Among the interesting early accounts of India is one by the Greek geographer Strabo, who wrote in the first century before the Christian era. Strabo was an extensive traveller, and although he had not visited India itself, he had journeyed sufficiently in distant lands to be able to judge of the general characteristics of countries described by others, even if he himself had not seen them. His account of Hindustan he draws chiefly from Greek records of Alexander’s campaigns and of the historians of Seleukos. He frequently cites Megasthenes and Onesikritos, who accompanied the Macedonian conqueror on his victorious march through the East, but he places more confidence in Aristoboulos, who was likewise with Alexander on
the expedition, and in Nearchos, the chief commander of Alexander’s fleet. Strabo’s account of India is found in the first portion of the fifteenth book of his Geography, and I have reproduced it here with a few unimportant omissions. He opens his description as follows:–
The reader must receive this account of India with indulgence, for the country lies at a very great distance, and few persons of our nation have seen it; and those who have visited it have seen only some portions of it; the greater part of what they relate is from hearsay, and even what they saw, they observed during their passage through the country with an army, and in great haste. For this reason they do not agree in their accounts of the same things, although they write about them as if they had examined them with the greatest care and attention. Some of these writers were fellow soldiers and fellow travellers, for example, those who belonged to the army which, under the command of Alexander, conquered Asia; yet they frequently contradict each other. If, then, they differ so much respecting things which they had seen, what must we think of what they relate from hearsay?
Nor do the writers who, many ages since Alexander’s time, have given an account of these countries, nor even those who at the present time make voyages thither, afford any precise information. Apollodoros, for instance, author of the “History of Parthia,” when he mentions the Greeks who occasioned the revolt of Baktriane from the Syrian kings, who were the successors
of Seleukos Nikator, says that when they became powerful they invaded India. He adds no new information to what was previously known, and even asserts, in contradiction to others, that the Baktrians had subjected to their dominion a larger portion of India than had the Macedonians; for Eukratidas (one of these kings) had a thousand cities subject to his authority. But other writers affirm 7, that the Macedonians conquered the nine nations situated between the Hydaspes (Jihlam) and the Hypanis (Bias), and obtained possession of five hundred cities, not one of which was less than Kos in Meropis (an island in the Aegean Sea), and that Alexander, after having conquered all this country, delivered it up to Poros.
Very few of the merchants who now sail from Egypt by the Nile and the Arabian Gulf to India have sailed around as far as the Ganges; and, being ignorant persons, are not qualified to give an account of places they have visited. From one place in India, and from one king, namely, Pandion, or, according to others, Poros, presents and embassies were sent to Augustus Caesar. With the ambassadors came the Indian sophist (or ascetic), who committed himself to the flames at Athens, like Kalanos, who exhibited the same spectacle in the presence of Alexander.
If we set these stories aside and direct our attention to accounts of the country prior to the expedition
of Alexander, we shall find them even more obscure. It is probable that Alexander, elated by his extraordinary good fortune, believed these accounts. According to Nearchos, he was ambitious of conducting his army through Gedrosia (Mekran) when he heard that Semiramis and Cyrus (Kyros) had undertaken expeditions against India (through this country), although both had abandoned the enterprise, the former escaping with twenty, and Cyrus with seven men only. For that reason Alexander considered that it would be a glorious achievement for him to lead a conquering army safe through the same nations and countries where Semiramis and Cyrus had suffered such disasters; and he therefore gave credence to the stories.
But how can we place any real confidence in the accounts of India derived from such expeditions as those of Cyrus and Semiramis? Megasthenes is also of this opinion, for he advises persons not to credit the ancient histories of India, owing to the fact that, with the exception of the expeditions of Herakles (Hercules), of Dionysos (Bacchus), and the later invasion of Alexander, no army was ever sent out of their country by the Indians, nor did any foreign enemy ever invade or conquer it. Sesostris the Egyptian, he says, and Tearkon the Ethiopian, advanced as far as Europe; and Nabokodrosoros (Nebuchadnezzar) who was more celebrated among the Chaldmans than Herakles among the Greeks, penetrated even as far as the Pillars, which Tearkon also reached; Sesostris conducted an army from Iberia to Thrake and Pontos; Idanthyrsos the
Skythian overran Asia as far as Egypt; but not one of these persons proceeded as far as India, and Semiramis died before her intended enterprise was undertaken. The Persians had sent for a body of mercenary troops, the Hydrakes1, from India, but they did not lead an army into that country, and only approached it when Cyrus was marching against the Massagetai.
Strabo then gives an account of the storming of the fortress of Nysa and of Aornos, as described in the second volume of this series (pp. 35 - 45), and adds some remarks on the geographical boundaries of India, after which he turns to the subject of the rivers of Hindustan.
The whole of India is watered by rivers, some of which empty themselves into the two largest, the Indus and the Ganges; others discharge themselves into the sea by their own mouths. But all of them have their sources in the Caucasus. At their commencement their course is toward the south; some of them continue to flow in the same direction, particularly those which unite with the Indus; others turn to the east, as the Ganges. This, the largest of the Indian rivers, descends from the mountainous country, and when it reaches the plains, turns to the east, then flowing past Palibothra2, a very large city, it proceeds onward to the sea in that quarter, and discharges its waters by a single mouth. The Indus falls into the Southern Sea, and empties itself by two mouths, encompassing the
country called Patalene, which resembles the Delta of Egypt.
By the exhalation of vapours from such vast rivers, and by the Etesian winds, as Eratosthenes affirms, India is watered by summer rains, and the plains are inundated...
Nearchos, speaking of the accretion of earth formed by the rivers, adduces the following instances. The plains of Hermos, Kaystros, Maiandros, and Kaïkos have these names because they have been formed by the soil which has been carried over the plains by the rivers; or rather they were produced by the fine and soft soil brought down from the mountains; whence the plains are, as it were, the offspring of the rivers, and it is rightly said that the plains belong to the
rivers. What is said by Herodotus of the Nile, and of the land about it, namely, that it is the gift of the Nile (wherefore Nearchos says that the Nile was synonymous with Egypt), may be applied equally well to this country.
Aristoboulos, however, says that rain and snow fall only on the mountains and the country immediately below them, and that the plains experience neither one nor the other, but are overflowed only by the rise of the waters of the rivers; that the mountains are covered with snow in the winter; that the rains set in at the commencement of spring, and continue to increase; that at the time of the blowing of the Etesian winds they pour down impetuously, without intermission, night and day till the rising of Arktouros, and that the rivers, filled by the melting of the snow and by the rains, irrigate the plains.
These things, he says, were observed by himself and by others on their journey into India from the Paropamisadai. This was after the setting of the Pleiades, and during their stay in the mountainous country in the territory of the Hypasioi, and in that of Assakanos during the winter. At the beginning of spring they descended into the plains to a large city called Taxila; thence they proceeded to the Hydaspes (Jihlam) and the country of Poros. During the winter they saw no rain, but only snow. The first rain which fell was at Taxila3. After their descent to the Hydaspes (Jihlam)
and the conquest of Poros, their progress was eastwards to the Hypanis (Bias), and thence back to the Hydaspes (Jihlam). At this time it rained continually, and particularly during the blowing of the Etesian winds, but at the rising of Arktouros the rains ceased. They remained at the Hydaspes while the ships were being built, and began their voyage not many days before the setting of the Pleiades, and were occupied during the whole autumn, winter, and the ensuing spring and summer in sailing down the river, and they arrived at Patalene (in the delta of the Indus) about the rising of the Dog-star; during the passage down the river, which lasted ten months, they did not experience rain at any place, not even when the Etesian winds were at their height, when the rivers were full and the plains overflowed; the sea could not be navigated on account of the blowing of contrary winds, but no land breezes succeeded.
Nearchos gives the same account, but does not agree with Aristoboulos respecting the rains in summer, but says that the plains are watered by rain in the summer, and that they are without rain in winter. Both writers, however, speak of the rise of the rivers. Nearchos says that the men encamped upon the Akesines (Chinab) were obliged to change their situation for another more elevated, and that this was at the time of the rise of the river, and of the summer solstice.
Aristoboulos even gives the measure of the height to which the river rises, namely, forty cubits, twenty of which would fill the channel up to the margin, above
its previous depth, and the other twenty are the measure of the water when it overflows the plains. ...
From what Aristoboulos relates, it is natural that the country should be subject to shocks of earthquakes, since the ground is loose and hollow by excess of moisture, and easily splits into fissures, so that even the course of rivers is altered. He says that when he was despatched upon some business into the country, he saw a deserted tract of land which contained more than a thousand cities with their dependent villages. The Indus, having left its proper channel, had become diverted into another and much deeper channel on the left hand, and precipitated itself into this like a cataract, so that the country on the right hand, from which it had receded, was no longer watered by the inundations, since it was elevated above the level, not only
of the new channel of the river, but above that of the inundations.
The account of Onesikritos confirms the facts of the rising of the rivers and of the absence of land breezes. He says that the seashore is swampy, particularly near the mouths of rivers, on account of the mud, tides, and the force of the winds blowing from the sea.
Megasthenes also indicates the fertility of India by the circumstance of the soil producing fruits and grain twice a year. Eratosthenes relates the same facts, for he speaks of a winter and a summer sowing, and of the rain at the same seasons. For, according to him, there is no year which is without rain at both those periods, whence ensues great abundance, the ground never failing to bear crops.
An abundance of fruit is produced by trees; and the roots of plants, particularly of large reeds, possess a sweetness which they have by nature and by coction; for the water, both from rains and rivers, is warmed by the sun’s rays. The meaning of Eratosthenes seems to be this, that what among other nations is called the ripening of fruits and juices, is called among these coction, and it contributes as much to produce an agreeable flavour as the coction by fire. To this is attributed the flexibility of the branches of trees, from which wheels of carriages are made, and to the same cause is imputed the growth of wool (i.e. cotton) upon some trees. Nearchos says that their fine clothes were made of this wool, and that the Macedonians used it for mattresses and the stuffing of saddles. The Serika (silks)
are also of a similar kind and are made of carded byssos (or fibre), which is obtained from some sort of bark of plants. Nearchos states that reeds yield honey, although there are no bees, and that there is a tree from the fruit of which honey is procured, but that the fruit eaten fresh causes intoxication.
India produces many singular trees. There is one whose branches incline downwards, and whose leaves are not less in size than a shield. Onesikritos, describing
minutely the country of Mousikanos, which he says is the most southerly part of India, relates that there are some large trees [the banyan] the branches of which extend to the length even of twelve cubits. They then grow downwards, as though bent (by force), till they touch the earth, where they penetrate and take root like layers. They next shoot upwards and form a trunk. They again grow as we have described, bending downwards, and implanting one layer after another, and in the above order, so that one tree forms a long shady roof, like a tent supported by many pillars. In speaking of the size of the trees, he says their trunks could scarcely be clasped by five men.
Aristoboulos also, where he mentions the Akesines (Chinab) and its confluence with the Hyarotis (Ravi), speaks of trees with their boughs bent downwards and of a size so great that fifty horsemen, or, according to Onesikritos, four hundred horsemen, might take shelter at mid-day beneath the shade of a single tree.
Aristoboulos mentions another tree, not large, bearing great pods, like the bean, ten fingers in length, full of honey, and says that those who eat this fruit do not easily escape alive. But the accounts of all these writers about the size of the trees have been outdone by those who assert that there has been seen, beyond the Hyarotis (Ravi), a tree which casts a shade at noon of five stadia (about 3000 feet).
Aristoboulos says of the wool-bearing trees, that the flower pod contains a kernel, which is taken out, and the remainder is carded like wool.
In the country of Mousikanos there grows, he says, spontaneously grain resembling wheat, and a vine that produces wine, whereas other authors affirm that there is no wine in India. Hence, according to Anacharsis, they had no pipes or any musical instruments, except cymbals, drums, and rattles, which were used by jugglers.
Both Aristoboulos and other writers relate that India produces many medicinal drugs and roots, both of a salutary and noxious quality, and dyes yielding a variety of colours. He adds that, by a law, any person discovering a deadly substance is punished with death unless he also discover the antidote; in case he discovers the antidote, he is rewarded by the king.
Southern India, like Arabia and Ethiopia, produces cinnamon, nard, and other aromatics. It resembles these countries as regards the effect of the sun’s rays, but it surpasses them in having a copious supply of water, whence the atmosphere is humid, and on this account more conducive to fertility and fecundity; and this applies to the earth and to the water, hence those animals which inhabit both one and the other are of a larger size than are found in other countries.’
At this point Strabo allows himself to digress for a couple of pages on the subject of resemblances between India and Egypt in regard to the water-supply of both countries, and then he returns to the more specific question of the rivers of India and the fertility caused by their overflow – a topic of interest to any one who is concerned with India’s history.
It is admitted by those who maintain the resemblance of India to Egypt and Ethiopia, that the plains which are not overflowed do not produce anything for want of water.
Nearchos says that the old question respecting the rise of the Nile is answered by the case of the Indian rivers, namely, that it is the effect of summer rains. When Alexander saw crocodiles in the Hydaspes (Bias) and Egyptian beans in the Akesines (Chinab), he thought that he had discovered the sources of the Nile and was about to equip a fleet with the intention of sailing by this river to Egypt; but he found out shortly afterwards that his design could not be accomplished. “for between were vast rivers, fearful waters, and, first of all, the ocean4,” into which all the Indian rivers discharge themselves; then come Ariane, the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, all Arabia and Troglodytike. ...
We shall speak of the noteworthy rivers that flow into the Indus, and of the countries which they traverse; with regard to the rest, our ignorance is greater than our knowledge.
Alexander, who discovered the greatest portion of this country, first of all decided that it was more expedient to pursue and destroy those who had treacherously killed Darius, and were meditating the revolt of Baktriane. He approached India therefore through Ariane, which he left on the right hand, and crossed the Paropamisos to the northern parts, and to Baktriane. Having conquered all the country subject to
the Persians, and many other places besides, he then entertained the desire of possessing India, of which he had received many accounts, although indistinct.
He therefore returned, crossing over the same mountains by other and shorter roads, keeping India on the left hand; he then immediately turned toward it, and toward its western boundaries and the rivers Kophes (the Kophen of Kabul) and Choaspes. The latter river empties itself into the Kophes, near Plemyrion, after passing by another city, Gorys, in its course through Bandobene and Gandaritis.
He was informed that the mountainous and northern parts were the most habitable and fertile, but that the southern part was either without water, or was liable to be overflowed by the rivers at one time, and burnt up at another, more fit to be the haunts of wild beasts than the habitations of men. He resolved, therefore, first to get possession of that part of India which had been well spoken of, considering at the same time that the rivers which it was necessary to pass, and which flowed transversely through the country which he intended to attack, would be crossed more easily near their sources. He also heard that several of the rivers united and formed one stream, and that this occurred more and more frequently the farther they advanced, so that, in the absence of boats, the country would be more difficult to traverse. Being apprehensive of this obstruction, he crossed the Kophes (Kophen of Kabul), and conquered the whole of the mountainous country situated toward the east.
Next to the Kophes was the Indus, then the Hydaspes (Jihlam), the Akesines (Chinab), the Hyarotis (Ravi), and lastly, the Hypanis (Bias). He was prevented from proceeding farther, partly because of some oracles, and partly because compelled by his army, which was exhausted by toil and fatigue, but whose principal distress arose from their constant exposure to rain. Hence we became acquainted with the eastern parts of India on this side of the Hypanis, and whatever parts besides which have been described by those who, after Alexander, advanced beyond the Hypanis to the Ganges and Palibothra (Pataliputra, Patna).
After the river Kophes, follows the Indus. The country lying between these two rivers is occupied by Astakenoi, Masianoi, Nysaioi, and Hypasioi5. Next is the territory of Assakanos, where is the city Masoga (Massaga?), the royal residence of the country. Near the Indus is another city, Peukolaitis. At this place a bridge, which was constructed, afforded a passage for the army.
