Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sasanian finds in early medieval Britain and beyond: another global distribution from Late Antiquity?

A previous post mapped and discussed the spread of early Byzantine finds across both Eurasia and Africa, ranging from Britain to Japan and Sweden to Tanzania. The following one expands upon this by turning to look at the global distribution of finds from the fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian Empire, the early Byzantine Empire's eastern neighbour and rival, starting with an examination of Sasanian coins found in Britain. This Late Antique empire, with its capital at Ctesiphon near to modern Baghdad, controlled an extensive area stretching from Iraq in the west to Pakistan in the east, and items produced within this territory are once again found spread across both Eurasia and Africa. Needless to say, the extensive distribution of Late Sasanian material shown here is of interest for a number of reasons from the perspective of this blog, not least the light that it sheds on trade and movement in this era and Britain's place within the wider global community.

Distribution of Sasanian finds of the fifth to seventh centuries AD found outside of the boundaries of the late sixth-century Sasanian Empire, along with a depiction of the empire during the late sixth century. For a larger version of this map, click here. Note, the map is based on the sources listed in fn. 1 and is not exhaustive; rather, it is intended to offer an impression of the wide distribution of fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian objects across Eurasia and Africa. Image: C. R. Green.

Britain and the west

The degree to which the Sasanian Empire was aware of the existence of Britain is uncertain: whilst an inscription of the third century AD refers to Spain and a number of other provinces of the Roman Empire, the earliest surviving reference to Britain from this region belongs to the ninth century AD, as was discussed in a previous post. Nonetheless, in recent years a number of Late Sasanian coins have been recorded from this island that sixth-century authors described as lying 'virtually at the end of the world towards the west and north-west' (Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, §3, c. AD 500–540). Two of these coins have been published and discussed in print previously:
  • A Sasanian coin of Khosrow I, minted in AD 565/6 at Susa in modern Iran and found at Winchelsea, East Sussex, in 1930.(2)
  • A Sasanian coin of Khosrow II, minted in c. AD 628 and found on the coast of the Island of Anglesey, Wales, in 2001.(3)
A further four Late Sasanian coins can now be added to this list that were either missed in the original catalogue or discovered after it was published:
  • A seventh-century Sasanian coin, presumably of Khosrow II (590–628), found at Beverley, East Yorkshire, in 1982.(4)
  • A sixth- or seventh-century Sasanian coin found at Barford, Warwickshire, in 1994.(5)
  • A Sasanian coin of Khosrow II, 590–628, minted at Ram Hormuz in southwestern Iran and found at Thamesfield, London; it was recorded by the PAS in 2017.(6)
  • A Sasanian coin of Khosrow II, probably minted c. AD 618 at either Veh-Kavat or Veh-Ardashir (both in modern Iraq); possibly, although not certainly, found in the East Midlands in or before 2009.(7)
A Sasanian coin of Khosrow II, 590–628, found on the coast of the Island of Anglesey, Wales, in 2001 (image: PAS, CC BY 2.0).

With regard to the presence of these sixth- to seventh-century Sasanian coins in Britain, several points can be made. First, there seems little obvious reason to assume that they are all modern losses by careless antiquarian coin collectors. As has been observed in earlier posts, 'the proverbial absent-minded college don or cathedral canon, dropping items of his collection here, there and everywhere... has never seemed a very convincing character' (as Martin Biddle memorably put it), and the nature and circumstances of the finds under consideration here supports this.(8) Not only have these Sasanian coins all been found in widely distant locales, but they have also been discovered over an extensive period of time—1930 to 2017—yet appear to have been all minted near-contemporaneously too (in the later sixth to early seventh centuries), circumstances which arguably better fit with these coins being genuinely ancient losses and imports arriving due to a specific set of circumstances, rather than random modern losses or hoaxes. Indeed, a useful comparison might be made with the increasingly large quantity of sixth- to early seventh-century Byzantine coins now known from Britain, which were once viewed with hyper-scepticism by some but are now generally accepted as genuine imports to early medieval Britain.(9) Furthermore, potential Sasanian imports to early medieval Britain are not, in fact, limited to these coins alone, but also include a small number of Sasanian engraved gems which have been found in excavated Anglo-Saxon graves, something that is obviously of considerable interest and relevance in the present context.(10)

Second, with regard to the mechanism by which these coins might have arrived in Britain, Gareth Williams has suggested that they could have travelled alongside the above-mentioned Byzantine coins from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean that are found in sixth- to seventh-century Britain.(11) Such a scenario would undoubtedly make a great deal of sense. There are, after all, clear connections between the Sasanian Empire's western neighbour, the Byzantine Empire, and both western Britain and Anglo-Saxon England in this era. For example, not only are significant numbers of early Byzantine coins found across the island, but there is also a considerable quantity of eastern Mediterranean pottery known from sites in the west, and isotopic and textual evidence moreover indicates that people who probably grew up in Byzantine North Africa were living and dying in seventh-century South Wales, Northumbria, East Anglia and Kent too.(12) The material in western Britain has long been seen as resulting from direct maritime contact with the eastern Mediterranean and that in the east can probably be at least partly seen in this light too, with finds of late sixth- to early seventh-century Byzantine coins from the Anglo-Saxon royal site of Rendlesham, Suffolk, having recently been interpreted as evidence for 'direct mercantile contacts' with the Byzantine world by Chris Scull et al.(13) As such, it seems perfectly credible that the Sasanian coins could have travelled directly to Britain alongside Byzantine imports, especially in light of the fact that Sasanian silks and gems were definitely imported into the Byzantine Empire and Sasanian coins are recorded from at least parts of the Byzantine Levant.(14) Indeed, it is worth noting that the Levant, parts of Anatolia and Egypt were all actually briefly under Sasanian control for a period in the early seventh century, something that may be of relevance here, especially given that, for example, the seventh-century Byzantine Life of St John the Almsgiver tells of a ship from Alexandria that visited Britain around that time and exchanged a cargo of corn for one of tin.(15)

A Sasanian coin of Khosrow II, 590–628, minted at Ram Hormuz in southwestern Iran and found at Thamesfield, London; it was recorded by the PAS in 2017 (image: PAS, CC BY 2.0).

A garnet intaglio of a lion mounted in an seventh-century Anglo-Saxon gold pendant from grave 172, Sibertswold Down, Kent; the gem has most recently been identified by Jeffrey Spier as a Sasanian original in his Late Antique and Early Christian Gems (Wiesbaden, 2007), p. 87. Image: Public Domain, drawn and engraved by F. W. Fairholt for B. Faussett, Inventorium Sepulchrale (London, 1856), plate IV, no. 17.

