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Rectangular tapestry fragment in beige and blue-purple, with select details picked out in yellow. The central field depicts an arcade sheltering alternating male and female human figures.

Passage Between Worlds

Exchanges Along the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in the Middle Ages

This initiative responds to broader trends that explore global connections in the medieval world, building on Dumbarton Oaks’ traditional strengths in studies of Mediterranean cultures and connecting to new questions developed in connection to exchanges along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. In pursuing this thematic year, we want to activate Dumbarton Oaks’ programming capacities across the institution to experiment in developing events that draw on our full expertise, resources, and collections in a coordinated, innovative manner. At the same time, we hope to forge collaborations with DC and international institutions in the pursuit of new frameworks for exploring Byzantium’s global connections.  

Schedule of Events StoryMaps  Bibliography

Schedule of Events

Events at Dumbarton Oaks

March 4, 2023 |  "Friend, Foe, or Something in Between: Byzantium and Egypt"

The 2023 Spring Byzantine Studies Teaching Day focused on late antique and medieval Egypt, its people, and its ever-changing relationship with Byzantium. 

October 13, 2023 | "Egyptian Textiles and Medieval Indian Ocean Trade"

The 2023 Dumbarton Oaks Museum Graduate Study Day, will consider Indian cotton textiles found in Egypt, India, and Indonesia and emblematic of a vibrant maritime trade network found east of the Mediterranean Sea in the late antique and medieval periods.

Supported Events

September 21–23, 2023 | "The Liturgies of the Church of Alexandria: From Late Antique Origins to the Medieval Heritage"

An international symposium at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC

November 3-4, 2023 | "Sinai - Venice and Western World"

An International Conference at the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice

November 27–29, 2023 | Shopping and Weighing Instruments in the Mediterranean World and Beyond Throughout History

The Second International Suna & Inan Kiraç Symposium on Mediterranean Civilizations at Koç University AKMED, Turkey

Events at Other Organizations

November 19, 2023–March 3, 2024 | "Africa and Byzantium"

Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

December 3, 2023–March 3, 2024 | "Ethiopia at the Crossroads"

Exhibition at The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore


This collection of StoryMaps weaves together a narrative of the Red Sea region between the 6th - 18th centuries that places the Red Sea at the center of its own narrative. Through the lenses of the apothecary, material culture, and the human act of pilgrimage, the Red drove important social rituals and tastes that connected the shores of India to the ports of Cyprus, Venice, and Spain. It is thus a view of the Red Sea as a passage between worlds and as a distinct cultural sphere that drives this digital exhibition.

The Red Sea Corridor: A Passage of Exchange and Pilgrimage

The story of the Red Sea begins with four brief historical snapshots of the Red Sea region from 500 to 1750 CE, including the Romans, Islamic Caliphates, Crusader Kingdoms, and the Ottoman Turks.

Traveling for Faith and Journeying for Knowledge: People, Pilgrims, and Pluralism

Take a journey through the history of pilgrimage in the Red Sea, its vital part in shaping cultures well beyond its shores, interrogate what it means to be a pilgrim, and learn how the Red Sea remains an important center for pilgrims seeking the holy today.

Consecrated Luxury and Luxurious Medicine: A Red Sea Story of Commodities and Connectivity

Learn about the significant cultural implications of the intermixing of people and commodities in the Red Sea region for Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean that still resonate to this day.



Autiero Serena and Matthew Adam Cobb, eds. Globalization and Transculturality from Antiquity to the Pre-Modern World. Routledge, 2022.

Dalal, Radha, Sean Roberts and Jochen Sokoly, eds., The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021.

Flood, Barry and Beate Fricke. Tales Things Tell: Material Histories of Early Globalisms. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023.

Ghosh, Amitav. The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Lambourn, Elizabeth, ed. A Cultural History of the Sea in the Medieval Age (800-1450). London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

Mattingly, D. J., V. Leitch, C. N. Duckworth, et al. Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017

Miller, Peter N., ed., The Sea: Thalassography and Historiography New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2013

Pedrosa, Adriano, Tomás Toledo, Ayrson Heráclito, Deborah Willis, Hélio Menezes, Kanitra Fletcher, Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, Vivian Crockett, and Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand organizer, host institution. 2021. Afro-Atlantic Histories. New York, NY, United States : São Paulo, SP, Brazil: DelMonico Books, ARTBOOK/D.A.P. ; MASP, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.


Achi, Andrea Meyers, ed. Africa and Byzantium. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2023.

Sciacca, Christine, ed. Ethiopia at the Crossroads. Baltimore: The Walters Art Museum, 2023.

Red Sea (General)

Agius, Dionisius A., Emad Khalil, et al. Human Interaction with the Environment in the Red Sea: Selected Papers of Red Sea Project VI. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017.

Keay, Simon, ed. Rome, Portus and the Mediterranean. See especially: Peacock, David, “The Roman Red Sea Port Network.” London: British School at Rome, 2012.

Peppard, Michael. “A Letter Concerning Boats in Berenike and Trade on the Red Sea.” Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphik 171 (2009): 193–98.

Power, Timothy, and Adam el Sehemy. The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500-1000. Cairo, Egypt; New York, New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2012.

Goitein, S. D. Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Indian Ocean Trade (General)

Alpers, Edward A. The Indian Ocean in World History. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Alpers, Edward A., and Chhaya Goswami, eds. Transregional Trade and Traders: Situating Gujarat in the Indian Ocean from Early Times to 1900. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Ashur, Amir and Elizabeth Lambourn. “Yemen and India from the Rise of Islam to 1500.” In The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 5, edited by Philip Ackerman-Lieberman, 223-254. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Chandra, Moti. Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1977.

Cobb, Matthew Adam. “Balancing the Trade: Roman Cargo Shipments to India.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 34.2 (2015): 185-203.

Cobb, Matthew Adam, ed. The Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity: Political, Cultural and Economic Impacts. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2019.

De Romanis, Federico and Marco Maiuro, eds. Across the Ocean: Nine Essays on Indo-Mediterranean Trade. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015.

Durand, Caroline, Julie Marchand, et al, eds. Networked Spaces: The Spatiality of Networks in the Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean: Proceedings of the Red Sea Conference IX, Lyon, 2-5 July 2019. Lyon: MOM Éditions, 2022.

Goitein, S. D. and Mordechai Akiva Friedman. India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza: India Book, Part One. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2008.

Kowalski, Jean-Marie. “Sailing the Indian Ocean in Ancient Times,” Angles [Online] 9, 2019.

Lambourn, Elizabeth. "Jewish Merchants in the Indian Ocean Trade.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.’

Lambourn, Elizabeth. Abraham’s Luggage: A Social Life of Things in the Medieval Indian Ocean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Lambourn, Elizabeth. “Trade and Containerization: Perspectives from the Indian Ocean World.” In Merchants, Measures and Money: Understanding Technologies of Early Trade in a Comparative Perspective, edited by L. Rahmstorf and G. Barjamovic, 2:99-126.Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2021.

Lambourn, Elizabeth. “Material Cultures of Writing in the Indian Ocean World: A Palm Leaf Letter at the Mamluk Court.” In The Archaeology of Knowledge Traditions of the Indian Ocean World, edited by Himanshu Prabha Ray, 146-169. London and New York: Routledge, 2021.

Lambourn, Elizabeth. “Some New Uses of the Geniza Mercantile Letter–On the Materiality of Writing in the Indian Ocean World.” In Fruit of Knowledge, Wheel of Learning: Essays in Honour of Professor Robert Hillenbrand, edited by Melanie Gibson, 2:158-180. London: Gingko Library, 2022.

Lambourn, Elizabeth. “Borrowed Words in an Ocean of Objects: Geniza Sources and New Cultural Histories of the Indian Ocean.” In Irreverent History: Essays for M.G.S. Narayanan, edited by Kesavan Veluthat and Donald Davis Jr., 363-414. Delhi: Primus Books, 2014.

Pearson, Michael. Trade, Circulation, and Flow in the Indian Ocean World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

India and the Eastern Mediterranean

Darley, Rebecca. Indo-Byzantine Exchange, 4th-7th Centuries: A Global History. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 2013.

Darley, Rebecca. “‘Implicit Cosmopolitanism’ and the Commercial Role of Ancient Lanka.” In Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History, edited by Zoltán Biedermann and Alan Strathern, 44-65. London: UCL Press, 2017.

Darley, Rebecca. “Seen from Across the Sea: India in the Byzantine Worldview.” In Global Byzantium: proceedings of the 50th Spring Symposium of Byzantine, edited by L. Brubaker, R. Darley, and D. Reynolds. Routledge, 2022.

Darley, Rebecca. “The Tale of the Theban Scholastikos, or Journeys in a Disconnected Sea.” Journal of Late Antiquity 12, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 488–518.

Gurukkal, Rajan. Rethinking Classical Indo-Roman Trade: Political Economy of Eastern Mediterranean Exchange Relations. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

McLaughlin, Raoul. Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China. London: Continuum, 2010.

McLaughlin, Raoul. The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword History, 2016.

McLaughlin, Raoul. The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword History, 2014.

Parker, Grant. The Making of Roman India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Whitewright, Julian. “The Ships and Shipping of Indo-Roman trade: A View from the Egyptian Red Sea Ports.” HEROM: Journal on Hellenistic and Roman Material Culture 6.2 (2017): 137-171.

Stoneman, Richard. The Greek Experience of India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.

Tomber, Roberta. Indo-Roman Trade: From Pots to Pepper. London: Duckworth, 2008.

Wilson, Andrew, and Alan Bowman, eds. Trade, Commerce, and the State in the Roman World. See especially: Barbara, Davidde, “The Port of Qana', a Junction between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea,” and Nappo, Dario, “Money and Flows of Coinage in the Red Sea Trade.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Trade in Antiquity

Banaji, Jairus. Exploring the Economy of Late Antiquity: Selected Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Bang, Peter Fibiger. The Roman Bazaar: A Comparative Study of Trade and Markets in a Tributary Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Casson, Lionel. Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text with Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Princeton: Princeton University Pressm 2012.

Evers, Kasper Grønlund. Worlds Apart Trading Together: The Organisation of Long-Distance Trade between Rome and India in Antiquity. Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd., 2017.


Barnes, Ruth. “Indian Cotton for Cairo: The Royal Ontario Museum's Gujarati Textiles and the Early Western Indian Ocean Trade.” Textile History 48, no. 1 (2017): 15–30.

Barnes, Ruth. Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: the Newberry Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Barnes, Ruth. Textiles in Indian Ocean Societies. London; New York: Routledge Curzon, 2005.

McWilliams, Mary and Jochen Sokoly, eds. Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022.


Bollók, Ádám, and István Koncz. “Sixth- and Seventh-Century Elephant Ivory Finds from the Carpathian Basin.” Archæologiai értesítő 145 (2020): 39–68.

Coutu, Ashley, and Damgaard Kristoffer. 2019. “From Tusk to Town.” Studies in Late Antiquity: a Journal 3, no. 4 (2019): 508–46.

Cutler, Anthony. The Craft of Ivory: Sources, Techniques, and Uses in the Modern World, AD 200-1400. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1985.

Pearls and Gems

Schneider, Pierre. “Erythaean Pearls in the Roman World: Features and Aspects of Luxury Consumption (late second century BCE–second century CE).” In The Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity: Political, Cultural and Economic Impacts, edited by Matthew Adam Cobb, 135-156. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2019. 

Cobb, Matthew Adam. Rome and the Indian Ocean Trade from Augustus to the Early Third Century CE. Leiden: Brill, 2018.

Schörle, Katia. “Pearls, Power, and Profit: Mercantile Networks and Economic Considerations of the Pearl Trade in the Roman Empire.” In Across the Ocean: Nine Essays on Indo-Mediterranean Trade, edited by Federico De Romanis and Marco Maiuro, 43-54. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. 


Cobb, Matthew. “Black Pepper Consumption in the Roman Empire.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 61, no.4 (2018): 519–59.

De Romanis, Federico. The Indo-Roman Pepper Trade and the Muziris Papyrus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Mayer, Ernst Emanuel. “‘Tanti non emo, Sexte, piper:’ Pepper Prices, Roman Consumer Culture, and the Bulk of Indo-Roman Trade.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 61.4 (2018): 560-589.


Hattox, Ralph S. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East. University of Washington Press ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Karababa, Emİnegül, and Gülİz Ger. “Early Modern Ottoman Coffeehouse Culture and the Formation of the Consumer Subject.” The Journal of Consumer Research 37, no. 5 (2011): 737–60.

Um, Nancy. The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.

Um, Nancy, Kieko Matteson, and Anand A. Yang. Shipped but Not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade During Yemen's Age of Coffee. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2017.


Bouras-Vallianatos, Petros. “Cross-Cultural Transfer of Medical Knowledge in the Medieval Mediterranean: The Introduction and Dissemination of Sugar-Based Potions from the Islamic World to Byzantium.” Speculum 96, no.4 (2021): 963–1008.

Watson, Andrew M. Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: the Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700-1100. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Pilgrimage and Monasticism

Chitty, Derwas J. The Desert a City: An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism Under the Christian Empire. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.

Kjaer, Lars. “Conquests, Family Traditions and the First Crusade.” Journal of Medieval History 45, no.5 (2017): 553–79.

Petersen, Andrew. “The Archaeology of the Syrian and Iraqi Hajj Routes.” World Archaeology 26, no. 1 (1994): 47–56.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.


Boivin, Nicole, and Dorian Q. Fuller. 2009. “Shell Middens, Ships and Seeds: Exploring Coastal Subsistence, Maritime Trade and the Dispersal of Domesticates in and Around the Ancient Arabian Peninsula.” Journal of World Prehistory 22 (2): 113–80.

Zohar, Motti, and Tali Erickson-Gini. 2020. “The 'Incense Road' from Petra to Gaza: An Analysis Using GIS and Cost Functions.” International Journal of Geographical Information Science: IJGIS 34 (2): 292–310.

Image Credits:
Tunic Neck Panel, Egypt, 4th–6th c., BZ.1953.2.95
Thomas Whittemore's expedition, before leaving the monastery, 1930/31 (MSBZ004_A198, Dumbarton Oaks Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives)
Sufis by a Mountain Spring, c. 1590 (Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Sarah C. Sears Collection, 1936.28)
Watercolor by Netchetailov of wall painting in St. Anthony Monastery depicting Theodore Stratelates (Dumbarton Oaks Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives)