Iranian and Macedonian invasions and their impact and Early Geek-Roman Accounts on India
IRANIAN INVASION OF INDIA (550 – 515 B.C)
- The founder of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia, Cyrus, led some campaigns to the east of Iran between 558 and 530 B.C. In course of these campaigns he invaded the Indian borderland. He captured the Gandhara region.
- In the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.), the Persians made some real advance in India. He invaded India and occupied the territories in the North-Western Frontier Province, Sind and Punjab in 516 B.C. These parts remained with the Iranian Empire till Alexander’s invasion of India.
- The Bahistan Inscription mentions Gandhara as a province of his empire which Darius inherited from Cyrus.
- This is further confirmed by the Susa Palace Inscription of Darius which mentions that teak was brought from Gandhara for the construction of the palace of the Emperor. (Gandhara means modern Peshawar and Rawalpindi of Pakistan)
- The statement of Herodotus:
- According to him, Gandhara formed the twentieth satrapy of the empire of Darius paying a tribute of 360 talents of gold dust. (This gold was probably collected from the beds of the upper Indus and from the gold mines of Dardistan). It was the most fertile and populous province of the Achaemenian Empire.
- Herodotus has also recorded that Darius sent a naval expedition probably in 517 B.C. to explore the Indus basin.
- The extent of Darius Empire in India:
- The extent of the Persian Empire in India under Darius was not merely confined to Gandhara alone but extended further towards the Indus as well.
- The Persian Empire in India reached its farthest limit under Darius.
- The extent of the Indian dominion of Darius included the territories inherited from his predecessors and those he conquered in India. The territories of West Punjab and Lower Indus valley were under Persian rulers.
- Persian domination over India under Xerxes and his successors:
- Xerxes, the successor of Darius I kept his flag flying over the Indian kingdom which he had inherited from Darius, but he failed to make any forward movement in India due to his commitments in over India under Greece.
- Herodotus states that Xerxes requisitioned large number of troops including infantry and cavalry from India for invasion of Greece.
- The downfall of Persian Empire:
- The defeat suffered by Xerxes in Greece led to decline of Persian power in India.
- However, the Achaemenid rule over India continued up to 330 B.C. In that year Darius III, the last of the Achaemenid ruler summoned Indian troops to fight against Alexander the Great.
- With the fall of the Persian power under the impact of the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Persian hold over India was lost.
Iranian Influence on India:
- Iranian contacts with India lasted for about two centuries (516 to 326 B.C). These contacts had many important results which are as under:
(a) Political Impact:
- The Persian invasion and the hold of the Persians in the north-western frontier regions of India did not affect Indian politics in any significant way. It only exposed the weakness of the Indian defense in that region and paved the way for the conquest of Alexander.
- The Iranians were followed by the Greeks, the Sakas, the Kushans and the Huns.
- However, the satrapa system of administration introduced by the Persians in their Indian provinces served as a model to later dynasties especially the Sakas and the Kushanas.
- India learnt the necessity of a strong and united empire to repel the foreign invasions. It was for the first time that the small, scattered and mutually quarreling states of India realized how essential it was to join hands together to meet the common enemy.
(b) Encouragement to Trade:
- Though the Persian invasion did not affect India politically to a great extent, the contact between the Indians and the Persians that continued even after the end of the Achaemenian Empire. These contacts between Persia and India through both the sea and the land led to the establishment of trade relations between the two countries.
- The Persian rulers did much to promote geographical exploration and promote trade and commerce. The exploration of the Indus and the Arabian Sea by Scylax opened a new water-route.
- When the western and north-western India formed parts of the Persian Empire which extended up to Asia Minor in the west, Indian trade naturally got a fresh impetus. Indian ivory and teak were popular in the Persian markets. Darius used them in the construction of his palace.
- The India Traders and merchants now reached distant places in the Vast Persian Empire to dispose of their goods. Similarly, the Persian goods began to flow smoothly into India.
(c) Settlement of Foreigners on Indian Soil:
- A large number of foreigners, Greek, Persians, Turks etc settled down in the North-Western parts of India. With the passage of time they completely absorbed among the Indians.
(d) Impact on Art and Architecture:
- According to Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador at the court of Chandragupta, the Mauryan ruler adopted certain Persian ceremonies and rituals. The Mauryan art was influenced by the Persian art to some extent.
- Traces of the Persian influence can be seen in the Mauryan sculptures and in the Ashokan pillars.
- The polish of the Mauryan pillars manifests the Persian influence.
- The Persian masonry had this characteristic of high polish.
- Ashokan pillars were influenced by Persian pillars.
- Ashoka, followed the Iranian custom of preaching ideals by inscribing them on the stone pillars. The architecture of the period of Ashoka was completely influenced by Persian architecture.
(e) Kharoshthi Script:
- The Aramaic form of writing which the Persians introduced in the north-western India after their conquest, gradually developed into the Kharoshti script. It was written from right to left.