Between the Indus and the Hydaspes is Taxila, a large city, and governed by good laws. The neighbouring country is crowded with inhabitants and very fertile, and here unites with the plains. The people and their king Taxiles received Alexander with kindness, and obtained in return more presents than they had offered to Alexander; so that the Macedonians
became jealous, and observed that it seemed as if Alexander had found none on whom he could confer favours before he passed the Indus. Some writers say that this country is larger than Egypt.
Above this country among the mountains is the territory of Abisaros (Abhisara), who, as the ambassadors that came from him reported, kept two serpents, one of eighty, and the other, according to Onesikritos, of one hundred and forty cubits in length. This writer may as well be called the master fabulist as the master pilot of Alexander. For all those who accompanied Alexander preferred the marvellous to the true, but this writer seems to have surpassed all in his description of prodigies. Some things, however, he relates which are probable and worthy of record, and will not be passed over in silence even by one who does not
believe their correctness. Other writers also mention the hunting of serpents in the Emoda Mountains, and the keeping and feeding of them in caves.
Between the Hydaspes (Jihiam) and Akesines (Chinab) is the country of Poros, an extensive and fertile district, containing nearly three hundred cities. Here also is the forest in the neighbourhood of the Emoda Mountains in which Alexander cut down a large quantity of fir, pine, cedar, and a variety of other trees fit for ship-building, and brought the timber down the Hydaspes. With this he constructed a fleet on the Hydaspes, near the cities which he built on each side of the river where he had crossed it and conquered Poros. One of these cities he called Boukephalia, from the horse Boukephalos, which was killed in the battle with Poros. The name Boukephalos (ox-headed) was given to it from the breadth of its forehead. It was an excellent war-horse, and Alexander constantly rode it in battle6. The other city he called Nikaia from the victory (nike) which he had obtained.
In the forest before mentioned it is said there is a vast number of monkeys, and they are as large as they are numerous. On one occasion the Macedonians, seeing a body of them standing in array opposite to them on some bare eminences (for this animal is not less intelligent than the elephant) and presenting the appearance of an army, prepared to attack them as real enemies, but being informed of the facts of the case by Taxiles, who was then with the king, they desisted.
The chase of this animal is conducted in two different manners. It is an imitative creature and takes refuge up among the trees. The hunters, when they perceive a monkey seated on a tree, place in sight a basin containing water, with which they wash their own eyes; then, instead of water, they put a basin of bird-lime, go away, and lie in wait at a distance. The animal leaps down and besmears itself with the bird-lime, and when it winks, the eyelids are fastened together; the hunters then come upon it and take it.
The other method of capturing them is as follows: the hunters dress themselves in bags like trousers, and go away, leaving behind them others which are hairy, with the inside smeared over with bird-lime. The monkeys put them on, and are easily taken.
Some writers place Kathaia and the country of Sopeithes (King Subhuti), one of the governors, in the tract between the rivers (Hydaspes and Akesines);
some, on the other side of the Akesines and of the liyarotis, on the confines of the territory of the other Poros, the nephew of the Poros who was taken prisoner by Alexander, and call the country subject to him Gandaris.
A very singular usage is related of the high estimation in which the inhabitants of Kathaia hold the quality of beauty, even in the matter of beauty in horses and dogs. According to Onesikritos, they elect the handsomest person as king. [It is likewise their custom regarding children that] a child undergoes a public inspection and examination two months after birth. They determine whether it has the amount of beauty required by law, and whether it is worthy to be permitted to live. The presiding magistrate then pronounces whether it is to be allowed to live or whether it is to be put to death.
They dye their heads with various and extremely striking colours, for the purpose of improving their appearance. This custom prevails elsewhere among many of the Indians, who pay great attention to their hair and dress; and the country produces colours of great beauty. In other respects the people are frugal, but are fond of ornament.
A peculiar custom is related of the Kathaioi. The bride and the husband are respectively the choice of each other, and the wives burn themselves with their deceased husbands. The reason assigned for this practice is that the women sometimes fell in love with young men, and deserted or poisoned their husbands. This law was
therefore established in order to check the practice of administering poison; but neither the existence nor the origin of the law are probable facts.
It is said, that in the territory of Sopeithes there is a mountain composed of salt to be mined, sufficient for the whole of India. Valuable mines also, both of gold and silver, are situated, it is said, not far off among other mountains, according to the testimony of Gorgos, the miner of Alexander. The Indians, unacquainted with mining and smelting, are ignorant of their own wealth, and therefore traffic with great simplicity.
The dogs in the territory of Sopeithes are said to possess remarkable courage; Alexander received from Sopeithes a present of one hundred and fifty of them. To test them, two were set at a lion; when these were mastered, two others were set on; when the battle became equal, Sopeithes ordered a man to seize one of the dogs by the leg, and to drag him away or, if he still held on, to cut off his leg. Alexander at first refused his consent to the dog’s leg being cut off, as he wished to save the dog. But as Sopeithes said, “I will give you four in the place of it,” Alexander consented, and he saw the dog permit his leg to be cut slowly off, rather than loose his hold.
The direction of the march, as far as the Hydaspes, was for the most part toward the south. After that, to the Hypanis, it was more toward the east. The whole of it, however, was much nearer to the country lying at the foot of the mountains than to the plains. Alexander therefore, when he returned from the Hypanis
to the Hydaspes and the station of his vessels, prepared his fleet, and set sail on the Hydaspes.
All the rivers which have been mentioned (the last of which is the Hypanis) unite in one stream, the Indus. It is said that there are altogether fifteen rivers of considerable size which flow into the Indus. Filled by these various streams, the river Indus becomes enlarged in some places to the extent of a hundred stadia, according to writers who exaggerate, or, according to a more moderate estimate, to fifty stadia at the utmost, and at the least to seven; and they speak of many nations and cities about this river. It discharges itself by two mouths into the southern sea and forms the island called Patalene.
Alexander’s intention was to relinquish the march toward the parts situated to the east, first, because he was prevented from crossing the Hypanis; next, because he learned by experience the falsehood of the reports he had previously received to the effect that
the plains were burnt up with fire and more fit for the haunts of wild beasts than for the habitations of men. He therefore set out in this direction, relinquishing the other track, so that these parts became better known than the other.
The territory lying between the Hypanis and the Hydaspes is said to contain nine nations and five thousand cities, not less in size than Kos in Meropis (in the Aegean Sea); but the number seems to be exaggerated. We have already mentioned nearly all the nations deserving of notice which inhabit the country situated between the Indus and the Hydaspes.
Below, and next in order, are the people called Sibai and the great nations, the Malloi7 and Sydrakai (Oxydrakai). It was among the Malloi that Alexander was in danger of losing his life, from a wound he received at the capture of a small city. The Sydrakai are fabled to be allied to Dionysos (Bacchus).
Near Patalene is placed the country of Mousikanos, that of Sabos, whose capital is Sindomana, that of Portikanos, and of other princes who inhabited the country on the banks of the Indus. They were all conquered by Alexander; last of all he made himself master of Patalene, which is formed by the two branches of the Indus. Aristoboulos says that these two branches are one thousand stadia distant from each other. Nearchos adds eight hundred stadia more to this number. Onesikritos reckons each side of the included island,
Reduced from a map by Vincent A. Smith.
which is of a triangular shape, at two thousand stadia; and the breadth of the river, where it is separated into two mouths, at about two hundred stadia. He calls the island Delta, and says that it is as large as the Delta of Egypt; but this is a mistake. For the Egyptian Delta is said to have a base of thirteen hundred stadia, and each of the sides is described as less than the base. In Patalene is Patala, a considerable city, from which the island has its name.
Onesikritos says that the greatest part of the coast in this quarter abounds with swamps, particularly at the mouths of the river, which is owing to the mud, the tides, and the absence of land breezes; for these
parts are chiefly under the influence of winds blowing from the sea.
He expatiates also in praise of the country of Mousikanos and relates of the inhabitants what is common to other Indian tribes, that they are long-lived, and that life is protracted even to the age of 130 years (the Seres [Chinese], however, are said by some writers to be still longer lived), and that, although the country produces everything in abundance, they are temperate in their habits and healthy.
The following are their peculiarities. They have a kind of Lacedaemonian common meal, where they eat in public. Their food consists of what is taken in the chase. They make no use of gold or silver, although they have mines of these metals. Instead of slaves, they employ youths in the flower of their age, as the Kretans employ the Aphamiotai, and the Lacedaemonians the Helots. They study no science with attention except that of medicine; for they consider the excessive pursuit of some arts, as that of war and the like, to be committing evil. There is no process at law except against murder and outrage, for it is not in a person’s own power to escape either one or the other; but as contracts are in the power of each individual, he must endure the wrong, if good faith is violated by another; for a man should be cautious whom he trusts, and not disturb the city with constant lawsuits.
Such are the accounts of the persons who accompanied Alexander in his expedition.
A letter of Krateros to his mother Aristopatra is
current, which contains many other singular circumstances and differs from every other writer, particularly in saying that Alexander advanced as far as the Ganges. Krateros says that he himself saw the river and the sea monsters which it produces; and his account of its magnitude, breadth, and depth far exceeds, rather than approximates, probability. It is generally agreed that the Ganges is the largest of known rivers in the three continents; the next in size is the Indus; the third is the Istros (Danube); and the fourth, the Nile. But different authors differ in their account of the Ganges, some assigning thirty, others three, stadia as the least breadth. Megasthenes, however, says that its ordinary width is one hundred stadia, and its least depth twenty orguiai (about 120 feet).
At the confluence of the Ganges and of another river there is situated (the city of) Palibothra, in length eighty stadia, and in breadth fifteen stadia. It is in the shape of a parallelogram, surrounded by a wooden wall pierced with openings through which arrows may be discharged. In front is a ditch, which serves the purpose of defence and of a sewer for the city. The people in whose country the city is situated are the most distinguished of all the tribes, and are called Prasioi. The king, besides his family name, has the surname of Palibothros, as the king to whom Megasthenes was sent on an embassy had the name of Sandrokottos8. The Parthians have a similar custom, for
From an old print
all have the name Arsakai, although each has his peculiar name of Orodes, Phraates, or some other appellation.
The entire country on the other side of the Hypanis is said to be very fertile, but we have no accurate knowledge of it. Both because of ignorance and owing to its remote situation, everything relative to it is exaggerated or partakes of the wonderful. As, for example, the stories of myrmekes, or ants, which dig up gold; of animals and men with peculiar shapes, and possessing extraordinary faculties; of the longevity of the Seres, whose lives exceed the age of two hundred years. They speak also of an aristocratic form of government, consisting of five hundred counsellors, each of whom furnishes the state with an elephant.
According to Megasthenes, the largest tigers are found among the Prasioi, and are almost twice as large as lions, and of such strength that a tame one led by
four persons seized a mule by its hinder leg, overpowered it, and dragged it to him. The monkeys are larger than the largest dogs; they are of a white colour, except the face, which is black. The contrary is observed in other places. Their tails are more than two cubits in length. They are very tame and are not of a mischievous disposition. They neither attack people nor do they steal.
Stones are found there of the colour of frankincense, and sweeter than figs or honey.
In some places there are serpents of two cubits in length, with membranous wings like bats. They fly at night and let fall drops of urine or sweat, which causes the skin of persons who are not on their guard to putrefy. There are also winged scorpions of great size. Ebony likewise grows there.
There are also dogs of great courage, which do not let go their hold till water is poured into their nostrils; some of them have their sight distorted, and the eyes of others even fall out because of the tenaciousness of their bite. Both a lion and a bull were held fast by one of these dogs. The bull was caught by the muzzle, and died before the dog could be loosened.
In the mountainous country is a river, the Silas, on the surface of which nothing will float. Demokritos, who had travelled over a large part of Asia, disbelieves this, and Aristotle does not credit it, although atmospheres exist so rare that no bird can sustain its flight in them. Some ascending vapours also attract and absorb, as it were, whatever is flying over them, as
amber attracts chaff, and the magnet iron. Perhaps there may be a similar power in water. As these are matters belonging to physics and to the question of floating bodies, they are referred to them; but at present we must turn to what follows and to the subjects more nearly relating to geography.
It is said that the Indians are divided into seven castes. The first in rank, but the smallest in number, are the philosophers. Persons who offer sacrifice, or make oblations to the dead, have the services of these persons on their private account; but the kings employ them in a public capacity at the time of the Great Assembly, as it is called, when, at the beginning of the new year, all the philosophers repair to the king at the gate. At that time any useful designs which they have made relating to a prosperous season for crops and animals, and any observations they have made regarding the government of the state are publicly declared. If any one is caught giving false information three times, he is enjoined by law to maintain silence during the rest of his life; but any one who has made correct observations is exempted from all contributions and tribute.
The second caste is that of husbandmen, who constitute the majority of natives and are a most mild and gentle people, as they are exempted from military service and cultivate their land free from alarm. They neither resort to cities to transact private business nor take part in public turmoils. It therefore frequently happens that at the same time, and in the same part
of the country, one body of men are in battle array and engaged in contests with the enemy, while others are ploughing or digging in security, having these soldiers to protect them. The whole of the territory belongs to the king; and the people rent the land which they cultivate, besides paying over a fourth part of the produce.
The third caste consists of shepherds and hunters, who alone are permitted to hunt, to breed cattle, and to sell or let out for hire beasts of burden. In return for freeing the country from wild beasts and birds, which infest sown fields, they receive an allowance of corn from the king. They lead a wandering life and dwell in tents. No private person is allowed to keep a horse or an elephant. The possession of either one or the other is a royal privilege, and persons are appointed to take care of them.
The manner of hunting the elephant is as follows: a deep ditch is dug around a bare spot, about four or five stadia in extent, and at the place of entrance a very narrow bridge is constructed. Into the enclosure three or four of the tamest female elephants are driven. The men themselves lie in wait under cover of concealed huts. The wild elephants do not approach the stockade by day, but at night they enter the enclosure one by one; when they have passed the entrance, the men secretly close it. They then introduce the strongest of the tame combatants, the drivers of which engage with the wild animals and also wear them out by starving them; when the latter become exhausted by fatigue,
From Moore’s The Queen’s Empire, The Lippincott Co., Philadelphia.
the boldest of the drivers gets down unobserved and creeps under the belly of his own elephant. From this position he creeps beneath the belly of the wild elephant and ties his legs together; when this is done, a signal is given to the tame elephants to beat those which are tied by the legs, till they fall to the ground.
After they have fallen down, they fasten the wild and tame elephants together by the neck with thongs of raw hide, and, in order that they may not be able to shake off those who are attempting to mount them, the men make cuts in the neck and put thongs of leather into these incisions, so that they submit to their bonds through pain, and therefore remain quiet.
Among the elephants which are taken, those are
rejected which are too old or too young for service; the remainder are led away to the stables. They tie their feet one to another and their necks to a post firmly fastened in the ground, and then tame them by hunger. They afterwards recruit their strength with green cane and grass. Then they teach the elephants to obey; some of them they train by words; others they pacify by tunes, accompanied with the beating of a drum. Few of the elephants are difficult to tame, for they are naturally of a mild and gentle disposition, so as to approximate to the character of a rational animal Some have taken up their drivers, who have fallen fainting on the ground, and carried them safe out of battle. Others have fought and protected their drivers, who have crept between their fore-legs. If they have killed any of their feeders or masters in anger, they feel their loss so much that they refuse their food. through grief, and sometimes starve themselves to death.
Elephants copulate like horses, and they produce their young chiefly in the spring. That is the season for the male; he is then in heat and is ferocious. At this period he discharges some fatty matter through an opening in the temples. It is the season also for the females, when this same passage is open. Eighteen months is the longest, and sixteen the shortest period. of gestation. The dam suckles her young for six years.
