The four figures about the centre of the diagram on fol. 57v are of a type attested (all four) in imagery between the 3rdC BC and 3rdC AD.
Counterparts exist in imagery from that time to the fifteenth century for the long-haired figure, probably male, and for the female figures, that on the viewer’s left being a constant type.
Not so for the figure with the short, sharply-spiked hair.
There appears to be another detail here, at the back of the figure’s head, but the online scans are sharply reduced in colour and without seeing the original, I cannot say much more except that it evokes a winged creature (or figure) and may represent a cicatrice or tattoo. I’ll discuss that element at a later date.
More generally, and apart from representations of a short, flame-haired ‘Aethiop’ in some early medieval western manuscripts, I have found nothing similar prior in western Christian works before the time of the Voynich manuscript or, to be pedantic, the manufacture of its parchment in the early fifteenth century.
The reverse shows a gaunt and seemingly starving short-eared elephant, an image which naturally suggests Hannibal’s famous trek on elephant-back from north Africa, through the Iberian peninsula, to approach Rome from its rear.
What has not before been considered is that this elephant’s ears and spine are those of the domesticated Asian elephant, and not the African. The two may be compared. As that same link shows, the two cannot interbreed. Use of a smaller African forest-elephant (now extinct) is attested, but as this link shows, its highest point (like other African elephants) was the rump. The Asian elephant is shown here, and it is well-known that from the time of Alexander, Asian war-elephants and mahouts were brought into the Hellenistic world ~ especially by the Seleucids. Despite the opinion of some historians about those used by Hannibal, this picture appears to show the last survivor as an Asian (possibly a Syrian) elephant.
The point is important not only for its direct link to the eastern world, but as proof that there were Indians within the Mediterranean from at least the mid-4thC BC. It adds reason to the fact (often ignored by western historians) that the Indian Buddhist monarch, Asoka, sent to the Hellenistic rulers a group of physicians educated both in human and in animal medicine.
The reason the fact is ignored is as simple as it is embarrassing: the older European histories assumed that the evidence of a Greek or Roman inscription should be taken as factual, but inscriptions by persons who were ‘Asiatic’ were probably untruthful. Added to this was an unspoken idea that the roads by land and sea between the Mediterranean and the East were like waterfalls – easier to travel in one direction than in the other. That a Roman should be in India was not surprising, but that an Indian might sail in the opposite direction was treated as inconceivable! Asoka’s second edict runs as follows:
“Everywhere in the dominions of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, as well as among the people about his borders, the Cholas, Pandyas, the Satiyaputra, the Ketalaputra[Kerala], to as far as the Tambaparni, Antiochos the Greek king, or even those kings [beyond], neighbours of the said Antiochos – everywhere have been made arrangements for the healing by the wishes of his sacred majesty the king: and in two kinds namely for men and for beasts. Medicinal herbs, aloes both for men and for beasts, have been everywhere taken (as imports) and planted wheresoever these were lacking. Roots also and fruit [-bearing plants], wheresoever they were lacking have now everywhere been imported and planted. On the roads, too, wells have been dug and trees planted for the enjoyment of man and beast [in those foreign lands and in the king’s domain].
Later there are vague reports of Buddhist and/or Indian presence in Asia minor and around the Black Sea. A community of Buddhists are recorded as being expelled from Armenia in the 2ndC AD. Bananas of some type are thought to have been used as a compress which healed Augustus, but since Augustus’ physician was named Antonius Musa, there are certain practical and linguistic objections here. ‘Musa’ is the Arabic form of ‘Moses’, and only co-incidentally the name of the Banana family.
The presence of the elephant on the coin is not an argument for the obverse figure’s being Indian, but rather Carthaginian, and the hair is arranged exactly like that on the figure in f. 57v.
The style is rare, and clearly associated here with the regions that had been allied with Carthage in its efforts to contain Roman expansion.
There are ‘ reasons for believing that early settlers in southern Italy and Sicily included groups from Africa, although when and how they came is still uncertain. A particular type of house known as a ‘trulli’ finds its closest type in Africa. (Within Italy, to this day it is described as an indigenous style, specific to the Itria Valley.
A belief that the inhabitants of southern Italy and Sicily were ‘Africans’ informs Ibn Hawqual’s diatribe against their admiration for education, and for Aristotle, in the ninth century, and was a belief maintained even into the twentieth century, when after WWII the Italian government refused passports to people from those regions, claiming the inhabitants were not really Italians.
Another curious link appears to exist between Africa and the Black Sea.
Mentions often crop up as passing comment, and from the time of Herodotus who says that in his own time, on the shores of the Black Sea, lived a people whose skin was dark and hair curly; he believed that they were of Egyptian origins.
Some centuries later, as Ptolemy I was developing Alexandria as the Hellenistic city in Egypt, a deity was installed as its patron who was said to have come (more exactly to have ‘sailed itself’) from an unnamed city on the Black Sea which claimed to be an Egyptian colony. If so, it had established so long before that the Egyptian priests had no memory of it (or perhaps would not acknowledge it). The deity was re-named and given a new form as a bull but outside Egypt proper, Serapis soon regained a human or semi-human form and then appears across the Hellenistic routes as far as Begram. One writer claimed that Serapis had come with Osiris from India. He was probably correct, but his view was derided by a more prestigious scholar and is scarcely known today.
Even now, the Abkhaz claim origins from Africa, and linguists have found support for that view. It is also true that the custom of staining hair ans skin with cinnabar or red ochre is known only in parts of east Africa, and in some areas of the Black Sea during earlier centuries. In parts of East Africa it persists, despite the neurological effects of the substance. It is possible that it was a custom once more widespread, only gradually supplanted by henna. I think (following advice given me by an expert in pigments and their history) that the pharma section’s red containers were originally coloured with cinnabar and probably sealed with the substance which Vitruvius knew as ‘Phoenician wax’. Today we call it esparto-wax.
As late as the tenth century AD in this (admittedly satirical) image of silk-road traders, there is an image of dark-skinned figure whose hair is coloured that artificial flame colour, though whether by cinnabar or henna is difficult to say.
That figure’s mouth is marred by a split lip and has one eye blinded or naturally asymmetrical.
Due to the amount of time elapsing between the 3rdC BC and 10thC AD, it is possible that the custom of having shorter spiked hair had fallen from use, but at present modern scholars of the silk-roads’ history attribute to influence from the Black Sea region the form which is given wind-demons across Asia, these distinguished by artificially-reddened hair.
The deity specified as their origin is that shown on the left in the image below, and who is named Hadad (or Hada). It is taken as a deity personifying the North winds, and a deity of that name appears in the pantheon of a number of early peoples including (according to Sanchuniathon) the Phoenicians.
I don’t want to become too involved in discussing ancient religions, the chief importance of this information being to demonstrate geographic and/or cultural links between North Africa, Syria, the Black Sea and the oldest overland routes towards the east. The second of the illustrations in the three shown above comes from the Tarim basin. The montage is one illustrating a paper on the influences which passed across the early silk roads.
Comparable imagery is found – again chiefly in the Hellenistic and pre-Hellenistic era – in coins from the Thracian Chersonnese, and these also show a figure with a bow who is generally associated with an Amazonian-like Athena. The coins are often, if not invariably described as Scythian.
Apart from these examples, I have found none comparable to the image on fol. 57v, and of these I think the closest is obviously that on the coin made for Etruria in the 3rdC BC.
Canan in Africa
In the 5thC AD, Augustine refers to the inhabitants of the land around Carthage as ‘Canaani’ and it is clear that their language was akin to Biblical Hebrew.
So I should think that even though information is sparse, and ultimately inconclusive, the figure on fol. 57v probably represents inhabitants of a southern location and very likely ones who were, or had been, identified not so much as ‘Phoenicians’ but as children of Cainan, Cain, or the ‘Canaani’.
After the fall of Carthage, but before memory of its peoples’ appearance, and their enslavement had faded from memory, some image such as that on fol.57v might have been made.
But I have found nothing similar to that way of dressing hair, not from any other epoch or region ~other than the examples offered here, and detailed information about suchshaving, branding and tattooing are quite rare before the Christian era,being generally only mentioned in that context.
(The header picture is from Cellarius’ chart of the mariners’ winds, showing the north Wind and its offsider).