- All the Ashokan rock inscriptions in the north-west India were engraved in the Kharoshti script.
- The idea of inscribing ethical exhortations on rocks in the form of royal proclamations might have been borrowed from Persia.
- Certain resemblances have been discovered between the Achaemenid inscriptions and those of Ashoka. They both have the same style, especially in the construction of the opening sentence.
(f) Interchange of Indo-Persian culture:
- Indian Scholars and philosophers went to Persia and exchanged their views freely with the intellectuals of that country. This contact brought about a great change in the outlook of the people and bought the people closer.
- Fusion of Iranian/Persian features in the Mauryan art.
- Impact of Buddhism on the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia.
- Even before the invasion of Alexander, the Persians became catalysts between the Indian and Greek cultures. The Greek philosophers came in contact with Indian philosophy long before the invasion of Alexander.
(g) Influence on Coinage:
- The Persian silver coins were in circulation in India. This affected Indian coinage.
- The Persian coins were known for their refined minting and elegant looks. The Indian rulers adopted similar techniques to mint their coins on the Persian model.
Comparison of Maurya columns and Achaemenian pillars:
- Both were built of stones.
- Both used polished stones.
- Both have certain common sculpture motifs such as the lotus.
- Ashokan pillar edicts are somewhat similar to pillar edicts of Darius (king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire).
- Carved animals can be found in both the cases.
- It has been suggested that Ashoka got the idea of inscribing proclamations on pillars from the achaemenids.
- There are differences between the two in their respective functions, conceptions, style, design and form.
- The stone columns of the Mauryan Pillared Hall were without capitals whereas the columns of the pillared halls of Perspolis have elaborate capitals.
- Achaemenian (Persian) columns stand on bases, either shaped like a bell (that is, inverted lotus), or on a plain rectangular or circular block. While the independent Mauryan columns have no base at all.
- The bell form that is used as supporting base in Persian columns serves as capital on top of the shaft in Mauryan ones and makes altogether a different aesthetic effect.
- The shape and ornamentation of the Maurya lotus is different from the Persian ones, the bulge typical of the former is absent in the latter.
- The Achaemenian shaft is fluted in all cases except one. But Mauryan columns are smooth.
- The Achaemenian shaft are built of separate segments of stone aggregated one above the other which is the work of mason. The shaft of the Mauryan pillar is monolithic which pertains to the character of the work of a skilled wood-carver or carpenter.
- Hence in technique, the Mauryan pillars partakes the character of wood-carver’s or carpenter’s work, the Achaemenian, that of a mason.
- The Achaemenid pillars were generally part of some larger architectural scheme, composed of much too many component parts looking complex and complicated. While the Ashokan columns were intended to produce the effect of an independent freestanding monument with simpler specimen, more harmonious in conception and execution and gives the feeling of greater stability, dignity and strength.
- The capitals of the Persian columns are crowned with a cluster of stylized palm leaves and have two semi-bulls, lions, or unicorns seated back to back, or an upright or inverted cup, with double volute on the top.
- The Mauryan type of abacus (platform above the bell) and the placing of independently carved animal motifs on the top of abacus is absent in the Achaemenian context.
- While Darius pillars propagated military victories and military might of the Achaemenid monarch, Ashoka’s pillar edict shows his quasi-benevolent message of a caring emperor.
- There are differences between the two in their respective functions, conceptions, style, design and form.
MACEDONIAN INVASIONS OF INDIA
- Alexander was born in 356 B.C. in Macedonia, a kingdom of Greece. Philip, his Father, was the ruler of Macedon. After the death of his father, Alexander ascended the throne at the age of twenty only. Within a few years following the accession, he conquered Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and Persia.
- The Alexander’s invasion of India is an important event in the history of ancient India. But it created scarcely any impression in Indian mind. The veracity of the statement is established by the fact that the event is not referred to in any branch of ancient Indian literature. It is only from the Greek sources that we come to know of the events relating to Alexander’s invasion in India. The Greek accounts have been corroborated by the archaeological evidences (especially numismatic evidences).
India’s Political, Religious, Social and Economic Conditions on the eve of Alexander’s Invasion in 326 BC:
- At that time, there was not any mighty empire in India and the whole country was divided into several small republics and monarchical states which were constantly fighting with one another. Across the Beas River the strong Magadhan Empire had neither the will or time to intervene in the political changes occurring in the states lying to the west.
- Political Condition in the Trans-Indus States: There were probably four hill-tribes to the west of the Indus.
- Ambhi’s Kingdom:
- The kingdom of Taxila lay between the river Indus and Jhelum. It was ruled by Ambhi who was the sworn enemy of his neighbouring ruler Porus.
- Porus’s Kingdom:
- Porus ruled over the territory which lay between the Jhelum and the Chenab. He maintained a strong army which fought well against Alexander.
- Younger Porus and the Glausai Tribe:
- The territory between the Ravi and the Chenab was ruled by the Younger Porus, who was a relative of Porus and tribesmen of the Glausai Tribe who had their won separate areas.
