Page 439

Appendix 3 – On the Greek Accounts of India

Before we examine the account of India given by the Greeks, it is necessary to ascertain of what country they speak when they make use of that name.

India bounded on the west by the river Indus

Most of the writers about Alexander call the inhabitants of the hilly region to the south of the main ridge of Caucasus and near the Indus, Indians; and also mention another Indian tribe or nation, who inhabited the sea-shore on the western side of the Indus. Each of those two tribes occupied a territory stretching for 150 miles west from the river, but narrow from north to south. A great tract of country lay between their territories, and was inhabited by people foreign to their race. Close to the Indus, however, especially on the lower part of its course, there were other Indian tribes, though less considerable than those two.

The Indians on the sea-shore were named Oritae and Arabitae, and are recognised by Major Rennell as the people called Asiatic Ethiopians by Herodotus. Their country was the narrow tract between the mountains of Belochistan and the sea, separated from Mekran on the west by the range of hills which form Cape Arboo, and on which still stands the famous Hindu temple of Hinglez.

The Indians whom Herodotus includes within the satrapies of Darius are, probably, the more northern ones in the mountains657. It is proved by Major Rennell that his

Page 440

knowledge of India did not reach beyond the desert east of the Indus658; and he seems to have had no conception of the extent of the country, and no clear notion of the portion of it which had been subjected to Persia659. The other Greek writers, though they speak of Indians beyond the Indus, strictly limit India to the eastern side of that river. Arrian, who has called the mountaineers Indians, from the place where Alexander entered Paropamisus, yet when he comes to the Indus says,This river Alexander crossed at daybreak with his army into the land of the Indians;” and immediately begins a description of the people of that country660.

In the course of this description he again explicitly declares that the Indus is the western boundary of India from the mountains to the sea661.

In his “Indica,” also, he desires his reader to consider that

Page 441

only as India which lies east of the Indus, and those who inhabit that country as the Indians of whom he is about to speak662.

Strabo, the most critical and judicious of all the writers on India, is as decided in pronouncing the Indus to be the western limit of India from the mountains to the sea; and quotes Eratosthenes as supporting his opinion663.

Pliny, indeed, states that some consider the four satrapies of Gedrosia, Arachosia, Aria, and Paropamisus to belong to India; but this would include about two thirds of Persia.

The Shanscrit writers confirm the opinion of the Greeks, regarding the Indus as the western boundary of their country, and classing the nations beyond it with the Yavanas and other barbarians. There is, indeed, a universally acknowledged tradition, that no Hindu ought to cross that river664; and its inconsistency with the practice even of early times is a proof of its great antiquity.

Indians to the west of the Indus

It is clear, therefore, that the Indians beyond the Indus were few and detached; and we will now see what account

Page 442

is given of them by the ancients, beginning our survey from the north.

Arrian, in the commencement of hisIndica,” mentions the Assaceni and the Astaceni as Indian nations in the mountains between the Indus and the Cophenes; but he distinguishes them from the other Indians as being less in size and fairer in complexion. He excludes them (as has been shown) from his general description of the Indians; and neither in his expedition of Alexander,” nor in hisIndica,” does he allude to Bramins among them, or mention any thing in their customs of a marked Hindu character. He says that they had been subject to the Assyrians, afterwards to the Medes, and finally to the Persians. It does not appear from Arrian that there were any Indians to the south of the Cophenes (or river of Caul), and it might be inferred from Strabo that there were none between the Paropamisadae and the Oritae until after Alexander’s time665; but as Arrian mentions other tribes on the lower Indus, it is probable that Strabo spoke generally of the two territories, and did not mean to deny the residence of small bodies.

The Oritae, according to Arrian666, were an Indian nation, who extended for about 150 miles parallel to the sea. They wore the dress and arms of the other Indians, but differed from them in language and manners.

Page 443

They (those near the Indus at least) must have been essentially Indian; for Sambus, the chief of the branch of hills which run down to the river in the north of Sind, is represented as being much under the influence of the Bramins.

It will throw some light on the tribes that occupied the west bank of the Indus, in former times, to point out its present inhabitants.

The mountains under Caucasus, between the point where it is crossed by the continuation of Mount Imaus, which forms the range of Soliman, and the Indus, are inhabited by a people of Indian descent, now subject to Afghan tribes, who have conquered the territory in comparatively recent times667. The upper part of the mountains farther north is possessed by the Cafirs, another nation, who, from the close connection between their language and Shanscrit, appear to be of the Indian race. Their religion, however, though idolatrous, has no resemblance whatever to that of the Hindus.

Throughout the whole of the plain to the west of the Indus, from the range of Caucasus to the sea, the greater part of the original population speaks an Indian dialect, and is looked on as Indian668. The hills which bound that plain on the west are every where held by tribes of a different origin. Some of the so-called Indians are Hindus, but the greater part are converts to the Mahometan religion. The above description comprehends the whole of the country of the ancient Oritae.

