The Info List - Megasthenes

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(/mɪˈɡæsθɪniːz/ mi-GAS-thi-neez; 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. Megasthenes
was born in Asia Minor and became an ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus I Nicator
of the Seleucid dynasty to Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya
in Pataliputra, India.[1] 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.[2] Other Greek envoys to the Indian court are known after Megasthenes: Deimachus as ambassador to Bindusara, and Dionysius, as ambassador to Ashoka.[3][4]


1 Life and travel 2 Indica

2.1 Reconstruction 2.2 India
according to the reconstructed text

2.2.1 Geography 2.2.2 History 2.2.3 Flora and fauna 2.2.4 Economy 2.2.5 Society 2.2.6 Administration

2.3 Historical reliability

3 Legacy 4 See also 5 References

5.1 Bibliography

6 External links

Life and travel[edit]

According to Arrian, Megasthenes
lived in Arachosia
and travelled to Pataliputra.

was a Greek ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus I Nicator
in the court of Chandragupta Maurya.[5] Arrian
explains that Megasthenes
lived in Arachosia, with the satrap Sibyrtius, from where he visited India:

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

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[7]), 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[8][9], but he appears not to have visited any other parts of India. Indica[edit]

The Indo-Gangetic Plain
Indo-Gangetic Plain
(grey area). The region to which Megasthenes was ambassador is the north-central region on the Ganges
at the location of today's Patna. The western side is the Punjab region, which he also described. The Seleucid kingdom is out of the grey area to the west. The Seleucids were unable to retain territory in today's Pakistan
(Punjab) after the death of Alexander.

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).[10][11] Reconstruction[edit] 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.[12] 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.[13]

Fragments used by John Watson McCrindle to reconstruct Megasthenes' Indica

# Work Author / Editor Section Topic Book number in Megasthenes' Indica

1 Bibliotheca historica Diodorus
Siculus II.35-42 Summary of India Summary

2 Bibliotheca historica Diodorus
Siculus III.63 Three persons named Dionusos Summary

3 The Anabasis of Alexander Arrian V. 6. 2-11 Boundaries and rivers I

4 Indica (Arrian) Arrian II. 1. 7 Boundaries I

5 Geographica Strabo XV.1.11 Boundaries and extent I

6 Geographica Strabo II.1.7 Size of India I

7 Geographica Strabo XV.1.12 Size of India I

8 Geographica Strabo II.1.4 Size of India I

9 Indica (Arrian) Arrian III. 7-8. Size of India I

10 Geographica Strabo II.1.19 Ursa Major
Ursa Major
and shadows I

11 Natural History Pliny VI. 22.6. Ursa Major I

12 Geographica Strabo XV.1.20 Fertile soil I

13 Geographica Strabo XV.1.37 Wild animals I

14 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XVII 39. Indian apes I

15 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XVI. 41 Winged scorpions and serpents I

16 Geographica Strabo XV.1.56 Animals of India, and the Reed I

17 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XVI. 20.21 Animals of India I

18 Natural History Pliny VIII. 14. 1 Boa constrictor I

19 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus VIII.7 Of the Electric Eel. I