- The Territory between the Ravi and the Beas Rivers:
- The territory was ruled by several independent tribes.
- The Magadhan Empire:
- To the east of the Beas lay the mighty empire of Magadha which was ruled by the Nandas who had a huge powerful army. Its capital city was at Patliputra.
- Tribal Republics of the Southern Punjab:
- In the Southern parts of the Punjab, which lay on the Alexander’s route, when he was returning to Greece, were the warlike tribal republics of Sivi Kshudrakas and Malla, etc. They made Alexander’s retreat a difficult affair.
- The Indus Valley Tribes: There were several independent tribes in the Indus Valley.
- People led a simple life. Thefts were uncommon. However, the customs of Sati, polygamy and slavers were prevalent.
- In the light of the Greek accounts, that some of the people were forced to sell their daughters because of poverty, we can conclude that the moral decay had set in the society.
- However, the Indians had made much progress in the field of art, architecture, literature and education.
- Agriculture, trade and various crafts were practiced by the people. The trade was developed.
- The Indian traders travelled to far off countries where they sold woollen blankets, hides, horses, elephants and precious stones.
- The traders were prosperous and the trade was controlled by the state. Coins were also used as the medium of exchange.
- The practice of worshipping the images had been firmly established. The rivers (especially the Ganga) and the trees were also worshipped. The sacred trees were never cut or injured.
- The hold of Brahmanism was supreme though Buddhism and Jainism were also gaining ground. The Brahmanas were held in high esteem ever by the rulers
Why Alexander Invaded India?
- Alexander the Great decided to launch an invasion of India after inflicting the finishing blow on Emperor Darius III of Persia.
- Historical writers have given detailed accounts of conquests of Alexander the Great in India. But they didn’t tell us about the reasons that provoked Alexander to invade India.
- The proximate causes of the invasion of India by Alexander may be the following:
- Alexander had conquered all the provinces of the Persian Empire except the Indian satrapy of the Persian emperor. The easy conquest of Persia and plunder of Persian wealth and treasures increased the desire of Alexander to invade India.
- The Indian satrapy paid to the Persian emperor a tribute of 360 talents of gold dust. Alexander was attracted by the wealth and prosperity of India.
- The Indian soldiers who fought under Xerxes in Greece had awakened great interest among Greeks about India. Curiosity, love of adventure and passion for conquest inspired Alexander to march to India.
- An embassy from the king had sought Alexander’s help against the neighbouring king Porus. Alexander became aware of internal rivalry among the Indian rulers.
- Alexander wanted to exceed the heroism shown by the mythical heroes like Heracles.
- The geographers in Greek were puzzled for a long time about the extent of the Ocean. One of the objects of Alexander’s campaign in India was to solve the problem by fixing the extent of the Ocean.
Conquest of Alexander in India:
- The Indian campaign of Alexander the Great began in 326 BC. After conquering the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, the Macedonian king Alexander launched a campaign into the northwestern Indian subcontinent (Pakistan).
- In the spring of 327 B.C. Alexander the Great decided to cross the Hindkush mountain range and move forward for conquests in India. He was accompanied by a large army.
- The army of Alexander marched towards the Indus. The Macedonian troops with their glittering spears and shining helmets caused terror among the local tribes. They offered almost no resistance till the invaders reached the Indus.
- First Opposition:
- The first ruler to oppose them was the King of Pushkalavati.
- He resisted the attack of the Macedonians for several days died a hero’s death in the defence of his capital. The fort was taken by the Macedonians.
- Conquering resistances, Alexander reached the Indus.
- In 326 B.C., Alexander had crossed Indus.
- Ambhi, the king of Taxila entered into a treaty with Alexander. King Ambhi came forward to greet him. The gate of the city of Taxila was thrown open to the Mecedonians.
- The surrender of Ambhi opened the gates of Punjab to the Macedonians. Perhaps, Ambhi did this to take revenge against his neighbour king Porus.
- War with Porus (Battle of Hydaspes):
- King Porus was not ready to surrender. The King of Paurava kingdom, Porus, was prepared to meet the army of Alexander.
- The kingdom was situated between Jhelum and Chenab river.
- The historic battle between Porus and Alexander was fought on the bank of Jhelum river in 326 B.C. The army of King Porus was huge and Alexander carefully laid his plans. Porus bravely fought against Alexander. He received several wounds on his body. After a tough battle the army of King Porus was defeated. King Porus surrendered at last.
- Alexander was highly impressed with the bravery of King Porus and appointed him as a satrap of not only in his own Kingdom but also granted him additional territories.
- Alexander conquered other several territories near River Indus.
- March towards River Beas:
- After the great victory in the Battle of Hydaspes, Alexander had a sweeping march up to the Beas.
- Alexander heard the glory of Nanda Empire:
- The Magadha Empire was on the east of the empire of Porus.
