connected with the Portuguese trade in spices. We shall
get ourselves acquainted with a few of the Italian
merchant financiers.

a. Bertholameu Marchioni
Bertholameu Marchioni, the Florentine, was the most
prominent among the foreign financiers having commercial
establishments in Lisbon at the beginning of the sixteenth
century.560 He had the greatest investment in Lisbon, as
testified by the contemporary historian of Portugal, Joo de
Barros.561 Marchioni settled in Lisbon during the reign of
Dom Joo II and functioned as a financier even at the time
of the voyage of Pedro da Covilham to India before the
discovery of the new spice route entirely through sea by

Mss. Archivo National da Torre do Tombo (ANTT), Corpo

Chronologico, I-3-20.


Sousa Viterbo, Bertholameu Florentyn-Antigas Relages

commerciaes e maritimas de Portugal com a Italia in Economista,
24 October,1885 no. 951, pp.1-2.

Vasco da Gama.562 He took part in the fitting out of a ship

under the Portuguese flag in 1500 to the Malabar coast for
the purchase of spices.563 His ship carried about 26967 kgs
of spices from the Malabar coast. 564 In view of the
permission granted by the King in 1500, a consortium of
merchants was formed under Marchioni and it owned two
out of the four ships sent to India in 1501. Marchioni
appointed Fernando Vineti as the captain of his ship.565
Again in 1502 he sent the ship San Tiago in partnership
with the King to the Malabar coast under Joo de

Joo de Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, Lisboa, 1777, part I, p.464.


Conde Ficalho, Viagens de Pedro da Covilham, Lisboa,1898, p.67.


M. Sanuto, op.cit, tomo iv, col. 66-67.

Bonagracia and the ship brought a cargo of

110163 to 115409 kgs of spices, half of which went to the
Marchioni sent a ship with Giovanni da Empoli as the
factor to the Malabar coast in the fleet of Affonso de
Albuquerque in 1503.567 Further, he took part in fitting out
ships to the Malabar coast along with the German


Letter of Domingo Pisani dated 27 July 1501 in Sanuto, op.cit,

tomo iv., col. 101; Priuli, op.cit, vol.II, p.155.


Barros, op.cit, Decada I, Part I, pp.464,473; Gaspar Correia, op.cit,

tomo I, pp.233, 235


Letter of Joo Francisco de Affaitati dated 20 August 1503 in

Sanuto, op.cit, tomo v, col.131.

financiers in 1505.568 He advanced an amount of

182811.93 cruzados which could not be covered by the
purchase of 356773.6 kgs of pepper and other items
together with four ships, namely St. Jernimo, Scrapheap,
Leonarda and S. Vicente. After all the transactions, about
30578.13 cruzados remained due to him from the king in
1507 when the letter of acquittal was issued. According to
another letter of acquittal issued in 1514, the King of
Portugal owed a sum of 93949.64 cruzados to Marchioni.
The latter advanced the amount, both in cash and in bills
of exchange, to the account of the king in places like
Rome, Flanders and Lisbon.569 For quite a long period, he

Giovanni da Empoli, Viagem as Indias Orientaes in Colleco de

noticias para a Historia e Geografia das Naes Ultramarinas que
vivem nos Dominios Portuguezes ou lhes so visinhas, tomo III,
o.s 1&2, Lisboa, 1812, p.iii.


Ca Masser, op.cit, p.23.


continued to be one of the principal financiers and

merchants accessible to the Portuguese King in his trade
through the new spice route with the Malabar coast. The
ship Annunciada owned by him took part in the export of
commodities from India in 1519 and 1522.570

b. Gualterotti and Frescobaldi

The two important groups of Florentine bankers, namely
Gualterotti and Frescobaldi, had their factories in Flanders
and they took active part in the trade in spices. They had
shares in the fleet sent to the Malabar coast in 1505. 571
Filippo Gualterotti acted as the agent of Giovanni

ANTT. Chancellaria de D. Manuel, Liv.46, fl.130v-131r.


Luis de Figueiredo Falco, Livro em que se contem toda a Fazenda

e Real Patrimonio dos Reinos de Portugal, India e Ilhas Adjacentes
e Outras Particularidades, Lisboa, 1859, pp.148, 150, Gaspar
Correia, op.cit, tomo 2, p.609.


Richard Ehrenberg, Das Zeitalter de Fugger, Translated by H.M.

Lucas as Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance, New
York, 1963, pp.198-200.

Francesco de Affaitati in Flanders and supplied copper to

be taken to the Malabar coast by the Portuguese for the
purchase of pepper. According to the contract concluded
with the merchants in Cochin with the approval of the King
of Cochin, payment for pepper was to be made partly in
cash and partly in copper. Both Girolamo Frescobaldi and
Filippo Gualterotti occupied a very important position as
financiers rather than merchants.

c. Girolamo Sernigi
Girolamo Sernigi was another Florentine financier and
merchant who had settled down in Lisbon at the time of
the Portuguese discoveries. Referred to in the Portuguese
documents by the name of Hironimo or Jeronimo, he
participated in fitting out a ship to the Malabar coast in
1500 under Pedro lvares Cabral. Sernigis observation
about the trade on the Malabar coast reveals the
commercial interest he had in the Portuguese venture on
the spice trade of the East. He came to India in 1510
commanding his own ship to participate directly in the

d. Giovanni Francesco di Affaitati

The Affaitati family was known for its activities of
banking in Cremona which was under Venice, and Giovanni


Falco, op.cit, p.144.

Francesco di Affaitati, the head of the banking organisation

had established himself as a banker in Portugal before the
discovery of the sea-route to India. He was a shrewd
observer of trade in Lisbon and so, as soon as Cabral
returned to Lisbon with the spices, he started
concentrating his interest on the trade with Malabar and
soon began to invest in the spice trade. He obtained
permission from the Portuguese King to participate in the
direct trade with Malabar in 1502 and sent Matteo de
Bergamo as his factor in the fleet commanded by Vasco da
Gama.573 Though he tried to get the monopoly of trade in
spices on the Malabar coast, the King did not give in and
so he had to be content with the trade in spices with
Flanders for a while and concluded a number of contracts
with the King regarding the purchase of pepper from the
Malabar coast.574 He had his factory in Flanders, England,

William Brooks Greenlee, The Voyage of Pedro lvares Cabral to

Brazil and India, London, 1938, p.118.


Herman van der Wee, The Growth of the Antwerp Market and the
European Economy Fourteenth-sixteenth centuries, vol.II, The
Hague, 1963, p.129.

Seville, Valencia and Medina El Campo besides the one in

Lisbon.575 According to the contract concluded with the
king, he purchased 577049 kgs of pepper between 1508
and 1514.576 He supplied copper to the Portuguese factor
in Flanders to be taken to the Malabar coast. Thus he
provided the fleet that came to India in 1515 with 314754
kgs of copper.577 The King of Portugal concluded a contract

For details about Affaitati, ref. A. Goris, Les Colonies Marchandes

Meridionales a Anvers de 1488 a 1567, Louvain, 1925; J. Denuce,
Investaire des Affaitadi Banquiers Italiens a Anvers de lannee
1566, Antwerp, 1934.


ANTT. Chancel. de D. Manuel, Liv.46, fl.155v; Liv VI de Mistiscos,



ANTT. Corpo Chronologico, I-24-89.

with him in 1516 according to which he supplied 629508

kgs of copper every year for a period of five years. 578
Filippo Gualterotti, a Florentine merchant, was his agent in
Antwerp who ensured that the stipulated amount of copper
was supplied to the Portuguese factory. The agent thus
purchased 629508 kgs of copper from the Fuggers in 1516
and delivered it to the Portuguese factor Sylvestor Nunes
in Flanders.579 Giovanni Francesco di Affaitati continued to
be in Lisbon till his death in 1528 and then his nephew,
Joo Carlos de Affaitati, took up the charge of the
enterprise. Thus the Affaitati, who were known to the
Portuguese by the corrupt form of Lafeta, continued to be
one of the important financiers and merchants of the
Portuguese trade in spices with the Malabar coast.

e. Lucas Geraldi


ANTT. Ibid, I-19-111.



Lucas Geraldi, a great financier in Lisbon commanded

immense respect. He conducted business in Lisbon in
partnership with Affaitati, and often acted as his

f. Giovanni Battista Rovelasca

Giovanni Battista Rovelasca, hailing from Milan, was an
important merchant financier who later took up the Asia
Contract for purchasing and transporting spices from the
Malabar coast to Lisbon since 1580. His role becomes
evident against the background of the Asia Contract.
Though the Portuguese King did not permit anybody else
to trade in spices on the Malabar coast which was reserved
as his monopoly area, the King realised that several
persons were violating his orders and entering into various
kinds of malpractices. Therefore, King Sebastian (15571578) issued an order in 1570 whereby trade in pepper so
far held under the royal monopoly was thrown open to
private merchants. Again in 1577, a substantially new
orientation was given to the spice trade conducted by the
Portuguese crown. On 1 March 1577, the King issued a new
ordinance regarding the trade in pepper, drugs and
merchandise of India (Regimento de trato da pimenta,
Drogas e Mercadorias da India) permitting private
merchants to import to Portugal spices from India under
the Portuguese flag. Thereafter, either a single business

Viriginia Rau, Um Grande Mercador-Banquairo Italiano em

Portugal, Separata da Estudos Italianos em Portugal, No. 24, 1965,

house or a consortium of several firms could conclude a

contract with the Portuguese crown for a couple of years.
The private merchants were bound to arrange stipulated
number of ships - at least five or six - to purchase a
definite quantity of pepper and other spices in view of the
mutual agreement at the fixed price in India. These items
were to be brought to Lisbon at their own expense and risk
and the contracting party was expected to deliver these
items in the India House in Lisbon at the price once again
mutually fixed, along with a lump sum amount for the
expenses for fitting out the ships.
This contract, known as Asia Contract, was taken over
by Giovanni Rovelasca. Approximately 5,500 to 8000
quintals of pepper each were to be taken from the Malabar
coast to Portugal in a ship besides other commodities as a
report from Lisbon dated 30 July 1582 points out. 581
Rovelasca appointed Filippo Sasseti, the Florentine
humanist, to look after the business in India from 1583. He
spent his time in Cochin and Goa from 1583 to 1588 till his
Giovanni Battista Rovelasca, through Gerhard Paris
(Giraldo Paris) of Aachen, submitted his proposal for the
Asia Contract in connection with the pepper trade with the
Malabar coast on 29 November 1585 to King Philip II of
Spain (1527-1598) who ruled Portugal from 1580. The King
approved the proposal and the agreement was signed on

Victor von Klarwill, ed., Fugger- Zeitungen:Ungedruckte Briefe an

das Haus Fugger aus den Jahren 1568-1605, Leipzig, 1924, p.73.

15 February 1586 by Gerhard Paris, in the name of

Rovelasca. He bound himself for the next six years to fit
out five ships for 24,000 ducats and to send an amount of
170,000 ducats to India every year to purchase 30,000
quintals of pepper in India. He was obliged to take care of
the transport of pepper to Lisbon and to pay a fixed tax of
five and two-thirds of ducats to the Portuguese King. In
short he took the entire responsibility of this business. On
delivering the pepper in the India House (Casa da India) an
amount of 12 ducats per quintal along with the 24,000
ducats spent for the fitting out of the ships was paid by the
King to the contractor so that further arrangements could
be made for the next fleet to be sent to India. The freight
charge per quintal was calculated at four cruzados.583 The
money sent to India by the contractors was kept in the
Franciscan convent at Cochin lest it be diverted for any

Sasseti wrote a large number of letters from India regarding

various aspects. Ref. Lettere di Filippo Sasseti: Opra ssuoi Viaggi
nelle Indie Orientali dal 1578 al 1588, Reggio, 1884. This has been
later re-edited and published by Vanni Bramanti as Lettere da
Vari Paesi 1570-1588, Milano, 1970.


Mss. Fugger Archives, codex no. 46.1, fls.33-38.

purpose other than the purchase of pepper.584 It was

further stipulated in the terms of the contract that spices
and other items worth 12,000 ducats should be taken from
India for the united government of Portugal and Spain
without any taxes.585 One fourth of the Asia contract taken
up by Rovelasca was given to the Fuggers of Germany.
Rovelasca and his consortium fitted out five ships,
S. Felipe, Buen Jesu, Reliquias and Salvador. An amount of
194,000 ducats in 400 sacks, which again were packed in
ninety-seven packets, was loaded on to the ships in Lisbon
that set sail on 12 April 1586.
The cash was loaded in the following manner.





For repair of the



J.H. da Cunha Rivara, ed., Archivo Portugus Oriental, Fasciculo 3,

Nova Goa, 1861, pp.52-54, 68-69.


Friedrich Dobel, Ueber einen Pfefferhandel der Fugger und

Welser 1586-91, Zeitschrift dess Historischen Vereins fr
Schwaben und Neuburg: Dreizehtnere Jahrgang, Augsburg, 1886,
pp.125 ff.







Buen Jesu












(ref. Mss. Fugger Archives, 46, 1.fl.13)

Rovelasca had several Portuguese and Italian personnel
to look after the business in India. Besides them, two
Germans, Gabriel Holzschuher and Markus Wolspunter and
a Dutchman Jan Galan, was sent to India in this
connection. They took up the responsibility of arranging
money for the purchase of pepper. With a view to getting
the stipulated quantity of pepper they established five
factories south of Goa: Honor (Honavar), Barzelor (Barkur),
Manglore, Cannanore and Calicut. Each factory had two
factors, one appointed by the consortium and the other by
the King of Portugal. But, both were to be paid by the
contractors. The Comptroller of Finance under the
Portuguese King supervised the entire purchase.
As the Portuguese did not have any influence beyond
the coastal line, the contractors had a lot of problem in
obtaining the required quantity of pepper and to bring it
from the hinterland to the respective factories. The
difficulty was aggravated on account of the diversion of
spices to Persia, Arabia and other places by land. The best
variety of pepper grew in Canara. The harvest season
started around Christmas. Though the contract obliged
them to export 30,000 quintals of pepper from the Malabar
coast to Portugal every year, they could not succeed in
getting the stipulated volume in the first year of their

contract. The agent of the consortium managed to get

only 14,592 quintals of pepper besides other spices.586
The consortium under Rovelasca sent five ships to India
S. Francesco, S. Alberto, Nostra Senhora de Nazareth, S.
Antonio and Santa Maria. According to a statement made
by Filippo Sasseti (1540-1588), a Florentine agent of
Rovelasca on 23 January 1588 in Cochin, there was a
6.5 per cent in the total volume of pepper imported to
Lisbon.587 The details of cargo brought to Lisbon by the
fleet of 1588 as reported by Sasseti contained 22,963
quintals of pepper, 1,735 quintals of cinnamon, 1362
quintals of ginger in conserve and so on. It was further
reported on 23 January 1588 by Sasseti that 4,500 quintals
of spices were yet to be sent to Lisbon from the Malabar
Again, by the end of May 1588, five ships left Lisbon for
India. Four of these ships returned to Lisbon with 24,163

Friedrich Dobel, op.cit, pp.128-31.


Mss. Fugger Archives, 46.1. Folio 2v.

quintals of pepper and other spices on 16 September

1589, safe and sound. The fifth ship with 5,877 quintals of
pepper on board anchored off Port Natal on the South
African coast unable to proceed to Lisbon. Out of 30,042
80.4 per cent reached Portugal. There was indeed a waste
of 4.7 per cent. A report purportedly claimed that 30,000
quintals of pepper via Cairo and Alexandria were expected
and that the Venetian merchants would purchase pepper
from Alexandria rather than from Lisbon. This brought
about fluctuation and a downward movement in the price
of pepper in Europe.
Four ships of the fleet that left Lisbon in 1589 returned
in September 1590 with 23,682 quintals of pepper, cloves
and mace. Another set of five ships left Lisbon for India on
4 April 1591.This was the sixth and last year of the
contract with the consortium headed by Rovelasca. They
set sail from India in January 1592 with 34,000 quintals of
pepper, 3,500 quintals of cloves, 1,600 quintals of
cinnamon, 549 quintals of mace and 2,500 quintals of
indigo. All the ships did not reach Lisbon on account of the
attack from the English.
Rovelasca took part in the Europa Contract of 1591 to
sell the spices brought to Lisbon. This contract was for two
years and was in the company of the German financiers
like the Fuggers and Welsers.

The German merchant financiers

Next to the Italian merchant financiers, the Germans
participated in the spice trade via the new spice route
under the Portuguese flag. King Manuel I of Portugal
granted the German merchants special commercial
privileges which were never before extended to anyone.
Through his letter dated 13 February 1503, taking into
consideration the request made by Simon Seitz in the

name of Anton Welser, Conrad Vhlin and the firm of the

Augsburg merchants, the King of Portugal permitted the
German merchants and financiers to establish a house
(factory) of their own in the city of Lisbon and to conduct
trade under very liberal conditions. They were exempted
from every sort of taxes on the commodities they wanted
to purchase and export from Portugal. Similarly, they were
authorised to take copper, silver, vermilion, quicksilver,
brass and other items to any part of Portugal and her
dependencies. These extraordinary privileges were
granted for a period of fifteen years. The King added that
though they were granted at the request of Simon Seitz in
the name of the above-mentioned merchants, any other
German merchant was also entitled to the same privileges.
Thus the King opened the field to all the German
merchants to invest their money in the Portuguese trade in
spices with the Malabar coast.588
As a result, several other German firms shifted their
concern from Venice, closed down their fondaco dei
Tedeschi and concentrated their activities in Lisbon. They
discontinued visiting the Venetian market and began to
send spices purchased from Lisbon to Antwerp, Bremen,
Hamburg, Lbeck, Danzig, Augsburg, Nrnberg and Ulm,
the last three of which were the principal cities of the

For a detailed study on the subject, ref. J.P. Cassel, Previlegia und
Handelsfreiheiten welch die Knige von Portugal ehedem den
deutschen Kaufleuten zu Lissabon erheit haben, Bremen, 1771.
The document is reproduced by J. Denuce in Archivo Historico
Portugues, vol.VII, Lisboa, 1909, pp.381-83.

Swabic League.589 Besides, the Germans under special

conditions were permitted to send their own ships to the
Malabar coast to purchase spices according to the terms of
the treaty signed on 1 August 1504.590

a. The Welsers
Anton Welser, one of the sons of Lucas Welser,
established a firm in 1496 in Augsburg in collaboration
with his brother-in-law Conrad Vhlin of Memingen and
named it Anton Welser, Conrad Vhlin and Company. They
concentrated their attention on the silver mines of Tyrol. 591
By 1503, he founded a factory in Lisbon with a view to

E.A. Strason/Alfred Gandara, Oito Seculos dee Historia LusoAlema, Liboa, 1944, pp.133-34.


Ibid, p.138.


Richard Ehrenberg, op.cit, pp.137 ff.

taking part in the trade on the Malabar coast. It was Simon

Seitz, the agent of the firm of Welsers who obtained the
privileges from D. Manuel in 1503 for the Germans as
mentioned before. Valentine Fernandes, a German was
appointed as the official mediator and interpreter
(Handelsagent und Vermittler) between the Portuguese
King and the German merchants. Lucas Rem remained in
Lisbon from 1503 to 1508 as the factor of the Welsers and
thereafter his brother Hans Rem was given the charge of
the factory.592 The firm of Welsers took part in the fitting
out of the ships to the Malabar coast in 1505 investing
20,000 florins.593 This brought them a profit of 175 per cent
of the amount invested. The factory of the Welsers was the
earliest of the German houses in Lisbon.


B.Greiff, ed., Tagebuch des Lucas Rem aus den Jahren 1494-1541,
Augsburg, 1861, pp.8-9, 83.


Ehrenberg, op.cit, p.138.

Since the Welsers, like the others, did not get

permission to trade directly with the Malabar coast, they
concluded contracts with the King of Portugal to purchase
a stipulated quantity of pepper in Lisbon to be taken to
Antwerp and other places for re-sale and thus, advanced
considerable amounts to the King. The Company paid an
amount of 7,000 cruzados in advance for the three
contracts related to the purchase of pepper before 1516. 594
Moreover, they supplied the necessary metals such as
copper and silver to the Portuguese factory at Antwerp to
be taken to the Malabar coast. Lucas Rem with his brother
Andreas Rem, Conrad Imhof and others were among the
partners of the Welser Company. The Welsers had wellestablished factories in Nrnberg, Danzig, Venice, Milan,
Rome, Genoa, Freiburg, Berne, Zrich, Lyons, Saragossa,
Antwerp and Lisbon. By the second half of the sixteenth
century, they concluded contracts with the King of Portugal
to export spices directly from the Malabar coast to
Lisbon.595 When the Asia Contract was signed in 1586,
Matthus Welser and Company took 5/12 shares of the

ANTT. Corpo Chronologico, I-19-111.


Archivo General de Simancas, Secretarias Provinciales, Cod.1571,


contract and joined the consortium under Giovanni Battista

Rovelasca. Later, they sold 3/12 shares of the contract to
Georg Fuggerschen Erben, presumably because the
Welsers were in financial difficulty to manage the whole
portion of the shares they purchased. Welsers joined the
other German financiers in taking part in the Europa
Contract of 1591 to sell the spices brought to Lisbon from
the Malabar coast. This was for a period of two years.

b. The Fuggers
The Fuggers of Augsburg wielded great influence in the
European banking and commerce sector of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries. After the death of Jakob Fugger in
1469, his sons Ulrich and Jakob continued the profession of
their father, and the latter of the brothers called Jakob, the
Rich (1459-1522), came to the fore after the death of the
former in 1510 and acquired great fame all over Europe as
an eminent banker and merchant.596 He founded the firm
with the name Jakob Fugger and Brothers Sons. In the
autumn of 1503, through his agent, he obtained certain
privileges analogous to the ones granted to the Welsers by
the King of Portugal in connection with the trade in spices
on the Malabar coast and established a factory in Lisbon.


For details of his activities, see. Gots Freiherr von Plnitz, Die
Fugger, Frankurt am Main, 1960

They invested 4,000 cruzados while Welsers and Vhlin

group put 20,000 cruzados each for the fleet that left
Lisbon for the Malabar coast. The consortium consisting of
the Fuggers, Welsers and other German firms besides the
Florentines fitted out three vessels under the Portuguese
flag, namely, S. Jeronimo, S. Rafael and Leonardo in the
fleet of Francisco de Almeida. Hans Mayr was the writer in
the ship S. Rafael, and Baltazar Sprenger in the ship
Leonardo. Thirty per cent of the total worth of the spices
brought to Lisbon was to be given to the King of Portugal.
Yet, the dividend of the gain for the various participants
was quite significant. Without any loss, the three ships of
the consortium of the merchant financiers brought to
Lisbon 13,800 quintals of spices. The Portuguese King had
the apprehension that such a great quantity of spices
would bring down the prices in European markets. So, it
was ordered that the cargo brought should be left in the
India House in Lisbon. Further, it was decided that if the
merchants wanted to buy the spices they could do it
against an annual state loan. The price of spices,
especially of pepper and ginger, would be fixed in
advance. The sale price was hiked by at least two to three
cruzados over the purchase price. Thus, the King devised
means to lessen the high cost for the annual fleet to India.
Against all these odds, the profit accrued to the German
entrepreneurs was quite high. It is calculated that they got
a profit of 175 per cent over the investment they made in
1505. Like other German merchant financiers, the Fuggers
had Markus Zimmermann as their agent in Lisbon.
In view of the order of 1 January 1505 issued by the
King of Portugal, purchase of all spices, whether they
belonged to the King or private merchants had to be done
only in the factory in Lisbon from the chief factor of the
King. The price of a quintal of pepper was thereafter fixed
at twenty-two ducats. When the Fuggers wanted to have

direct trade with India, the King did not give in but on the
other hand he insisted on royal monopoly over pepper. The
Portuguese factor in Antwerp was expected to look after
the problem of sale price. In fact, the German merchant
financiers did not find the system of monopoly and fixation
of price by the Portuguese a welcome step.
The Fuggers conducted exchange in precious metals
with the Portuguese. Later, they entered into the business
of supplying copper to the Portuguese which was essential
for trade on the Malabar coast. So, the Fuggers developed
their activities by starting a mining industry.
The Fuggers participation in the Portuguese trade with
the Malabar coast became inevitable since they owned
copper and silver mines. These two metals, especially the
former, were very much needed for keeping up trade in
spices from the Malabar coast. They had started trading in
copper in 1495 in Hungary and gradually, by advancing
cash to the Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol and Emperor
Maxmillian I, they bought the entire output of copper and
silver of Tyrol, especially of Schwarz. The Fuggers slowly
established their sway on minting and mining copper and
silver which were of great importance for the Portuguese
trade. They collected copper also from Sweden and
Denmark and delivered it to the King of Portugal, either at
the factory in Antwerp or in Casa da India in Lisbon.
According to a contract concluded with the Portuguese
King, they were supposed to advance an amount of 30,000
florins of gold to the Portuguese King. 597 They insisted that
the King should take silver also along with copper. By

ANTT.C.C. I-22-25.

another contract they bound themselves to supply

1,049,180 kgs of copper every year to the King of Portugal
In return they purchased pepper from Lisbon and took it to
the great centres of trade in different parts of Europe such
as Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Antwerp, Augsburg,
Ulm, and Nrnberg and so on. The last of the centres
(Nrnberg) was one of the main emporia of spices from
where they were sent to Hungary.599
In 1515 , Tom Lopez, the Portuguese factor in Antwerp
contacted the Fuggers in Augsburg and concluded a
copper-pepper contract. The King of Portugal required
5000 to 6000 quintals of copper from the Fuggers for the
next years fleet to India. But the factor managed to get
6000 quintals only by July 1517. The Fuggers purchased


ANTT.C.C. I-27-3.


ANTT.C.C. I-26-122.

pepper in return for the copper and sold it in Bohemia and

Hungary besides various other parts of Germany.
Rui Fernandes, the Portuguese factor in Antwerp
succeeded in persuading the Fuggers firm to conclude a
contract to supply, besides 12,000 quintals of copper,
whatever quantity the Portuguese King desired at twenty
eight shillings per quintal. In fact, he advised the King to
get copper exclusively from the Fuggers themselves on
account of their command over the business in copper and
the consistency of Jakob Fugger who kept his word.
Fernandes told the King that the Fuggers could let 10,000
to 20,000 cruzados slip away within an hour. Rui Fernandes
was even willing to sell pepper to the Fuggers for twentyfour cruzados a quintal.
Fernandes reported to the King of Portugal that Jakob
Fugger was the most important person in Germany and
that he had great command over the kings and nobles so
much so that nobody could think of living without him.
Everyone wanted to be a friend of Fugger. If not for him,
Charles V would not have been elected Emperor on 28
June 1519 because King Francis I of France offered him an
interest of 20 per cent for the money he proposed to take
as loan from Fugger. But Jakob Fugger replied that he
would not like to have anything to do with Francis I of
France. On the contrary he promised all the electors and
wrote to them to elect Charles V as the Emperor. The
newly elected emperor wrote to him that he would rather
like to have Jakob Fugger with him than four princes of
Germany, because no German does anything without
money. Rui Fernandes said that if anybody wanted large
volumes of copper or better copper, he could have it only
from the Fuggers. He added that there was great demand
for spices in Germany, Hungary, Poland and Russia. The
Fuggers purchased almost the entire import of pepper and
other spices from Lisbon which was not liked by other

European competitors. But the King did not pay any

attention to the opinion and, on the contrary, he offered
the spices entirely to the Fuggers, probably to the tune of
30,000 quintals of pepper. Fuggers were asked to dispose
of the dowry of 30,000 quintals of pepper, planned by the
Portuguese King to be offered in three instalments starting
in 1521 for the marriage of his sister Isabella of Portugal
with Charles V of Spain, though the marriage did not take
place. However, it indicates the trust the Portuguese King
had in the Fuggers for their ability to hold on to the trade
in pepper brought from the Malabar coast. 600 In fact, the
Fuggers played an important role in the sale of pepper
during the period from 1515 to 1521 and Venice which was
the main competitor for Portugal sank into abysmal
insignificance, as far as trade in pepper was concerned.
Copper from Europe fetched a considerable profit for
the Portuguese when it was used as a commodity of
exchange. One quintal of copper purchased in Antwerp for
4.5 cruzados and brought to India cost at the most nine
cruzados including freight charges. A quintal of copper was
sold at fourteen cruzados in India. Thus, the Portuguese
made a profit of five cruzados at least by way of the sale of
copper. Therefore, the Portuguese officials stationed in
Cochin used to write to the King of Portugal to send more
copper regularly to the Malabar coast. 601 In fact, there was
a great demand for copper in the coastal towns of Gujarat

Hbler, Die Geschichte der Fuggers chen Handlung in Spanien,

Weimar, 1897, p.30.

and so in the early part of the sixteenth century large

volumes of copper brought to the Malabar coast was
despatched to Gujarat along with pepper and silk to
purchase cloths of various sorts, indigo, sealing wax, gold
and silver coins besides a kind of shining stone which
could stop bleeding.602
The profit which was reaped by the Portuguese in the
use of copper as material for minting coins was still
greater. Though the price of copper varied between
twenty-five and thirty soldos a quintal, a quintal of copper
cost at the most 4.5 cruzados in Europe. Even if almost the
same amount was considered to be the freight charges of
a quintal of copper imported to the Malabar coast, the total
cost of a quintal of copper could be at the most nine
cruzados when it reached the Malabar coast as mentioned
above. Since minting began in Goa in 1510 and later in
Cochin, one could undoubtedly conclude that the profit
went higher than the previously mentioned amount.

Cartas, tomo I, pp.168,248, tomo II, p.111


Cartas, tomo I, pp.197,265,424; tomo IV, p.78; tomo vii, pp.4142,132.

Moreover, copper brought to the Malabar coast was sold at

a higher price in Gujarat. A large volume of copper was
also sent to that region.
Thus, the great demand for copper in the overseas
enterprise of the Portuguese compelled them to be
associated with the Fuggers, who occupied the most
prominent place in the business of copper. The Fuggers
obtained copper from various places like Mansfelder,
Schwarz, Tyrol, Hall, Bohemia, Poland and Slovakia. The
interest of the Fuggers in pepper declined by 1516, but the
supply of copper in large volumes continued since Portugal
needed it very badly for their trade with India and the
Fuggers were considered the best and the most reliable
The Fuggers interest in spices became renewed in the
context of the Asia Contract of 1585. Markus and Matthus
Welser and Company took up 5/12 Shares of the Asia
Contract. The Georg Fuggerschen Erben took 3/12 shares
in this contract from the Welsers who presumably did not
have sufficient funds to keep the entire share they
received. Thus, one fourth of the Asia Contract was given
to the Fuggers. Philipp Eduard and Octavian Secundus
invested an amount of 48,500 cruzados as their first
instalment of the share in 1586 for the purchase of spices
and the fitting out of the ships as well as the insurance for
the ships. The Fuggers had Philipp Krel as their factor in
and later, Joseph Hartlieb as their own factor in Lisbon
from 1589. Eduard and Ocfavian Secundus sent Hans Jakob
Krel, the nephew of Philipp Krel and Philipp Litscher in
1590 to Lisbon for assisting Hartlieb in looking after the
business at Lisbon. From 1591, Johann Eberlin worked in
Lisbon as the factor of the Fuggers.
The most important duty to be performed by the
officials of the Fuggers stationed in Lisbon consisted of

handing over the stipulated sum of money to the India

House, to arrange seaworthy and strong ships, and to see
to the disposal of the import at the rate fixed with the king.
Often, there were a lot of problems in this regard. The
Portuguese Crown naturally tried to sell the imported
pepper at the highest price possible, mostly in the form of
a Europa Contract. There was only a period of four to five
months to complete the sales. As pepper used to be
brought to the European market via Cairo and Alexandria
in considerable quantity, the price of pepper in Lisbon
naturally went down. The potential purchasers of pepper
did not want to buy it or other spices at any high price.
Therefore, the Portuguese Crown wanted to dispose of the
pepper as soon as possible. The contractors were naturally
the victims in such kinds of difficult situation. They were
not able to find purchasers in so short a period and to get
the money for the next fleet. Therefore, without any
surety, they had to arrange money by paying interest. The
agents of the Fuggers had therefore a very tough work to
be performed. Similarly, their factors in India too had a
very difficult task before them.603
The problems started with the very purchase of pepper
itself which was totally different from what was generally
understood by those who did not have the first hand
knowledge. The local producers used to adulterate the

Fugger Archives, Codex No.46.1.Folios 39-82. This unpublished

report from India contains not only detailed information about
political and economic conditions, but also very clear ideas about
the entire Portuguese colonial regime in the East Indies.

crop to get higher profit since the fixed price was far below
the current market price. Better commodities were
purchased first by the Moors and the traditional Arab
merchants at considerably high price and were taken to
Tartary, Arabia and China as reported by Ferdinand Cron,
the agent of the Fuggers in India. The local rulers were
willing to deliver pepper at the fixed rate only when the
Portuguese were ready to help them in their constant fight
among themselves. The Portuguese were not sympathetic
to such demands and so the local rulers did not care to see
that the stipulated volume of pepper was delivered on
time against the fixed rate. This naturally created
insurmountable difficulty to the agents of the Fuggers as
well as those of the others.
The Fuggers were asked by the Portuguese King to
conclude Europa Contract in 1591 through Hartlieb, the
agent of the Fuggers in Lisbon. At the insistence of the
Spanish King, the Fuggers concluded the Europa Contract
to sell pepper and other spices brought to Lisbon from the
Malabar coast. The other partners of the Europa Contract
were those who had been known for their business,
especially in cash, with the Spanish King. The contract was
signed on 8 April 1591 for a period of two years. The firm
of Thomas and Andrea Ximenes of Portugal took 12 out of
7 shares in the name of Georg Fuggersche Erben, the
Welsers 5, Giovanni Battista Rovelasca and Geraldo Paris 4
and the Spanish business house of Francesco and Pedro
Malvenda obtained 4 shares. After a short while, the
Ximenes purchased two shares more from Malvenda. Thus,

a combination of several nationals took part in the Europa

Contract of 1591.604
The Asia Contract concluded with the consortium of the
German and Italian merchant financiers in 1586 continued
to operate till 1593 and then another contract with Thomas
Ximenes, Heritor Mendes and Jorge Roz Sulis e Elvas was
concluded. This lasted till 1597. The trade in pepper with
the Malabar coast was further conducted directly by the
Portuguese Crown from 1597 to 1607.
The Portuguese Crown made a sizeable profit from this
business. A quintal of pepper delivered at the India House
for sixteen cruzados was sold for more than thirty-six
cruzados. The shareholders of the Europa Contract fixed
forty to forty two cruzados per quintal as its sale price.
Therefore, the profit that accrued to them was rather
negligible. The difficulties that were faced during the
course of the year made the Fuggers sell seven out of
thirty two shares. After a long period of bargain, a certain
Ruy Lopo Ruiz dEvora along with Thomas Ximenes,
purchased the shares of the Fuggers in Lisbon.605 Nicholas
and Simon Ruiz dEvora were the agents at Antwerp for the
Portuguese shareholders of the contract. They played a
still better role in the pepper trade in the subsequent

c. The Herwarts

Reinhard Hildebrandt, Die Georg Fuggerschen Erben

Kaufmnnische Ttikeit und Socialer Status 1555-1600, Berlin,
1966, p.167.

The Herwarts were members of the copper-syndicate of

the Fuggers along with Paumgartner and Gossenprot, and
and merchants of Augsburg. George Herwart, a merchant
who specialised in jewels and pearls of the Orient had his
factory in Lisbon during the early sixteenth century. He had
his representatives in India and stonecutters and polishers
in Lisbon in connection with the trade in precious stones
conducted through the spice routes. His son-in-law
Cristsovo Herwart in Lisbon looked after the contracts
George Herwart concerning the trade in spices. The
Herwarts, in association with the Fuggers, supplied copper
to the Portuguese King to be taken to the Malabar coast.

d. The Hchstetters
Next to the Fuggers and Welsers, Hchstetters had the
most important business house in Augsburg and
Ambrosius Hchstetter was at the head of the business in
the early sixteenth century. They took part in sending
ships to the Malabar coast in 1505 and invested an
amount of 4,000 florins for the same.606 Later on they
concluded contracts with the Portuguese King for the
purchase of pepper and other spices at the Casa da India
and sent the consignment to their factory in Antwerp.

e. Imhofs

Hermann Kellenbenz, Der Pfeffermarkt um 1600 und die

Hansestdte Hansiche Geschichtsbltter, 74 Jahrgang, Bhlau,
1956, pp.31-33.

The Imhofs had a fairly important trading house in

Nrnberg and Endres Imhof formed a consortium to which
They also had a branch in Lisbon and an agent to take part
in the Portuguese trade. Ulrich Imhof and Michael Imhof
represented the Imhofs in Lisbon for some time. They were
known to the Portuguese writers by the name of Imcuria.608
The Imhofs too took part in fitting out the ships to the
Malabar coast in 1505.609

f. Hirschvogel

Ehrenberg, op.cit, p.151 ff.


Ibid, pp.168-71.


E.A. Strassen/Alredo Gandara, op.cit, p.141.

This was another trading house of Nrnberg that had

associated itself with the Portuguese trade through the
new spice route in the sixteenth century.610 They too
secured the same privileges granted to the other German
firms by the King of Portugal and established a factory in
There were other German merchants and financiers like
Haller von Hallerstein and the Heller of Frankfurt am Main,
who associated themselves with the Portuguese trade in
spices conducted in Antwerp and that on the Malabar

Portuguese Financiers and Merchants

Portuguese trade on the Malabar coast during the
sixteenth century, unlike other West European Companies
in the subsequent centuries, was an enterprise of the
State, run under the supervision of the officials appointed
by the King. However, the Portuguese nobility and

J. Dsenuce, op.cit, p.316; Joaquim de Vasconcellos, Albrecht Drer

e a sua Influencia na Peninsula, Coimbra, 1929, p.25.


Joaquim de Vasconcellos, op.cit, p.25.

merchant class did not fail to make use of the opportunity

presented before them to invest their wealth and make
profit out of the trade on the Malabar coast. Dom Alvaro,
the brother of the Duke of Bragana, fitted out a ship in
partnership with Bertholameu Marchioni in 1500 to buy
spices from the Malabar coast.611 Similarly, Conde (Count)
of Portalegre and a few other Portuguese merchants sent a
ship of their own in the same year to the Malabar coast. 612
Dom Alvaro sent another ship under his employee, Diego
Barbosa, to the Malabar coast in the fleet of Joo da Nova
in 1501.613


Marino Sanuto, op.cit, tomo iv, col. 66.




Barros, op.cit, Decada I, part I, p.464.

Fernando Noronha, another financier, sent a few ships

in the fleet of Francisco de Almeida in 1505 to the Malabar
coast. Rui Mendes was yet another merchant who joined
the fleet of 1506 sent to Cochin.614 Affonso de Albuquerque
who commanded the ship Cirne in the same year had a
share in it. George Lopes do Alcunha Bixorda in
partnership with Francisco Cornivel, the Florentine, fitted
out their own ship in 1509 to the Malabar coast. The fleet
of 1516 had two ships in the name of the Queen of
D. Nuno Manuel and Duarte Tristo had their own ships in
the fleet of 1517.615 Vicente Gil, son of Duarte Tristo, was


Wilhem Heyd, Histoire du Commerce du Levant au Moyen Age,

vol.ii, Leipzig, 1886, p.532.


Castanheda, op.cit, Liv IV, capt. 26, Corrreia, op.cit, tomo II, part
II, p.531.

also one of the Portuguese merchant financiers who took

part in the trade on the Malabar coast.616
The East India Companies, started by the English, the
Dutch, the Danes and the French for conducting trade in
spices available in the Malabar coast and in the other spice
producing areas of the Indian Ocean regions were
chartered companies consisting of private merchants. On
the other hand, the trade in spices, conducted by the
Portuguese, was a monopolistic enterprise of the
Portuguese King. Therefore the King had to arrange
required funds and materials for exchange from various
parts of Europe. The merchant financiers got an
opportunity to enhance industrial production and capital
through trade under the Portuguese flag. The spices
brought to Lisbon were taken to various destinations by
the merchant financiers. Far flung areas of Europe like
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Bohemia, Poland,
Belgium and Netherlands, besides Germany, France and
England, were brought together in the network of the
circulation of spices. In other words, spice routes served as
a major conduit for international linkages of the spiceproducing areas of the Indian Ocean region, among
themselves and various parts of Europe in need of spices.



V.M. Godinho, Os Descobrimentos Economia Mundial, Vol II,

Lisboa, 1965, p.84.





lthough scholars from India and abroad studied the

role played by the English, Dutch, French, and
Danish East India Companies in the maritime trade
of India, rather satisfactorily, scant attention has been paid
to the role played by local merchants, either because the
records preserved in the European archival repositories
have very little to say about the Indian merchants, or
because the merchants who did not occupy a prominent
place in the caste hierarchy in India did not impress the
scholars much. It is against this backdrop that an attempt
is made here to deal with the local merchants, taking the
Portuguese trade as a case study.

The local merchants and the trade in spices

The local merchants had an important role in the
organization of the trade in spices on the Malabar coast.
Dependence on a number of local merchants in the
conduct of trade in spices was necessitated as the
Portuguese merchants could not go from cultivator to
cultivator with rice, cloth and things of daily requirement
to purchase pepper from them. This would take time and
had to be done before the arrival of the ships which could
not afford to wait in the respective ports for more than
three to four months since the shipping depended on the

monsoon winds.617 Also, the Portuguese were not in a

position to do this as these things were to be purchased
from other parts of India and taken to the Malabar coast
for obtaining spices. Moreover, the mode of paying for the
spices, partly in cash and partly in copper, did not help the
cultivators and even the Brahmin merchants in any way,
as it was not possible for them to take copper to Gujarat to
sell it for a good price. 618 The Portuguese also had to have
sufficient money to purchase the spices in a short time
available between the period of arrival and departure of
the ships. This too was not feasible either because of the
lack of cash or the lack of time. 619 Moreover, the harvesting

Cartas, tomo I, p.330.


Ibid, tomo I, pp.329-30.


Ibid, pp.272-73.

time of pepper and other commodities fell outside the time

of the arrival of the Portuguese ships and so the spices had
to be purchased in advance by paying cash. 620 But the
Portuguese officials were not fidalgos (trustworthy or
nobles) as to be entrusted with the cash in advance, as
Affonso de Albuquerque says.621 They would take the
spices to Gujarat and other places to conduct clandestine
trade and make profit for themselves. Therefore, the
Portuguese had no choice but to depend on the local
merchants and intermediaries. In certain cases, local
merchants of substantial investment kept the cultivators
and retail merchants away from direct contact with the
Portuguese factors by spreading the rumour that the
Portuguese would take them captives, treat them as


V.M. Godinho, Os Descobrimentos e a Economia Mundial, Lisboa,

1963-1965, 2 vols., vol.II, p.55.


Cartas, tomo I. p.330.

slaves, pay them very badly and would take excessive

weights if they sold the spices directly to them.622
The Portuguese officials in Cochin contacted Cherina
Marakkar and Mammale Marakkar, the influential
merchants of the locality to store pepper for the ships that
arrived in the fleet of Lopo Soares on 14 September 1504.
They received 2000 cruzados in cash and 4000 cruzados in
rice and copper from the Portuguese with the promise that
they would entrust 3000 bhars (498900 kgs) of pepper to
the Portuguese. When Lopo Soares arrived, the King of
Cochin along with these merchants visited the Portuguese
ships and did all the necessary assistance for loading of
the ships.623 Alee Apule, a Muslim merchant of Edappilly
was one of the important merchants in 1512, who supplied
a large quantity of pepper to the Portuguese factory. He
was given twenty cruzados every year as remuneration for

ANTT, Cartas dos Vicereis, no.99.


Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, seguidas de Documentos que

as elucidam, Lisboa, 1884-1935, 7 tomos (hereafter Cartas).. tomo
III, p.257; Cronica do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos
Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974, p.121.

his service.624 The Portuguese factor at Cochin purchased

446515 kgs of pepper from the local merchants of
Cochin.625 Cherina Marakkar and Mammale Marakkar were
so influential and friendly with the Portuguese that they
used to go along with the King of Cochin to visit the
Portuguese Viceroy at Cochin.626 They willingly received
the new weights introduced by the Portuguese in 1512 and
continued to supply pepper to the Portuguese factory at
Cochin.627 They went all over the Malabar coast to procure
pepper as cheap as they could and brought it to the

Cartas, tomo V, pp.503-4.


Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Lisboa (hereafter ANTT),

Nucleo Antigo, no. 804.


Cartas, tomo II, pp.361, 368.

factory.628 The Portuguese governor in Cochin requested

the Portuguese King to grant some special privileges to
Mammale Marakkar and his brother as well as to Cherina
Marakkar and his brothers in 1513.629
Another important merchant who supplied goods
including ships to the Portuguese was Nino Marakkar. 630 He
and his brothers were so friendly with the Portuguese that
they fought against the Muslims of Calicut with 1500 men
at their own cost to safeguard the interests of the

Ibid, tomo I, p.58.


Ibid. p.320.


A.B De Bragana Pereira, Arquivo Portuguese Oriental, Bastora,

1937-40, tomo iv, vol.1, part i, p.681; Cartas tomo III, p.404.

Portuguese.631 Cherina Marakkar used to take cartazes

(passes) from the Portuguese factor at Cochin and sent
commodities to Hormuz.632 There were yet other seven to
ten important merchants who used to bring large
quantities of pepper to the Portuguese factory at Cochin in
the second decade of the sixteenth century. To mention a
few, Coja Mapila and Abraham (Ibrahim) Mapila
Cunheviray, both Muslims, and Mathai Mapila, a Christian,
all three who came from Edappilly brought more than
498900 kgs of pepper a year to the Portuguese factory at

Cartas, tomo II, pp.377-78.


Ibid, p.378.


Ibid, tomo i, p.49.

Cochin.633 Yte Couna (Ittikunju), a Nair merchant from

at least 116410 kgs of pepper to the Portuguese.
addition to them, there were also Jews who stood as
intermediaries between the cultivators of pepper and the
Portuguese officials in Cochin.635
The Marakkars, hailing originally from Kunimedu and
Kayalpattanam, were the major suppliers of food materials
to the Portuguese from the rice ports of Coromandel and
so their collaboration was essential, not only for feeding

Cartas, tomo vii, p.174.




ANTT, Cartas dos Vicereis da India, no.95.

the food-deficient Portuguese settlements in Kerala, but

also for procuring pepper from the hinterland of Malabar
where they used to go regularly to supply rice in return for
pepper and ginger.
Mafomede Maary (Mohammed Maary) was one of the
principal merchants of Calicut who, since 1513, helped the
Portuguese in their trade at Calicut.636 Coja Byqui, resident
of Calicut, but hailing from Hormuz, was another reliable
and resourceful merchant who associated himself with the
Portuguese in the factory at Calicut.637 Mamale was
another great merchant of Cannanore who associated with
the Portuguese.638 Maynale (probably Mahommed Ali), the

Cartas, tomo I, p.142, tomo iv, p.179.


Cartas, tomo iii, p.198.


Ibid, tomo I, p.125.

factor of Icaproca supplied rice to the Portuguese in large

quantities.639 Pocaracoa (Pokkarachan), a Muslim merchant
of Cannanore too had commercial relations with the
Portuguese.640 These merchants at Cannanore supplied
commodities on credit and thus proved to be very useful to
the Portuguese trade.641


Ibid, tomo VI, p.421.


Ibid, tomo VII, p.25.


Ibid, tomo 1, p.268.

Mathias and Bragaida Taquatome were the main local

merchants who supplied pepper and other commodities to
the Portuguese weighing house in Kayamkulam and
Quilon.642 Mathias, along with his brother and children, was
given victuals and cash for their daily expenses from the
Portuguese factory. He also supplied cinnamon to the
Portuguese with the help of his colleagues. 643 Probably, he
acted just as a paid agent in the beginning and then,
became a small-scale merchant.644 The local merchants of

Cartas, tomo iii, p.30: Barros, Decada I, Pt. ii, p.350; Cartas, tomo
vii, p.93; tomo vi, pp.114,398-99, tomo iii, pp.258-9, tom, ii, p.268.


Cartas, tomo VII, pp.93-94.


Ibid, tomo iii, p.30.

Quilon supplied 246622.9 kgs of pepper for the cargo of

the ship St. Gyam in 1516.645
The local merchants contacted the cultivators directly
by going from one place to another, giving rice, cloths and
cash in exchange for the pepper. The Muslims and Jews
collected cloth from Cambay and brought it to Malabar
coast to barter for pepper and other commodities, making
good profit in the process.646 In certain cases, they
themselves stored the commodities thus purchased at
retail price from the cultivators and gave them to the
Portuguese at the time of the arrival of the ships at the
Malabar coast.647 The captain or the factor of the

ANTT, Nucleo Antigo, no.804.


ANTT, Cartas dos vicereis da India, no.95; Cartas. tomo I, p.330.


ANTT Coleco S.Loureno, tomo II, fls.378-79.

respective ports visited the godowns of the local

merchants and paid an advance to get the commodities at
the time of loading the ships. Mamale Marakkar of Cochin
was the richest man in the country, as reported by
Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna who was in Malabar
during the first decade of the sixteenth century.648
Some of the local merchants even supplied ships to the
Portuguese for carrying commodities from one port to
another in the Indian Ocean regions. Thus for example,
Nino Marakkar of Cochin sent his ship to Malacca for the
sake of Portuguese activities there in 1506. 649 A few of the
Gujarati merchants cooperated with the Portuguese by
trans-shipping cloths from Cambay to the Portuguese
factories on the Malabar coast which were then taken to


Ludovico di Varthema, The Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema of

Bologna from 1502 to 1508, London, 1928, p.106.


Cartas, tomo II, p.378.

Malacca for barter.650 The vessel of Chilay Marakkar of

Cochin was used to transport elephants from Malabar to
Goa, which were to be taken to Portugal.651 Thus, the local
merchants helped the Portuguese in their coastal trade
even by supplying suitable vessels.
The situation changed with the estrangement of the
Marakkars from the Portuguese in 1524 when the former
moved away from their commercial partnership with the
Portuguese and migrated en masse from Cochin to Calicut
under the leadership of Kunhali Marakkar, his brother
Ahmed Marakkar, their uncle Muhammadali Marakkar and
their dependents and relatives. This was done against the
backdrop of the Portuguese highhandedness and the
confiscation of Marakkar cargo and vessels, destined for
the Ottoman ports on the Red Sea under the pretext of
checking cartazes. Not long after, Pate Marakkar who had
been the great friend and collaborator of the Portuguese in
the early days of their establishment, also went to Calicut
to join his nephew, Kunhali Marakkar, after his two ships

Ibid, tomo viii, p.132.


Ibid, tomo vi, p.31.

sent to Gujarat were captured by the Portuguese. In fact,

the Marakkar traders were increasingly targeted and
attacked to favour the emerging Portuguese traders who
wanted entry into the lucrative Intra-Asian trade.
Eventually, Marakkar traders operating from many of the
Malabar ports organised themselves under the leadership
of Kunhali Marakkar and resorted to guerrilla techniques to
fight against the Portuguese travelling in the south,
particularly those going to the eastern parts of the Indian
Ocean along the Pearl Fishery coast.

Attempts to replace Muslim merchants

The Portuguese King often instructed his officials on the
Malabar coast to favour the Hindu and Christian merchants
against the Muslims.652 Though they had taken this
instruction to heart, it did not bear any fruit. First of all, the
Christians had very little to invest in trade and the Hindus
did not have so great a capital as the Muslims. 653 Secondly,
the mode of payment for the commodities was not at all

Cartas, tomo I, p.306.


Cartas, tomo I, p.306.

conducive to the growth of a Hindu merchant community.

The Hindu merchants sold the copper given as part
payment for pepper at a lower price in Malabar itself, since
they did not travel much in the seas and did not prefer to
take the copper to sell it in Gujarat.654 Even the crew of the
vessels owned by the Banias, the merchants of Gujarat,
were Muslims. Besides, the Muslims had great capital to
were suitable to trade, in contrast to those occupied by the
Hindus and Christians. The local Hindu rulers themselves
favoured the Muslim merchants on account of the
significant profit they reaped from trade conducted by the
Muslims.655 A look at the activities of Khwaja Shams-ud-din
Giloni of Cannanore will give a better understanding of the
commanding position held by the Muslim merchant
financiers on the Malabar coast, though there may not be
many examples of this sort.


Ibid, p.330.


Ibid, pp.306-7.

Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Giloni, a local merchant

Hailing from Gilan in the northwest of Persia,656 Khwaja
Shams-ud-din Giloni settled in India in the service of Asad
Khan, Governor of Belgaum, the most powerful and
influential of the captains of Ibrahim, the young and
impetuous Adil Shah of Bijapur. By the time he became
prominent in his relations with the Portuguese, he had
settled down in Cannanore on the Malabar coast.
Right from 1505, Khwaja Shams-ud-din had commercial
contacts with the Portuguese.657 He was reported to be the
richest merchant of India in the first half of the sixteenth
century as testified by the contemporary Portuguese
officials in India.658 The Portuguese cultivated great
friendship with him so much so that he was exempted from
paying customs duties for his vessels in all the customs
houses under the Portuguese control. He was free to send
any number of ships anywhere he liked, even to the Straits

Diogo de Couto, Da Asia, Decada V, part II, Lisboa, 1780, p.366.


Archivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, (Lisboa), (ANTT) Coleco de

S. Loureno, II, fl.117.

of Mocha which was not usually permissible to the private

merchants. The King of Portugal had also instructed his
officials in India to extend him favours of all sorts.659
Khwaja Shams-ud-din dealt in a variety of goods and
sent his vessels to a number of centres of trade. Mocha
was one of the chief marts whereto he sent pepper and
gold regularly.660 His merchant vessels also visited Jidda
and Hormuz with various commodities from India and
Southeast Asian countries. In 1544 he is even reported to

ANTT, Corpo Chronologicco, I-79-134.


Simo Botelho, O Tombo do Estado da India in Rodrigues Jos de

Lima Felner, ed., Subsidios para a historia da India Portuguesa,
Lisboa, 1808, Cartas de Simo Botelho, No.2.


ANTT. Coleco de S.Loureno, III, fl.124.

have sent three ships loaded with merchandise to the

marts of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions. 661 At the
time, the most important aim of the Portuguese was to
divert the flow of spices, especially pepper and a few other
items, which were declared as monopoly goods and
channel these commodities via Cape of Good Hope to the
port of Lisbon. Shams-ud-dins efforts to sell spices in West
Asia therefore went counter to the Portuguese plans to
establish tight control on the flow of certain commodities.
As other merchants of the time, Shams-ud-din also had
commercial relations with Southeast Asian centers of
trade, especially Malacca. Sealing wax from Pegu and
several other merchandises available in Malacca formed
part of the commodities his vessels took from there. His
base was in Cannanore from where he sent his merchant
vessels to the South. His ships were repaired under the
supervision of the Portuguese in Cannanore.662 The
Portuguese provided him with every kind of protection lest

A.da Silva Rego, ed., As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, Lisboa, 1963,

vol.III, p.205.


Ibid, p.219.

his vessels should be disturbed by anybody.663 He

developed his sea-borne trade and maritime network
under the care extended by the Portuguese.
In addition to the trade with West Asia and Southeast
Asian countries, Khwaja Shams-ud-din conducted active
trade with all the important ports between Cape Comorin
and Gujarat on the western coast of India. He had
commercial establishments in Cochin and he requested the
Portuguese to allot a piece of land there for him. 664 He had
trade with Calicut also and kept good relations with the
Zamorin. His merchants also visited Bhatkal, Chaul, Dabhol
and Diu. In fact, the trade centred on Diu brought him a lot
of wealth.665
The wealth and influence wielded by Shams-ud-din can
be known from the narrative of the Portuguese Governor,
Martim Affonso de Sousas visit to Cannanore in 1543.
Again, the purpose of this visit was to collect money from
him. When the governor, accompanied by six galleys and

Gaspar Correa, Lendas, op.cit, vol IV, p.341.


ANTT, Coleco de S. Loureno, III; fl.185; Corteso &

Albuquerque, op.cit III, p.434.

eight light vessels, reached Cannanore, he first made

contact with the local ruler, Ali Raja and then proceeded to
the residence of Shams-ud-din, which was about half a
league away from the Portuguese fortress. The entire
passage from there to the residence of Shams-ud-in was
bedecked with foreign silk pieces and decorative plants.

Merchants, merchant financiers and European

companies trading in the Spice route
The financial position of some of the European
merchants necessitated the dependence on merchant
financiers. The European merchants like the English, the
Dutch, the Danes and the French announced their
requirements with specific quantity in the premises of the
factories. Those who had the capital and those in whom
the foreign merchants had faith took up the responsibility
of the stipulated volume of the commodities in the
respective factories after receiving an advance payment
from the European Companies. Here the price, volume and
the quality of the required commodities were fixed in
advance. Similarly, the time of delivering the commodities
was also specified in the contract. This naturally helped
only those who had sufficient capital to invest and means
to employ. Hence, the small-scale merchants who did
business on their own were automatically ousted.
The European merchants did not place their trust in
people without considerable capital. The ruler of Arackal

ANTT, Coleco de S. Loureno, III, fl.447.

turned out to be an important person dealing in trade with

West Asia during the Dutch occupation of Cannanore and
later. The merchants under the Beebi of Arackal took
active part in the trade of dates and other dried fruits from
West Asia to cater to the increasing need of the Muslims of
North Malabar interested in the observance of religious
fasts. In course of time these merchants invested in the
purchase of large areas of land for the cultivation of
pepper and other spices in Malabar, which helped them
emerge as great landowners. The attacks of Haider Ali and
Tipu and the subsequent flight of the Hindus from North
Malabar opened the avenue for Muslim merchants to
acquire large tracts of land at throw away prices or, at
times even without any payment.
Similarly, the commercial activities of the business
house of Keyis and their relations with the English in
Tellicherry enable us to understand the rise of merchant
capitalists in the wake of the opening of the spice route via
Cape of Good Hope. The founder of this house,
Chowakkaran Aluppy Kakka is reported to have been doing
business in Tellicherry in 1680 with the Dutch East India
Company according to the family accounts. 666 With the
establishment of the English factory in Tellicherry in 1683,
his relations with the East India Company officials in India
became more and more active. Shifting of his house from
Chovva, near Kannur, to Tellicherry took place after Haider

K.K.N. Kurup & E. Ismail, The Keyis of Malabar: A Cultural History,

Calicut 2008, p.26.

Ali invaded Kolathunad under Chirakkal Raja, in 1766. He

took with him two of his sisters and two nephews, Moosa
and Bapu. The English advanced money against the
contract signed by Aluppy Kakka, who procured pepper
and other spices from the interior through his agents and
stored them in his warehouse known as Kakkas Bankasal.
He founded the business house of Key is in Tellicherry.
Aluppy Kakka appointed his men to collect pepper from the
cultivators who received payments in advance and
supplied the products at the time of harvesting. They
made a fortune by fixing the price and paying the advance
much before the pepper was ripe. In accordance with the
matrilineal practice followed by the family, Moosa Kakka,
the eldest nephew of Aluppy Kakka took up the business of
the house of Chovakkaran. He became widely known as
Chovakkaran Moosa in the records of the Tellicherry
Moosa commanded great respect on account of his
wealth and honesty. Even when Arackal Beebi needed a
surety for the English who attacked her settlement in
Cannanore in 1790, it was Moosa who stood surety for the
payment of the stipulated amount to the English. We have
the statement of Dewan Kunhi Mackey and Ahmadkutty of
the Beebi:
...We do hereby agree and give in writing to abide by
the declaration on oath of Moosa (who is an inhabitant of
Tellicherry and a man of credit and to be depended on) as

to the value of all the said Beebees territories as well as

those on the continent as her islands...667
Moosa took up the responsibility of paying the amount
to the English in Tellicherry when the Beebee did not pay
the amount. The document to this effect was signed by
Moosa on 4 December 1795. The undertaking reads thus:
I, Chocara Mousa, merchant of Tellicherry do hereby
bind myself, my heirs and executors to pay the Honourable
Company the sum of Rs.10,000/ on account of Adea Raja
Beebee of Cannanore within the period of twenty five days
from the date hereof.668
After the treaty of Srirangapattanam, (1792) Malabar
was ceded to the English East India Company and
therefore the monopoly of pepper passed into the hands of
the English in Tellicherry. The Company obtained pepper
through contracts with the merchants. Invariably, it was
Moosa who supplied pepper to the English factory at

William Logan, Treaties and Engagements and Other Reports of

Importance, Madras, 1951, part I, no.xcii, p.82 (Quoted in K.K.N.
Kurup, op.cit, p.38).



Tellicherry against contracts. A contract signed by him and

his brother Bapen and witnessed by the linguist,
18 December 1793 explains his relationship with the
We, the undersigned merchants of Tellicherry, do
hereby faithfully engaged promise that we will to the
utmost of our power and endeavour to secure for the
Honourable Company all the pepper produced this year in
the northern division of the Malabar Province, and that we
will not give a grain away from the Company but deliver
the same to the Chief of Tellicherry. As we cannot at
present specify what the quantity will be, we do engage
however that it shall not be less than the quantity set
opposite to our names respectively, and we do hereby
engage to receive payment at the rate of 200 rupees per
600 pounds weight.

Signed at Tellicherry
18 December 1793
Chocara Mousa
250 candies
Chocara Bapen
100 candies
Baniabelty Coyamo
200 candies
Devarsa Bandary
250 candies
Subayya Set
300 candies
Witness to the above signatures D. Rodrigues.669


Logan, op.cit, part II, no.LXXI, p.212.

Moosa and his family members, united as in a joint

stock company, developed their wealth accumulated
through trade and commerce. The English in Tellicherry
greatly depended on the supply of pepper by Moosa and
his relatives. Francis Buchanan, who visited Malabar,
reported about the relation between Moosa and the
The Company has always made its purchase by a
contract entered into with a few native merchants, or in
fact for many years almost with one only, with Chouacara
Mousa of Tellicherry. Seven others have also dealings with
the Company; but one of them is Mousas brother, and the
others are to a great measure his dependants.670
The volume of pepper produced in Malabar rose to
300,000 quintals by 1587 according to the European
reports.671 The phenomenal increase in the production of

Francis Buchanan, A Journey from Madras through the Countries

of Mysore, Canara and Malabar, vol.II, pp.532-32, New Delhi, AES
Reprints, 1988.


MSS. Codex no.46.1, fls.50-51, Frstlich und Grflich Fuggersches

Familien und Stiftungsarchiv, Dilligen/Donau, Ferdinand Cron, the
agent of the Fuggers and Welsers in Cochin wrote on 26 December
1587 that about 300,000 quintals of pepper were produced in

pepper in Malabar entails the entry of a large number of

persons not involved in cultivation hereditarily when it was
found that there was greater demand for pepper on the
Malabar coast. This paved the way for substantial change
in the mode of production and market economy became
the dominating factor in the production of spices. Hence,
some tendencies of capitalistic agriculture were found, by
which traditional non-agriculturists began to control the
production of pepper.
Besides the changes in the primary sector of
production, there was tangible transition in the society
involved in the exchange sector during this period. The
Portuguese, right from the very beginning of their
commercial contacts with the Malabar coast had been
antagonistic towards the Muslim merchants, both Indians
and foreigners on account of their inveterate enmity
towards them. When they realized that these merchants
held an important position in the maritime trade of India,
they took some steps directed at encouraging Christian
and Hindu merchants, unaware of the professional
distinctions existing in India. A few non-Muslim merchants
who were not traditionally involved in trade and commerce
seemed to have risen to the occasion. Thus, an Ilava
gentleman was reported to have supplied pepper to the
Portuguese factory at Cochin and received payment in kind
Portuguese. 672
A certain Mathias and Bragaida Taquatome, Christians
from the Malabar coast used to supply required pepper
and other spices to the Portuguese at Quilon and
Kayamkulam.673 Ytye Couna (Ittikunju), a Nair merchant
from Cranganore supplied pepper to the Portuguese at
Cochin. Similarly, Mathaimappila, a Christian from

Edappally was another person who supplied commodities

to the Portuguese factory in the sixteenth century.674
Apart from a few isolated incidents there is no evidence of
a tangible change affecting large number of persons from
the section of the society not traditionally involved in trade
and commerce. The traditional Muslim merchants
continued to maintain their hold on the trade as
middlemen despite the attempts of the European
merchants to do away with their prominence. However,

A. B. de Bragana Pereira, Archivo Portugus Oriental, Bastora,

1937-40, tomo iv vol.1, part I, p.296.


Cartas, tomo iii, p.30; Joo de Barros, Da Asia, Decada I, Part II,
p.350; Cartas tomo vii, p.93; tomo vi, p.114, tomo vii, pp.93-94.


Cartas... tomo vii, p.174.

trade in the spice route provided a golden opportunity to

the middlemen, whether merchants or merchant
financiers, to enhance their capital.





he trade along the Silk Routes was instrumental in

the spread of ideas, culture and religion. Judaism,
Nestorianism, Islam and Christianity spread across Eurasia
communities and institutions. Greco-Buddhist art is an
important expression of interaction between different
cultures through the silk route. Cultural exchange between
China and the West was made possible through the silk
route. Glorious civilisations of China, India, Greece, Persia
and Rome interacted along these routes from the second
century BCE rendering this route a famous Cultural
Bridge between Asia and Europe. The spice route during
the Roman period and later, including the newly found searoute for the trade in spices, paved the way for cultural
diffusion. Different religions and religious sects traversed
the spice route. Similarly, organised social welfare
activities were established from abroad, thanks to the
discovery of the new spice route. We shall derive a birds
eye view of these ideas in this section.

Spices, exotic animals like peacock, ivory and teakwood
attracted the Jews to India in general and the Malabar
coast in particular. The earliest commercial contact

between them and the Malabar coast is believed to have

been established during the time of Solomon, the King of
Jews who came to power in c 967 BCE. They concentrated
their trade in the region of Cranganore on the Malabar
coast. The book of Esther in the Bible, dating back to
second century BCE, makes mention of Jews in connection
with India. It refers to the decrees enacted by Ahasuerus
with regard to the Jews dispersed throughout the province
of his empire stretching from Hodu to Kush. Hodu in
Hebrew means India. Talmudic and Midrashic literature
make mention of spices, plants, perfumes, animals,
textiles and gems of Indian origin.
Three different waves of the migration of the Jews to
India in general and the Malabar coast in particular can be
distinguished. Subsequent to the destruction of the First
Temple of Jews during the siege of Jerusalem in
587 BCE, some Jews migrated to India and lived here as in
exile. The second migration was after the destruction of
70 CE. The leader of the Jewish community in Cranganore,
Joseph Rabban by name, was given certain privileges
inscribed in a copper plate supposed to be issued by the
King of Shingly (Cranganore), Bhaskara Ravi Varma, in
379 CE.675 The third wave of migration was following the
expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492 CE

The date physically inscribed in the copper plate is not definite.

Another tradition puts the date as 1069 CE.

A number of them migrated to Portugal and its

dependencies like India where they were treated less
rigorously than in Spain.
Three groups of Jews have been identified on the
Malabar coast, namely, the Black Jews, Paradesi Jews
(white Jews) and the Meschucharim Jews (manumitted
slaves), whom the White Jews brought with them from the
Iberian peninsula. The last group was discriminated by the
white Jews as they were in lower status compared to them.
Abraham Barak Salem (1882-1967), whose family
descended from Meschucharim, worked for the social
upliftment of this group and was hailed as Jewish Gandhi.
The Black Jews were in India before the arrival of the White
Jews, probably from the first century CE. Benjamin of
Tudela who visited the Malabar coast in the twelfth century
CE makes mention of the Black Jews on the Malabar coast.
The devastating flood of 1341 CE and the silting of the port
of Cranganore forced the Jews to shift base from
Cranganore to Cochin, after which they built seven
synagogues in Cochin which is an indication of the size of
the community. The Muslims with the support of the
Zamorin attacked the rest of the Jews in Cranganore in
1524 on account of their involvement in pepper trade with
the Portuguese. So, most of them fled to Cochin where the
local ruler received them kindly and granted a site for their
settlement which in course of time was called Jew Town
in the area of Mattancherry. He permitted the White Jews
to build a synagogue in the neighbourhood of his temple in
1568. In the nineteenth century, the Jews in Kerala were
found settled in Cochin, Mala and Parur. Jewish synagogues
were found in Chennamangalam (built in 1614), Parur
(built in 1615), Mala, Mattancherry (Cochin-Paradesi
Synagogue built in 1568), Kochangadi (built in 1341) as
well as Kavumbhagam (built in 1200 CE) and
Thekkumbhagam Synagogue (built in 1580), both in the

district of Ernakulam. The oldest grave stone of a Cochin

Jew found in the neighbourhood of Chennamangalam
Synagogue is of 1269.
Two more groups residing in various parts of India can
also be identified. One is known as Bene Israel (sons of
Israel) and the other Baghdadi Jews speaking Arabic who
migrated to Kerala in the nineteenth century. The
Baghdadi Jews joined the Paradesi community in Cochin.
Bene Israel group is found in Maharashtra centering on
Bombay, Old Delhi, Calcutta and Ahmedabad. They claim
to be descendants of the Jews who escaped persecution in
Galilee in the second century BCE and are known as the
lost tribe, survivors of a shipwreck.

Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty (322-185 BCE),
after his conversion to Buddhism, became active in the
spread of the religion. Displacement and conflict began to
take place as a result of the spread of Buddhism. Parthians
of a new Iranian Dynasty were Buddhists on account of
which the Greek Seleucids were exiled to Iran and Central
Asia at the beginning of the second century BCE. Spread of
Buddhism from North India through the silk route took the
direction of modern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia,
Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan) China, Korea and finally to
Japan. Thus Buddhism reached China in the first century
BCE. It was introduced into Yutian (Hetian) and from there
into the vast Western regions. This encompassed
Southeast Asia, East and Central Asia. Buddhism infiltrated
into inland China during the period of the Eastern Han
Dynasty (25-220 CE). The first large scale missionary
movement in the history of any world religion is embodied
in the Buddhist movement of this period. Male and female
monks besides laity actively participated in this. Chinese
pilgrims began to come to India along the silk route from

the fourth century onwards to get access to the original

scriptures and ideology of Buddhism. It is in this context
that we have to consider the pilgrimage of Fa-hsien (337422
(629-644 CE) to India.
It is held that following the travels of Zhang Qian
between 138 BCE and 126 BCE, Buddhism began to be
spread to Japan. Though it was officially introduced in
China in 67 CE , it received official recognition in Japan
only in 552 CE. Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 784
CE abounds in Buddhist and Shinto shrines. A number of
valuable pieces related to the ancient period of silk route
trade are preserved in Naras Shoshoni Treasure Repository
of the Emperor, established in 1989. Constructed in 752
CE, the Todaiji Temple in Nara, houses the famous image of
Great Buddha - the largest bronze statue in the world and
the national treasure of Japan.
It is believed that different schools and movements of
Buddhism resulted from the various, complex influences
and beliefs on the Silk Route. Merchants found the
teachings of Buddhism appealing and they helped in the
spread of the religion. Transmission of Buddhism via the
silk roads came to an end by the 7th century CE on
account of the rise of Islam during this period and its
aggressive spread.

Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism were
considered by the Tang Dynasty as Three Foreign
Religions. Zoroastrianism, founded by Zarathushtra and
the state religion of Persia, spread into the Western regions
of China from the fifth century to the first century BCE. It
developed rapidly during the Southern and Northern
Dynasties (420-589 CE) and disappeared completely after
the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The mighty Sussanian

Empire fell in the seventh century CE when the last King

Yezdagird Shehriar was defeated at the hands of the Arabs.
The Arab Muslims began to persecute the Zoroastrians and
when religious intolerance came to a head, a few pious
Zoroastrians left their beloved motherland of Iran and set
sail for the hospitable Indian shores. It is held that the
Zoroastrians began to settle in India by the tenth century

Manichaeism, a mixture of Zoroastrianism, Judaism,
Christianity and ancient Greek ideas. It was a major
Gnostic religion which originated in Sassanid-era
Babylonia. Mani (216-276) was the founding prophet who
taught an elaborate cosmology based on struggle
between a good spiritual world of light and an evil,
material world of darkness. Between the third and
seventh centuries, Manichaeism flourished, spreading to
China along the silk route. It became quite an influential
religion but was prohibited by the Tang Dynasty.

Nestorianism teaches a doctrine different from Catholic
Church and remains as a school of Syrian Christianity. It
was introduced to China along the Silk Route in 635 CE.
The Tang Emperor Taizhong, LiShimin, asked the people to
build a temple for the practice of Nestorianism. It
150 years during the Tang Dynasty. Under the rulers of the
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it began to decline.
Nestorianism spread into Kerala too in course of time.

Arab Muslims began to travel to China from the seventh
century CE along the Silk Route as well as through the sea
for the sake of spreading Islam. Guangdong province and
Quanzhou were the strongholds of Islam under the Tang

Dynasty. Islam had a deep grounding among the people of

Kerala had commercial contacts with the Arab world
even before the rise of Islam. The religion preached by the
Prophet Muhammad reached the coastal regions of Kerala
through the Arab merchants in the late seventh century or
in the eighth century. Like the Jews and Christians, the
Muslims too settled down in the region of Cranganore in a
separate space of their own. These merchants must have
used the Roman trade route via Red Sea to reach
Cranganore. Cheraman Juma Masjid, a mosque in Methala,
Kodungalloor Taluk is said to be the first mosque in India,
built in 629 CE by Malik Ibn Dinar. The renovation of the
mosque is believed to have taken place in the eleventh
century. Malik Ibn Dinar got another mosque built in
Thalangara, Kasergode, where his mortal remains are kept
buried. In all, eleven mosques like those in Kollam, Heli,
Chaliyam, Dharmapattanam and so on were built by him.
He worked very hard for the propagation of Islam.
According to the Census of India figures (2001), Islam is
the second-most practised religion in Kerala with 24.7%

a. St. Thomas Christians
St. Thomas Christians claim their origin from St.
Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. In the
light of recent scientific researchers conducted in the
Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, it is proved that
St. Thomas, after the crucifixion of Christ, worked for some
time among the Jews in Alexandria and from there he
reached Barygaza (Bharukacha or Broach) under the ruling

dynasty of Satakarnis of Andhra or Western Kshatrapas. 676

Barygaza was well connected with the overland and
maritime sections of the ancient silk route extending from
Southern Europe through Egypt, Somalia, the Arabian
Peninsula, Iran, Central Asia, Ancient India, Java, Indonesia
and Vietnam till it reaches China. The role of monsoon
winds which controlled the movement of ships in the
Indian Ocean regions, especially the Arabian Sea, was
understood through his personal experience by Hippalus,
the Roman merchant who made a successful voyage
across the sea to India in 47 CE. The anonymous GrecoRoman author of Periplus of Erithrean Sea (written in
Greek circa 40-70 CE) underlines the importance of
Barygaza in the first century CE as a nodal centre of land
and seaborne trade.
St. Thomas spent some time in Barygaza where there
were a few Jews and then proceeded from there via Ujjain
and Mathura to Taxila (Takshasila), haven of a great many
Jews and the capital of Indo-Parthian King, Gondophares
(Gudnaphar) who ruled the north western part of India
from 20/21 to 50/51 CE. St. Thomas must have reached
Taxila around 44-45 CE, certainly before the invasion of the
Kushans and the death of Gondaphares in 50/51 CE. The

James Kurikilamkatt, First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India,

Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila, Banglore, Asian Trading
Corporation, 2005. & Ref. James Kurikilamkatt, The Apostle
Thomas at Taxila: Historical Investigation of the Mission of Thomas
to North India with special reference to the Acts of Thomas, Rome,

north Indian apostolate of St. Thomas has been

convincingly proved by scientific researches recently
conducted based on a work composed in Edessa (an
ancient town in upper Mesopotamia) as a handbook for the
pilgrims to the Martyrium of St. Thomas, (Acts of Judas
Thomas written in Syriac language between 225 and 250
CE), numismatic evidences, (Coins issued by Gondaphares
with inscriptions in Greek and Karoshti), epigraphic sources
(Takht-i-Bahi inscriptions) and the remnants of ancient
Christian communities in the northwest of the
subcontinent as well as the Taxila cross. The inscription
discovered in the Udayapur temple in Madhya Pradesh
(c.78 CE) in the diocese of Saugar also points to the fact
that St. Thomas preached in India in the first century CE.
Other material remains in North West India as well as
Broach, Kalyan and so on indicate the fact that St. Thomas
the apostle worked in North India
The south Indian apostolate of St. Thomas has also
been convincingly proved by recent researches which once
again confirms the existing opinions of historians. It is held
by scholars that St. Thomas left Taxila when the kingdom
was being attacked by Kushans and he took part in the
Council of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles, 15:6, 22) held in
CE 50. He returned to India most probably through the
Roman trade route and landed in Muziris/Malyankara in CE
52. Muziris was a well-known centre of trade where the
Roman merchants had a settlement and so St. Thomas
easily found the means of transportation from the west.
Muziris and Barygaza were rival ports of the Silk route and
also of the Roman trade route.
The tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore and the transfer of
the mortal remains from there to Edessa as testified by the
witnesses of the second, third and fourth centuries confirm
the opinion about the south Indian apostolate. The writings
of St. Ephrem (+ 373) constitute a very important

testimony to the existence of a tomb in India and

necessarily the mission of St. Thomas in India. The bricks
found in the lowest strata of the St. Thomas tomb at
Mylapore and those used for the structures at Arikamedu
site in the second half of the first century CE, baked in the
same period are of the same size and quality. The
Arikamedu excavations were conducted by Mortimer
Wheeler in 1945. This is taken as the strongest argument
for the south Indian apostolate of St. Thomas by George
Nedungatt.677 Similarly, the Palayur tradition about the
apostolate of St. Thomas which is supported by Hindus and
Christians alike is strong evidence for the preaching of St.
Thomas in Malabar and is adduced as another proof to
support the theory.678 Nedungatt refers also to the
testimony of the Nagaragrantha-vari preserved by a
Namputhiri family called Kalathur Mana wherein it has
been recorded Kali year 3153 [=52 CE), a foreign Sanyasi
called Thomas came to our village, preached there causing
pollution. Therefore we came away from that village.679


The relics of the Apostle Thomas were venerated at Edessa in the

fourth century as is historically confirmed. And Edessa itself
proclaimed through its mouthpiece, Ephrem, the Harp of the Spirit
that those relics were brought there from India. If so, the quest
for the historical Thomas, the Apostle of India, can be terminated
here, giving the true value to the Indian tradition that the Apostle
died a martyrs death at Mylapore and was buried there in a tomb
that has not ceased to attract pilgrims from antiquity down the
centuries, George Nedumgatt, Quest for the Historical Thomas
Apostle of India :
A Re-reading of the Evidence, Bangalore, 2008, p-410.

The Christians of St. Thomas, with the rise of Islam in

West Asia and its aggressive spread lost their direct
contact with Rome from the seventh century and were
under the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. When the
Portuguese arrived in Cochin, the St. Thomas Christians of
Cranganore and surrounding regions, came into contact
with them assuming that they would get protection under
them. Initially the relations were cordial and presumably in
the wake of Protestant Reformation in Europe and their
subsequent determination to ward off such tendencies in
Kerala, the Portuguese became suspicious about the faith
and practices of the St. Thomas Christians. Ignorance of

Palayur affords singular support for the Tomas Christian tradition

regarding the apostle Thomas. Since it is a tradition shared by
Christians and Hindus alike, it can be regarded as above suspicion.
It explodes the Western theory that the apostolic origin of Indian
Christianity was a fraud of the Indian Christians or one hoisted
upon them by the Syrians. Since the Palayur tradition is attested
by a written Hindu document, it is of singular historical value for
Thomasology in its search for historical Thomas. Nedungatt,
op.cit, pp.335-342.


E.R. Hambye St. Thomas and India Clergy Monthly, 16(1952),

363 -375 (at 370)

the Oriental practices and language led the Portuguese to

St. Thomas Christians.
The Portuguese converted a lot of fishermen and others
to Christianity and Latin Christianity took deeper root in
Malabar. Thus, the spice route through the maritime
conduit paved the way for the rise and development of the
Latin Church.
The Portuguese tried to bring the St. Thomas Christians
under the Royal Patronage (Padroado Real) and, by the end
of the sixteenth century, their attempts courted victory.
But the tensions continued and the uprising of 1653
deepened the wedge between the Portuguese and the St.
Thomas Christians. Several denominations of Christians
came up subsequent to this uprising. These denominations
like the Jacobite church, Orthodox church, and a host of
other offshoots began to proliferate. In due course of time,
the Roman authorities intervened. Later, Congregation of
the Propaganda Fide, a new set up started by the Roman
Church began to function in Kerala parallel to the
Portuguese Padroado establishments.

Christian merchants from West Asia (Southists,

Tekkumbhagar or Knanayar)
The endogamous community claiming their origin from
Kinayi Thomas who, according to the prevailing tradition,
345 CE as the leader of a group of Jewish immigrants,
constitutes an important section of Christianity in Malabar.
He was a rich, internationally renowned merchant from
Cana, giving lead to a group of 400 Syrian Christian
migrants consisting of 72 families of 7 clans who set out
for the Malabar coast under the instructions of Mor
Yusthedius, Patriarch of Antioch. The group claiming Jewish
ancestry comprised men, women, children, priests,

deacons and their Bishop Uraha Mar Yausef, Bishop of

Uruk.680 This migration could be the earliest evidence of
the movement of groups of merchants on account of the
persecution of Christians in the Sassanid Empire in Persia
and maritime trade promoted by Shahpur II (310-79). 681
The merchants from Persian Gulf regions preferred ports
on the Malabar coast. As Cranganore was a port of
international trade and commerce, this group of migrants
travelled to Cranganore where they were cordially received
by the local ruler and were permitted to settle down in a
locality assigned to them. The kings on the Malabar coast
were eager to attract foreign traders by granting them
privileges and honours. So, the new migrant merchants

Jacob Kollaparambil, The Babylonian Origin of the Southists

among the St. Thomas Christians, Rome, 1992, pp.62, 66-67.


King Aardashir laid the foundation of the Sassanid rule in Persia

after overthrowing the Parthians in 224. He developed several
ports in Persian Gulf regions such as Rew Ardashir, Astarabadh
Ardashir, Bahman Ardashir, Wahasht Ardashir, Kujaran Ardashir
(on the Iranian coast) and Batn Ardashir (on the Arabian coast) for
boosting Persias maritime trade with India. Ref. Pius
Malekandathil, Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the
Indian Ocean, New Delhi, 2010, p.2.

were further given 72 princely privileges inscribed on

copper plates. The progeny of the migrants constitute an
important community in the economic and social life of

Persian merchants under Mar Sapor and Mar

Another wave of Christian migration to the Malabar
coast took place in the ninth century, when Mar Sapor and
Mar Proth led a group of Christian merchants from Persia to
the Malabar coast. With the decline of the Roman Empire
and the Roman trade with Muziris in the lower Periyar
valley in the region of Cranganore, Quilon emerged as an
important centre of maritime trade. Merchants from the
West began to turn their attention to Quilon since Muziris
was relegated to the background. A group of Christian
merchants who were active in the erstwhile Sassanid
territories, especially in Fars and the Persian Gulf regions,
moved out as a result of the expansion of political and
commercial networks of the Abbassids. The Abbassids
(750-870) shifted the headquarters of the Umayyad Khalifs
from Damascus to Baghdad in 762 with a view to enabling
them to control its trade and have better access to the
Indian Ocean via the Tigris.
It is against this backdrop that Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh
from Abbassid Persia moved to Kurakeni Kollam (Quilon) in
Kerala, most likely in 823, since the Christian merchants
from Sassanid Persia were already in touch with the
Malabar coast. They built a church in Quilon which was
named Tharisapally. This functioned as their centre of
worship and economic life in the port town of Quilon.
Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal of Venad, a feudatory of Sthanu
Ravi Varma (844-885), the ruler of the second Chera
Empire (800-1102) conferred various privileges on the
merchant community and its church in 829. These

privileges were inscribed on copper plates known as

Tharisapally copper plates. There are two sets of plates as
part of this document. Both are incomplete. The
signatories signed the document in Hebrew, Pahlavi and
Kufic languages.682 The church was made custodian of the
weights and measures of the city. Some of the taxes
collected by Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal were henceforth to
be collected by the Tharisapally. Mention is made of
Anjuvannam, Manigramam and Arunoottuvar in the copper
plates. Anjuvannam, a trade guild which generally
comprised Jews and Manigramam consisting of Christian
merchants assumed power as karalars of the city which
shows the authority of merchant guilds. Fixing their eyes
on customs duties from overseas trade, Ayyanadikal and
Sthanu Ravi Varma encouraged the newcomers from Persia
and prompted them to settle down in the area granted to
them. These Christian merchants were given the status of
Vaiysas with a view to weakening the commerce of the
Buddhists and Jains.683 The development of Quilon as a

T.A. Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II; p.68.


Pius Malekandathil, op.cit, p.42.

urban centre and the commencement of Kollam era in 825

indicating the founding of the town go to the credit of Mar
Sapor Iso, according to the tenor of the text in the copper
plates. The prosperity of the town attracted the attention
of Raja Raja Chola (985-1014) and prompted him to
capture it, though with the assistance of Joseph Rabban of
Muyiricode, it was re-captured by the Chera ruler Bhaskara
Ravi Varma (962-1020). When the foreign merchants from
West Asia got themselves involved in brisk overseas trade
of Quilon, the native Christians intensified the production
of spices. Angadis developed in the vicinity of the churches
providing facilities for trade and accommodation.

b. Latin Christianity
The first Latin Christian Missionary to work in Quilon
was John of Monte Corvino, a member of the Societas
Peregrinantium pro Christo who arrived in 1291 on his way
to China. He worked among the Christians and converted a
large number of people to Latin Christianity. Marco Polo,
the Venetian traveller testifies to the existence of
Christians in Quilon during his visit in 1292. The French
Dominican Friar, Jordanus Catalani de Severac, came to
Quilon in 1323 and converted a lot of people to Christianity
besides reviving the Christianity already in existence there.
Pope John XXII, while in captivity in Avignon, erected the
Diocese of Quilon as suffragan to the Archdiocese of
Sultany in Persia through the decree Romanus Pontifex
9 August 1329.The French Dominican Friar, Jordanus
Catalani de Severac, was appointed the Bishop of Quilon
21 August 1329 under the caption Venerabili Fratri
Jordano by the same Pope. The diocese of Quilon had
jurisdiction over a large area coming now under India,
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka.

Severac got a church of St. George built in Quilon; he was

martyred in Bombay in 1336. The seat of the Bishop of
Quilon remained vacant till the Portuguese period.
However, missionaries worked in Quilon. Thus, John de
Marignoli of St. Lorenzo in Florence was consecrated
Bishop in 1338 and sent as papal legate to China. On his
way back to Europe, he came to Quilon in 1346/48 and
spent 14 months there. He was a Franciscan who worked
among the Christians of Quilon attached to the St.
Georges Church.
It was against this backdrop that the Portuguese started
their proselytising activities among the inhabitants of the
Malabar coast. The Portuguese who settled on the Malabar
coast and those who converted to Christianity were under
the Bishopric of Funchal in the Madeira Island (erected
through the Papal bull Pro Excellenti Praeeminentia issued
on 12 June 1514) until a Bishopric was erected in Goa
through the Papal bull known as Aequum Reputamus
issued on 3 November 1534.
The special favour shown by the Portuguese to the
converts to Christianity and the possibility of employment
in the factories and Portuguese settlements encouraged
several people to become Christians and settle down in the
ports like Quilon, Cochin and Cannanore. Women and
merchants of less importance and a few Panikers and
Nairs became Christians in Cochin. 684 There were 10,000 to
12,000 Christians in Cochin in 1518 according to the report

Cartas..., tomo VI, pp.179-80.

of the parish priest at Cochin.685 This clearly shows the

concentration of people in the city and the increase of
Christian population there. There were seventy Portuguese
children and 700 Christians of the locality in the vicinity of
the fortress of Cannanore in 1523.686
With the elevation of the Bishopric of Goa to a
Metropolitan See, a new Episcopal See was created for
Cochin in 1557 through the Papal bull Etsi Sancta
Immaculata issued on 4 February 1557, both under the
Portuguese Padroado or patronage.
Meanwhile, in view of the information about the
Japanese reaching Malacca and Goa, Jesuit missionaries
under the leadership of St. Francis Xavier, a Spaniard,
reached Kagoshima in 1549 and started activities for the
conversion of the Japanese to the Catholic faith.687 They
extended their activities to Nagasaki in 1569 which was
opened to Portuguese trade. By the eighties of the

ANTT, C.C.I-23-35; Silva Rego, Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugs do Oriente, vol.I, Lisboa, 1947


Silva Rego, op.cit, voll II, p.17.

sixteenth century there were about 200 churches and 20

Jesuit residences with 80 Jesuit fathers and two seminaries
and 1,50,000 Christians according to the report submitted
by Alexander Valignano, a visitor of the Jesuit Society.688

c. Protestant churches
Arrival of the Dutch and the English in Malabar through
the spice route discovered by Vasco da Gama paved the
way for other Christian denominations like the Calvinists,
Lutherans, and Anglicans in due course of time. London
Missionary Society (LMS), Church Missionary Society and
Basel Mission left their indelible imprints in the field of
education and cultural life of Kerala.
The Dutch Reformed Church united the Dutch in
Malabar together. A polyglot church and school partly
maintained by the Dutch East India Company tried to lure
followers to the Dutch Reformed Church. Calvinist
ministers, lay bible-readers and school teachers worked in
Malabar under the Dutch. The lower ecclesiastical
employees of the VOC visited and taught religion on

Joel Serro, op.cit, p.358


Joel Serro, op.cit, p. 359.

Sundays. Dutch Reformed Church was found only in Fort

Cochin as the official church which all the Company
servants were expected to follow.

Institutions of Social Welfare

Right from the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the
Europeans who settled down on the Malabar coast,
especially Cochin started setting up institutions of social
welfare. Cochin, apart from being the headquarters of the
Portuguese in Asia since 1505, attracted several
Portuguese soldiers, married persons and dignitaries who
started residing there. Many Portuguese citizens married
Indian women as encouraged by Affonso de Albuquerque
and procreated children. According to the report sent from
Cochin by Affonso de Albuquerque on 20 August 1512, one
hundred Portuguese men married Indian women by
then.689 Most of the marriages encouraged by Affonso de
Albuquerque were between Portuguese men and Muslim or
Brahmin ladies from Cochin. Affonso Albuquerque was of
the opinion that the ladies from these two groups were fair
in complexion and usually stayed indoors, while the other
women were not of fair complexion and were corrupted. 690
They built houses at their own expenses with the hope of
living there permanently till their death. Cochin was known
as town (villa) of Santa Cruz and had a municipality. The
alderman and the officials of the municipality requested
the King of Portugal to grant the status of city to Cochin

Raymundo Antonio de Bulho Pato, ed., Cartas de Affonso de

Albuquerque, tomo I, Lisboa, 1884, p.63.

and also the accompanying privileges. Taking into account

the services rendered by Santa Cruz town and requests
made by the Municipality, King John III of Portugal issued
an order elevating the status of the town to that of a city
at par with the city of vora in Portugal with all the
privileges granted by his predecessor. The order was
issued on 12 March 1527. The document was written on a
parchment and later transcribed into a book containing
eighty two other documents related to the city of

Education in Cochin

Cartas, tomo I, p.338.


The original manuscript containing the charter issued by King John

III and the subsequent grants and privileges bestowed by the
Portuguese kings, viceroys and governors is preserved in the
Bibliotheca de Ajuda in Lisbon. It has 81 folios. The documents
from 1527 to 1616 are found in this collection. The compilation of
this volume was completed on 29 November 1616. The
Portuguese text with summaries of the documents in English was
edited by K.S. Mathew and Afzal Ahmed. This was published by the
Pondicherry University in1990 under the title Emergence of Cochin
in the Pre-Industrial Era: A Study of Portuguese Cochin.

Formal education in schools was something absent in

Kerala. It was Affonso de Albuquerque who took the
initiative to teach the children of Cochin. In 1512 he found
a number of primers (cartin has [sic] or cartilhas) in a
chest that could be used for teaching the young ones,
presumably sent by the Portuguese King. He appointed a
married Portuguese person (Afonso Alvarez) to teach the
children how to read and write. Approximately one
hundred children from the Panikkars and honourable
persons of the locality without any discrimination of
religion were admitted in the so-called school. They were
found intelligent and earnest in studies. Affonso de
Albuquerque expected them to become Christians within a
short period.692
Sixteen boys from Cochin, newly converted to
Christianity were reported to be under Afonso Alvarez, who
taught them how to read and write. Affonso de
Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor in Cochin issued an
20 June 1512 to Joo Flores, in charge of the victuals at the
Fortress in Cochin to deliver every eighth day one bag of
rice for their maintenance.693 By another order issued by
Affonso de Albuquerque on 16 July 1512, the amount of
rice was raised to one bag and a half and this was to be

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
p.149; Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de
Documentos que as Elucidam, Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa,
Lisboa, 1884, tomo I, pp.44-45.

entrusted to Afonso Alvarez, the teacher. 694 The

maintenance of the students was generally taken up by
the Portuguese government. There was a certain Ruy
Pereira as the teacher who taught the children to write and
read. He received in the name of twenty nine students an
amount of 33 cruzados and four fanams for three months
at the rate of 60 reaes per month in 1514.695 From the list
of the twenty nine students it becomes clear that these
boys had Portuguese names and could be either from the
matrimonial relations between the Portuguese and local
women or from the unwedded local mothers who had
conceived them through Portuguese men outside the
wedlock. A list of residents in the Portuguese quarters of

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
p.65; Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de Documentos
que as Elucidam, Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa, Lisboa, 1935,
vol.vii, p.190.


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
p.160; Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de
Documentos que as Elucidam, Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa,
Lisboa, 1935, vol.vii, p.191.

Cochin in 1514 furnishes the names of 58 mothers and 48

children born of interracial marriages and 40 unwedded
to Portuguese men.696
The laudable practice of educating the children by
setting up a school and providing maintenance for them by
Affonso de Albuquerque (1509-1515) was discontinued
during the time of Lopo Suarez de Albergaria (1515-1518),
his successor. Now that the maintenance was stopped
nobody wanted to study, especially because they did not


Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de Documentos que

as Elucidam, Lisboa, 1915, vol.VI, pp.175-76; Antnio da Silva
Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das Misses do Padroado
Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947, pp.222-23.


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
pp.232-239; Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de
Documentos que as Elucidam, Lisboa, 1915, vol.VI, pp.188-194.
The original document existing in the National Archives of Lisbon
under the title Corpo Chronologico II, 53-154 has the list of
another 600 men and unmarried women, and another group of 20
Muslim ladies, 20 Nair women, and Christians, all of which amount
to 1864 persons.

have the wherewithal to go to the school. 697 Therefore, Frei

Antonius wrote to the King of Portugal on 4 November
1518 requesting him to issue orders to resume the
teaching of children since it was for the service of God. 698 It
seems that the request was favourably disposed of by the
King. During the time of Dom Duarte de Meneses (15221524), several educational materials like primers were sent
from Cochin to Goa for teaching purposes.699 The payment
of the teacher of Grammar in the city of Cochin continued
to be made by the Portuguese government in 1574. 700
Similarly, attempts were made to educate the children in
the settlements at Cochin, Cannanore and Quilon. The
missionaries in Cannanore also taught the children to read
and write.701
The Dutch in Cochin established schools to impart
education based on religion and the Bible. The medium of

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,

Instruction was Dutch. Children between six to eight years

of age learnt spelling. Those in the age group of eight to
twelve were expected to learn to read, while those
between nine and fourteen were exposed to writing.702 The
purpose of school set up by the Dutch in Fort Cochin was
to educate the children of the VOC servants for getting
recruited in the Company in due course of time.

Holy House of Mercy (Sta. casa de Misericordia)


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,


Panduronga S.S. Pissurlencar, ed., Regimentos da Fortalezas da

India, Bastora, 1951, p.221.


Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, tomo iii, p.311.

Santa Casa de Misericordia or Holy House of Mercy

derived its origin in Portugal from various charitable
confraternities (confrarias) existing in the whole of
Christian world. Franciscan, Dominican and Trinitarian third
orders functioning in Portugal were of this type. Some of
the confraternities devoted to the administration of
hospital too came up in Lisbon, O Porto, Braga, Torres
Vedras, Pinhel, Covilho, Guarda, Sabugal Castelo Rodrigo,
Santarm and so on in Portugal. The members of these
confraternities rendered their valuable services in the
hospitals. Queen Leonor, spouse of King John II of Portugal
decided to establish a hospital for the service of the poor
and for the practice of the fourteen works of mercy. She
founded the hospital of Caldas under the patronage of Our
Lady of People (Nossa Senhora de Populo) in 1485 and
started admitting the sick in 1488. Ten years later, in 1498,
when the reigning King Manuel I, her brother, was in Spain,
the Queen founded the Confraternity and brotherhood of
Our Lady of Mercy (Confraria e irmandaded ainvocao de
Nossa Senhorada Misericordia) reforming the confraternity
of our Lady of Piety (Confraria de Nossa Senhorada
Piedade) functioning in one of the chapels of the enclosure
of the Cathedral of Lisbon which was founded by D.
Margarida Albernaz between 1195 and 1205. The new
confraternity was approved by King Manuel I with the
expressed duty of extending counsel to those who ask for

Anjana Singh, Fort Cochin in Kerala, 1750-1830: The Social

Condition of a Dutch Community in an Indian Mileu, Leiden, 2010,

it and to chastise with love those who err. 703 There were
always one hundred brothers or members in this
confraternity. The foundation of this confraternity
coincided with the discovery of sea route to India and so
the activities of this confraternity included the services to
the poor, both in Portugal and overseas, including India.
The widows of those who died in the maritime activities of
the Portuguese found it a suitable and beneficial
organization for their relief and the confraternity in the
overseas possessions of Portugal turned out to be a
symbol of charity extended by the Portuguese. 704 The Holy
House of Mercy functioned in places where there were
hospitals. So, there were Holy Houses of Mercy in
Cannanore, Cranganore and Quilon,705 since 1541.706 Later,
in Cranganore and Quilon colleges were established to
teach the children.707


Obras de Misericordia quanto possivel fosse, essim espirituais

como corporais, para socorrer as tribulaes dos nossos irmos
em Cristo, que recebem gua do santo baptismo.


Joel Serro, ed., Diccionario de Histria de Portugal, vol.IV, Lisboa,

1992, pp.312-16

Holy House of Mercy in Cochin

The first Holy House of Mercy started by the Portuguese
in India was reported to be in existence in 1526 though we
could not come across any document regarding the precise
date of its establishment.708 Antnioda Silva Rego writes that
the Misericordia of Cochin came into existence in 1521 or
1522.709 From a document dated 12 January 1547, it
becomes clear that the Holy House of Mercy was


Lus de Pina, Expanso Hospitalar Portuguesa Ultramarina,

Seculos xvi e xvii, Lisboa, 1943, pp.74-77.


Antnio da Silva Rego, Documentao... op.cit, Vol.V, pp.37577,

Simo Botelho, Tombo do Estado da India, op.cit, p.30.


Simo Botelho, op.cit, pp.27, 39.

established in 1517.710 In those days, sometimes in a day,

six to eight persons of the House reportedly died. Since the
building occupied by the Holy House of Mercy did not have
adequate space, and the number of the inmates went on
increasing, the members of the fraternity wrote to the King
of Portugal (14 December 1527) to help the House buy
more land and build a bigger house.711

Jurisdiction over Misericordia

The local ordinary or the bishop had the jurisdiction
over Misericordia. The Bishop of Funchal in the Madeira
Island had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the territories
newly discovered by the Portuguese. Therefore, the
Misericordia set up in Cochin naturally came under his
jurisdiction until a separate bishopric was established first

Antnio da Silva Rego, Documentao para a Historia das Misses

do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.2, Lisboa, 1949, pp.111115.53.


O edificio da Santa Casa da Misericrdia comeou a construir-se

em 1521 ou 1522.
A Santa Casa da Misericrdia recebeu em
1541 ou 1542 o encargo do hospital da cidade, ficando assim as
duas instituies sujeitas Mesa da Misericrdia ref. Histria de
Padroado.. vol.I, pp.1444-1446).

at Goa in 1534, and then at Cochin in 1557. It was the

prerogative of the bishop to appoint the chaplain for the
Misericordia. The Chaplain of the House of Mercy was
under the jurisdiction of the Vicar General posted in
Cochin. Therefore he was bound to join the latter for
canonical prayers like Matins and Vespers.

Service to the dying

The chaplain took care of the spiritual activities like the
celebration of holy mass and administration of sacraments
and sacramentals for the Misericordia. One of the
important services rendered to the sick was to assist the
dying. It was possible that some of them must have
committed some sins, absolution of which were reserved.

Esta Casa a pasamte de trimta annos que he prmcipiada e

temos que se cumpre inteiramente as obras da Samata
Misericordia.... Antnio da Silva Rego, Documentao para a
Histria das Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.3,
Lisboa, 1950, p.446. Jos Manuel Correia states that it came into
existence in 1527. Ref. his article A Misericordia de Cochim in
Histria, no.158, November 1992, pp.74-77.


Antnio da Silva Rego, Documentao op.cit, vol II, pp.111-115.

The Holy House of Mercy in Goa came into being in 1529.

In such cases, the respective Bishop regularly obtained

bulls from the Pope for the chaplain to have authority to
absolve reserved sins of the sick in the hour of death
(articulo mortis). It was usual to collect a nominal charge
from the penitents for the absolution of such sins.
Sometimes the dying persons were too poor to pay the
charge. Therefore the Misericordia made a representation
to the King of Portugal in 1526 to get permission to exempt
the deserving penitents when they approach death. Since
the bull from the Pope was not obtained on time, a few sick
persons died without the absolution. Therefore the
purveyor of the Holy House of Mercy at Cochin sent a
petition to the King on 14 December 1527 reminding him
of their request made in the previous year to obtain the
faculty for the absolution of such sins of the dying without
payment. They made arrangements for providing a decent
burial to the deceased.

Forwarding of the assets of the deceased to the

legal heirs
The Holy House of Mercy acted as an intermediary in
forwarding the movable assets of the deceased to their
respective heirs in Portugal. In case the persons who died
did not leave the name of the heirs, the Holy House of
Mercy took the trouble of tracing them. If tracing the legal
heirs was impossible the assets of the deceased were
taken up by the Misericordia through the Provedor dos
Defuntos working in the city of Cochin. The Misericordia
undertook the care of the possessions of those Portuguese
who died in India and contacted their relatives in Portugal

for the disposal of their assets.712 Misericordia took care of

the possessions of the passengers who died en route to
Cochin and those who reached Cochin with severe
diseases. Sometimes, the number of the sick to be taken
care of was very high. Thus in 1546/47, a ship named
Samte Espiritu brought 300 men affected very badly by
some disease. All of them were accommodated in the
hospital and other houses since the hospital did not have
enough space. This was in addition to the number of sick
persons brought in the ship Espera. Therefore, the
members of the Misericordia had very heavy work in
looking after the sick. As a result of their care, only seven
or eight persons out of the 300 sick, died. The rest were
cured. Forty persons died on board Samte Espiritu. Seven
or eight men died on board the ship Espera. The
Misericordia as usual had to look after the settlement of
the assets of so many deceased. The report dated 12
January 1547 stated that this year the Misericordia had
very heavy work load.713 Misericordia was sometimes
overloaded with work. It was reported in the same year
that it had a lot of orphans for bringing up and also for
giving in marriage.

Care for the orphans and the poor

The House of Mercy at Cochin disbursed pecuniary help
to the orphans, the children of the Portuguese in Cochin.
The recipients of such help through the House of Mercy

A.de Magalhs Basto, Historia da Santa Casa da Misericordia do

Porto, vol.1, Porto, 1934, p.457.

included the orphans born of the Portuguese and the local

people as well as the poor Portuguese people. Sometimes
they were paid in copper which was not considered
practical. So, the man in charge of the House of Mercy in
Cochin requested the King of Portugal to make
arrangements for the payment in cash.
In view of the Christian principles of charity and welfare,
the Dutch in Fort Cochin had an orphanage funded by the
Diaconate. It took care of the orphans, their estates and
education. The activities were limited to orphans and
estates of the Company servants. Policy of exclusion
initiated by Governor Adriaan Moens took care of the
orphans of the Whites and those who followed the Dutch
Reformed Church. An Orphan Board (Weeskamer)
administered the orphanage. It consisted of a president,
six trustees and a secretary who were all Company

Marriage of the destitute and the orphans

They helped the marriageable girls by arranging
dowries. Misericordia gave alms to the poor and the needy.
The members helped the destitute and abandoned
children.714 An amount of thirty pardaos per month was
given from the royal treasury for the marriage of the
orphans through the Misericordia in Cochin in 1554.715

Visit to the sick


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1II, Lisboa, 1950,

The members of the Misericordia made regular visits to

the sick in the hospital and the poor in the prisons. An
amount of one hundred eight thousand reis was set apart
for the Misericordia of Cochin in the Oramento of 1571.716

Sources of funds and the financial position of


A. Meersman, Notes on the Charitable Institutions the Portuguese

established in India Indian Church History Review, vol.II, no.2,
Bangalore, December 1971,


Simo Botelho, O Tombo do Estado da India in Rodrigo Jos de

Lima Felner, ed., Subsidios para a Historia da India Portugueza,
Lisboa, 1868, p.22.


