Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Chryse (Glossary)

Chryse, the "Golden One," is the name given by ancient Greek writers to an island rich in gold to the east of India.

Pomponius Mela, Marinos of Tyre and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mention Chryse in the first century CE. It is basically the equivalent of the Indian Suvarnadvipa the "Island of Gold." Josephus calls it in Latin Aurea, and equates the island with biblical Ophir, from where the ships of Tyre and Solomon brought back gold and other trade items.

Chryse is often coupled with another island Argyre the "Island of Silver" and placed beyond the Ganges. Ptolemy locates both islands east of the Khruses Kersonenson the "Golden Peninsula" i.e. the Malaya Peninsula. North of Chryse in the Periplus was Thin, which some consider the first European reference to China.

In addition to gold, Chryse was also famed for having the finest tortoise shell in the world according to the Periplus. Large ships brought trade goods back and forth between Chryse and the markets at the mouth of the Ganges.


In ancient Chinese literature, a mysterious region beyond their southern border in Annam was known as Chin-lin "Golden Neighbor" and the Southeast Asian border was also called the "Golden Frontier."

When China invaded Annam (northern Vietnam) in the first century BCE, the kingdom of Champa fortified villages along the old caravan trail. This path became Route Colonial 9 during the French colonial period, and it was used by the Americans to build the McNamara Line of fortified bases during the Vietnam War.

With this fortified line, the rugged Central Highlands and a policy of constant piracy, the Champa kingdom held the Chinese at bay for a thousand years. After the fall of the Chin dynasty in the 5th century, Cham raids on Tongking became so frequent that the governor appealed to the emperor for assistance. A war of attrition between China and Champa began that lasted until the rise of the T'ang dynasty.

During this time though, China was well aware of the golden lands far to the south. The Buddhist pilgrim I-Tsing mentions Chin-Chou "Isle of Gold" in the archipelago south of China on his way back from India.

Zabag and Wakwak

In this blog, I have suggested that the kingdoms of Zabag and Wakwak, famed among the medieval Muslims as rich in gold, referred to the eastern islands of the Malay archipelago i.e. the Philippines and Eastern Indonesia.

Zabag was based in what would later become the kingdom of Lusung.

In this sense, the Philippines fits the bill as a gold-rich realm.

The country has consistently ranked second in the world behind only South Africa in gold deposits per land area. The Philippines has historically been the largest producer of gold in Asia despite its relatively small size and the fact that until 1980 most gold was obtained only through small alluvial deposits.

Although some ancient gold artifacts have been found in this region, they don't match the age suggested by linguistic reconstruction. Gold may have been mostly handed down from generation to generation rather than being used as a burial good item.

In about the second century CE, there arose a practice of using gold eye covers, and then, gold facial orifice covers to adorn the dead resulting in an increase of ancient gold finds. More than a millennium later, the popularity of dental gold to decorate the teeth significantly increased the amount of gold found at archaeological sites.

When the Spanish came they discovered an abundance of gold used among the people of the Philippine islands. Here are some relevant quotes:

Pieces of gold, the size of walnuts and eggs are found by sifting the earth in the island of that king who came to our ships. All the dishes of that king are of gold and also some portion of his house as we were told by that king himself...He had a covering of silk on his head, and wore two large golden earrings fastened in his ears...At his side hung a dagger, the haft of which was somewhat long and all of gold, and its scabbard of carved wood. He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold.

--- Pigafetta on Raja Siaui of Butuan during Magellan's voyage

For brass, iron and other weighty articles, they gave us gold in exchange...For 14 pounds of iron we received 10 pieces of gold, of the value of a ducat and a half. The Captain General forbade too great an anxiety for receiving gold, without which order every sailor would have parted with all he had to obtain this metal, which would have ruined our commerce forever.

--- Pigafetta on gold trade in Cebu

Sailing in this manner, for some time, in 16° of north latitude, they were obliged by continual contrary winds, to bear up again for the Philippine islands, and in their way back, had sight of six or seven additional islands, but did not anchor at any of them. They found also an archipelago, or numerous cluster of islands, in 15 or 16 degrees of north latitude, well inhabited by a white people, with beautiful well-proportioned women, and much better clothed than in any other of the islands of these parts; and they had many golden ornaments, which was a sure sign that there was some of that metal in their country.

--- Antonio Galv√£o in 1555 describing the journey of Bartholomew de la Torre in 1548

"...the ore is so rich that I will not write any more about it, as I might possibly come under a suspicion of exaggerating; but I swear by Christ that there is more gold on this island than there is iron in all Biscay."

--- Hernando Riquel et al., 1574

In this island, there are many gold mines, some of which have been inspected by the Spaniards, who say that the natives work them as is done in Nueva Espana with the mines of silver; and, as in these mines, the vein of ore here is continouus. Assays have been made, yielding so great wealth that I shall not endeavor to describe them, lest I be suspected of lying. Time will prove the truth.

--- Hernando Riquel et al. on island of Luzon, 1574

There are some chiefs in this island who have on their persons ten or twelve thousand ducats' worth of gold in jewels--to say nothing of the lands, slaves, and mines that they own. There are so many of these chiefs that they are innumerable. Likewise the individual subjects of these chiefs have a great quantity of the said jewels of gold, which they wear on their persons--bracelets, chains, and earrings of solid gold, daggers of gold, and other very rich trinkets. These are generally seen among them, and not only the chiefs and freemen have plenty of these jewels, but even slaves possess and wear golden trinkets upon their persons, openly and freely.

--- Guido de Lavezaris at al., 1574

About their necks they wear gold necklaces, wrought like spun wax, and with links in our fashion, some larger than others. On their arms they wear armlets of wrought gold, which they call calombigas, and which are very large and made in different patterns. Some wear strings of precious stones--cornelians and agates; and other blue and white stones, which they esteem highly. They wear around the legs some strings of these stones, and certain cords, covered with black pitch in many foldings, as garters.

-- Antonio de Morga, 1609

"... the natives proceed more slowly in this ,and content themselves with what they already possess in jewels and gold ingots handed down from antiquity and inherited from their ancestors. This is considerable, for he must be poor and wrethced who has no gold chains, calombigas, and earrings."

-- Antonio de Morga, 1609

The Portugese explorer Pedro Fidalgo in 1545 found gold so abundant on Luzon the inhabitants were willing to trade two pezoes of gold for one pezo of silver.

When the Portuguese first arrived, most of the gold traded into Brunei came from Luzon. That island was known as Lusung Dao or "Golden Luzon" to the Chinese who also traded for gold in this region.

A golden Garuda dagger handle from Surigao, Philippines.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Legeza, Laszlo. "Tantric Elements in pre-Hispanic Philippines Gold Art," Arts of Asia, July-Aug. 1988, pp.129-136. (Mentions gold jewelry of Philippine origin in first century CE Egypt)

Peralta, J.T. "Prehistoric gold ornaments from the Central Bank of the Philippines," Arts of Asia 1981, no.4, p.54.

Villegas, Ramon N. Ginto: History Wrought in Gold, Manila: Bangko Central ng Pilipinas, 2004.