1902 Encyclopedia > Ormus (Hormuz)

Ormus (Hormuz)

ORMUS. This is the European form of the name Hormuz or Hurmuz, applied to a famous city on the shores of the Persian Gulf, which occupied more than one position in the course of history, and which has now long practi-cally 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 Karmania, he found the country to be a kindly one, 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, but it is not unlikely that the original etymology was connected with Jchurma, " 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 Sasanian Ardashir Babegan (c. 230 A.D.). But it must have existed at an earlier date, for Ptolemy takes note of ______ (vi. 8).

Hormuz is mentioned by Edrlsf, who wrote c. 1150, under the title of Hormuz-al-sahiliah, "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 (Kais), 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-Ku ("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 Ruknuddin Mahmud, 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 Tartar horsemen that the king and his people abandoned their city on the mainland and transferred themselves to the island of Jeriin (Organa of Nearchus), about 12 miles westward, and 4 miles 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 Minao, several miles from the sea, and on a creek which communicates with the Minao river, but which is partially silted up and not now accessible for vessels. There remain the traces of a long wharf and of extensive ruins.

Map of the Strait of Ormus.

The island adopted for the new site is of a pear-shape, with the stalk to the north, about 13J miles in circum-ference and 4 miles in longest axis. The rounded southern portion is entirely composed of rugged serrated hills ris-ing some 300 feet above the sea, and of an extraordinary variety of vivid colours, a few white peaks, like snow-covered hills, rising high above the general mass, one to a height of 690 feet. The hills, with the remarkable exception (according to the Persian Gulf Pilot) of the white peaks, and also of a range on the south and south-east, are all of salt. There is also sulphur. The island was devoid of fresh water except in one small well which exists, or formerly existed, at Turan Bagh, all the other water in use being collected in cisterns from rainfall; and of vegetation, with the exception of a very little scrub among the hills and of what was produced in the time of the kings by laborious gardening and irrigation at the spot above mentioned. 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 miles 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 three miles from the town to the south-east.

ODORIC (q.v.) 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 miles 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 Jeriin (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 distri-buted 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 Kutbuddln Tahamtan, the son of Turan Shah; and the traveller gives a curious description of him, seated on the throne, in patched and dirty raiment, whilst 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 Ras-al-hadd (C. Bosalgat of the Portuguese) on the ocean round to Julfar on the gulf, to the princes of Hormuz. Abdurazzak, 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-i-nao (i.e., Siam), and the Maldives. Nikitin, the Russian (c. 1470), gives a similar account; he calls it "a vast em-porium 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 appear-ance 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, com-manding 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 cap-tured 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 Ormuz 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 Ormuz 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., Mohammedan), 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).
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 success-ful efforts of the English company to open traffic with Persia especially embittered their rivals, to whom the possession of Ormuz had long given a monopoly of that trade. The officers of Shah Abbas, 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 Ormuz. 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 ShirAz " (Imam Kiilf Khan, the gover-nor of Fars) in the desired expedition against Ormuz. 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 proceed-ings 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, and afterwards in that of Ormuz itself. The latter siege was opened on the 18th February 1622, and continued to 1st May, when the Portuguese, after a gal-lant defence of ten weeks, surrendered. It is to be recol-lected 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 Ormuz 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 lately published seem to show that James received an equal sum.

Ormuz never recovered from this blow. The Persians transferred their establishments to Gombroon on the main-land, about 12 miles to the north-west, which the king had lately set up as a royal port under the name of Bandar AbbAsi. 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 Bandar, 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 1683-84 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 1690-91 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 Shah, formerly admiral of Nadir Shdh, was established on the island of Ormuz and part of Kishm as an independent chief. On Ormuz the solidly-built. Portuguese castle still stands, and some of the immense water-tanks, with fresh water in them, in almost perfect integrity " With their arched and groined roofs, supported on heavy pillars, they appeared like the crypts of some great cathedral" (Colomb, Slave-catching in the Indian Ocean, 1873, pp. 142-143). Of the city hardly anything stands except a minaret,1 by some called a lighthouse, but the traces of buildings are numerous and extensive. A small band of fishermen ana salt-diggers living in mat huts and a small guard from Muscat in the castle form the sole population. The island is, with Kishm and other places near, rented from Persia by the sultan of Muscat, chiefly for the salt and sulphur.

Works consulted, besides some of those specifically quoted above, have been Barros, Asia; Commentaries of Albuquerque, trans. by Birch (Hak. Society); Relaciones de Pedro Teixeira (Antwerp, 1610); Narratives in Hakluyt's Collection (reprint of 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., Whitelocke in vol. viii., Pelly in vol. xxxiv. ; Fraser, Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan (1825); Constable and Stiffe, Persian Gulf Pilot (1864); Bruce, Annals of the E. 1. Company, &c. (1810). (H. Y.)


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.

The attack on Kishm was notable in that one of the two English-men killed there was the great navigator Baffin.

Colonial Series, E. Indies, by Sainsbury, vol. hi. passim, especially see pp. 296 and 329.

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