According to Thavatchai Tangsirivanich [1], Ayutthaya is named and portrayed by western map makers at earliest in 1459. Fra Mauro, a Camaldolese
monk from Murano near Venice, received a commission by King Alfonso V of Portugal (1432-1481) to construct a world map. He and sailor-cartographer
Andrea Bianco spent the years 1457 to 1459 in making the requested world map, which was to become the prototype for the map known today as Fra
Mauro's Mappa Mundi. The map was completed on 24 April 1459 and dispatched to Portugal, where it was lost in time. The Seigniory of Venice ordered a
copy of the map. Fra Mauro started the work, but died the next year. Bianco or another of his colleagues finalized the second map. The latter is a large
circular planisphere, drawn on parchment and mounted on wood in a square frame, being now preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice.
In the spaces between rivers and place-names, Fra Mauro drew cities with walls and towers.
Tangsirivanich believes that Ayutthaya was depicted on this map as Scierno. [2]
At first I was a bit skeptic about Tangsirivanich’s theory that the town indicated as “Scierno” on Fra Mauro’s map was Ayutthaya. The medieval Mappae
Mundi, like the Fra Mauro map, did not really aim to depict the “geographical reality”, but wanted to illustrate biblical matters. These maps were not meant
to be itineraries, but to illustrate the Bible and the theological theories. [2] The representation of the East by Fra Mauro is mostly derived from Marco Polo.
It remains extremely difficult to comprehend Mauro's representation of southern Asia.

Tangsirivanich based his theory regarding the denomination of “Scierno” on the Fra Mauro map on the following points.

Persian merchants may have come to Ayutthaya as early as 1351. Charnvit Kasetsiri writes that in the 1292 inscription of Ramkhamhaeng, a Persian word
meaning “bazaar” was used to describe a certain market at Sukhothai, suggesting that there were already some trade connections between Persia and
Sukhothai. Charnvit used the Epigraphic and Historical Studies No 9 written by Griswold and na Nagara as source. [3] The Persian language was used as a
working language for cities on the Bay of Bengal during the Ayutthaya Era.

Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean confirmed the connection between the Persian name "Shahr-i Naw" and Ayutthaya. [4] "Scierno" is derived from the
Persian word "Shahr-i-Nau", the latter being the Persian translation for “New City”. [5]

“Sarnau” or “Sornau” is explained in the Hobson-Jobson's dictionary as “A name often given to Siam in the early part of the 16th century; from Shahr-i-Nao,
Persian for “New city”; the name by which Yuthia or Ayodhya, the capital founded on the Menam about 1350, seems to have become known to the traders
of the Persian Gulf." [6]

Tangsirivanich seems to be quite right in his assumption.

When studying the Fra Mauro map (which should be viewed in the opposite position as the North is under on this map) we can notice a mountain range east
of “Scierno”, likely being the Tenasserim range, a natural border between Burma and Siam.

Next to Scierno we find “fl. Scierno (flumen Scierno) indicating that the river received the same name as the city. A bit northwards we find the name Phison.
The Phison is following the Bible (Genesis 2:10-14 KJV) the first stream of four heads coming out of Eden and drained the land of Havilah, where gold is
found (Suwannaphum / The Golden Chersonese). Indicopleustes, in his Christian Topography (1), identifies the Phison with the Ganges or the Indus, while
Isidore of Seville (c.560-636), the "last scholar of the ancient world", also observes that the "River Ganges, which the Holy Scripture calls Phison, flows from
Paradise to the realms of India.” [7]. Thus many believed the Ganges to be the Phison, the first river of Eden. The Ganges was called by different names,
following the diversity of the languages as Fra Mauro wrote on his map: “Questo fiume è dito scierno, ganges, phison, quinanfu, thalay, e questo per le
diuersità de le lengue.” He painted the river Scierno as being a branch of the Phison or Ganges, the latter being the Mother of Waters [8]. Scierno was thus a
city located along the Mother of Waters, or as the Siamese called it: the Mae Nam.

Fra Mauro relied extensively on the inputs he received from his fellow-Venetian Niccolo di Conti (c.1395-1469) who returned from the East in 1440, for
drawing the Asian part. Di Conti, during his journeys, arrived in Tenasserim (2) from North Sumatra somewhere in 1422 and continued from there by ship to
the mouth of the Ganges and returned overland to Burma. Tenasserim at that time was a second-class province with its capital at Mergui under direct
Siamese jurisdiction, but was ruled by an almost independent viceroy. As a port, Mergui played host to many Muslim and Pagan merchants from Bengal,
Malacca and Gujarat. [9] Di Conti must have heard tales in Tenasserim on the newly built entity of Ayutthaya and its golden temples. This information would
of course have been of interest for medieval map makers, such as Fra Mauro, in a permanent conquest to draft the ultimate world map of that time. Hence
Fra Mauro describes Scierno as: Questa cità de scierno è VI çornade fra terra. El suo fiume nominato scierno ouer ganges è habitado circa XXX çornade
da uno ladi e da l'altro de citade, castelli e palaçi mirabelmente. (translation follows later)

Persian trade

The Muslim Chinese writer Ma Huan, accompanying the famous Ming admiral Cheng Ho on some of his explorations in the Indian Ocean region in the first
half of the 15th century, reported the presence of "five or six hundred families of foreigners" at Ayutthaya (Yu-ti-ya), although without mentioning Persians
among them. But, in 1442, the Persian writer Abd al-Razzaq Samarqandi, in his Matla' al-sa'dayn, refers explicitly to close trade connections between the
Persian Gulf emporium Hormuz and what he refers to as Shahr-i-Nau, a word meaning “New City”, referring to Ayutthaya as we will see in a next
paragraph. [10] The Persian language was used in the trading world of the Gulf of Bengal and the eastern Indian Ocean rim.


“Scierno” is obvious a corruption from the word “Shahr-i-Nau”. The word entered the vocabulary of European travelers to the eastern Indian Ocean region,
since Persian served as the lingua franca of the eastern Islamic world.

Shahr-i Nau (or New City) is said to have been applied since the 14th century throughout Muslim geographical literature (Persian and remarkably as well as
Arabic) with reference to Ayutthaya. There existed different variants of the spelling of this Persian name, important to note, since different meanings are to be
derived from them.

We have the corruption Shahr Nawi from a Malay poem of Hamzah Fansuri and also encountered in the eminent early 16th-century Malay chronicle Sejarah

Authors of Arabic geographical literature of the 15th century, such as the famous Ibn Mujid refer to Shahr-i Nau, calling it Shahr Nawa, which seems to be
the result of a spelling mistake in his Arabic source. [4][10]

Ibn Muhammad Ibrahim emphasized the character of Ayutthaya as a "City of boats and canals"; when referring to Shahr-i Nav he wrote: “The main stray of
travel and transportation in that whole region is the boat. In fact, the name of the country and the capital means city of the boat. However, the local
inhabitants call the city Ajaudia which in their language means big city [sic]. Finally, the Franks and men of learning who have gone more deeply into this
subject refer to the city in their books as Siam.” He used the word throughout his travel account Safinah-i Sulaymani or “The Ship of Sulayman” [11]. With
the Persian expression Shahr-i Nav he is referring to the kingdom of Siam and to its capital Ayutthaya. [10]

Taken in account all the points cited above: the location on the map, the probable source, the fact that Ayutthaya was a newly established city at that time,
the denomination of Ayutthaya being “new city” or “city of boats and canals”, and being situated along the “Mother of Waters” or “Mae Nam”, indicate that
Tangsirivanich’s stance is indeed more than plausible.
Text by Tricky Vandenberg - September 2009

(1) The Christian Topography is a work from the 6th Century originally written as five books by an author known as Cosmas Indicopleustes.
(2) A brief notice by Conti about 1440 AD: " Leaving the island of Taprobane [Sumatra], he arrived, after a stormy voyage of seventeen days, at the city of
Ternassari, which is situated on the mouth of a river of the same name. The land around abounds in elephants and produces much brazil-wood." (Ramusio,
Vol. I, page 339.)


[1] Ayudhya: A cartographic vision 1459-1800 - Thavatchai Tangsirivanich - paper presented at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 25 November 2006.
[2] - data retrieved on 05 September 2009.
[3] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) - page 8 & 79.
[4] Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean before the Coming of the Portuguese - G.R. Tibbetts (2002).
[5] Cathay and the Way Thither - Henry Yule (1866).
[6] Hobson-Jobson’s dictionary - A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases.
[7] The Ganges in myth and history - Steven G. Darian (2001).
[9] Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume I: The Century of Discovery - Donald F. Lach (1994) - page 525 & 526.
[10] From Isfahan to Ayutthaya: contacts between Iran and Siam in the 17th century - Muhammad Ismail Marcinkowski (2005).
[11] The ship of Sulaiman by ibn Muhammad Ibrahim - Translated from the Persian by John O'Kane - London, Routledge & K. Paul (1972).
(Click picture to enlarge)