Pliny, Hippalus, Arian, and Ptolemy—Pausanias visits Attica, Corinth, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia, Arcadia, Boeotia, and Phocis—Fa-Hian explores Kan-tcheou, Tartary, Northern India, the Punjaub, Ceylon, and Java—Cosmos Indicopleustes, and the Christian Topography of the Universe—Arculphe describes Jerusalem, the valley of Jehoshaphat, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, Jericho, the river Jordan, Libanus, the Dead Sea, Capernaum, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Damascus, Tyre, Alexandria, and Constantinople—Willibald and the Holy Land—Soleyman travels through Ceylon, and Sumatra, and crosses the Gulf of Siam and the China Sea.

In the first two centuries of the Christian era, the study of geography received a great stimulus from the advance of other branches of science, but travellers, or rather explorers of new countries were very few in number. Pliny in the year A.D. 23, devoted the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth books of his Natural History to geography, and in A.D. 50, Hippalus, a clever navigator, discovered the laws governing the monsoon in the Indian Ocean, and taught sailors how they might deviate from their usual course, so as to make these winds subservient to their being able to go to and return from India in one year. Arian, a Greek historian, born A.D. 105, wrote an account of the navigation of the Euxine or Black Sea, and pointed out as nearly as possible, the countries that had been discovered by explorers who had lived before his time; and Ptolemy the Egyptian, about A.D. 175, making use of the writings of his predecessors, published a celebrated geography, in which, for the first time, places and cities were marked in their relative latitude and longitude on a mathematical plan.

The first traveller of the Christian era, whose name has been handed down to us, was Pausanias, a Greek writer, living in Rome in the second century, and whose account of his travels bears the date of A.D. 175. Pausanias did for ancient Greece what Joanne, the industrious and clever Frenchman did for the other countries of Europe, in compiling the "Traveller's Guide." His account, a most reliable one on all points, and most exact even in details, was one upon which travellers of the second century might safely depend in their journeys through the different parts of Greece.

Pausanias gives a minute description of Attica, and especially of Athens and its monuments, tombs, temples, citadel, academy, columns, and of the Areopagus.

From Attica Pausanias went to Corinth, and then explored the Islands of Ægina and Methana, Sparta, the Island of Cerigo, Messene, Achaia, Arcadia, Boeotia, and Phocis. The roads in the provinces and even the streets in the towns, are mentioned in his narrative, as well as the general character of the country through which he passed; although we can scarcely say that he added any fresh discoveries to those already made, he was one of those careful travellers whose object was more to obtain exact information, than to make new discoveries. His narrative has been of the greatest use to all geographers and writers upon Greece and the Peloponnesus, and an author of the sixteenth century has truly said that this book is "a most ancient and rare specimen of erudition."

World as known to the Ancients

It was about a hundred and thirty years after the Greek historian, in the fourth century, that a Chinese monk undertook the exploration of the countries lying to the west of China. The account of his travels is still extant, and we may well agree with M. Charton when he says that "this is a most valuable work, carrying us beyond our ordinarily narrow view of western civilization."

Fa-Hian, the traveller, was accompanied by several monks; wishing to leave China by the west, they crossed more than one chain of mountains, and reached the country now called Kan-tcheou, which is not far from the great wall. They crossed the river Cha-ho, and a desert that Marco Polo was to explore eight hundred years later. After seventeen days' march they reached the Lake of Lobnor in Turkestan. From this point all the countries that the monks visited were alike as to manners and customs, the languages alone differing. Being dissatisfied with the reception that they met with in the country of the Ourgas, who are not a hospitable people, they took a south-easterly course towards a desert country, where they had great difficulty in crossing the rivers; and, after a thirty-five days' march, the little caravan reached Tartary in the kingdom of Khotan, which contained, according to Fa-Hian, "Many times ten thousand holy men." Here they met with a cordial welcome, and after a residence of three months were allowed to assist at the "Procession of the Images," a great feast, in which both Brahmins and Buddhists join, when all the idols are placed upon magnificently decorated cars, and paraded through streets strewn with flowers, amid clouds of incense.

The feast over, the monks left Khotan for Koukonyar, and after resting there fifteen days, we find them further south in the Balistan country of the present day, a cold and mountainous district, where wheat was the only grain cultivated, and where Fa-Hian found in use the curious cylinders on which prayers are written, and which are turned by the faithful with the most extraordinary rapidity. Thence they went to the eastern part of Afghanistan; it took them four weeks to cross the mountains, in the midst of which, and the never-melting snow they are said to have found venomous dragons.

On the further side of this rocky chain the travellers found themselves in Northern India, where the country is watered by the streams which, further on, form the Sinde or Indus. After traversing the kingdoms of On-tchang, Su-ho-to, and Kian-tho-wei, they arrived at Fo-loo-cha, which must be the town of Peshawur, standing between Cabul and the Indus, and twenty-four leagues farther west, they came to the town of Hilo, built on the banks of a tributary of the river Kabout. In these towns Fa-Hian specially notices the feasts and religious ceremonies practised in the worship of Fo or Buddha.

One of Fa-Hian's companions falls
One of Fa-Hian's companions falls.

When the monks left Kito, they were obliged to cross the Hindoo-Koosh mountains, lying between Turkestan and the Gandhara, the cold being so intense that one of their party sank under it. After enduring great hardships they reached Banoo, a town that is still standing, and then, after again crossing the Indus, they entered the Punjaub. Thence, descending towards the south-east, with a view of crossing the northern part of the Indian Peninsula, they reached Mathura, a town in the province of Agra, and crossing the great salt desert which lies to the east of the Indus, travelled through a country that Fa-Hian calls "a happy kingdom, where the inhabitants are good and honest, needing neither laws nor magistrates, and indebted to none for their support; without markets or wine merchants, and living happily, with plenty of all that they required, where the temperature was neither hot nor cold." This happy kingdom was India. Fa-Hian followed a south-easterly route, and came to Feroukh-abad, where Buddha is said to have alighted as he came down from heaven, the Chinese traveller dwelling much upon the Buddhist Creed. Thence he visited the town of Kanoji, standing on the right bank of the Ganges, that he calls Heng, and this is the very centre of Buddhism. Wherever Buddha is supposed to have rested, his followers have erected high towers in his honour. The travellers visited the temple of Tchihouan, where for twenty-five years Fo practised the most severe mortifications, and where he is said to have given sight to five hundred blind men. They are said to have been much moved by the sight of this temple.

They set out again, passing Kapila and Goruckpoor, on the frontier of Nepaul, all made famous by Fo's miracles, and then reached the celebrated town of Palian-foo, in the delta of the Ganges, in the kingdom of Magadha. This was a fertile tract of country inhabited by a civilized, upright people, who loved all philosophic researches. After climbing the peak of Vautour, which stands at the source of the Dyardanes and Banourah rivers, Fa-Hian descended the Ganges, visited the temple of Issi-paten that was frequented by magicians and astrologers, reached Benares, "the kingdom of splendours," and a little lower down, the town of Tomo-li-ti, situated at the mouth of the river, a short distance from the site of Calcutta in the present day.

Fa-Hian found a party of merchants just preparing to put to sea with the intention of going to Ceylon; he sailed with them, and in fourteen days landed on the shores of the ancient Taprobana, of which the Greek merchant, Jamboulos, had given a curious account some centuries previously. Here the Chinese monk found all the traditions and legends regarding the god Fo, and passed two years in searching ancient manuscripts. He left Ceylon for Java, where he landed after a very rough voyage, in the course of which, when the sky was overclouded, he says, "we saw nothing but great waves dashing one against another, lightning, crocodiles, tortoises, and monsters of the deep."

He spent five months in Java, and then set sail for Canton; but the winds were again unfavourable, and after undergoing great hardships he landed at the town of Chantoung of the present day; then having spent some time at Nankin he returned to Fi-an-foo, his native town, after an absence of eighteen months. Such is the account of Fa-Hian's travels, which have been well translated by M. Abel de Rémusat, and which give very interesting details of Indian and Tartar customs, especially those relating to their religious ceremonies.