Looking south and east: Sasanian artefacts in Africa and East Asia

If the distribution of fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian extended to the north-western edge of the then-known world, it also reached equally far in the other directions. In East Africa, for example, Sasanian beads and pottery occur down the east coast from Ras Hafun, Somalia, to Kivinja, Tanzania (a site radiocarbon dated to the fifth to sixth centuries AD), and then on to Chibuene, southern Mozambique. The probably seventh-century Persian glass beads found on this last site are associated with a small amount of Sasanian pottery of the type found at Ras Hafun and are believed to attest to pre-Islamic direct trade links via the Persian Gulf that stretched right down into the south of Africa. Needless to say, this is particularly intriguing, especially as Chibuene is around 1,900km further south along the coast than the southernmost East African sites that have produced fifth- to seventh-century Byzantine artefacts! Even more interestingly, it also now appears that these beads, made with glass produced somewhere in the region east of the Euphrates, were subsequently traded inland from Chibuene, with three sites in Botswana now known to produce them, including Nqoma in far western Botswana, 1,500km from Chibuene and closer to the south-western coast of Africa than the east.(16) It is worth noting, incidentally, that Nqoma is not the only part of western Africa receiving Sasanian beads around this time—further north yet more beads manufactured east of the Euphrates are found in fifth- to seventh-century graves at Kissi, Burkina Faso, although these beads are thought to have arrived via a different route, through the Saharan Garamantian kingdom along with early Byzantine artefacts exported from the Mediterranean.(17)

Looking eastwards of the Sasanian Empire, the situation is equally interesting. As might be expected, there are significant quantities of Sasanian coins known from Central Asian Sogdiana, which bordered the Sasanian Empire in the north-east. However, there are also large numbers of Late Sasanian coins known from China too which almost certainly arrived there via Sogdiana and the Silk Road. The Sui–Tang period tombs of Astana (Xinjiang, China), for example, contain a significant number of these coins, which are notably more common than Byzantine pieces there, and Sasanian coins and glassware are additionally found at a significant number of sites further east too, as can be seen on the map included above—indeed, over 1,300 coins of Khosrow II alone have been found in China according to a recent survey.(18) In addition to these finds in the north, a number of sites in Guangdong in the south of China have also produced fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian coins, which presumably reflects maritime trade along the southern 'Silk Road of the sea' rather than the land route, an extension of the connections that brought Sasanian torpedo jars, seals and coins to India, Sri Lanka and even Thailand.(19) There is certainly documentary evidence for Persian activity and maritime trading in and around India, Sri Lanka and China in the Late Sasanian era and immediately after, and it has recently been suggested that this activity may well have extended as far as Korea and Japan in the fifth to seventh centuries. Thus not only is at least some Sasanian glass present in the late fifth- to early sixth-century AD royal tombs at Silla, South Korea, but a notable quantity of fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian glassware is also known from several sites in Japan, including Nara, Kyoto and Osaka. For example, the tomb of the 27th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Ankan, who died c. AD 536, contained a complete cut-glass Sasanian bowl of the fifth or sixth century, whilst the late fifth-century tomb 126 at Nara contained a blue glass Roman dish that had been painted in Sasanian Persia before being transported on to Japan. Although certainty is difficult, Seth Priestman has argued that these and other Persian finds in Japan are best seen as resulting from direct maritime contact with the Sasanian Empire, rather than indirect contact via the overland Silk Road, and in this light it is at the very least intriguing to note that documentary evidence has recently emerged of a Persian official or teacher living in eighth-century Japan.(20)

A repaired complete Sasanian glass bowl excavated from the sixth-century AD tumulus of Emperor Ankan in Osaka, Japan (image: Wikimedia Commons).

A selection of beads found at Kissi, Burkina Faso. Carnelian beads like those shown here were found in the fifth- to seventh-century grave 10 at Kissi 3 and are believed to have been manufactured in the Byzantine Near East/Egypt; chemical analysis of the glass beads indicates that they were made using glass from the Near and Middle East, with the majority being made within the Sasanian Empire. (Image: B. Voss/Afriques, CC)

