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Strabo - India

Book XV. Chapter I. 2. India.

The reader must receive the account of this country with indulgence, for it lies at a very great distance, and few persons of our nation have seen it; those also who have visited it have seen only some portions of it; the greater part of what they related is from report, and even what they saw, they became acquainted with 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 those writers were fellow-soldiers and fellow-travellers, as 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 related from report?

Book XV. Chapter I. 3. India.

Nor do the writers who, many ages since Alexander’s time, have given an account of these countries, nor even those who at present make voyages thither, afford any precise information.

Apollodorus, for instance, author of the Parthian History, when he mentions the Greeks who occasioned the revolt of Bactriana from the Syrian kings, who were the successors of Seleucus Nicator, says, that when they became powerful they invaded India. He adds no discoveries to what was previously known, and even asserts, in contradiction to others, that the Bactrians had subjected to their dominion a larger portion of India than the Macedonians; for Eucratidas (one of these kings) had a thousand cities subject to his authority. But other writers affirm that the Macedonians conquered nine nations situated between the Hydaspes(1) and the Hypanis,(2) and obtained possession of five hundred cities, not one which was less than Cos Meropis,(3) and that Alexander, after having conquered all this country, delivered it up to Porus.

(1) Behul or Jelum.
(2) Beas
(3) The island Cos, or Stanco, one of the earlier names of which was Meropis.


Book XV. Chapter I. 4. India.

Very few of the merchants who now sail from Egypt by the Nile and the Arabian Gulf to India have proceeded as far as the Ganges; and being ignorant persons, were 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, Porus, presents and embassies were sent to Augustus Caesar. With the ambassadors came the Indian Gymno-Sophist, who committed himself to the flames at Athens, like Calanus, who exhibited the same spectacle in the presence of Alexander.


Book XV. Chapter I. 5. India.

If, then, we set aside these stories, and direct our attention to accounts of the country prior to the expedition of Alexander, we shall find them still more obscure. It is probable that Alexander, elated by his extraordinary good fortune, believed these accounts.

According to Nearchus, Alexander was ambitious of conducting his army through Gedrosia, when he heard that Semiramis and Cyrus 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 he 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. Alexander, therefore, believed these stories.


Book XV. Chapter I. 6. India.

But how can we place any just confidence in the accounts of India derived from such expeditions as those of Cyrus and Semiramis? Megasthenes concurs in this opinion; he advises persons not to credit the ancient histories of India, for, except the expeditions of Hercules, of 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 Tearco the Ethiopian, advanced as far as Europe; and Nabocodrosor, who was more celebrated among the Chaldaeans than Hercules among the Greeks, penetrated even as far as the Pillars, (1) which Tearco also reached; Sesostris conducted an army from Iberia to Thrace and Pontus; Idanthyrsus the Scythian 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 the Hydraces(2) from India, a body of mercenary troops; but they did not lead an army into that country, and only approached it when Cyrus was marching against the Massagetae.

(1) It is evident that the name Pillars mislead Megasthenes or the writers from whom he borrowed the facts; for it is impossible to suppose that Tearcho, who reigned in Arabia, or that Nabuchodonosor, who reigned at Babylon, ever conducted an army across the desert and through the whole breadth of Africa to the Straits of Gibraltar, to which place nothing invited them, and the existence of which, as well as that of the neighboring countries, must have been unknown. The Egyptians, Arabians, and Babylonians directed their invasions towards the north, to Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Iberia, and Colchis. This was the line of march followed by Sesostris.

Ptolemy indicates the existence of “Pillars,” which he calls “the Pillars of Alexander,” above Albania and Iberia, at the commencement of the Asiatic Sarmatia. But as it is known that Alexander never penetrated into these regions, it is clear that the title “of Alexander” was added by the Greeks to the names of mountains, which separated a country partly civilized from that entirely occupied by hordes of savages. Everything therefore seems to show, that these Pillars near Iberia in Asia, and not the Pillars of Hercules in Europe, formed the boundary of the expeditions of Sesostris, Tearcho, and Nabuchodonosor. – Gossellin.

(2) As the Oxydraci are here meant, Groskurd adopts this name in the text. They were settled in Sagur and Outch, of the province of Lahore.


Book XV. Chapter I. 7. India.

Megasthenes, and a few others, think the stories respecting Hercules and Bacchus to be credible, but the majority of writers, among whom is Eratosthenes, regard them as incredible and fabulous, like the Grecian stories. Dionysus, in the Bacchae of Euripides, makes this boasting speech:

“But now from Lydia’s field,
With gold abounding, from the Phrygian realm
And that of Persia scorch’d by torrid suns,
Pressing through Bactrian gates, the frozen land
Of Media, and through Araby the Blest.
With Asia’s wide extended continent – “(1)

In Sophocles, also, a person is introduced speaking the praises of Nysa,(2) as being a mountain sacred to Bacchus:

“whence I beheld the famed Nysa, the resort of the Bacchanalian bands which the honoured Iacchus makes his most pleasant and beloved retreat where no bird’s clang is heard,”

and so on. (He is called also Merotraphes.)(3) Homer also mentions Lycurgus the Edonian in these words,

“who formerly pursued the nurses of the infuriate Bacchus along the sacred mountain Nysa.”(4)

So much respecting Bacchus. But with regard to Hercules, some persons say, that he penetrated to the opposite extremities on the west only, while others maintain that he also advanced to those of the east.

(1) Eurip. Bacchae, v. 13.
(2) Many cities and mountains bore the name of Nysa; but it is impossible to confound the mountain Nysa, spoken of by Sophocles, with the Nysa of India, which became known to the Greeks by the expedition only of Alexander, more than a century after the death of the poet.
(3) Probably interpolated.
(4) Il. vi. 132. Nysa in India was unknown to Homer, who here refers to Mount Nysa in Thrace.


Book XV. Chapter I. 8. India.

From such stories as these related above, they gave the name of Nysaeans to some imaginary nation, and called their city Nysa, found by Bacchus; a mountain above the city they called Meron, alleging as a reason for imposing these names that the ivy and vine grow there, although the latter does not perfect its fruit; for the bunches of grapes, in consequence of excessive rains, drop off before they arrive at maturity.

They say, also, that the Sydracae (Oxydracae) are descendants of Bacchus, because the vine grows in their country, and because their kings display great pomp in setting out on their warlike expeditions, after the Bacchic manner; whenever they appear in public, it is with beating of drums, and are dressed in flowered robes, which is the common custom among the other Indians.

When Alexander took, on the first assault, Aornos,(1) a fortress on a rock, the foot of which is washed by the Indus near its source, his flatterers exaggerated this act, and said that Hercules thrice assailed this rock and was thrice repulsed.

They pretended that the Sibae(2) were descended from the people who accompanied Hercules in his expedition, and that they retained badges of their descent; that they wore skins like Hercules, and carried clubs, and branded with the mark of a club their oxen and mules. They confirm this fable with stories about Caucasus(3) and Prometheus, for they transferred hither from Pontus these tales, on the slight pretence that they had seen a sacred cave among the Paropamisadae.(4) This they alleged was the prison of Prometheus, and that this mountain was the Caucasus, to which the Greeks represent Prometheus as having been bound.

(1) Strabo takes for the source of the Indus the place where it passes through the mountains to enter the Punjab. The site of Aornos seems to correspond with Renas. – Gossellin.
(2) The Sibae, according to Quintus Curtius, who gives them the name of Sobii, occupied the confluent of the Hydaspes and the Acesines. This people appear to have been driven towards the east by one of those revolutions so frequent in all Asia. At least, to the north of Delhi, and in the neighbourhood of Hardouar, a district is found bearing the name of Siba.

(3) That is, the Macedonians transferred the name of the Caucasus, situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian, to the mountains of India. The origin of their mistake arose from the Indians giving, as at present, the name of Kho, which signifies “white,” to the great chain of mountains covered with snow, from whence the Indus, and the greater part of the rivers which feed it, descend.
(4) This people occupied the Paropamisus, where the mountains now separate Candahar from Gaour.


Book XV. Chapter I . 9. India.

That these are the inventions of the flatterers of Alexander is evident, first, because the writers do not agree with one another, some of whom speak of these things; others make no mention of them whatever. For it is not probable, that actions so illustrious, and calculated to foster pride and vanity, should be unknown, or if known, that they should not be thought worthy of record, especially by writers of the greatest credit.

Besides, the intervening people, through whose country the armies of Bacchus and Hercules must have marched in their way to India, do not exhibit any proofs of their passage through the country. The kind of dress, too, of Hercules is much more recent than memorials of Troy, an invention of those who composed the Heracleia (or exploits of Hercules,) whether it were Peisander or some one else who composed it. But the ancient wooden statues do not represent Hercules in that attire.