The next traveller to the Chinese monk, in chronological order, is an Egyptian called Cosmos Indicopleustes, a name that M. Charton renders as "Cosmographic traveller in India." He lived in the sixth century, and was a merchant of Alexandria, who, on his return from visiting Ethiopia and part of Asia, entered a monastery.

His narrative is called the "Christian Topography of the Universe." It gives no details of its author's voyages, but begins with cosmographic discussions, to prove that the world is square, and enclosed in a great oblong coffer with all the other planets. This is followed by some dissertations on the function of the angels, and a description of the dress of the Jewish Priests. Cosmos also gives the natural history of the animals of India and Ceylon, and notices the rhinoceros and buffalo, which can be made of use for domestic purposes, the giraffe, the wild ox, the musk that is hunted for its "perfumed blood," the unicorn, which he considers a real animal and not a myth, the wild boar, the hippopotamus, the phoca, the dolphin, and the tortoise. Afterwards, Cosmos describes the pepper-plant, as a frail and delicate shrub, like the smallest tendrils of the vine, and the cocoa-tree, whose fruit has a fragrance "equal to that of a nut."

From the earliest times of the Christian era there has been a great love for visiting the Holy Land, the cradle of the new religion. These pilgrimages became more and more frequent, and we have many names left to us of those who visited Palestine during the first centuries of Christianity.

One of these pilgrims, the French Bishop Arculphe, who lived towards the end of the seventh century, has left us an account of his travels.

He sets out by giving a topographical description of the site of Jerusalem, and describes the wall that surrounds the holy city, then the circular church built over the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the stone that closed it, the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church built upon Calvary, and the basilica of Constantine on the site of the place where the real cross was found. These various churches are united in one building, which also encloses the Tomb of Christ, and Calvary, where our Lord was crucified.

Arculphe then descended into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is situated to the east of the city, and contains the church that covers the tomb of the Virgin; he also saw that of Absalom, which he calls the Tower of Jehoshaphat. He describes the Mount of Olives that faces the city beyond the valley, and he prayed in the cave where Jesus prayed. He also went to Mount Zion, which stands outside the town on the south side; he notices the gigantic fig-tree, on which, according to tradition, Judas Iscariot hanged himself, and he visited the church of the guest-chamber, now destroyed.

Absalom's Tomb
Absalom's Tomb.

After making the tour of the city by the Valley of Siloam, and ascending by the brook Cedron, the bishop returned to the Mount of Olives, which was covered with waving wheat and barley, grass and wild flowers, and he describes the place where Christ ascended from the summit of the mountain. On this spot a large church has been built, with three arched porticoes that are not roofed over or covered in any way, but are open to the sky. "They have not roofed in this church," says the bishop, "because it was the place whence our Saviour ascended upon a cloud, and the space open to heaven allows the prayers of the faithful to ascend thither. For when they paved this church they could not lay the pavement over the place where our Lord's feet had rested, as, when the stones were laid upon that spot, the earth, as though impatient of anything not divine resting upon it, threw them up again before the workmen. Beyond this, the dust bears the impress of the divine feet, and though, day by day, the faithful who visit the spot efface the marks, they immediately reappear and may be seen perpetually."

After having explored the neighbourhood of Bethany in the midst of the grove of olives, where the grave of Lazarus is said to be, and where the church, standing on the right hand is supposed to mark the spot where our Lord usually conversed with His disciples, Arculphe went to Bethlehem, which is a short distance from the holy city. He describes the birthplace of our Lord, a natural cave, hollowed out of the rock at the eastern end of the village, the church, built by St. Helena, the tombs of the three shepherds, upon whom the heavenly light shone at the birth of our Saviour, the burial-places of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that of Rachel, and he visited the oak of Mamre, under which Abraham received the visit of the angels. Thence, Arculphe went to Jericho, or rather the place where the town once stood, whose walls fell at the sound of Joshua's trumpets. He explored the place where the children of Israel first rested in the land of Canaan after crossing the river Jordan, and he speaks of the church of Galgala, where the twelve stones are placed, which the children of Israel took from the river when they entered the promised land. He followed the course of the Jordan, and found near one of the bends of the river on the right bank, and among the most beautiful scenery, about an hour's walk from the Dead Sea, the place where our Lord was baptized by St. John the Baptist. A cross is placed to mark the spot, but when the river is swollen, it is covered by the water.

After examining the banks of the Dead Sea and tasting its brackish water, he viewed the source of the Jordan, at the foot of Libanus, and explored the greater part of the Lake of Tiberias, visiting the well where the woman of Samaria gave our Lord the water He so much needed, seeing the fountain in the desert of which St. John the Baptist drank, and the great plain of Gaza, where our Lord blessed the five loaves and two fishes, and fed the multitude. Next he went down to Capernaum, of which there are now no remains; then visited Nazareth, where our Lord spent His childhood, and ended his journey at Mount Tabor in Galilee.

The bishop's narrative contains both geographical and historical accounts of other places, beyond those immediately connected with our Lord's life on earth. He visited the royal city of Damascus, which is watered by four large rivers. Also Tyre, the chief town of Phoenicia, which, though once separated from the mainland, was joined to it again by the jetty or pier made by the orders of Nabuchodonosor. He speaks of Alexandria, once the capital of Egypt, which he reached forty days after leaving Jaffa, and lastly, of Constantinople, where he often visited the large church in which "the wood of the cross is preserved, upon which the Saviour suffered for the salvation of the human race."

The account of this journey was written by the Abbé de St. Columban at the dictation of the bishop, and not many years afterwards the same journey was undertaken by an English pilgrim, and accomplished in much the same way. The name of this pilgrim was Willibald, a member of a rich family living at Southampton, who, on his recovery from a long illness, dedicated him to God's service. All his early life was spent in holy exercises in the monastery of Woltheim; when he was grown up he had the most intense wish to see St. Peter's at Rome, and was so set upon this, that it induced his father, brother, and young sister to wish to go there also; they embarked at Southampton in the spring of 721, and making their way up the Seine, they landed at Rouen. We have but few details of the journey to Rome, but Willibald mentions that after passing through Cortona and Lucca, at which latter place his father sank under the fatigue of the journey and died, he reached Rome in safety with his brother and sister, and passed the winter there, but they were all in turn attacked with fever. When Willibald regained his health, he determined to continue his journey to the Holy Land. He sent his brother and sister back to England, while he joined some monks who were going in the same direction as himself. They went by Terracina and Gaeta to Naples, and set sail for Reggio in Calabria, and Catania and Syracuse in Sicily, whence they again embarked, and, after touching at Cos and Samos, landed at Ephesus in Asia Minor, where they visited the tombs of St. John the Evangelist, of Mary Magdalene, and of the seven sleepers of Ephesus, that is, seven Christians martyred in the time of the Emperor Decius.

They made some stay at Patara and at Mitylene, and then went to Cyprus and Paphos; we next find the party, seven in number, at Edessa, visiting the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle. Here they were arrested as spies, and thrown into prison by the Saracens, but the king, on the petition of a Spaniard, set them at liberty. As soon as they were set free they left the town in great haste, and from that time their route is almost the same as that of the Bishop Arculphe; they visited Damascus, Nazareth, Cana, where they saw a wonderful amphora on Mount Tabor, where our Lord was transfigured, and the Lake of Tiberias, where St. Peter walked upon the water; Magdala, where Lazarus and his sister dwelt; Capernaum, where our Lord raised to life the son of the nobleman; Bethsaida in Galilee, the native place of St. Peter and St. Andrew; Chorazin, where our Lord cured those possessed with devils; Cæsarea, and the spot where our Lord was baptized, as well as Jericho and Jerusalem.

They also went to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Mount of Olives, and to Bethlehem, the scene of the murder of the Innocents by Herod, and Gaza. While they were at Gaza, Willibald tells us that he suddenly became blind, while he was in the church of St. Matthias, and only recovered his sight two months afterwards, as he entered the church of the Holy Cross at Jerusalem. He went through the valley of Diospolis or Lydda, ten miles from Jerusalem, and then went to Tyre and Sidon, and thence, by Libanus, Damascus, Cæsarea, and Emmaus, back to Jerusalem, where the travellers spent the winter.