- The king of the Magadha Empire was Dhana Nanda. He was the son of Mahapadma Nanda and last ruler of Nanda Dynasty.
- The Magadha army under Nanda Empire was vast. The infantry size of Nanda army was of more than two lakh people. Further, it has large number of elephants, chariots and cavalry. The army of Alexander was exhausted. They could not gather the courage to meet such large army of Magadha.
- The return from river Beas:
- After reaching the river Beas, the army of Alexander refused to proceed further in spite of his appeals.
- Alexander, using the incorrect maps of the Greeks, thought that the world ended a mere 1,000 km away, at the edge of India. He therefore spoke to his army and tried to persuade them to march further into India but his general pleaded with him to change his opinion and return.
- Alexander, seeing the unwillingness of his men agreed and turned back.
- He marched back to the Jhelum and there collected a fleet of boats and sailed down the Jhelum (Hydaspes) and the lower Indus. The rest of his army marched along both the banks of the river.
- Conquest of the local tribes:
- In course of this voyage towards the Lower Indus, Alexander faced fierce opposition from the republican tribes of the region. There was heavy loss to Alexander’s army. However, Alexander conquered the country.
- His army conquered the Malli clans (in modern day Multan). Alexander sailed further down the river receiving submission of other republican tribes in the region.
- Conquest of Sind:
- The rulers of Sind strongly resisted the Macedonian army but were defeated. The region of Sind came under the control of Alexander.
- Return of Alexander:
- The Macedonian army returned to Persia in 324 B.C. Alexander left some of his generals at the conquered territories who ruled the region for some years.
- While Alexander was encamping at Babylon, he succumbed to a fatal attack of fever in 323 B.C.
Ineffectiveness of Alexander’s Invasion of India:
- Alexander’s invasion was an unimportant event in the History of India and as such it did not leave any permanent mark on its civilization due to several reasons:
(1) His Untimely Death:
- Alexander had an ambition to annex his Indian conquests to his Greek empire. That is why he left several of his governors and a large part of his army back in India. But his untimely death put to an end all his plans.
(2) Short Stay in India:
- Alexander stayed in India for a short period of 19 months. Almost all this time, he spent in fighting battles. In this atmosphere of war and distrust neither the Greeks nor the Indians could have an open heart to understand each other. In such a condition, how could the Greek civilization influence the civilization of India.
(3) Merely a Border Invasion:
- Alexander could not penetrate deep into the country and thus, his invasion remained more or less like a border raid. There was, therefore, remote possibility of its influencing the Indian civilization.
(4) The Indian Civilization was already well-deployed:
- The Indian civilization was already well-developed and the Indian people did not lag behind in any field than any other people in the world. They, therefore found nothing worth-while that they could learn from the Greek invaders.
(5) Founding of the Mauryan Dynasty:
- No sooner did Alexander turn his back, all his Indian territories were occupied by Chandragupta Maurya and thus even the last vestiges of the Greek invasion were obliterated.
Consequences of Alexander’s Invasion:
- Though Alexander failed to plant his Greek civilization in India, nor could his invasion produce any direct consequences of permanent nature yet his invasion was not a total failure. It cannot be called a ‘non-event’ in the Indian history. It produced several indirect consequences, some of these were as under:
(1) Political Impact:
- Alexander’s invasion of India carried both a political lesson and a political result. The lesson was that divided into small kingdoms, republics and tribal units, the North-West India suffered badly from hands of the foreign invaders. Unity and not the disunity became the need of the time.
- The political result of the invasion was noteworthy. Alexander destroyed the power of the many existing states and wiped out the independent existence of some of them.
- When soon after his departure, the process of building a powerful Indian empire began, the states of the North-West were easily conquered and they formed a part of that empire.
- Alexander, in fact, made the work of Chandragupta Maurya simpler, and paved the path for his imperial power of Maurya in the Greek invaded areas.
- Alexander did not fight with the real political power of India which was represented by the Nanda Empire.
- He fought with much smaller powers and won victory. Even then, a small king like Porus showed to him the courage of the Indian side.
- The political myth created by the Greek writers that the Western army was superior to that of the Indian proved meaningless when Chandragupta Maurya not only drove out the Greeks from the Indian soil, but also defeated the most powerful Greek ruler after Alexander, Seleucos Nikator, and forced him to surrender a large part of his territory.
- Politically, thus, India raised as a mighty power of Asia soon after the invasion of Alexander the Great.
(2) Commercial Impact:
- Alexander’s invasion opened up the land routes between the Greek world in the West and the Indian sub-continent.
- It is said that he opened as many as five different lines of communication between India and the West during the course of his campaigns.
- Of those, four routes were on land, and one by sea. His voyages and campaigns enlarged the geographical horizon of both the western and eastern peoples.
- As a result, overland trade and maritime commerce began to develop between India and the West.
- After the destruction of the Persian Empire over which the Greeks began to rule, the lines of contact between India and the Western Asia and through that with Europe became more effective and direct.
