Münster on India

These leaves from Book V of one of the earliest editions of Cosmographia (the Latin edition from the Basel printing house of Sebastian Heinrich-Petri, 1552) are devoted to Asia ("De terris Asiae maioris"), and more specifically to India. In his text, Münster clearly follows *Strabo*, relying heavily on his Geography (Book XV: On India).

*PAGE 1063*  is devoted to the Mongol Empire ("Imperatorum Tartarorum"), China, and India. In his description of Mongolia and China, Münster relied largely on Marco Polo's book Il Milione ("The Million"), known in English as the "Travels of Marco Polo". Münster refers to China as Cathay -- the name by which North China was known in medieval Europe. The page describes the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan ("Cingkis/Changius Can") and his sons. Münster lists Mongolian rulers, including Kublai Khan, Temur, and Timur (Tamerlane).

*PAGE 1064* gives basic facts on India. Most of Münster's text is based on Strabo's Geography. In Book XV, "On India," Strabo writes:

"India is bounded on the north from Ariana to the eastern sea, by the extremities of the Taurus, which by the natives are severally called 'Paropamisus' and 'Emodus' and 'Imaus' and other names, but by the Macedonians 'Caucasus'; on the west by the Indus River; but the southern and eastern sides, which are much greater than the other two, extend out into the Atlantic sea, and thus the shape of the country becomes rhomboidal, each of the greater sides exceeding the opposite side by as much as three thousand stadia, which is the same number of stadia by which the cape common to the eastern and southern coast extends equally farther out in either direction than the rest of the shore. Now the length of the western side from the Caucasian Mountains to the southern sea is generally called thirteen thousand stadia, I mean along the Indus River to its outlets, so that the the opposite side, the eastern, if one adds the thousand of the cape, will be sixteen thousand stadia. These, then, are the minimum and maximum breadths of the country."
Several comments are in order here. The term "Indian Caucasus" was commonly used for the Hindu Kush. Paropamisus is a mountain range in northwest Afghanistan, stretching from the Hindu Kush toward the Elburz Mountains in Iran. The Taurus mountain range lies in southern Turkey. However, the names "Taurus" and "Imaus" were used by Münster for the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas. The text mentions the Indus and the Ganges rivers.

*PAGE 1065* and *PAGE 1066* begin with an account of the stade, an ancient unit of length: it was the Greek equivalent of the furlong (a Babylonian unit of 660 feet), but measured 1/10th of a minute of degree (i.e., 600 feet instead of 660 feet). Thereafter the description of India continues, including its resouces ("India qualis & quanta regio"), the customs and habits of the Indians ("Indorum mores"), and the caste system ("Septem ordines Indorum"). The leaf contains two woodcut illustrations: an Indian native, and an elephant used by a farmer for ploughing.

*PAGE 1068* is devoted to the animals of India, and its introductory illustration shows a group of major animals all assembled calmly in one place, as if for a family portrait. [Here's a closer look at the *group of animals*.]

*PAGE 1069* begins by describing Indian elephants. The remaining part of the leaf deals with various monstrous animals; there are good pictures of the elephant and the dragon. Authors like Pliny (Münster: "Plinius") published illustrations and descriptions of these beasts.

*PAGE 1070* contains a story about dragons and their fights with elephants. When the ancient Roman historian Pliny recorded seeing crocodiles fighting elephants, he described them as dragons, and Münster repeats this legend. In the following text, he writes about elephants, their strength, and their enemies: long and horrible serpents, giant scorpions, and other species. Thereafter follows a short section on gryphons (also known as griffins) of India. [Here's a closer look at the *griffin*.] The gryphon is a creature described as having the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle, and a back covered with feathers. The talons and claws of the gryphon were so enormous that they have often been made into drinking cups. The behavior of the Gryphon was described as being similar to that of birds: they make nests, but lay agate instead of eggs. According to Münster, gryphons of India and Bactria were mighty animals: no beast could fight them, except for lions and elephants.

