Portugal in the Orient


Sanjay Subrahmanyam*

Broken gravestone from a tomb in the Makkli hills. Photograph by Søren Menz. The tomb is of an unnamed high Mughal official, probably from the Tarkhan family of Mirza Jani Beg, but the upper part which includes his name and the obligatory Qur'anic verses has been destroyed. The Persian verse that remains ends with a phrase that provides a chronogram for his date of death (1638-39 AD or 1048 A. H.). It reads: "(He) from whom the vizarat received a hundred embellishments when he intended to leave this house full of sufferings from the unknown came a beautiful, resonant, voice, the date of his death comes from já-e sharr fání ast (this evil world is but transient)". I thank Muzaffar Alam for this reading.


The valley of the great river Indus along which the region of Sind lies, has a long history of external contacts, dating back several millenia to the period of the so-called Indus Valley Civilisation. Sind was also the first region in South Asia to come under Islamic rule, with early Arab incursions beginning in the second half of the seventh century A. D. By the first decades of the eighth century, the entire region between Multan and the mouths of the Indus had come under Arab control. At this time, the chief port of the Indus delta was Dewal ("Daybal" to the Arabs), a name that survived as late as the Portuguese chronicles of the sixteenth century, which call lower Sind "Dyulsinde". Dewal was captured by Arab forces in around 710 A. D. after several earlier unsuccessful attempts, but it survived as a port into the last quarter of the twelfth century. Thereafter, its place was taken by Lahori Bandar, which was visited and described by the well-known traveller Ibn Battuta in the 1330's.1

Our principal concern in this paper is, however, not so much with Lahori Bandar as with another town to its north, Thatta, a river-- port located almost two hundred kilometres from the river's mouth. We have little knowledge of the early history of the town of Thatta. Located upriver from Lahori Bandar in the western Indus delta region at 24°45'N and 67°58'E, the town still exists today as a dusty, provincial backwater, a condition into which it had already fallen in the 19th century. Edward Thornton describes it in the mid-nineteenth century as "a town formerly very famous, but now much decayed... situated about three miles west of the right or western bank of the Indus".2 A half-century later, by the time the Imperial Gazetteer of India came to be written, the river had moved still further away from the town, a process that has continued in the present century. In 1901, Thatta (or Nagar Thato, as it is locally termed), now located some twelve kilometres west of the river, boasted a population of 10,783, a far cry from the late seventeenth century, when Alexander Hamilton estimated the number of people resident there at some 150,000. 3

Visitors to Thatta today find only one monument of real note there, and this is the Jama Masjid, built on the orders of the Mughal ruler Shahjahan between the mid-1640's and late 1650's. A prepossessing structure in brick with a rectangular floor plan, the mosque has an area of 6,316 square yards, and far outshines the rather older Dabgar Masjid built in the early sixteenth century, and located on the southern outskirts of the town. 4 The fortifications of the town, which we shall have occasion to mention below, have been in ruins since the early nineteenth century. But some distance from the town, in the Makkli hills, one still finds an enormous and impressive necropolis with tombs dating to the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These tombs, like the ruined fortifications and still intact mosque, testify to the great importance of Thatta in the centuries that the Portuguese had their most significant impact on Asian maritime trade -- namely the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

However, Thatta's importance as a courtly and trading centre predates the Portuguese incursion into Asian waters by some centuries. The town does not appear to have been of great importance during the early years of the Ghurid and Mamluk presence in north India in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The Mongols having made encroachments into Sind in about 1241, Sultan Balban (ruled 1266-87) of Delhi attempted to re-consolidate his control over the region, and gave it over to the government of one Sher Khan Sunqar. After some years, it was taken over by Balban's own son, Muhammad Khan. At this time, Sind formed part of the same governorship as western Punjab. But the region proved difficult to control on account of the resistance that coalesced around an important local dynasty of Isma'ili persuasion, the Sumras, who ruled first from Thari and then from Tur (the latter about forty kilometres east of Thatta), and who made repeated attempts to ally themselves with the Mongols against Delhi. Thus, again, under Alauddin Khalji, it was necessary for Delhi to suppress a revolt in Sind; later, during the reign at Delhi of Muhammad bin Tughluq, in the late 1340's, a certain Taghi, reputedly a cobbler from Gujarat, revolted and fled to Sind, in order to seek an alliance with local tribes. The Tughluq ruler followed him there with an expeditionary army, but died in 1351 of natural causes near Thatta. It is now that Thatta is mentioned for the first time, in Barani's Tarikh-i Firuz Shahi. 5

