The Golden Khersonese

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The Golden Khersonese

Author: Paul Wheatley

Publisher: UM Press

ISBN: 9789831004982

Pages: 388pp

Year: 2010

Price: RM65

This wholly admirable book by Professor Wheatley represents a major landmark in the study of Asian historical geography. The title, the “Golden Khersonese”, is derived from Ptolemy’s Geography, and is in fact the name by which he and his contemporaries referred to the Malay peninsula south of the latitude of Cape Tavoy. Any scholar who seeks to reconstruct its early historical geography is beset by many problems which are largely unfamiliar to those of his fellows whose work is concentrated in the temperate occidental land of Europe or North America. And indeed, owing to the many and wide variations which this last fact entails in the mere transliteration of ordinary vernacular names, the key to the early historical geography of such an area as this lies, as the author says, in the identification of place-names.

Professor Wheatley’s impressive combination of geographical and linguistic skills has enabled him to produce a series of most convincing reconstructions of the early geography of the Malay Peninsula. After a brief introductory chapter, he proceeds to examine the main available geographical accounts of the peninsula in early times. These include the records of the Chinese, the Western Classical writers, Indians and the Arabs, and his discussion and exposition of these four groups of records in Parts I to IV forms the main core of the book. In all cases the argument is clearly set out and excellently illustrated by well produced maps. Extensive quotations are given, many of them in the original language as well as in English translation. Professor Wheatley has shown great skill in maintaining the continuity of his account by the way in which he has relegated the more detailed discussion of the sources to appropriate appendices.

In the last three parts of the book Professor Wheatley attempts to bring together the evidence culled from these various groups writings in order to elucidate some of the most important historico-geographical problems in the region. He concludes that Langkasuka was in the vicinity of modern Patani, and the city state of Takola Emporion was in the north-west of the peninsula probably near Trang. Altogether this is a most satisfying book, not least because the high standard of the author’s scholarship is matched by his skill in the organization of his material and by the quality of his prose.

(Charles Fisher, The Geographical Journal, March 1962, pp. 88-89)

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