Book XV. Chapter I .15. India.

Onesicritus, for example, says of Taprobane, that its magnitude is 5000 stadia, without distinction of length or breadth, and that it is distant twenty days’ sail from the continent, but that it was a voyage performed with difficulty and danger by vessels with sails ill constructed, and built with prows at each end, but without holds and keels; that Taprobane lies farthest to the south; that there are found in the sea, about the island, animals of the cetaceous kind, in form like oxen, horses, and other land animals.


Book XV. Chapter I. 16. India.

Nearchus, speaking of the secretion of earth formed by the rivers, adduces these instances. The plains of Hermes, Cayster, Maeander, and Caicus 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, may be applied to this country, namely, that it is the gift of the Nile. Hence Nearchus thinks that the Nile had properly the synonym of Egypt.


Book XV. Chapter I. 17. India.

Aristobulus, however, says, that rain and snow fell 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 Arcturus,(1) and that the rivers, filled by the melting of the snow and by the rains irrigate the flat grounds.

These things, he says, were observed by himself and by others on their journey into India from the Paropamisadae. This was after the setting of the Pleiades,(2) and during their stay in the mountainous country in the territory of the Hypasii, and in that of Assacanus during the winter. At the beginning of spring they descended into the plains to a large city called Taxila,(3) thence they proceeded to the Hydaspes and the country of Porus. During the winter they saw no rain, only snow. The first rain which fell was at Taxila. After their descent to the Hydaspes and the conquest of Porus, their progress was eastwards to the Hypanis, and thence again to the Hydaspes. At this time it rained continually, and particularly during the blowing of the Etesian winds, but at the rising of Arcturus the rains ceased. They remained at the Hydaspes while the ships were constructing, 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 arrived at Patalene(4) about the rising of the Dog-Star;(5) 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.

(1) At the beginning of autumn.
(2) At the beginning of winter.
(3) Taxila seems to have been situated at some distance to the east of Attock.
(4) At the delta formed by the Indus.
(5) Towards the end of summer.


Book XV. Chapter I. 18. India.

Nearchus gives the same account, but does not agree with Aristobulus respecting the rains in summer, but says that the plains are watered by rain in the summer, and they are without rain in winter. Both writers, however, speak of the rise of the rivers. Nearchus says, that the men encamped upon the Acesines* 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.

Aristobulus gives even the measure of the height to which the river rises, namely, forty cubits, of which twenty would fill the channel beyond its previous depth up to the margin, and the other twenty are the measure of the water when it overflows the plains.

They agree also in saying that the cities placed upon mounds became islands, as in Egypt and Ethiopia, and that the inundation ceases after the rising of Arcturus, when the waters recede. They add, that the ground when half dried is sowed, after having been prepared by the commonest labourer, yet the plant comes to perfection, and the produce is good. The rice, according to Aristobulus, stands in water in an enclosure. It is sowed in beds. The plant is four cubits in height, with many ears, and yields a large produce. The harvest is about the time of the setting of the Pleiades, and the grain is beaten out like barley. It grows in Bactriana, Babylonia, Susis, and in the Lower Syria. Magillus says that it is sowed before the rains, but does not require irrigation or transplantation, being supplied with water from tanks.

The bosmorum, according to Onesicritus, is a kind of corn smaller than wheat, and grows in places situated between rivers. After it is threshed out, it is roasted; the threshers being previously bound by an oath not to carry it away unroasted from the threshing floor; a precaution to prevent the exportation of the seed.

*The Chenab.


Book XV. Chapter I. 20. India.

The account of Onesicritus confirms the facts of the rising of the rivers and of the absence of land breezes. He says that the sea-shore 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 circumstances 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 there is no year, according to him, 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 the 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 which 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 upon some trees of wool. Nearchus says that their fine clothes were made of this wool, and that the Macedonians used it for mattresses and the stuffing of saddles. The Serica also are of a similar kind, and are made of dry byssus, which is obtained from some sort of bark of plants. He says 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.

*The sugar cane.


Book XV. Chapter I. 21. India.

India produces many singular trees. There is one whose branches incline downwards, and whose leaves are not less in size than a shield. Onesicritus, describing minutely the country of the Musicanus, which he says is the most southerly part of India, relates, that there are some large trees 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.(1)

Aristobulus also, where he mentions the Acesines, and its confluence with the Hyarotis, speaks of trees with their boughs bent downwards and of a size that fifty, but, according to Onesicritus, four hundred horsemen might take shelter at mid-day beneath the shade of a single tree.