Many elephants live as long as men who attain to the greatest longevity, some even to the protracted age of two hundred years. ... Onesikritos says that they
live three hundred years, and under rare circumstances five hundred, and that they go with young ten years. He and other writers say that they are larger and stronger than the African elephants. They will pull down with their trunks battlements, and uproot trees, standing erect upon their hind feet.
According to Nearchos, traps are laid in the hunting grounds, at certain places where roads meet; the wild elephants are forced into the toils by the tame elephants, which are stronger and are guided by a driver. They become so tame and docile that they learn even to throw a stone at a mark, to use military weapons, and to be excellent swimmers. A chariot drawn by elephants is esteemed a most important possession, and they are driven without bridles. A woman who receives from her lover an elephant as a present is greatly honoured, but this does not accord with what has been
said before, that a horse and an elephant are the property of kings alone.
This writer says that he saw skins of the myrmekes, or ants, which dig up gold, and that they are like the skins of leopards. Megasthenes, however, speaking of the myrmekes, says that among the Derdai (Dards), a populous nation of the Indians, living toward the east and among the mountains, there was a mountain plain of about three thousand stadia in circumference; that under this plain there were mines containing gold, which the myrmekes, in size not less than foxes, dig up. These animals are excessively fleet, and subsist on what they catch. In winter they dig holes and pile up the earth in heaps, like moles, at the mouths of the openings. The gold-dust which these creatures obtain requires little refining. The people of the neighbourhood go after it stealthily with beasts of burden, for if this is done openly, the myrmekes fight furiously, pursuing those that run away, and if they catch them, kill them as well as the beasts. In order to prevent discovery, therefore, they put pieces of the flesh of wild beasts in different places, and when the myrmekes are dispersed in various directions, the men take away the gold-dust and dispose of it in its rude state at any price to merchants, for they are not acquainted with the mode of smelting it.
Having mentioned what Megasthenes and other writers relate of the hunters and the beasts of prey, we shall add the following particulars.
Nearchos is surprised at the multitude as well as
the noxious nature of the reptiles. At the period of the inundations they retreat from the plains to the settlements, which are not covered with water, and swarm in the houses. For this reason the inhabitants raise their beds to some height from the ground, and are sometimes compelled to abandon their dwellings, when they are infested by great multitudes of these creatures; and, if a large proportion of these multitudes were not destroyed by the waters, the country would be uninhabitable. Both the minuteness of some animals and the excessive magnitude of others are causes of danger; the former, because it is difficult to guard against their attacks; the latter, on account of their strength, for snakes are to be seen of sixteen cubits in length. Charmers go about the country and are supposed to cure serpent bites. This seems to comprise almost their whole art of medicine, for disease is not common among them, owing to their frugal manner of life and to the absence of wine; whenever diseases do occur, they are treated by the Sophistai, or wise men.
Aristoboulos says that he saw no animals of these pretended magnitudes, except a snake which was nine cubits and a span in length, and I myself saw in Egypt one that was nearly of the same size and had been brought from India. Aristoboulos also says that he saw many adders of a much smaller size, and asps and large scorpions. None of these, however, are so noxious as the slender small serpents, a span long, which are found concealed in tents, in jars, and in hedges.
Persons wounded by them bleed from every pore, suffer great pain, and die, unless they have immediate assistance; but this assistance is easily obtained by means of the virtues of the Indian roots and drugs.
Few crocodiles are found in the Indus, Aristoboulos says, and these are harmless, but most of the other animals, except the hippopotamus, are the same as those found in the Nile; though Onesikritos says that this animal also is found there. On account of the crocodiles, according to Aristoboulos, none of the sea fish, except the shad, the grey mullet, and dolphin, ascend the Nile from the sea; but great numbers ascend the river Indus. Small crawfish go up as far as the mountains, and the larger as far as the confluence of the Indus and the Akesines.
So much then on the subject of the wild animals of India. We shall return to Megasthenes and resume our account of the castes at the point where we digressed.
After the hunters and the shepherds, follows the fourth caste, which consists, he says, of those who work at trades, retail wares, and who are employed in bodily labour. Some of these pay taxes and perform certain stated services. But the armour-makers and shipbuilders receive wages and provisions from the king, for whom only they work. The general-in-chief furnishes the soldiers with arms, and the admiral lets out ships for hire to those who undertake voyages and traffic as merchants.
The fifth caste consists of fighting men, who pass the time not employed in the field in idleness and drinking, and are maintained at the charge of the king. They are ready whenever they are wanted to march on an expedition, for they bring nothing of their own with them, except their bodies.
The sixth caste is that of the Ephoroi, or inspectors. They are intrusted with the superintendence of all that is going on, and it is their duty to make private reports to the king. The city inspectors employ the courtesans of the town as their coadjutors; and the inspectors of the camp enlist the services of the women who follow it. The best and most faithful persons are appointed to the office of inspector.
The seventh caste consists of counsellors and assessors of the king. To these persons belong the offices of state, tribunals of justice, and the whole administration of affairs.
It is not permitted to contract marriage with a person of another caste, or to change from one profession
or trade to another, or for the same person to undertake several, unless he is of the caste of philosophers, when permission is given on account of his superior qualifications.
Of the magistrates, some have charge of the market, others of the city, others of the soldiery. The first supervise the rivers, measure the land, as in Egypt, and inspect the closed reservoirs, from which water is distributed by canals, so that all may have an equal use of it. These persons have charge also of the hunters, and have the power of rewarding or punishing those who merit either. They collect the taxes and superintend the occupations connected with land, as woodcutters, carpenters, workers in brass, and miners. They construct the public roads, and place a pillar at every ten stadia (2022½ English yards) to indicate the by ways and distances.
Those who have charge of the city are divided into six bodies of five each. The first has the inspection of everything relating to the mechanical arts; members of the second body entertain strangers, assign lodgings to them, observe their mode of life by means of attendants whom they attach to them, and escort them out of the country on their departure. If the strangers die, they take charge of forwarding their property (to their relatives), as well as having had the care of them when sick and burying them when they die.
The third class consists of those who inquire at what time and in what manner births and deaths take place, which is done with a view to taxation, and in order that
the deaths and births of persons both of good and bad character may not be concealed.
The fourth division consists of those who have to do with sales and exchanges. They have charge of measures and of the sale of products in season, duly regulated by stamp. The same person is not allowed to deal in various kinds of articles, unless he pays a double tax.
The fifth division presides over works of artisans, and disposes of articles, as regulated by stamp. New articles are sold separately from the old, and there is a fine imposed for mixing them together.
The sixth and last division comprises those who collect
the tenth of the price of the articles sold. Death is the punishment for committing a fraud with regard to the tax.
These are the peculiar duties performed by each class, but in their collective capacity they have charge both of private and of public affairs, and of the repairs of public works, walls, markets, harbours, and temples.
Next to the magistrates of the city there is a third body of governors, to whom is entrusted the care of military affairs. This class also consists of six divisions, each composed of five persons. One division is associated with the chief naval superintendent, another with the person who has the charge of the bullock-teams, by which military engines are transported, of provisions both for the men and beasts, and of other requisites for the army. They furnish attendants, who beat drums and carry gongs; and they also provide grooms, mechanics, and their assistants. They despatch the foragers for grass by the sound of the gong, and insure speed and security by means of rewards and punishments. The third division has the care of the infantry; the fourth, of the cavalry; the fifth, of the chariots; the sixth, of the elephants. There are royal stables for the horses and elephants. There is also a royal magazine of arms; for the soldier returns his arms to the armoury, and the horse and elephant to their stables. They use the elephants without bridles. The chariots are drawn on the march by oxen. The horses are led by a halter, in order that their legs may not be chafed and inflamed, nor their spirit broken, by drawing
chariots. Besides the charioteer, there are two persons who fight by his side in the chariot. With the elephant are four persons, the driver and three bowmen, who discharge arrows from his back.
