Category Archives: Asia

cosmo kramer in his underwear

Extraordinary Travelers – Cosmas the Flat Earther

Sorry Seinfeld fans, I’m not talking about Cosmo Kramer. Cosmas Indicopuleustes was a far more fascinating figure though, although probably not as delightful at opening doors and making witty comments.

Cosmas was a writer, merchant, traveler, monk who is most famous for his 6th century tome Christian Topography in which he provided some of the earliest world maps on record for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

cosmas indian ocean explorerBefore becoming a monk and a hermit, Cosmas was a very successful voyager and trader who visited Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, and most famously, India. Cosmas seemingly difficult last name was easy for Byzantines and Greeks – it was Indicopleustes and essentially means  “Voyager of the Indian Ocean” – which was helpful when you were trying to remember which Cosmas to invite to your Christmas party – you wouldn’t want to accidentally invite the one who explored the Aegean – Cosmas Aegeapleustes…that guy is impossible to deal with…

Of course, you might not have wanted to invite Cosmas Indicopleustes either since one of his most famous conventions was that the world was flat. It was he who introduced that idea to the early Christian Church. He spent considerable time in his book and in his life trying to prove that Ptolemy’s view that the Earth was a sphere was laughable.  He was of the much more (to him) reasonable opinion that it was flat and had a treasure chest type lid  on it.

flat earth photo by John O'Sullivan

He was not the person that ‘cosmology’ was named after, though it was one of his passions.  Mostly, it was the fact that he covered some serious ground and drew maps about it, that he is remembered for, though, like Donald Trump, his ridiculous views about some things eclipse his true accomplishments.

 

genghis khan map

Nomad Vagabond – Genghis Khan

Traveling round the world doesn’t usually involve conquest of foreign lands but for Temujin, also known as Genghis Khan, conquest was probably just a means of travel. Starting with nothing as an exile and prisoner means he was certainly an extraordinary vagabond.

Genghis Khan was a nomad, in other words he was a world traveler of sort. Genghis Khan’s real name in his childhood was Temujin. When his brother poisoned his father Temujin killed his brother and in punishment he was thrown into forest, he was held in prison by his former friends after that. vagobond genghis khanAfter few years, Temujin rose up as a powerful leader and united the tribes of the Mongol people. With this goal accomplished, he and his Mongol hordes targeted many and far lands. From the time of his unification of the Mongol tribes, the Mongols called him Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan first attacked the Tangut tribes to the west of the Mongol homeland. His first important foreign venture was not an easy one, but he brought the tribes of Tangut to their knees by 1209, which was the beginning of his empire. Genghis targeted east and south after that, this was the land ruled by Jin Dynasty of China. Genghis Khan captured Beijing, bringing the pressure to the Jin emperor and managing to restrain the complete northern half of the kingdom.

Want to know more about Genghis Khan?
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan : His Life and Legacy
Genghis Khan – To the Ends of Earth and Sea (DVD)
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (DVD)

Kara-Khitan which is called “Xinjiang” today by the Chinese government was the next battleground of Genghis Khan. With just 20,000 soldiers, the Mongols brought the surrender of Kara-Khitan by 1218. Now Genghis Khan’s empire extended from shores of China in the east to Kazakhstan in west.

genghis khan mapThis was not enough and Genghis Khan desired more. He set his eyes on his new neighbor, the Khwarezmid Empire. It stretched from Kazakhstan to the banks of Persian Gulf, surrounding most of Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and half of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. At first Genghis Khan tried to establish a booming trade partnership with Khwarezmids, but the leader of Khwarezmid attacked his 500 man caravan. After this, he foolishly refused to pay compensation for his act. Genghis Khan later sent his group of ambassadors to the Shah of Khwarezmid in a hope to have some kind of political trade relationship. But the Shah refused his proposal, Genghis Khan invaded Khwarezmid and executed the Shah. After this horrible conquest of Khwarezmid Empire, he headed across Afghanistan and northern India.

By the end of his life, Temujin had conquered everything from Asia all the way to Europe’s doorstep. Most of modern Turkey, parts of Greece, and even portions of Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia were his domain.

As a world traveler, he spilled a lot more blood than most, but the fact is he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history and saw more of the world than most people ever will.

Vagabond Harry Franck

Extraordinary Vagabonds: Harry Franck, Pioneer of the Vagabonds

In terms of extraordinary vagabonds, it’s hard to imagine someone who fits the bill more than Harry Franck. This literary vagabond traveled the world and wrote more than thirty books about his adventures during the early 1900′s.

Among Franck’s books are:

A Vagabond Journey Around the World (1910, The Century Company)
Four Months Afoot in Spain (1911, Century Company)
Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras (1916, The Century Company)
Trailing Cortez Through Mexico
Vagabonding Down the Andes (1917, The Century Company)
Vagabonding Through Changing Germany (1920, Harper)
Roaming Through the West Indies (1920, The Century Company)
Working North from Patagonia (1921, The Century Company)
Wandering in Northern China (1923, The Century Company)
Marco Polo Junior(1929, The Century Company)
Zone Policeman 88 (Panama Canal)
South America:
Prince of the Vagabonds: Harry Franck
Glimpses of Japan and Formosa (1924, The Century Company)
Roving Through Southern China (1925, The Century Company)
All About Going Abroad (1927, Brentano’s Inc.)
East of Siam (1926, The Century Company)
The Fringe of the Moslem World (1928, The Century Company)
I Discover Greece (1929, The Century Company)
A Scandinavian Summer (1930, The Century Company)
Foot-Loose in the British Isles (1932, The Century Company)
Trailing Cortez Through Mexico (1935,Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
A Vagabond in Sovietland (1935, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
Roaming in Hawaii(1937, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
Sky Roaming Above Two Continents (1938, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
The Lure of Alaska (1939, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing, later printings by JB Lippincott Co.)
Rediscovering South America (1943, JB Lippincott Co.)

As you can see by his titles, this guy got around and was most certainly a pioneer of the modern vagabond spirit. What makes him special is that he was at that point when mass travel was just becoming an option for getting from place to place. As you can see from the picture above, Franck was a backpacker in an age when there really weren’t any backpackers. Certainly he had to make his own gear and figure out things that would make most modern backpackers quiver with nervousness.
Vagabond Harry Franck Franck’s first journey was after his freshman year of college when he decided to see Europe with just $3.18. Not a lot of money even in the 1900′s. He did it. The next year, on a bet, he managed to work his way not only across the Atlantic but around the world with no money at all to start and then published Vagabond Journey Around the World in 1910.

Harry Franck’s willingness to travel with no money, his keen eye for the details of his journey and the societies he recorded (some of which soon disappeared) make him a welcome addition to our list of Extraordinary Vagabonds.