Notes

1.     The following sources were used for areas other than Britain when putting together the map included here; it should, incidentally, be noted that Sasanian coins found in association with Islamic coinage—as all finds in Scandinavia, for example, seem to be—are not mapped here as they are believed to represent post-Sasanian trade. Map sources: I. Smirnov (ed.), Vostochnoe Serebro (St Petersburg, 1909); F. E. Day, 'Silks of the Near East', Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9.4 (1950), 108–17; J. P. Oleson, 'An unpublished Sassanian seal, with a comment on the deportation of Armenians to Cyprus in AD 578', Levant, 8 (1976), 161–4; J. A. Lerner, 'Sasanian seals in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities of the British Museum', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1976), 183–7; P. O. Harper & P. Meyers, Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period. Volume One: Royal Imagery (New York, 1981); H. M. Malek, 'A survey of research on Sasanian numismatics', The Numismatic Chronicle, 153 (1993), 227–69; P. Urbańczyk (ed.), Origins of Central Europe (Warsaw, 1997); E.A. Smagulov, 'Finds of Sasanian gems in the Otrar Oasis', Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, 3.2 (1997), 253–9; J. K. Skaff, 'The Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian silver coins from Turfan: their relationship to international trade and the local economy', Asia Major, 11.2 (1998), 67–115; S. D. Sears & D. T. Ariel, 'Finds of Late Sasanian and Early Muslim drachms in historical Palestine', ‘Atiqot, 40 (2000), 139–50; A. M. Maeir, 'Sassanica Varia Palaestiniensia: a Sassanian seal from T. Iṣtaba, Israel, and other Sassanian objects from the Southern Levant', Iranica Antiqua, 35 (2000), 159–83; M. Compareti, 'The Sasanians in Africa', Transoxiana, 4 (2002), online at http://www.transoxiana.org/0104/sasanians.html; T. Daryaee, 'The Persian Gulf trade in Late Antiquity', Journal of World History, 14 (2003), 1–16; R. K. Kovalev, 'Commerce and caravan routes along the Northern Silk Road (sixth-ninth centuries) – Part I: the western sector', Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, 14 (2005), 55–105; S. Li, 'The distribution and significance of Sassanid silver currency in China', Chinese Archaeology, 6 (2006), 190–4; M-L. Chen, 'The importation of Byzantine and Sasanian glass into China during the fourth to sixth centuries', in A. Harris (ed.), Incipient Gobalization? Long-Distance Contacts in the Sixth Century (Oxford, 2006), pp. 47–52; R. Tomber, 'Rome and Mesopotamia – importers into India in the first millennium AD', Antiquity, 81 (2007), 972–88; B. Borell, 'The early Byzantine lamp from Pong Tuk', Journal of the Siam Society, 96 (2008), 1–26; S. Magnavita, 'Sahelian crossroads: some aspects on the Iron Age sites of Kissi, Burkina Faso', in S. Magnavita et al (eds.), Crossroads / Carrefour Sahel: Cultural and Technological Developments in First Millennium BC/AD West Africa (Frankfurt, 2009), pp. 79–104; N. Schindel, Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum Israel (Wien, 2009); F. Curta & A. Gândilă, 'Hoards and hoarding patterns in the Early Byzantine Balkans', Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 65–66 (2011–2012), 45–111; T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012); M. Wood et al, 'The glass of Chibuene, Mozambique: new insights into early Indian Ocean trade', The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 67 (2012), 59–74; S .Liu et al, 'Silk Road glass in Xinjiang, China: chemical compositional analysis and interpretation using a high-resolution portable XRF spectrometer', Journal of Archaeological Science, 39 (2012), 2128–42; G. I. Bijovsky, Gold Coin and Small Change: Monetary Circulation in Fifth-Seventh Century Byzantine Palestine (Trieste, 2012); J. Spier, Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millennium (London, 2012); L. Baratova & N. Schindel, Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum Usbekistan (Wien, 2012); A. Giumlía-Mair, 'Metallurgy and technology of the Hunnic gold hoard from Nagyszéksós', The Silk Road, 11 (2013), 12–35; E. Petac & A. Ionescu, 'Some Sassanian silver coins discovered at Axiopolis (Cernavoda, Constanta County, Romania)', Iranica Antiqua, 48 (2013), 355–60; S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013); M. Kazanski, 'The Middle Dnieper area in the seventh century: an archaeological survey', in C. Zuckerman (ed.), Constructing the Seventh Century (Paris, 2013), pp. 769–864; N. Boivin et al, 'East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world', Journal of World Prehistory, 26 (2013), 213–81; T. Gesztelyi, 'Sasanian seals in Hungarian collections', Acta Classica Universitatis Scientiarum Debreceniensis, 50 (2014), 179–83; J. Denbow et al, 'The glass beads of Kaitshaa: new insights on early Indian Ocean trade into the far interior of southern Africa', Antiquity, 89 (2015), 1–17; M. Wood, 'Divergent patterns in Indian Ocean trade to East Africa and southern Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries CE: the glass bead evidence', Afriques, 6 (2015), online at http://afriques.revues.org/1782; J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt. Preliminary assessment (seasons 2009 - 2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77 at p. 764; M. Gasparini, 'Sino-Iranian textile patterns in Trans-Himalayan areas', The Silk Road, 14 (2016), 84–96. The depiction of the Sasanian Empire in the late sixth century is based on P. Sluglett & A. Currie, Atlas of Islamic History (Routledge: London, 2014), pp. 13–15, maps 1 and 2.
2.     R. Abdy & G. Williams, 'A catalogue of hoards and single finds from the British Isles c. AD 410–675', in B. J. Cook & G. Williams (eds.), Coinage and History in the North Sea World, c. AD 500–1250: Essays in Honour of Marion Archibald (Leiden, 2006), pp. 11–74 at p. 57.
3.     Portable Antiquities Scheme, LVPL2174; R. Abdy & G. Williams, 'A catalogue of hoards and single finds from the British Isles c. AD 410–675', in B. J. Cook & G. Williams (eds.), Coinage and History in the North Sea World, c. AD 500–1250: Essays in Honour of Marion Archibald (Leiden, 2006), pp. 11–74 at p. 57.
4.     M. P. T. Didsbury, Aspects of Late Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement in the Lower Hull Valley (University of Durham PhD thesis, 1990), vol. 2, p. 15 (dated broadly fifth to seventh century); Humber Historic Environment Record, 8734 (dated to the seventh century).
5.     Warwickshire Historic Environment Record, MWA9909.
6.     Portable Antiquities Scheme, LON-B2F5CF.
7.     Portable Antiquities Scheme, LEIC-BF6164. Note, this coin was discovered for purchase at a car boot sale in the Leicester area and no firm details are known of its find circumstances; as such, it needs to be used only very cautiously.
8.     Quotation from M. Biddle, 'Ptolemaic coins from Winchester', Antiquity, 49 (1975), 213–15.
9.     See, for example, S. Moorhead, 'Early Byzantine copper coins found in Britain – a review in light of new finds recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme', in O. Tekin (ed.), Ancient History, Numismatics and Epigraphy in the Mediterranean World (Istanbul, 2009), pp. 263–74; C. Morrisson, 'Byzantine coins in early medieval Britain: a Byzantinist's assessment', in R. Naismith et al (ed.), Early Medieval Monetary History: Studies in Memory of Mark Blackburn (London, 2014), pp. 207–42; E. S. Georganteli, 'Byzantine coins', in M. Biddle (ed.), The Winchester Mint and Coins and Related Finds from the Excavations of 1961-71, Winchester Studies 8 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 669–78; G. Williams, 'Anglo-Saxon gold coinage, part 1: the transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon coinage', British Numismatic Journal, 80 (2010), 51–75; C. Scull et al, 'Social and economic complexity in early medieval England: a central place complex of the East Anglian kingdom at Rendlesham, Suffolk', Antiquity, 90 (2016), 1594-1612.
10.     J. Spier, 'Late Antique and Early Christian gems: some unpublished examples', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), ‘Gems of Heaven’: Recent Research on Engraved Gemstones in Late Antiquity, c. AD 200–600 (London, 2011), pp. 193–207 at p. 199 ('A small number of... engraved Sasanian gems, have been found in other Anglo-Saxon graves, a notable indication of the great distance such prized objects could travel.'); J. Spier, Late Antique and Early Christian Gems (Wiesbaden, 2007), p. 87 (identifies the gems from Sibertswold, Kent, grave 172, and Alfriston, Sussex, grave 28, as Sasanian originals). See also P. W. Rogers, Costume in the Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Saltwood, Kent: Part 1, Women's Costume Accessories (2014), finds report, available online here, p. 30; H. Geake, The Use of Grave-Goods in Conversion-Period England, c.600–c.850 (Oxford, 1997), p. 39.
11.     G. Williams, 'Anglo-Saxon gold coinage, part 1: the transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon coinage', British Numismatic Journal, 80 (2010), 51–75 at p. 58. An alternative scenario might be to associate them with the Viking impact on Britain in the ninth century, as Sasanian coins are found alongside later Arab-Sasanian coins and Islamic dirhams in Viking-era hoards in Scandinavia (see, for example, R. K. Kovalev, 'When and what regions of the Islamic world exported Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian silver coins to early Viking-Age Northern Lands?', in T. Talvio & M. Wijk (eds.), Myntstudier (Stockholm, 2015), pp. 68–83); however, Gareth Williams does not do this and it is important to note that the distribution of Sasanian coins from Britain catalogued here does not match well with that of Islamic dirhams in Britain thought to have been imported during the Viking-era, as mapped in C. R. Green, 'The distribution of Islamic dirhams in Anglo-Saxon England', 16 December 2014, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2014/12/distribution-of-islamic-dirhams-in-england.html., nor do any of the known Viking-era hoards of dirhams found in Britain contain Sasanian coins. As such, it is not adopted or pursued in the present post.