All the Indians are frugal in their mode of life, and especially in camp. They do not like an unnecessary rabble and they are, therefore, well disciplined. Theft is very rare among them. Megasthenes, who was in the camp of Sandrokottos, which consisted of four
hundred thousand men, did not on any day see a report of thefts exceeding the sum of two hundred drachmai, and this among a people who have no written laws, who are ignorant even of writing, and regulate everything by memory. They are, however, happy on account of their simple manners and frugal way of life. They never drink wine, except at sacrifices. Their beverage is made from rice instead of barley, and their food consists for the most part of rice pottage. The simplicity of their laws and contracts appears from their not having many lawsuits. They have no suits respecting pledges and deposits, nor do they require witnesses or seals, but make their deposits and trust one another. Their houses and property, moreover, are unguarded. These things denote temperance and sobriety; but there are others, of which no one would approve, such as their always eating alone, and their not having one common hour for their meals, but each taking it as he likes. The contrary custom is more agreeable to the habits of social and civil life.
As an exercise of the body they prefer friction (or massage) in various ways, but particularly by making use of smooth sticks of ebony, which they pass over the surface of the body9.
Their burials are simple, and the tumuli of earth low. In contrast to their parsimony in other things they indulge in ornament. They wear ornaments made of gold and precious stones, and flowered robes, and
are attended by persons following them with umbrellas; for as they highly esteem beauty, attention is given to everything which can improve their looks.
They respect alike truth and virtue; therefore they do not assign any privilege to the old, unless they possess superior wisdom.
They marry many wives, who are purchased from their parents, and give in exchange for them a yoke of oxen. Some marry wives to possess obedient attendants, others with a view to pleasure and numerous offspring, and the wives may prostitute themselves, unless chastity is enforced by compulsion.
No one wears a garland when sacrificing, or burning incense, or pouring out a libation. They do not stab, but strangle the victim, so that nothing mutilated, but only that which is entire, may be offered to the Deity.
A person convicted of bearing false witness suffers a mutilation of his extremities. He who has maimed another not only undergoes in return the loss of the same limb, but his hand also is cut off. If he has caused a workman to lose his hand or his eye, he is put to death.
Megasthenes says that none of the Indians employ slaves, but, according to Onesikritos, this is peculiar to the people in the territory of Mousikanos. He speaks of this as an excellent rule and mentions many others to be found in that country, as the effects of a government by good laws.
The care of the king’s person is committed to women, who are also purchased from their parents. The body-guard, and the rest of the military, are stationed
outside the gates. A woman, who puts to death a king when drunk, is rewarded by becoming the wife of his successor. The sons succeed the father. The king may not sleep during the day-time, and at night he is obliged from time to time to change his bed, from fear of treachery.
Beside leaving his palace in time of war, the king leaves it also when he goes to sit in his court as a judge. He remains there all day thus occupied, not suffering himself to be interrupted even though the time arrives for attending to his person. This attention to his person consists of rubbing (or massage) with pieces of wood, and he continues to listen to the case under consideration, while the friction is performed by four massageurs who stand around him. Another occasion of the king’s leaving his palace is to offer sacrifice. The third is a sort of Bacchanalian start on the chase. Crowds of women surround him, and spearmen are stationed outside of these. The road is set off with ropes; a man, or even a woman, who passes within the ropes is put to death. The king is preceded by drums and gongs. He hunts in the enclosures and discharges his arrows from a high seat. Near him stand two or three armed women. When hunting in the open, he shoots his arrows from an elephant. Of the women some are in chariots, some on horses, and others on elephants; they are provided with all kinds of weapons, as if they were going on a military expedition.’
Strabo next devotes a page or more to some fabulous accounts of Eastern peoples, several of them being
tribes in India, as told by Megasthenes and others. He then proceeds on the authority of Megasthenes to describe the Hindu philosophers and their remarkable powers of asceticism.
Speaking of the philosophers, Megasthenes says that those who inhabit the mountains are worshippers of Dionysos (Bacchus), and show as a proof (of the god having come among them) the wild vine, which grows only in their country, the ivy, the laurel, the myrtle, the box-tree, and other evergreens, none of which are found beyond the Euphrates, except a few in parks, which are preserved only with great care. Other Bacchanalian customs are the wearing of robes and turbans, the use of perfumes, dressing in dyed and flowered garments, and for their kings to be preceded by gongs
and drums when they leave their palaces and appear abroad. But the philosophers who live in the plains worship Herakles (Hercules).
These are fabulous stories and are contradicted by many writers, particularly what is said about the vine and wine, because a great part of Armenia and the whole of Mesopotamia and Media, as far as Persia and Karmania, are beyond the Euphrates, and yet the greater part of these countries is said to abound in vines and to produce wine.
Megasthenes again divides the philosophers into two kinds, the Brachmanes (Brahmans) and the Garmanes (Sarmanes). The Brachmanes are held in greater repute, for they agree with each other more closely in their views. Even from the time of their conception in the womb they are under the care and guardianship of learned men, who go to the mother and seem to perform some incantation for the happiness and welfare of the mother and the unborn child, but in reality they suggest prudent advice, and the mothers who listen to them most willingly are thought to be the most fortunate in their offspring. After the birth of the children, there is a succession of persons who have the care of them, and as they advance in years, masters more able and accomplished succeed to the charge.
The philosophers live in a grove in front of the city within a moderate-sized enclosure. Their diet is frugal, and they lie upon straw pallets and on skins. They abstain from eating animal food and from sexual intercourse; their time is occupied in listening to grave discourse
and in imparting it to those who wish to listen to them; but the hearer is not permitted to speak or cough, or even to spit on the ground; otherwise, he is expelled that very day from their society, because of his lack of self-control. After living thirty-seven years in this manner, each individual retires to his own possessions and lives with less circumspection and restraint, wearing robes of fine linen and rings of gold upon the hands and in the ears, but without profuseness. They eat the flesh of animals that do not assist man in his labour, and they abstain from sharp and seasoned food. They have as many wives as they please with a view to numerous offspring, for from many wives greater advantages are derived. As they have no slaves, they require more the immediate services of their children.
The Brachmanes do not communicate their philosophy to their wives, for fear they should divulge to the profane, if they became depraved, anything which ought to be concealed; or lest they should abandon their husbands in case they became good (philosophers) themselves. For no one who despises alike pleasure and pain, life and death, is willing to be subject to the authority of another; and such is the character of a virtuous man and a virtuous woman.
They discourse much on death, for it is their opinion that the present life is the state of one just conceived, and that to philosophers death is birth to the true and happy life. They therefore discipline themselves much to prepare for death, and maintain that nothing
which happens to man is bad or good, for otherwise the same things would not be the occasion of sorrow to some and of joy to others, opinions being merely dreams, nor that the same persons could be affected with sorrow and joy by the same things on different occasions.
With regard to opinions on physical phenomena, they display, says Megasthenes, great simplicity, their actions being better than their reasoning, for their belief is founded chiefly on fables. On many subjects their views are the same as those of the Greeks. According to the Brachmanes, the world was created and is liable to corruption; it is of a spheroidal figure; the god who made and governs it pervades the whole of it; the principles of all things are different, but the principle of the world’s formation was water; in addition to the four elements there is a fifth nature, of which the heavens and the stars are composed; the earth is situated in the centre of the universe. Many other similar things they say of the principle of generation and of the soul. They weave in fables also, after the manner of Plato, on the immortality of the soul, and on the punishments in Hades, and other things of this kind. Such is the account which Megasthenes gives of the Brach-manes.
Of the Garmanes (Sarmanes), the most honourable, he says, are the Hylobioi, who live in the forests and subsist on leaves and wild fruits; they are clothed with garments made of the bark of trees, and they abstain from intercourse with women and from wine. The kings hold communication with them by messengers,
concerning the causes of things, and through them worship and supplicate the Divinity.
