VARTHEMA (BARTHEMA, VERTOMANNUS, etc.), LUDOVICO DI, of Bologna (fl. 1502-1510), Italian traveller and writer. He was perhaps a soldier before beginning his distant journeys, which he undertook apparently from a passion for adventure, novelty and the fame which (then especially) attended successful exploration. He left Europe near the end of 1502; early in 1503 he reached Alexandria and ascended the Nile to Cairo. From Egypt he sailed to Beirut and thence travelled to Tripoli, Aleppo and Damascus, where he managed to get himself enrolled, under the name of Yunas (Jonah), in the Mameluke garrison doubtless after adopting Islam. From Damascus he made the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina as one of the Mameluke escort of the Hajj caravan (April- June 1503); he describes the sacred cities of Islam and the chief pilgrim sites and ceremonies with remarkable accuracy, almost all his details being confirmed by later writers. With the view of reaching India, he embarked at Jidda, the port of Mecca, and sailed down the Red Sea and through the Straits of Bab- elMandeb to Aden, where he was arrested and imprisoned as a Christian spy. He gained his liberty after imprisonment both at Aden and Radaa through the partiality of one of the sultanas of Yemen, made an extensive tour in south-west Arabia (visiting Sana, etc.), and took ship at Aden for the Persian Gulf and India. On the way he touched at Zaila and Berbera in Somaliland; he then (early in 1504?) ran across to the Indian port of Diu in Gujarat, afterwards famous ai a Portuguese fortress. From Diu he sailed up the Gulf oi Cambay to Gogo, and thence turning back towards the Persian Gulf made Julfar (just within the entrance of the gulf), Muscat and Ormuz. From Ormuz he seems to have journeyed across Persia to Herat, returning thence south-west to Shiraz, where he entered into partnership with a Persian merchant, who accompanied him during nearly all his travels in South Asia. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach Samarkand, the two returned to Shiraz, came down to Ormuz, and took ship for India. From the mouth of the Indus Varthema coasted down the whole west coast of India, touching at Cambay and Chaul; at Goa, whence he made an excursion inland to Bijapur; at Cannanore, from which he again struck into the interior to visit Vijayanagar on the Tungabudra; and at Calicut (1505?), where he stops to describe the society, manners and customs of Malabar, as well as the topography and trade of the city, the court and government of its sovereign (the Zamorin), its justice, religion, navigation and military organization. Nowhere do Varthema's accuracy and observing power show themselves more strikingly. Passing on by the " backwater of Cochin," and calling at Kulam (Quilon), he rounded Cape Comorin, and passed over to Ceylon (1506?). Though his stay here was brief (at Colombo?), he learnt a good deal about the island, from which he sailed to Pulicat, slightly north of Madras, then subject to Vijayanagar. Thence he crossed over to Tenasserim in the Malay Peninsula, to Banghella, perhaps near Chittagong, at the head of the Bay of Bengal, and to Pegu, in the company of his Persian friend and of two Chinese Christians (Nestorians ?) whom he met at Banghella. After some successful trading with the king of Pegu, Varthema and his party sailed on to Malacca, crossed over to Pider (Pedir) in Sumatra, and thence proceeded to Bandan (Banda) and Monoch (one of the Moluccas), the farthest eastward points reached by the Italian traveller. From the Moluccas he returned westward, touched at Borneo, and there chartered a vessel for Java, the " largest of islands," as his Christian companions reckoned it. He notes the use of compass and chart by the native captain on the transit from Bornei to Giava, and preserves a curious, more than half-mythical, reference to supposed Far Southern lands. From Java he crossed over to Malacca, where he and his Persian ally parted from the Chinese Christians; from Malacca he returned to the Coromandel coast, and from Negapatam (?) in Coromandel he voyaged back, round Cape Comorin, to Kulam and Calicut. Varthema was now anxious to resume Christianity and return to Europe; after some time he succeeded in deserting to the Portuguese garrison at Cannanore (early in 1506?). He fought for the Portuguese in various engagements, and was knighted by the viceroy Francisco d' Almeida, the navigator Tristan da Cunha being his " sponsor." Fora year and a half he acted as Portuguese factor at Cochin, and on the 6th of December 1507 (?) he finally left India for Europe by the Cape route. Sailing from Cannanore, Varthema apparently struck Africa about Malindi, and (probably) coasting by Mombasa and Kilwa arrived at Mozambique, where he notices the Portuguese fortress then building, and describes with his usual accuracy the negroes of the mainland. Beyond the Cape of Good Hope he encountered furious storms, but arrived safely in Lisbon after sighting St Helena and Ascension, and touching at the Azores. In Portugal the king received him cordially, kept him some days at court " to learn about India," and confirmed the knighthood conferred by d' Almeida. His narrative finally brings him to Rome, where he takes leave of the reader. As Richard Burton says (Pilgrimage to . . . Meccah, 1855, vol. ii. p. 352): "For correctness of observation and readiness of wit " Varthema " stands in the foremost rank of the old Oriental travellers." In Arabia and in the Indian archipelago east of Java he is (for Europe and Christendom) a real discoverer. Even where passing over ground traversed by earlier European explorers, his keen intelligence frequently adds valuable original notes on peoples, manners, customs, laws, religions, products, trade, methods of war, etc.
Varthema's work (Itinerario de Liidouico de Varthema Bolognese . . . ) was first published in Italian at Rome in 1510 (ad instatia de Lodouico de Henricis da Corneto Vicetino). Other Italian editions appeared at Rome, 1517, at Venice, 1518, 1535, 1563, 1589, etc., at Milan, 1519, 1523, 1525, etc. Latin translations appeared at Milan, 1511 (by Archangelus Madrignanus) ; and at Nuremberg, 1610 (Frankfort, 1611); as well as in the Novus Orbis of Simon Grynaeus (Basel, 1532). German versions came out at Augsburg, 1515 (Strassburg, 1516); at Strassburg, by Michael Herr, in his New Welt, from Grynaeus, 1534; at Leipzig, by Hieronymus Megiserus, 1610 (and 1615), etc. A Spanish translation was issued at Seville, 1520 (from the Latin), and a French at Lyons, 1556. Dutch versions were printed at Antwerp, 1563 (from Grynaeus), at Utrecht, 1615 (from the Leipzig German of 1610), and again at Utrecht, 1655. The first English translation was of 1576-1577 (in Richard Eden s History of Travayle); an extract from Varthema was inserted in Samuel Purchas's Pilgrimage (London, 1625-1626); and in 1865 appeared the Hakluyt Society edition by J. W. Jones and G. P. Badger (Travels of Ludovico di Varthema, London). (C. R. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)