“The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” and “First Encounters” Interpretation

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Primary and secondary sources in history are essential because they allow researchers to establish the course of certain important events. They serve as evidence to analyze the past and either confirm or refute different hypotheses or theories about it. Sources that are commonly considered unique and highly important for historians include the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, the East African Journey by Ibn Battuta, and First Encounters: The Creation of Cultural Stereotypes. A brief interpretation of these sources and the connection between them will be discussed in this essay.

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The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is a manuscript that provides valuable information about trade centers and ports located along the coast of the Indian Ocean. The Periplus dates back to the time when stronger connections between the lands to the East and West of the Indian Ocean were first formed. It is comprised of 66 passages that vary in length and tells about Egyptian merchants’ trade routes located along the coast of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. The East African Journey by Ibn Battuta, in turn, is exclusively devoted to describing the exploration of the east coast of Africa. In his work, Ibn Battuta also describes trade relations that existed between different nations and states at the time. Finally, First Encounters: The Creation of Cultural Stereotypes is a chapter in the book by Wiesner-Hanks et al., Discovering the Past. This chapter is devoted to stereotypes that different nations populating the African coastline and nearby regions had about other cultures in the 1450-the 1650s.

Two main themes that tie these sources together are the exploration of Africa and the trade relations that existed there. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea shed light on those areas of the world that had been unknown before. It includes detailed descriptions of the East African coast, from Myos Hormos to Opone in Somalia, and tells about trade routes that followed that line. The East African Journey by Ibn Battuta is arguably an even more detailed account of trade centers and trade relations present in that region at the time. For example, Ibn Battuta’s recollections include descriptions of Mogadishu, the wealthiest and busiest port in East Africa. The East African Journey also tells about people who populated trading ports in East Africa, describing black African communities, the customs they had, and the languages they spoke. In many passages, Ibn Battuta tells about the traditions common between the merchants and the hosts in different cities and towns along the African coastline.

The third source used for this essay, First Encounters: The Creation of Cultural Stereotypes, also touches upon the African region and commerce there but tells about the period between 1450 and 1650. It describes the attempts of Portuguese explorers and traders to study the areas along the West African coast (Wiesner-Hanks et al. 4). It also sheds more light on the rivalries between West African states and the outcomes of those rivalries. In general, First Encounters places focus on the interactions between Europeans and non-Europeans, discussing the perceptions that the representatives of different nations and cultures had about each other.

It can be argued that the first two sources mentioned above also present descriptions of the people and cultures in different areas of Africa and other regions. For example, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea describes the inhabitants of Moundou as stubborn, and the natives of Rhapta are mentioned to “have very large bodies and piratical habits” (Schoff 30). The same chapter of the Periplus further describes the customs of local people and how each community had its own chief. Another connection between the three sources is the fact that all of them mention the types of goods traded in the coastal regions of the Indian Ocean. For example, chapter 7 of the Periplus mentions “various kinds of glassware, unripe olives from Diopolis, miscellaneous dressed Barbaric clothing, corn, and wine” imported in a “small mart of Avalites” (Schoff 23). Ibn Battuta describes spices, African ivory, and Indian silks as the most common goods traded in those regions. First Encounters does not provide information about the types of goods traded in different locations, as its main focus is the relations and customs of people that populated the area.


It can be concluded that the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, the East African Journey by Ibn Battuta, and First Encounters: The Creation of Cultural Stereotypes are highly important sources for historians and researchers. They were included in the syllabus due to a number of important reasons. First, they provide detailed descriptions and notes about the exploration of the regions around the Indian Ocean, such as the coastal areas of East Africa, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea. They are also very informative in terms of trade relations, trade centers, and ports located in those areas at the time. Two of these sources, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and the East African Journey, provide accounts of the types of goods traded in some of the towns and cities located along the African coastline. Finally, all three sources tell about the customs and culture of different nations populating the lands around the Indian Ocean during those periods.

Works Cited

Schoff, Wilfred H. The Periplus of the Erythraean sea. Dalcassian Publishing Company, 1912.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E., et al. Discovering the Global Past. 3rd ed., Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.