Artur Teodoro de Matos, ed., O Oramento do Estado da India

1571, Lisboa, 1999, p.105.

The Misericordia enjoyed great credibility among the

government officials. Even the amount collected by way of
extra tax of one per cent imposed on all the goods for their
entry and exit was kept with the Misericordia by the
Portuguese officials at Cochin according to a document of
1572.717 The Oramento of 1574 too earmarked an amount
of 108,000 reis for the Misericordia of Cochin.718 The
Oramento of 1581 set apart an amount of 108,000 reis at
the rate of 9000 reis per month for a year in favour of the
Misericordia.719 This amount was increased to 1,20,000 reis
century. 720
By 1612, the Portuguese King Philip II sanctioned a number
of privileges to the Misericordia at Cochin.721 In course of
time, Misericordia became financially so powerful as to
advance loans to the Portuguese authorities in India to rid
itself of insolvency.722 In view of the letter issued by the
Bishop of Cochin on 25 December 1606, silver vessels of

K.S. Mathew & Afzal Ahmad, ed., Emergence of Cochin in the Preindustrial Era: A Study of Portuguese Cochin, Pondicherry, 1990,


Panduronga S.S. Pissurlencar, Regimentos das Fortalezas da

India, Bastora, 1951, p.223.

the churches were pledged with the Misericordia of Cochin

to borrow money and help the Portuguese in defense of
Malacca and to defend the church from invasions of the
foreigners.723 Thus the Misericordia sometimes functioned
as a banker.
Apart from the financial assistance from the Portuguese
King, there was another significant source of income for

Artus Teodoro de Matos, ed,. O Estado da India nos anos de 15811588, Aores, 1982, p.73.


Luiz de Feigueiredo Falco, Livro em que se contem toda a

Fazenda e Real Patrimonio dos Reinos de Portugal, India e
ilhasadjacentes e outras particularidades, Lisboa, 1859, p.109.


ANTT. Chancelaria de Felipe II, Liv.23, folio 330, Misericordia de

Cochim, Alvara para gozar os privilegios Lisboa, 23 February
1612; Pius Malekandathil, Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime
Trade of India 1500-1663, Delhi, 2001, p.88. Ref. ANTT.

the Misericordia. The Portuguese who used to come to

India prepared their testament through which they
bequeathed their possessions either to their legal heirs or
to the Misericordia for the work among the poor and the
orphans. As soon as the person died, the Misericordia
contacted their heirs in Portugal. If they were not traceable
and the legal heir did not come forward to claim the
possessions, the entire asset in terms of cash and kind was
taken over by the Misericordia. The testament was usually
handed over to the Misericordia for execution. Usually
those who prepared and entrusted the testament to the
Misericordia placed the condition that on their death, the
relatives had the first right and if not, the Misericordia. The
same was the case with those who, on arrival, entrusted
Chancelaria de Filipe II, liv.23, fl.330.


Sanjaya Subrahmanyam, The Political Economy of Commerce:

Southern India,
1500-1650, New York, 1990, p.225.


Raymundo Antnio de Bulho Patom, ed., Documentos Remettidos

da India ou Livros das Mones, tomo I, Lisboa, 1880, p.157.

their possessions to the Misericordia. But sometimes it was

difficult to trace rightful heirs. If the authorities of the
Misericordia did not take sufficient and effective steps to
trace them, the possession remained with the Misericordia
unutilized for long time. The report of 12 January 1547
cites an instance of three or four persons who died in
Cochin after entrusting their assets with the Misericordia
for bequeathing it to their heirs. One of them had a son in
France and the others had their heirs in Portugal. There
has been no information about the heir in France for the
last thirty years. The assets of the deceased were
transferred by the Misericordia to the Provedor dos
Defuntos in the city of Cochin. But he did not succeed in
identifying the heirs either. Therefore, the assets were
neither with the heirs nor with the Misericordia, which may
possibly even lose touch with such assets. So, it was
suggested that some order should be issued by the King to
the effect that after reasonable enquiry, the assets could
be transferred to the Misericordia so that the latter could
claim the assets since the heirs could not be traced. Most
likely if a person died intestate, his/her property too could
be taken over by the Misericordia for works of charity.
Sometimes at the suggestions given by the King or
officers, the Christians in their testaments set apart
considerable sum for the Misericordia.724 The Misericordia

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.iii, Lisboa, 1950

of Goa used to get in this way 1,000 crusados every

year.725 The Misericordia of Cochin got every year 9,000
reis monthly from the Pero Sequeira, the royal treasurer in
Cochin. The assets of the deceased left for the Misericordia
was very helpful for the works of charity undertaken by

The hospital in Cochin

A hospital run by the Portuguese was in existence in
Santa Cruz of Cochin in 1506.726 It was known as the
Hospital of Santa Cruz de Cochin. Presumably at the
suggestion of Gaspar Pereira, secretary to Dom Francisco
de Almeida the Viceroy, the hospital was founded by the
latter on Saturday 11 January 1506. Many persons were
seriously affected by the different food and climate of the
land with which they were not accustomed. Besides, some
of them contracted the sickness from the area of Cochin.
Therefore, the Viceroy made arrangements for physicians,

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao, vol.iii, Lisboa, 1950



Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao..., vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,

p.53, lettera of Gonalo Fernandes dated 17 November 1506.

surgeons and others who could look after the sick besides
organizing beds and other amenities.727 Still some others
were severely wounded in naval confrontations. A suitable
building for the patients was constructed though a
permanent edifice was yet to be built. These patients were
given chicken, pulses, olive oil, eggs, wheat bread,
sometimes even wine since there was shortage of it in
Cochin, and certain birds according to availability. Cochin
did not produce wine but had in plenty the nutritious water
of nuts from coconut trees or palms. Provision of wine for
the patients in the hospital at Cochin was given by the
government.728 The patients were given food at the
expense of the Portuguese King.729 The King always gave
money for the expenses of the hospital. 730 An amount of
1,000 pardaos was set apart in the account of the

Ref. A report dated 17 November 1506 sent by Gonalo Fernandes

to the Portuguese King from Cochin. Raymundo Antnio de Bulho
Pato, ed., Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, Lisboa, 1884, tomo
ii, p.383.


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
pp.161, 211.

Portuguese administration for the expenses of the hospital

at Cochin in 1554.731 Provision was made to pay more if
this amount was not sufficient to run the hospital. Besides,
payment was also made for those who were in the
administration of the hospital and also for the purveyor
and the brethren of the Misericordia attached to the
hospital. An amount of 300,000 reis was set apart for the

Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao para a Historia das

Misses do Padroado Portugus do Oriente, vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,
p.162, 206, Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de
Documentos que as Elucidam, Lisboa, 1915, vol.VI, p.118.


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao..., vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,



Simo Botelho, O Tombo do Estado da Inda, in Rodrigo Jos de

Lima Felner, Subsidios para a Historia da India Portgueza, Lisboa,
1868, p.22.

hospital at Cochin in the Oramento of 1571.732

The Oramento of 1574 has earmarked an amount of 1000
pardaos for the running of the hospital at Cochin.733 The
Oramento of 1581 made the provision for an amount of
30,000 reis for the hospital at Cochin.734 This was for food
for the sick and payment to the physician, surgeon,
boutique, workers and other expenses of the hospital.


Artur Teodoro de Matos, ed., O Oramento do Estado da India 1571,

Lisboa, 1999, p.105.


Panduronga S.S. Pissurlencar, Regimentos da Fortalezas da India,

Bastora, 1951, p.224.


Artur Teodoro de Matos, ed., O Estado da India nos anos de 1581

-1588, p.73.

The Dutch East India Company set up a leper house

known as Lazarus House outside Fort Cochin in Pallipuram.
It was funded by the Diaconate. The Company also
established a hospital in the fort with the support of the
Diaconate. Those who worked in the garrisons and the
artillery and sailors where admitted in the hospital.
All those admitted in the orphanage, Lazarus house and
hospitals got free food, accommodation and beddings
according to the ranks held by them or their guardians in
the Company service.

Affonso de Albuquerque, the Governor issued orders on
13 December 1509 to Diogo Pereira, the treasurer of
commodities and the writers of the factory at Cochin that
alms should be distributed to the poor Christians from
Portugal and Malabar besides the Portuguese children and
the children from Malabar every month. A considerable
sum was set apart for the purpose. This amount was from
the account of the Portuguese King. Two clerics were
appointed to be in charge of receiving and spending the
money besides keeping the account. Frei Francisco Diogo
Pereira was in charge of receipt and Pero Alvarez, the
chaplain for expenditure, while Afonso Vaz was to take care
of the accounts.735


Antnio da Silva Rgo, ed., Documentao..., vol.1, Lisboa, 1947,

pp.69-70; Cartas... Lisboa, 1910, vol.IV, pp.214-15.

The Portuguese institutions of social welfare and culture in

Cochin proves that the church and the state joined hands
in the promotion of social welfare and social justice during
the sixteenth century. The deprived and the downtrodden
were not abandoned to their fate. Effective measures were
taken up by the church and the government to tackle their
problems. The state set apart special funds for the
education of the children irrespective of caste and creed.
And the missionaries too came forward to supplement the
work of the government in imparting education. As we
have seen, the priests who were appointed as chaplains of
the Misericordia, took interest in giving a decent burial to
the dying, caring for the sick, visiting them and consoling
them. We do not come across instances of the colonial
government of the Portuguese being at variance with the
Church and the Missionaries in the case of social welfare
and culture; rather they supplemented each other during
this period.



hough the term spice routes seems to be more

appropriate than spice route to signify the
intercontinental conduit used primarily for the
transport of the oriental spices, we may use these terms
indiscriminately. The distance covered and the direction
taken by these routes differed from time to time. Towards
the end of the twenties of the sixteenth century, Moluccas
islands came to be considered the easternmost termini of
the spice routes, while the United Kingdom constituted the
western terminus. With the re-alignment of political

frontiers of different geographical segments, as well as

their rechristening, the number of countries connected
with spice routes kept varying. A fascinating piece of
information is the nature of items transported through
these exclusive passages known as the spice routes. From
elephants, rhinoceros, horses, monkeys, various exotic
animals, pepper saplings, silk, precious stones, coffee, tea,
pearls, diamonds, cloves, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg,
copper, silver, gold, people of diverse avocations like
viceroys, governors, officials, and missionaries of various
denominations, a host of other items too found different
destinations through the spice routes. So, it is not just
spices alone that constituted the cargo despatched
through the spice route, but then the most coveted of all
the things imported from the Malabar coast for the last
three millennia was indeed the popular and much in
demand pungent spices.Till the historic discovery of a
direct sea route by Vasco da Gama to India, the journey
through the various spice routes that was partly over land
and partly by sea, was long and arduous. Pack animals
were used to carry the cargo over land before reloading
them to small ships for passage through Red Sea and
Persian Gulf regions which resulted in long delays in
reaching the destinations as well as loss of weight. The
duration of transportation was phenomenally brought
down by the opening of the sea route via the Cape of Good
The interactions of various types of people with the
Malabar coast as well as the foreign settlements brought
about far reaching changes in the socio-economic realms
of both the parties involved. A mixed race, called the
Anglo-Indians in general, was one of the immediate
outcomes of this contact. They formed a significant portion
of the minority community in India during the British
period. The Anglo-Indian population in India was roughly

800,000 in 1947 while it was fewer than 350,000 by 2010.

Many have emigrated to the United Kingdom, Australia,
Canada and the United States. They are known also as
Eurasians. Luso-Indians (progeny of the Portuguese
parents), another term used to connote exclusively the
offspring of the relations between Portuguese men and
Indian women, constitute one of the prominent sections of
Anglo-Indians in Kerala. The concentration of this
population is mostly seen in the district of Ernakulam.
The economic impact caused by the contacts through
the spice routes could also be found in the ever-increasing
production of cash crops, or commercialisation of
agriculture and monetisation of economy. More and more
areas in the highlands of Kerala were brought under
cultivation of spices and other cash crops. There was a
movement from the lowlands to midlands and from
midlands to the highlands of Malabar, which resulted in
deforestation for the cultivation of pepper, cardamom,
ginger and other spices. When sufficient area was not
available in the midlands, the cultivators moved to the
highlands. Non-agriculturists too took advantage of the
new situation and they pumped capital into agriculture. In
other words, a capitalist mode of production was brought
about in agriculture.
International long distance trade in spices required the
setting up of foreign establishments on the Malabar coast.
This was necessitated by the dynamics of monsoon winds
conducive to the voyage of ships, the season of harvesting
the spices and various other aspects of the trade. The
vessels to carry spices reached the Malabar coast at a time
which did not coincide with the harvesting of spices. So,
the commodities had to be collected in advance and stored
in appropriate warehouses or factories to enable loading
into the vessels bound for foreign destinations. The factory
thus became a sine qua non for the trade in spices. A

factory had to have basic infrastructure like a weighing

place, area for cleaning and drying, office for the factor or
agent, residential quarters for the officials, prayer hall,
security personnel, residential facilities for the men-atarms kept as security, animals like elephants to carry
burden and launch ships as well as persons to provide
ancillaries of trade such as packing materials. In course of
time, appropriate institutions for education and small
markets for disposing of foreign goods as well as the
purchase of daily requirements for the residents of the
factory and so on became necessary. With time, the
factories were protected by a fortress having a certain
number of men-at-arms and guns and other articles of
defence. The local workers assisting the people residing
inside the fortress began to settle down around it. Roads
were laid to bring provisions for the daily consumption of
the foreign residents living in the fortress. The foreign
nationals staying here were mostly away from their family
and so they needed some facilities for entertainment and
physical fitness. Clubs were established to take care of
such needs. Emotional satisfaction, in the absence of their
families, was sought by entering into extra-marital
relations with the local people which, in course of time,
paved the way for the generation of mixed race. In certain
cases, inter-racial matrimonial alliances were also
promoted as in the case of the Portuguese during the
second decade of the sixteenth century. Missionaries,
either Catholics or Protestants, who came with the
European traders started proselytising activities among
the local people. Catechumenate or institution for
imparting religious instructions to the neophytes was
established in the neighbourhood of the fortresses.
Similarly, orphanages and other institutions of social
welfare like hospitals, House of Mercy for charities and so
on were a part of the activities of the foreign settlements.

Thus, the foreign settlements that came up in the wake of

spice trade accelerated urban growth.
When some of the centres of spice trade on the Malabar
coast are examined with the above-mentioned matrix in
mind, we may find vestiges of the European contacts. A
few such places from south to north are discussed here.

Once a part of the princely state of Travancore, Colachel
is now in the district of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. A port
some 20 km north-west of the district headquarters of
Nagercoil, it was at one time occupied by the Dutch who
had a factory and a fortress there. But it was retaken by
Marthanda Varma, the King of Travancore, after defeating
the Dutch in the battle of Colachel and remained with
Travancore till the States re-organisation of 1956. The
forces of the Dutch East India Company led by Admiral
Eustachian De Lannoy were routed by the Nairs troops of
Marthanda Varma on 10 August 1741. Along with a few
highly placed officers, De Lannoy was captured by men of
the King of Travancore and was later deployed into his
armed service. Bounded on the south by Arabian Sea, the
Pampoori Vaikal is seen to the western side of Colachel.
The vestiges of the Dutch establishment are traceable

Anjengo or Anchuthengu is situated about 36 km north
of Thiruvananthapuram and two km away from the
Kadakkavur Railway Station. It belonged to the kingdom of
Attingal and the Queen, thereof, granted the English East
India Company permission to establish a factory and later
a fortress there in the seventeenth century. This was the
first trade settlement of the Company in Kerala. There are
a number of churches built according to the Portuguese
style of architecture. Several tombs of the English and the

Dutch are found in Anjengo. We can also trace some

remnants of the Portuguese establishment here.
Anchuthengu was later integrated into Travancore when
Marthanda Varma of Travancore expanded his territories.

Kollam (Quilon)
Kollam, otherwise known as Quilon has a long history of
maritime trade going back to the Phoenicians, Romans,
Arabs and the Chinese in the first millennium CE. It is
located on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake and lies 70 km
north of Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. It is
connected to Tamil Nadu through the Punalur and
Aryankavu passes. Quilon is accessible from Aleppey and
Cochin through waterways also. The Malayalam era known
as Kollavarsham is believed to have started in Kollam in
825 CE as a mark of the founding of the town of Kollam.
Mar Sapor and Mar Proth, two missionaries from Persia,
reached Kollam during this period and Ayyanadikal
Thiruvadikal granted special privileges to them to develop
the town as indicated in the Tharisapally copper plates.
The remains of Mar Sapor is buried in the Martha Mariam
Orthodox Church of Thevalakkara near Kayamkulam.
Kollam was a flourishing port of the Chera dynasty until the
formation of the independent kingdom of Venad.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set up a
trade establishment in Thangasserry, Kollam during the
first decade of the sixteenth century itself. Later in 1517,
they built up a fortress around the Portuguese factory, and
churches and other ecclesiastical institutions came up
within and outside the fortress. The Dutch occupied the
Portuguese fortress in 1661. However, in 1795, the Dutch
possessions were transferred to the English. Kollam is an
important centre of the Anglo-Indians, probably next to


Kayamkulam, a town to the north of Quilon, is situated

in Aleppey district. The Kayamkulam Rajas ruled this
principality from their palace at Krishnapuram. The
Portuguese used to collect pepper from here through the
offices of some Christian agents like Mathias Taquatome
and his brother. They had a weighing place in Kayamkulam
which was under the Portuguese Factor residing in Kollam.
In the seventeenth century, Kayamkulam had a thriving
slave market. Later, Marthanda Varma of Travancore
annexed it to his kingdom. Kayamkulam, Mavelikara and
Karunagapally were collectively known as Onattukara.

Purakkad, which had contacts with the European
merchants, is another village in Aleppey district. There was
an ancient port at Purakkad. The Dutch East India
Company had a factory there in the seventeenth century.
Some traces of the Dutch inhabitation are seen in a Church
located in the village.

