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Megasthenes

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Name  Megasthenes Megasthenes
Role  Author

Died  290 BC
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Megasthenes


Megasthenes ( ; Ancient Greek: Μεγασθένης, c. 350 – c. 290 BC) was an ancient Greek historian, diplomat and Indian ethnographer and explorer in the Hellenistic period. He described India in his book Indika, which is now lost, but has been partially reconstructed from the writings of the later authors.

Contents

Megasthenes India as Known to Kautilya and Megasthenes

Megasthenes was born in Asia Minor and became an ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator of the Seleucid dynasty to Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra, India. However, the exact date of his embassy is uncertain. Scholars such as Kaushik Roy place him in the Maurya court between 302 and 298 BCE, prior to Chandragupta's voluntary death in 297. Other Greek envoys to the Indian court are known after Megasthenes: Deimachus as ambassador to Bindusara, and Dionysius, as ambassador to Ashoka.

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Life and travel

Megasthenes Megasthenes YouTube

Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Arrian explains that Megasthenes lived in Arachosia, with the satrap Sibyrtius, from where he visited India:

Megasthenes Indica by Megasthenes

Megasthenes lived with Sibyrtius, satrap of Arachosia, and often speaks of his visiting Sandracottus, the king of the Indians." Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri

Megasthenes Buy Indica Book Online at Low Prices in India Indica Reviews

We have more definite information regarding the parts of India Megasthenes visited. He entered the subcontinent through the district of the Pentapotamia ("The five rivers", modern day Punjab region), providing a full account of the rivers found there (thought to be the five affluents of the Indus that form the Punjab region), and proceeded from there by the royal road to Pataliputra. There are accounts of Megasthenes having visited Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, but he appears not to have visited any other parts of India.

Indica

Megasthenes Megasthenes The first foreign ambassador to India

Indika (Greek: Ἰνδικά; Latin: Indica) is an account of Mauryan India by Megasthenes. The original book is now lost, but its fragments have survived in later Greek and Latin works. The earliest of these works are those by Diodorus Siculus, Strabo (Geographica), Pliny, and Arrian (Indica).

Reconstruction

Megasthenes' Indica can be reconstructed using the portions preserved by later writers as direct quotations or paraphrase. The parts that belonged to the original text can be identified from the later works based on similar content, vocabulary and phrasing, even when the content has not been explicitly attributed to Megasthenes. Felix Jacoby's Fragmente der griechischen Historiker contains 36 pages of content traced to Megasthenes.

John Watson McCrindle published a reconstructed version of Indica in 1887, but his reconstruction is not universally accepted. For example, the earliest confirmed description of Gangaridai appears in the writings of the 1st century BCE writer Diodorus. McCrindle believed that Diodorus' source for this description was the now-lost book of Megasthenes. However, according to A. B. Bosworth (1996), Diodorus obtained this information from Hieronymus of Cardia: Diodorus described Ganges as 30 stadia wide; it is well-attested by other sources that Megasthenes described the median or minimum width of Ganges as 100 stadia.

India according to the reconstructed text

According to the text reconstructed by J. W. McCrindle, Megasthenes' Indica describes India as follows:

Geography

India is a quadrilateral-shaped country, bounded by the ocean on the southern and the eastern side. The Indus river forms the western and the north-western boundary of the country, as far as the ocean. India's northern border reaches the extremities of Tauros. From Ariana to the Eastern Sea, it is bound by mountains that are called Kaukasos by the Macedonians. The various native names for these mountains include Parapamisos, Hemodos and Himaos (the Himalayas). Beyond Hemodos, lies Scythia inhabited by the Scythians known as Sakai. Besides Scythia, the countries of Bactria and Ariana bordered India.

At the extreme point of India, the gnomon of the sundial often casts no shadow, and the Ursa Major is invisible at night. In the remotest parts, the shadows fall southward, and even Arcturus is not visible.

India has many large and navigable rivers, which arise in the mountains on its northern border. Many of these rivers merge into Ganges, which is 30 stadia wide at its source, and runs from north to south. The Ganges empties into the ocean that forms the eastern boundary of Gangaridai. Other nations feared Gangaridai's huge force of the biggest elephants, and therefore, Gangaridai had never been conquered by any foreign king.

Indus also runs from north to south, and has several navigable tributaries. The most notable tributaries are Hupanis, the Hudaspes, and the Akesines. One peculiar river is Sillas, which originates from a fountain of the same name. Everything cast into this river sinks down to the bottom - nothing floats in it. In addition, there are a large number of other rivers, supplying abundant water for agriculture. According to the native philosophers and natural scientists, the reason for this is that the bordering countries are more elevated than India, so their waters run down to India, resulting in such a large number of rivers.

History

In the primitive times, the Indians lived on fruits and wore clothes made of animal skin, just like the Greeks. The most learned Indian scholars say that Dionysus invaded India, and taught Indians several things including how to grow plants, make wine and worship. He founded several large cities, introduced laws and established courts. For this reason, he was regarded as a deity by the Indians. He ruled entire India for 52 years, before dying of old age. His descendants ruled India for several generations, before being dethroned and replaced by democratic city-states.

The Indians who inhabit the hill country also claim that Herakles was one of them. Like the Greeks, they characterize him with the club and the lion's skin. According to them, Herakles was a powerful man who subjugated evil beasts. He had several sons and one daughter, who became rulers in different parts of his dominion. He founded several cities, the greatest of which was Palibothra (Pataliputra). Herakles built several places in this city, fortified it with water-filled trenches and settled a number of people in the city. His descendants ruled India for several generations, but never launched an expedition beyond India. After several years, the royal rule was replaced by democratic city states, although there existed a few kings when Alexander invaded India.

