using a 9th century legal document to explore the medieval Indian Ocean world
A facsimile of the one of the copper plates in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 7, No. 2., July 1843
The Indian Ocean was among the first maritime spaces of human circulation and exchange, but the period before the late fifteenth century AD – when European powers first sailed into this ocean – is surprisingly under researched. This project has focused on a set of copper plates which are a multi-lingual legal document, inscribed at the port of Kollam in present-day Kerala in AD 849.
In South Asia, even until very recently, legal documents were inscribed onto copper sheets; known as copper plate grants. These are one of the main sources for early and medieval Indian history.
Although the Kollam plates have been known to European scholars since at least the eighteenth century, they are so complex to read that they had never previously been studied as a single document and had been largely ignored by Indian Ocean archaeologists and historians. This groundbreaking interdisciplinary project undertook the first holistic study of this exceptional source, using it as a starting point for this exploration of the medieval Indian Ocean world. It explored issues as varied as routes and networks of circulation, trade and legal farmeworks of trade and the urban space and daily lives of port cities in the ninth century.
The Kollam plates formed the centerpiece of an international research network on Routes, Networks and Communities in the Medieval Indian Ocean funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) over the period 2011 – 2013 and which gathered 30 scholars from 10 different countries working in a huge range of disciplines and regional specialisations.