Oc Eo is an archaeological site in Thoai Son District in southern An Giang Province, Vietnam, in the Mekong River Delta region of Vietnam. It is also one of the modern day communes of Vietnam. Oc Eo may have been a busy port of the kingdom of Funan between the 1st and 7th centuries AD.
Scholars use the term “Oc Eo Culture” to refer to the ancient material culture of the Mekong Delta region that is typified by the artifacts recovered at Oc Eo through archeological investigation.
The Archeological Site
Excavation at Oc Eo began on February 10, 1942 after French archaeologists had discovered the site through the use of aerial photography. The first excavations were led by Louis Mallaret. The site covers 450 ha.
Oc Eo is situated within a network of ancient canals that crisscross the low flatland of the Mekong Delta. One of the canals connects Oc Eo to the town’s seaport while another goes 42 miles north-northeast to Angkor Borei. Oc Eo is longitudinally bisected by a canal, and there are four transverse canals along which pile-supported houses were perhaps ranged.
This statue of Visnu from the 6th or 7th century A.D. was found in Oc Eo and is now housed in the Museum of Vietnamese History.
The remains found at Oc Eo include pottery, tools, jewelry, casts for making jewelry, coins (including coins from the Roman Empire), and religious statues. Many of the remains have been collected and are on exhibition in Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City.
Oc Eo and Funan
Oc Eo has been regarded as belonging to the historical kingdom of Funan that flourished in the Mekong Delta between the 1st and the 7th century CE. The kingdom of Funan is known to us from the works of ancient Chinese historians, especially writers of dynastic histories, who in turn drew from the testimony of Chinese diplomats and travellers, and of foreign (including Funanese) embassies to the Chinese imperial courts. Indeed, the name “Funan” itself is an artifact of the Chinese histories, and does not appear in the paleographic record of ancient Vietnam or Cambodia. From the Chinese sources, however, it can be determined that a polity called “Funan” by the Chinese was the dominant polity located in the Mekong Delta region. As a result, archeological discoveries in that region that can be dated to the period of Funan have been identified with the historical polity of Funan. The discoveries at Oc Eo and related sites are our primary source for the material culture of Funan.
The Vietnamese historian Ha Van Tan has questioned whether the vestiges excavated at Oc Eo belonged to Funan, in view of the complete lack of any Khmer records relating to a kingdom of this name: he argues that Oc Eo gradually emerged as an economic and cultural centre of the Mekong Delta and, with an important position on the Southeast Asian sea routes, became a meeting place for craftsmen and traders, which provided adequate conditions for urbanization, receiving foreign influences which in turn stimulated internal development
Oc Eo as the Kattigara of Ptolemy
Oc Eo may have been the port known to the Romans as Kattigara. Kattigara was the name given by the 2nd century AD Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy to the land on the easternmost shore of the Mare Indicum at (due to a scribal error) eight and a half degrees South of the Equator. Scholarship has now determined that Ptolemy’s Kattigara was at eight and a half degrees North of the Equator, and was the forerunner of Saigon.
John Caverhill deduced in 1767 that Cattigara was the Mekong Delta port Banteaymeas (now Ha Tien), not far from Oc Eo. The plea in 1979 by Jeremy H.C.S. Davidson for “a thorough study of Ha-tien in its historical context and in relation to Oc-eo” as indispensable for accurate understanding and interpretation of the site, still remains unanswered.
The name “Kattigara” was probably derived from the Sanskrit Kirti-nagara “Renowned City” or Kotti-nagara “Strong City”.The “father of Early Southeast Asian History”, George Coedes, has said: “By the middle of the 3rd century Fu-nan had already established relations with China and India, and it is doubtless on the west coast of the Gulf of Siam that the furthest point reached by Hellenistic navigators is to be found, that is the harbour of Kattigara mentioned by Ptolemy”. Judging from the sailing directions given by the seafarer Alexander, Bjorn Landström concluded that Cattigara lay at the mouth of the Mekong.A.H. Christie said in 1979 that “the presence of objects, however few in number, from the Roman Orient” added some weight to the conjecture that Oc-eo was the Ptolemaic Kattigara. The distinguished German classical scholar, Albrecht Dihle, supported this view, saying:
From the account of the voyage of Alexander referred to by Ptolemy, Kattigara can actually be located only in the Mekong delta, because Alexander went first along the east coast of the Malacca peninsula, northward to Bangkok, from thence likewise only along the coast toward the south east, and so came to Kattigara. We hear nothing of any further change of course. In addition, at Oc Eo, an emporium excavated in the western Mekong delta, in the ancient kingdom of Fu-nan, Roman finds from the 2nd century after Christ have come to light.
Guided by Ptolemy, the discoverers of the New World were initially trying to find their way to Kattigara. On the 1489 map of the world made by Henricus Martellus Germanus, based on Ptolemy’s work, Asia terminated in its southeastern point in a cape, the Cape of Cattigara. Writing of his 1499 voyage, Amerigo Vespucci said he had hoped to reach Malacca (Melaka) by sailing westward from Spain across the Western Ocean (the Atlantic) around the Cape of Cattigara into the Sinus Magnus, the Great Gulf that lay to the East of the Golden Chersonese (Malay Peninsula), of which the Cape of Cattigara formed the southeastern point. The Sinus Magnus, or Great Gulf, was the actual Gulf of Thailand. Columbus’ search for Ciamba
Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and last voyage of 1502-1503, planned to follow the coast of Champa southward around the Cape of Cattigara and sail through the strait separating Cattigara from the New World, into the Sinus Magnus to Malacca. This was the route he thought Marco Polo had gone from China to India in 1292.Columbus planned to meet up with the expedition sent at the same time from Portugal around the Cape of Good Hope under Vasco da Gama, and carried letters of credence from the Spanish monarchs to present to da Gama. On reaching Cariay on the coast of Costa Rica, Columbus thought he was close the gold mines of Champa. On July 7, 1503, he wrote from Jamaica: “I reached the land of Cariay…Here I received news of the gold mines of Ciamba [Champa] which I was seeking”.