- The geographical separation between the West and East was thus reduced to a large extent in the wake of Alexander’s invasion.
- Several Indian traders, artisans and religious scholars went to other countries and some people came to India from other countries. In this way, Indian contacts with Europe developed rapidly.
- The land routes to the West ran mainly through Kabul, the Mulla Pass of Baluchistan and Gedrosia. In his conquered territories, Alexander founded cities, military posts, and Greek settlements. Those places developed into centers of trade in course of time.
(3) Help in building Indian Chronology for subsequent Events:
- Alexander’s invasion helped in the construction of the Indian history. He invaded India in 326 A.D. a date which helped us a lot in determining the Indian chronology.
- Indian texts especially the Purans have ignored to record events in chronological order.
- Megasthenes and other Greek writers have written a lot about the contemporary Indian society. Their descriptions have proved valuable in this respect.
- The historians who accompanied Alexander have given an important information about the social and economic conditions of India. The Greek accounts have been corroborated by the archaeological evidences (especially numismatic evidences).
(4) Foundation of the Greek States and Cultural Impact:
- After Alexander’s departure, the Greek generals who were left in India established their in dependent states on the North Western Frontiers of India. In this way, the Indians came in contact with the Greeks and both of them benefited from each other.
- India was rich in religion and philosophy at the time of the Greek invasion.
- The Greeks also were the pioneers of Western civilisation with a rich philosophy of their own.
- The historians, scholars and writers who came with Alexander closely observed the Indian philosophical systems and noted them in their descriptions.
- Alexander himself was curious to hear and know about some of the most difficult systems of Indian ascetics’ and philosophers.
- The description left by the Greek writers caused much curiosity in the advanced Greek minds of that time and of later periods.
- The Hindu and the Buddhist religious faiths and philosophies had an impact of the Greek world of philosophy following Alexander’s time.
- The Indians, on their part are supposed to have been impressed by the Greek coinage. King Saubhuti, struck coins in imitation of the Greek coins.
- Similarly, the Indians came to know of the Greek astronomy. And later on, they came to appreciate the Hellenistic art.
- Long after Alexander, this influence came to its admirable form in shape of the Gandhara School of Art. The images of Buddha, under this art, showed a remarkable mixture of the Greek and the Indian art of image making. Of course, this art perfected itself at the time of Emperor Kanishka who brought sculptors from the Greek settlements of Bactria for the work, and who were far remote from the days of Alexander the Great.
Causes responsible for the defeat of the Indians by Alexander:
- Alexander the tremendous superiority of a trained army over the vast and unwieldy armies of Indian kingdoms. He had found routes to India by land and sea. He completely altered the balance of power and the political completion of North Western India. Some of the main causes responsible for the defeat of the Indians were the following:
- The main cause of defeat was the lack of unity among the Indian rulers. Their mutual jealousy had made them utterly selfish. They could not pool their resource even at the time of national crisis.
- Alexander was undoubtedly a great general, perhaps one of the greatest general that the world has ever produced.
- The Greek army was more disciplined and better organized than the India unwieldy and untrained, indisciplined armies.
- The Greek soldiers were familiar with the latest tactics.
- The elephants used by the Indians proved a liability rather than an asset for them. When wounded by the Greek archers they ran away in madness and trampled their own soldiers.
- Nature also seemed to favour the Macedonians. Because of rain and storm the Indian archers could not use their bows effectively on the slippery battle field.
- The Chariots could not move quickly and got stuck in the rain soaked mud. This slowness of movement proved very detrimental to the Indian side.
- The Indian side was taken unaware when Alexander attacked them all of a sudden. The idea that no one could cross the Jhelum in flood had rendered the Indian soldiers quite inactive and careless.
Early Greek and Latin Historians and Geographers who provides information India:
- The name of India, so far as is known, first appears in Greek literature in the 5th century B.C. in the works of Hekataios and Herodotos.
- The word is derived from the Indus river (Sanskrit sindhu means “river”), and in the Greek as well as the Persian language ‘India’ originally meant only the Indus region, which then belonged to the Persian empire.
- Herodotos, however, already used the term in a wider sense to denote the whole country; and classical Greek usage followed his example.
- He was a Greek historian.
- Widely referred to as “The Father of History”, he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically and critically, and then to arrange them into a historiographic narrative.
- The Histories—his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced.
- His accounts of India are among the oldest records of Indian civilization by an outsider.
- Although Herodotos himself never visited India, he was an indefatigable collector of anecdotes from many sources. He knew, for example, that India embraced diverse peoples of widely varying physical appearance, customs and language.
- Herodotus reports that a species of fox-sized, “ants” lives in one of the far eastern, Indian provinces of the Persian Empire.
- This region, he reports, is a sandy desert, and the sand there contains a wealth of fine gold dust. These giant ants, according to Herodotus, would often unearth the gold dust and the people living in this province would then collect the precious dust. (This was denied by later historian Pliny).
- Although Herodotus considered his “inquiries” a serious pursuit of knowledge, he was not above relating entertaining tales derived from the collective body of myth, but he did so judiciously with regard for his historical method, by corroborating the stories through enquiry and testing their probability.
- Herodotos’ notions of geography were understandably inaccurate: for instance his belief that the Indus flows eastward, and that India constitutes the easternmost inhabited region of Asia.
- The last of those Greeks before Alexander who are known to have written about India was Ktesias.
- He served for eight years (405-397 B.C.) as personal physician to the Persian king. Living thus at the Achaemenid court, he had unexampled opportunities to communicate with Persians of high rank and acquire an insight into the workings of the Persian empire.
- Upon his return to Greece, Ktesias wrote a book called Persika, covering the entire history of the Near East from its beginnings down to his own time, as well as a much smaller work called Indika. Both of these have disappeared.
- Already discussed in separate chapter.
Ptolemy I Soter:
- Ptolemy (367 BC – 283 BC) was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great.
- He himself wrote a history of Alexander’s campaigns that has not survived. This was long considered an objective work, distinguished by its straightforward honesty and sobriety.
- Arrian, author of the most widely read account of Alexander the Great, noted that he relied most heavily on Ptolemy’s history.
- Claudius Ptolemy was a Greco-Egyptian writer of Alexandria, known as a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet. He lived in the city of Alexandria in the Roman province of Egypt, wrote in Greek, and held Roman citizenship.
- The Geography (also Geographia) is Ptolemy’s main work.
- It was known as the world’s geography in the Roman Empire of the 2nd century.
- Ptolemy relied mainly on the work of an earlier geographer.
- He was a Greek historian, public servant, military commander and philosopher of the Roman period.
- The Anabasis of Alexander is perhaps his best-known work and is generally considered one of the best sources on the campaigns of Alexander the Great.
- Arrian was able to use sources which are now mostly lost. Most important of all, Arrian had the biography of Alexander by Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s leading generals and friend from childhood until Alexander’s death.
- Arrian is a secondary source of Alexander’s biographical data: “Arrian is prone to misread and misinterpret his primary sources leading to many errors”.
- One of his principal sources, Ptolemy, who inserted his own propaganda to exaggerate his personal achievements under Alexander and to discredit those of his rivals.
- It seems that Arrian wanted to make Alexander’s life a legend, so he exaggerated many of his achievements.
- Arrian’s other works include Indica which deals with the period of Alexander the Great.
- After Alexander the Great conquered the Indus valley, he planned to return to the center of his empire in Babylon. Alexander planned to return himself over land but wanted to learn about the mouth of the Indus (which he himself did not reach) and the sea between India and Babylon. Therefore, he sent one of his officers, Nearchus, to perform such a voyage and report what he saw. Indica mostly describes what Nearchus saw on that voyage.
- Indica begins with a description of the geography of India, in particular focusing on the size of the rivers Indus and the Ganges, together with their tributaries.
- Arrian draws upon a number of ancient sources in composing his Indica. His main source is the account written by Nearchus himself. Arrian also drew on a number of other ancient writers, including Megasthenes (whose own book was also named Indica).
- He was a Greek historian.
- He talked about Alexander’s invasion of India, his war with Porus, Nanda and Gangaridai states beyond Ganga etc.
Strabo (64 BC – AD 24):
- He was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian.
- Strabo was an extensive traveler, 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.
- His account of India draws chiefly from Greek records of Alexander’s campaigns.
- Strabo is most famous for his work Geographica (“Geography”), which presented a descriptive history of people and places from different regions of the world known to his era.
- As such, Geographica provides a valuable source of information on the ancient world, especially when this information is corroborated by other sources.
- Strabo, Pliny, Arrian compiled a map of India as known to the early Greeks, based on Indica of Megasthenes (4th century BC).
Plutarch (AD 46 – AD 120):
- He was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives. He later became Roman citizen.
- He also talked about Alexander’s invasion of India, his war with Porus, Nanda and Gangaridai states beyond Ganga etc.
- Plutarch’s best-known work is the Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans.
- Plutarch’s Life of Alexander is one sources on the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great. It includes anecdotes and descriptions of events that appear in no other source.
- Plutarch devotes a great deal of space to Alexander’s drive and desire. He talks about Alexander’s scorn for luxury: “He desired not pleasure or wealth, but only excellence and glory.”
- As explained in the opening paragraph of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch was not concerned with history so much as the influence of character, good or bad, on the lives and destinies of men. In many ways, he must be counted amongst the earliest moral philosophers.
- He was a Roman historian, probably of the 1st century, author of his only known and only surviving work “Histories of Alexander the Great,”
- In his work, Curtius mainly does not identify sources. They were, perhaps, stated in the missing books.
- He does, however, mention Cleitarchus, a historian in camp and Ptolemy. These men were participants in the Alexander story and therefore are counted as eyewitnesses, or primary sources.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79):
- He was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire,
- He wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia (‘Natural History’), which became a model for all other encyclopedias.