20 Natural History Pliny VI.24.1 Taprobane I

21 Antigon. Caryst. Antigonus of Carystus 647 Marine trees I

22 Indica (Arrian) Arrian 4. 2-13. Indus and Ganges I

23 Natural History Pliny VI. 21.9-22. 1. Indus and Ganges I

24 Polyhistor Gaius Julius Solinus 52. 6-7. Indus and Ganges I

25 Indica (Arrian) Arrian 6. 2-3. Silas river I

26 Anecdota Graeca Jean François Boissonade de Fontarabie I. p. 419, Silas river I

27 Geographica Strabo XV.1.38 Silas river I

28 Indica (Arrian) Arrian 5. 2 Number of Indian rivers I

29 Geographica Strabo XV.1.35-36 Pataliputra
city II

30 Indica (Arrian) Arrian 10 Pataliputra
and Indian manners II

31 Geographica Strabo XV.1.53-56 Indian manners II

32 Varia Historia Claudius Aelianus iv.1. Indian manners II

33 Nicol. Damasc. Nicolaus of Damascus 44 Indian manners II

34 Sermones Stobaeus 42 Indian manners II

35 Deipnosophistae Athenaeus iv. p. 153. Indian suppers II

36 Geographica Strabo XV.1.57 Extraordinary tribes II

37 Natural History Pliny VII. ii. 14-22 Extraordinary races II

38 Polyhistor Gaius Julius Solinus 52. 26-30 Extraordinary races II

39 On the Face in the Moon (de facie in orbe lunae) in Moralia Plutarch Opp. ed. Reisk, tom. ix. p. 701. Race of mouthless humans II

40 Indica (Arrian) Arrian Xl.l.-XII.-9 7 castes of India III

41 Geographica Strabo XV.1.39-41 7 castes of India III

42 Geographica Strabo XV.1.50-52 Administration of public affairs; horses and elephants. III

43 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XIII. 10. Horses and elephants III

44 Geographica Strabo XV.1.41-43 Elephants III

45 Indica (Arrian) Arrian ch. 13-14. Elephants III

46 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XII. 44. Elephants III

47 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XIII. 7. Of the diseases of Elephants. III

48 Geographica Strabo XV.1.44 Gold-digging ants III

49 Indica (Arrian) Arrian XV.5-7. Gold-digging ants III

50 Orations Dio Chrysostom Or. 35 Gold-digging ants III

51 Geographica Strabo XV.1.58-60 Indian philosophers III

52 Stromata Clement of Alexandria I. p. 305 D Indian philosophers III

53 Praeparatio evangelica Eusebius IX. 6 Indian philosophers III

54 Contra Julianum (Against Julian) Cyril of Alexandria IV Indian philosophers III

55 Stromata Clement of Alexandria I Indian philosophers III

56 Geographica Strabo XV.1.68 Indian philosophers: Kalanos (Calanus) and Mandanis III

57 The Anabasis of Alexander Arrian VII ii. 3-9 Indian philosophers: Kalanos (Calanus) and Mandanis III

58 Geographica Strabo XV.1.68 Indians had not attacked anyone or faced external attacks; Dionysos and Herakles IV

59 Indica (Arrian) Arrian V. 4-12. Indians had not attacked anyone or faced external attacks; Dionysos and Herakles IV

60 Contra Apion Josephus I. 20 (T. II p. 451, Havere.) King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

61 Antiquitates Judaicae Josephus X. ii. 1 (T. I p. 533, Havere.) King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

62 Zonar. Annal. Basileae 1557

King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

63 G. Syncell. T. I. George Syncellus??? p. 419, ed. Benn. (p. 221 ed. Paris, p. 177 ed. Venet.) King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

64 Fragments of Abydenus's writings in Praeparatio evangelica Eusebius I. 41 (ed. Colon. 1688, p. 456 D) King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

65 Indica (Arrian) Arrian 7-9. King of the Babylonians surpassed Herakles in greatness IV

66 Natural History Pliny IX. 5 Pearls IV

67 Mirabilia Phlegon of Tralles 33 Pandaian land IV

68 Natural History Pliny VI. xxi. 4-5. Ancient history of Indians IV

69 Polyhistor Gaius Julius Solinus 52. 5. Ancient history of Indians IV

70 The Anabasis of Alexander Arrian VII. ii. 3-9. Indian philosophers: Kalanos (Calanus) and Mandanis IV

71 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XII. 8. Elephants (Doubtful fragments)

72 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus III. 46. White elephant (Doubtful fragments)

73 De Recta in Deum Fide Adamantius (Pseudo-Origen) vol. I. p. 904. Brachhmans (Brahmins) and their philosophy (Doubtful fragments)

74 Palladius De gentibus Indiae et Bragmanibus' Palladius of Galatia pp. 8, 20 et seq. ed. Londin. 1668. Indian philosophers: Kalanos (Calanus) and Mandanis (Doubtful fragments)

