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Cosmas Indicopleustes
fl. early 6th century
Egypt / Ethiopia

Cosmas Indicopleustes was an Egyptian merchant, probably from Alexandria, who visited the Aksumite Empire. He undertook voyages to the Horn of Africa, Arabia and Ceylon, but latterly became a monk in St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, where he wrote a lengthy treatise, The Christian Topography, attacking the cosmographical system of Ptolemy and advancing one more in keeping with the Holy Scriptures. Although otherwise quite tedious, his book contains some vitally important material culled from his own travels, notably copies of two Greek inscriptions from a throne at Adulis, one by Ptolemy III (Ptolemy Euergetes; r. 246-221 B.C.) and the other by an anonymous Aksumite Emperor whose name was inadvertently omitted by Cosmas, perhaps Sembrouthes. The throne itself has long since disappeared. While in Adulis, Cosmas witnessed the departure of an Aksumite fleet against Dhü Nuwäs of Himyar, an event which is generally dated to 523. His book also contains eye-witness accounts of the trade and fauna of Ethiopia. There is an English translation by J. W. McCrindle, The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk (London, 1897), and an edition with geographical notes, entitled The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, by E. O. Winstedt (Cambridge, 1909).

A. K. Irvine

This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, Vol. 1 'From Early Times to the End of the Zagwé Dynasty c. 1270 A.D.,' copyright © 1975, edited by Belaynesh Michael, S. Chojnacki and Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All rights reserved.