*PAGE 1071* and *PAGE 1072* are devoted to Bucephalus, the most famous horse of ancient times. Bucephalus, whose name means "ox-head," was called that because of his wide forehead and slightly "dished-shaped" face, marked by a white star. A black stallion only 15 hands high, he achieved fame carrying his master, Alexander the Great. The story is that Alexander met Bucephalus for the first time when he was only twelve years old. When Alexander's father, Philip, was looking at horses to buy, Bucephalus was brought out, but proved dangerously unruly. Alexander noticed that Bucephalus was frightened by his own shadow, so he turned the excited horse to face the sun, then vaulted onto the young stallion's back and rode him successfully. Alexander and Bucephalus rode thousands of miles and fought in many battles together, winning an enormous empire. Bucephalus finally died at the advanced age of 30, of wounds received in  the battle against Porus on the Hydaspes in 326 BCE. Alexander honored him with a large, formal funeral, which he himself led, and named a city "Bucephala" in his honour. [Here's a closer look at *Bucephalus*.]

*PAGE 1073* and *PAGE 1074* are devoted to the conquest of  Scythia and India by Alexander the Great and to various animals and monsters met by the Macedonians during their travels. Münster mentions hippopotamuses, elephants, tigers, bears, lions, and many other beasts. The leaf contains four woodcut pictures: 1) a saddled horse (or mule); 2) a horrible river-horse with giant teeth; 3) two three-headed crested hydras or serpents ("cristati serpentes") with weasel-like bodies; 4) two giant lobsters. (Here's a closer look at the *serpents*.) In his text, Münster clearly follows Strabo's Geography, "Book XV: On India":

"I might almost say that the same animals are to be found in India as in Aethiopia and Egypt, and that the Indian rivers have all the other river animals except the hippopotamus, although Onesicritus says that the hippopotamus is also to be found in India. As for the people of India, those in the south are like the Aethiopians in colour, although they are like the rest in respect to countenance and hair (for on account of the humidity of the air their hair does not curl), whereas those in the north are like the Egyptians."
In the early summer of 27, Alexander left Bactria with a reinforced army under a reorganized command. If Plutarch's figure of 120,000 men has any reality, however, it must include all kinds of auxiliary services, together with muleteers, camel drivers, medical corps, peddlers, entertainers, women, and children; the fighting strength perhaps stood at about 35,000. Recrossing the Hindu Kush, probably by Bamian and the Ghorband Valley, Alexander divided his forces. Half the army with the baggage, with both cavalry commanders, was sent through the Khyber Pass, while he himself led the rest, together with his siege train, through the hills to the north.

*PAGE 1075* contains, at the top, a section on animals encountered by the Macedonians during their voyage. It includes a woodcut of a horse with a beautifully groomed mane. Thereafter follows a section on various towns in India conquered by Alexander. It also includes a comment on Bacchus and Hercules, and a woodcut of Bacchus drinking wine.

*PAGE 1076* (incorrectly printed as 6710) describes the conquest of the rocky Indian fortress of Aornus (326 BC). The Macedonian invasion of India started with the conquest of the valleys of the Kunar and Swat near the foothills of the Himalayas, where the Indian tribe of the Assacenians offered fierce resistance. Fleeing their besieged cities, the Assacenians withdrew to the rock fortress of Aornus (Dornos; probably the hill of Pir-Sar in northern Pakistan). [Here's a closer look at *Aornus*]. Aornus had a reputation for being absolutely impregnable; according to legend even the hero Hercules had failed to capture the rock. But Alexander, together with Ptolemy and a small force of his best armed troops, made his way up anyway, and conquered the fortress. The leaf contains a woodcut depicting the capture of Aornus.

*PAGE 1077* and *PAGE 1078*  and *PAGE 1079*are devoted to Alexander's conquest of India. The text describes the greatest of Alexander's battles in India, which was fought against Porus, the raja of the lands between the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers in Punjab. The battle took place in July 326 B.C. at the river Hydaspes (the Jhelum); from a later edition, here's a look at the *battle at the Hydaspes*. After facing the Indians for days across an unfordable part of the river, Alexander, by using diversionary tactics, managed to cross the river above their camp during a thunderstorm. More troublesome to Alexander than the numerical superiority of Porus' 34,000-man army were the 200 elephants that threatened the effectiveness of the Macedonian cavalry. Page 1077 contains a woodcut showing an elephant carrying a group of soldiers; here's a closer look at this *military elephant*. (And from a later German edition of 1628: *more military elephants*, and *military elephants on a raft*, and even *an elephant plowing*.) During the battle, Alexander overwhelmed Porus's left wing, forcing it back upon the elephants, which panicked and plunged riderless into the Indian ranks. The Macedonian phalanx then routed the enemy. Alexander captured Porus and, as with the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory. Alexander even subdued an independent province and granted it to Porus as a gift. The illustration on Page 1079 shows two wild boars.