12.     On the coins, see the references cited in fn. 9; references for the imported Byzantine pottery can be found in fn. 13, below. The isotopic results are discussed and summarized in C. R. Green, 'Some oxygen isotope evidence for long-distance migration to Britain from North Africa & southern Iberia, c.1100 BC–AD 800', 24 October 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/10/oxygen-isotope-evidence.html and C. R. Green, 'A note on the evidence for African migrants in Britain from the Bronze Age to the medieval period', 23 May 2016, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2016/05/a-note-on-evidence-for-african-migrants.html. The results discussed and analysed in these posts were published in K. A. Hemer et al, 'Evidence of early medieval trade and migration between Wales and the Mediterranean Sea region', Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (2013), 2352–59; S. Lucy et al, 'The burial of a princess? The later seventh-­century cemetery at Westfield Farm, Ely', Antiquity, 89 (2009), 81–141; S. E. Groves et al, 'Mobility histories of 7th–9th century AD people buried at early medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 151 (2013), 462–76; and J. A. Evans et al, 'A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation in archaeological human tooth enamel excavated from Britain', Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 27 (2012), 754–64 and 'Supplementary Material I' (14 pp.). The textual evidence relates to the early eighth-century Historia Ecclesiastica IV.1, where Bede describes Hadrian, the later seventh- and eighth-century Abbot of St Augustine's, Canterbury, as 'a man of African race' (HE IV.1). Hadrian is thought to have grown up in Libya Cyrenaica before the mid-seventh-century Arab conquest of North Africa: B Bischoff & M. Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian (Cambridge, 1994), especially p. 92.
13.     For eastern Britain and East Anglia, see C. Scull et al, 'Social and economic complexity in early medieval England: a central place complex of the East Anglian kingdom at Rendlesham, Suffolk', Antiquity, 90 (2016), 1594-1612; for western Britain and Byzantine imported pottery, see for example M. Fulford, 'Byzantium and Britain: a Mediterranean perspective on post-Roman Mediterranean imports in western Britain and Ireland', Medieval Archaeology, 33 (1989), 1–6; E. Campbell, Continental and Mediterranean Imports to Atlantic Britain and Ireland, AD 400–800, Council for British Archaeology Research Report 157 (York, 2007); E. Campbell & C. Bowles, 'Byzantine trade to the edge of the world: Mediterranean pottery imports to Atlantic Britain in the 6th century', in M. M. Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th Centuries: The Archaeology of Local, Regional and International Exchange (Farnham, 2009), pp. 297–314; and T. M. Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 222–3. On Byzantine–British connections, we can also note, for example, the Penmachno Stone from North Wales, which has recently been persuasively interpreted as a late sixth-century monument declaring continuing British loyalty to the Byzantine Emperor Justin II: T. M. Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 234–8.
14.     For example, Procopius in the mid-sixth century mentioned that the Romans of the eastern empire (now usually termed the Byzantine Empire) 'buy silk from the Persians', although few potential examples now survive of these silk imports: see H. B. Feltham, 'Justinian and the international silk trade', Sino-Platonic Papers, 194 (2009), pp. 1–40; M. Compareti, 'The Sasanians in Africa', Transoxiana, 4 (2002), online at http://www.transoxiana.org/0104/sasanians.html; F. E. Day, 'Silks of the Near East', Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9.4 (1950), 108–17; N. Oikonomides, 'Silk trade and production in Byzantium from the sixth to the ninth century: the seals of kommerkiarioi', Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 40 (1986), 35–53. On gems, coins and other Sasanian artefacts in the Byzantine Empire, see for example J. P. Oleson, 'An unpublished Sassanian seal, with a comment on the deportation of Armenians to Cyprus in AD 578', Levant, 8 (1976), 161–4; J. A. Lerner, 'Sasanian seals in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities of the British Museum', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1976), 183–7; S. D. Sears & D. T. Ariel, 'Finds of Late Sasanian and Early Muslim drachms in historical Palestine', ‘Atiqot, 40 (2000), 139–50; A. M. Maeir, 'Sassanica Varia Palaestiniensia: a Sassanian seal from T. Iṣtaba, Israel, and other Sassanian objects from the Southern Levant', Iranica Antiqua, 35 (2000), 159–83; N. Schindel, Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum Israel (Wien, 2009).
15.     Leontius, Life of St John the Almsgiver, chapter 10; C. A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons, AD 400–600 (Stroud, 1998), p. 152; C. J. Salter, 'Early tin extraction in the south-west of England: a resource for Mediterranean metalworkers of late antiquity', in M. M. Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th–12th Centuries: The Archaeology of Local, Regional and International Exchange (Farnham, 2009), pp. 315–22 at p. 320; M. M. Mango, 'Tracking Byzantine silver and copper metalware, 4th–12th centuries', in Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th–12th Centuries, pp. 221–36 at p. 223.
16.     On Late Antique trade down the East African coast, see especially N. Boivin et al, 'East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world', Journal of World Prehistory, 26 (2013), 213–81 at pp. 244–5, for a good, recent summary. On Chibuene and Persian beads traded into Botswana, see M. Wood et al, 'The glass of Chibuene, Mozambique: new insights into early Indian Ocean trade', The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 67 (2012), 59–74; M. Wood, Interconnections: Glass beads and Trade in Southern and Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean – 7th to 16th centuries AD (Uppsala, 2011); M. Wood, 'Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean world in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence', in G. Campbell (ed.), Early Exchange between Africa and the Wider Indian Ocean World (Cham, 2016), pp. 173–94 at pp. 184–6; J. Denbow et al, 'The glass beads of Kaitshaa: new insights on early Indian Ocean trade into the far interior of southern Africa', Antiquity, 89 (2015), 1–17; M. Wood, 'Divergent patterns in Indian Ocean trade to East Africa and southern Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries CE: the glass bead evidence', Afriques, 6 (2015), online at http://afriques.revues.org/1782; A. M. Daggett, Early Iron Age Social and Economic Organization in Sowa Pan, Botswana (Michigan State University PhD Thesis, 2015), especially p. 322.
17.     On the Sasanian beads of Sub-Saharan West Africa, see S. Magnavita, 'Sahelian crossroads: some aspects on the Iron Age sites of Kissi, Burkina Faso', in S. Magnavita et al (eds.), Crossroads / Carrefour Sahel: Cultural and Technological Developments in First Millennium BC/AD West Africa (Frankfurt, 2009), pp. 79–104, and S. Magnavita, 'Initial encounters: seeking traces of ancient trade connections between West Africa and the wider world', Afriques, 4 (2013), online at https://afriques.revues.org/1145.
18.     See, for example, S. Li, 'The distribution and significance of Sassanid silver currency in China', Chinese Archaeology, 6 (2006), 190–4; M-L. Chen, 'The importation of Byzantine and Sasanian glass into China during the fourth to sixth centuries', in A. Harris (ed.), Incipient Gobalization? Long-Distance Contacts in the Sixth Century (Oxford, 2006), pp. 47–52; S .Liu et al, 'Silk Road glass in Xinjiang, China: chemical compositional analysis and interpretation using a high-resolution portable XRF spectrometer', Journal of Archaeological Science, 39 (2012), 2128–42; J. K. Skaff, 'The Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian silver coins from Turfan: their relationship to international trade and the local economy', Asia Major, 11.2 (1998), 67–115.
19.     For finds in southern China, see for example Li, 'The distribution and significance of Sassanid silver currency in China'; R. C. Houston, 'A note on two coin hoards reported in Kao Ku', Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society), 20 (1975), 153–60; T. Daryaee, 'The Persian Gulf trade in Late Antiquity', Journal of World History, 14 (2003), 1–16; T. Daryaee, Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (London, 2009), pp. 138–9. Note, Daryaee, 'The Persian Gulf trade in Late Antiquity', p. 13, suggests the coastal finds in east China may also result from the maritime trade route, rather than the overland Silk Road, and notes the discovery of a potential Zoroastrian fire-temple in southern China (p. 14). For finds in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand (at Yarang) and documentary references to Persian maritime trade across to China, see, for example, R. Tomber, 'Rome and Mesopotamia – importers into India in the first millennium AD', Antiquity, 81 (2007), 972–88; B. Borell, 'The early Byzantine lamp from Pong Tuk', Journal of the Siam Society, 96 (2008), 1–26 at pp. 9 and 11; D. Whitehouse & A. Williamson, 'Sasanian maritime trade', Iran, 11 (1973), 29–49; Daryaee, 'The Persian Gulf trade in Late Antiquity'; and S. Faller, 'The world according to Cosmas Indicopleustes – concepts and illustrations of an Alexandrian merchant and monk', Transcultural Studies, 1 (2011), online at http://heiup.uni-heidelberg.de/journals/index.php/transcultural/article/view/6127/2962, although see now R. R. Darley, '"Implicit cosmopolitanism" and the commercial role of ancient Lanka', in Z. Biedermann & A. Strathern (eds.), Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History (London, 2017), pp. 44-65, on the disputed character of Sri Lankan finds of Sasanian coins and also on textual references to Persian activity on the island.
20.     On the Korean finds, see C. Kwangshik, 'Silla art and the Silk Road', International Journal of Korean History, 19 (2014), 1–22 at p. 3; S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013), p. 125. On the Japanese finds, see S. Priestman, 'The Silk Road or the sea? Sasanian and Islamic exports to Japan', Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 3 (2016), 1-35, who argues for these items having arrived via the sea rather than the overland Silk Road; there is also some discussion of these finds in the Encyclopædia Iranica, 'Japan XI: collections of Persian art in Japan' (2008), available online. The documentary evidence for a Persian official living in Japan was revealed in October 2016: 'Research uncovers evidence that ancient Japan was "more cosmopolitan" than previously thought', Japan Times, October 5 2016, online edition.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2017, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Two long-distance migrants in the eighth- to tenth-century Islamic necropolis at Tauste, Spain

The current brief post is primarily concerned with two women buried in the eighth- to tenth-century Islamic necropolis at Tauste, Spain, both of whom appear to be long-distance migrants from a significantly colder and/or mountainous location than Spain. What follows consists of a brief discussion of the oxygen isotope results from this site and the areas of Eurasia where those with unusual isotope result could have potentially spent their childhoods.

The geographic distribution of areas with rainwater/drinking-water oxygen isotope values below ‑12.0‰, shown in black; the location of the eighth- to tenth-century Islamic necropolis at Tauste, Spain, is marked in red. Image: C. R. Green, based primarily on the IAEA's 2013 RCWIP model. Click here for a larger version of this map.

The Islamic necropolis at Tauste (Zaragoza, Spain), close to the northern frontier of Al-Andalus, was discovered in 2010 and contains a minimum of 4,500 people, all of whom were placed on their right-hand side and aligned to face Mecca. The burial ground has been radiocarbon dated to between the eighth and the tenth centuries AD and the remains of 31 individuals from this cemetery have been additionally subjected to multiple isotope analysis, with the aim of looking at their geographic origins, mobility and nutrition. The results of this suggest that the majority of the population buried here (c. 84%) grew up locally in the Ebro basin of northern Spain. However, five individuals had results significantly outside the expected local ranges for oxygen and/or strontium isotopes, and these outliers are of considerable interest. Two of them, both male, had tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope levels—δ¹⁸Op—above 19.1‰, notably higher than those of the majority of the population investigated here (16.4–18.0‰ δ¹⁸Op). As has been discussed in a number of previous posts, such results are indicative of a childhood spent in a much warmer and perhaps more coastal environment than this area of Spain and would be consistent with an origin in the very southernmost parts of Iberia, large areas of North Africa, or parts of the Near East including the northern Arabian peninsula.

Even more interesting are the two individuals, both female, who have exceptionally low oxygen isotope results: 14.48‰ δ¹⁸Op (individual T-31, aged 16–20) and 14.25‰ δ¹⁸Op (individual T-15, aged 33–45). When considering these two individuals, it is worth recalling that—as Montgomery et al have recently emphasised—there are very few environmental, biological, or cultural processes that that can result in human tooth enamel oxygen isotope values that are lower than would be expected on the basis of the consumed drinking-water. So, the question is, where in Eurasia or Africa can be found drinking-water with sufficiently depleted drinking-water oxygen isotope values to produce the tooth enamel results that these two women possess?

Oxygen isotope values versus strontium isotope values in the tooth enamel of individuals from Tauste, showing the main 'local' group and the five outliers (image: Guede et al, 2017, fig. 7, used under PLOS's CC BY 4.0 license).

With regard to this, the authors of the isotope study of the Tauste Islamic necropolis comment only that the two women in question may come 'from a colder or higher altitude region' and 'a more mountainous geographical region', and don't investigate their potential origins any further. However, a significantly greater degree of precision than this is not only arguably possible in light of the above observations, but also actually produces some rather fascinating results. The reason for this is that human tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope levels as dramatically low as 14.25 and 14.48‰ δ¹⁸Owould, in light of the above, appear to require a drinking-water value of below -12.2‰ to -12.6‰ δ¹⁸Odw (using the 2008 Daux et al drinking-water equation; using the alternative 2010 revised Levinson equation it would require a drinking-water oxygen isotope value of below -13.7‰ to -14.2‰ δ¹⁸Odw), something that is notably rare across much of the globe.