Second in honour to the Hylobioi are the physicians, for they apply philosophy to the study of the nature of man. They are of frugal habits, but do not live in the fields, and they subsist upon rice and meal, which every one gives when asked; and every one receives them hospitably. By means of charms they are able to cause persons to have numerous offspring and to have either male or female children. They cure diseases by diet, rather than by medicinal remedies. Among the latter, the most in repute are unguents and cataplasms. All others, they suppose, are, to a large extent, improper to use.
Both this and the other class of persons practise self-denial, as well in supporting active toil as in enduring suffering, so that they will continue a whole day in the same posture without moving.
There are enchanters and diviners, versed in the rites and customs relating to the dead, and they go about villages and towns begging. There are others, more civilized and better informed, who inculcate the
vulgar opinions concerning Hades, which tend to piety and sanctity according to their ideas. Women study philosophy with some of them, but abstain from sexual intercourse.
Aristoboulos says that he saw at Taxila two sophists, or wise men, both Brachmanes; the elder had his head shaved, but the younger wore his hair; both were attended by disciples. When not otherwise engaged, they spent their time in the market-place. They were honoured as public counsellors, and had the liberty of taking, without payment, whatever article they liked that was exposed for sale. When any one accosted them, he poured over them oil of sesame, in such profusion that it ran down over their eyes. Of honey and sesame, which was exposed for sale in large quantity,
they took enough to make cakes, and were fed without expense.
They came up to Alexander’s table and took their meal standing by, and they gave an example of their fortitude by retiring to a neighbouring spot, where the elder, falling flat on the ground, endured the sun and the rain, which had now set in, as it was the beginning of spring. The other stood on one leg, with a piece of wood three cubits in length raised in both hands; when one leg was tired he changed the support to the other, and continued thus the whole day. The younger appeared to possess much more self-command; for, after following the king a short distance, he soon returned to his home. Alexander sent after him, but he bade the king to come to him, if he wanted anything of him. The other accompanied the king to the last. After being with him he changed his dress and altered his mode of life, and when reproached for his conduct, answered that he had completed the forty years of discipline which he had promised to observe. Alexander made presents to his children.
Aristoboulos relates also some strange and unusual customs of the people of Taxila. Those who through poverty are unable to marry their daughters, expose them for sale in the market-place, in the flower of their age, to the sound of shell trumpets and drums, with which the war-note is given. A crowd is thus assembled. First her back is uncovered as far as the shoulders, then the parts in front, for the examination of any man who comes for this purpose. If she pleases
him, he marries her on such conditions as may be determined upon.
The dead are thrown out to be devoured by vultures. To have many wives is a custom common to these and to other nations. Aristoboulos says he heard from some persons that wives burned themselves voluntarily with their deceased husbands, and that those women who refused to submit to this custom were disgraced. The same things have been told by other writers10.
Onesikritos says that he himself was sent to converse with these wise men, because Alexander heard that they went about naked, practised mortification of the body, and were held in the highest honour; that, when invited, they did not go to other persons, but commanded others to come to them if they wished to participate in their exercises or their conversation. Such being their character, Alexander did not consider it to be consistent with propriety to go to them, or to compel them to do anything contrary to their inclination or against the custom of their country; he therefore despatched Onesikritos to them.
Onesikritos found, at the distance of twenty stadia from the city, fifteen men standing in different postures, sitting or lying down naked, who continued in these positions until the evening, and then returned to the city. The most difficult thing to endure was the heat of the sun, which was so powerful that no one else could endure without pain to walk on the ground at mid-day with bare feet.
He conversed with Kalanos (Calanus), one of these sophists, who accompanied the king to Persia and died after the custom of his country, being placed on a pile of burning wood. When Onesikritos came, he was lying upon stones. Onesikritos approached, addressed him, and told him that he had been sent by the king for the purpose of listening to his wisdom, and that he was to give an account of his interview, and, if there were no objection, he was ready to listen to his discourse. When Kalanos saw his mantle, head-covering, and shoes, he laughed, and said: “Formerly there was abundance everywhere of corn and barley, as there is now of dust; fountains then flowed with water, milk, honey, wine, and oil, but mankind by repletion and
luxury became proud and insolent. Zeus, indignant at this state of things, destroyed all and appointed a life of toil for man. On the re-appearance of temperance and other virtues, there was again an abundance of good things; but at present the condition of mankind approaches satiety and insolence, and there is danger lest the things which now exist should disappear.”
When he had finished, he proposed to Onesikritos, if he wished to hear his discourse, to strip off his clothes, to lie down naked by him on the same stones, and in that manner to listen to him. While the latter was hesitating what to do, Mandanis11, who was the oldest and wisest of the sophists, reproached Kalanos for his insolence, although he censured such insolence himself. Mandanis then called Onesikritos to him and said: “I commend the king, because, although he governs so large an empire, he is nevertheless desirous of acquiring wisdom, for he is the only person I ever saw philosophizing in arms. It would be of the greatest advantage, if those who have the power of persuading the willing and of compelling the unwilling to learn temperance, were philosophers. But I am entitled to indulgence if I am not able to demonstrate the utility of philosophy, when I have to converse through the medium of three interpreters who know nothing more than the common people, except the language. To attempt it is to expect water to flow pure through mud.”
The tendency of his discourse, Onesikritos said, was this, that the best philosophy was that which liberated.
the mind from pleasure and grief; that grief differed from labour in that the former was inimical, the latter friendly to men, inasmuch as men laboriously exercised their bodies in order to strengthen the mental powers, by which means they might be able to put an end to dissensions and give good counsel to all, both to the community and to individuals; that at present he certainly would advise Taxiles to receive Alexander as a friend; for if he entertained a person better than himself, he might be improved, but if a worse person, he might dispose the latter to good.
After this Mandanis inquired whether such doctrines were taught among the Greeks. Onesikritos answered that Pythagoras taught a similar doctrine, and enjoined his disciples to abstain from whatever has life; that Sokrates and Diogenes, whose discourses he had heard, held the same opinions. Mandanis replied that in other respects he thought them wise, but that in one thing they were mistaken, namely, in preferring custom to nature, for otherwise they would not be ashamed of going naked, like himself, and of subsisting on frugal fare; for the best house was that which required least repairs.
Onesikritos says also that the philosophers occupy themselves much with physical science, as prognostics, rain, drought, and diseases. When they repair to the city, they disperse themselves in the market-places; if they meet any one carrying figs or bunches of grapes, they take what is offered gratuitously; if it is oil, it is poured over them, and they are anointed with it.
Every wealthy house, even to the women’s apartment, is open to them; when they enter it, they engage in conversation and partake of the repast. Disease of the body they regard as most disgraceful, and he who catches it, prepares a pyre and destroys himself by fire. He first anoints himself, then, sitting down upon the pyre, he orders it to be lighted, remaining motionless while he is burning.
Nearchos gives the following account of the sophists. The Brachmanes engage in public affairs, and attend the kings as counsellors; the rest are occupied in the study of nature. Kalanos belonged to the latter class. Women study philosophy with them, and all lead an austere life.
Of the customs of the other Indians he says that their laws, whether relating to the community or to individuals, are not committed to writing, and differ altogether from those of other people. It is the practice among some tribes, for example, to set up virgins as prizes to the victors in a trial of skill in boxing; wherefore they marry without portions. Among other tribes the ground is cultivated by families and in common; when the produce is collected, each takes a load sufficient for his subsistence during the year; the remainder is burned, in order to have a reason for renewing their labour, and not remaining inactive.
Their weapons consist of a bow and arrows, which are three cubits in length, or a javelin, and a shield, and a broadsword three cubits long. Instead of bridles,
From an Ajanta Cave Painting. (After Griffiths.)
they use muzzles, which differ little from a halter, and the lip-straps are perforated with spikes.
Nearchos, producing proofs of the skill of the Indians in works of art, says that when they saw sponges in use among the Macedonians, they imitated them by sewing hairs, thin threads, and strings in wool; after the wool was felted, they drew out the hairs, threads, and strings, and dyed it with colours. There quickly appeared also manufactures of brushes for the body, and of vessels for oil (lekythoi). They write letters, he says, upon cloth that is smoothed by being well beaten, although other authors affirm that they have no knowledge of writing. They use brass which is cast and not wrought. He does not give a reason for this, although he mentions the strange fact that if vessels of this description fall to the ground, they break like those made of clay.
