Rectangular piece of carved stone with raised relief images of a column, two men holding shades, and a third man gesturing with his hand

Stair riser with maritime divinities, Gandhara, c. first century CE (Metropolitan Museum 13.96.21)

The Monsoon Sea:

Glimpses of an Ancient Indian Ocean World

Jeremy Simmons

ISAW Visiting Assistant Professor

This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via email to registered participants.

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Humans first sailed regularly upon the Indian Ocean roughly 5,000 years ago. They continued to brave the waves over millennia through coastal skips and open sailing with the monsoon winds. By the early centuries of the Common Era, the ocean supported a host of human activity, including individuals from the eastern Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, and Indian subcontinent. Despite its perils, maritime travel proved faster and more cost-effective than equivalent overland routes. This lecture dives into the waterways of the western Indian Ocean (e.g., the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea). We will follow not only the tracks of mariners braving the waves, but also the numerous items of Indian Ocean trade—spices, gems, coins, textiles—that whetted the demand of consumers well beyond their shores. A veritable diversity of evidence from the Mediterranean to the South China Sea, from textual sources to remains of Indian Ocean commodities and those who trafficked them, attest to a multidirectional, multicultural affair—an Afro-Eurasian world linked by the Monsoon Sea.

Jeremy Simmons is Visiting Assistant Professor at ISAW. He received his BA in Classical Languages and Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley (2013) and his PhD in Classical Studies from Columbia University (2020). He is an ancient historian specializing in long-distance trade, particularly the maritime commerce conducted on the western Indian Ocean. His historical interests are inspired by a variety of related topics: the early Greek ethnographies imagining the mythical edge of the world; the rise of Buddhism in India and patronage at various monastic sites; the economic institutions and corporate structures of commerce operating from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bay of Bengal; and the culmination of Indo-Mediterranean maritime trade in the early centuries of the Common Era. Jeremy incorporates a variety of Indic sources as a complement to Greek and Latin texts, as well as material evidence hailing from throughout the Indian Ocean littoral.

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