As can be seen from the map included at the top of this post, areas with rainwater/drinking-water values below -12.0‰ are, in fact, only widely encountered in northern Scandinavia and Russia, and are otherwise really only found in parts of the Alps, the Caucasus Mountains region, and the Hindu Kush, Tibetan Plateau and Tian Shan area in the east. Needless to say, such a very restricted distribution of candidate areas strongly suggests that the two women spent their childhoods not simply in a 'higher altitude region' as the article indicates, but were instead very likely to be long-distance migrants to northern Iberia who had potentially travelled even further over their lifetimes than the two men noted above. Which of these possible childhood residences is more credible is obviously a matter of debate. The closest locale is, of course, the Alps, and if correct it would imply that the women in question had moved from an early medieval Christian milieu to an Islamic one at some point. Next closest is Scandinavia, which is at least worth noting as not only were the Vikings occasionally active around Iberia and in the Mediterranean from the ninth-century, but slaves from more northerly parts of Europe were certainly being traded south to Iberia in this era too (with the English perhaps playing a part in this, given the tenth-century Hudud al-'Alam's reference to trade between Al-Andalus and Britain). Finally, the women could well have grown up in the Islamic world and have simply travelled a significant distance to reach Al-Andalus, perhaps from either the Caucasus Mountains area or even the Hindu Kush. Whatever the case may be, these women are thus clearly of considerable interest.

In conclusion, the isotopic results from the large eighth- to tenth-century Islamic necropolis at Tauste are worth serious consideration, with around 13% of the sampled population having clearly non-local oxygen isotope values. Whilst pinning down the childhood locales of these people with any degree of certainty remains challenging, the published results do at the very least seem to offer yet more potential evidence for there having been a notable degree of medium- to long-distance mobility and contact in early medieval Europe.

Location of Muslim and Christian archaeological sites and the Upper March or Muslim northern frontier in western Europe during the ninth century, with the location of Tauste marked (image: Guede et al, 2017, fig. 9, used under PLOS's CC BY 4.0 license).

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2017, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A very long way from home: early Byzantine finds at the far ends of the world

The following brief post is once again offered largely for the sake of interest, being concerned with the furthest limits of the distribution of early Byzantine material in Eurasia and Africa. What follows consists of a distribution map of fifth- to seventh-century AD Byzantine finds and contemporary imitations accompanied by a brief discussion and illustration of some of the items that have been found in the far west, far east, far north and far south of the 'Old World'. Needless to say, the extensive distribution of early Byzantine material shown here is of interest for a number of reasons from the perspective of this blog, not least the light that it sheds on early medieval Britain's Byzantine and Indian Ocean imports and connections discussed in previous posts.

Distribution of early Byzantine items and contemporary imitations found outside of the boundaries of the mid-sixth-century empire, along with a depiction of the empire during the reign of Justinian (c. 565 AD). For a larger version of this map, click here. The numbers refer to sections in the text, below. Note, the finds in the Kama region of Russia seem to have arrived there in the eighth to twelfth centuries from Central Asia, hence the inclusion—following Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th Centuries (Farnham, 2009), fig. 1.1—of a notional grouping of finds in a regular block to the southeast of the Aral Sea and an arrow indicating the relationship between these and the Russian finds. (Image: C. R. Green, based on the sources listed in fn. 1)

The Far West (1)

For both St Jerome, writing near Bethlehem in 396, and Gildas, writing around a century later in late fifth- or early sixth-century Britain, the British Isles lay 'virtually at the end of the world towards the west and north-west'. Despite this, there was clearly an intriguing degree of contact between the British Isles and the early Byzantine empire during the fifth to seventh centuries, as has been discussed at length in a previous post. In terms of the material evidence for this connection, this is manifested by significant finds of fifth- to sixth-century Eastern Mediterranean and North African pottery in western Britain and Ireland (with around half of the total coming from the probable royal site of Tintagel, Cornwall), alongside Byzantine coins, metalwork, and a number of burials of people whose isotope results indicate that they could well have grown up in Byzantine North Africa. It has often been suggested that the material in the west may have arrived via a different mechanism to that in the east, perhaps representing direct, official contact via the Straits of Gibraltar and the Atlantic coast vs indirect transfer via merchants and elite exchange along the rivers of mainland Europe, although finds of late sixth- to early seventh-century Byzantine coins from the Anglo-Saxon royal site of Rendlesham, Suffolk, have recently been interpreted as evidence for 'direct mercantile contacts' with the Byzantine world in eastern Britain too.

A fifth- or sixth-century Late Roman 1 amphora from the Eastern Mediterranean found on the sea bed at Plymouth; note, this amphora still has the residue in it of the red wine that it once transported (image: Ships Project/ProMare, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A rim-sherd of Phocaean Red Slip Ware—high quality red-slipped tableware made in modern Turkey during the late fifth to early sixth century—discovered at Collierstown, Co. Meath, Ireland (image: Kelly 2010, CC).

Byzantine bowls and spoons (with Greek inscriptions) from the Eastern Mediterranean, made c. 600 AD and found in the early seventh-century Sutton Hoo ship burial, Suffolk (image: British Museum).

The Wilton Cross, incorporating a Byzantine solidus of Heraclius dating 613–32; made at an East Anglian workshop in the first half of the seventh century and found at Wilton, Norfolk (image: British Museum).

A sixth- to seventh-century early Byzantine censer, found at Glastonbury Abbey; it was found with traces of burnt incense still remaining within it and the closest parallels for the Glastonbury censer come from Sardis (Turkey), Egypt and Galilee (image: British Museum).

The Far East (2, 3, 4)

If there is a substantial amount of early Byzantine material found in Britain and Ireland, the apparent westernmost extremity of the known world in late antiquity, there is also a notable quantity at the far eastern end too. In St Jerome's letter, cited above, the rhetorical opposite extremity of the world to Britain was given as India, but Roman and Byzantine authors were certainly aware of the existence of China and parts of Southeast Asia. China was, for example, mentioned by Roman and early Byzantine writers from the first century BC onwards and it is included not only in Ptolemy's second-century AD Geography (which mentions parts of Southeast Asia too), but also on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fascinating map that seems to have had its origins in the Late Roman period. Moreover, Roman and especially Chinese sources make several references to Hellenistic, Roman and early Byzantine entertainers, merchants and/or embassies being present in China and Southeast Asia, including a mission in 166 AD that arrived via the south coast—probably entering China via Vietnam and claiming to have been sent by the Roman emperor Andun (Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius Antoninus?), although this was perhaps really a commercial action that chose to represent itself this way—and numerous seventh- and eighth-century Byzantine embassies to Tang China.

In terms of the early Byzantine material found in eastern parts of Eurasia, there is a variety of surviving artefacts ranging from glass vessels, metalwork and textiles through to gold and bronze coinage, with the latter being by far the most numerous category. The most easterly early Byzantine artefacts are actually found in Korea and Japan ('2' on the map, above). The former has seen finds of glass vessels from the late fifth- to early sixth-century AD royal tombs at Silla, Korea, some of which appear to have actually been made in the early Byzantine empire and others of which are believed to be imitative of Late Roman/Early Byzantine forms, whilst in Japan there have been not only finds of early Byzantine 'Levantine 1' glass beads (probably made on the coast of present-day northern Israel) from fifth-century AD tombs, but the important mid-eighth-century AD imperial Shōsōin Repository at Nara, Japan, is also reported to contain a number of Byzantine items including a cushion cover made in early Byzantine Syria. Interestingly, neither Japan nor Korea is mentioned in Roman or Byzantine sources, although a recent isotopic and mitochondrial DNA study of burials on the Imperial estate at Vagnari, southern Italy, has indicated that one of the adults buried there in the first or second century AD could have had Japanese ancestry, given that 'all modern mtDNA matches to her available haplotype sequence are from Japan'.(2)

In addition to this material from the very far east, we also have a notable quantity of primarily sixth- to early seventh-century Byzantine gold coins and sixth- to eighth-century imitations from tombs in China, along with a number of finds of early Byzantine metalwork and glassware (and imitations of the same) from this country too. Both this material and that discussed in the preceding paragraph is often thought to have arrived via Central Asia along the 'Silk Road', especially given the presence of a number of similar finds in areas such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, although some of the Byzantine items found close to the Chinese coast and in Korea and Japan could have alternatively arrived by the less-discussed southern, maritime 'branch' of the Silk Road instead. Certainly, earlier Roman and Greek mariners made use of this route, and early Byzantine written sources moreover appear to make reference to it, whilst finds of fifth- to seventh-century Sasanian glassware in Japan are argued to have probably arrived there via the sea route. With regard to this maritime 'road', another relevant find may well be that of a probably sixth-century Byzantine lamp found in Thailand (marked as '3' on the map, above), and it is worth noting in this context that an East Javanese millefiori bead of sixth-century date has been found at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike too (curiously, such beads are very rare indeed outside of East Java, with the only other concentration really being in the Silla tombs of Korea, mentioned above!).

Finally, thousands of fifth- to seventh-century Byzantine gold and bronze coins and imitations are known from India and Sri Lanka ('4' on the map), accompanied by fifth- to sixth-century amphorae on coastal and inland sites in western India. Such finds support the textual evidence for continued Indo-Roman trade and/or interaction via the Red Sea beyond the more frequently discussed Early Roman era into the Late Roman/Early Byzantine period, as do both the Indo-Pacific imports found at sites such as Byzantine Berenike and the recent isotopic analysis of burials of the fourth- to fifth-century AD at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Aila (Jordan), which indicates that people from areas beyond western Asia and North Africa were living there then, including some who had potentially grown up in the Indus Valley.

A silk cushion cover made in Byzantine Syria and preserved in the eighth-century imperial Shōsōin Repository at Nara, Japan, given to the monastery by the Emperor Shomu in 754; see H. B. Feltham, 'Lions, silks and silver: the influence of Sasanian Persia', Sino-Platonic Papers, 206 (2010), who notes that the cushion represents a copy of Sasanian motifs by 'the Byzantines in Syria' (p. 18). (Image via Pinterest; also in Feltham, 2010, fig, 10, CC)

Early Byzantine glass and imitations recovered from late fifth- to early sixth-century Silla tombs in Korea. (Image via Pinterest)

A gold imitation of a sixth-century Byzantine coin of Justinian I, struck on one side only, found in the Astana cemetery, China (image: British Museum). An example of a genuine Byzantine coin found in China is this mint gold Byzantine solidus of Anastasius (491–518), found in tomb of Emperor Jiemin (d. 532), Northern Wei dynasty.

A probably sixth-century Byzantine bronze lamp from Egypt, found at Pong Tuk, Thailand (image: scalar.usc.edu).

A copper-alloy coin of Justin II (565–78), found in southern India or Sri Lanka and collected by Colin Mackenzie in the early nineteenth century (image: British Museum).

The Far North (5)

Turning to the extremity of the world that St Jerome termed 'the frozen zone of the North', there is once again a number of interesting finds dating from the early Byzantine period. The most northerly material mapped here comes from northern Sweden, where a number of sixth- to seventh-century bronze Byzantine coins have been found as part of a wider trend of Hellenistic to early Byzantine coin finds in this region. These have been most recently studied by Zachrisson, who argues that they may well have arrived contemporaneously as part of the trade in northern fur products between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean world, and that they represent a phenomenon distinct from that which carried significant quantities of fifth- to mid-sixth-century Byzantine gold solidi and other material to the Baltic coast, islands and southern Scandinavia.

Looking east of the Baltic, there are other very northerly finds of early Byzantine material known from Estonia and Russia. The Estonian finds consist of two late fifth- to early sixth-century silver bowls discovered at Kriimani and Varnja in eastern Estonia; these are thought to be most probably direct imports from the south, rather than items that originally came to southern Scandinavia and were then transported eastwards, and can perhaps be once more associated with the fur trade or possibly the amber trade. The Russian finds come from the Kama region and consist of around two dozen pieces of early Byzantine silver plate, although in this case many of the finds come from features dating from the eighth to twelfth centuries AD, are found with Sasanian silver, and/or bear Sogdian, Chorasmian and other graffito. In light of this, it has been argued that these early Byzantine silver objects were originally transported to Central Asia before being subsequently re-exported to northern Russia.

The late fifth- to early sixth-century Byzantine bowl found at Kriimani, Estonia (image: Estonian Journal of Archaeology, CC BY-NC 4.0)

A gold solidus of the Byzantine emperor Anastasius (491–518) found on the Swedish island of Öland; pierced for suspension (image: SHM, CC BY 2.5 SE).

An early seventh-century Byzantine silver gilded dish with Silenus and a Maenad; made in Constantinople, 613–629/30, with seals from the reign of Heraclius on the rear, and found in 1878 near Solikamsk, Perm, Russia (image: Internet Archive, Public Domain; a copyrighted colour photograph of this dish is available here).

The Far South (6, 7)

Looking finally to the lands of 'burning heat' to the far south of the early Byzantine empire, there are yet more intriguing finds to note. The first find is located almost on the Equator and comes from the middle of the Indian Ocean on the island of Gan, the largest island of the Maldives, where a cache of fifth- to sixth-century Byzantine gold coins were discovered in 1986 as part of investigations into a sixth-century and later Buddhist monastery located there. Needless to say, this stupa hoard should be almost certainly considered alongside the southern Indian and Sri Lankan finds discussed above. With regard to the Maldives, it is incidentally worth noting that there are references to people from these islands within the Roman empire in the fourth century AD from Ammianus Marcellinus and Philostorgios, and a passing mention seems to be made by Cosmas Indicopleustes in the sixth century, whilst Tang dynasty documents record two visits of Maldivians to China in the seventh century.

Even more southerly are the finds of early Byzantine materials made along the East African coast of Tanzania, well within the southern hemisphere (marked as '6' on the map). The earliest recorded finds from here are Byzantine coins of Justin I (518–27), Justinian I (527–65) and Heraclius (610–41) found on Pemba Island, part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, and the main coast opposite at Tanga. Although these coins have been subject of some scepticism, recent archaeological work on the Tanga coast offers a degree of support, indicating that there was probably long-distance trading taking place here in the pre-Islamic period and noting that this area is likely to be the location of the trading centre known to Graeco-Romans as Toniki. Even more significantly, excavations on Zanzibar island at the Unguja Ukuu site, just to the south of the Tanga coast, have revealed the presence of two pieces of early Byzantine fine ware pottery made in fifth- to early sixth-century Egypt and some probable early Byzantine glass from a level radiocarbon dated to c. 500 AD, whilst the north coast of Zanzibar has seen a find of fifth-century Byzantine amphorae sherds from the Fukuchani site. Moreover, further relevant finds been made a little way down the East African coast, close to the probable location of the southernmost 'metropolis' and trading port known to the Romans, Rhapta (mentioned by the Periplus and Ptolemy, and reportedly located in 2016 by divers off Mafia Island, Tanzania, who found the remains of five to six metre high walls associated with Roman-style ceramics and tile), including pieces of glassware that are comparable to examples from Fayum, Egypt, and were apparently made in sixth-century Syria, these having been recovered from a site at Kivinja that is radiocarbon dated to the fifth to sixth centuries AD.

Turning lastly to West Africa, recent work has again revealed evidence for the presence of probable early Byzantine material and contemporary imitations in the Sahara itself and also in parts of Sub-Saharan West Africa. The finds from within the Sahara are associated with the Garamantes, who made use of elaborate underground irrigation systems known as foggara in the Fezzan area of Libya in order to create a prosperous civilisation in the Sahara desert, including several small planned towns with a capital, Garama, that at its peak was home to around 4,000 people with a further 6,000 in surrounding satellite villages. Early Byzantine items recovered from here include fourth- to fifth-century AD glass vessels from the the heartland of the Garamantian kingdom—the Saharan oasis belt of the Wadi al-Ajal—which were made out of Egyptian HIMT glass, and part of a late sixth- or early seventh-century North African amphora recovered from the Garamantian fortified village of Aghram Nadharif in south-western Libya (a comparable example was excavated from early Byzantine Leptis Magna). Beyond the Sahara in Burkina Faso and Mali (marked as '7' on the map) there are yet more relevant items which presumably arrived in Sub-Saharan West Africa via the Garamantian kingdom. These include cowrie shells dated to the fifth to seventh century (which must have come from the Red Sea or further afield), carnelian and glass beads imported from both early Byzantine Egypt/the Levant and the Sasanian Middle East, and copper-alloy items of the fifth to seventh centuries made from metal that was imported from the Eastern Mediterranean and Britain, all recovered from a fourth- to seventh-century cemetery site at Kissi, Burkina Faso. Likewise, there have been finds of amphorae rims which seem to be imitative of North African amphorae of Late Roman/early Byzantine date (up to the seventh century) from three sites in Mali, to the west of Kissi, one from a context dated c. 450–600 AD.

A gold coin of the emperor Leo I (d. 474) found on Gan, the largest island of the Maldives; this is one of several fifth- to sixth-century Byzantine coins found in a container buried on a monastic site believed to have been established in the sixth century AD (image: NCLHR, reportedly Public Domain).

Ptolemy's map of East Africa from a fifteenth-century copy, with the 'metropolis' of Rhapta marked along with other trading sites along the east coast down to Tanzania that were known to the Romans (image: Wikimedia Commons).

A selection of beads found at Kissi, Burkina Faso. Carnelian beads like those shown here were found in the fifth- to seventh-century grave 10 at Kissi 3 and are believed to have been manufactured in the Byzantine Near East/Egypt; chemical analysis of the glass beads indicates that they were made using glass from the Near and Middle East, with the majority actually being made within the Sasanian Empire. (Image: B. Voss/Afriques, CC)

Notes

1.     The map included here is based on M. M. Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th Centuries: The Archaeology of Local, Regional and International Trade (Farnham, 2009), figs. 1.1 and 15.4, with a significant number of modifications and additions. Sources utilised include the following: K. C. MacDonald, 'A view from the South: sub-Saharan evidence for contacts between North Africa, Mauritania and the Niger, 1000 BC–AD 700', in A. Dowler & E. R. Galvin, Money, Trade and Trade Routes in Pre-Islamic North Africa (London, 2011), pp. 72–82; S. Magnavita, 'Initial encounters: seeking traces of ancient trade connections between West Africa and the wider world', Afriques, 4 (2013), online at https://afriques.revues.org/1145; S. Magnavita, 'Sahelian crossroads: some aspects on the Iron Age sites of Kissi, Burkina Faso', in S. Magnavita et al (eds.), Crossroads / Carrefour Sahel: Cultural and Technological Developments in First Millennium BC/AD West Africa (Frankfurt, 2009), pp. 79–104; T. R. Fenn et al, 'Contacts between West Africa and Roman North Africa: archaeometallurgical results from Kissi, northeastern Burkina Faso', in S. Magnavita et al (eds.), Crossroads / Carrefour Sahel, pp. 119–46; C. N. Duckworth, 'From the Mediterranean to the Libyan Sahara: chemical analyses of Garamantian glass', Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 7 (2015), 633–9 at p. 635; M. Liverani (ed.), Aghram Nadharif: the Barkat Oasis (Sha'abiya of Ghat, Libyan Sahara) in Garamantian Times. The Archaeology of Libyan Sahara, Volume II (Firenze, 2005), pp. 242, 248, 368 ; R. R. Darley, Indo-Byzantine Exchange, 4th to 7th Centuries: a Global History (University of Birmingham PhD Thesis, 2013); N. Mohamed, 'Maldivian seafaring in the pre-Portuguese period', National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research, Republic of Maldives (2005), online at http://qaumiyyath.gov.mv/docs/whitepapers/history/seafaring.pdf; S. 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