Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources - article ; n°1 ; vol.88, pg 27-75
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Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources - article ; n°1 ; vol.88, pg 27-75


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Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient - Année 2001 - Volume 88 - Numéro 1 - Pages 27-75
49 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Ralph Kauz
Roderich Ptak
Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources
In: Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 88, 2001. pp. 27-75.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Kauz Ralph, Ptak Roderich. Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources. In: Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 88,
2001. pp. 27-75.
doi : 10.3406/befeo.2001.3509
Ralph Kauz & Roderich Ptak
Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources
In the fourteenth century Hormuz became the leading port of the Gulf region. It was then connected to
India, the Far East, East Africa, the Levant and the Mediterranean. Politically, it remained fairly
independent, although it did pay taxes to the different powers controlling this area.
Arabic, Iranian, European and Chinese sources mirror Hormuz' commercial role in Asia's trade. The
present article is particularly concerned with Yuan and Ming texts. Some of these works contain
descriptive elements, written from a distinctly Chinese perspective - Confucian, Daoist, or otherwise -,
others simply carry toponyms without giving further details. Still others refer to delegations sailing from
Hormuz to China or in the other direction. Contacts between both sides - nearly always via the maritime
route - can be traced through such collections as the Ming shilu, various inscriptions, lishi dili works,
nautical treatises, maps, etc. Sources pertaining to later periods tend to copy the earlier material, rarely
adding new details to the old data. All these aspects are investigated and, where applicable, checked
against the information found in West Asian and other sources.
The end of Sino-Hormuzian contacts was not brought about by external factors, but by a change in
China's foreign policy. Several decades thereafter, Portugal gained control over Hormuz and a new era
Ralph Kauz et Roderich Pták
Ormuz à travers les sources des dynasties Yuan et Ming
Au cours du XIVe siècle, Ormuz devint le principal port du golfe Persique, relié alors à l'Inde, l'Extrême-
Orient, l'Afrique orientale et le monde méditerranéen. Politiquement, il resta assez indépendant,
quoiqu'il versât des impôts aux différents pouvoirs contrôlant la région.
Les sources arabes, iraniennes, européennes et chinoises reflètent le rôle tenu par Ormuz dans les
échanges commerciaux asiatiques. Le présent article porte surtout sur des textes des dynasties Yuan
et Ming. Certaines de ces œuvres contiennent des éléments descriptifs, rédigés selon une perspective
indéniablement chinoise - confucéenne, taoïste ou autre -, d'autres mentionnent seulement des
toponymes, sans plus de détails. D'autres encore font référence à des missions naviguant ďOrmuz vers
la Chine ou vice-versa. Les contacts entre les deux parties - presque toujours par voie maritime - sont
attestés dans les Annales véridiques des Ming {Ming shilu), diverses inscriptions, des ouvrages de
géographie historique {lishi dili), des traités nautiques, des cartes, etc. Les sources plus tardives ont
tendance à copier les écrits antérieurs et n'apportent que rarement de nouvelles données. Tous ces
aspects sont examinés ici et, éventuellement, confrontés aux informations provenant de sources d'Asie
occidentale ou d'ailleurs.
L'arrêt des relations entre la Chine et Ormuz ne fut pas causé par des facteurs externes, mais par une
nouvelle orientation de la politique étrangère chinoise. Quelques décennies plus tard, le Portugal prit le
contrôle d'Ormuz et une nouvelle ère s'ouvrit.Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources
Ralph Kauz and Roderich Ptak*
Hormuz was among the major destinations of Zheng He's last four voyages. Both the
well-known Liujiagang and Changle inscriptions underline the importance of this place by
listing its name before the names of other ports and countries where the fleets of the
fourth, fifth, and sixth expedition had called.2 Usually, Zheng He's crew would reach
Hormuz in winter and spend about two months there, from mid- January to mid-March,
before setting out for the homebound voyage with the beginning of the southwest
monsoon. The last expedition, for example, reached Hormuz on 17 January 1433 and left
for China on 9 March of that year. Its leaders were back in Beijing on 22 July, after a fast
return trip through the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea of less than five months.3
During their long sojourns in Hormuz, Chinese officials must have been in frequent
touch with the local elite. This probably enabled the princes of Hormuz to gain some
insight into the Middle Kingdom's commercial power and the nature of the tribute trade
system. They thus sent several embassies to China which were classified as "tribute
envoys" in Ming sources. These submitted "horses and local products" to the
Chinese Court. The Chinese in turn learned about the role Hormuz played in trade with
the Middle East and, more indirectly, with the Mediterranean.
* Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitàt, Munich.
1 . The correct transcription of the name should be Hurmuz or Hurmuz, but for this paper the
colloquial form "Hormuz" was chosen.
2. Ma Huan (author), J. V. G. Mills (tr., éd.), Ying-yai Sheng-lan. The Overall Survey of the
Ocean's Shores [1433], The Hakluyt Society Extra Series 42 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1971), pp. 12-18 (now abbreviated Mills, Ma Huan). Jan J. L. Duyvendak, "The True Dates of the
Chinese Maritime Expeditions in the Early Fifteenth Century", T'oung Pao 34 (1938), pp. 343-355
(Hormuz mentioned on pp. 345, 347, 348, 350, 353, 354). Also see, for example, Teobaldo Filesi
(author), D. L. Morison (tr.), China and Africa in the Middle Ages, Cass Library of African Studies,
General Studies 144 (London: Frank Cass, 1972), pp. 56-65, and the general account by Dominique
Lelièvre, Le dragon de lumière. Les grandes expéditions des Ming au début du XVe siècle (Paris : Éditions
France-Empire, 1996), pp. 95-98. The inscriptions are also reprinted in many modern Chinese works.
3. Zhu Yunming, Qianwen ji, Congshu jicheng chubian 290 (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan,
1966), pp. 72 et seq. Also see Paul Pelliot, "Les grands voyages maritimes chinois au début du XVe
siècle", T'oung Pao 30 (1933), pp. 305-31 1, and Mills, Ma Huan, pp. 17-18.
Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient, 88 (2001), p. 27-75. 28 Ralph Kauz & Roderich Pták
Jarun P
Persian Gulf
Modern Map
Wm У0
Section of the Mao Kun map showing Hormuz Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources 29
Located at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, Hormuz was a convenient stopover for all
maritime traffic between West Asia and the countries around the Arabian Sea. Earlier,
from the Sasanian period to the eleventh century, Sïràf had already assumed a similar
position in international trade. As the leading port of the Sasanian Empire, it had once
been one of the richest cities in southern Iran. During the twelfth century the island of
Qais (Farsi: Kish) gradually replaced Sïràf as the main port in the Gulf. Both Sïràf s
substitution by Qais and Qais' later substitution by Hormuz were, to a large part,
determined by geographical factors: Qais was located to the southeast of Sïràf, i.e., closer
to the Strait of Hormuz; it could therefore block all ships heading for Sïràf. Similarly,
Hormuz could control all traffic going to Qais because it lay to the east of the latter.
The kingdom of Hormuz held its key position in trade for more than two centuries.