This was not to be the limit of their exploration, for we hear of them at Ptolemais, Emesa, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Samaria, where St. John the Baptist is said to have been buried, and at Tyre, where it must be confessed that Willibald defrauded the revenue of that time by smuggling some balsam that was very celebrated, and on which a duty was levied. On quitting Tyre they went to Constantinople and lived there for two years before returning by Sicily, Calabria, Naples, and Capua. The English pilgrim reached the monastery of Monte Cassino, just ten years after his first setting out on his travels; but his time of rest had not yet come, as he was appointed to a bishopric in Franconia by Pope Gregory III. He was forty-one years of age when he was made bishop, and he lived forty years afterwards. In 938 he was canonized by Leo VII.

We will conclude the list of celebrated travellers living between the first and ninth centuries, by giving a short account of Soleyman, a merchant of Bassorah, who, starting from the Persian Gulf, arrived eventually on the shores of China. This narrative is in two distinct parts, one written in 851, by Soleyman himself, who was the traveller, and the other in 878 by a geographer named Abou-Zeyd Hassan with the view of completing the first. Renaud, the orientalist, is of opinion that this narrative "has thrown quite a new light on the commercial transactions that existed in the ninth century between Egypt, Arabia, and the countries bordering on the Persian Gulf on one side, and the vast provinces of India and China on the other."

Soleyman, as we have said, started from the Persian Gulf after having taken in a good supply of fresh water at Muscat, and visited first, the second sea, or that of Oman. He noticed a fish of enormous size, probably a spermaceti whale, which the seamen endeavoured to frighten away by ringing a bell, then a shark, in whose stomach they found a smaller shark, enclosing in its turn one still smaller, "both alive," says the traveller, which is manifestly an exaggeration; then, after describing the remora, the dactyloptera, and the porpoise, he speaks of the sea near the Maldive Islands in which he counted an enormous number of islands, among them he mentions Ceylon by its Arabian name, with its pearl fisheries; Sumatra, inhabited by cannibals, and rich in gold-mines; Nicobar, and the Andaman Islands, where cannibalism still exists even at the present day. "This sea," he says, "is subject to fearful water-spouts which wreck the ships, and throw on its shores an immense number of dead fish and sometimes even large stones. When these tempests are at their height the sea seethes and boils." Soleyman imagined it to be infested by a sort of monster who preyed upon human beings; this is thought to have been a kind of dog-fish.

Soleyman noticed a shark in whose stomach they found a smaller shark
Soleyman noticed a shark in whose stomach they found a smaller shark.

Arrived at Nicobar, Soleyman traded with the inhabitants, bartering some iron for cocoa-nuts, sugar-cane, bananas, &c.; he then crossed the sea, and seems to have made for Singapore, and northwards by the Gulf of Siam. Soleyman put into a harbour, near Cape Varella, to revictual his ships, and thence he went by the China Sea to Jehan-fou the port of the present town of Tche-kiang. The remainder of the account of Soleyman's travels, written by Abou-Zeyd Hassan, contains a detailed account of the manners and customs of the Indians and Chinese; but it is not the traveller himself who is speaking, and we shall find the same subjects spoken of in a more interesting manner by later authors.

We must add, in reviewing the discoveries made by travellers sixteen centuries before, and nine centuries after, the Christian era, that from Norway to the extreme boundaries of China, taking a line through the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Sea of China, the immense extent of coast bordering these seas had been in a great measure visited. Some explorations had been attempted in the interior of these countries; for instance, in Egypt as far as Ethiopia, in Asia Minor to the Caucasus, in India and China; and if these old travellers may not have quite understood mathematical precision, as to some of the points they visited, at all events the manners and customs of the inhabitants, the productions of the different countries, the mode of trading with them, and their religious customs, were quite sufficiently understood. Ships could sail with more safety when the change of winds was no longer a subject of mere speculation, the caravans could take a more direct route in the interior of the countries, and the great increase of trade which took place in the middle ages is surely owing to the facilities afforded by the writings of travellers.