The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: A Network Approach
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is a Roman period guide to trade and navigation in the Indian Ocean. Justly famous for offering a contemporary and descriptive account of early Indian Ocean trade, the work has been subject to and a point of departure for numerous studies. Its extensive influence on scholarship is, however, also problematic, as it reflects the limited information and cultural and personal bias of its unknown author. Arguably this might have led scholars to overemphasise so-called western or Roman participation in early Indian Ocean trade. Network analysis allows us to map, visualize and measure interconnectedness in the Periplus Maris Erythraei. Many of these connections are not explicitly mentioned in the text, but by connecting not only places with places, but also products with places that export and import them, we get a partly different impression of Indian Ocean trade from that conventionally gathered from the Periplus. It allows us to ask questions about the relationship between coastal cabotage and transoceanic shipping, to identify regional trading circuits, and unexpected centres of long-distance exchange.