In around 1335, political power in lower Sind passed from the Sumras, who were succeeded by the Sammas, a Sunni dynasty of local origin, who used the title Jam. They owed allegiance to Delhi, but continued to negotiate alliances with the Mongols nevertheless. Due to this, Firuz Shah Tughluq again had to mount a campaign there in 1366, in the course of which he defeated the Mongols, and captured the Samma ruler Jam Junan, who was however later reinstated by Delhi. At this time, according to the testimony of the Tuyhluq court--historian Shams-i Siraj, Thatta, then the Samma capital, was already fortified. The Sammas continued to rule from there until 1527, with the greatest extent of their territorial control being during the reign at Thatta of Jam Nanda or Nizam al-Din (1461-1509). Thus, at the time that the Portuguese took Hurmuz for the second time, in 1515, lower Sind was still largely controlled by the Sammas, with Thatta the capital and seat of political power, and Lahori Bandar being the port that mediated between Thatta and the western Indian Ocean.


During the fifteenth century, there had been considerable expansion in agriculture and manufacturing in lower Sind. The region around Thatta itself became a centre of textile manufacture, with the raw cotton coming from the area around Bhakkar, in the upper valley of the Indus. Sind did not quite rival Gujarat in textile production, but we must not underestimate its trade in the early years of the sixteenth century either. The principal part of this trade was to the west, to the great Persian Gulf entrepôt-state of Hurmuz centred on the island of Jarun, but coastal navigation also linked the ports of the Indus delta with Gujarat (Khambayat), and Konkan. It is in this context that Sind is mentioned in the accounts of early Portuguese writers such as Duarte Barbosa.

The Portuguese takeover of Hurmuz did not greatly affect trade from Sind. According to one estimate by Rastião Lopes Lobato, in the 1540's, trade from Sind (which is to say Thatta and Lahori Bandar) accounted for a good part (7 to 10 %) of customs-revenues paid at Hurmuz in the period.


style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体'>TABLE 1

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体'> “NORMAL” CUSTOMS REVENUES OF HURMUZ IN

THE 1540's

style="mso-spacerun: yes">       Source

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Amount

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>


lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style='font-family:宋体'>(in gold xerafins)

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Trade From Gujarat

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   

style="mso-spacerun: yes">  35,000 -

style="mso-spacerun: yes">  45,000

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Trade from Persia

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      35,000 - 


style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Trade to and from Basra

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">       9,000 -  10,000

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Trade from Sind

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">       8,000 -  


style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Duties paid by Portuguese

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      10,000 -  13,000

style="mso-spacerun: yes"> TOTAL                   

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      97,000 - 117,000

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>


But Lobato was quick to state that these revenues were only realized "quãodo Dyul, a que por outro nomee chamão Simde, está em pas e navegua pera Urumuz".6 The suggestion is clearly that this was at times not the case, and in fact the 1530's and 1530's had seen a contest for control over lower Sind. In particular, the Mongol Arghun clan had begun encroaching on the region from the second quarter of the sixteenth century (according to Couto, in the precise year 1525), from an initial base further north. The Arghun prince Shah Beg maintained relations with Babur, when the latter was at Kabul, and his son Shah Husain continued to maintain some form of political ties with the Mughals. However, the late 1530's and early 1540's were troubled times for the Mughals, with Humayun himself being under threat from the Afghan chiefs of north India, in particular the Bihar-based Sher Shah Sur. Forced into exile in Iran, Humayun passed through Sind en route to the Safavid court in the early 1540' s, but was given a cool reception by the Arghun rulers, who flirted for a time with the idea of supporting his brother Mirza Kamran against him. It was during this uncomfortable journey through Sind, at Umarkot, that Humayun's son the future "Grão Mogol" Akbar - was born.

But it was not principally on account of the Mughals that Sind faced political turmoil in these years. Rather, the problem was that the Arghuns, while controlling upper Sind, gradually lost control of the lower delta region (and with it of Thatta and Lahori Bandar) to the Tarkhan, their erstwhile subordinates and military allies. The conflict, already in the making in the 1450's grew more serious in the early 1550' s when Mirza Isa Tarkhan sought to distance himself from Shah Husain and his adopted brother, Sultan Mahmud, by having the khutba read in the name of the recently restored Humayun. The conflict of the period has been described by the Ottoman admiral Seydi Ali Reis, who found himself in Sind in those years, after being shipwrecked off the coast of Gujarat. In his Mirat ul-Memalik, he writes:

At that time Isa Terkhan, the commander of the capital of Sind, called Tata, had put to death a number of able officers belonging to Shah Husein, after which he had captured the treasure, stored in the fortress of Nasrabad, and divided it amongst his men, and then proclaimed himself as 'for' Humayun Shah by having his title inserted in the Friday prayers, and ordering the Nakara to be played. Thereupon Shah Husein had nominated his adopted brother Sultan Mahmud as commander of the land-troops, and he himself with 400 ships had set out against the rebels.

Seydi Ali, who found himself a bystander, was offered "the governorship of Bender-Lahuri or Duyuli-Sindi" by the Arghuns in exchange for his expertise; he turned the offer down, and witnessed an extended siege, at the end of which Mirza Isa agreed to return to the Arghun fold. But the compromise was not to last long. Shortly thereafter, Shah Husain died, and Mirza Isa once more declared his independence of the Arghuns, leading to further hostilities.

Mughal Sind.

It was now that the first significant intervention by the Portuguese in the region took place. As already noted, trade between Thatta and Lahori Bandar, and Hurmuz, was well-established by the early sixteenth century, and the governors of the Estado da Índia at Goa were broadly aware of the commercial significance of the area. As Diogo do Couto writes in his Década Sétima da Ásia, the area was rich, and the same could be said of the Cidade Tahta, principal do Reyno, e das maiores, e mais ricas do Oriente, assim pela grossidão de seus mercadores, como pelas louçainhas, e subtileza de suas mecânicas, em que precediam, e faziam vantagem a todos, tirando os Chins (Couto, vii/1, 233). Now, it would appear that late in 1556, Mirza Isa Tarkhan sent an ambassador to the governor Francisco Barreto in Goa, asking for help against Sultan Mahmud, described as "hum tyranno alevantado"; Barreto agreed, and sent out a fleet of twenty-eight ships and seven hundred men, under the command of a certain Pero Barreto Rolim. Rolim and his fleet arrived in Sind early in 1557, and entered the Indus, making their way to Thatta, where they found not Mirza Isa (who had gone off to besiege a distant fortress) but his minor son. As Couto has it, despite several emissaries sent on land by Rolim, he could get no response other than that he had to wait until Mirza Isa's return and that his expenses on supplies would be met by the Tarkhans in the meantime. The Captain-Major grew restive as February began, the more so as he received word from Thatta that "se se quizesse ir o podia fazer". Couto is quite explicit on the nature of the pressure that he faced.

E como os soldados da Índia são muito soltos, e livres, davam da noite grandes matracas ao Capitão mór; e a voltas de muitas palavras desordenadas lhe chamavam fracò, pusillanime, e que de medo não vingava tamanha offensa; e tantas vezes lhe disseram estas cousas, e outras, que lhe deo a desconfiança de maneira, que sem tomar conselho com alguem, mandou dizer pelas fustas que fizessem pelouros. Com este recado se alvoraçáram os soldados, e começáram a guarnecer seus arcabuzes, e a limpar suas armas; e entre tanto mandou o Capitão mór com muita dissimulação comprar mantimentos a Cidade, de que proveo a Armada bastantemente (Couto, vii/1, p. 275).

Having thus ensured that his supplies were sufficient, Rolim mounted an attack on Thatta, after calling his captains together and telling them that "era necessário castigarem aquella affronta, a destruirem por ella a Cidade". Couto no doubt exaggerates the extent of the damage done; in his words foram os nossos entrando a Cidade e mettendo à espada toda a cousa viva que achavam, até os brutos animaes; e como não tiveram em que executar sua furia, mandou o Capitão mór que saqueassem a Cidade, como logo fizeram, tomando todos tantas fazendas, que se carregaram os navios. Large sections of the city were set on fire, and the deaths in the town are estimated at eight thousand ("a mór parte della gente inutil"!), with the goods taken and destroyed supposedly being worth "dous milhões de ouro".