- It cover topics including astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture, pharmacology, mining, mineralogy, sculpture, painting, and precious stones.
- Natural History describes of the voyage from Alexandria to South India on the Nile, Red Sea and then across the Indian Ocean to Muziris near Cochin which was based on earlier and contemporary reports and contains interesting facts, e.g. Rome’s drain of gold for its trade with India and the existence of piracy in the Indian Ocean.
- So much gold was used for Indo-Roman trade, and apparently recycled by the Kushan Empire for their own coinage, that Pliny the Elder complained about the drain of gold to India. Pliny, lamented how India, the sink of precious metals, was draining Rome of gold.
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea or Periplus of the Red Sea:
- It is a Greco-Roman Periplus, written in Greek, describing navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
- The text has been ascribed to mid-1st century date.
- Its author is unknown.
- The Erythraean Sea literally means “Red Sea”. However, to the Greeks, it included the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.
- The Periplus refers Gangaridai to be located on the Bay of Bengal north to the port city in Kalinga (ancient Orissa).
- It talks about Gangetic spikenard and pearls, and muslin and gold-mines near these places.
- The lost port city of Muziris (Near present day Cochin) in the Chera kingdom, as well as the Early Pandyan Kingdom are mentioned in the Periplus as major centers of trade, pepper and other spices, metal work and semiprecious stones, between South India and the Roman Empire.
- The Periplus also describes the annual fair in present-day Northeast India, on the border with China.
- Trade with the Indian harbour of Barygaza is described extensively in the Periplus.
- Nahapana, ruler of the Indo-Scythian Western Satraps as ruler of the area around Barigaza.
- Under the Western Satraps, Barigaza (Bharuch) was one of the main centers of Roman trade in the subcontinent.
- The Periplus describes the many goods exchanged.
- Goods were also brought down in quantity from Ujjain, the capital of the Western Satraps.
- The Periplus describes numerous Greek buildings and fortifications in Barigaza, falsely attributing them to Alexander the Great, who never went this far south.
- The Greek city of Alexandria on the Jhelum River is mentioned in the Periplus.
- The Periplus further testifies to the circulation of Indo-Greek coinage in the region bearing inscriptions in Greek letters, and the devices of those who reigned after Alexander and Menander.
Pliny’s statement the Rome was being drained out of its gold by India during the first century of the Christian era:
In the closing centuries of the era before Christ, South Indian trade in spices like ginger, turmeric and pepper assumed great prominence. The Greeks and the Romans of those days carried on extensive trade with South India.
During the 1st three centuries of the Christian era the trade between the Roman Empire and the East became quite extensive both by land and water because of the following reasons:
- With the Roman conquest of Egypt in the middle of the 1st century B.C. the Romans actively entered the field of spice trade, and the Arab monopoly broke up.
- In 45 A.D. the discovery by Hippalus of the existing monsoon winds regularly blowing across the Indian Ocean gave an impetus to trade between South India and the West, for voyage along the coast line thereafter gave place to oceanic voyage directly to Muziris and other ports of South India.
- South Indian trade in spices like ginger, turmeric & pepper and luxury goods assumed great prominence as these were in high demand in Western World including Rome. Pliny says that there was a widespread use of eastern aromatics in Roman society.
- Roman particularly women were passionate about Indian pearls and muslin. The Chinese silk, for which India was an intermediary, was in high demand in Roman world.
- Cardamom, ginger, turmeric and pepper are among the spices mentioned by Diosorides (40-90 A.D.), the Greek physician and contemporary of Pliny, in his Materia Medico, as possessing medicinal virtue. Hence Indian spices were in demand for medicinal purpose also.
On the other hand, Roman products were not very attractive in the East. Roman merchants exported glass and wine, but the bulk of the exchange was paid for in precious metal like gold and silver. Ancient authors like Pliny the Elder believed that this unequal balance of trade caused a drain of gold from Rome to India. Pliny the Elder laments the drain of Roman gold into India in return for unproductive luxuries and spices. He in his book Natural history supplies some figures:
- In one passage he refers, like the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, to the sea trade between Egypt and India. Each year, Pliny says, no less than 50 million sesterces (an ancient Roman coin) was drained off by India, which sent back goods sold at 100 times their original value.
- In another passage Pliny says: the women and the luxury trade with India, China, and the Arabian Peninsula cost not less than 100 million sesterces per year. This figure is probably included in the estimate for India (50 million sesterces).
There is simply no way of knowing whether the figures are dubious or not. Both passages are indeed alarmist and might be exaggerated by Pliny. Also neither of the statements in fact mentions anything about gold or silver, each giving the alleged values in terms of sesterces (an ancient Roman coin).
Justifications in the favor of Pliny’s claim
- We can’t brush Pliny’s claims aside. However curious its concerns may seem, Pliny’s Natural History is the most intense exploration of man’s relation to his physical environment in the widest sense, known to use from antiquity. If he expresses concern about the cost of luxury trade with East, then the existence of this luxury trade was known in Rome and it was felt to be an been an issue of some importance.
- The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea also suggests that Roman ships sailing to southern India carried ‘mainly a great amount of money’ and the discovery of dozens of imperial coin hoards in this region provides support for this statement.
- Pepper (black and white) was imported in large quantities is proved by the fact that it was valued by the Romans as highly as gold and silver and hence the name yavana Priya (dear to the Romans) was given to it by Indian Sanskrit writers. In Rome there were special storehouses, which could contain thousands of pounds of pepper.
- At the Roman Customs House Alexandria imported spices were scrutinized and taxed. When Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire in 30 A.D. that city developed into a centre of trade in oriental spices.
- Eastern trade had drained bullion resources from the Roman Empire are proved by the stress on the Roman currency system due to the scarcity of bullion. At one time, Rome had to ban trade in silk, cutlery and other goods which were imported by it from the East.
- Inscriptions from western India mention foreign perfume merchants (yavanagandhika), and it is probable that they had their own quarters in the port towns in western India. This proves prevalence of large scale trade in spices.
- The excavations have also revealed the remains of a Roman trading station and a large number of mini-fresh Roman coins issued in the early centuries of the Christian era. Roman coins were buried in the earth in different places along the breadth of Tamil India from the Malabar to the East Coast. The mention of a Temple of Augustus at Muziris proves presence of Roan traders in South India.
- The ancient texts of India emphasized that the basis of foreign trade with West was earning profits. Though we have no reliable evidence on the price of silk in the Roman Empire, one ancient source says it was worth its weight in gold.
- The introduction of gold coinage on a significant scale by Vima Kadphises (Kushana ruler) in the 1 st century AD also makes it clear that India had a favorable balance of trade with the Roman world (through land also).
Nature and impact of India’s contact with Western Asia and the Mediterranean world:
- Nature of India’s contact with Western Asia and Mediterranean world
- Diplomatic relations – Examples of Greek Ambassador Megathenes in the court of Chandragupta, Syrian Ambassador Deimachus and Egyptian Ambassador Dionysius in Bindusara’s court can be cited to support it.
- Cordial relationship – The story of Bindusara requesting Antiochus to buy and send him some sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist is often cited to support the good relationship between India and Syria.
- Trade relationship – Trade and Commerce between India and Western Asia and the Mediterranean world flourished which is supported by evidence of Greek and Persian coins and accounts of Megasthenes, Arabian etc.
- Dhamma-vijaya – Dhamma missions were sent to different countries and Ashoka claims to have attained Dhamma-Vijaya in the dominions of Antiochus II, Ptolemy II, Philadelphus of Egypt, Magas of Cyrene (North Africa), Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, and Alexander of Epirus.
- Matrimonial relationship – According to Roman historian Appian, Seleucus entered into the marriage relationship with Chandragupta Maurya, however, this account is not very reliable.
- Persian Impacts
- Achaemenid rulers Cyrus and Darius annexed parts of Punjab and Sindh. Indian subjects enrolled in the Achaemenid army. Their rule lasted for 2 centuries.
- Flourishing trade and commerce between Persia and India. Some Persian gold and silver coins were found in Punjab.
- Impact on the administrative structure of Mauryan empire. For ex – Persian title of Satrapa (governor) continued to be used by Indian Provincial governors as Kshtrapa.
- Use of Kharosthi in Ashokan Inscriptions.
- Influence is seen in Ashokan edicts, Mauryan art and culture like in Ashokan pillars.
- Chandragupta Maurya used to take ceremonial hair bath. It used to be in typical Persian style. Presence of sacred fire shows Zoroastrian influence.
- Greek Impact
- Alexander’s conquest of North-west India and North-west India came under Seleucus Nikator, who declared himself king after Alexander’s death. Later, it paved the way for unification and conquest of Northwest India by Chandragupta Maurya.
- Discovery of routes by sea and land between India and Europe which led to increase in trade and commerce.
- Art of making well-shaped and beautifully designed gold and silver coins came from Greeks.
- Greek influence on Indian astrology
- Greek accounts of Megathenes, Arrian etc provide valuable information about socio-economic life including crafts like carpentry, brisk trade, prosperity etc.
- Ideas and notions of Indian philosophy and religion went to the Western world.
- Greek accounts also helped in framing chronology of ancient Indian history. For ex – Date of Alexander’s victory in 326 BC. ©selfstudyhistory.com
|Chronology of Foreign Invasions|
|518-486 BC||King Darius or Darus invaded India|
|326 BC||Alexander invaded India|
|190 BC||Indo Greeks or Bactrians invaded India|
|90 BC||Sakas invaded India|
|Ist century AD||Pahalavas invaded India|
|45 AD||Kushanas or Yue-chis invaded India|