Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography (1897) Introduction.




T H E Christian Topography of Cosmas, surnamed Indicopleustes, or the Indian Navigator, has been preserved in two copies: one a parchment MS. of the tenth century belonging to the Laurentian library in Florence, and containing the whole work except only the last leaf; the other, a very fine uncial MS. of the eighth or ninth century, belonging to the Vatican library, and containing sketches drawn by Costnas himself, but wanting entirely the twelfth book, which is the last. There is, besides, in the Imperial library in Vienna, a Cosmas MS., but this contains only a few leaves of the Topography.

The existence of the work, which had been for ages forgotten, and the importance and interest of its contents, were first made known in the latter half of the seventeenth century by Emeric Bigot. This learned French scholar, while visiting Italy, extracted from the Florentine Codex a copy of the |ii Adulitic Inscriptions,1 and of passages relating to Ethiopia and India. These extracts were afterwards published in Thevenot's Relation de divers Voyages, accompanied with a translation into French. Twenty years later (1706), the work appeared in its complete form as exhibited in the Florentine Codex, collated with that of the Vatican. It was not, however, published separately, but was included in the second volume of the splendid work Nova Collectio Patrum et Scriptorum Graecorum, edited by Father Montfaucon, a Benedictine monk, celebrated for his profound knowledge of Patristic literature. The Greek text was illustrated by a learned introduction and a Latin translation of great elegance and accuracy. Notes were also added, chiefly to point out where discrepancies exist in the readings of the MSS. The present translation has been prepared from Montfaucon's text, as reprinted in the 88th volume of the Patrologia Graeca, printed at the Migne Press, Paris, 1864.


In the Florentine Codex, the index of the work reads thus: Au#th h( bi/bloj Xristianikh_ Topografi/a periektikh_ panto_j tou~ ko&smou par' h(mi=n w)nomasme/nh. This Book named by us Christian Topography comprehensive of the whole world, Montfaucon entitles it: Cosmae Egyptii Monachi Christiana Topographia, sive Christianorum Opinio de Mundo: The Christian |iii Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, or the Opinion of Christians concerning the World. As Cosmas all through the work keeps harping, with the most provoking reiteration, on his doctrine that the universe consists of only two places, namely, the earth which is below the firmament, and heaven, which is above it, the term Topography designates the treatise properly enough; though on turning to peruse it for the first time, we should from its title expect its contents to be very different from what they are found to be.


Montfaucon does not seem to have been aware that a brief notice of the Topography is to be found in the Bibliotheka of Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who was elected to that dignity in A.D. 858. Photius states that the work had for its title Xristianw~n bi/bloj, and was an exposition extending to the eighth book. He does not give the author's name, but states that he flourished in the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinus, and dedicated his work to a certain Pamphilus. He condemns it as being below mediocrity in style, and faulty in its syntax; and at the same time calls in question the author's veracity, saying that he makes up stories so incredible that he may fairly be regarded as a writer of fables rather than of facts. He then gives a very concise summary of the |iv contents of the Topography, and concludes with a reference to the last four books, which had from time to time been added to defend the doctrines set forth in those which had preceded.


A doubt long ago arose as to whether Cosmas was the proper or family name of the author of the Topography. Isaac Voss first started this doubt, and Fabricius subsequently gave currency to the opinion that Cosmas was so called because his work was devoted to a description of the Kosmos: just as the Abbot John of Sinai was called Climacius because he had published a work entitled Climax. In the absence of evidence, this must remain an open question.


The Topography fortunately contains passages which throw light on the personal history of its author, and enable us also to fix with certainty the date at which he wrote. He was most probably a native of Alexandria, and may have been of Greek parentage. His education was confined to the more elementary branches of knowledge, such as would fit him for the career he pursued in the earlier part of his life----that of a merchant. But though he was not instructed, as he tells us himself,2 |v in the "learning of the schools," yet so inquisitive was his turn of mind and so sharp his intellect that he eventually acquired such a knowledge of literature and science as raised him to the level of the culture of his time, and to his being accepted as a capable exponent and defender of the Christian faith.

The commercial pursuits of Cosmas carried him into seas and countries far remote from his home. Thus he tells us that he had sailed upon three of the great gulfs which run up into the earth from the ocean, namely, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and Persian Gulf.3 He sailed also upon that part of the Erythraean Sea which beyond Cape Guardafui stretches southward toward the outlying ocean, which in those days was regarded with terror and held to be unnavigable on account of the violent currents and dense and dismal fogs in which it was thought to be enveloped. When the ship which carried Cosmas was approaching this dread region of currents and fogs, a storm gathered overhead, and flocks of albatrosses, like birds of ill omen, hovered on the wing high above the mast. Dismay seized alike the passengers and the crew, and amidst outcries of "port the helm," the course of the vessel was reversed and she headed northwards.4 Cosmas does not say whether in the course of this voyage he reached India, which was his destination when he embarked. |vi If he did not, he must have made a second and more successful attempt; for no one, we think, who reads his eleventh book, in which he describes the island of Ceylon and the ports, commerce, and animals of India, can doubt that he writes about these places from personal knowledge of them.

One of the most interesting and instructive parts of the Topography is that in which Cosmas relates what he had heard and seen in the course of his travels in Ethiopia.5 By the name of Ethiopia he designates in a general way the vast region which stretches southward from Egypt down towards the equator; and from an incidental remark which he drops when treating of the Adulitic inscription on the throne,6 we learn that he had traversed it almost throughout its length and its breadth. Like Herodotus of old, he was ever athirst after knowledge, and when he was unable to visit places which lay in the vicinity of his route, he made inquiries about them from such persons as knew them and could be trusted to report things truly. The capital of Ethiopia at that time was Axum, an important centre of commerce, and also of religion and learning. It was one of the places which Cosmas, in pursuit of his calling, visited,7 and from one or two of his statements we may infer that he was well received at Court, and was permitted by the King, who professed the Christian faith and could speak Greek, to travel freely through his dominions. |vii 

The seaport of Axum was Adule or Adulis,8 the modern Zulá or Thulla, situated near Annesley Bay and distant from the capital about one hundred and twenty miles or an eight days' journey. Cosmas found himself here in the year 525 A.D., at which time Elesboas, the King of Axum, was preparing an expedition against the Homerites in Arabia.9 Here, at the request of the Governor, Cosmas, along with his friend Menas, a monk of the monastery at Raithu, copied the famous Greek inscriptions on the marble tablet and the basanite throne, which lay together outside the town on the road which led to Axum.10

Among other parts of Ethiopia which our traveller visited we may include the Aromatic country----that great projection on the east of the African Continent which terminates in Cape Guardafui. His description of this district (which supplied the Egyptians of old with their spices for embalming the dead), and of its products and its foreign trade, shows that it must have come from the pen of an eye-witness.11 He may also have proceeded to the north-west, and visited the kingdom of Meroe (now Khartum), for in that direction lay the seats of several tribes mentioned in the inscription on the throne. Montfaucon, in his Preface, credits him with the discovery, in the Abyssinian province called Agau, of the true source of the Nile. It was not, however, the source of the main stream |viii  which he discovered, but that of the Blue Nile,12 which, a millennium afterwards, was rediscovered by the Portuguese, and more recently by the Scottish traveller Bruce. There was still another interesting locality which the traveller tells us he visited, and this lay on the other side of the Red Sea----the Desert, namely, of Sinai, where he found, strewn among the sands, fragments of rock covered with inscriptions which he took to have been carved by the Israelites when they were wandering in that wilderness.13

Cosmas, when all his travels were over, returned to Alexandria, perhaps after paying a visit to Jerusalem; and, abandoning the secular life, retired to the seclusion of the cloister, where he devoted his leisure to the composition of works on descriptive geography, cosmography, and Scriptural exegesis. Of these, the Christian Topography alone is extant. The loss of the geographical treatise, as Montfaucon well says, is to be deplored with tears. It has been conjectured that the geographical passages in the Topography, as, for instance, the description of Ceylon in the eleventh book, are extracts from that treatise.


