Barbarikon: The Contemporary Sea Port of Karachi, Sindh

Barbarikon (Βαρβαρικόν) was the name of a sea port near the contemporary city of Karachi in the province of Sindh, Pakistan, significant in the Hellenistic period in Indian Ocean trade. It is also a Greek version of the word Barbaricum, designating places outside civilization and/or the Roman Empire.

Barbarikon is highlighted briefly in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea:

“This river [the Indus] has 7 mouths, very shallow and marshy, so that they’re not navigable, instead of the one in the middle; at which by the shore, is the market-town, Barbaricum. Before it there deploys a tiny island, and inland behind it’s the metropolis of Scythia, Minnagara; it is subject to Parthian princes who are continually driving each other out.”

“The ships are situated at anchor at Barbaricum, but all their cargoes are carried up to the metropolis by the river, to the King. There are moved into this market a good deal of thin clothing, and a minor spurious; topaz, figured linens, storax, coral, frankincense, vessels of glass, silver and gold plate, and a little wine. On the other hand there are exported costus, lycium, bdellium, nard,  lapis lazuli, turquoise, Seric skins,  silk yarn, cotton cloth, and indigo. And the proposed sailors set out thither with the Indian Etesian winds, about the, month of July that is Epiphi: it is more risky then, but through these breezes the voyage is more direct, and sooner completed.”

Its key function beyond supplying its instant hinterland was as a transshipment port for supplies of Afghan lapis lazuli and Persian turquoise, to be carried overland to the state of Egypt.




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