Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Periplus of the Erythaean Sea

Well, with all the hex numbers stripped off ... just ask the archaeologist who had to trudge through snake-ridden wilderness to find the remains of Rhapta.

The Periplus of the Erythaean Sea was a Greco-Roman production that jotted down, very succinctly, the major ports of the Erythaean Sea, which translates as Red Sea, but which included what we would call the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

How's this for keeping it brief and lively ...

1. Of the designated ports on the Erythraean Sea, and the market-towns around it, the first is the Egyptian port of Mussel Harbor. To those sailing down from that place, on the right hand, after eighteen hundred stadia, there is Berenice. The harbors of both are at the boundary of Egypt, and are bays opening from the Erythraean Sea.

2. On the right-hand coast next below Berenice is the country of the Berbers. Along the shore are the Fish-Eaters, living in scattered caves in the narrow valleys. Further inland are the Berbers, and beyond them the Wild-flesh-Eaters and Calf-Eaters, each tribe governed by its chief; and behind them, further inland, in the country towards the west, there lies a city called Meroe.

3. Below the Calf-Eaters there is a little market-town on the shore after sailing about four thousand stadia from Berenice, called Ptolemais of the Hunts, from which the hunters started for the interior under the dynasty of the Ptolemies. This market-town has the true land-tortoise in small quantity; it is white and smaller in the shells. And here also is found a little ivory like that of Adulis. But the place has no harbor and is reached only by small boats.

Just throw in a magic fountain and some rampaging orcs, and you're all set.

You might want to work out a periplus of important towns for your own campaign and give a copy to the players. Keep it vague, hint at some coolness, and then let them have at it.


Oh, and due to looking up the Wikipedia article on the periplus (cool word), I discovered the Himyarite Kingdom, which became a Jewish monarchy on the Arabian Peninsula that exercised great control over the frankincense and spice trade. The Arabian Peninsula, with all the interesting kingdoms and empires surrounding it, and the possibility of lost cities and tombs within it (I'm looking at you, Irem), would be another great locale for a RPG campaign. 

Hell, what am I saying? The entire Erythaean Sea would be a kick-ass place for sea-borne adventures in the vein of Sinbad. I really need a duplicate-inator to make multiple me's - there's just so much writing I would love to do.


  1. I should also mention that I heard about it watching a BBC documentary about Lost Kingdoms of Africa - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp6P_hBnF1s

  2. WOW! I just love the last paragraph of the Periplus:
    "66. The regions beyond these places are either difficult of access because of their excessive winters and great cold, or else cannot be sought out because, of some divine influence of the gods."

    1. So if you try to go further, maybe your party cleric or druid is sworn to use all his or her powers to destroy you ...

  3. I ran a Erythaean Sea campaign. There's an incredible amount of information in Strabo and other places in support of it, details of the camel caravans from the Sudan down to the Red Sea, etc., and now Google Earth lets you zoom right down to the coastlines and beaches.

    Don't forget Solomon's gold fields in Ophir, hidden inland of Rhaphta in the Zimbabwe highlands!

    Off the other side of Africa I stuck Gorilla Island, after Hanno, at the location of Bioko in the Bight of Benin. Intelligent, Bantu-speaking gorillas with their oddly familiar seeming lumbering 40-foot god battling T-Rex's in the bowl of an extinct volcano.

  4. Oh, and I found this:
    It's a little more beatup copy pf the map, but bigger in size.


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