In the days of Cosmas ecclesiastical controversies were rife, and professing Christians were divided |ix into numerous sects. That to which Cosmas most probably belonged was the Nestorian. To this point Photius makes no reference, and it has been equally overlooked by Montfaucon. The first who called in question the orthodoxy of our Monk was De La Croze, who, in his Histoire du Christianisme des Indes, adduced the following arguments to prove his Nestorian proclivities: ----1°, that Cosmas calls Patricius, who was the Archbishop of Persia when that country had been infected with Nestorianism, a divine man and an illustrious teacher;14 2°, that Cosmas, in his list of heretical sects, names the Manichaeans, the Marcionists, the Eutychians, the Arians and the Apollinarians, but not the Nestorians;15 3°, that in his exposition of Scripture, and in his system of the world, he always follows Theodosius of Mopsuestia and Diodorus of Tarsus, who were the principal teachers of the Nestorians; 4°, that concerning Christ and the Incarnation of the Word, he uses the same modes of expression as the Nestorians.16 We may add as a fifth argument the glowing terms in which Cosmas speaks of the wide diffusion of Christianity among the heathen nations of the east, which was mainly the work of missionaries from Persia, where Nestorianism reigned supreme.17 Only one passage occurs to throw some doubt on the certainty of this conclusion----that in which Cosmas addresses Mary as |x the Mother of God, an expression abhorrent to the Nestorians. Had Cosmas in his monastery relapsed into what was there considered orthodoxy?


We have already mentioned that the Topography has data from which the time when Cosmas wrote can be certainly determined. In the second book (p. 55), where he mentions his visit to Adulê, he observes that it was made when Elesboas the Axumite King was preparing an expedition against the Homerites in Arabia, and that this was at the beginning of the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinus, since which time some five-and-twenty years more or less had elapsed. Now, as it is known that the expedition was made in A.D. 522, and that Justinus was at that date in the fifth year of his reign, Cosmas must have been writing about the year 547. It is true that an indication which apparently conflicts with this appears in the tenth book (p. 351), where he speaks of Theodosius, the heretical Bishop of Alexandria, as residing at the time in Constantinople, and then on p. 353 refers to the death of his predecessor in office, Timothy the younger,18 as an event of recent occurrence. Now it is known that this Timothy died in 535, and was succeeded by Theodosius, who, after a brief |xi residence in his diocese went to Constantinople, whence he was banished in 536. The tenth book must therefore have been written in the year preceding. How, then, is this earlier date to be reconciled with the later? Montfaucon answers this question satisfactorily. Cosmas, he points out, in order to meet objections urged against his opinions, was in the habit of making additions from time to time to the number of its books. The earlier date thus probably indicates the time when he began to make such additions, and the later when he was making the last, or one of the last, recensions of his work.


The condemnatory verdict of Photius upon the work of Cosmas has not been endorsed by modern opinion. The style of the Topography has no doubt the shortcomings which the Patriarch pointed out; but Cosmas, it is proper to remember, expressly disclaims all pretensions to the learning of the schools. He pleads that from his early years he had been so engrossed in business, and had been besides so much abroad, that he had found no spare time for studying rules of grammar and the art of composition; he could, therefore, only write in a homely style, without attempting any flights of rhetoric. Rhetoric, moreover would, he thought, be out of place in his books, since "he wrote for |xii Christians, who had more need of correct notions than of fine phrases." The style has, notwithstanding, some redeeming points. Cosmas, in spite of his loose grammar, seldom fails to make his meaning clear, or to put forward his arguments with sufficient point and force. Some passages, besides, which give us an insight into the depth and fervour of his faith, rise to an eloquence which suggests the belief that, had he cultivated the art, he might have shone in pulpit oratory.

It is, however, in relating his travelling experiences that Cosmas is found at his best. The language he uses is simple, and his descriptions are not only remarkably vivid, but are, above all things, truthful. In this respect modern opinion is entirely at variance with that of Photius. The greater knowledge now possessed of the remote regions which Cosmas visited goes all to show that the thought of tickling the fancy of his readers with tales of wonder had never entered his mind, but that on the contrary he was a man who had a supreme regard for truth, and who was at once an acute observer, and shrewd in judging the value of the information which he received from others.

As soon as the Topography, in its complete edition by Montfaucon, made its appearance, it excited great interest in the circles of learning, and at once took rank as a work which contained more accurate and more valuable information on geographical subjects than any other document that had come down from the early mediaeval age. |xiii At the same time, the extreme singularity of the views which it propounded on cosmology and on the interpretation of Scripture texts filled its readers, with combined feelings of amazement and amusement.


The Topography was republished at Venice in 1776 in Gallandi's Bibliotheca veterum Patrum, and its most valuable sections were, printed, along with a French translation, at Paris in 1855, in Charton's Voyageurs Anciens et Modernes. Its contents were made use of by Robertson in his Disquisition on Ancient India, and by Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The latter, referring to the absurd theory of the world held by Cosmas, remarks that "the nonsense of the Monk was, nevertheless, mingled with the practical knowledge of the traveller".

Among the eminent geographers who have turned the Topography to account may be mentioned Mannert, Gosselin, Humboldt, Dodwell, Playfair, Bredow, Reinaud, Létronne, Sir Henry Yule,19 and Mr. Raymond Beazley;20 while among |xiv ecclesiastical writers may be noted Allatius, Bandini, De La Croze, Assemanni, Cave and Milne Rae.21 The Adulitic inscriptions again have exercised the pens of such scholars as: Fabricius, Chishull, Vincent, Salt, Boeckh, V. de Saint-Martin, Dr. H. Müller of Vienna, and Dr. Glaser of Munich.


The Christian Topography is a production of which It may be truly said to_ pa&rergou krei=ttou tou~ e1rgou. It is essentially controversial, its professed design being to refute, from Scripture and common sense, the impious Pagan cosmography, according to which the earth is a sphere; and the centre around which the heaven, which is also a sphere, revolves with all its luminaries. The arguments with which Cosmas seeks to demolish this theory and to illustrate his own are absurd in the extreme; and were it not for the geographical, historical, and other kinds of notices which are here and there incidentally introduced into its pages, his work would chiefly serve for amusement. According to his view, the figure of  |xv the universe can best be learned from a study of the structure and furniture of the Tabernacle which Moses prepared in the wilderness.22 This wonderful conception did not originate with himself. Some of the Christian Fathers who preceded him had entertained it in a vague and general way, believing it might be warranted by the expression's in Hebrews, ix, 23 and 24, where the Tabernacle and its contents are said to be patterns (u(podei/gmata) and antitypes or figures of the true (a)nti/tupa tw~n a)lhqinw~n). It was left to Cosmas to develop the conception and work it out into all its details. So he explains again and again that the division of the Tabernacle into two places, by means of the veil, typified the division of the universe into two worlds----an upper and a lower, by means of the firmament. The table of shew-bread, again, with its waved border, represented the earth surrounded by the ocean, while its other parts and the things upon it symbolized each some object or other in the natural world. Now, as the table was twice as long as it was broad, and was placed lengthwise from east to west, and breadthwise from north to south, from this we learn that the earth is a rectangular plane which extends in length from east to west, and in breadth from north to south, and is twice as long as it is broad. The ocean, he further gives us to know, is unnavigable, and, while encompassing this earth of ours, is itself encompassed by another earth, which had been the |xvi seat of Paradise and the abode of man until the Ark, floating on the billows of the Flood, wafted Noah and his family over into this earth. The heavens come downward to us in four walls, which, at their lower sides, are welded to the four sides of the earth beyond ocean, each to each. The upper side of the northern wall, at the summit of heaven, curves round and over, till it unites with the upper side of the southern wall, and thus forms, in the shape of an oblong vault, the canopy of heaven, which Cosmas likens to the vaulted roof of a bathroom. This vast rectangular hall is divided at the middle into two stories by the firmament, which thus serves as a ceiling for the lower story and a floor for the upper. The lower story is this world, where men and angels have their abode until the Resurrection, and the story above is heaven ---- the place of the future state. As to the position (qe/sij) of the earth in the scheme of things, Scripture left Cosmas in no doubt. The Psalmist had declared that the Creator had founded the earth upon its own stability (e0pi th_n a)sfa&leian au)th~j); Job, that He had hanged it upon nothing; and Isaiah, that, while heaven was His throne, the earth was His footstool. Clearly, therefore, the place of the earth was at the bottom of the universe ---- a position to which it must have naturally sunk (as he shows in a very curious passage) at the very instant of its creation.23 What then can be more absurd than the Pagan doctrine that the earth is in the |xvii middle of the universe? Were it in the middle, there must be something below it as well as above it; but there is nothing below it, since we learn from Genesis that God made heaven and earth, and nothing else beyond these. Here then the Pagans are at war with divine Scripture; but, not content with this, they are at war also with common sense itself and the very laws of nature, declaring, as they do, that the earth is a central sphere, and that there are Antipodes, who must be standing head-downward and on whom the rain must fall up.

Referring to the figure of the world as thus conceived by Cosmas, Sir Henry Yule with grim humour remarked that "one of the huge receptacles in which female travellers of our day carry their dresses, forms a perfect model of the Kosmos of Kosmas". The theory, again, by which Cosmas accounts for the vicissitudes of day and night is no less preposterous than his idea of the figure of the world. The Pagan theory that the earth is spherical and placed in the centre of the universe, with the heavenly bodies revolving round it, accounted satisfactorily for the disappearance of the sun during the night; but where could Cosmas, in whose philosophy there was neither a spherical earth nor any under-world, find a place for the great orb of light when no longer visible? The problem did not baffle his ingenuity. Calling to his aid the words of Solomon, which declared that the sun on rising turned first towards the south and then |xviii towards the north, where he went down, and thence hastened to the place in which he arose, he made them the basis of the following extraordinary theory. The earth, he tells us, gradually rising up from the south, extends westward, until it culminates at last in a huge conical mountain situated somewhere in the far-away frozen north. Behind this immense cone, the sun at the close of day disappears from view, and leaves the world which we inhabit in darkness, until, having circled round the cone, he reappears in the east to give birth to a new day. According, moreover, as he is high or low during his nocturnal revolution, the nights vary in their length; while, owing to a slight obliquity in his motion, eclipses are produced. On the question of the magnitude of the great luminary Cosmas differed widely from the Pagan philosophers, and wrote his sixth book mainly to prove that, instead of its being, as they thought, many times larger than the earth, it was no more than the size of two only of the earth's climates or zones, those between the latitudes of Alexandria and Rhodes, and Rhodes and Constantinople, an extent of about 635 geographical miles.24 But the words of Solomon form by no means the only Scriptural warrant for taking this view of the order of nature, for the candlestick placed on the south of the table of shew-bread typified the sun shining upon the earth from the south towards the north, while the waved border |xix which ran round the table typified the ocean surrounded by the outer earth, both of which were illuminated by the sun while circling round the gigantic mountain.25

The Pagan theory which Cosmas especially detested, and made most frequently the subject of his scornful and violent invective, was that which maintained that the heavens were spherical and in constant revolution. He heaps text upon text to confute the advocates of this most pestilent doctrine, which, if admitted, would, he contended, abolish the future state and make the resurrection of Christ of no account.

But while Cosmas regarded as impious the doctrine that the heavens revolve, he admitted the revolution of the celestial luminaries, which, he held, were propelled in their courses by the angels, who do not live in heaven but are restricted to the aerial spaces below the firmament, until the resurrection.

All these and other views no less absurd, though interesting, Cosmas states and re-states with the most wearisome pertinacity, and holding them to be most vital verities, sanctioned alike by common sense and the paramount authority of divine Scripture, denounces again and again "those reprobate Christians who, instead of accepting them, prefer, through their perverse folly or downright wickedness, to adopt the miserable Pagan belief |xx that earth and heaven are spherical, and that there are Antipodes on whom the rain must fall up.


Since the Topography had for its main design the exposition of these views, it has been compared by Yule to "a mere bank of mud, but remarkable on account of certain geographical fossils which are found imbedded in it". This comparison, however, we venture to think, does less than justice to the work, for besides the geographical there are many other "fossils" to be found in the mud, of different kinds and generally of more or less interest and value. A list of these----but not pretending to be complete----has been given by Montfaucon in his Introduction. Among others may be specified the indication of Clysma as the place of the passage of the Red Sea; the wares brought by merchants to the Israelites when they sojourned in the wilderness; the seat of the terrestrial Paradise; the worship of Mithras by the Persians; the rite of baptism; the date of the Nativity; the question of the canonicity of the Catholic Epistles; the exposition of the prayer of Hezekiah; the inscriptions on the rocks found in the desert of Sinai; the state of Christianity in Socotra, Ceylon and India; the extent to which Christianity had spread over the heathen world; the interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel; extracts from Pagan writers and Fathers of the Church preserved only by Cosmas; and his views on the destiny of children |xxi who die in the womb or in infancy. The portion, moreover, of the Topography which is the "mud bank" of the comparison is not without some value. It is a specimen of a once prevalent and not yet quite extinct mode of Scriptural exegesis; it reveals what were some of the main currents of thought which permeated the Christian world at the beginning of the Middle Ages; it discloses to what a lamentable degree, as Monotheistic Christianity rose to the ascendant, triumphant alike over the Persian Dualism of the Manichceans, and the Greek Pantheism of the Neo-Platonists, the light of Hellenic learning and science had faded from Christendom before as yet Islam, which was destined to receive and preserve that light, had appeared in the world; and while it exhibits the attitude in which Theology and Science in those days stood to each other, it illustrates the signal danger of regarding Scripture as a store-house of divine communications which may be turned to account in defending or in oppugning scientific speculations. To quote Yule once more: "The work is a memorable example of that mischievous process of loading Christian truth with a dead weight of false science."


Besides the Christian Topography Cosmas wrote several other works, of which the most important |xxii was one addressed to Constantinus, in which he described the whole earth. Cosmas mentions it in Book 1. A second was entitled A Delineation or Image of the Universe and of the Stellar Motion, made in imitation of the artificial Sphere of the Pagans, and a Treatise thereon addressed to the most Pious Deacon Homologus. A third book was A Commentary on the Song of Songs; and a fourth An Exposition of the Psalms.


To the Topography, when first published, Cosmas prefixed two prologues, in the first of which he exhorts his readers to bestow upon his works a diligent and careful perusal; and in the second, which contained the dedication to Pamphilus and apologies for his own shortcomings as a writer, he points out the nature of the contents of each of the five books of which the work then consisted. In the first book he attacks, and to his own satisfaction demolishes, the pernicious anti-Christian doctrines of the Pagan philosophy, that the world is spherical and that there are Antipodes. In the second he propounds the true theory which all Christians are bound to accept, based as it is upon the inspired Word, and maintained, besides even by some of the Pagan philosophers themselves. By the citation of measurements of the earth made from east to west and from north to |xxiii south, he seeks to prove that the length of the earth is twice its breadth. In the third book he insists on the authority and harmony of Scripture, adducing many texts, which, as in the preceding book, he twists with audacious ingenuity to lend support to his own impossible theory. In the two following books he again demolishes the doctrine of the spheres, while he re-states and fortifies his own theory with a long array of additional texts.

The publication of these books, which gave definite and uncompromising expression to views of which the germs had long been vaguely floating about in the air of Christendom, produced, as might have been expected from their novelty when seen wrought together into a self-consistent system, a startling effect. Objections were urged----directed especially against his views regarding the figure of the world. How, he was asked, could the sun, which was many times larger than the earth, be hidden behind the mountain in the north, however great its altitude? The sixth book was written to show that the sun, so far from being many times larger than the earth, was in point of fact only the size of two of the earth's "climates".

The seventh book, addressed to Athanasius, sought to refute a work written by a professing Christian, who held that heaven was an ever-revolving sphere, but nevertheless dissoluble. Cosmas cites and expounds numerous texts to show that the heavens cannot be dissolved, and that neither men nor angels can "enter into them until after the |xxiv Resurrection. The eighth book is addressed by Cosmas to another of his friends, called Peter, who had asked him to expound the Prayer of Hezekiah. The exposition is given, and Cosmas then proceeds to show how the minds of the Babylonians had been impressed by the miraculous sign of the retrogression of the shadow upon the sun-dial----and how Cyrus had been led to favour the Jews and dismiss them from their Babylonian captivity by his reading the prophecies of Isaiah which referred to himself even by name. The ninth book, treating of the heavenly bodies, ascribes their motions to the angels, who groan under this hard and incessant toil which they perform for the benefit of man, and not for their own. They would have sunk, therefore, into despair, had they not seen that, even after the Fall, God was merciful and kind to man, on whose destinies their own depended. They were further encouraged when they afterwards saw that the Apostle Paul was caught up into the third heaven, and was there entertained with a glimpse of its glories.

In the tenth book Cosmas cites a number of the Fathers to show that his doctrines were in closest harmony with the teachings of the Church. In the eleventh, which is entirely geographical, he describes some animals and plants which he had seen or heard of in the course of his travels, and gives an account also of the island of Ceylon, and of its extensive commerce with India, Persia, China, and the countries of the west. The twelfth |xxv and last book shows that several of the old Pagan writers bore testimony to the antiquity of the Old Testament scriptures.


"There is," says Mr. Raymond Beazley, in the admirable work we have already referred to, "another interest about the Topography. It contains in all probability the oldest Christian maps that have survived. There is little reason to doubt that the numerous sketches .... which are to be found in the Florentine manuscript of the tenth century were really drawn by Cosmas himself (or under his direction) in the sixth; and are thus at least two centuries earlier than the Map of Albi, or the original sketch of the Spanish monk Beatus" (p. 281). The Plates found in the Appendix have been reproduced by photography from those which accompany Montfaucon's edition of the Topography.


With regard to the place which Cosmas holds in history, we cannot do better than cite the estimate expressed by the same writer, whose wide and accurate knowledge of mediaeval literature enables him to speak ex cathedra on the subject. "Cosmas," he says, "is of interest to us as the last of the old Christian geographers, and in a sense, too, the first |xxvi of the mediaeval. He closes one age of civilization which had slowly declined from the self-satisfied completeness of the classical world, and he prepares us to enter another that, in comparison, is literally dark. From the rise of Islam the geographical knowledge of Christendom is on a par with its practical contraction and apparent decline. Even more than actual exploration, theoretical knowledge seemed on its death-bed for the next five hundred years" (p. 33). In a subsequent passage dealing with the same topic, he says: "The place of Cosmas in history has been sometimes misconceived. His work is not, as it has been called (in the earlier years of this century), the chief authority of the Middle Ages in geography. For, on the whole, its influence is only slightly, and occasionally, traceable. Its author stated his position as an article of Christian faith, but even in those times there was anything but a general agreement with his positive conclusions. . . The subtleties of Cosmas were left to the Greeks, for the most part; the western geographers who pursued his line of thought were usually content to stop short at the merely negative dogmas of the Latin Fathers; and no great support was given to the constructive tabernacle system of the Indian merchant. . . . Yet, after all, the Christian Topography. must always be remarkable. . . . It is one of the earliest important essays in scientific or strictly theoretic geography, within the Christian aera, written by a Christian thinker" (p. 283). Mr. Beazley concludes his long |xxvii notice of the great Christian Cosmographer in these terms: "He felt himself to be the apostle of full supernatural theory in science. He knew that his work was unique. And such it has always been recognised----by some with rapture, by others with consternation, by most with derision. At least it is a monument of infinite, because quite unconscious, humour. 'For neither before him was any like unto him, neither shall be after.' "


[Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end]

1. 1 Pp. 57-66.

2. 1 P. 23.

3. 1 P. 39.

4. 2 Pp. 39, 40.

5. 1 Pp. 50-68.

6. 2 P. 67, line 9

7. 3 P. 359.

8. 1 P. 54.

9. 2 Pp. 55, 56. 

10. 3 Pp. 51-53.

11. 4 P. 62.

12. 1 Pp. 5 2-54.

13. 2 Pp. 159, 160.

14. 1 P. 24.

15. 2 Pp. 212, 213. 

16. 3 Pp. 187, 188.

17. 4 Pp. 118-121.

18. 1 So called to distinguish him from Timothy the Cat.

19. 1 This distinguished Orientalist, in the Introduction to his Cathay and the Way Thither, has given a translation of the geographical portions of the Topography. He also occasionally cites the work in his celebrated edition of Marco Polo.

20. 2 This writer, in his work The Dawn of Modern Geography, published this year,----a work remarkable for learning and research, and its happy combination of accuracy of detail with breadth of view, makes frequent reference to the Topography, and even devotes an entire chapter to a searching analysis and criticism of its several books.

21. 1 Author of The Syrian Church in India, a well-written, scholarly work (published in recent years), in which he comes to the conclusion that there is no evidence of the planting of a Christian Church in Southern India before the beginning of the sixth century, or less than half a century before Cosmas wrote.

22. 1 Pp. 42-4, 299, and passim.

23. 1 See p. 29.

24. 1 See pp. 251-2.

25. 1 See pp. 40-43 and 322-4.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2003.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts