1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hormuz

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HORMUZ (Hurmuz, Ormuz, Ormus), a famous city on the shores of the Persian Gulf, which occupied more than one position in the course of history, and has now long practically ceased to exist. The earliest mention of the name occurs in the voyage of Nearchus (325 B.C.). When that admiral beached his fleet at the mouth of the river Anamis on the shore of Harmozia, a coast district of Carmania, he found the country to be kindly, rich in every product except the olive. The Anamis appears to be the river now known as the Minab, discharging into the Persian Gulf near the entrance of the latter. The name Hormuz is derived by some from that of the Persian god Hormuzd (Ormazd), but it is more likely that the original etymology was connected with khurma, “a date”; for the meaning of Moghistan the modern name of the territory Harmozia is “the region of date-palms.” The foundation of the city of Hormuz in this territory is ascribed by one Persian writer to the Sassanian Ardashir Babegan (c. 230 A.D.). But it must have existed at an earlier date, for Ptolemy takes note of Ἅρμονζα πόλις (vi. 8).

Hormuz is mentioned by Idrisi, who wrote c. 1150, under the title of Hormuz-al-sāhilīah, “Hormuz of the shore” (to distinguish it from inland cities of the same name then existing), as a large and well-built city, the chief mart of Kirman. Siraf and Kish (Ḳais), farther up the gulf, had preceded it as ports of trade with India, but in the 13th century Hormuz had become the chief seat of this traffic. It was at this time the seat also of a petty dynasty of kings, of which there is a history by one of their number (Turan Shah); an abstract of it is given by the Jesuit Teixeira. According to this history the founder of the dynasty was Shah Mohammed Dirhem-Kub (“the Drachma-coiner”), an Arab chief who crossed the gulf and established himself here. The date is not given, but it must have been before 1100 A.D., as Ruḳnuddīn Mahmūd, who succeeded in 1246, was the twelfth of the line. These princes appear to have been at times in dependence necessarily on the atabegs of Fars and on the princes of Kirman. About the year 1300 Hormuz was so severely and repeatedly harassed by raids of Tatar horsemen that the king and his people abandoned their city on the mainland and transferred themselves to the island of Jerun (Organa of Nearchus), about 12 m. westward and 4 m. from the nearest shore.

The site of the continental or ancient Hormuz was first traced in modern times by Colonel (Sir Lewis) Pelly when resident at Bushire. It stands in the present district of Minab, several miles from the sea, and on a creek which communicates with the Minab river, but is partially silted up and not now accessible for vessels. There remain traces of a long wharf and extensive ruins. The new city occupied a triangular plain forming the northern part of the island, the southern wall, as its remains still show, being about 2 m. in extent from east to west. A suburb with a wharf or pier, called Turan Bagh (garden of Turan) after one of the kings, a name now corrupted to Trumpak, stood about 3 m. from the town to the south-east.

Odoric gives the earliest notice we have of the new city (c. 1320). He calls it Ormes, a city strongly fortified and abounding in costly wares, situated on an island 5 m. distant from the main, having no trees and no fresh water, unhealthy and (as all evidence confirms) incredibly hot. Some years later it was visited more than once by Ibn Batuta, who seems to speak of the old city as likewise still standing. The new Hormuz, called also Jerun (i.e. still retaining the original name of the island), was a great and fine city rising out of the sea, and serving as a mart for all the products of India, which were distributed hence over all Persia. The hills on the island were of rock-salt, from which vases and pedestals for lamps were carved. Near the gate of the chief mosque stood an enormous skull, apparently that of a sperm-whale. The king at this time was Kutbuddīn Tahamtan, and the traveller gives a curious description of him, seated on the throne, in patched and dirty raiment, holding a rosary of enormous pearls, procured from the Bahrein fisheries, which at one time or another belonged, with other islands in the gulf and on the Oman shores from Rās-el-had (C. Rosalgat of the Portuguese) on the ocean round to Julfar on the gulf, to the princes of Hormuz. Abdurazzāk, the envoy of Shah Rukh on his way to the Hindu court of Vijayanagar, was in Hormuz in 1442, and speaks of it as a mart which had no equal, frequented by the merchants of all the countries of Asia, among which he enumerates China, Java, Bengal, Tenasserim, Shahr-ī-nao (i.e. Siam) and the Maldives. Nikitin, the Russian (c. 1470), gives a similar account; he calls it “a vast emporium of all the world.”

In September 1507 the king of Hormuz, after for some time hearing of the terrible foe who was carrying fire and sword along the shores of Arabia, saw the squadron of Alphonso d’Albuquerque appear before his city, an appearance speedily followed by extravagant demands, by refusal of these from the ministers of the young king, and by deeds of matchless daring and cruelty on the part of the Portuguese, which speedily broke down resistance. The king acknowledged himself tributary to Portugal, and gave leave to the Portuguese to build a castle, which was at once commenced on the northern part of the island, commanding the city and the anchorage on both sides. But the mutinous conduct and desertion of several of Albuquerque’s captains compelled him suddenly to abandon the enterprise; and it was not till 1514, after the great leader had captured Goa and Malacca, and had for five years been viceroy, that he returned to Hormuz (or Ormuz, as the Portuguese called it), and without encountering resistance to a name now so terrible, laid his grasp again on the island and completed his castle. For more than a century Hormuz remained practically in the dominions of Portugal, though the hereditary prince, paying from his revenues a tribute to Portugal (in lieu of which eventually the latter took the whole of the customs collections), continued to be the instrument of government. The position of things during the Portuguese rule may be understood from the description of Cesare de’ Federici, a Venetian merchant who was at Hormuz about 1565. After speaking of the great trade in spices, drugs, silk and silk stuffs, and pearls of Bahrein, and in horses for export to India, he says the king was a Moor (i.e. Mahommedan), chosen by and subordinate to the Portuguese. “At the election of the king I was there and saw the ceremonies that they use . . . The old king being dead, the captain of the Portugals chooseth another of the blood-royal, and makes this election in the castle with great ceremony. And when he is elected the captain sweareth him to be true . . . to the K. of Portugal as his lord and governor, and then he giveth him the sceptre regal. After this . . . with great pomp . . . he is brought into the royal palace in the city. The king keeps a good train and hath sufficient revenues, . . . because the captain of the castle doth maintain and defend his right . . . he is honoured as a king, yet he cannot ride abroad with his train, without the consent of the captain first had” (in Hakluyt).[1]

The rise of the English trade and factories in the Indian seas in the beginning of the 17th century led to constant jealousies and broils with the Portuguese, and the successful efforts of the English company to open traffic with Persia especially embittered their rivals, to whom the possession of Hormuz had long given a monopoly of that trade. The officers of Shāh Abbās, who looked with a covetous and resentful eye on the Portuguese occupation of such a position, were strongly desirous of the aid of English ships in attacking Hormuz. During 1620 and 1621 the ships of Portugal and of the English company had more than once come to action in the Indian seas, and in November of the latter year the council at Surat had resolved on what was practically maritime war with the Portuguese flag. There was hardly a step between this and the decision come to in the following month to join with “the duke of Shirāz” (Imām Kūlī Khān, the governor of Fars) in the desired expedition against Hormuz. There was some pretext of being forced into the alliance by a Persian threat to lay embargo on the English goods at Jashk; but this seems to have been only brought forward by the English agents when, at a later date, their proceedings were called in question. The English crews were at first unwilling to take part in what they justly said was “no merchandizing business, nor were they engaged for the like,” but they were persuaded, and five English vessels aided, first, in the attack of Kishm, where (at the east end of the large island so called) the Portuguese had lately built a fort,[2] and afterwards in that of Hormuz itself. The latter siege was opened on the 18th of February 1622, and continued to the 1st of May, when the Portuguese, after a gallant defence of ten weeks, surrendered. It is to be recollected that Portugal was at this time subject to the crown of Spain, with which England was at peace; indeed, it was but a year later that the prince of Wales went on his wooing adventure to the Spanish court. The irritation there was naturally great, though it is surprising how little came of it. The company were supposed (apparently without foundation) to have profited largely by the Hormuz booty; and both the duke of Buckingham and the king claimed to be “sweetened,” as the record phrases it, from this supposed treasure. The former certainly received a large bribe (£10,000). The conclusion of the transaction with the king was formerly considered doubtful; but entries in the calendar of East India papers seem to show that James received an equal sum.[3]

Hormuz never recovered from this blow. The Persians transferred their establishments to Gombroon on the mainland, about 12 m. to the north-west, which the king had lately set up as a royal port under the name of Bander Abbāsi. The English stipulations for aid had embraced an equal division of the customs duties. This division was apparently recognized by the Persians as applying to the new Bander, and, though the trade with Persia was constantly decaying and precarious, the company held to their factory at Gombroon for the sake of this claim to revenue, which of course was most irregularly paid. In 1683–1684 the amount of debt due to the company in Persia, including their proportion of customs duties, was reckoned at a million sterling. As late as 1690–1691 their right seems to have been admitted, and a payment of 3495 sequins was received by them on this account. The factory at Gombroon lingered on till 1759, when it was seized by two French ships of war under Comte d’Estaing. It was re-established, but at the time of Niebuhr’s visit to the gulf a few years later no European remained. Niebuhr mentions that in his time (c. 1765) Mulla ’Ali Shāh, formerly admiral of Nādir Shāh, was established on the island of Hormuz and part of Kishm as an independent chief.

See also Barros, Asia; Commentaries of Albuquerque, trans. by Birch (Hak. Society); Relaciones de Pedro Teixeira (Antwerp, 1610); Narratives in Hakluyt’s Collection (reprint in 1809, vol. ii.) and in Purchas’s Pilgrims, vol. ii.; Pietro della Valle, Persia, lett. xii.-xvii.; Calendar of E. I. Papers, by Sainsbury, vol. iii.; Ritter, Erdkunde, xii.; Jour. Roy. Geog. Soc., Kempthorne in vol. v., White-locke in vol. viii., Pelly in vol. xxxiv.; Fraser, Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan (1825); Constable and Stifle, Persian Gulf Pilot (1864); Bruce, Annals of the E. I. Company, &c. (1810).  (H. Y.) 

The island has a circumference of 16 m. and its longest axis measures 41/2 m. The village is in 27° 6′ N., 56° 29′ E. The Portuguese fort still stands, but is sadly out of repair and much of its western wall has been undermined and washed away by the action of the sea. It is a bastioned fort with orillons and loopholed casemates under the ramparts and was separated from the town by a deep moat, now silted up, cut E.-W. across the isthmus and crossed by a bridge. It has three cisterns for collecting rainwater; two are 17-18 ft. deep, have a capacity of about 60,000 gallons and are covered by arched roofs supported on six stone pillars. The third cistern is smaller and has no roof. Five rusty old iron guns are lying prone on the roof; six others on the strand before the village are used for fastening boats, another serves as a socket for a flagstaff before the representative of the government. The island is under the jurisdiction of the governor of the Persian Gulf ports who resides at Bushire. Of the old city hardly anything stands except a minaret, 70 ft. high, with a winding staircase inside and much worn away at the base, part of a former mosque used by the Portuguese as a lighthouse, but the traces of buildings, massive foundations constructed of stone quarried in the hills on the island, of many cisterns (some say 300), &c., are numerous and extensive. The modern settlement, situated south of the fort on the eastern shore, has a population of about 1000 during the cool season, but less in the hot season, when many people go over to Minab on the mainland to the east. Most of the people live in huts constructed of the branches and leaves of the date palm. They own about sixty small sailing vessels trading to Muscat and other ports and also do some pearl-fishing. At Turan Bagh on the east coast 41/2 m. S.E. of the fort are some considerable ruins, irrigation canals, an extensive burial ground and some huts occupied by a few families who cultivate a small garden on a terrace supported by old retaining walls. On a hill near the shore 11/2 m. S.E. of the fort is the ruin of a small chapel called “Santa Lucia” on an old map in Astley’s Collection of Voyages, and on the summit of a salt hill 11/2 m. south of the fort are the remains of another chapel called “N.S. de la Pena” on the same map, and a “Monastery” in a sketch of Hormuz made by David Davies, a mate on board the East India Company’s ship “Discovery” in 1627. With the exception of the northern part, where the old city stood, and the little patch at Turan Bagh, the island is covered with reddish brown hills with sharp serrated ridges composed of gypsum, rock-salt and clay. These hills, which do not exceed 300 ft. in height, are broken through in four places by conical, whitish peaks of volcanic rocks (greenstone, trachyte); the highest of these peaks with an altitude of 690 ft. is situated almost in the centre of the island.

The island has extensive beds of red ochre in which nodules of very pure hematite are often found. The ochre, here called gīlek, has been an important article of export for centuries[4] and great quantities of it are exported at the present time to England (in 1906–1907, 10,000 tons; local price 27s. the ton). The climate of Hormuz, although hot, is, according to medical experts, the best in the Persian Gulf. Rain falls in January, February and March, and the annual rainfall is said to be about the same as that of Bushire, 12 to 13 in.

Capt. A. W. Stiffe in Geogr. Mag. (April 1874); William Foster in Geogr. Journal (Aug. 1894); writer’s notes taken on island.  (A. H.-S.) 

  1. In Barros, Dec. II. book x. c. 7, there is a curious detail of the revenue and expenditure of the kingdom of Ormuz, which would seem to exhibit the former as not more than £100,000.
  2. The attack on Kishm was notable in that one of the two Englishmen killed there was the great navigator Baffin.
  3. Colonial Series, E. Indies, by Sainsbury, vol. iii. passim, especially see pp. 296 and 329.
  4. “Reddle or Red Ochre from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire is very little inferior to the Sort brought from the Island of Ormuz in the Persian Gulph and so much valued and used by our Painters under the name of Indian Red” (Sir John Hill, Theophrastus’s History of Stones, London, 1774).