75 De Moribus Brachmanorum Ambrosius pp. 62, 68 et seq. ed. Pallad. Londin. 1668. Calanus and Mandanis (Doubtful fragments)

76 Natural History Pliny VI. 21. 8-23. 11. Indian races (Doubtful fragments)

77 Polyhistor Gaius Julius Solinus 52. 6-17. Catalogue of Indian Races. (Doubtful fragments)

78 Stratagems Polyaenus I. 1. 1-3. Dionysos (Doubtful fragments)

79 Stratagems Polyaenus I. 3. 4. Hercules and Pandaea (Doubtful fragments)

80 De Natura Animalium Claudius Aelianus XVI. 2-22. Beasts of India (Doubtful fragments)

according to the reconstructed text[edit] According to the text reconstructed by J. W. McCrindle, Megasthenes' Indica describes India
as follows: Geography[edit] India
is a quadrilateral-shaped country, bounded by the ocean on the southern and the eastern side.[14] The Indus river
Indus river
forms the western and the north-western boundary of the country, as far as the ocean.[15] 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).[16] Beyond Hemodos, lies Scythia
inhabited by the Scythians known as Sakai.[17] Besides Scythia, the countries of Bactria
and Ariana bordered India.[18] At the extreme point of India, the gnomon of the sundial often casts no shadow, and the Ursa Major
Ursa Major
is invisible at night. In the remotest parts, the shadows fall southward, and even Arcturus
is not visible.[17] 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.[19] Other nations feared Gangaridai's huge force of the biggest elephants, and therefore, Gangaridai
had never been conquered by any foreign king.[20] Indus also runs from north to south, and has several navigable tributaries. The most notable tributaries are Hupanis, the Hudaspes, and the Akesines.[21] 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.[18] 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.[22] History[edit]

capital, showing Greek and Persian influence, early Mauryan Empire
Mauryan Empire
period, 4th-3rd century BC.

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.[23] 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.[24] Flora and fauna[edit] India
has several mountains with fruit trees of every kind.[17] 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.[25] The gestation period of the elephants ranges from 16 to 18 months, and the oldest of the elephants live up to 200 years.[26] Economy[edit] Gold, silver, copper and iron are abundant on Indian soil. Tin and other metals are used for making a number of tools, weapons, ornaments, and other articles.[25] India
has very fertile plains, and irrigation is practised widely.[25] The main crops include rice, millet, a crop called bosporum, other cereals, pulses and other food plants.[27] 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.[27] No famines have ever occurred in India
because of the following reasons:[28]

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[edit] 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.[18] The Indians are of above average stature, because of abundant food, fine water and pure air. They are well-skilled in art.[25] A law, prescribed by ancient Indian philosophers, bans slavery. The law treats everyone equally, but allows the property to be unevenly distributed.[29] The population of India
is divided into 7 endogamous and hereditary castes:[30]


Not numerous compared to other castes, but most prominent Exempted from all public duties Neither masters, nor servants "believed to be most dear to the gods, and to be the most conversant with matters pertaining to Hades" Engaged by others to offer sacrifices and perform funerary rites, for which they received valuable gifts and privileges 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.


Most numerous of all castes Live in villages, and avoid visiting towns Exempted from fighting and other public duties Regarded as public benefactors, and protected from damage during wars, even by enemy warriors Pay a land tribute to the ruler, the official land owner In addition, they remit 1/4th of their produce to the state treasury


Live in tents, outside villages and towns Hunt and trap crop-destroying birds and animals


Create weapons as well as tools for farmers and others Exempted from paying taxes, and receive a maintenance from the state exchequer


Second most numerous among the castes Well-organized and equipped for war Indulge in amusements and idleness during peaceful times Maintained at state expense, along with war horses and elephants


Carry out administrative tasks Report to the king or (in states not ruled by kings) magistrates

Councillors and Assessors

Composed of wise people with good character Deliberate on public affairs; included the royal advisers, state treasurers, dispute arbitrators; the army generals and chief magistrates also usually belonged to this class. Least numerous, but most respected

Administration[edit] 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.[31] Historical reliability[edit] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] Legacy[edit] 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.[citation needed] 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.[36] See also[edit]

Megasthenes' Herakles Herodotus Patrocles Demodamas


^ Radha Kumud Mookerji 1988, p. 38. ^ Kaushik Roy 2012, pp. 61-62. ^ "Three Greek ambassadors are known by name: Megasthenes, ambassador to Chandragupta; Deimachus, ambassador to Chandragupta's son Bindusara; and Dyonisius, whom Ptolemy Philadelphus sent to the court of Ashoka, Bindusara's son", McEvilley, p.367 ^ Burjor Avari 2007, pp. 108-109. ^ Paul J. Kosmin 2014, p. 38. ^ Arrian. "Book 5". Anabasis.  ^ "History of West Punjab (Pakistan)". World History at KMLA.  ^ "BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: The Story of India: South India". Retrieved 29 June 2017.  ^ Mallady, Shastry V. ""I am overwhelmed by this great city"". Retrieved 29 June 2017.  ^ Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India. Pearson Education India. p. 324. ISBN 9788131711200.  ^ Christopher I. Beckwith (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. p. 62. ISBN 9781400866328.  ^ Paul J. Kosmin 2013, p. 99. ^ A. B. Bosworth 1996, pp. 188-189. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 49. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 46. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, pp. 48-49. ^ a b c J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 30. ^ a b c J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 35. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 33. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 33-34. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 34. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 34-35. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 35-38. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 39-40. ^ a b c d J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 31. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 44. ^ a b J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 32. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 32-33. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 40. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 40-44. ^ J. W. McCrindle 1877, p. 44-45. ^ Allan Dahlaquist 1996, p. 28. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book XV, Chapter 1 ^ Paul J. Kosmin 2013, p. 98-100. ^ Paul J. Kosmin 2013, p. 103-104. ^ Bezalel Bar-Kochva 2010, p. 157: "He does not respond to the implied claim of Greek primacy, presumably because he did not have, and could not have had, hard information about the beginnings of "parallel" opinions among the Brahmans."


A. B. Bosworth (1996). Alexander and the East. Clarendon. ISBN 978-0-19-158945-4.  Bezalel Bar-Kochva (2010). The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-94363-6.  Burjor Avari (2007). India: The Ancient Past. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-25161-2.  Allan Dahlaquist (1996). Megasthenes
and Indian Religion- Volume 11 of History and Culture Series. Motilal Banarsidass
Motilal Banarsidass
Publ. p. 386. ISBN 81-208-1323-5.  Demetrios Vassiliades (2000). The Greeks in India: A survey in Philosophical Understanding. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publ. ISBN 81-215-0921-1.  J. W. McCrindle (1877). Ancient India
As Described By Megasthenes
And Arrian. London: Trübner & Co.  Kaushik Roy (2012). Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-01736-8.  Megasthenes
(1846), E. A. Schwanbeck, ed., Indica, Sumptibus Pleimesii, bibliopolae (Original Oxford University)  Paul J. Kosmin (2013). "Apologetic Ethnography: Megasthenes' Indica and the Seleucid Elephant". In Eran Almagor, Joseph Skinner. Ancient Ethnography: New Approaches. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472537607.  Paul J. Kosmin (2014), The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in Seleucid Empire, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-72882-0  Radha Kumud Mookerji (1988) [first published in 1966], Chandragupta Maurya and his times (4th ed.), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0433-3  Jain, Sandhya, & Jain, Meenakshi (2011). The India
they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books.

External links[edit]

Fragments of Indika, as reconstructed from later accounts Ancient India
as described by Arrian
based on accounts by Megasthenes

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 132649401 LCCN: n82154900 ISNI: 0000 0000 9075 7939 GND: 102398771 BNF: