This article uses the literary source known as the tale of the Theban Scholastikos to argue for a distinct late antique phase in the history of the western Indian Ocean. This late third- or fourth-century account of a Roman's journey to India and eventual return from captivity typically has been either dismissed by scholars as being riddled with historical inaccuracies or mined for decontextualized historical details. The present study, by contrast, situates the tale within its immediate epistolary context and seeks to offer a new interpretation of its global-scale setting. In particular, it offers a survey of the regions likely referred to in the text (Roman empire, Aksumite empire, south India and Sri Lanka) as well as an examination of related textual and archaeological data. The picture presented of these regions is, in turn, situated within the wider framework of a "global hierarchy of value" proposed by Michael Herzfeld in 2004 and applied here for the first time to Late Antiquity. What emerges is an initial framing of the western Indian Ocean in Late Antiquity as a space in which long-distance connections continued from earlier centuries and in some places even thrived, but were systematically devalued both politically and ideologically, with concrete effects for those involved.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 488-518
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.