A Cassowary (Linnaeus, 1758) Record from Alexandria, Egypt, in 20 B.C. (Aves, Ratitae, Casuaridae)

R. K. Kinzelbach*
Institute of Biosciences, University of Rostock, 18055 Rostock, Germany

© 2012 R. K. Kinzelbach

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* Address correspondence to this author at the Institute of Biosciences, University of Rostock, 18055 Rostock, Germany; Tel: + 49 (0)381 498 6278; Fax: + 49 (0)381 498 6262; E-mails:


The reverse side of the Artemidorus Papyrus, which was latest created early in the first century A.D. in Alexandria, features 47 drawings of animals by the same illustrator. In most cases, the Greek name of the animal is given. According to an Aristotelian “heading”, the papyrus shows “terrestrial quadrupeds, birds, fish and whales”. The taxa vary: one jellyfish, one mantis shrimp, five fishes s. l., six reptiles s. l., eleven birds and seventeen mammals. The work fits into the Hellenistic tradition of realistic animal illustrations. The papyrus was obviously produced and used as a pattern book. All the animals depicted are from Africa or the Mediterranean, except for eleven which can be said with certainty to come from India and four others which occur in both Africa and Asia. The Indian animals were presented to Princeps Augustus (r. 31 B.C. – 14 A.D.) in the summer of 20 B.C. in Daphne, Antioch and in the winter of 20/19 B.C. on the island of Samos by a delegation sent by King Poros of India (ruler of 600 kings), a Gujarati monarch hoping to establish trade relations with the Roman Empire. The delegation made its way to Rome via Antioch where it split for Samos and Athens accompanying Augustus, and via Alexandria, where a number of its animals were recorded on the Artemidorus Papyrus. Some of the species portrayed are also attested to by Strabo fide Nikolaos of Damascus. Others of the same exotic origin to be depicted in Alexandria include the four-horned antelope and the cassowary examined below. The complexity of the animal depictions on the reverse of this papyrus and the numerous details pinning it to historical events are enough to put paid to the notion that the Artemidorus Papyrus is a forgery. An asiatic bird named cornica which is described in an apocryph Plinius edition cited by medieval authors, unmistakeably is a cassowary, probably the same specimen.

Keywords: Cassowary, Augustus, Pliny, Alexandria, Gujarat, Artemidorus Papyrus.