Most of the elements of a colonial urban centre are
visible in Cochin (Kochi) known as the Queen of the
Arabian Sea. In the past, it was the rendezvous of the Jews
who have a functional synagogue in Mattancherry, a part
of Cochin. The palace of the local king, known as the Dutch
Palace, is also located in Cochin. When the Portuguese
arrived at this port town, the local King assigned them a
place to put up their factory. Later, they converted it into a
fortress. In addition, the official residence of the
Portuguese Viceroy was also established in the area
granted by the King of Cochin. It was made the capital of
Portuguese India extending from the Cape of Good Hope to
Malacca. The headquarters was shifted to Goa in 1530.
Still, it continued to be the commercial hub of the
Portuguese in the East. It was taken over by the Dutch in

1663 who reduced the size of the fortress and demolished

some of the Portuguese establishments. The Portuguese
started marrying Indian women in view of the policy of
inter-racial marriage introduced by Affonso de Albuquerque
in the second decade of the sixteenth century. As a result,
a community claiming their parental origins to the
Portuguese came into existence. Similarly, some
Portuguese officials brought over their families and lived in
Cochin. Therefore, the population of Cochin consisted of
those who were born in Portugal and took residence in
Cochin, who were called reinois. Another group of the
Portuguese citizens born in Cochin to Portuguese parents
lived here, and were known as castios. The third section
named as mestios comprised those who were born out of
intermarriages or inter-racial and extra-marital relations.
The local people too lived in Cochin though outside the
fortress. A lot of construction activities in connection with
private, official and ecclesiastical buildings took place
during the Portuguese period of Cochin.
The Dutch converted Cochin as the headquarters of
their possessions in India. The Commandant took up his
residence in Cochin. They too had inter-racial relations as
some of them married Portuguese women or those born of
mixed marriages to Portuguese or Indian women.
In 1795, the Dutch possessions were taken over by the
English East India Company, who modified some of the
existing establishment to suit their needs. Like the
Portuguese and the Dutch, the English settlers too entered
into inter-racial relations, paving the way for a mixed race.
Some of them even married the Dutch women or the
mestios. Thus, the nature of society in Cochin became
quite inter-mixed.
Similarly, establishments that belonged to different
nationalities with diverse architectural styles are still
extant in Fort Cochin and surrounding areas. Trade through

the spice route brought about an urban conglomeration in

Cochin, which has the potential for being an international
heritage centre. The Chinese fishing nets found in Cochin
and the surrounding areas speak for the Portuguese
relations with Macau which was under Portugal for many
years. Jewish Synagogue and settlements of the Jews,
establishments of the Gujaratis, various institutions
belonging to different denominations of Christianity, the
many sections of Hinduism and Islam etc., are visible in
Cochin, showcasing its diverse culture. The same may be
said about the educational opportunities provided by
separate sections of the society. The headquarters of the
Southern Naval Command and the establishments of the
Army, Indian Coast Guard, Cochin Port, Cochin Shipyard,
International Container Trans-shipment Terminal and so on
indicates the national importance of Cochin.
The English brought harbour engineer, Robert Bristow,
to Cochin in 1920 under the direction of Lord Wellington,
the then Governor of Madras, to develop the port of
Cochin. Within 21 years, Bristow transformed Kochi as one
of the safest harbours in the peninsula, where ships
berthed alongside the newly reclaimed inner harbour
(Wellington island) equipped with a long array of steam
cranes. Cochin forms part of the Greater Cochin region and
is now classified by the Government of India as B-1 grade
city, the highest grade of city in Kerala. The Corporation of
Cochin constituted in 1967, is the civic body looking into
the civic administration of Cochin. Greater Cochin
Development Authority (GCDA) and the Goshree Islands
Development Authority (GIDA) oversee the Development
of Cochin.

As discussed earlier, Pattanam, situated two kilometres
north of North Paravoor in Ernakulam district and nine

kilometres south of Kodungalloor, has recently attracted

the attention of internationally known archaeologists and
maritime historians. A lot of artefacts that could be traced
back to the early historical period have been unearthed
from the sites of archaeological excavation during the
seven seasons, which prompt the scholars to identify it
with Muziris of international fame and remote antiquity.
Recently, it has been established through satellite imagery
that Periyar river delta lies on the southern side of the
branch of the Periyar river known as Periyar Thodu (Periyar
canal), and that River Periyar could have flowed close to
It falls within the Muziris Heritage project, of which,
mention has been made in chapter two.

Kottappuram (Cranganore)
The Muziris Heritage Project has taken up excavations
in the site of the Cranganore fortress, which was
established by the Portuguese in 1536 with a view to
stopping the flow of spices to the kingdom of Calicut. In
fact, Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese
Viceroy of Portuguese India suggested in 1508 that a
fortress in Cranganore, at the confluence of the river
flowing in the direction of Calicut, would be necessary to
block the flow of pepper to Calicut. 736 It was agreed with
Martim Afonso, Comptroller of Finances in 1536, to start
the work immediately. Diogo Pereira was appointed the
Captain of the fortress christened as St.Thomas. The main

Gaspar Correia, Lendas da India, I, pp.906-7.

reason for the selection of the spot was to obstruct the

passage of the Zamorin to Edappilly for his coronation. Frei
Vicente de Lagos built a seminary in this fortress in 1540
for the formation of clergy from among the natives. This
fortress was taken over by the Dutch under the command
of General Rijcklof van Goens in 1662. They shortened the
area of the fortress, demolished some parts and made a
lot of modification to it. Though the place was known as
Cranganore and the name of the fortress too was the
same, it is now called Kottappuram, meaning outside the
fortress, a misnomer for a fortress. The Dutch sold the
fortress of Cranganore and Ayakotta (Pallipuram?) to the
ruler of Travancore when Tipu began his attacks in 1789
with the intention of seizing them.
A lot of artefacts and a couple of sarcophagi have been
unearthed from the site of this fortress. Three layers of
habitation are identified in the fortress through the
archaeological excavations conducted under the Muziris
Heritage project by the Department of Archaeology,
Government of Kerala. Analysis of the archaeological
findings is under way. Kottappuram is connected by
waterways and by road.
The Chennamangalam Synagogue, Kottayil Kovilakam,
Jewish Cemetery, the remnants of Vaipicotta Seminary
established by the Jesuits in the last quarter of the
sixteenth century, Paliam Nalukettu, the Paliam Dutch
Pallipuram fort and so on, situated in the lower Periyar
valley are now under the Muziris Heritage Project. They
attract the attention of both tourists and seekers of
historical knowledge.

As we discussed in chapter five, the Zamorin of Calicut
ceded Chetwai to the Dutch in 1710. They established a

The Zamorin attacked the Dutch possession in 1715 and
was defeated by them. Later, in 1755, it was re-occupied
by the Zamorin. Thus, it continued to be a bone of
contention till the Dutch ceded their possessions to the
English. Chetwai backwater, located between Engandiyur
Panchayat and Kadappuram Panchayat of Trichur District,
attracts a number of tourists. The backwaters start at
Enamakkal lake and empties into the Arabian Sea. Besides,
Chetwai also brings in a number of tourists on account of
its mangroves, Chinese fishing nets, islands and migratory
birds, in addition to the fort William. The Government of
Kerala has declared it in 2010 as a heritage village.
Chetwai Bungalow and Raja islands add lustre to Chetwai.

Ponnani, a sea-shore town is located along the south
banks of the River Bharatapuzha, the second largest river
in Malappuram district of Kerala. It is regarded as the
second capital of Calicut. Trikkavu in Ponnani was one
among the seats of the Zamorin of Calicut, from where he
controlled the trade and commerce. Some scholars identify
Ponnani with Tyndis of the Periplus. Realising the
importance of Ponnani in the maritime trade, the
Portuguese established a fortress in 1585. There are nearly
50 mosques here.
Ponnani contributed a great deal to the development of
the cultural and literary heritage of Kerala. It is considered
as the Al-Ahzar University of Kerala and small Mecca in
view of the education in Islamic theology and philosophy
imparted in Ponnani. The place was used as a hub for
trading with Arabs and Europeans in the early part of the
British rule in Malabar.


Situated on the bank of the Chaliyar river near Feroke,

Chaliyam is an island formed by the Beypore and
Kadalundi rivers. Beypore port can be approached by ferry
from Chaliyam. The Portuguese with the consent of the
Zamorin of Calicut built a fortress here in 1531. A Catholic
church, houses for the captain and the soldiers, a place for
keeping arms and ammunitions and so on were
constructed here under the orders of the Portuguese
Governor Nuno da Cunha. The fortress was named Sta.
Maria de Castelo. The ruler of Chaliyam, a vassal of the
Zamorin, was approached to make arrangements for the
security of the fortress in terms of Jangatha (Changatham),
a peculiar arrangement in vogue in Kerala. The Zamorin
demolished the fortress in 1571 during the attack on
Chaliyam. All that remains of the Portuguese fort today is a
mound in the place where it once stood that is still visible
at the sea shore.

Calicut (Kozhikode)
Nediyiruppuswaroopam in Ernadu Taluk. His residence was
shifted to Tali in Calicut after Polanadu was conquered by
him. Calicut came into prominence as a centre of trade
during the second half of the thirteenth century. When Ibn
Batuta visited the Malabar coast in 1342-47, a certain
Ibrahim from Bahrain was the Shabandar at Calicut.737 By
1344 it attracted merchants from China, Sumatra, Ceylon,
the Maldives, Yemen and Fars who frequented Calicut

Mahdi Husain, ed., The Rehla of Ibn Batuta, Baroda, 1976, p.188.

instead of going over to Quilon. Ma Huan (1403 CE), the

Chinese Muslim sailor, who accompanied the Imperial
Chinese fleet under Cheng Ho (Zheng He) describes the
city as a great emporium of trade frequented by
merchants from around the world. He makes mention of
the 20 or 30 mosques built to cater to the religious needs
of the Muslims, the unique system of calculation by the
merchants using their fingers and toes, followed to this
day, and the matrilineal system of succession. The Chinese
merchants had a factory in Calicut known as the
Cheenakotta. Because of some alleged outrage committed
against the Chinese merchants, they stopped their
commercial relations with Calicut in the first half of the
fifteenth century as Joseph the Indian testified to the
Venetians in the first decade of the sixteenth century. 738 It
is because of its prominence that Vasco da Gama led his
mariners and merchants to Calicut in 1498. The
Portuguese established the first European factory in Calicut
in September 1500. Later, in 1513, a fortress too was put
up in Calicut after settling the problems with the new
Zamorin who came to power with the support of the
Portuguese. But relations between the Portuguese and the
Zamorin became strained from 1524 onwards. The new
Zamorin who came to power in 1587 established friendly
relations with the Portuguese through the Jesuit priest
Francisco da Costa who was liberated from captivity in the
fort of Kunhali Marakkar near Pudupattanam by the

Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 A.D., The Narratives of

Joseph the Indian, Mannanam,1984, pp.196-99.

Zamorin. A treaty of peace and friendship with the

Portuguese was signed by the Zamorin in 1591, following
which, a Portuguese factory was established in Calicut. He
permitted the Jesuits to conduct missionary activities in
Calicut and laid the foundation stone of the Christian
church and also supplied the required materials for the
construction. The same structure with modifications made
The Zamorin permitted Kunhali Marakkar, the adversary of the
Portuguese to build a fortress near Pudupattanam during
the time of Dom Antonio de Noronha, the Portuguese
viceroy. The Dutch too came to Calicut in the first decade
of the seventeenth century and signed treaties with the
Zamorin for trading in spices. The English also established
commercial relations with Calicut. The French had a lodge
in Calicut to collect spices. Thus almost all the Europeans
conducted trade in spices available in Calicut, though in
the long run it had to give way to Cochin as the premier
centre of spice trade. However, even today one can see a
large number of godowns on the sea shore where the
spices from the hinterland are stored and sold in due time.
The merchants from Gujarat, generally known as Sets,
occupy a prominent place among the merchants.

Mahe (Mayyazhi)
The Union Territory of Mah consists of Mah town and
Naluthara, which includes four villages: Pandakkal, Pallur,
Chalakara and Chembra. Naluthara was gifted to the
French by Haider Ali, the ruler of Mysore (1722-1782), as a
token of gratitude for the opposition put up by the French
to the English. This erstwhile French enclave is surrounded
on all sides by Kerala. The Mayyazhi River which flows into
the Arabian sea connects Mahe with the hinterland.

Tellicherry (Thalassery)

The British fixed their eyes on Tellicherry on account of

the availability of spices which were easily brought from
centres of production in the hinterland. The geographical
advantage enjoyed by Tellicherry is unique on account of
its location bordering the kingdoms of Kolathunad,
Kadathanad and Kottayam in the north, south and east
respectively. It had access to Coorg via Perambadi pass
and to Wynadu via the Peria pass. The principalities of
Kottayam and Randatara were rich in the most pungent
and strong variety of pepper available in the world known
as Tellicherry Pepper. Besides, the finest variety of
cardamom grown in the hinterland was also brought to
Tellicherry. So, the English put up a factory in 1694 in the
territory belonging to Kurungottu Nair with the permission
of the then ruler of Kolathunadu. Later, for security, they
built a fortress in Thiruvalappan Kunnu close to the sea
which was handed over to the English in 1708. The British
were allowed to trade in pepper without paying any tax.
Thalassery thus became the capital of British North
Malabar and was affiliated to the factory in Bombay along
with those of Karwar, Calicut and Anjengo. Today, an
attraction for the tourist is Overburys Folly, built next to
the fortress by E.N. Overbury, a local British judge in the
1870s. The sea walls, built on Overburys order, saved
Thalassery from further sea erosion. Dharmadam island
north of the Tellicherry fortress once housed the English
fortress. This too is another attraction for the tourists.

Cannanore (Kannur)
Cannanore, the headquarters of the revenue district
with the same name is located 518 km north of
Trivandrum. It is known as the Land of Looms and Lores
because Cannanore is famous for its native performing art
form Theyyam and its exclusive handloom industry. The
district houses the headquarters of the Defence Security

Territorial Armys 122 infantry battalion. Ezhimala Naval

Academy, situated 35 km north of the district
headquarters, is Asias largest and the worlds third largest
naval academy. The Portuguese had a factory in
Cannanore right from 1500 and later a fortress too, which
was occupied in 1663 by the Dutch. The Dutch sold the
fort (St. Angelo) to the Arackal royal family, the only
Muslim Sultanate of Kerala in 1772. The British conquered
it in 1790. Naura of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is
identified with Cannanore by some historians. The
headquarters of the Arackal Sultanate is quite close to the
Kannur fortress originally built by the Portuguese in 1505,
on the other side of the Mapila Bay. The rulers of
Kolathunad had their headquarters in the vicinity of the
present city of Cannanore. The Kalarivathukal temple
where the family Goddess of the Kolathunadu kingdom is
worshipped lies near the Valapattanam river. The famous
temple at Parassinikadavu can be approached through this
river from Valapattanam. In the past, spices from the
hinterland were brought to Cannanore via this river.
All these places which were connected by the spice routes
still preserve some vestiges of the foreign contacts, either
in terms of material culture or human existence. Some of
them, like Kollam, Cochin, Calicut and Cannanore
developed into great urban conglomerations. Kerala, being
the nodal point for the trade in spices via spice routes,
occupies an important place among the political units that
were brought together through the ancient spice routes. A
touristic circuit via waterways could take travellers
interested in the international exchange of culture and
commodities to the destinations of their choice. Rivers,
lagoons, backwaters and the Arabian Sea constitute the
suitable conduit, once the seekers of their roots land in any
of the airbases in Kerala.

List of spices and their local names

Some of the items generally regarded as spices are listed

here with the local names in brackets:
1) Ginger (Inji)
2) Thymol (Ayamodakam)
3) Indian Gooseberry (Nellikka)
4) Pomegranate (Mathalam)
5) Fresh Basil (Tulasi)
6) Almond (Badam)
7) Green Cardamom
(Pacha Elakka)
8) Black Cardamom (Elakka)
9) Cinnamon (Karuvappatta)
10) Coriander (Malli)
11) Turmeric
(Manjal - aafro da terra)
12) Coriander leaves (Malli ela)
13) Inknut
(Terminalia chebula - kadukka)
14) Pepper (Kurumulagu)
15) Asafoetida (Kayam)
16) Tamarind (Valanpuli)
17) Nutmeg (Jathikka)
18) Mace (Jathipatri)
19) Cumin seed (Jeerakam)
20) Curry leaf (Curryveppila)
21) Cashewnut (Kashuvandi)
22) Black salt (Induppu)
23) Black pepper
(Unakka Kurumulagu)
24) Fenugreek leaf (Uluva ila)
25) Cubeb (Sarvasuganthi)
26) Saffron (Kumkumampoo - aafro da arvore)
27) Garcinia indica (Kokum)
28) Garcinia gummigutta (Kudampuli)
29) Poppy seed (Kaskas)


Garlic (Veluthulli)
Cloves (Grambu)
Mint (Pudina)
Long pepper (Pippali)
Brown mustard seed (Kaduku)
White pepper
(Vella Kurumulagu)
Fennel seed (Perumjeerakam)
Black cumin (Karimjeerakam)
Dried ginger (Chukku)
Dill (Chathakuppa)
Sesame seed (Ellu)
Holy basil (Tulasi)


Albuquerque, Lus de, ed., Cronica do Descobrimento e

Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, Coimbra, 1974
Barbosa, Duarte, The Book of Duarte Barbosa, An account
of the Countries bordering on the Indian Ocean and
their Inhabitants, written by
Duarte Barbosa, and about the Year 1518 A.D vols.12, London, Hakluyt Society, 1918-1921
Barros, Joo de, Da Asia, Dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes
Fizeram no Descobrimento e Conquista dos Mares, e
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