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A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar): a contribution to the history of India   By: (16th cent.)

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A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar; A Contribution to the History of India

by Robert Sewell


The two Portuguese chronicles, a translation of which into English is now for the first time offered to the public, are contained in a vellum bound folio volume in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, amongst the manuscripts of which institution it bears the designation "PORT. NO. 65." The volume in question consists of copies of four original documents; the first two, written by Fernao Nuniz and Domingo Paes, being those translated below, the last two (at the end of the MS.) letters written from China about the year 1520 A.D. These will probably be published in translation by Mr. Donald Ferguson in the pages of the INDIAN ANTIQUARY.

The first pair of original papers was sent with a covering letter by some one at Goa to some one in Europe. The names are not given, but there is every reason for believing that the recipient was the historian Barros in Lisbon.

Both these papers are in the same handwriting, which fact since they were written by separate Portuguese merchants or travellers at Vijayanagar in different years, one, I believe, shortly subsequent to 1520 A.D., the latter not later than about 1536 or 1537 conclusively proves them to be copies of the originals, and not the originals themselves.[2] I have inserted a facsimile of two pages of the text, so that no doubt may remain on this point. The first portion consists of the conclusion of the text of Fernao Nuniz; the second of the covering letter written by the person who sent the originals to Europe; the third of the beginning of the text of Domingo Paes.

Paes being the earlier in date (about 1520) I have given his account of personal experiences first, and afterwards the historical summary composed by Nuniz about the year 1536 or 1537.

I have stated that the person to whom the documents were sent from Goa was probably the celebrated historian Barros. He is alluded to in the covering letter in the words: "It seemed necessary to do what your Honour desired of me," "I send both the summaries ... because your Honour can gather what is useful to you from both;" and at the end of the long note on "Togao Mamede," king of Delhi, quoted in my introduction, "I kiss your Honour's hand."

Since the first DECADA of Barros was published in 1552,[3] this argument is not unreasonable; while a comparison between the accounts given by Nuniz and Barros of the siege and battle of Raichur sufficiently proves that one was taken from the other. But we have fortunately more direct evidence, for the discovery of which we have to thank Mr. Ferguson. I have mentioned above that at the end of the MS. volume are copies of two letters concerning China. These were written subsequent to the year 1520 by Vasco Calvo and Christovao Vieyra. Mr. Ferguson has pointed out to me that, in the third DECADA (liv. IV, caps. 4, 5), after quoting some passages almost verbatim from this chronicle of Nuniz regarding Vijayanagar, Barros writes: "According to two letters which our people had two or three years afterwards from these two men, Vasco Calvo, brother of Diogo Calvo, and Christovao Vieyra, who were prisoners in Canton, etc...." He also mentions these letters in two subsequent passages, and quotes from them. This renders it certain that Barros saw those letters; and since they are copied into the same volume which contains the chronicles of Nuniz and Paes, we may be sure that Barros had the whole before him. It is of little importance to settle the question whether the chronicles of Nuniz and Paes were sent direct to Barros whether, that is, Barros himself is the addressee of the covering letter or to some other official (the "our people" of the passage from Barros last quoted); but that Barros saw them seems certain, and it is therefore most probable that the Paris MS. was a volume of copies prepared for him from the originals... Continue reading book >>

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