When decline set in, it was mostly brought about by exogenous factors. In the early
sixteenth century the Safavides, who had just seized power in Iran, thought of conquering
Hormuz. For a brief period, they even considered cooperation with the Portuguese, but
these plans did not materialize. Finally, in 1515, Afonso de Albuquerque gained control
over Hormuz. Although Hormuz would never live up to its former role under the Estado
da índia 's dominance, it remained a port of some significance on the route from India to
the Near East. In the early seventeenth century, Portuguese rule came to end. This time the
Safavides cooperated with the East India Company. However, in 1622, when Hormuz
changed hands, most buildings were destroyed and the Safavides decided to divert all
traffic to Gamru, on the mainland opposite of Hormuz. The rise of Gamru, named Bandar
'Abbàs by their new masters, caused the final decline of Hormuz. Today, Hormuz is
nothing but a barren island.4
References to Hormuz in Chinese texts abound, particularly from the Yuan and Ming
periods. The present paper discusses all important texts with original information. Works
merely repeating earlier observations will also be dealt with, but only in a brief way. One
aim is to reflect on China's "perception" of Hormuz and its people. This means that,
instead of singling out new historical, social or economic facts - these can be gathered
through the excellent translations by Mills and others -, certain descriptive elements found
in Chinese works have to be compared with the data found in contemporary, or near-
contemporary, Iranian and European accounts. Such comparisons show how Chinese
writers thought about Hormuz. However, no effort is made to analyse the narrative
"styles" and "modes" underlying these texts; approaches of this kind would have to be
organised in a different way.5
In short, we shall begin with a survey of the more important Iranian works (this also
includes some general remarks on early Arabic texts) and a brief account of Hormuzian
history and society, before turning to the Chinese side. In the "Chinese chapters", the
Yuan works will be looked at first. Of these the Daoyi zhiltie is by far the most important
text. It contains a brief account of a place called Ganmaili, which Rockhill equated with
the Comoro Islands. But Fujita Toyohashi, Shen Cengzhi and Su Jiqing identified this
4. For the events, see, for example, Ronald Ferrier, "Trade From the Mid- 14th Century to the End
of the Safavid period", in Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhardt (eds.), The Cambridge History of Iran.
Vol. 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 426, and
Michael N. Pearson, "Introduction", in his (éd.), Spices in the Indian Ocean World, An Expanding World
11 (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1996): XV-XXXVII, pp. XXIX-XXX. - For Bandar 'Abbas, see,
for example, Laurence Lockhardt, "Hormuz", in Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill,
I960-), p. 585 (hereafter El2).
5. An example is Roderich Ptak, "Images of Maritime Asia in Two Yuan Texts: Daoyi zhilue and
Yiyu zM\ Journal ofSung-Yuan Studies 25 (1995), pp. 47-75. 30 Ralph Kauz & Roderich Pták
toponym with Hormuz.6 There then follows a chapter on the envoys travelling back and
forth between Ming China and Hormuz. This is mainly based on the data found in
the Ming shilu.1 It also deals with the issue of "perception", but its principal concern is the
chronology of tribute missions and Chinese delegations. The reconstruction of this is the second major aim of the present study. The next sections look at
Chinese descriptions found in lishi dill works (ethnographic accounts) of the early and
mid-Ming periods. This is where the issue of perception becomes important again. The
texts dealt with include the works by Ma Huan (earliest preface 1416, second preface
1444, afterword 1451; however, generally dated 1433) and Fei Xin (preface 1436), both
first hand accounts by officials accompanying Zheng He on his voyages to the Indian
Ocean. The text by Gong Zhen (preface 1434), who also took part in these expeditions, is
very similar to the one by Ma Huan.8 This source and later works such as the Xiyang
chaogong dianlu, Shuyu zhou zi lu, and the Ming shi chapter on Hormuz will only be
given occasional attention because they combine the data found in earlier lishi dili texts
and the Ming shilu.9 The final chapter, on Hormuz in Chinese nautical works and maps, is
intended to round off the previous segments. It also confirms that Hormuz constituted a
major port-of-call for the early Ming navigators.
6. W. W. Rockhill, "Notes on the Relations and Trade of China with the Archipelago and the
Coasts of the Indian Ocean during the Fourteenth Century", T'oungPao 15 (1914), pp. 419-447, and 16
(1915), pp. 61-159, 236-271, 374-392, 435-467, 604-626 (this article only refers to T'oung Pao 16; the
translation of the Ganmaili chapter may be found on p. 623); Wang Dayuan (author), Su Jiqing (éd.),
Daoyi zhiltie jiaoshi, Zhongwai jiaotong shiji congkan (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), pp. 364-369
(hereafter DYZL). Su' s edition of Wang's text is the best edition so far, and it was also used throughout
the present paper. - Several other authors also identified Ganmaili with Hormuz; see, for example, Zhu
Jieqin, "Zhongguo he Yilang lishi shang de youhao guanxi", Lishi yanjiu (7/1978), pp. 72-82.