Aristobulus mentions another tree, not large, bearing great pods, like the bean, ten fingers in length, full of honey, and says that those who eat it do not easily escape with life. But the accounts of all these writers about the size of the trees have been exceeded by those who assert that there has been seen, beyond the Hyarotis,(2) a tree which casts a shade at noon of five stadia.

Aristobulus says of the wool-bearing trees, that the flower pod contains a kernel, which is taken out, and the remainder is combed like wool.

(1) The Banyan tree. (2) The Ravee.


Book XV. Chapter I. 25. India.

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.
Nearchus 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, and Egyptian beans in the Acesines, he thought that the 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 in midway were vast rivers, fearful waters, and first the ocean.”*

into which all the Indian rivers discharge themselves; then Ariana, the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, all Arabia and Troglodytica.
The above is what has been said on the subject of winds and rains, the rising of rivers, and the inundation of plains.

*Od. ii. 157.


Book XV. Chapter I . 26. India.

We must describe these rivers in detail, with the particulars, which are useful for the purposes of geography, and which have been handed down to us by historians.

Besides this, rivers, being a kind of physical boundaries of the size and figures of countries, are of the greatest use in every part of the present work. But the Nile and the rivers in India have a superiority above the rest, because the country could not be inhabited without them. By means of the rivers it is open to navigation and capable of cultivation, when otherwise it would not be accessible, nor could it be occupied by inhabitants.

We shall speak of the rivers deserving notice, which flow into the Indus, and of the countries which they traverse; with regard to the rest we know some particulars, but are ignorant of more. Alexander, who discovered the greatest portion of this country, first of all resolved it to be more expedient to pursue and destroy those who had treacherously killed Darius, and were meditating the revolt of Bactriana.(1) 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, although indistinct, accounts.

He therefore returned, crossing over the same mountain by other and shorter roads, having India on the left hand; he then immediately turned towards it, and towards its western boundaries and the rives Cophes and Choaspes.(2) The latter river empties itself into the Cophes,(3) near Plemyrium, after passing by another city Gorys, in its course through Bandobene and Gandaritis.(4)

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 liable to be overflowed by rivers at one time, or entirely burnt up at another, more fit to be the haunts of wild beasts than the dwellings of men. He resolved therefore to get possession of that part of India first 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 with more facility near their sources. He heard also that many of the rivers united and formed one stream, and that this more frequently occurred the farther they advanced into the country, so that from want of boats it would be more difficult to traverse. Being apprehensive of this obstruction, he crossed the Cophes, and conquered the whole of the mountainous country situated towards the east.

(1) That is to say, he crossed the Paropamissus, or Mount Ghergistan, from the western frontier of Cabul, by the pass of Bamian, to enter the district of Balk.
(2) The Attock.
(3) The river of Cabul.
(4) The Gandarae were a widely extended people of Indian or Arianian origin, who occupied a district extending more or less from the upper part of the Punjab to the neighbourhood of Candahar, and variously called Gandaris and Gandaritis.


Book XV. Chapter I . 27. India.

Next to the Cophes was the Indus, then the Hydaspes, the Acesines, the Hyarotis, and last, the Hypanis. He was prevented from proceeding farther, partly from regard to some oracles, and partly 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.

After the river Cophes, follows the Indus. The country lying between these two rivers is occupied by Astacenia, Masiani, Nysaei, and Hypasii. Next is the territory of Assacanus, where is the city Masoga (Massaga?), the royal residence of the country. Near the Indus is another city, Peucolaitis.* At this place a bridge which was constructed afforded a passage for the army.

*Peucela, in Arrian iv. 22. Rennell supposes it to be Puckholi, or Pehkely.


Book XV. Chapter I . 28. India.

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 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 Abisarus,(1) who, as the ambassadors that came from him reported, kept two serpents, one of 80, and the other, according to Onesicritus, of 140 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 marvelous 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 to the Emodi mountains,(2) and the keeping and feeding of them in caves.

(1) Abisarus was king of the mountainous part of India, and, according to the conjecture of Vincent, which is not without some probability, his territory extended to Cashmir.
(2) India is bordered to the north; from Ariana to the Eastern Sea, by the extremities of Taurus, to which the aboriginal inhabitants give the different names of Paropamisus, Emodon, Imaon, and others, while the Macedonians call them Caucasus. The Emodi mountains were the Western Himalaya.

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