Geographical accounts and cartography
's 1st projection, indicating the Land of Silk (
) in northeast Asia at the end of the overland Silk Road and the land of the
) in the southeast at the end of the maritime routes; 1450–1475 CE, attributed to
Francesco del Chierico
and translated from Greek to Latin by
Emanuel Chrysoloras and
Beginning in the 1st century BCE with
Strabo, Roman histories offer only vague accounts of China and the silk-producing Seres people of the
Far East, who were perhaps the ancient Chinese.
 The 1st-century CE geographer
Pomponius Mela asserted that the lands of the Seres formed the centre of the coast of
an eastern ocean, flanked to the south by India and to the north by the
Scythians of the
 The 2nd-century CE Roman historian
Florus seems to have confused the Seres with peoples of India, or at least noted that their skin complexions proved that they both lived "beneath another sky" than the Romans.
 Roman authors generally seem to have been confused about where the Seres were located, in either Central Asia or East Asia.
 The historian
Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330 – c. 400 CE) wrote that the land of the Seres was enclosed by great natural walls around a river called Bautis, possibly a description of the
The existence of China was known to
Roman cartographers, but their understanding of it was less certain. Ptolemy's 2nd-century CE
Geography separates the Land of Silk (Serica) at the end of the overland
Silk Road from the land of the
Qin (Sinae) reached by sea.
 The Sinae are placed on the northern shore of the
Great Gulf (Magnus Sinus) east of the
Golden Peninsula (Aurea Chersonesus, Malay Peninsula). Their chief port, Cattigara, seems to have been in the lower
 The Great Gulf served as a combined
Gulf of Thailand and
South China Sea, as
Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy's belief that the Indian Ocean was an inland sea caused them to bend the
Cambodian coast south beyond the equator before turning west to join southern
 Much of this is given as
unknown lands, but the north-eastern area is placed under the Sinae.
Classical geographers such as
Pliny the Elder were slow to incorporate new information into their works and, from their positions as
esteemed scholars, were seemingly prejudiced against lowly merchants and their
 Ptolemy's work represents a break from this, since he demonstrated an openness to their accounts and would not have been able to chart the
Bay of Bengal so accurately without the input of traders.
 In the 1st-century CE
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, its anonymous Greek-speaking author, a merchant of
Roman Egypt, provides such vivid accounts of eastern trade cities that it is clear he visited many of them.
 These include sites in Arabia, Pakistan, and India, including
travel times from rivers and towns, where to
drop anchor, the locations of royal courts, lifestyles of the locals and goods found in their markets, and favourable times of year to sail from Egypt to these places to catch the
 The Periplus also mentions a great inland city, Thinae (or Sinae), in a country called This that perhaps stretched as far as the
 The text notes that silk produced there travelled to neighbouring India via the
Ganges and to
Bactria by a land route.
 Marinus and Ptolemy had relied on the testimony of a Greek sailor named Alexander, probably a merchant, for how to reach Cattigara (most likely Óc Eo, Vietnam).
 Alexander (Greek: Alexandros) mentions that the main terminus for Roman traders was a Burmese city called Tamala on the north-west Malay Peninsula, where Indian merchants travelled overland across the
Kra Isthmus to reach the Perimulic Gulf (the Gulf of
 Alexandros claimed that it took twenty days to sail from Thailand to a port called "Zabia" (or Zaba) in southern Vietnam.
 According to him, one could continue along the coast (of southern Vietnam) from Zabia until reaching the trade port of Cattigara after an unspecified number of days (with "some" being interpreted as "many" by Marinus).
Cosmas Indicopleustes, a 6th-century CE Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Greek monk from
Alexandria and former merchant with experience in the Indian Ocean trade, was the first Roman to write clearly about China in his
Christian Topography (c. 550 CE).
 He called it the country of
Tzinista (comparable to
Sanskrit Chinasthana and
Syriac Sinistan from the 781 CE
Nestorian Stele of
Xi'an, China), located in easternmost Asia.
 He explained the maritime route towards it (first sailing east and then north up the southern coast of the Asian continent) and the fact that
cloves came that way to
Sri Lanka for sale.
 By the time of
the Eastern Roman ruler
Justinian I (r. 527–565 CE), the Byzantines purchased Chinese silk from
 They also
smuggled silkworms out of China with the help of
Nestorian monks, who claimed that the land of
Serindia was located north of India and produced the finest silk.
 By smuggling silkworms and producing silk of their own, the Byzantines could bypass the Chinese silk trade dominated by their chief rivals, the
Turkic peoples of Central Asia during the
Northern Wei (386–535 CE) period the Eastern Romans acquired yet another
name for China:
Theophylact Simocatta, a historian during the reign of
Heraclius (r. 610–641 CE), wrote that Taugast (or Taugas) was a great eastern empire
colonised by Turkic people, with a capital city 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) northeast of India that he called Khubdan (from the Turkic word Khumdan used for the
Sui and Tang capital
idolatry was practised but the people were wise and lived by just laws.
 He depicted the Chinese empire as being divided by a great river (the
Yangzi) that served as the boundary between
two rival nations at war; during the reign of Byzantine Emperor
Maurice (582–602 CE) the northerners wearing "black coats" conquered the "red coats" of the south (black being a distinctive colour worn by the people of
Shaanxi, location of the Sui capital Sui Chang'an, according to the 16th-century Persian traveller Hajji Mahomed, or Chaggi Memet).
 This account may correspond to the conquest of the
Chen dynasty and reunification of China by
Emperor Wen of Sui (r. 581–604 CE).
 Simocatta names their ruler as Taisson, which he claimed meant
Son of God, either correlating to the Chinese Tianzi (
Son of Heaven) or even the name of the contemporary ruler
Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626 – 649 CE).
medieval Europeans in China wrote of it as two separate countries, with
Cathay in the north and
Mangi in the south, during the period when the
Yuan dynasty led by Mongol ruler
Kublai Khan (r. 1260–1294 CE) conquered the
Southern Song Dynasty.
Detailed geographical information about the Roman Empire, at least its easternmost territories, is provided in traditional
Chinese historiography. The
Sima Qian (c. 145–86 BCE) gives descriptions of countries in
Central Asia and
West Asia. These accounts became significantly more nuanced in the
Book of Han, co-authored by
Ban Gu and his sister
Ban Zhao, younger siblings of the general
Ban Chao, who led military exploits
into Central Asia before returning to China in 102 CE.
 The westernmost territories of Asia as described in the
Book of the Later Han compiled by
Fan Ye (398–445 CE) formed the basis for almost all later accounts of Daqin.
[note 1] These accounts seem to be restricted to descriptions of the
 Historical linguist
Edwin G. Pulleyblank explains that Chinese historians considered Daqin to be a kind of "counter-China" located at the opposite end of their known world.
 According to Pulleyblank, "the Chinese conception of Dà Qín was confused from the outset with ancient
mythological notions about the far west".
 The Chinese histories explicitly related Daqin and Lijian (also "Li-kan", or Syria) as belonging to the same country; according to Yule, D. D. Leslie, and K. H. G. Gardiner, the earliest descriptions of Lijian in the Shiji distinguished it as the
 Pulleyblank provides some linguistic analysis to dispute their proposal, arguing that Tiaozhi (条支) in the Shiji was most likely the Seleucid Empire and that Lijian, although still poorly understood, could be identified with either
Iran or even
Alexandria in Egypt.
Yu Huan (c. 239–265 CE), preserved in
annotations to the
Records of the Three Kingdoms (published in 429 CE by
Pei Songzhi), also provides details about the easternmost portion of the Roman world, including mention of the
 For Roman Egypt, the book explains the location of Alexandria, travelling distances along the
Nile and the tripartite division of the
 In his
Zhu Fan Zhi, the
Quanzhou customs inspector
Zhao Rugua (1170–1228 CE) described the ancient
Lighthouse of Alexandria.
 Both the Book of the Later Han and the Weilüe mention the "flying"
pontoon bridge (飛橋) over the
Zeugma, Commagene in
 The Weilüe also listed what it considered the most important dependent
vassal states of the Roman Empire, providing travel directions and estimates for the distances between them (in
Chinese miles, li).
 Friedrich Hirth (1885) identified the locations and dependent states of Rome named in the Weilüe; some of his identifications have been disputed.
[note 2] Hirth identified Si-fu (汜復) as
 John E. Hill (2004) uses linguistic and situational evidence to argue it was
Petra in the
Nabataean Kingdom, which was annexed by Rome in 106 CE during the reign of
Old Book of Tang and
New Book of Tang record that
the Arabs (Da shi 大食) sent their commander Mo-yi (摩拽,
pinyin: Móyè, i.e.
governor of Syria and later
Umayyad caliph, r. 661–680 CE) to
besiege the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, and forced the Byzantines to pay them tribute.
 The same books also described Constantinople in some detail as having
strong granite walls and a
water clock mounted with a golden statue of man.
Henry Yule noted that the name of the Byzantine negotiator "Yenyo" (the patrician
John Pitzigaudes) was mentioned in Chinese sources, an envoy who was unnamed in
Edward Gibbon's account of the man sent to
Damascus to hold a parley with the Umayyads, followed a few years later by the increase of tributary demands on the Byzantines.
 The New Book of Tang and
Wenxian Tongkao described the land of
Nubia (either the
Kingdom of Kush or
Aksum) as a desert south-west of the Byzantine Empire that was infested with
malaria, where the natives had
black skin and consumed
 In discussing the three
main religions of Nubia (the Sudan), the Wenxian Tongkao mentions the
Daqin religion there and the
day of rest occurring every seven days for those following the faith of the Da shi (the
 It also repeats the claim in the New Book of Tang about the
Eastern Roman surgical practice of
trepanning to remove parasites from the brain.