*PAGE 1080* describes various animals and creatures inhabiting India. First come the race of Ichthyophagi ("Fish-eaters") [*a closer look at the Ichthyophagi*], who live in "India on the near side of the Ganges" (what we now call India). Munster follows Pliny (22 CE), who says about them:

"The Ichthyophagi, on the ebbing of the tide, collect fish, which they cast upon the rocks and dry in the sun. When they have well-broiled them, the bones are piled in heaps, and the flesh trodden with the feet is made into cakes, which are again exposed to the sun and used as food. In bad weather, when fish cannot be procured, the bones of which they have made heaps are pounded, made into cakes and eaten, but they suck the fresh bones. Some also live upon shellfish, when they are fattened, which is done by throwing them into holes and standing pools of the sea, where they are supplied with small fish, and used as food when other fish are scarce. They have various kinds of places for preserving and feeding fish, from whence they derive their supply."
Then come the creatures who live in "India beyond the Ganges" (which we now call Southeast Asia).  In the medieval mappaemundi, lurking at the edges of the world were monstrous races. The text, here too following Pliny, contains the description of some of these species: the Cyclops (giants with one enormous eye in the middle of the forehead); the Blemmyai (they were headless and had their faces on their chests) [*another look at the Blemmyae*]; the Sciopods (although one-legged, they were very swift and used their single large feet as an umbrella to shade themselves from the sun). But, most importantly, there were the Cynocephali (Cynocephales, "Dog-heads"), one of the best-known monstrous races. They had the body of a man and the head of a dog. According to Pliny, they lived in the mountains of India and barked to communicate. They lived in caves, wore animal skins, hunted very succesfully, and used javelins, bows, and swords. Other sources that circulated in the middle ages picture the Cynocephali much more frighteningly, with enormous teeth and breathing fire. Several sources make them cannibals. All sources emphasize that they combine the natures of man and beast. [A closer look at the *monster races*.] The Pygmei seem to include  creatures with long hanging ears that droop to the ground, who evoke the earlier *Panotii*. [An inventory of these and other monstrous creatures from the *Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493*.]

*PAGE 1081* talks about the pygmies (who are shown at the bottom of Page 1080), and about the birds (especially storks), who inhabit India. In the knowledge of the ancients, Pygmies, measuring twenty-seven inches in height, dwelled in mountains beyond the utmost limits of India. Pliny states that they built their cabins of mud mixed with feathers and eggshells. Aristotle allots them underground dens. For the harvest of wheat they wielded axes, as though they were out to chop down a forest. Each year they were attacked by flocks of cranes whose home lay on the Russian steppe. Riding rams and goats, the Pygmies retaliated by destroying the eggs and nests of their foes. This story can be found in many sources.

*PAGE 1082* begins with a section on the giant gold-mining ants ("De formicis Indianis"):

"Nearchus says that the skins of gold-mining ants are like those of leopards. But Megasthenes speaks of these ants, as follows: that among the Derdae, a large tribe of Indians living towards the east and in the mountains, there is a plateau approximately three thousand stadia in circuit, and that below it are gold mines, of which the miners are ants, animals that are no smaller than foxes, are surpassingly swift, and live on the prey they catch. They dig holes in winter and heap up the earth at the mouths of the holes, like moles; and the gold dust requires but little smelting. The neighbouring peoples go after it on beasts of burden by stealth, for if they go openly the ants fight it out with them and pursue them when they flee, and then, having overtaken them, exterminate both them and their beasts; but to escape being seen by the ants, the people lay out pieces of flesh of wild beasts at different places, and when the ants are drawn away from around the holes, the people take up the gold-dust and, not knowing how to smelt it, dispose of it unwrought to traders at any price it will fetch." (Strabo, Book XV.44)
(And there's a new *theory about those ants*.) Thereafter follows a section on monkeys and dogs of India ("De simiis Indianis & canibus") and on the Malay Peninsula (known in ancient times as the Chersonesus Aurea, or "Golden Peninsula").

