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Arab Seafaring: In the Indian Ocean in…
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Arab Seafaring: In the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times

by George F. Hourani

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This book was first published in 1951, but the 'expanded edition' of 1995 with commentary and notes by several leading scholars, overseen by John Carswell (Director of the Islamic Department at Sotheby's) has brought it closer to where research has led us today. But not quite--maritime archaeology has been one of the hottest growth areas over the past few decades, so it excludes such finds as the 9th century Arab dhow, the Belitun salvaged from the waters south of Singapore and now showcased in Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum. That is a true shame since the ship was loaded with Tang ceramics plus antique bronze mirrors and other fascinating wares on its return journey from China proving that nail-less Arab dhows did sail from Central Asian ports (Basra> Siraf? Aden?) to China and back (although clearly this ship didn't). Anyone interested in this find should try to find and read the superb volume
[b:Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds|10140837|Shipwrecked Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds|John Guy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320504668s/10140837.jpg|15038954], which has chapters by today's leading scholars discussing the ship and its finds.

Nevertheless, this slim volume is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the historical trade between Egypt/Persia/Arabia and Southeast Asia/China and Carswell's comments and footnotes are as fascinating and helpful as the original text. I have yet to find an introduction to this subject that yields so much useful background information as this deceptively 'old' book.

There are three main chapters covering the pre-Islamic era, then trade routes under the Caliphate, with a final chapter on ships that discusses such basic information as hulls, masts and sails and navigation that includes a few plates showing the earliest examples we have of ancient ships--from Ajanta, Borobudur, ancient manuscripts, etc.

The extensive and updated Bibliography and Index point you in the right direction for more reading, and, no surprise, some of the older listings proved to be the most helpful leads in my search for more information on this subject. A good starting point would be the 1992 volume by Vimala Begley and Richard D. De Puma's (eds.) [b:Rome And India: The Ancient Sea Trade|3180376|Rome And India The Ancient Sea Trade|Vimala Begley|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328037761s/3180376.jpg|3213090].

Highly recommended for anyone interested in pre-Portuguese ancient trade between east and west, but best read with a historical atlas at your side unless you are already fluent in the port names of the Middle East in Graeco-Roman times. There are some historical B&W maps in the volume, but I found coloured topographical maps (old and modern) extremely helpful in understanding where rivers silted up, the rise and fall of ports, and the role deserts and mountain ranges and oceanic troughs played. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691000328, Paperback)

In this classic work George Hourani deals with the history of the sea trade of the Arabs in the Indian Ocean from its obscure origins many centuries before Christ to the time of its full extension to China and East Africa in the ninth and tenth centuries. The book comprises a brief but masterly historical account that has never been superseded. The author gives attention not only to geography, meteorology, and the details of travel, but also to the ships themselves, including a discussion of the origin of stitched planking and of the lateen fore-and-aft sails. Piracy in the Indian Ocean, day-to-day life at sea, the establishment of ancient lighthouses and the production of early maritime guides, handbooks, and port directories are all described in fascinating detail. Arab Seafaring will appeal to anyone interested in Arab life or the history of navigation. For this expanded edition, John Carswell has added a new introduction, a bibliography, and notes that add material from recent archaeological research.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:30 -0400)

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