Page 444

If from a general view of these accounts, ancient and modern, we were to speculate on the first settlement of the people to whom they relate, it might, perhaps, appear not improbable that the Indians in the northern mountains were of the same race as the Hindus, but never converted to the Braminical religion, and that they may have occupied their present seats before the period at which the first light breaks on the history of their brethren in the plains: but it is enough to allude to so vague a conjecture. The Indian races in the plains probably crossed from India at different periods. Notwithstanding the religious prohibition and the testimony of Strabo, it is difficult to believe that the easy communication afforded by a navigable river would not lead the inhabitants of whichever neighbouring country was first peopled and civilised to spread over both banks. I am therefore led to think the occupation by the Indians began very early, the neighbouring countries on the western side being scarcely peopled even now. The emigration towards the mouth of the Indus, which seems to have been more extensive than elsewhere, may possibly be that alluded to in the ancient legends about the flight of Crishna’s family. A branch of his tribe certainly came from the west into Sind ten centuries ago; and other divisions, still retaining their religion and cast, have passed over into Guzerat in later times669.

To remove some doubts about the limits of the Indian nations on the west of the Indus, it is desirable to advert

Page 445

to a part of Alexander’s route through the adjoining countries.

Alexander set out from Artachoana (which seems to be admitted to be Herat), and proceeded in pursuit of one of the murderers of Darius to the royal city of the Zarangwi, which is recognised in Zarang, an ancient name for the capital of Sistin. He thence directed his march towards Bactria, and on his way received the submission of the Drangae, the Gedrosians, and the Arachotians. He then came to the Indians bordering on the Arachotians. Through all these nations he suffered much from snow and want of provisions. He next proceeded to Caucasus, at the foot of which he founded Alexandria, and afterwards crossed the mountains into Bactria670.

The Drangae are probably the same as the Zarangae: Arachotia is explained by Strabo671 to extend to the Indus; and Gedrosia certainly lay along the sea. There are two ways from Sistan to Bactria; one by Herat, and the other by the pass of Hindu Cush, north of Cabul, the mountains between those points being impassable, especially in winter, when this march took place672. Alexander took the eastern road; and if he had marched direct to Bactria, as might be supposed from the preceding passage, he could have met with no snow at any time of the year, until he got a good deal to the east of Candahar, and he must have left Gedrosia very far to his right. It is possible, therefore, (especially as the murderer of whom he was in pursuit was made over to him by the Indians673,) that he continued his pursuit through Shorabak and the valley

Page 446

of Bolan (the route adopted by Mr. Conolly674); and that the Indians near the Arachotians may have been about Dader, which, although at a distance from the Indus, is on the plain of that river, and probably was then, as it is now, inhabited by an Indian race. From this place, his journey to Mount Caucasus would have lain through a country as sterile, and at that season as cold, as Caucasus itself. It is equally probable, however, that Alexander did not extend his journey so far to the south; and, in that case, the Indians would be (as they are assumed to be by Curtius675) those called Paropamisadae immediately under Mount Caucasus, within or near whose boundary Alexandria certainly was built676. The vicinity of this people shows that Alexandria could not have been farther west than Cabul, which, indeed, is also proved by the fact of Alexander’s returning to it on his way from Bactria to India677. He took seventeen days to cross Caucasus, according to Curtius; fifteen, according to Strabo, from Alexandria to Adraspa, a city in Bactriana; and ten to cross the mountains in returning, according to Arrian. Captain Burnes, with none of the incumbrances of an army, took twelve days to cross the mountains on the road from Cabul to Balkh, which is comparatively shorter and easier than any more western pass. As far as this site for Alexandria, rather than one further west, we are borne out by the high authority of Major Rennell; but that author (the greatest of English geographers), from the imperfect information

Page 447

then possessed about the stream that runs from Ghazni to Cabul, the Gomal, and the Kurram, has framed out of those three an imaginary river, which he supposes to run from near Bamian to the Indus, thirty or forty miles south of Attoc. This he calls the Cophenes, and, in consequence, places the scene of Alexander’s operations and the seat of the Indian mountaineers to the south of the Cabul river, and at a distance from the range of Caucasus or Paropamisus. Strabo, however, expressly says that Alexander kept as near as he could to the northern mountains, that he might cross the Choaspes (which falls into the Cophenes) and the other rivers as high up as possible. Arrian makes him cross the Cophenes, and then proceed through a mountainous country, and over three other rivers which fell into the Cophenes, before he reaches the Indus. In his “Indica,” also, he mentions the Cophenes as bringing those three rivers with it, and joining the Indus in Peucaliotis. It is only on the north bank of the Cabul river that three such rivers can be found; and even then there will be great difficulty in fixing their names, for in Arrian’s own two lists he completely changes the names of two. Nor is this at all surprising, for most rivers in that part of the country have no name, but are called after some town or country on their banks, and not always after the same. Thus the river called by some the Kashkar river is the Kameh with Lieutenant Macartney, the Cheghanserai in Baber’s Commentaries, and is often called the river of Cunner by the inhabitants of the neighbouring country.

The Soastes would seem to be the river of Swat; but then there is no river left for the Guraeus, which is between the Soastes and Indus. Major Rennell, on a different theory, supposes the Guraeus to be the Cabul river itself;

Page 448

but both of Arrian’s accounts make the Guraeus fall into the Cophenes, which afterwards falls into the Indus.

The Cabul river, therefore, must be the Cophenes, and the Indians are under the mountains between it, its upper branch (the Punjshir river) and the Indus.

Alexander’s proceedings in India are so well known that they cannot be too slightly touched on. After an advance to the Hyphasis, he turned to the south-west, and passed off between the desert and the Indus, having scarcely seen the skirts of India. He made no attempt to establish provinces; but, as he intended to return, he adopted exactly the same policy as that employed by the Durani Shah in after times. He made a party in the country by dispossessing some chiefs and transferring their territory to their rivals; thus leaving all power in the hands of persons whose interest induced them to uphold his name and conciliate his favour.