*PAGE 1083* begins with a short section about China ("Sina," "Simarum regione"). Thereafter follows a description of western India, in particular the coast of Gujarat ("Guzerat") and the city of Cambay or Khambhat ("Cambaia"). Cambay lies at the head of the Gulf of Cambay and the mouth of the Mahi River. The city was mentioned in 1293 by Marco Polo, who referred to it as a busy port. It was still a prosperous port in the late 1400's, when Muslim rulers controlled Gujarat ("Soldanus eius est sectae Mahumeticae"). The Ottomans formed a series of alliances with rulers of Gujarat to remove the Portuguese from there. In 1538, some 800 defenders held on to Diu against a siege by a joint Ottoman-Indian force. Münster mentions diamond mines in Gujerat. The following section deals with diamond and gold mines worldwide (India, Ethiopia, Macedonia, Cyprus, Arabia).

*PAGE 1084* goes on to describe Narsinga (*a view, 1588*), the kingdom in Southern India, otherwise termed Vijayanagara or Bisnagar. (Elsewhere, Münster provides a *map of the Deccan and the south (c.1588)*, and a *map of Taprobana (1574)* or Sri Lanka.) Münster then writes about Calicut, the principal town of Narsinga, and Canonor, a port on the Arabian Sea, in northern Kerala state. Cannanore carried on an important trade with Persia and Arabia in the 12th and 13th centuries. Until the 1700's it was the capital of the raja of Kolattiri. The page is illustrated with a woodcut picture of a South Indian flower.

*PAGE 1087* and *PAGE 1088* are devoted to the religious customs of Calicut. Page 1087 depicts a god or devil worshipped in Calicut called "Deumo" [here's a closer look at *this demonic image*] who is also described by *Ludovico Verthema* in 1503: "On the head of this image is a crown like that worn by the pope, but having the addition of four horns, besides which he is represented with a great gaping mouth, having four monstrous teeth. The nose is horridly deformed, with grim lowering eyes, a threatening look, and crooked hands, or talons like flesh-hooks, and feet somewhat like those of a cock; forming on the whole, a monster terrible to look at." There exists an early English translation of selected sections of Casmographia, in the book A briefe collection and compendious extract of straunge and memorable thinges, gathered out of the Cosmographye of Sebastian Munster, wherein is made a plaine description of diuers and straunge lawes, rites, maners and properties of sondrye nations, and a short report of straunge histories of diuers men, and of the nature and properties of certaine fovvles, fishes, beastes, monsters, and sondry countryes and places, published in London in 1574 by Tomas Marshe. The section on Calicut ("Of Calechut the famous Mart of India") can be found on pages 86-89, and includes the following passage: "Their kinge is addicted to to the worshipping of devills. (...) The king hass the picture of this devill ['Deumo'] in his chappell, sitting with a Diademe on his heade, like unto the bishops of Rome, but his Diademe has four hornes aboute, and this picture hapeth with a wyde mouth shewinge foure teeth. It hath a deformed nose, grim and terrible eyes." Then Page 1088 depicts what seems to have been a (misunderstood) form of the "hook-swinging" ritual (here's a closer look at the *hook-swinging* illustration) once commonly performed as part of some popular Hindu religious festivals.

*PAGE 1089* and *PAGE 1090* provide further information about Calicut ("Calechut") in southwestern India. Calicut (now Kozhikode) is a city in northern Kerala state. A once-famous cotton-weaving centre, it is remembered as the place of origin of calico, to which it gave its name. The place was an early focus for Arab traders, who first settled there in the 7th century. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese discoverer of the sea route to India, reached Calicut in 1498. The Portuguese built a fortified trading post there in 1511, but it was abandoned in 1525. These pages deal  with the local fauna and flora (including spices, of course). Page 1089 contains three very nice woodcut pictures: a pepper plant; three parrots and an ostrich [here's a closer look at *the birds*]; and a monkey. Page 1090 contains a walnut tree; and two three-headed crested hydras or serpents with weasel-like bodies.

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