It is significant that Couto notes the presence outside the town of a "Mesquita muito grande, e da feição de nossos Templos, e tinha três portas"; this could not have been the Shahjahan mosque for obvious reasons, and is more likely to have been the Dabgar Masjid, of which we have written above. He writes that the Portuguese force did considerable damage to the structure, and that it partially collapsed killing numerous people inside in the "mais cruel, e miserável género de morte, que se podia imaginar" (Couto, vii/1, p. 279).

For some reason, Couto's valuable description of Thatta and its "Bandel" (presumably Lahori Bandar) in the late 1550's has never been used systematically by historians of the Sind region (who have relied for their version of this incident on Manuel de Faria e Sousa's regurgitated account). It shows us beyond a doubt that at this point in time, Thatta was one of the most formidable ports in India in Couto's own words "das maiores da Índia... (e) recheada de fazendas grossas, e ricas, de drogas, manteigas, azeite, cifas, e outros materiaes". Also we learn from him that Lahori Bandar had a small fort, which the Portuguese attacked on their way downriver, after their attack on Thatta. However, the account does not make it entirely clear on what Thatta's prosperity was based. In this respect, the testimony of Seydi Ali Reis is rather more valuable, since it makes it clear that Thatta was the meeting point of several routes, some terrestrial and some fluvial. To the east, for example, lay Gujarat, with which Sind had long-standing political and economic ties. It was from Gujarat that the Ottoman admiral himself made his way to Thatta, following a route that took him from Ahmadabad via Patan, Radhanpur, Parkar, Wanga (the frontier with Sind in the 1550's) and Junagadh to Thatta. Again, later on in his peregrinations, Seydi Ali sought to make his way from Thatta to the Mughal domains, to make contact with Humayun's court. On this occasion, he went up the Indus via Nasarpur, Sehwan, Patri, Dible (Darbela), and Bhakkar (an important political centre for the Arghuns), to Mau, Sultanpur and Ucch, until he crossed the Sutlej river to make his way to the great stapling centres and inland entrepôts of Multan and Lahore. These two trading towns commanded the trade from northern India to Central Asia in some measure, and were also central to the trade to Kabul and Kandahar (and thence to the cities of Iran). But it was equally possible to bypass these towns and make directly for Kandahar from Bhakkar. This overland route into Iran waned and waned with the ebb and flow of the maritime trade from Lahori Randar to Hurmuz and other Persian Gulf ports, and the relationship was a structural constant that held as much for the early seventeenth century as for the 1550's. For example, in 1611, when an attack by the Safavids on Hurmuz was feared, Philip of Spain and Portugal wrote to his viceroy Rui Lourenço de Távora in Goa, of the rivalry between the two routes in the following terms.

"Jente do sinde chamãose sindes", (Cod. Casanatense, 1889, in Luís de Matos, ob. cit.)

Sendo a guerra dilatada, receberá minha fazenda de perda tudo o que rende a alfândega de Ormuz e mais que será necessário ir-lhe da Índia para despezas e provimentos, e estarão os caminhos cerrados e os mercadores de Ormuz não ousarão mandar vir fazendas, nem arriscar as que tiverem, e abrirem elles ao persa caminho do Sinde a Persia. 8

Nevertheless, both the overland trade and the fluvial trade extending north-east from Thatta underwent alterations from the late 16th century, as a result of the integration of Thatta (and lower Sind more generally) into the Mughal domains. This conquest -- which occurred in 1591-92, some seventeen years after the Mughal conquest of Multan and upper Sind -- was the result of a campaign mounted by the Mughal Khan-i khanan, Abd ur-Rahim, apparently on his own initiative and in contravention of orders from Delhi, while on an expedition to Kandahar. The last independent Tarkhan ruler, Mirza Jani Beg, was thus incorporated into the Mughal nobility, even though his descendants continued to maintain links with the region. One of them, Mirza Isa Khan was subedar (governor) at Thatta from 1627 to 1644, and both he and Mirza Jani Beg (who died in 1599) have substantial mausoleums in the Makkli hills. 9 After its incorporation by the Mughals, Thatta became the capital of a province (suba), with a revenue of 92,800,000 copper dams in 1638, which fell however to 68,816,800 dams by 1709. The town thus retained its administrative as well as commercial functions into the seventeenth century. However, as we shall see below, trade between the ports of the Indus mouth and Lahore grew more and more important under the Mughals, and Thatta came to be bypassed to a certain extent in the process. Also, given the uncertain relations between Mughals and Safavids in the seventeenth century, the westward overland trade of the town did not remain wholly secure either.


After 1600, with the arrival of the English and Dutch in the western Indian Ocean, Thatta is mentioned in the sources of the Companies as well. Between the two, it is the English who devoted greater attention to the trade of the Indus mouth ports, which is understandable in view of their greater interest in both Gujarat and the Persian Gulf when compared to the Dutch. 10 It was only in 1631 that the first Dutchmen employed by the VOC visited Sind; they were headed by the merchant Gregorius Cornelisz, on the ship Brouwershaven, but their venture did not enjoy any great success either then or later in the seventeenth century. In contrast, the English showed a far greater inclination to exploit the trade of Thatta, which they saw as holding an important place in their commerce with Persia. We are aware that in about 1620, when the Portuguese still held Hurmuz, some one seventh of shipping to that port originated from Sind, as the table below demonstrates. 11


style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体'>TABLE 2

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体'>THE TRADE OF HURMUZ, c. 1620

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>


lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Partner

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" Number ">

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Number

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Partner

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Number

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" <B>Ports ">

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Ports

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>of ships

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" Ports ">

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>Ports

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

lang=EN-US style='font-family:宋体'>of ships

style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Sind ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Sind

x:str=" 8 ">


x:str="Dabhol ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Dabhol

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      4

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Nagana ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Nagana

x:str=" 3 ">


x:str="Goa ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Goa

style="mso-spacerun: yes">     12

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Diu ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Diu

x:str=" 5 ">


x:str="Cochin ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Cochin

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      2

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Daman ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Daman

x:str=" 3 ">


x:str="Melaka ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Melaka

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      2

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Rassein ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Rassein

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" 3 ">


x:str="Bengal ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Bengal

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      2

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str="Chaul ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">  


x:str=" 8 ">


x:str="Malindi ">

style="mso-spacerun: yes">   Malindi

style="mso-spacerun: yes">      2

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" ">



lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

x:str=" TOTAL ">


x:str=" ">


lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>

style="mso-spacerun: yes">     54

lang=EN-US style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:宋体;mso-bidi-font-family:"Arial Unicode MS"'>


All contemporary accounts agree that the principal part of the maritime trade from Sind led to the Persian Gulf, even though there was some trade to such ports as Diu, and Goa (and Sind textiles were at times carried back to Lisbon as well, on the Carreira da Índia). 12 Thus the account by the English factors Richard Steele and John Crowther, en route from Ajmer to Isfahan in 1614:

Lahore is a goodly greate citie, and one of the fairest and ancientest of India... From this place came the treasure of the Portugals' trade, when they had peace, as being the centre of all Indian traffique. And here they embarqued the same down the river for Tatta whece they were transported for Ormus and Persia. The merchants also passing that way betwixt Persia and India payd them fraight. They did likewise drive a great trade up the river for pepper and spices, furnishing these parts of India therewith. 13

Two years earlier, the account of Thomas Best provides much the same picture, speaking in similar terms of the close links between Thatta and "Lowri bandar" and Lahore. Again, in 1619, the Dutchman Pieter van den Broecke writes of Sind's trade as follows:

From Lohoor one may navigate through a river into the kingdom of Sinde, which is also part of the realm of Chachalm or the Great Moghul. The main commercial centres there are named Sinde Tatta and Diolsinde. Here a great abundance of beautiful textiles are produced, which are mostly transported by the Portuguese to Ormus and from there to Persia and Arabia. This is mostly done by Italians, Persians and Moors, who all of them are engaged in this important trade between Ormus and Bassora, a city in the Cinus Persicus. 14

This account, taken together with the others, seems to give the lie to the rather pessimistic view in Sir Thomas Roe's letters of the 1610's. He writes of how ther is noe settled trade betweene Lahor and Syndu worth the mentioning; only a few Banians that shipp in frigates for Ormuz, whom it is hard to persuade to change their customes. 15

Further, it appears that the decline in Portuguese trade in Sind did not follow quite so rapidly on the fall of Hurmuz to the Safavids and English as has often been assumed. Even as late as the 1630's, the Portuguese continued to have a quite considerable trade at Thatta and Lahori Bandar, oriented in part towards Goa, but still mainly to the west. This emerges quite clearly from reading António Bocarro's account of the Estado da Índia in the mid 1630's in which he devotes some attention to Sind (though he does not mention Thatta by name). While writing of Portuguese trade in and from Maskat, he states:

The Jama Masjid, gateway.

Fas se viage de Mascate para o Sinde desde entrada de outubro até quinze de mayo com ventos oestes noroestes e suis, que sam cento e trinta legoas. Está o Sinde na costa da Percia à barra do Rio Indo que por aqui desemboca ao mar... O grande e principal (braço do rio: S. S) de que tratamos fas seis ou sete voltas que farão quatro legoas até chegar ao bamdel onde esta a alfândega em que os navios nossos vão amchorar e lançar e tomar carga. Vão a este porto muitas embarcaçois de toda a costa da Yndia desta ponta do propio Sinde até o cabo de Comorim. Deste bandel onde há hua povoação muito grande e estendida com hua fortaleza pequena fraca e cabida do Reino de Cinde há doze legoas de caminho por terra e tem três passages do próprio Rio Indo que em carracol vem correndo por estas terras onde há muitas aldeas de concideração. Pello rio asima se navega com embarcações pequenas que levão estas fazendas ao dito Reino para lá se gastarè (Bocarro, pp. 96 - 97 ).

Not only this; Bocarro assures us that the capital of Sind (one presumes he means Thatta) is "hua cidade muito grande com mais de cento e sincoenta mil fogos de casas", which is obviously an exaggeration, but nevertheless of qualitative significance. He provides us details of the local administration, in the hands of a "nababo mogor", assures us that the local people are "gente mui fraca delicioza supersticioza, e mentirosa, mouros e gentios todos misturados", and goes on to give further details concerning Portuguese trade these in the 1630's. Returning to Thatta then:

Na cidade referida há trinta mil teares, e dahi para sima, e assy se val do algodão de Cache e Nagana. E he tão grande o trato desta terra que a quantos navios forem e embarcaçois a ella, a todas darão cargua cõ aver navio de Portuguezes que leva em prata, ouro e aljofre duzentas mil patacas de cabedal, e destes há muitos, e até a moeda se paga dereitos cõ grandes tiranias nalfãdega a três e meio por cento que avalião em dobro e aynda mais da valia das fazendas, corn que vem a pagar a sete e a mais por cento, mas como os Mongores que aqui asistem sam mui levados do interesse cõ qualquer cousa se lhe tapa a boca em os grandes dezemcaminhos que os Portuguezes lhe fazem do que levão.

Vão aqui nas mõçoĩs muitas embarcações de Portuguezes e se ajuntarão em 633 mais de vinte e hua embarcaçois entre galiotas, pataxos, e fustas cõ algũs dozentos Portuguezes porque como por estas partes para o estreito não ha ladrões malavares nẽ dos naturais, andão com mui poucos soldados (Bocarro, p. 98).

It would appear that besides this trading presence, which naturally varied depending on the season, there was a more permanent Portuguese presence in the area with two dimensions: secular, and religious. In Thatta itself, the Carmelites had a church with two priests, to take care of some fifteen or sixteen Portuguese casados there; the priests were maintained on charity rather than money sent from Goa. In Lahori Bandar, where there were roughly equal numbers of permanently resident Portuguese, there were two Augustinians who, unlike the Carmelites did receive a handout from the Portuguese Crown and finally, there was a Crown factor resident in Thatta. The latter received no salary from the Crown, but paid forty per cent less on his goods at the customshouse than did normal merchants. This privilege he apparently abused, to carry the goods, of other Portuguese merchants through the customs-house as well. Bocarro also adds a curious note about another source of income for the Crown feitor:

Tem liberdade de poder fazer vinho que como he contra a sua ley dos mouros há muito proveito por lhe virem comprar de noite. O vinho he de jagra e de hua casca de hua arvore que chamão joto, mas o mais que vive o feitor he de sua mercancia e navio. Porem com a liberdade de feitor espanca mouros e dâ em todos, e vai gritar na casa do Governador estando em junta de Governo, e ronca que há de mandar vir a armada, e assi he obedecido... (Bocarro, idem, pag. 100).

After the 1630's, however, Portuguese trade in Sind falls into some obscurity. In the early 1640's, the English succeeded in making considerable inroads into the area, even though they were subsequently unable to keep up the pace of their expansion. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, the Thatta factory failed to meet English expectations save in brief phases. At the same time, the middle decades of the seventeenth century marked -- as is well-known -- a slump in private Portuguese intra-Asian trade. The effloresence of the Maskat-Kung-Basra network, to which Bocarro testifies, could not last much longer than the mid-1630's. As Portuguese seapower fell into decline in these years, it also seems unlikely that the factor at Thatta could have threatened to "mandar vir a armada" with any credibility. More and more, especially in the 1640's and 1630's, as the Mughals took an active interest in the trade of the western Indian Ocean, it would appear likely that the trade of Sind fell into the hands of Sind-based vania and other traders, and Mughal princes such as Aurangzeb and Dara.


From the middle of the seventeenth century, the importance of Thatta begins to decline in the external trade of Sind. One reason for this was the silting up of certain channels of the Indus, which left the town less and less accessible to ocean-going ships. In the 1650's this led Prince Aurangzeb, then governor of Sind, to encourage the creation of another port in place of Lahori Bandar (which we have seen was closely associated with Thatta) a this was the port of Auranga Bandar. 16 But Thatta did not dwindle immediately into insignificance either. As late as the 1690's, we have Hamilton's testimony as to its size, and even in the 1740's - when the area was invaded by Nadir Shah the town is reported to have contained some 40,000 weavers, 20,000 other artisans, and some 60,000 other residents, making a total of over 120,000.

In 1756-57, the Dutch ships Marienbosch and Pasgeld visited the area and attempted to reopen trade there, in what was to be the VOC's last attempt in that direction. A report by W. A. Brahe and N. Mahuy, two Dutchmen on board, is preserved in the Company's archives. It suggests that trading prospects in the region are none too good and is particularly disparaging of Thatta (where the English once more had a factory at the time, after a gap of some years). The said city (Thatta) was situated not less than two to two and a half miles inland from the river, and all goods had to be transported to the city on oxcarts and camels, with a lot of cost and trouble. He therefore feared that this would cause a lot of spillage, mainly with regard to the spices. The more so since these had been so bone-dry because of the fierce heat and the dryness which we have experienced during the voyage..."17

Thus, Thatta in the late 1750's was still a trading centre of some residual importance, one in which foreign merchants still sought to make a base, irrespective of the inconveniences. Perhaps this was on account of a faint memory of its bygone days of glory, or perhaps it was because the centre still retained a certain administrative importance even in this period. Within three decades, even this was gone, as the newly-acceded Talpur rulers of Sind shifted their capital north-east, to the town of Hyderabad. Meanwhile, on the maritime front the port of Marachi, which already finds mention in the account of Brahé and Mahuys was beginning to emerge into prominence. Thus, the role played by Thatta in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century was eventually divided between two urban centres: the administrative capital in the inland, and the trading town facing the sea. The town of Thatta itself became like the necropolis in the nearby Makkli hills, a place with "the habitations of the dead much exceeding in number those of the living".


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Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Muzaffar Alam, Nalinl Delvoye and Søren Mentz for help in the course of preparing this paper, and to Kenneth McPherson for comments.

1. Haig, Indus Delta Country.

2. Thornton, Vol. IV, p. 661.

3. Imperial Gazetteer, pp. 64--66.

4. Imperlal Gazetteer, p. 264; Cousens, p. 121.

5. Haig, Indus Delta Country.

6. Calado, "Livro", p. 129.

7. Seydi Ali Rels, pp. 37-38.

8. R. A. de Bulhão Pato, (ed.), Documentos Remetidos da Índia ou Livros das Monções, t. II, Lisbon, 1884, p.103.

9. Cousens, p. 118; Abu'l Fazl, A'in, i, pp. 389-90.

10. Seth, "Some aspects"; Pelsaert, Geschriften.

11. Steensgaard, Carracks, p. 197.

12. Coutre, pp. 168, 243.

13. Purchas his Pilqrimes. vol. I, p. 520, quoted in Seth, "Some aspects".

14. Quoted in Floor, "Dutch Company Trade with Sind", p. 111.

15. Quoted in Seth, "Some aspects", p. 25.

16. Ibid, p. 239.

17. Floor, "Dutch Company Trade with Sind", pag. 129.

*Sanjay Subrahmanyam was educated at Delhi where he gained his doctorate The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650 (Cambridge, 1990). He has been Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University and Curtin University and has lectured at the University of Pennsylvania, Universidade Nova de Lisboa and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He is the author of several works concerning the Portuguese in Asia.

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