The few garrisons he left reminded people of his intended return; and his troops in the nearest parts of Persia would always add to the influence of his partisans.

The adherence of Porus and other princes, who were in a manner set up by the Macedonians, ought therefore to be no matter of surprise.

Description of India

We now understand the people to whom the Greek descriptions were intended to apply; but we must still be cautious how we form any further opinions regarding that people, on Greek authority alone.


The ancients themselves have set us an example of this caution. Arrian says that he shall only consider as true the accounts of Ptolemy and Aristobulus when they agree678; and Strabo, in a very judicious dissertation on the value of the information existing in his time, observes that the

Page 449

accounts of the Macedonians are contradictory and inaccurate, and that those of later travellers are of still less value from the character of the authors, who were ignorant merchants, careless of every thing except gain679. We may, however, give full credit to the Greek writers when they describe manners and institutions which are still in being, or which are recorded in ancient Hindu books. We may admit, with due allowance for incorrectness, such other accounts as are consistent with these two sources of information; but we must pass by all statements which are not supported by those tests or borne out by their own appearance of truth.

If, however, we discard the fables derived from the Grecian mythology, and those which are contrary to the course of nature, we shall find more reason to admire the accuracy of the early authors, than to wonder at the mistakes into which they fell, in a country so new and so different from their own, and where they had every thing to learn by means of interpreters, generally through the medium of more languages than one680. Their accounts, as far as they go, of the manners and habits of the people, do in fact agree with our own accurate knowledge almost as well as those of most modern travellers prior to the institution of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta.

An example both of the general truth and partial inaccuracy of the Greeks presents itself in the first subject which is to be noticed, agreeably to the order hitherto adopted.

Page 450

Division into classes

They are well aware of the division into classes, and of the functions of most of them; but, by confounding some distinctions occasioned by civil employment with those arising from that division, they have increased the number from five (including the handicraftsmen, or mixed class) to seven. This number is produced by their supposing the king’s councillors and assessors, and his superintendents of provinces, to form two distinct casts; by splitting the class of Vaisya into two, consisting of shepherds and husbandmen; and by omitting the servile class altogether. With these exceptions, the classes are in the state described by Menu, which is the groundwork of that still subsisting.

Their first cast is that of the Sophists, or religious and literary class, of whose peculiar occupations they give a correct view. But they do not clearly understand the extent of the Bramin cast, and have, perhaps, confounded the Bramins681 with the monastic orders.

The first mistake originates in their ignorance of the fourfold division of a Bramin’s life. Thus they speak of men who had been for many years Sophists, marrying and returning to common life; (alluding probably to a student who, having completed the austerities of the first period, becomes a householder;) and they suppose, as has been mentioned, that those who were the king’s councillors and judges formed a separate class. It is evident, also, that they classed the Bramins who exercised civil and military functions with the casts to whom those employments properly belonged. They describe the Sophists as the most honoured class, exempt from all burdens, and only contributing their prayers to the support of the state. They inform us that their assistance is necessary at all private

Page 451

sacrifices; and correctly describe them (in this case under the name of Brachmanes) as having ceremonies performed for them while yet in the womb682, as undergoing a strict education, and as passing a moderate and abstinent life in groves, on beds of rushes (cusa grass), or skins (deer skins); during which time they listen to their instructors in silence and with respect.

They erroneously prolong this period in all cases to thirty-seven, which is the greatest age to which Menu (Chap. III. Sect. 1.) permits it in any case to extend.

The language ascribed to the sophists regarding the present and future state is in a perfectly Bramin spirit. They place their idea of perfection in independence on every thing external, and indifference to death or life, pain or pleasure. They consider this life as that of a child just conceived, and that real life does not begin until what we call death. Their only care, therefore, is about their future state. They deny the reality of good and evil, and say that men are not gratified or afflicted by external objects, but by notions of their own, as in a dream683.

They appear to have possessed separate villages as early as the time of Alexander; to have already assumed the military character on occasions, and to have defended themselves with that fury and desperation which sometimes still characterises Hindus684. Their interference in politics, likewise, is exhibited by their instigating Sambas to fly from Alexander, and Musicanus to break the peace he had

Page 452

concluded with that conqueror685. Strabo mentions a sect called Pramnae, who were remarkable for being disputatious, and who derided the Bramins for their attention to physics and astronomy. He considers them as a separate class, but they were probably Bramins themselves, only attached to a particular school of philosophy686.


The Sanyassis are very plainly described, under the different names of Brachmanes, Germanes, and Sophists; but it does not very clearly appear whether the ascetics so designated were merely Bramins in the two last stages of their life, or whether they were members of regular monastic establishments. Many of their austerities might be reconciled to the third portion of a Bramin’s life, when he becomes an anchoret; but their ostentatious mortifications, their living in bodies, and several other circumstances, lead rather to a conclusion that they belonged to the monastic orders. The best description of these ascetics is given by Onesicritus687, who was sent by Alexander to converse with them, in consequence of their refusing to come to him. He found fifteen persons about two miles from the city, naked, and exposed to a burning sun; some sitting, some standing, and some lying, but all remaining immoveable from morning till evening, in the attitudes they had adopted.

He happened first to address himself to Calanus, whom he found lying on stones. Calanus received him with that affectation of independence which religious mendicants still often assume, laughed at his foreign habit, and told

Page 453

him that if he wished to converse with him, he must throw off his clothes, and sit down naked on the stones. While Onesicritus was hesitating, Mandanis, the oldest and most holy of the party, came up. He reproved Calanus for his arrogance, and spoke mildly to Onesicritus, whom he promised to instruct in the Indian philosophy, as far as their imperfect means of communication would admit688. Arrian relates689 that Alexander endeavoured to prevail on Mandanis (whom he calls Dandamis) to attach himself to him as a companion; but that Mandanis refused, replying that India afforded him all he wanted while he remained in his earthly body, and that when he left it he should get rid of a troublesome companion.

Calanus had his ambition less under control; he joined Alexander in spite of the remonstrances of his fraternity, who reproached him for entering into any other service but that of God690. He was treated with respect by the Greeks; but, falling sick in Persia, refused, probably from scruples of cast, to observe the regimen prescribed to him, and determined to put an end to his existence by the flames. Alexander, after in vain opposing his intention, ordered him to be attended to the last scene with all honours, and loaded him with gifts, which he distributed among his friends before he mounted the pile. He was carried thither wearing a garland on his head in the Indian manner, and singing hymns in the Indian language as he passed along. When he had ascended the heap of wood and other combustibles, which had been prepared for him, he ordered it to be set on fire, and met his fate with a serenity that made a great impression on the Greeks691.

Page 454

Aristobulus692 gives an account of two Sophists, one young and one old, both Brachmanes, whom he met with at Taxila. The elder shaved, the younger wore his hair, and both were followed by disciples. As they passed through the streets they were received with reverence, people pouring oil of sesamum upon them, and offering them cakes of sesamum and honey. After having supped at Alexander’s table, they displayed their powers of endurance by withdrawing to a place at some distance, where the elder lay down exposed to the sun and rain, which at that season was heavy, and the younger stood all day on one foot, leaning on a staff.

Other accounts693 describe the ascetics as going about the streets, helping themselves to figs or oil, or anything they wanted, entering the houses of the rich, sitting down at their entertainments, and joining in their discourse; in short, conducting themselves with the same freedom which some persons of that description affect at the present day. They are also spoken of as going naked in winter and summer, and passing their time under banyan trees, some of which, it is said, cover five acres, and are sufficient to shelter 10,000 men.

Their present habit of twisting up their hair, so as to form a turban, is noticed by Strabo, though he was not aware of its being confined to one order of them.

They are said to be the only soothsayers and practisers of divination. It is asserted of them that they reckoned it disgraceful to be sick694, and put an end to themselves when

Page 455

they fell into that calamity. Megasthenes, however, asserts ; that the philosophers had no particular approbation of III suicide, but rather considered it as a proof of levity; both the opinions of the learned, and the occasional practice of the people in that respect, seeming to be much the same as they are now.

It is Megasthenes who calls the ascetics by the names of Germanes, and treats of them as forming a distinct body from the Brachmanes. Yet his description of them is much more applicable to Bramins in the third and fourth periods of life than to the monastic orders. The fact probably is, that he was aware of the distinction between those classes, but had no accurate knowledge of the points in which they differed. There is a class, he says, among the Germanes, who are called Hylobii, from living in the woods, who feed on wild fruits and leaves, are clothed in the bark of trees, abstain from all pleasure, and stand motionless for whole days together in one posture695. The kings send messengers to them to consult them, and to request their intercession with the gods. He somewhat unaccountably describes the physicians as forming another class of Germanes; and mentions that, like their successors of the present day, they rely most on diet and regimen, and next, on external applications, having a great distrust of the effects of more powerful modes of treatment. Like their successors also, they employ charms in aid of their medicines.

He says that the Germanes perform magical rites and divinations, and likewise conduct the ceremonies connected

Page 456

with the dead, all of which might as well apply to the Bramins as to the monastic orders696.

It is declared by more authors than one, that different casts cannot intermarry, and that it was not permitted for men of one cast to exercise the employment of another, but that all might become Sophists in whatever class they were born.

Such is the present state of the monastic orders; but whether they had so early assumed that form, or whether the ancients (being ignorant that Bramins could be householders, councillors, and judges, might on occasion carry arms, or practise other professions,) confounded the assumption of ascetic habits by Bramins previously so employed, with the admission of all casts, must remain a doubtful question697.


There is nothing to remark on the other classes, except that the Sudras seem already to have lost their character of a servile class.

Absence of slavery

Arrian mentions with admiration that every Indian is free. With them, as with the Lacedemonians, he says, no native can be a slave; but, unlike the Lacedemonians, they keep no other people in servitude. Strabo, who doubts the absence of slavery, as applying to all India,

Page 457

confines his examples of the contrary to domestic slaves, and appears to have no suspicion of the existence of a servile class. It is possible that the mild form in which slavery appeared among the Sudras may have deceived the Greeks, accustomed to so different a system at home; but it is still more probable that the remains of the servile condition of the Sudras which subsisted in Menu’s time, may have disappeared entirely before that of Alexander.

Number and extent of the different states

The number of independent governments seems to have been as great as at other times. Alexander, in his partial invasion, met with many; and Megasthenes heard that in all India there were 118. Many of these may have been very inconsiderable; but some (the Prasii for instance) possessed great kingdoms. Most of them seem to have been under rajas, as in Menu’s time, and the circumstances of those which the Greeks called republics and aristocracies can easily be explained without supposing anything different from what now exists. There have always been extensive tracts without any common head, some under petty chiefs, and some formed of independent villages: in troubled times, also, towns have often for a long period carried on their own government698. All these would be called republics by the Greeks, who would naturally fancy their constitutions similar to what they had seen at home. But what their authors had particularly in view were the Independent villages, which were in reality republics, and

Page 458

which would seem aristocratic or democratic as the village community was great or small in proportion to the other inhabitants699. A more perfect example of such villages could not be found than existed but lately in Hariana, a country contiguous to those occupied by the Cathoei and Malli in Alexander’s time. One of these (Biwani) required, in 1809, a regular siege by a large British force, and would probably have opposed to the Macedonians as obstinate a resistance as Sangala or any of the villages in the adjoining districts, which make so great a figure in the operations of Alexander.

The force ascribed to the Indian kings is probably exaggerated. Porus, one of several who occupied the Panjab, is said to have had 200 elephants, 300 chariots, 4000 horse, and 30,000 efficient infantry, which, as observed by Sir A. Burnes, is (substituting guns for chariots) exactly the establishment of Ranjit Sing, who is master of the whole Panjab, and several other territories700.

Page 459

The most that we can concede to Arrian would be, that the armies which he speaks of as permanent were the whole of the tumultuary forces which any of those princes could, in case of necessity, bring into the field. The numbers alleged by Pliny are beyond probability, even on that or-any other supposition. The fourfold division of the army (horse, foot, chariots, and elephants) was the same as that of Menu; but Strabo makes a sextuple division, by adding the commissariat and naval departments. The soldiers were all of the military class, were in constant pay during war and peace, and had servants to perform all duties not strictly military. Their horses and arms were supplied by the state (an arrangement very unlike that usually adopted now). It is stated, repeatedly, that they never ravaged

Page 460

the country, and that the husbandmen pursued their occupations undisturbed while hostile armies were engaged in battle. This, though evidently an exaggeration, is probably derived from the Hindu laws of war recorded in Menu, which must have made a strong impression on the Greeks, unaccustomed as they were to so mild and humane a system.

The bravery of the armies opposed to the Greeks is always spoken of as superior to that of the other nations with whom they had contended in Asia; and the loss acknowledged, though incredibly small, is much greater in the Indian battles than in those with Darius. Their arms, with the exception of fire-arms, were the same as at present. The peculiar Indian bow, now only used in mountainous countries, which is drawn with the assistance of the feet, and shoots an arrow more than six feet long, is particularly described by Arrian, as are the long swords and iron spears, both of which are still occasionally in use. Their powerful bits, and great management of their horses, were remarkable even then.

Manners and customs similar to the present

The presents made by the Indian princes indicate wealth; and all the descriptions of the parts visited by the Greeks give the idea of a country teeming with population, and enjoying the highest degree of prosperity.

Apollodorus701 states that there were, between the Hydaspes and Hypanis (Hyphasis), 1500 cities, none of which was less than Cos; which, with every allowance for exaggeration, supposes a most flourishing territory. Palibothra was eight miles long and one and a half broad, defended by a deep ditch and a high rampart, with 570 towers and 64 gates.

The numerous commercial cities and ports for foreign

Page 461

trade, which are mentioned at a later period (in thePeriplus”), attest the progress of the Indians in a department which more than any other shows the advanced condition of a nation.

The police is spoken of as excellent. Megasthenes relates that, in the camp of Sandracottus, which he estimates to have contained 400,000 men, the sums stolen daily did not amount to more than 200 drachms (about 3l.)

Justice seems to have been administered by the King and his assessors; and the few laws mentioned are in the spirit of those of Menu. On this subject, however, the Greeks are as ill informed as might have been expected. They all believe the laws to have been unwritten; some even maintain that the Indians were ignorant of letters, while others praise the beauty of their writing702.

The revenue was derived from the land, the workmen, and the traders703. The land revenue is stated by Strabo to amount (as in Menu) to one fourth of the produce; but he declares, in plain terms, that “the whole land is the King’s,” and is farmed to the cultivators on the above terms704. He mentions, in another place, that the inhabitants of some villages cultivate the land in common, according to a system still much in use. The portion of the revenue paid in work by handicraftsmen (as stated by Menu, quoted in page 39.) is also noticed by Strabo. His account of the heads of markets (αγορονομοι); their measurement of fields and distribution of water for irrigation; their administration of justice; and their being the channels for payment of the revenue; together with their general superintendence of the trades, roads, and all affairs within their limits, agrees exactly with the functions of the present

Page 462

patels, or heads of villages; and that of the heads of towns, though less distinct, bears a strong resemblance to the duties of similar officers at the present day.

Little is said about the religion of the Indians. Strabo mentions that they worship Jupiter Pluvius (which may mean Indra), the Ganges, and other local gods; that they wear no crowns at sacrifices; and that they stifle the victim instead of stabbing it, – a curious coincidence with some of the mystical sacrifices of the Bramins, which are supposed to be of modern date.

Various other ancients are quoted by Mr. Colebrooke705, to show that they likewise worshipped the sun.

Much is said by the Greeks of the Indian worship of Bacchus and Hercules; but obviously in consequence of their forcibly adapting the Hindu legends to their own, as they have done in so many other cases706.

The learning of the Hindus was, of course, inaccessible to the Greeks. They had, however, a great impression of their wisdom; and some particulars of their philosophy, which have been handed down, are not unimportant. Megasthenes asserts that they agreed in many things with the Greeks; that they thought the world had a beginning and will have an end, is round, and is pervaded by the God who made and governs it; that all things rise from different origins, and the world from water; that, besides the four elements, there is one of which the heavens and stars are made; and that the world is the centre of the universe. He says they also agreed with the Greeks about the soul, and many other matters; and composed many tales (μυθοι) like Plato, about the immortality of the soul, the judgment after death, and similar subjects707.

Page 463

It is evident, from these early accounts, that if the Bramins learned their philosophy from the Greeks, it must have been before the time of Alexander; and Onesicritus, whose conversations with them on philosophy have been already mentioned, expressly says that they inquired whether the Greeks ever held similar discourses, and makes it manifest that they were entirely uninformed regarding the sciences and opinions of his countrymen.

From the silence of the Greeks respecting Indian architecture we may infer that the part of the country which they visited was as destitute of fine temples as it is now. Their account of Indian music is as unfavourable as would be given by a modern European; for, although it is said that they were fond of singing and dancing, it is alleged, in another place, that they had no instruments but drums, cymbals, and castanets.

The other arts of life seem to have been in the same state as at present. The kinds of grain reaped at each of their two harvests were the same as now: sugar, cotton, spices, and perfumes were produced as at present; and the mode of forming the fields into small beds to retain the water used in irrigation is described as similar708. Chariots were drawn in war by horses, but on a march by oxen; they were sometimes drawn by camels (which are now seldom applied to draught but in the desert). Elephant chariots were also kept as a piece of great magnificence. I have only heard of two in the present age.

The modern mode of catching and training elephants, with all its ingenious contrivances, may be learned from Arrian709 almost as exactly as from the account of the modern practice in “Asiatic Researches710.”

The brilliancy of their dyes is remarked on, as well as

Page 464

their skill in manufactures and imitations of foreign objects711.

The use of copper vessels for all purposes was as general as it is now; but brazen ones, which are now even more common, were avoided on account of their supposed brittleness. Royal roads are spoken of by Strabo712 in one place, and mile-stones in another713.

Strabo expatiates on the magnificence of the Indian festivals. Elephants, adorned with gold and silver, moved forth in procession with chariots of four horses and carriages drawn by oxen; well-appointed troops marched in their allotted place; gilded vases and basins of great size were borne in state, with tables, thrones, goblets, and lavers, almost all set with emeralds, beryls, carbuncles, and other precious stones; garments of various colours, and embroidered with gold, added to the richness of the spectacle. Tame lions and panthers formed part of the show, to which singing birds, and others remarkable for their plumage, were also made to contribute, sitting on trees which were transported on large waggons, and increased the variety of the scene. This last custom survived in part, and perhaps still survives, in Bengal, where artificial trees, and gardens as they were called not long ago, formed part of the nuptial processions714. They are said to honour the memories of the dead, and to compose songs in their praise, but not to erect expensive tombs to them715; a peculiarity which still prevails, notwithstanding the reverence paid to ancestors. The peculiar custom of building wooden houses near the rivers, which is noticed by Arrian716, probably refers to the practice which still obtains from the Indus, where the floors are platforms raised twelve or fifteen feet from the

Page 465

ground, to the Irawaddy, where almost all the houses of Rangoon seem to be similarly constructed.

They never gave or took money in marriage717; conforming, in that respect, both to the precepts of Menu and to the practice of modern times718.

The women were chaste, and the practice of self-immolation by widows was already introduced, but, perhaps, only partially; as Aristobulus speaks of it as one of the extraordinary local peculiarities which he heard of at Taxila719. The practice of giving their daughters to the victor in prescribed trials of force and skill, which gives rise to several adventures in the Hindu heroic poems, is spoken of by Arrian720 as usual in common life. Their kings are represented as surrounded by numbers of female slaves, who not only attend them in their retired apartments, as in Menu, but accompany them on hunting parties, and are guarded from view by jealous precautions for keeping the public at a distance, like those well known among Mahometans, and them only, by the name of kuruk. The ceremonial of the kings, however, had not the servility since introduced by the Mussulmans. It was the custom of the Indians to pray for the King, but not to prostrate themselves before him like the Persians721.

The dress of the Indians, as described by Arrian722 is

Page 466

precisely that composed of two sheets of cotton cloth, which is still worn by the people of Bengal, and by strict Bramins every where. Earrings and ornamented slippers were also used, according to the fashion of the present day. Their clothes were generally white cotton, though often of a variety of bright colours and flowered patterns (chintz). They wore gold and jewels, and were very expensive in their dresses, though frugal in most other things723. Pearls and precious stones were in common use among them. The great had umbrellas carried over them, as now.

They dyed their beards, as they now do, with henna and indigo; and mistakes in the mixture or time of application seem then, as now, to have occasionally made their beards green, blue, and purple. At present, no colours are ever purposely produced but black and sometimes red. They dined separately, according to their present unsociable practice, each man cooking his own dinner apart when he required it. They drank little fermented liquor, and what they did use was made from rice (arrack).

The appearance of the Indians is well described, and (what is surprising, considering the limited knowledge of the Macedonians) the distinction between the inhabitants of the north and south is always adverted to. The southern Indians are said to be black, and not unlike Ethiopians, except for the absence of flat noses and curly hair; the northern ones are fairer, and like Egyptians724, – a resemblance which must strike every traveller from India on seeing the pictures in the tombs on the Nile.

Favourable opinion entertained by the Greeks of the Indian character

The Indians are described as swarthy, but very tall, handsome, light, and active725. Their bravery is always

Page 467

spoken of as characteristic; their superiority in war to other Asiatics is repeatedly asserted, and appears in more ways than one726. They are said to be sober, moderate, peaceable; good soldiers; good farmers727; remarkable for simplicity and integrity; so reasonable as never to have recourse to a law-suit; and so honest as neither to require locks to their doors nor writings to bind their agreements728. Above all, it is said that no Indian was ever known to tell an untruth729.

We know, from the ancient writings of the Hindus themselves, that the alleged proofs of their confidence in each other are erroneous. The account of their veracity may safely be regarded as equally incorrect; but the statement is still of great importance, since it shows what were the qualities of the Indians that made most impression on the Macedonians, and proves that their character must, since then, have undergone a total change. Strangers are now struck with the litigiousness and falsehood of the natives; and, when they are incorrect in their accounts, it is always by exaggerating those defects.


657. Thalia, 101, 102.

658. Geography of Herodotus, p. 309.

659. The Indians east of the Indus constantly maintained to the followers of Alexander that they had never before been invaded (by human conquerors at least); an assertion which they could not have ventured if they had just been delivered from the yoke of Persia. Arrian, also, in discussing the alleged invasions of Bacchus, Hercules, Sesostris, Semiramis, and Cyrus, denies them all, except the mythological ones; and Strabo denies even those, adding that the Persians hired mercenaries from India, but never invaded it. (Arrian, Indica, 8, 9.; Strabo, lib. xv., near the beginning. See also Diodorus, lib. ii. p. 123., edition of 1604.)

I have not been able to discover the grounds on which it is sometimes said that the Persians were in possession of India as far as the Jamna or Ganges. The weighty opinion of Major Rennell (which, however, applies only to the Panjab) rests on the single argument of the great tribute said to have been paid by the Indians, which he himself proves to have been overstated. (Geography of Herodotus, p. 305.)

660. Expeditio Alexandri, lib. v. cap. 4.

661. Ibid. lib. v. cap. 6.

662. Indica, cap. ii., – “But the part from the Indus towards the East, let that be India, and let those [who inhabit it] be the Indians.”

663. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 473, 4,74., ed. 1587. In lib. xv. p. 497.. he again mentions the Indus as the eastern boundary of Persia.

664. See a verse on this subject quoted in Colonel Wilford’s Essay on Caucasus (Asiatic Researches, vol. vi. p. 585.) The Colonel, who is anxious to extend the early possessions of the Hindus, endeavours to prove that the Indus meant in this verse is the river of Kama (one of its tributary streams); that the main Indus may have changed its bed; that the prohibition was only against crossing the Indus, and not against passing to the other side by going round its source; and finally, that, in modern times, the prohibition is disregarded: but he never denies the existence of the restriction, or asserts that it was not at one time attended to.

665. Lib. xv. p. 474. The passage states, from Eratosthenes, that at the time of Alexander’s invasion the Indus was the boundary of India and Ariana, and that the Persians possessed all the country to the west of the river; but that, afterwards, the Indians received a considerable part of Persia from the Macedonians. He explains this transfer more particularly in page 498., where he says that Alexander took this country from the Persians, and kept it to himself, but that Seleucus subsequently ceded it to Sandracottus.

666. Exped. Alexand., lib. vi. cap. xxi.; Indica, cap. xxv.

667. This is somewhat less than was occupied by the Indians described by Arrian, who extended west to the Cophenes, probably the river of Panjshir, north of Cabul.

668. Among these tribes are the Jats, whose possible descent from the Getae has been discussed in another place, but who are now classed with the Indians by all their western neighbours.

669. Colonel Tod, vol. i. 85, 86.; vol. ii. 220. (note), 312. Captain McMurdo, Bombay Transactions, vol. ii. p. 219.

In speaking of the Hindus above, I do not allude to the modern emigrants now found scattered through the countries on the west of the Indus as far as Moscow; neither do I discuss what other settlements of that people may have been effected between the time of Alexander and the present day.

670. Arrian, lib. iii. cap. xxviii.

671. Lib. xi. p. 355., edition of 1587.

672. See Clinton’s Fasti, B.C. 330. Darius was killed in July, and Alexander reached Bactria in spring.

673. Arrian, ubi supra.

674. Since made familiar by the march of Lord Keane’s army.

675. Quintus Curtius, lib. vii. cap. iii.

676. Arrian, lib. iv. cap. xxii.

677. Alexandria was probably at Begram, 25 miles N. 15 E. from Cabul, the ruins of which are described in a memoir by Mr. Masson, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, vol. v. p. 1.

678. Preface to the expedition of Alexander.”

679. Beginning of lib. xv. See also lib. ii. p. 48., ed. 1587.

680. Onesicritus conversed through three interpreters. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 492., edition of 1587. From Greek into Persian, and from Persian into Indian, are two that obviously suggest themselves; it is not so easy to conjecture for what languages the third interpreter was required.

681. From this charge I must exempt Nearchus, who seems to have had a clear conception of the division of the Bramins into religious and secular. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 193., ed. 1587.

682. See p. 77.; and Menu, ii. 26, 27.

683. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 490., ed. 1587.

684. Arrian’s Exped. Alexand., lib. vi. cap. vii. Similar instances of the voluntary conflagration of cities, and the devotion of their lives by the inhabitants, are furnished in Indian history down to modern times.

685. Arrian, lib. vi. cap. xvi.; where Bramin and Sophist are declared to be synonymous.

686. See Wilson (Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 279.), who derives their name from Pramanika, a term applied to the followers of the logical school.

687. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 491.

688. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 492.

689. Exped. Alexand., lib. vii. cap. ii.

690. See Menu, iv. 63., quoted before, p. 26.

691. A similar instance of self-immolation is related by Strabo (lib. xv. p. 495., ed. of 1587.), of Zarmanochegus, an Indian of Bargosa, who had accompanied an embassy from his own country to Augustus, and burned himself alive at Athens.

692. Strabo, lib. xv.

693. Ibid.

694. Probably as being a proof of guilt in a former state of existence.

695. See the description of the last portions of a Bramin’s life in Menu, Book VI., from p. 29. to the end, quoted in page 27. of this volume.

696. Before quitting the subject of the confusion made by the ancients between the Bramins and monastic orders, it may be observed that some modern writers, even of those best acquainted with the distinction, have not marked it in their works; so that it is often difficult to ascertain from their expressions which they allude to in each case. For much information relating to the ancient accounts of the Hindu priesthood and religion, see Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. ix. p. 296.

697. Indica, cap. x. See also Diodorus, lib. ii. p. 124., ed. 1601, where he adds many extravagances about their equality and republican institutions.

698. Among those of the first description were the Sikhs (before Ranjit Sing’s ascendancy), whom Mr. Foster, though familiar with Indian governments, describes as being under a democracy; the chiefs of Shekhawet; and various other petty confederacies of chiefs. Of single villages, the Sondis and Grasias mentioned by Sir John Malcolm (Account of Malwa, vol. i. p. 508.) furnish examples. The same author alludes to towns in a state such as has been mentioned.

699. See the account of townships in the chapter on revenue, p. 118.

700. As an exaggerated opinion appears to be sometimes entertained of the extent of the territories and dependencies of Porus, it may be worth while to state the limits assigned to them by Arrian and Strabo. His western boundary was the Hydaspes. Beyond that river, in the centre, was his mortal enemy Taxiles; on the north of whose dominions was Abissares, an independent prince whom Arrian calls king of the mountain Indians a; and on the south, Sopithes, another independent sovereign, in whose territories the Salt range lay b: so that Porus could possess nothing to the west of the Hydaspes. On the north, his territory extended to the woods under the mountains c; but it did not include the whole country between the Hydaspes and Acesines, for, besides other tribes who might by possibility be dependent on Porus, there were the Glaucanicae or Glausae, who had thirty-seven large cities, and whom Alexander put under Porus d; thereby adding much country to what he had before possessed e. On the east, between the Acesines and Hydraotes, he had another Porus, who was his bitter enemy f. To the southeast of him were the Cathaei, and other independent nations, against whom he assisted Alexander g. To the south were the Malli, against whom Porus and Abissares had once led their combined forces, with those of many others, and had been defeated h. From this it appears that the dominions of Porus were all situated between the Hydaspes and Acesines; and that his immediate neighbours on every side were independent of him, and most of them at war with him. If he had any dependents, they must have been between the rivers already mentioned, where there were certainly different tribes; but of those, we know that the Glaucanicae were independent of him, and we have no reason to think the others were dependent.

a Arrian, lib. v. cap. 8.

b Strabo, lib. xv. p. 481.

c Ibid. p. 480.

d Arrian, lib. v. cap. 20.

e Ibid. cap. 21.

f Ibid. cap. 21.

g Ibid. cap. 22. 24.

h Ibid. cap. 22.

701. Strabo, lib. xv.

702. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 493., ed. 1587.

703. Arrian’s Indica, p. 11.

704. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 484., ed. 1587.

705. Asiatic Researches, vol. ix. p. 298.

706. The mention of the worship of Hercules at Methora may possibly refer to that of Crishna at Mattra.

707. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 490., ed. 1587.

708. Strabo, lib. xv. pp. 476, 477.

709. Indica, chap. xiii.

710. Vol. iii. p. 229.

711. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 493.

712. Lib. xv. p. 474., ed. 1587.

713. Lib. xv. p. 487.

714. Lib. xv. p. 494.

715. Arrian’s Indica, cap. x.

716. Ibid. cap. x.

717. Arrian, Indica, cap. xvii.

718. Megasthenes alone contradicts this account, and says they bought their wives for a yoke of oxen. (Strabo, cap. xv. p. 488.)

719. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 491., ed. 1587.

720. Indica, cap. xvii.

721. It is remarkable that in the Hindu dramas there is not a trace of servility in the behaviour of other characters to the King. Even now, Hindu courts that have had little communication with the Mussulmans are comparatively unassuming in their etiquette.

722. Indica, cap. xvi.

723. Strabo, lib. xv. pp. 481. 488.

724. Arrian, Indica, cap. vi.; Strabo, lib. xv. p. 475., ed. 1587.

725. Arrian, Indica, cap. xvii.

726. Arrian, Exped. Alexand., lib. v. cap. iv.

727. Ibid. lib. v. cap. xxv.

728. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 488., ed. 1587.

729. Arrian, Indica, cap. xii.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
hosted by ibiblio Support Wikipedia