7. Ming shilu (Taibei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 1966), 133 vols. Several
modern works provide access to this source, for example, Li Guoxiang et al. (eds.), Ming shilu leizuan.
She wai shiliao juan (Wuhan: Wuhan chubanshe, 1991), and Watanabe Hiroshi, "An Index of Embassies
and Tribute Missions to Ming China (1368-1466) as Recorded in the Ming Shih-lu, Classified According
to Geographic Area", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko 33 (1975), pp. 285-347.
8. See Ma Huan (author), Feng Chengjun (éd.), Yingya shenglan jiaozhu (Taibei: Taiwan shangwu
yinshuguan, 1962), pp. 63-68, and Mills, Ma Huan, esp. "Ma Huan and his book", esp. pp. 34-66, 165-
172; Fei Xin (author), Feng Chengjun (éd.), Xingcha shenglan jiaozhu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1954),
pp. 1-7, and qianji, pp. 35-37, as well as Fei Xin (author), J. V. G. Mills (tr.), Roderich Ptak (rev., annot.,
éd.), Hsing-ch 'a sheng-lan. The Overall Survey of the Star Raft, South China and Maritime Asia 4
(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996), esp. pp. 9-23, 70-71 (hereafter Mills/Ptak, Fei Xin); Gong Zhen
(author), Xiang Da (éd.), Xiyang fanguo zhi, Zhongwai jiaotong shiji congkan (2nd ed. Beijing:
Zhonghua shuju, 1982), esp. pp. 1-4, 41-44 (hereafter XYFGZ). - Brief notes on the editorial history of
each text are in Wolfgang Franke, An Introduction to the Sources of Ming History (Kuala Lumpur and
Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1968), pp.220, 221, and Donatella Guida, Immagini del
Nanyang. Realtà e stereotipi nella storiografia cinese verso la fine della dinastia Ming, Opera
Universitaria, Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici, Istituto Universitario Orientale Napoli, Série didactica 2
(Naples: 1991), pp. 62-70.
9. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming shi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1995), j. 326, pp. 8452-8453 (for all
other standard histories we also refer to the Zhonghua shuju editions); Huang Shengceng (author), Xie
Fang (éd.), Xiyang chaogong dianlu, Zhongwai jiaotong shiji congkan (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1982),
j. xia, pp. 106-1 1 1 (herafter XYCGDL); Yan Congjian (сотр.), Yu Sili (éd.), Shuyu zhou zi lu, Zhongwai
jiaotong shiji congkan (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993), j. 9, pp. 318-320. Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources 3 1
Selected Non-Chinese Sources
Throughout the late medieval period Hormuz was not completely independent, though
it certainly enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. Its suzerains were the various dynasties
ruling Iran from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. Formal subordination mainly took
the form of tax payments, but submission of the so-called kharâj (tax) to the Timurides
and other powers also implied economic cooperation between Hormuz and its mighty
hinterland. Subordination and cooperation thus went hand in hand with each other.
Obviously this state of affairs was considered normal by most local chroniclers writing on
Iran because they all treated Hormuz as one of many "ordinary" topics without giving any
special attention or allotting any extra space to this place. Jean Aubin was the first modern
scholar to fully acknowledge the unique role Hormuz played among the societies around
the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf in pre-European times, and he was the first to draw
attention to the peculiar relation between Hormuz and its many suzerains.10 Below, we
shall frequently recur to his findings.
Unfortunately, no contemporary local history of Hormuz has survived. The "Book of
Kings" (Shàhnàmeh), written by the Hormuzian prince Turànshâh some time after 1350,
was probably destroyed by the British and the Safavides during the war of 1622. But some
parts of this chronicle were translated into Portuguese by Pedro Teixeira and the
Portuguese version has become the starting point for many later studies.11 Persian sources
on the history of Hormuz, however, will be more relevant for the present paper. A
selection of the more important texts is listed below.
