Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cesar Federici's
"Account of Pegu" (1563) III

Previous Posts:
1. Cesar Federici's "Account of Pegu" (1563) I
2. Cesar Federici's "Account of Pegu" (1563) II
3. Cesar Federici's "Account of Pegu" (1563) III

From the port of Martaban, Federici sailed to Bayinnaung's capital at Pegu. Federici describes the Burmese king Bayinnaung's capital, palace, elephants, and army in great detail. He also shows Bayinnaung at work with the daily administrative work of his kingdom.

Later in the travelogue, the commerce of Pegu is described in great detail. Federici notes that only colorful Indian cloth from San Tome is claimed to be profitable but quickly dives into details that will make your head spin. These details on commerce need to be related to the larger context of maritime trade on the Bay of Bengal. A lot of this work has probably already been done by previous historians. An annotated bibliography of secondary sources that use Federici might be a good idea.

Sea travel was faster and safer than overland travel, so Federici chose to travel to Pegu by sea which took three or four days. He describes what it was like to travel in various boats in great detail.

Bayinnaung's Capital Pegu

Arriving in Pegu, Frederici found two cities, an old city and the new city built by king Bayinnaung:

“…in the old Citie are the Merchant straungers, and Merchants of the Countrie, for there are the greatest doings and the greatest trade. This Citie is not very great, but it hath very great suburbes. Their houses be made with canes, and covered with leaves, or with straw, but the merchants have all one house or Magason, which house they call Godon, which is made of brickes, and there they put all their goods of any value, to save them from the often mischances that there happen to houses made of such stuffe.

“In the new Citie is the Palace of the King, and his abiding place with all his Barons and Nobles, and other Gentlemen; and in the time that I was there, they finished the building of the new Citie: it is a great Citie, very plaine and flat, and foure square, walled round about, and with Ditches that compasse the Walls about with water, in which Ditches are many Crockadels. It hath no drawe-bridges, yet it hath twenty Gates, five for every square on the Walls, there are many places made for Centinels to watch, made of Wood and covered or gilt with Gold, the Streets thereof are the fairest that I have seene, they are as streight as a line from one Gate to another, and standing at the one Gate you may discover to the other, and they are as broad as ten or twelve men may ride a-breast in them: and those Streets that be thwart are faire and large, these Streets, both on the one side and the other, are planted at the doores of the Houses with Nut trees of India, which make a very commodious shadow, the Houses be made of wood, and covered with a kind of tiles in forme of Cups, very necessary for their use.

Federici describes the king’s palace in the new city. It is, “made in forme of a walled Castle, with ditches full of water round about it, the Lodgings within are made of wood all over gilded, with fine pynacles, and very costly worke, covered with plates of gold. Truly it may be a Kings house."

He was forced to view the elephants and make a contribution to their keepers:

“…within the gate there is a faire large Court, from the one side to the other, wherein there are made places for the strongest and stoutest Eliphantes, hee hath foure that be white, a thing so rare, that a man shall hardly finde another King that hath any such, as if this King knowe any other that hath white Elephants, he sendeth for them as for a gift. The time that I was there, there were two brought out of a farre Countrie, and that cost me something the sight them, for that they command the Merchants to goe to see them, and then they must give somewhat to the men that bring them: the Brokers of the Merchants give for every man halfe a Ducket, which they call a Tansa, which amounteth to a great summe, for the number of Merchants that are in that Citie; and when they have payd the aforesaid Tansa, they may chuse whether they will see them at that time or no, because that when they are in the Kings stall, every man may see them that will: but at that time they must goe and see them, for it is the kings pleasure it should be so.

He describes where the elephants are kept:

“He esteemeth these white Elephants very deerely, and they are had in great regard, and kept with very meet service, every one of them is in a house, all gilded over, and they have their meate given them in vessels of silver and gold. There is one blacke Eliphant, the greatest that hath beene seene, and he is kept according to his bignesse; he is nine cubits high, which is a marvellous thing. It is reported that this King hath foure thousand Elephants of Warre, and all have their teeth, and theyuse to put on their two uppermost teeth sharpe pikes of Iron, and make them fast with rings, because these beasts fight and make battell with their teeth; hee hath also very many young Eliphantes that have not their teeth sprouted forth: also this King hath a brave devise in hunting to take these Eliphantes when he will, two miles from the Citie."


Frederici describes how the Burmese hunt and catch wild elephants and then goes on to describe the Bayinnaung’s armies and the role that elephants play in battle (p. 143):

”It is reported that the greatest strength that the King of Pegu hath is in these Eliphantes, for when they goe to battell, they set on their backes a Castle of wood bound thereto, with bands under his bellie: and in everie Castle foure men, verie commodiouslie sette to fight with Harqubuses, with Bowes and arrowes, with Dartes, with Pikes, and other launcing weapons: and they say that the skinne of this Eliphant is so hard, that an Harquebusse will not pierce it, unlesse it be in the eye, temples, or some other tender place of his body.

“And besides this, they are of great strength, and have a very excellent order in their battell, as I have seene at their Feasts which they make in the yeere, in which Feasts the King makes Triumphs, which is a rare thing and worthie memorie, that in so barbarous a People there should bee such goodly orders as they have in their Armies, which be distinct in squares of Eliphants, of Horsemen, of Harquebusers and Pikemen, that truly the number of them are infinite: but their armour and weapons are very naught and weake, as well the one as the other: they have very bad Pikes, their Swords are worse made, like long Knives without points,,

"...his Harquebusses are most excellent, and alwaies in his warres he hath eighty thousand Harquebusses, and the number of them encreaseth daily. Because the King will have them shoot every day at the Plancke, and so by continuall exercise they become most excellent shot: also he hath great Ordnance made of very good metall; to conclude, there is not a King on the Earth that hath more power or strength then this King of Pegu, because hee hath twenty and sixe crowned Kings at his command. Hee can make in his Campe a million and an halfe of men of warre in the field against his Enemies."

“The state of his Kingdome, and maintenance of his Armie, is a thing incredible to consider, and the victuals that should maintayne such a number of people in the warres: but he that knoweth the nature and qualitie of that people, will easily beleeve it. I have seene with mine eyes, that those people and Souldiers have eaten of all sorts of wilde beasts that are on the earth, whether it be very filthie or otherwise all serveth for their mouthes: yea, I have seene them eate Scorpions and Serpents, also they feed of all kinde of herbes and grasse. So that if such a great Armie want not Water and Salt, they will maintayne themselves a long time in a bush with rootes, flowers, and leaves of trees, they carrie Rice with them for their Voyage, and that serveth them in stead of Comfits, it is so dainty unto them.”

Wealth of the Kingdom

Federici then goes on to describe the great wealth of Bayinnaung consisting of gold, silver, gem stones, and the treasury where it is all kept.

“And within this place or Court are foure gilded houses covered with Lead, and in every one of these are certaine heathenish Idols of a very great valure. In the first house there is a Statue of the image of a Man of gold very great, and on his head a Crowne of gold beset with most rare Rubies and Saphires, and round about him are foure litle children of gold. In the second house there is the Statue of a Man of silver, that is set as it were sitting on heapes of money: whose stature in height, as he sitteth, is so high, that his highnesse exceeds the height of any one roofe of an house; I measured his feet, and found that they were as long as all my body was in height, with a Crowne of his head like to the first. And in the third house there is a Statue of. brasse of the same bignesse, with a like Crowne on his head. In the fourth and last house, there is a Statue of a Man as big as the other, which is made of Gansa, which is the metall they make their money of, and this metall is made of Copper and Lead mingled together.

“This Statue also hath a Crowne on his head like the first: this treasure being of such a value as it is, standeth in an open place that every man at his pleasure may goe and see it: for the keepers thereof never forbid any man the sight thereof. I say as I have said before, that this King every yeere in his feasts triumpheth: and because it is worthie of the noting, I thinke it meet to write thereof, which is as followeth. The King rideth on a triumphant Cart or Wagon all gilded, which is drawne by sixteene goodly Horses: and this Cart is very high with a goodly Canopie over it, behind the Cart goe twenty of his Lords and Nobles, with every one a rope in his hand made fast to the Cart for to hold it upright that it fall not. The King sitteth in the middle of the Cart; and upon the same Cart about the King stand foure of his Nobles most favoured of him, and before this Cart wherein the King is, goeth all his Armie as aforesaid, and in the middle of his Armie goeth all his Nobilitie, round about the Cart, that are in his Dominions, a marvellous thing it is to see so many people, such riches and such good order in a People so barbarous as they bee. This King of Pegu hath one principall wife, which is kept in a Seralyo, hee hath three hundreth Concubines, of whom it is reported, that hee hath ninetie children.

Royal Administrative Work

Bayinnaung is described in his daily administrative work in the throne hall dispensing justice:

“This King sitteth every day in person to heare the suits of his Subjects, but he nor they never speake one to another, but by supplications made in this order. The King sitteth up aloft in a great Hall, on a Tribunall seate, and lower under him sit all his Barons round about, then those that demand audience enter into a great Court before the King, and there set them downe on the ground forty paces distant from the Kings person, and amongst those people there is no difference in matters of audience before the King, but all alike, and there..

He describes the legal documents written on palm leaf manuscripts:

“they sit with their supplications in their hands, which are made of long leaves of a tree, these leaves are three quarters of a yard long, and two fingers broad, which are written with a sharpe Iron made for the purpose, and in those leaves are their supplications written, and with their supplications, they have in their hands a present or gift, according to the weightinesse of their matter.

“Then come the Secretaries downe to reade these supplications, taking them and reading them before the King, and if the King thinke it good to doe to them that favour or justice that they demand, then hee commandeth to take the presents out of their hands: but if he thinke their demand be not just or according to right, he commandeth them away without taking of their gifts or presents.”

Federici describes the severe inheritance tax of one third of a deceased foreigner’s wealth (p. 146).