Flora and fauna

India has several mountains with fruit trees of every kind. There are a large number of animal species in India. The Indian elephants are far stronger than the Libyan elephants, because of the abundance of food on the Indian soil. The elephants are domesticated in large numbers, and trained for war. The gestation period of the elephants ranges from 16 to 18 months, and the oldest of the elephants live up to 200 years.

Economy

Gold, silver, copper and iron are abundant on Indian soil. Besides tin and other metals are used for making a number of tools, weapons, ornaments, and other articles.

India has very fertile plains, and irrigation is practised widely. The main crops include rice, millet, a crop called bosporum, other cereals, pulses and other food plants. There are two crop cycles per year, since rain falls in both summer and winter. At the time of summer solstice, rice, millet, bosporum and sesamum are sown. During winter, wheat is sown.

No famines have ever occurred in India because of the following reasons:

  • The Indians are always assured of at least one of the two seasonal crops
  • There are a number of spontaneously growing fruits and edible roots available.
  • The Indian warriors regard those engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry as sacred. Unlike the warriors in other countries, they do not ravage farms during war conquests. Moreover, the warring sides never destroy the enemy land with fire or cut down its trees.
  • Society

    Because of its large size, India is inhabited by many diverse races, all of which are indigenous. India has no foreign colony, and Indians have not established any colonies outside India. The Indians are of above average stature, because of abundant food, fine water and pure air. They are well-skilled in art.

    A law, prescribed by ancient Indian philosophers, bans slavery. The law treats everyone equally, but allows the property to be unevenly distributed.

    The population of India is divided into 7 endogamous and hereditary castes:

    1. Philosophers
    2. Not numerous compared to other castes, but most prominent
    3. Exempted from all public duties
    4. Neither masters, nor servants
    5. "believed to be most dear to the gods, and to be the most conversant with matters pertaining to Hades"
    6. Engaged by others to offer sacrifices and perform funerary rites, for which they received valuable gifts and privileges
    7. At the beginning of the year, they make prophecies about droughts, rain storms, propitious winds, diseases and other topics. Based on these prophecies, the citizens and the rulers make adequate preparations. A philosopher whose prophecy fails receives strong criticism and has to observe silence for the rest of his life, but otherwise incurs no penalty.
    8. Farmers
    9. Most numerous of all castes
    10. Live in villages, and avoid visiting towns
    11. Exempted from fighting and other public duties
    12. Regarded as public benefactors, and protected from damage during wars, even by enemy warriors
    13. Pay a land tribute to the ruler, the official land owner
    14. In addition, they remit 1/4th of their produce to the state treasury
    15. Herders
    16. Live in tents, outside villages and towns
    17. Hunt and trap crop-destroying birds and animals
    18. Artisans
    19. Create weapons as well as tools for farmers and others
    20. Exempted from paying taxes, and receive a maintenance from the state exchequer
    21. Military
    22. Second most numerous among the castes
    23. Well-organized and equipped for war
    24. Indulge in amusements and idleness during peaceful times
    25. Maintained at state expense, along with war horses and elephants
    26. Overseers
    27. Carry out administrative tasks
    28. Report to the king or (in states not ruled by kings) magistrates
    29. Councillors and Assessors
    30. Composed of wise people with good character
    31. Deliberate on public affairs; included the royal advisers, state treasurers, dispute arbitrators; the army generals and chief magistrates also usually belonged to this class.
    32. Least numerous, but most respected

    Administration

    The foreigners are treated well. Special officers are appointed to ensure that no foreigner was harmed, and judges hand out harsh punishment to those who took unfair advantage of the foreigners. Sick foreigners are attended by physicians and taken care of. Foreigners who die in India are buried, and their property is delivered to their relatives.

    Historical reliability

    Later writers such as Arrian, Strabo, Diodorus, and Pliny refer to Indika in their works. Of these writers, Arrian speaks most highly of Megasthenes, while Strabo and Pliny treat him with less respect.

    The first century Greek writer Strabo called both Megasthenes and his succeeding ambassador Deimachus liars, and stated that "no faith whatever" could be placed in their writings. The Indika itself contained numerous fantastical stories of people with backwards feet, ears large enough to sleep in, no mouths, or other strange features. Strabo directly contradicted these descriptions, assuring his readers that Megasthenes' stories, along with his recounting of India’s founding by Hercules and Dionysus, were mythical with little to no basis in reality.

    According to Paul J. Kosmin, Indica depicts contemporary India as an unconquerable territory, in order to justify Seleucus's retreat from India. Megasthenes tries to argue that Dionysus was able to conquer India, because before his invasion, India was a primitive rural society. Dionysus' urbanization of India makes India a powerful, impregnable nation. The later ruler — the Indian Herakles — is presented as a native of India, despite similarities with the Greek Heracles. This, according to Kosmin, is because now India is shown as unconquerable. Megasthenes emphasizes that no foreign army had been able to conquer India (since Dionysus) and Indians had not invaded a foreign country either. This representation of India as an isolated, invincible country is an attempt to vindicate Seleucus' peace treaty with the Indian emperor.

    Legacy

    Megasthenes' Indica, along with Ctesias' book of the same name, is among the earliest well-known Western accounts of India and he is regarded as one of the founders of the study of Indian history in the West. He is also the first foreign Ambassador to be mentioned in Indian history.

    Megasthenes also comments on the presence of pre-Socratic views among the Brahmans and Jews. Five centuries later Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromateis, may have misunderstood Megasthenes to be responding to claims of Greek primacy by admitting Greek views of physics were preceded by those of Jews and Indians. Megasthenes, like Numenius of Apamea, was simply comparing the ideas of the different ancient cultures.

    References

    Megasthenes Wikipedia


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