1) The history of the Qarâkhïtâ'ï, who ruled Kirmân in the thirteenth century and to
whom Hormuz was a long-time vassal. This account is by Nàsir ad-Dîn Kirmânï. 12 It may
be added here that Hormuz functioned as the principal port for the two provinces of
Kirmân and Sïstàn from the tenth to the early thirteenth century. 13
10. Jean Aubin, "Les princes d'Ormuz du XIIIe au XVe siècle", Journal Asiatique 241 (1953), pp. 77-
138 (pp. 122-123 on the tax); id., "Le royaume d'Ormuz au début du XVIe siècle", Mare Luso-Indicum
(1973), pp. 77-179. Valeria Fiorani Piacentini, L'emporio ed il regno di Hormoz (VIII - fine XV sec. d.
Cr.), vicende storiche, problemi ed aspetti di una civiltà costiera del Golfo Persico, Memorie dell'Istituto
Lombardo - Accademia di Scienze e Lettere 35.1 (Milan : Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, 1975),
is another important work, but it does not exclusively deal with Hormuz.
11. Aubin, "Les princes d'Ormuz...", p. 79; Pedro Teixeira (author), William F. Sinclair (tr., annot),
Donald Ferguson (annot., introduction), The Travels of Pedro Teixeira, With his "Kings of Harmuz" and
Persia" (London: Hakluyt Society, 1902), p. XC n. 1 (introduction), pp. 153- Extracts from his "Kings of
195. - The same book also contains an abridged version of the lost chronicle; this version is by Caspar da
Cruz, a Dominican monk who founded a monastery in Hormuz in 1565 or 1566 (see pp. 256-267 and
p. 256 n. 7). For a recent Portuguese edition of this text, see Frei Gaspar da Cruz (author), Rui Manuel
Loureiro (ed.), Tratado das coisas da China (Évora, 1569-1570) (Lisbon: Ediçôes Cotovia and Comissâo
Nacionál para as Comemoraçôes dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 1997), pp. 267-279. — Two later
studies are: Paul Schwarz, "Hurmuz", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlándischen Gesellschaft 68
(1914), pp. 531-543, and Bertold Spuler in his Die Mongolen in Iran, Politik, Verwaltung und Kultur der
Ilchanzeit 1 220-1 350 (3rd ed. Berlin: Akademie- Verlag, 1968), pp. 147-152.
12. Abbas Eghbal (ed.), Simt al-'ulà li-l-hadrati l-'ulyâ (hereafter Simt al-'ulà) (Tehran: Shirkat-i
sihâmï-yi čáp, 1949/50).
13. Paul Schwarz, Iran im Mittelalter nach den arabischen Geographen, 2 vols. (Hildesheim and
New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1969), pp. 242-243. 32 Ralph Kauz & Roderich Pták
2) The Mongols never occupied Hormuz, but one of the major works on their presence
in Iran is also very important for the history of Hormuz: the chronicle of Wassâf which
narrates the history of the Ilkhànides up to 1323. 14
3) Many more chronicles appeared under the Timurides, who occupied Iran from the
end of the fourteenth century but, like the Mongols, never took possession of Hormuz.
Three of the better-known Timurid histories also refer to Hormuz: the two "Books of
Victory" {Zafarnámeh), by Shàmï and Yazdï, and the Matla'-i sa'dain wa majma'-i
bahrain by 'Abd ar-Razzàq Samarqandï. Of these three annalistic texts, the one by Shàmï
is the oldest; it was already completed in 1404. 15 The more interesting work, however, is
the one by Samarqandï. This author came through Hormuz in 1442 when he was on his
way to India; he thus left some very personal notes on Hormuz. 16
4) With the exception of Samarqandï' s account and the annals of the local historian
Nïmdihï, written between 1499 and 1501, 17 all other chronicles focus on political
developments without giving any details of the social and economic panorama. Moreover,
not a single one of these texts has anything to say on Zheng He's fleets. Only two Persian
sources address the relations between the princes of Hormuz and the Ming. The first is
Mu'ïn ad-Dïn Natanzï's Muntakhab at-tavàrïkh-i Miïïriï, submitted to the Timurid ruler,
Shah Shâhrukh, on 7 October 1414. 18 Among other things it says, the emperors (khavâqïn)
of China had sent letters to Prince Bahman Shah of Hormuz (his correct name is Qutb ad-
Dïn Tahamtan and he ruled from 1400? tol417).19 This claim poses many questions, as
will be discussed below.20 The second chronicle, written by Ja'far b. Muhammad b. Hasan
and simply called Tàrïkh-i Jďfari or Târïkh-i kablr, ends with the year 1446.21 It mainly
deals with events after the death of Timur (1405), but also carries a chapter on the princes
of Hormuz with a brief reference to the arrival of Chinese ships during the reign of Saïf
ad-Dïn Mahàr (с. 1417-1436). A translation of the relevant passages may be found in an
14. Shihâb ad-Dïn 'Abdollàh Sharaf Shïrâzï (honorary title Wassâf al-Hadrat; author), M.M. Isfahânï
(éd.), Tajziyat al-amsàr wa tazjiyat al-a'sàr (Bombay, 1853; rpt: Tehran: Ibn Sïnâ, 1959/60; hereafter
15. Nizâm ad-Dïn Shàmï (author), Felix Tauer (éd.), Zafarnámeh, 2 vols. (Prague: Orientální Ústav,
1937; Státní Pedagogické Nakladatelství, 1956; hereafter Shâmï); Sharaf ad-Dïn 'Alï Yazdï (author),
Muhammad 'Abbàsï (éd.), Zafarnámeh, 2 vols. (Tehran: Amïr Kabïr, 1957/58; hereafter Yazdï); Kamâl
ad-Dïn 'Abd ar-Razzâq Samarqandï (author), M. Shafî' (éd.), Matla'-i sa'dain va majma'-i bahrain
(Lahore, 1941-1949; hereafter Samarqandï). - On the problem of Timurid historiography, also see, for
example, John Woods, "The Rise of Timurid Historiography", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 46
(1987), pp. 81-108. - The eminent historian Hàfiz-i Abru is not included in our list, because his major
work Zubdat at-tawàrïkh contains very little on Hormuz (contrary to his "Geography").
16. Samarqandï, pp. 764-771, 842-846. Also see Etienne Quatremère (tr., éd.), Notice de l'ouvrage
persan qui a pour titre : Matla-assaadeïn ou-madjma-albahreïn et qui contient l'histoire des deux sultans
Schah-Rokh et Abou Said, Extrait des notices et extraits des manuscrits de la bibliothèque du Roi 14.1
(Paris: 1843), pp. 427-473.
17. 'Abd al-Karïm b. Muhammad Nïmdihï, Tabaqàt-i Mahmud-Shâhï. See Aubin, "Le royaume
d'Ormuz", p. 84; id., "Indo-Islamica I, la vie et l'œuvre de Nïmdihï", Revue des Études islamiques 34
(1966), pp. 61-81.
18. Mu'ïn ad-Dïn Natanzï (author), Jean Aubin (éd.), Muntakhab at-tavârîkh-i Mu'ïnï (Tehran:
Kitàbfurushï Khayyàm, 1957; hereafter MTM). On the complicated editorial history of this work, see
Woods, "The Rise of Timurid Historiography", pp. 89-93.
19. Aubin, "Le royaume d'Ormuz", pp. 129-131 n. 313.
20. MTM, p. 18; Aubin, "Les princes d'Ormuz", p. 115.
21. This chronicle remains unedited and only exists in manuscript form in St. Petersburg. The
Oriental Seminar of Freiburg University has a microfilm. We are extremely grateful to Professor Werner
Ende for sending copies of the relevant sections. Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources 33
article by Walther Hinz, which is based on a script by the Russian Orientalist Wilhelm
Here we may briefly turn to a different set of sources, namely Arabic works. Early
Arabic texts frequently refer to Old-Hormuz, a town located on the mainland, near Mïnàb.
This port served as the Hormuzian capital until it was transferred to the island of Jarun.23
Information on Old-Hormuz may be found, for example, in the account by Ibn
Khurdâdhbih (ninth century). It describes the route from Basra to China and also
underlines the importance of Old-Hormuz as an entrepôt for Kirmân. Furthermore, it
mentions the city's underground channels {qanàt), its date palms, and, as almost all
chroniclers have done, its unbearable heat.24 Additional details may be collected from the
works by Istakhri, Muqadassi, and others: the merchants' dwellings and many warehouses
were scattered in the villages around the city, the bazar was much frequented, in the centre
there was the main mosque, and so on.25
All these Arabic accounts date from very early times. They are interesting sources,
indeed, but cannot serve as a starting point for investigating relevant Yuan and Ming
works. Yuan and Ming texts should be compared with the later writings, such as the
account by Samarqandi, but also with the famous texts by Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta,
Odorico of Pordenone, Afanasij Nikitin, and many others. Many details in these later
sources recall certain descriptive elements found in contemporary, or near-contemporary,
Chinese books. Finally, there are the Portuguese chronicles, which, though written in the
sixteenth or seventeenth century, contain additional facts that also take account of earlier
times, including the political, social and economic circumstances prevailing in the
fifteenth century.
As was said, Persian chronicles report next to nothing on the Chinese presence in
Hormuz, nor do they say very much about the many envoys sent from Hormuz to China,
or in the other direction. In the case of Aden, more details on the relations between the
Rasulid monarchs of Yemen and the early Ming are reported in non-Chinese sources.26
This may be a coincidence, or it may reflect the fact that China's relative weight was
considered higher in Aden than in Hormuz, or else, that Persian authors had reasons to
downplay China's influence in the Gulf region. Whichever way it was, drawing a picture
22. Shiro Ando, Timuridische Entire nach dem Mu'izz al-ansàb, Untersuchung zur Stammes-
aristokratie Zentralasiens im 14. und 15. Jahrhundert, Islamkundliche Untersuchungen 153 (Berlin:
Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1992), p. 8; Abbas Zaryab, Der Bericht ûber die Nachfolger Timurs aus dem
Ta'rïkh-i kabïr des Ga'far ibn Muhammad al-Husairiï (Mainz 1960; dissertation). — Walther Hinz,
"Quellenstudien zur Geschichte der Timuriden", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlândischen
Gesellschaft 90 (1936), pp. 379-383.
23. There is very little research by modern Iranian historians on the medieval history of Hormuz.
One exception shall be mentioned here, because it also deals with the Arab geographers: Maryam Mir-
Ahmadi, "Jazireh-yi Hurmuz dar mutûn-i jughrâfîyâ'î va târïkhï-yi qadïm", Fazlnàmeh-yi tahqïqât-i
jughràfiyal 5.2 (1990/91), pp. 101-123.
24. Schwarz, Iran im Mittelalter, pp. 242-243.
25. Istakhri and Muqadassi (both second half of the tenth century), in ibid., p. 243. Furthermore Guy
Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate (London, 1966; rpt. of the edition of 1905), pp. 318-319.
26. R. B. Serjeant, "Yemeni Merchants and Trade in Yemen, 13th- 16th Centuries", in R. B.
Serjeant, G. Rex Smith (eds.), Society and Trade in South Arabia (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.,
1996), article I, pp. 61-82 (esp. pp. 74-75), originally in Denys Lombard and Jean Aubin (eds.),
Marchands et hommes d'affaires asiatiques dans l'Océan Indien et la Mer de Chine, I3e-2(ř siècles,
Ports, routes, trafics 29 (Paris: Éditions de l'École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1988); K. N.
Chaudhuri, "A Note on Ibn Taghrî Birdî's Description of Chinese Ships in Aden and Jedda", Journal of
the Royal Asiatic Society (1/1989), p. 1 12. 34 Ralph Kauz & Roderich PTÁK
of Sino-Hormuzian contacts and the position of Hormuz within the geostrategic setting of
the Gulf during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, requires a synthesis of data
found in three kinds of sources - in Chinese texts, various European records, and the few
paragraphs in Persian works that we currently possess.
The Geopolitical Setting of Hormuz and Its Position in International Trade
The mountain range running parallel to the northern coast of the Persian Gulf has
obstructed the growth of large coastal towns on the Iranian mainland. Sïrâf was the only
major exception down to the eleventh century. It served as the principal port of the
Sasanian empire, as was already said. After the Arab victory over the Sasanians, Basra
was founded at the Shatt al-'Arab and became another important port besides Sïrâf. But
seagoing vessels often avoided coastal sites, preferring to call at one of the many islands
instead. Therefore, places like Khârk, Lâvàn, Qais, and Qishm were apt to take over key
positions in maritime trade; they were considered safe and were conveniently located on
or near the principle route through the Gulf.27 The island of Hormuz, also called Jarun,28
was another example. It became the capital of the Hormuzian kingdom in 1300. The former
capital of that kingdom, on the mainland near Mïnâb, had to be given up due to frequent
raids of Chaghatày bands. The new centre was much safer, offering excellent conditions
for commercial ventures. "Old-Hormuz", as the former residence was then called, still
continued to exist, but mainly served as an agricultural place and a retreat from the
summer heat.
The island of Hormuz is situated 1 1 miles east-southeast of Bandar 'Abbàs and has a
diameter of circa 4,8 miles. Its climate is hot and humid with some rain; almost all
travelers complained of the high temperatures. The ground is formed by a dome of salt,
which breaks through the surface and emerges in the form of salt glaciers.29 Teixeira
vividly describes these salt formations: "And this salt gathers and hardens so under the
sun, that I have often ridden over it, the water yet flowing below."30 There was only one
usable well on the island, which served to irrigate the ruler's park. Water had to be
brought from the mainland and collected in cisterns, a fact which proved fatal for the
kingdom when it was besieged by the Portuguese.31 No major farms existed on the island
due to the rugged and barren nature of the terrain, nor were there any other natural
resources of any remarkable kind. These harsh conditions made it obligatory for the city's
population to rely on imports and thus seek a living by resorting to trade. At the height of
its commercial power, Hormuz supported a population of circa 50,000. 32
Hormuz rose from a local town serving the needs of Kirmân and Sïstàn to a major
emporium with international connections. Its prosperity depended on external factors. To
ensure economic growth, it had to offer stable conditions for trade and commerce. Only
then would foreign merchant vessels continue to call at Hormuz. This entailed the
27. Eckart Ehlers, Iran: Grundzuge einer geographischen Landeskunde (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft-
liche Buchgesellschaft, 1980), p. 12.
28. For a discussion of the names Hormuz and Jarun, see Aubin, "Le royaume d'Ormuz", pp. 80-81.
29. Ehlers, Iran: Grundzuge, p. 37; Ludwig W. Adamec (éd.), Historical Gazetteer of Iran, vol. 4,
Zahidan and Southeastern Iran (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1988), p. 181.
30. Teixeira, Travels, p. 165.
31. Aubin, "Le royaume d'Ormuz", pp. 96-97, 165-166; Joâo de Barros, Asia. Dos feitos que os
Portuguezes Jizerám no descobrimento e conquista dos mares do Oriente (Lisbon : Livraria Sam Carlos,
1973; facsimile version of the 1777-1778 éd.), part 2, book 2, chap. 5.
32. Aubin, "Le royaume d'Ormuz", p. 150.