The following custom also is mentioned in accounts of India, that, instead of prostrating themselves before their kings, it is usual to address them, and all persons in authority and high station, with a prayer.
The country produces precious stones, as crystal, carbuncles of all kinds, and pearls.
As an instance of the disagreement among historians,
we may adduce their different accounts of Kalanos. They all agree that he accompanied Alexander and underwent a voluntary death by fire in his presence, but they differ as to the manner and cause of his death.
Some give the following account. Kalanos accompanied the king, as the rehearser of his praises, beyond. the boundaries of India, contrary to the common Indian custom; for the philosophers attend upon their kings and act as instructors in the worship of the gods, in the same manner as the Magi attend the Persian kings. When he fell sick at Pasargadai, being then attacked with disease for the first time in his life, he put himself to death at the age of seventy-three years, regardless of the entreaties of the king. A pyre was raised, and a gilded couch placed upon it. He lay down upon it, and covering himself up, was burned to death.
Others say that a chamber was constructed of wood, which was filled with the leaves of trees, and a pyre being raised upon the roof, he was shut up in it, according to his directions, after the procession, with which he had been accompanied, had arrived at the spot. He threw himself upon the pyre and was consumed like a log of wood, together with the chamber.
Megasthenes says that self-destruction is not a dogma of the philosophers, and that those who commit this act are accounted foolhardy; that some, who are harsh by nature, inflict wounds upon their bodies, or cast themselves down precipices; those who are impatient of pain drown themselves; those who can endure
pain strangle themselves; and those of ardent tempers throw themselves into the fire. Of this last description was Kalanos, who had no control over himself and was a slave to the table of Alexander. Kalanos is censured, while Mandanis is applauded. When Alexander’s messengers invited the latter to come to the son of Zeus, promising a reward if he would comply, and threatening punishment if he refused, he answered, “Alexander was not the son of Zeus, for he did not govern even the smallest portion of the earth; nor did he himself desire a gift from one who was satisfied with nothing. Neither did he fear his threats, for as long as he lived India would supply him with food enough, and when he died, he should be delivered from the flesh wasted by old age and be translated to a better and purer state of existence.” Alexander commended and pardoned him.
Historians also relate that the Indians worship Zeus Ombrios (“the Rainy”), the river Ganges, and the local divinities of the country; that when the king washes his hair12, a great feast is celebrated, and large presents are sent, each person displaying his wealth in competition with his neighbour.
They say that some of the gold-digging myrmekes (ants) have wings, and that the rivers, like those of Iberia, bring down gold-dust.
In processions at their festivals, many elephants are in the train, adorned with gold and silver, numerous carriages drawn by four horses and by several pairs
of oxen; then follows a body of attendants in full dress, bearing vessels of gold, large kettles, and huge bowls, an orguia (about six feet) in breadth, tables, chairs of state, drinking-cups, and lavers of Indian copper, most of which are set with precious stones, as emeralds, beryls, and Indian carbuncles, and wearing garments embroidered and interwoven with gold. In the procession are also wild beasts, as buffaloes, panthers, tame lions, and a multitude of birds of variegated plumage and of fine song.
Kleitarchos speaks of four-wheeled carriages bearing trees with large leaves, from which were suspended (in cages) different kinds of tame birds, among which the orion13 was said to possess the sweetest note, but the katreus (bird of paradise?) was the most beautiful in appearance, and had the most variegated plumage. In shape it approached nearest to the peacock, but the rest of the description must be taken from Kleitarchos.
Opposed to the Brachmanes there are philosophers called Pramnai (Buddhists), contentious and fond of argument. They ridicule the Brachmanes as boasters and fools for occupying themselves with natural science and astronomy. Some of the Pramnai are called Pramnai of the Mountains, others Gymnetai, and others again are called Townsmen and Countrymen. The Pramnai of the Mountains wear deerskins and carry scrips filled with roots and drugs; they profess to practise medicine by means of incantations, charms, and amulets.
The Gymnetai, as their name imports, go naked and
live chiefly in the open air, practising asceticism for the space of thirty-seven years, as I have mentioned above. Women live in their society, but without cohabitation. The Gymnetai are held in high esteem.
The Townsmen (Pramnai) dwell in cities and wear fine linen, or also in the country, clothed in the skins of fawns or antelopes. In short, the Indians wear white garments, white linen and muslin, contrary to the accounts of those who say that they wear garments of a bright colour; all of them wear long hair and long beards, plait their hair, and bind it with a fillet.
Artemidoros says that the Ganges descends from the Emoda Mountains and proceeds toward the south; when it arrives at the city Ganges, it turns to the east, and
keeps this direction as far as Palibothra (Patna) and the mouth by which it discharges itself into the sea. He calls one of the rivers which flow into it Oidanes, which breeds crocodiles and dolphins. Some other circumstances besides are mentioned by him, but in so confused and negligent a manner that they are not to be regarded. To these accounts may be added that of Nikolaos Damaskenos.
This writer states that at Antioch near Daphne14, he met with ambassadors from the Indians, who were sent to Augustus Caesar. From the letter it appeared that several persons were mentioned in it, but only three, whom he says he saw, survived. The rest had died, chiefly in consequence of the length of the journey. The letter was written in Greek upon a skin; the import of it was that Poros was the writer; that although he was sovereign of six hundred kings, he nevertheless esteemed the friendship of Caesar highly; and that he was willing to allow him a passage through his country, in whatever direction he pleased, and to assist him in any undertaking that was just.
Eight naked servants, with girdles around their waists and fragrant with perfumes, presented the gifts which were brought. The presents were a Hermes (i.e. a man) born without arms, whom I have seen, large snakes, a serpent ten cubits in length, a river
tortoise of three cubits in length, and a partridge larger than a vulture. The ambassadors were accompanied by the person, it is said, who burnt himself to death at Athens. This is the practice with persons in distress, who seek escape from existing calamities, and with others in prosperous circumstances, as was the case with this man. For as everything hitherto had succeeded with him, he thought it necessary to depart, lest some unexpected calamity should happen to him by continuing to live; with a smile, therefore, naked, anointed, and with his girdle round his waist, he leaped upon the pyre. On his tomb was this inscription:–
Here lies Zarmanochegas15, an Indian, a native of Bargose16, having immortalized himself according to the custom of his country.’
1. The Oxydrakai, an autonomous tribe of the Panjab, are meant.
2. Pataliputra, the modern Patna; see above, vol. ii, p. 110.
3. The ruins of Taxila (Skt. Takshasila) are still to be seen near Rawal Pindi in Northern India.
4. Homer, Odyssey, 2, 157.
5. The modern names of most of these places will be found in the description given of Alexander’s Indian campaign in the third and fourth chapters of the second volume of this series.
6. See vol. ii, p. 67.
7. The Malloi occupied a part of Multan; the Oxydrakai adjoined them in the neighbourhood of Lahore.
8. Sandrokottos is Chandragupta, mentioned frequently in connection with Alexander in the second volume of the present series.
9. This Indian custom of rubbing or massage is referred to in Sanskrit writings and also is mentioned by other authors.
10. See the descriptions in the next chapter.
11. By Arrian and Plutarch he is called Dandamis.
12. On his birthday, Herodotus, 9. 110.
13. Aelian, De Animalium Natura, 17. 22.
14. An unimportant town in the pashalic of Aleppo, the modern name of which is still Antakieh. In ancient times it was distinguished either as Antioch on the Orontes, because it was situated on the left bank of that river, or as Antioch near Daphne, because of a celebrated grove of Daphne, which was consecrated to Apollo.
15. In Dio Cassius, 54. 9, he is called Zarmanos, a variation probably of Sarmanos or Garmanos.
16. Bargosa is a corruption of Barygaza mentioned in Arrian’s Periplus of the Red Sea – the Sanskrit Bhrigukaccha, the Modern Broach.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage