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Ancient Sri Lanka’s Roman Connection

About the year 45 AD, a Roman vessel that was busy collecting tributes and revenues in the Red Sea was caught in the monsoon storms to land in a harbor in the Indian Ocean Island away from the regular sea route then known to the Romans. The Roman ship was seized, the crew was arrested and taken to the king. It was an accidental discovery in the Orient by the Romans. Romans found an island until then known as a land too far, a fabulous island where superior battle elephants were bred: Taprobane, modern Sri Lanka.

Speaking of Elephants of the ancient era in Sri Lanka, we too get carried away in the tides, if not the storms, of modern times. Today, with 12 per cent of the island of Sri Lanka designated for wildlife protection, sighting herds of elephants at Sri Lanka HolidaysKaudulla National Park, Minneriya National Park and Wasgamuwa National Park (all almost next to each other, Habarana in the Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle being the gateway) is a matter of couple of hours drive, once you are at Polonnaruwa (a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Culture), which is replete with renovated ancient rainwater reservoirs of gigantic scale, ancient restored Buddhist temples and ruins of ancient monuments.

The most famous sanctuary of large herd of elephants is on the banks of modern Uda Walawe Irrigation Reservoir at Uda Walawe National Park located south of Sri Lanka Holidays Ratnapura (Sinhala: The City of Gems). The other famous sites where elephants can be sighted are Ruhuna Yala national Park of Sri Lanka Holidays located close to Kataragama, the domain of the God Skanda in the Deep South and Willpattu National Park within a couple of hours drive from Kalpitiya Beach Resort of the north-western coast. Maduru Oya National Park close to Kuda Sigiriya (Sinhala: Small Lion Rock), an eco location and Gal Oya National Park close to Ampara, though, less visited by the foreign tourists of Sri Lanka Holidays, are the other wildlife sanctuaries famous, specially among the Sri Lankan tourists, for the herds of elephants.

Then Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder,  a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Empire, one of the great Roman historians, had already narrated about Sri Lanka in the sixth book of his 37-volume Natural History. It begins:

“It had been of long time thought by men in ancient days that Taprobane was a second world, in such sort that many have taken it to be the place of the Antipodes, calling it the Antichthones world. But after the time of Alexander the Great, and the voyage of his army into those parts, it was discovered and known for a truth, both that it was an island, and what compass it bear. Onesicritus, the admiral of his fleet, has written that the elephants bred in the island be bigger, more fierce and furious for war service than those of India.”

Pliny’s tragic death during a naval rescue operation of his friends, citizens and Romans trapped during the explosion of the volcano of Mount Vesuvius was revealed to us in a sensational narration by his nephew, Cornelius Tacitus also known as Pliny the Younger. Pliny’s life ended, once again setting a universal example that a hero never leaves his friends in troubled waters.

If the Greek records relating to Taprobane during the era of Alexander the Great fell shot of proper depth and description, the era of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (10 BC – 54 AD) was to reveal credible testimony to the Roman connection with Sri Lanka. That was following the vessel was caught in the Indian Ocean Monsoon in 45 AD.

Gaius Plinius Secundus, having recalled the narrations also of the Greek writers Megasthenes and Eratosthenes had said about Sri Lanka, continues to reveal: “But, we came to far better intelligence, and more notable information by certain ambassadors that came out of that Island, in the time of Claudius Caesar the Emperor: which happened upon this occasion, and after this manner.

“It fortuned that a freed slave of Annius Plocamus (who had farmed of the Exchequer the Customs for impost of the Red Sea) as he made sail about the coasts of Arabia, was in such wise driven by the north winds besides the realms of Carmania, and that for the space of fifteen days, that in the end he fell with a harbor thereof called Hippuros, and there arrived. When he was set on that land he found the King of that country so courteous that he gave him entertainment for six months, and entreated him with all kindness that could be devised. And as he used to discourse and question him about the Romans and their Emperor, he recounted to him at large of all things.

“But, among many other reports that he heard, he wondered most of all at their justice in all their dealings, and was much in love therewith, and namely that their deniers of the money which was taken, were always of like weight, notwithstanding that the sundry stamps and images upon the prices showed plainly that they were made by diverse persons, and hereupon especially was he moved and solicited to seek for the alliance and amity of the people of Rome: and so dispatched four ambassadors of purpose, of whom one Rachias was the chief and principal personage.”

Annius Plocamus learned Sinhala language and engaged in numerous conversations with the king who, according to Sir James Emerson Tennent, was probably King Sadamuhunu (Chanda-Mukha-Siva) (44 AD- 52 AD), who donated a rainwater reservoir by the name of Minigiri to Isurumuniya Rock Temple (Buddhist) at Anuradhapura, the greatest monastic city of the world during its glorious era.

The harbor called Hippuros in Pliny’s records is non-other than Kudramalie which lies between Puttalama and Mannar of Sri Lanka Holidays. Dispatching an embassy to Rome wasn’t an isolated incident. Sending embassies to foreign lands wasn’t an unusual practice for the kings of Ceylon. Chinese historical records reveal receiving embassies from Sri Lanka. Most of all the tangible evidence of Sri Lanka’s Roman connection in the ancient era is substantiated by the Roman coins discovered at the site of Jetavana monastery, now displayed at Jetavana Museum, Anuradhapura amidst Fine jewelry, including ivory carvings, bangles and ornamental ear clasps and fragments of Chinese and Islamic pottery. Sri Lanka Holidays escort you all to the Jetavana Museum at Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura to reveal the Ancient Sri Lanka’s Roman connection.

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