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Are there Indian accounts of the Battle of the Hydaspes River?
If so, what are they, who authored them, and how do they differ from the Greek & Roman accounts?
There are no Indian accounts of the Battle of the Hydaspes River.
It is difficult to prove a negative, but since there is very little historical material from that era (326 BCE) at all, we can be reasonably certain that there are no historical accounts. Tarn (1966) discusses this when talking about the Bactrian Greeks.
Had the story of the Bactrian Greeks survived, it would be considered one of the most remarkable of a remarkable time; but though it was treated by two Greek historians of the Farther East (Chap. II), nothing has come down to us directly but some fragments and scattered notices and the coins. And there is not even the help which can be got in Indian from Indian literature and inscriptions and from archaeological research…
The Bactrian Greeks weren't exactly the same area and time as the battle, but this quote points to the paucity of evidence during the era. Schmitthenner (whom I was referred to by this interesting article on Ancient Indian sources) has a strong opinion on ancient Indian historiography.
It is common knowledge that there is no corresponding equivalent on the Indian side. Ancient India has no historiography in the European sense of the word-in this respect the only 'historiographic civilizations' of the world are the Graeco-Roman and Chinese ones-and the 'Chronicles' of Ceylon, strongly imbued with religious tendencies, are no exception, in spite of Paranavitana's hypothesis regarding their scope in retrospect.
The closest Indian source we have to the period is the "Arthashastra" by Kautilya, who some identify as Chandragupta Maurya's (340 BCE - 298 BCE) minister. To be clear, the Battle of the Hydaspes River is not mentioned in this work; I only point it out because it is a rare example of writing near the relevant period.
It is worthwhile to note that even the Greek accounts of the battle are secondary: Arrian wrote his account hundreds of years after the fact, albeit he used sources (now lost) that were written closer to the time of the battle. Unfortunately, it seems that Greeks are the only source of information on this battle.
William Woodthorpe Tarn. The Greeks in Bactria and India (1966).
Walter Schmitthenner. Rome and India: Aspects of Universal History during the Principate. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 69 (1979), pp. 90-106.
I request the reader to understand that in my writing I do not mean blemishing any religion. I am just putting the historical facts together without any prejudices.
It is quite likely that there would be no literature available in India to support or oppose any claims regarding the battle of Hydespas because this region near the Beas river has been a constant war-zone since the 10th century. The Takshshila University (situated in king Ambhi's kingdom), the most famous University of those times was in close vicinity to Porus's kingdom. This University and the other seats of learning nearby were been burnt to ashes during the Afghan and the Mongol invasions. The warfare of those times, especially in that part of the world, involved razing to ground the entire city or the town by looting it and then by burning down everything.
The north-western areas of ancient India (modern day Pakistan) and Northern India have witnessed many of these barbaric invasions after the 9th century as Afghan invaders frequently invaded these areas. It must be remembered that most of the learning centres in India were full of Hindu or Buddhist or Jain literature and studies. They, like many religious sites, were specifically targeted and burned down by the invaders who were followers of Islam. Nalanda University in ancient Magadha was also not spared. So it is probably not going to be possible to find any account of such an ancient battle.
Year 10 Elective A Term 3: Alexander the Great
Between the Indus and Hydaspes rivers, many Indian princes welcomed Alexander and became his allies. This wasn’t the case with King Porus who had a sizable army made up of a large squadron of war elephants.
Alexander’s party army:
Alexander was faced with the prospect of crossing the swollen Hydaspes River and even if he could, the elephants camped on the other side would have been more than enough to frighten Alexander’s horses from climbing the banks, so Alexander chose to adapt his tactics. He employed a range of psychological warfare tactics against the Indian king. He used false alarms in order to create the illusion that Porus had the upper hand, lulling him into a false sense of security. He also suggested that he was planning to wait until the river had lowered before attacking and kept the Indians awake by launching false attacks throughout the night for several days. He also ordered his army to set up camp as though they would be remaining for several months. Every night, lavish entertainment displays and banquets were held. The Indians on the other side of the river expected to see the routine of the Macedonians nightly, which not only lulled them into a false security but played on their minds as they waited around in the mud.
“Although Alexander had previously charged across rivers to engage the enemy – at the Granicus and Issus, for example – he had never confronted any river like the Hydaspes. Moreover, even though he had a larger and more experienced army than Porus’, he was unwilling to shed lives needlessly. Instead, he rested his army on the riverbank, laid down massive stores of wheat and corn, and instead of massing his army along any specific section of the bank, and building temporary quarters, he changed their positions every day along several miles of shore. In this way the enemy on the other side could never guess from where to expect an attack.
Every day the Macedonian army staged cavalry marches and noisy infantry exercises. Although Alexander’s troops numbered 80,000, he had in addition of about 40,000 civilian followers – wives, children, entertainers, philosophers, prostitutes, physicians, poets, soothsayers of various nationalities, surveyors, geologists, tutors, and so on – tagging along. Every evening there was loud singing, boisterous dancing and drinking of massive quantities of cheap jug wine. But there would be no attack. There would be lots of movement of supplies and troops, and Porus on the other bank would move his horses, chariots, elephants and troops to keep up with the Macedonian movements – but there would be no attack.
Every day the ruse was played out. Troops would be moved, laced in position, taken off position, reassembled, reconstituted and repositioned for an imminent attack, and then nothing would happen. Lunch would arrive, followed by equestrian games, and then an entire evening partying. All this as they were drenched by incessant monsoon rains. This went on for weeks. Porus’ army, waiting for the inevitable attack, first grew restless and then was lulled into a sleepy boredom” (pp.257-258).
Prelude to the battle:
Eventually, under the cover of darkness on a stormy night, Alexander marched a selected force on hay filled floats across the river nearly thirty kilometres upstream. Alexander chose to march through a storm and brave the rushing river as the noise created would mask the Macedonian movements. Porus was taken by surprise and sent his son, also named Porus, to intercept Alexander with 2,000 soldiers and 120 chariots, but by the time they had arrived, Alexander had already crossed the river and his army was in formation. Porus Jnr was defeated and Porus was left with the decision to meet Alexander himself or wait for the Macedonian army to meet him. This left Porus at a disadvantage as the Macedonians on the far bank could potentially cross and surround his own soldiers with Alexander’s reserve force. Porus rode to meet the Macedonians the next morning, leaving behind a small force should Craterus cross to support the main Macedonian force.
The might of the Indian war elephants:
The battle between Porus and Alexander was arguably the hardest the Macedonians had ever fought, but revealed the brilliance of Alexander as a military tactician.The armies of Alexander and Porus were relatively even, but Porus commanded 200 specially trained war elephants. These creatures were like nothing the Macedonians had ever seen. Their size, sound and smell scared the Macedonian horses and made any cavalry attacks difficult.
Porus faced the king, but was attacked from the rear by the rest of Alexander’s army when Alexander ordered his cavalry around the war elephants and away from the battlefield to swing back at a critical point. Much as Darius had faced at Issus, Porus was left with useless chariots as they sunk in the mud created by the heavy storm. He ordered his war elephants into full charge, forming a moving wall which was faster, taller and heavier fortified than the Macedonian wall created by the phalanx. Trained specifically for battle and able to absorb multiple missile attacks with both heavy armour and thick skins, the elephants were the ancient equivalent of the tank.
The war elephants were less useful than expected. Although the Macedonians struggled to bring them down with missiles, or to avoid missile fire from archers on the elephants’ backs, they were able to alter manouvres to allow charging elephants between their ranks. Once toward the Macedonian rear, flaming arrows and loud clangs of swords on spears spooked the elephants, even though they were trained to remain calm during battle, and caused them to turn back and run against their own Indian masters. More Indians were killed by their own war elephants than the Macedonian soldiers.
Late in the battle, Alexander sent a letter to Porus offering him clemency if he would surrender. Porus was too proud and ordered his remaining Indians, who by now were being encircled, to continue fighting to the death. In the end, Macedonian losses were ranged between around 400-1000 (Diodorus), with Indian losses between 12,000 and 23,000.
When Porus’ war elephant was eventually brought down and the king brought before Alexander, he still refused to kneel. Impressed with Porus’ courage and military prowess, he returned and even enlarged his kingship. Though it would still be part of Alexander’s empire, it would be run by Porus in all aspects of administration and daily life.
“As in the case of Porus, Alexander would respect and pardon a brave enemy. He always made sure that collaboration was presented as a much more attractive proposition than resistance. Most often, capitulation of an enemy force was rewarded with kindness revolts, however, were suppressed ruthlessly. It was a well-calculated strategy designed to minimise battlefield losses. Adversaries were more inclined to submit to Alexander knowing that they would be pardoned and included in his empire (and realising that the alternative was extremely unattractive)” (p.32).
KETS DE VRIES
Results of the battle:
– Porus was treated with respect by Alexander, who admired his courage. Alexander restored his sovereignty over his subjects and in fact added more territory to Porus’ kingdom.
– Alexander established a city on either side of the Hydapses, Alexandria Bucephala, in honour of his horse, and Alexandria Nicaea, meaning victory.
– The rest of the Punjab was conquered easily.
– Alexander’s ambition was to move further east was brought to an end by his battle hardened army’ refusal to go beyond the Hydapses River into territory prior thought to not exist.
Alexander is heartbroken:
With the conquest of India, Alexander thought he had reached the end of the world, but locals informed him of a grand army across the Ganges. Alexander wished to continue onward but his army, after fighting for over a decade, were battle weary and longed to return home.
“In his further to reach the Endless Ocean, he had miscalculated the mood of his men. Morale had been dropping steadily, and he had not observed its plunge. After eight years of fighting in searing heat, freezing snow, and incessant monsoon rains, the troops were desperate to leave the horrors of the present Indian campaign behind and embark on the long march home. The youthful soldiers who had eagerly crossed the Hellespont with Alexander almost a decade earlier were now cynical, battle hardened veterans. Very few of them had gone through the travails unscathed. All were exhausted many were sick. With their equipment in disarray as well, they were close to the breaking point. More money, or the permission to engage in plundering, no longer had much motivating effect. Furthermore, the soldiers felt a growing antagonism against Alexander’s adoption of Persian ways they did not share his vision of the equality of people of all cultures and therefore did not approve of forced intermarriages with Persian women. They were also confused about the two roles he was playing: Macedonian king who had simple habits, and the Great King of Asia, a grotesque example of luxury and extravagance” (pp.44-45).
“Alexander knew, however, that the land just beyond the Ganges River would have been an easy conquest, because a weak, unpopular king ruled it. He would never quite be able to forgive his men for their refusal to continue” (pp. 46-47).
KETS DE VRIES
Alexander made an impassioned plea to his soldiers:
“The purpose of my speech is not to stop you from returning home, as far as I am concerned, you may return home whenever you please.
The purpose of my speech is to reveal to you the kind of people you have now become and the gratitude with which you treat those who conferred such wealth and magnanimity on you.
Before I touch on what I have done for you, let me begin with my father, Philip.
My father found you as vagabonds and destitutes, clad in hides, feeding a few sheep on the sides of mountains.
He found you fending off Illyrians, Treballians, and Thracians with little success.
He gave you cloaks to wear instead of your hides. He brought you down from the mountains into the plains. But most of all he gave courage – the courage to fight the barbaric people who were everywhere.
No more did you rush into the nooks and crannies of your impenetrable mountain strongholds for safety. You stood your ground and fought for what was rightfully yours.
He made you colonisers and enacted laws and customs that not only preserved your safety but brought about the dawn of a new age of culture and living.
From slaves and impoverished subjects, he made you the rulers of the lands, not only of your own but also of the barbarians’, who had previously threatened you by ravaging your property and seizing your assets.
He made you rulers over the Thessalians, of whom you had always lived in deep and mortal fear. By victory over the Phocians he assured our access into Greece through roads that were broad and traversable rather than narrow and difficult.
He humbled the Athenians and the Thebans to such an extent – and I granted to him my personal assistance in that campaign at Chaeronea – that instead of these nations repeatedly attacking Macedonia and you paying tribute to the former and living as vassals to the latter, they now rely on our personal assistance and intervention to ensure their security.
He thrust into the Peloponnese and, after securing control of their affairs, was elected as Commander-in-chief of all Greece in the expedition against the Persians – a glory which he didn’t attach to himself, but brought to the entire nation of Macedonia.
There were the advantages you received from him – great if examined by themselves but small in the light of what you receive from me.
Even though I inherited a few silver and gold goblets from Philip, I found myself laden with an empty treasury and Philip’s massive debts. I borrowed on your behalf to lead an expedition from a country that couldn’t support you and forthwith opened up a passage to the Hellespont across a dangerous sea, which the Persians controlled.
After overpowering the viceroys of Darius with our cavalry, we conquered Ionia, entire Aeolis, the Phrygias, and Lydia, and captured Miletus in a siege.
The riches of Egypt and Cyrene, which I acquired without a fight, have come to you. The worlds of Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia are yours as are the riches of Babylon, Bactria and Susa. The treasures of the Persians as well as the immerse riches of the Indians are yours as well.
You are the viceroys, the generals and the captains of this campaign.
I have taken nothing for myself besides this purple robe and the diadem. No one can point to any possession of mine other than what is in your possession or that which I guard for you.
And now that I want to send home those who are old and sick, who I believe will be the envy of everyone back home, you all wish to go.
Go, then, and tell the people back home that your king, who conquered the Persians and the Bactrians, who subjugated the Uxians, who crushed the Parthians, and who marched over the Caucasus and through the Persian Gates, and crossed the great rivers Oxus and Indus, which have never been crossed since Dionysis, who reached the mouth of the Ocean, and who marched through the Gedrosian Desert over which no army has ever crossed alive, go and tell the people back home that after all these struggles you left the man who led you through all these behind, and in the hands of the people he had conquered.
Maybe your report will endear you to them and make you a source of envy and admiration in the eyes of men and women and about in the eyes of the Gods.
Go back to Macedonia. Leave” (pp.279-281).
Alexander was heartbroken and urged his men to continue forward, but they refused. After three days of sulking in his tent, he emerged, ordering a series of pedestals to be erected which marked the end of his voyage. Games were also to be held. Famously, Alexander left a memorial with an inscription saying ‘Alexander stopped here,’ wanting it to be known that he, not his army, had made the decision to stop.
At the same time, his beloved horse and companion throughout his campaigns, Buchephalus, succumbed to injuries sustained at the Hydaspes River and died. With the death of his horse, Alexander lost one of the last symbols of his childhood and valour in combat. Both his soldiers and his horse had refused to continue with him in his quest to reach the unknown. It was time for Alexander to return home.
“After the battle with Porus, Bucephalus also died, not immediately afterwards but a little later. Most say he died while being looked after for his wounds, but according to Onesicritus it was because he was worn out with age, dying as he did at 30.
Alexander was terribly upset, thinking the loss to be no less than that of a companion or friend, and in honour of him he founded a city on the banks of the Hydaspes, which he called Bucephalia.”
The long return:
Although Alexander agreed to return to Macedon, he would do so taking a different route to that which he had brought his soldiers. He divided his army and sent a portion by sea along the southern coast, planning to meet with them later. His own force he marched through arduous desert, where many lives were lost before the soldiers were reunited.
“Arrian recounts the story of some soldiers bringing Alexander the last remaining water in a helmet to quench his thirst. He had been leading at the front of the army by walking on the sand, not riding his horse, so that none of his soldiers would ever think that he had it easier than they. Alexander poured the water into the sand and said that their gesture had clinched his thirst – he wasn’t willing to drink if his soldiers hadn’t had any water first” (p.271).
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Pic Credit: balance-athletics.com
Porus or Poros was a king of the Pauravas whose territory spanned the region between the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and Acesines (Chenab) rivers in what is now Punjab. This state was situated between the rivers Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) and Acesines (Chenab). Its capital may have been at the site now known as Lahore. Unlike his neighbour, Ambhi, the king of Taxila (Takshashila), Porus resisted Alexander. But with his elephants and slow-moving infantry bunched, he was outmatched by Alexander’s mobile cavalry and mounted archers in the battle of the Hydaspes. the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and the Acesines rivers, in the Punjab, in the Indian subcontinent, met Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Hydaspes River, in June 326 B.C. Porus brought war elephants with him that terrified the Greeks and their horses. Monsoons proved more of an obstacle to the Indian bowmen (who could not use the ground to gain purchase for their long bows) than to the Macedonians who crossed the swollen Hydaspes on pontoons. Alexander’s troops gained the upper hand even the Indian elephants stampeded their own troops. King Porus surrendered to Alexander, but appears to have continued on as a satrap or viceroy, granted the land to the east of his own kingdom, until he was killed between 321 and 315 B.C. Alexander’s victory brought him to the eastern border of the Punjab, but he was prevented by his own troops from going into the kingdom of Magadha. The Indian campaign of Alexander-the Great in 326 B.C. has a lot of historical importance. This battle (Battle of Hydaspes) fills itself with great importance. According to the Greek records, In his conquest of occupying Asia, Alexander reached Hindukush mountains (in the present-day Pakistan) and made an alliance with Ambhi, king of Taxila and their combined force defeated the Purushottama (Porus) in the battle. Though he won the battle, impressed by the king, Alexander returned the kingdom. However, these dossiers beg serious doubts against the Alexander’s campaign to India.
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Are there Indian accounts of the Battle of the Hydaspes Rivers? - History
Imagine a time when human knowledge of elephants was not widespread. Just think how threatening these large animals would be coming over a hillside or out of a mist during battle. In addition to their odd and threatening appearance, the sounds the elephants made would have been just as frightening. It is not difficult to appreciate how war elephants struck terror in those who had never seen them before.
Yet the role of elephants went far beyond mental terrorism in war. They provided an excellent means of transportation and could be used to move heavy equipment and supplies over large distances. They were also their own form of cavalry, able to charge at tremendous speed. Their sheer size made war elephants all but unstoppable. Many armies used elephants to charge the opposition, particularly the enemy’s cavalry, crushing all who got in the way. On some occasions, the elephants’ tusks were mounted with spikes to inflict even more damage. This type of outfit was particularly useful in elephant-on-elephant combat. The sturdy elephants often carried howdahs, or canopied saddles, on their backs, complete with archers and javelin throwers. Larger elephants were outfitted with tower-like devices protecting occupants from ground-level attack and providing an excellent battlefield vantage point.
Ancient Warfare and the World’s First War Elephants
The first use of elephants by humans began about 4,000 years ago in India. Elephants were initially used for agricultural purposes. They could literally rip trees out of the ground, clearing wide areas for farming and construction. Because they quickly demonstrated their trainability as well as their strength, it was only a matter of time before the giant animals were incorporated into military use. According to Sanskrit sources, this transition took place around 1100 bc. (Learn all about the implements and tactics of ancient warfare inside the pages of Military Heritage magazine.)
Many assume that elephants conscripted for military use were domesticated. This is not so. For several reasons (financial considerations probably being the foremost), elephants were rarely bred in captivity. The overwhelming majority of war elephants, in fact, were captured and trained. Male elephants, being inherently aggressive, were used for combat. Female elephants tended to retreat when facing a charging male—obviously not something that was desirable on the battlefield.
There were many traditional ways to trap elephants. One ingenious method employed by inhabitants of the Indus Valley was to dig a circular ditch, creating a dirt island. Across this waterless moat would be a bridge to the raised center. On the central island, captors would place one or more female elephants. Males would be drawn by their scent and sound. Once the male reached the females in the center, the bridge would be removed to trap it inside.
Elephants are very intelligent and take well to training. But no matter how well prepared and disciplined they are, elephants are still wild at heart. This posed problems to their use in combat. On more than one occasion, elephants panicked and trampled friendly soldiers during confrontations. Because of this, it was not uncommon for the mahout, or driver, of the elephant to carry a device such as a chisel or sword to sever the animal’s spinal cord if it began to act contrary to what was desired.
Several types of elephants were used by militaries throughout the eastern hemisphere. For the most part, the type of elephants employed was related to geography—those most readily available were the ones most often used. Although there has been much debate about the specific types of war elephants, DNA evidence now shows that two distinct species of African elephants were used, the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the savannah, or bush, elephant (Loxodonta africana). An additional species (some argue it is a subspecies) of African elephant, the North African (Loxodonta pharaoensis), was used for a time, but it became extinct around the second century ad. The Asian or Indian elephant (Elephas maximus) was also used quite a bit for military purposes.
The most obvious distinction among elephant species is size. The typical African savannah elephant measures 10 feet tall, but some have been recorded as tall as 13 feet. Forest elephants, however, measure around 8 feet. Northern African elephants are slightly smaller than the forest types. Asian elephants grow to between 7 and 12 feet tall, although overall they tend to be smaller than the African savannah elephant. The most distinguishing feature is ear size, with the savannah elephant having the largest set. While size was certainly an influence in conflicts, bigger did not always mean better. The outcome of conflicts had more to do with strategy than with elephant training and handling.
War Elephants of Mesopotamia
While there were many small-scale uses of war elephants following their implementation around 1100 bc, the first well-known conflict involving Europeans was at Gaugamela in October 331 bc. This battle, which took place in northern Iraq, pitted Alexander the Great against the Persian leader Darius III. Along with 200,000 Persian troops, 15 Asian war elephants joined the ranks to overawe the opposing troops. There is no doubt that Alexander’s troops must have been, at least initially, daunted by these strange, large animals. Even with these mighty beasts at hand, however, Darius could not overcome Alexander’s troops and tactics. Babylon was captured and the concept of war elephants became well known west of Persia.
In 326 bc, Alexander moved to invade Punjab, India. Parvataha, also known as King Porus, met the invasion with resistance at the Hydaspes River. In the ensuing battle, Alexander faced more than 100 war elephants (one source reports double that number) with archers and javelin throwers on their backs. Because Alexander had encountered the unique animals previously, he and his troops were not quite so panic-stricken. Alexander ordered his javelin throwers to attack the gray ogres. This set the elephants in disarray, eventually leading to the trampling of many of Porus’s own troops. Alexander then surrounded and defeated the Indian army. After doing so, he captured 80 elephants that he would integrate into his army.
As depicted in this 17th-century tapestry, war elephants helped Alexander the Great defeat Persian King Darius III at Gaugamela in 331 bc.
When Alexander died in 323 bc, his kingdom was divided, along with its elephant assets. Left without these strategic animals was Ptolemy, who occupied Egypt. Ptolemy invaded Syria with approximately 22,000 men but was met by 43 war elephants and 18,000 troops led by Demetrius, a descendant of Antigonus, who had retained control over Alexander’s Anatolia assets. In the ensuing Battle of Gaza (312 bc), Ptolemy was successful in holding off Demetrius and captured all the elephants on the field.
Following Gaza, a coalition of enemies gathered to oppose Antigonus and his son. The so-called Antigonids, with 80,000 soldiers and 75 war elephants, faced off against a coalition force of 60,000 and 400 war elephants at Ipsus in 301 bc. The Antigonid forces were eventually overwhelmed by their opposition. Seleucid elephants apparently had a big influence in the victory by isolating part of the Antigonid army from the rest.
The Elephants of Pyrrhus and Ptolemy IV
The next major skirmish involving elephants dragged Rome into the exploitation of the huge animals. In 280 bc, the Pyrrhic Wars brought the Battle of Heraclea. Pyrrhus of Epirus, called to assist fellow Greeks under the thumb of Roman rule, invaded the south end of the Italian boot. Pyrrhus brought with him a number of war elephants. It is rumored he tricked the beasts into boarding rafts to cross the Adriatic Sea by camouflaging the boats so that the elephants could not see the water.
The Roman army had never seen the strange animals, and soldiers were rightfully petrified, the cavalry particularly so. Roman horses, which had never met elephants, were easily scared by the scent, sounds, and appearance of the opposition’s eccentric weapon. The Greek historian Plutarch described the scene: “The elephants more particularly began to distress the Romans, whose horses, before they came near, not enduring them, went back with their riders.” Along with the Greek phalanx, the elephants defeated the Romans in a long, costly battle.
But the Romans were always quick to learn from their mistakes and almost immediately devised methods to resourcefully deal with war elephants. A year later, at the Battle of Asculum, Roman legions used approximately 300 anti-elephant devices, from fire pots to ox-drawn chariots outfitted with spikes, to counter Pyrrhus’s 20 war elephants. While Pyrrhus claimed a very thin margin of victory, it gave the Roman army tremendous experience and confidence in how to counter elephant forces effectively.
In 217 bc, Antiochus III, leader of the Seleucids, and Ptolemy IV met at the battle of Raphia in Palestine. Antiochus III had 62,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 102 war elephants (the larger Asian version). Ptolemy IV led 70,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (the smaller African forest type). Even with the size disadvantage among elephants, Ptolemy IV defeated the Seleucids.
Rome Against Elephants
Probably the most famous use of elephants was that of the Carthaginian general, Hannibal. During the Second Punic War, Hannibal gathered an army of varied cultural backgrounds, which also included 37 elephants of the North African type to travel from Spain, through Gaul, over the Alps, and into northern Italy. Some of the elephants could not make the arduous journey, leaving Hannibal with a motley, unimpressive force. By 202 bc, Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal’s forces at the decisive Battle of Zama. Scipio Africanus simply ordered his troops to move out of the way of the charging elephants, which could not change direction easily due to their tremendous momentum and massive bulk.
Medieval drawing of an elephant bearing a castle armed with a cannon.
The Romans always seized an opportunity. Fresh off the defeat of Hannibal and upon learning of the downfall of the Seleucids, Roman legions invaded Turkey. This movement culminated at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 bc. Antiochus III still had at his disposal many of his war elephants, which he incorporated into his plans. However, the Romans were already wise to the elephants and planned accordingly. The Roman cavalry charged the elephants, sending them fleeing in terror. In the end, Antiochus lost 53,000 men and caved in to Roman might.
Even Julius Caesar used elephants. In 46 bc, in the midst of the Roman civil wars, Caesar took on rebellious forces led by Marcus Porcius Cato, the Younger, and Quintus Caecillius Metellus Scipio at Thapsus. By this time, war elephants were considered far from innovative by Roman forces—they’d had plenty of experience fighting them. The familiarity served them well. Quintus Scipio’s 120 elephants were targeted by Caesar’s archers, slingers, and axe-men. The animals were terrified by the Roman use of arrows and projectiles as well as the axes to their legs. The enemy forces were easily defeated by the Roman Fifth Legion. But because of their noble efforts, the elephant was adopted as the legion’s new symbol, trumping the traditional icon of a bull.
Why Were War Elephants No Longer Used?
As time drew on, the use of war elephants in Europe and Africa declined. One reason for the decline may have been related to the decimation of the Northern African elephant population by ivory dealers harvesting the animals for their tusks. But the European use of elephants did not completely disappear. Charlemagne took elephants with him to fight the Danes in ad 804, and Frederick II used an elephant he captured during the Crusades to besiege Cremona in ad 1214.
The use of war elephants in Asia continued with more regularity. In ad 1009, the Ghaznavid conquests brought on the Battle of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan. Mahmud of Ghazni ganged up on an alliance of Hindu princes led by Anangpal. The Hindu princes had massed a large elephant force, but as was often the case with large numbers of the animals, their performance was unpredictable. Mahmud was able to alarm the animals, sending them into frenzy and crushing the Hindu forces. After the end of the battle, Mahmud added captured elephants to his army.
War elephants were used quite a bit in other parts of Asia as well. During the Khmer-Champa Wars in Cambodia in ad 1177, both sides used the animals. The weaponry used from the vantage point of elephant saddles grew more sophisticated and innovative. These novel tactics were used with gusto at the Battle of Panipat, near Delhi, India, in ad 1399. There, Timur, a Mongol conqueror, challenged the sultan of Delhi. The sultan had at his disposal a number of war elephants. From these imposing brutes, the sultan’s forces launched liquid-filled incendiary weapons. Also, metal rockets were fired at the oncoming forces. But Timur’s troops did not budge. Soon Timur claimed victory.
Japanese troops use elephants to cross the rugged terrain of Burma during World War II.
Around the 15th century, gunpowder became prevalent in war. With cannons and guns, the elephant lost its offensive efficacy. Nevertheless, the elephant has continued its military service through modern times, still a viable means of transportation in a variety of settings. Elephants were used frequently during conflicts between Burma and Thailand through the end of the eighteenth century. In World War I, elephants were used to move heavy artillery. The Japanese used elephants quite a bit in World War II to carry supplies deep into jungles, surprising allied forces. The British eventually used elephants to build runways and roads in Asia in an effort to challenge the Axis forces. During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used elephants to assist in the transport of supplies to the south. Even today, elephants are being used by Burmese rebels in their efforts to topple the government.
Weaknesses of the Living Weapon
As with any weapon, much effort was put forth to counter any advantage war elephants gave the opposition. Over the years, many imaginative plans were formulated to deal with elephants. Timur ordered straw to be placed on the backs of camels and lit on fire. The blazing camels then charged the elephants, which immediately became uncontrollable. It was also discovered that elephants had a particular dislike of pigs, particularly their squeal. This fact was mentioned in text by Roman historian Pliny: “Elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of a pig.” Reportedly, pigs slathered with oil were set afire then were sent in the direction of the elephants, which resulted in a stampede of the larger animals.
It did not take long for strategists to figure out that without a mahout, war elephants were useless. Thus, the mahouts were specially targeted by archers and javelin throwers. Another tactic was to take advantage of an elephant’s weak spot, its foot pad. Spiked devices (caltrops) or barbed planks were commonly thrown in the path of the animals to make them lame. Also, since elephants often picked up troops with their trunks, some soldiers were outfitted with special armor to damage the trunk if the elephant attacked. Lastly, axmen commonly targeted elephants’ legs to disable them. Unfortunately, for the attackers, the thickness of the elephant’s skin made maiming the creature a difficult task. In an effort to protect the elephants’ vulnerabilities, they were commonly outfitted with impressive armor.
Versatility On and Off the Battlefield
On occasion, elephants were used for military purposes off the battlefield. One such use was to execute enemies: an enraged elephant would be unleashed on those sentenced to be annihilated. Elephants were also used as siege weapons. There are several accounts of elephants using their heads and tusks to batter fortifications until they faltered. The animals were also used to ford rivers. They could be used as “bridges” or simply to block the current to allow troops to cross a rapid.
While the overall success of the elephant as a war weapon is debatable—they could be as much a hindrance as a help—their brute force as a tactical weapon cannot be argued. Their ability to move heavy items and to assist with sieges and transportation certainly made them worthwhile, even if they were never actually consulted about their own willingness to take part in the brutal business of human war.
Nice overview. Might I suggest a similar article on the use of camels in warfare as their utilization followed a similar arc.
Interesting story, i enjoyed it
There was a time about 1400 years ago where an army of elephants was destroyed by birds. The swarm of birds were picking and pecking the elephants aggressively and ended up causing the elephants to fall into lava rocks. This is a story passed down from about 9 generations ago in Jerusalem. However they dont know where exactly this took place. Could have been Petra Jordan or somewhere in the region.
The Power and the Glory
The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 1-4
For other posts in the series click here
The Indian Interior
Alexander celebrated victory over Porus with ‘a sacrifice of animals to the Sun’. He had much to thank Helios for as the god had ‘opened up to him the limits of the east’.
Later, Alexander told his men that the Indian strength had been ‘shattered’ and all that was left was ‘rich plunder’. His next decision showed that he now considered the end of the expedition to be nigh – Alexander gave instructions for ‘ships to be constructed so that after completing his expedition across Asia he might visit the sea at the world’s end’.
The ships were built using wood from trees in mountainside forests. As the Macedonians cut the trees down, they disturbed ‘snakes of extraordinary size’. Curtius says they also sighted rhinoceroses on the mountains.
Back at the Hydaspes, Alexander founded two cities on either side the river. They were named Nicaea and Bucephala* (after his horse, Bucephalas).
From the Hydaspes, Alexander now ‘crossed the river** and marched into the interior of India’.
At this point, Curtius pauses for a moment to give us a few more details regarding India’s geography. He tells us that its ‘climate is healthy’, with ‘plentiful supplies of spring-water’ and shade thanks to the ‘almost interminable tracts of countryside [which] were covered with forests’. These woods were comprised of ‘tall trees that reached extraordinary heights’.
Curtius mentions one particular tree that had branches ‘like huge tree-trunks [which] would bend down to the ground where they would turn and rise once more, creating the impression of being not a branch rising up again but a tree generated from an independent root’. This is the Banyan tree, which Diodorus also mentions (see here).
Lest we get too comfortable with the idea of India, however, Curtius has a warning for us – ‘large numbers of snakes’ also lived in the country. They ‘had scales which emitted a golden gleam and a venom of unique virulence’. In fact, it was so potent a bite would lead to instant death. Fortunately, Alexander was able to obtain the antidote from natives.
From all that Curtius has told us about India it doesn’t sound like the kind of place that would have a desert. Nevertheless, he says that it was after Alexander had crossed one that he came to the Hiarotis River***. I suspect Curtius’ definition of ‘desert’ is as flexible as his geography.
The Hiarotis was flanked by trees ‘not found elsewhere’. Wild peacocks also lived there. Leaving the river behind, Alexander attacked various tribes, including one whose city was ‘protected by a marsh’. It did not prevent the Macedonians from storming it.
Presently, Alexander came to Sophites’ kingdom. He submitted to the king and (during a banquet?) told Alexander about how fierce his people’s hunting dogs were. To prove it, he had four attack a captive lion. As they bit it, an attendant tugged at one of the dog’s legs. He didn’t let go. So the attendant ‘proceeded to cut off the leg with a knife’. But still the dog did not let go. The attendant, therefore, cut the dog in another part of its body – to no avail. It held firm. Finally, the attendant slashed at it. The dog died holding onto the lion.
Leaving Sophites, Alexander marched to the Hyphasis River.
* Although, see Chapter Three below where Curtius states that Nicaea and Bucephala were founded after his return to the Hydaspes from the Hyphasis River
** I presume that Curtius means Alexander crossed the Hydaspes once again as he has not given any indication of the Macedonians having left it after the founding of the two cities
The Hyphasis River
For two days, Alexander wondered if he should cross the Hyphasis at the point he had now reached. On the third day, he decided to do so.
The difficulty he faced was that the Hyphasis was very broad and ‘was obstructed with rocks’. While considering the matter, Alexander also discussed the river and what lay beyond it with a local client king named Phegeus whom he had ordered to join him.
Phegeus told Alexander that if he crossed the Hyphasis, he would have a twelve day journey until he came to the Ganges River. Crossing the Ganges would bring him to the Gangaridae and Prasii people who were ruled by a king named Aggrammes who had a mighty army at his disposal.
Phegeus quoted figures of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 3,000 elephants. Incredulous at these figures, Alexander got a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them but said that Aggrammes was a second rate monarch.
In the end, what concerned Alexander most was neither the size of Aggrammes’ army nor his elephants but ‘the terrain and the violence of the rivers’ – Phegeus must have told him of these during their conversation. He also doubted his soldiers’ commitment. Having grown old as they marched east, would they follow him ‘over rivers that blocked their path, over all the natural obstacles confronting them?’.
To find out, Alexander called his men together for an assembly during which he urged them to follow him east.
Coenus Speaks for the Men
The assembly at the Hyphasis River continued with Coenus giving Alexander the army’s response. They had had enough. Alexander withdrew angrily to his tent. Three days later he emerged and gave the order for twelve giant altars to be built before they began the journey west.
Leaving the Hyphasis behind, Alexander marched to the Acesines River. There, Coenus died. Of natural causes? Or perhaps the victim of an angry king?
Back at the Hydaspes River, Alexander founded Nicaea and Bucephala for either the first or second time (see chapter one, above) and received reinforcements for the army. The ships that he had ordered to be built (chapter one again) were now ready and so the journey south to the Indian Ocean began.
The Macedonian fleet sailed as far as the point ‘where the Hydaspes joins the Acesines’. From there, the ships entered the ‘the country of the Sibi’ who claimed descent from Alexander’s ancestor, Herakles.
Alexander marched inland to attack various tribes. One tribe placed 40,000 men on a river bank to stop the Macedonians from crossing it. They failed. After attacking another city, Alexander sailed round its citadel which was ‘protected by three of the largest rivers in India (the Ganges excepted)’ – the Indus to the north and ‘the confluence of the Acesines and the Hydaspes’ to the south.
The fleet sailed through the confluence down a narrow channel created by silt. At the meeting point of the Hydaspes and Acesines, the waters crashed against each other angrily, creating sea-like waves. So violent were these that two of the Macedonian ships were sunk and others beached. Alexander’s ship might also have gone down but for the efforts of his oarsmen. The ship still ran aground, but was at least safe.
The Macedonian army marched on. When it met a large joint Sudracae and Mallian force, the soldiers began to complain. ‘Alexander… had not terminated the war, only changed its location.’ And what if they destroyed the latest army to meet them? ‘Gloomy darkness and a never-ending night brooding over the deep’ awaited them, and ‘… a sea filled with shoals of savage sea-monsters… stagnant waters where dying nature had lost her power.’*
Alexander met his men, pacified them and defeated the joint Sudracae/Mallian army.
* The ellipses in this quotation are in the text
Did Alexander loose the Battle of the Hydaspes?
I can't tell if this is just a tinfoil conspiracy or legit historical revisionism. Don't want to be eurocentric so Iɽ rather hear what more knowledgeable people have to say about it here.
As far as I can tell, the people who claim that he lost it do so because they find the whole deal with Alexander being impressed by Porus' valor and letting him retain his lands(even acquiring more than before) improbable. Further more, Alexander retreats, after considerable effort to cross the Indus river.
What is the general consensus among reputed historians regarding this matter? Youɽ think that if the evidence weighed in favor of his defeat, it would make the headlines. But of course, supporters of the theory can say that Alexander is too great of a symbol to let such a discovery taint his legacy.
Allowing Porus to retain is hands was not a sign Alexander lost, it was standard practice not an improbable event. Alexander didn't have the people to leave governors everywhere with detachments to protect them. Instead he (and the Persians before him) left conquered rulers in place as they were the ones most familiar with the area and most able to carry out tax collection for the new ruler. As long as those taxes flowed everything was good.
Alexander's army did not retreat after the battle. They continued to the frontier of the Nanda Empire. Only there did the army rebel unwilling to face another Indian army. The army mutinied along the Beas River, some 130 or so miles deeper into the subcontinent from where the battle of the Hydaspes occurred.
Alexander didn't have the people to leave governors everywhere with detachments to protect them.
Nonsense. He left his satraps in charge right up to the Paurava kingdom. Amyntas in Bactria, Eudemus in trans-Karakoram Afghanistan, Peithon in Balochistan. But he suddenly departed 180 degrees from his prior custom, and left no satraps in Paurava.
And in case you claim that he ran out of governors by the time he reached Paurava, no he didn't. After he left Paurava and turned south, he conquered Multan and Sindh, and left governors behind in both places. But not in Paurava.
Not only that, he left armies behind right up to Paurava, but not in Paurava. There were Greek armies in Bactria, in Arachosia, in Gedrosia, in Ariaspi, right up to Alexandria-on-the-Caucasus, but not in Paurava. Alexander evacuated it completely, leaving not a trace behind.
Alexander's army did not retreat after the battle. They continued to the frontier of the Nanda Empire.
More nonsense. Here's a map showing the path of Alexander's armies in India. The cross marks the battle of Hydapsis, the Sangela beyond it is the point where he turned back.
That is nowhere near the "frontier of the Nanda Empire". Here's a map of the Nanda Empire around the time of Alexander. It was located on the Ganges plain, around the tributaries of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. The point where Alexander turned back is on the Indus plain, a good 600+ kilometers from the border of the Nanda Empire.
Instead he (and the Persians before him) left conquered rulers in place as they were the ones most familiar with the area and most able to carry out tax collection for the new ruler. As long as those taxes flowed everything was good.
More nonsense. There is not a single historical record anywhere suggesting that Paurava ever paid any tax or tribute to Alexander. I challenge you to find any.
The fact is that nobody knows how the battle between Alexander and Porus turned out. The Indian records are silent, the Greek records were written by historians on Alexander's payroll. The facts on the ground are that Paurava remained in Porus's hands. Not only did he keep his kingdom, he doubled it. He never paid any taxes or tributes to Alexander so far as we know. There were no Macedonian troops left behind in his kingdom, even though there were troops beyond his borders.
Quintus Caecilius Metellus, ambassador to the court of Philip V of Macedon in 185 BC (about a hundred years after Alexander) wrote that Alexander lost more troops in that one battle against Porus than he did in his entire Egyptian and Persian campaigns combined.
Diodorus Siculus' Account of the Life of Semiramis
Semiramis is the semi-divine Warrior-Queen of Assyria, whose reign is most clearly documented by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (90-30 BCE) in his great work Bibliotheca Historica ("Historical Library") written over thirty years, most probably between 60-30 BCE. Diodorus drew on the works of earlier authors, such as Ctesias of Cnidus (c. 400 BCE), which are no longer extant. Ctesias was ridiculed for inaccuracy by other ancient writers, but his accounts are treated as reliable by Diodorus who cites him without reservation.
While modern historians are divided on whether an historical personage named Semiramis ever lived, Diodorus presents her life as a straightforward biographical account of the reign of a great Assyrian queen. As there is only one known queen in the history of Assyria, the regent Sammu-Ramat who reigned between 811-806 BCE, Semiramis has been identified with Sammu-Ramat since the 19th century CE, when archaeological excavations began to uncover Assyrian cities and decipher ancient Mesopotamian inscriptions.
Diodorus does not concern himself with when, or even if, such a queen lived and devotes his energies instead to telling the epic tale of an intelligent, beautiful, and clever queen who rose from humble beginnings to rule all of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Central Asia. It seems clear that he borrowed certain events in Semiramis' life from other tales, whether historical or mythical, but this does not seem to have concerned him as long as the story was a good one. An example of this in the text below is Semiramis' invasion of India, which is very similar to that of Alexander the Great. In 327 BCE Alexander invaded India with his army, and one of his greatest challenges at the Battle of the Hydaspes River (also known as The Battle of Jhelum) in 326 BCE was the war elephants of King Porus of Paurava. Diodorus, in his account of Semiramis' invasion, could not realistically give her army elephants and so, it is thought, he added in the story of the make-believe elephants to even the odds on the field and make for a better tale. Diodorus' addition of the fake elephants, however, is an example of what makes his works so interesting to read: he never seems to have allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story.
Although, in Chapter 20, he claims that he has only been following the account written of Semiramis by Ctesias of Cnidus, historians believe he may have embellished upon the account to make the story more interesting. His famous description of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Chapter 10 (the most detailed account of the Hanging Gardens from ancient history) is another example of this. While it is possible that such a garden existed in Babylon, and that Ctesias may have written of it as Diodorus describes, it is generally thought to be an exaggeration on Diodorus' part (as is the description of Babylon in Chapters 7 to 9). Recent scholarship, in fact, argues for the Hanging Gardens as being in Nineveh. It is interesting to note that not only here in Book II but elsewhere, when Diodorus cites both Ctesias and Herodotus, he usually favors Ctesias (this can be seen below in Chapter 15.2). Although Herodotus is considered the “father of history” in the modern day, he was repeatedly attacked by ancient writers for inaccuracy although, it seems, not as much as Ctesias was. One can only assume that Diodorus favored Ctesias over Herodotus because he felt the former told a better story or, perhaps, because Ctesias' version fit better with the story Diodorus wished to tell.
The following passages come from the Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1933 CE, translated by C.H. Oldfather, and edited on-line with notes by Bill Thayer. The story begins with King Ninus of Assyria deciding to conquer all of Asia and successfully doing so, creating for himself a city named Ninus to celebrate his victories. As Diodorus writes, “Since the undertakings of Ninus were prospering in this way, he was seized with a powerful desire to subdue all of Asia that lies between the Tanaïs and the Nile for, as a general thing, when men enjoy good fortune, the steady current of their success prompts in them the desire for more” (2.1-2). It is when Ninus campaigns against Bactriana that he meets and falls in love with Semiramis and Diodorus commences his story of her reign. The following is her story from Book II, chapters 4-20 of the Bibliotheca Historica:
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4 Since after the founding of this city Ninus made a campaign against Bactriana, where he married Semiramis, the most renowned of all women of whom we have any record, it is necessary first of all to tell how she rose from a lowly fortune to such fame.
Now there is in Syria a city known as Ascalon, and not far from it a large and deep lake, full of fish. On its shore is a precinct of a famous goddess whom the Syrians call Derceto and this goddess has the head of a woman but all the rest of her body is that of a fish, the reason being something like this. The story as given by the most learned of the inhabitants of the region is as follows: Aphrodite, being offended with this goddess, inspired in her a violent passion for a certain handsome youth among her votaries and Derceto gave herself to the Syrian and bore a daughter, but then, filled with shame of her sinful deed, she killed the youth and exposed the child in a rocky desert region, while as for herself, from shame and grief she threw herself into the lake and was changed as to the form of her body into a fish and it is for this reason that the Syrians to this day abstain from this animal and honour their fish as gods. But about the region where the babe was exposed a great multitude of doves had their nests, and by them the child was nurtured in an astounding and miraculous manner for some of the doves kept the body of the babe warm on all sides by covering it with their wings, while others, when they observed that the cowherds and other keepers were absent from the nearby steadings, brought milk therefrom in their beaks and fed the babe by putting it drop by drop between its lips. And when the child was a year old and in need of more solid nourishment, the doves, pecking off bits from the cheeses, supplied it with sufficient nourishment. Now when the keepers returned and saw that the cheeses had been nibbled about the edges, they were astonished at the strange happening they accordingly kept a look-out, and on discovering the cause found the infant, which was of surpassing beauty. At once, then, bringing it to their steadings they turned it over to the keeper of the royal herds, whose name was Simmas and Simmas, being childless, gave every care to the rearing of the girl, as his own daughter, and called her Semiramis, a name slightly altered from the word which, in the language of the Syrians, means "doves," birds which since that time all the inhabitants of Syria have continued to honour as goddesses.
5 Such, then, is in substance the story that is told about the birth of Semiramis. And when she had already come to the age of marriage and far surpassed all the other maidens in beauty, an officer was sent from the king's court to inspect the royal herds his name was Onnes, and he stood first among the members of the king's council and had been appointed governor over all Syria. He stopped with Simmas, and on seeing Semiramis was captivated by her beauty consequently he earnestly entreated Simmas to give him the maiden in lawful marriage and took her off to Ninus, where he married her and begat two sons, Hyapates and Hydaspes. And since the other qualities of Semiramis were in keeping with the beauty of her countenance, it turned out that her husband became completely enslaved by her, and since he would do nothing without her advice he prospered in everything.
It was at just this time that the king, now that he had completed the founding of the city which bore his name, undertook his campaign against the Bactrians. And since he was well aware of the great number and the valour of these men, and realized that the country had many places which because of their strength could not be approached by an enemy, he enrolled a great host of soldiers from all the negotiations under his sway for as he had come off badly in his earlier campaign, he was resolved on appearing before Bactriana with a force many times as large as theirs. Accordingly, after the army had been assembled from every source, it numbered, as Ctesias has stated in his history, one million seven hundred thousand foot-soldiers, two hundred and ten thousand cavalry, and slightly less than ten thousand six hundred scythe-bearing chariots.
Now at first hearing the great size of the army is incredible, but it will not seem at all impossible to any who consider the great extent of Asia and the vast numbers of the peoples who inhabit it. For if a man, disregarding the campaign of Darius against the Scythians with eight hundred thousand men and the crossing made by Xerxes against Greece with a host beyond number, should consider the events which have taken place in Europe only yesterday or the day before, he would the more quickly come to regard the statement as credible. In Sicily, for instance, Dionysius led forth on his campaigns from the single city of the Syracusans one hundred and twenty thousand foot-soldiers and twelve thousand cavalry, and from a single harbour four hundred warships, some of which were quadriremes and quinqueremes and the Romans, a little before the time of Hannibal, foreseeing the magnitude of the war, enrolled all the men in Italy who were fit for military service, both citizens and allies, and the total sum of them fell only a little short of one million and yet as regards the number of inhabitants a man would not compare all Italy with a single one of the nations of Asia. Let these facts, then, be a sufficient reply on our part to those who try to estimate the populations of the nations of Asia in ancient times on the strength of inferences drawn from the desolation which at the present time prevails in its cities.
6 Now Ninus in his campaign against Bactriana with so large a force was compelled, because access to the country was difficult and passes were narrow, to advance his army in divisions. For the country of Bactriana, though there were many large cities for the people to dwell in, had one which was the most famous, this being the city containing the royal palace it was called Bactra, and in size and in the strength of its acropolis was by far the first of them all. The king of the country, Oxyartes, had enrolled all the men of military age, and they had been gathered to the number of four hundred thousand. So taking this force with him and meeting the enemy at the passes, he allowed a division of the army of Ninus to enter the country and when he thought that a sufficient number of the enemy had debouched into the plain he drew out his own forces in battle-order. A fierce struggle then ensued in which the Bactrians put the Assyrians to flight, and pursuing them as far as the mountains which overlooked the field, killed about one hundred thousand of the enemy. But later, when the whole Assyrian force entered their country, the Bactrians, overpowered by the multitude of them, withdrew city by city, each group intending to defend its own homeland. And so Ninus easily subdued all the other cities, but Bactra, because of its strength and the equipment for war which it contained, he was unable to take by storm.
But when the siege was proving a long affair, the husband of Semiramis, who was enamoured of his wife and was making the campaign with the king, sent for the woman. And she, endowed as she was with understanding, daring, and all the other qualities which contribute to distinction, seized the opportunity to display her native ability. First of all, then, since she was about to set out upon a journey of many days, she devised a garb which made it impossible to distinguish whether the wearer of it was a man or a woman. This dress was well adapted to her needs, as regards both her travelling in the heat, for protecting the colour of her skin, and her convenience in doing whatever she might wish to do, since it was quite pliable and suitable to a young person, and, in a word was so attractive that in later times the Medes, who were then dominant in Asia, always wore the garb of Semiramis, as did the Persians after them. Now when Semiramis arrived in Bactriana and observed the progress of the siege, she noted that it was on the plains and at positions which were easily assailed that attacks were being made, but that no one ever assaulted the acropolis because of its strong position, and that its defender had left their posts there and were coming to aid of those who were hard pressed on the walls below. Consequently, taking with her such soldiers as were accustomed to clambering up rocky heights, and making her way with them up through a certain difficult ravine, she seized a part of the acropolis and gave a signal to those who were besieging the wall down in the plain. Thereupon the defenders of the city, struck with terror at the seizure of the height, left the walls and abandoned all hope of saving themselves.
When the city had been taken in this way, the king, marvelling at the ability of the woman, at first honoured her with great gifts, and later, becoming infatuated with her because of her beauty, tried to persuade her husband to yield her to him of his own accord, offering in return for this favour to give him his own daughter Sosanê to wife. But when the man took his offer with ill grace, Ninus threatened to put out his eyes unless he at once acceded to his commands. And Onnes, partly out of fear of the king's threats and partly out of his passion for his wife, fell into a kind of frenzy and madness, put a rope about his neck, and hanged himself. Such, then, were the circumstances whereby Semiramis attained the position of queen.
7 Ninus secured the treasures of Bactra, which contained a great amount of both gold and silver, and after settling the affairs of Bactriana disbanded his forces. After this he begat by Semiramis a son Ninyas, and then died, leaving his wife as queen. Semiramis buried Ninus in the precinct of the palace and erected over his tomb a very large mound, nine stades high and ten wide, as Ctesias says. Consequently, since the city lay on a plain along the Euphrates, the mound was visible for a distance of many stades, like an acropolis and this mound stands, they say, even to this day, though Ninus was razed to the ground by the Medes when they destroyed the empire of the Assyrians.
Semiramis, whose nature made her eager for great exploits and ambitious to surpass the fame of her predecessor on the throne, set her mind upon founding a city in Babylonia, and after securing the architects of all the world and skilled artisans and making all the other necessary preparations, she gathered together from her entire kingdom two million men to complete the work. Taking the Euphrates river into the centre she threw about the city a wall with great towers set at frequent intervals, the wall being three hundred and sixty stades in circumference, as Ctesias of Cnidus says, but according to the account of Cleitarchus and certain of those who at a later time crossed into Asia with Alexander, three hundred and sixty-five stades and these latter add that it was her desire to make the number of stades the same as the days in the year. Making baked bricks fast in bitumen she built a wall with a height, as Ctesias says, of fifty fathoms, but, as some later writers have recorded, of fifty cubits, and wide enough for more than two chariots abreast to drive upon and the towers numbered two hundred and fifty, their height and width corresponding to the massive scale of the wall. Now it need occasion no wonder that, considering the great length of the circuit wall, Semiramis constructed a small number of towers for since over a long distance the city was surrounded by swamps, she decided not to build towers along that space, the swamps offering a sufficient natural defence. And all along between the dwellings and the walls a road was left two plethra wide.
8 In order to expedite the building of these constructions she apportioned a stade to each of her friends, furnishing sufficient material for their task and directing them to complete their work within a year. And when they had finished these assignments with great speed she gratefully accepted their zeal, but she took for herself the construction of a bridge five stades long at the narrowest point of the river, skilfully sinking the piers, which stood twelve feet apart, into its bed. And the stones, which were set firmly together, she bonded with iron cramps, and the joints of the cramps she filled by pouring in lead. Again, before the piers on the side which would receive the current she constructed cutwaters whose sides were rounded to turn off the water and which gradually diminished to the width of the pier, in order that the sharp points of the cutwaters might divide the impetus of the stream, while the rounded sides, yielding to its force, might soften the violence of the river. This bridge, then, floored as it was with beams of cedar and cypress and with palm logs of exceptional size and having a width of thirty feet, is considered to have been inferior in technical skill to none of the works of Semiramis. And on each side of the river she built an expensive quay of about the same width as the walls and one hundred and sixty stades long.
Semiramis also built two palaces on the very banks of the river, one at each end of the bridge, her intention being that from them she might be able both to look down over the entire city and to hold the keys, as it were, to its most important sections. And since the Euphrates River passed through the centre of Babylon and flowed in a southerly direction, one palace faced the rising and the other the setting sun, and both had been constructed on a lavish scale. For in the case of the one which faced west she made the length of its first or outer circuit wall sixty stades, fortifying it with lofty walls, which had been built at great cost and were of burned brick. And within this she built a second, circular in form, in the bricks of which, before they were baked, wild animals of every kind had been engraved, and by the ingenious use of colours these figures reproduced the actual appearance of the animals themselves this circuit wall had a length of forty stades, a width of three hundred bricks, and a height, as Ctesias says, of fifty fathoms the height of the towers, however, was seventy fathoms. And she built within these two yet a third circuit wall, which enclosed an acropolis whose circumference was twenty stades in length, but the height and width of the structure surpassed the dimensions of the middle circuit wall. On both the towers and the walls there were again animals of every kind, ingeniously executed by the use of colours as well as by the realistic imitation of the several types and the whole had been made to represent a hunt, complete in every detail, of all sorts of wild animals, and their size was more than four cubits. Among the animals, moreover, Semiramis had also been portrayed, on horseback and in the act of hurling a javelin at a leopard, and nearby was her husband Ninus, in the act of thrusting his spear into a lion at close quarters. In this wall she also set triple gates, two of which were of bronze and were opened by a mechanical device.
Now this palace far surpassed in both size and details of execution the one on the other bank of the river. For the circuit wall of the latter, made of burned brick, was only thirty stades long, and instead of the ingenious portrayal of animals it had bronze statues of Ninus and Semiramis and their officers, and one also of Zeus, whom the Babylonians call Belus and on it were also portrayed both battle-scenes and hunts of every kind, which filled those who gazed thereon with varied emotions of pleasure.
9 After this Semiramis picked out the lowest spot in Babylonia and built a square reservoir, which was three hundred stades long on each side it was constructed of baked brick and bitumen, and had a depth of thirty-five feet. Then, diverting the river into it, she built an underground passage-way from one palace to the other and making it of burned brick, she coated the vaulted chambers on both sides with hot bitumen until she had made the thickness of this coating four cubits. The side walls of the passage-way were twenty bricks thick and twelve feet high, exclusive of the barrel-vault, and the width of the passage-way was fifteen feet. And after this construction had been finished in only seven days she let the river back again into its old channel, and so, since the stream flowed above the passage-way, Semiramis was able to go across from one palace to the other without passing over the river. At each end of the passage-way she also set bronze gates which stood until the time of the Persian rule.
After this she built in the centre of the city a temple of Zeus whom, as we have said, the Babylonians call Belus. Now since with regard to this temple the historians are at variance, and since time has caused the structure to fall into ruins, it is impossible to give the exact facts concerning it. But all agree that it was exceedingly high, and that in it the Chaldaeans made their observations of the stars, whose risings and settings could be accurately observed by reason of the height of the structure. Now the entire building was ingeniously constructed at great expense of bitumen and brick, and at the top of the ascent Semiramis set up three statues of hammered gold, of Zeus, Hera, and Rhea. Of these statues that of Zeus represented him erect and striding forward, and, being forty feet high, weighed a thousand Babylonian talents that of Rhea showed her seated on a golden throne and was of the same weight as that of Zeus and at her knees stood two lions, while nearby were huge serpents of silver, each one weighing thirty talents. The statue of Hera was also standing, weighing eight hundred talents, and in her right hand she held a snake by the head and in her left a sceptre studded with precious stones. A table for all three statues, made of hammered gold, stood before them, forty feet long, fifteen wide, and weighing five hundred talents. Upon it rested two drinking-cups, weighing thirty talents. And there were censers as well, also two in number but weighing each three hundred talents, and also three gold mixing bowls, of which the one belonging to Zeus weighed twelve hundred Babylonian talents and the other two six hundred each. But all these were later carried off as spoil by the kings of the Persians, while as for the palaces and the other buildings, time has either entirely effaced them or left them in ruins and in fact of Babylon itself but a small part is inhabited at this time, and most of the area within its walls is given over to agriculture.
10 There was also, because the acropolis, the Hanging Garden, as it is called, which was built, not by Semiramis, but by a later Syrian king to please one of his concubines for she, they say, being a Persian by race and longing for the meadows of her mountains, asked the king to imitate, through the artifice of a planted garden, the distinctive landscape of Persia. The park extended four plethra on each side, and since the approach to the garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier, the appearance of the whole resembled that of a theatre. When the ascending terraces had been built, there had been constructed beneath them galleries which carried the entire weight of the planted garden and rose little by little one above the other along the approach and the uppermost gallery, which was fifty cubits high, bore the highest surface of the park, which was made level with the circuit wall of the battlements of the city. Furthermore, the walls, which had been constructed at great expense, were twenty-two feet thick, while the passage-way between each two walls was ten feet wide. The roofs of the galleries were covered over with beams of stone sixteen feet long, inclusive of the overlap, and four feet wide. The roof above these beams had first a layer of reeds laid in great quantities of bitumen, over this two courses of baked brick bonded by cement, and as a third layer a covering of lead, to the end that the moisture from the soil might not penetrate beneath. On all this again earth had been piled to a depth sufficient for the roots of the largest trees and the ground, which was levelled off, was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size or any other charm, could give pleasure to beholder. And since the galleries, each projecting beyond another, all received the light, they contained many royal lodgings of every description and there was one gallery which contained openings leading from the topmost surface and machines for supplying the garden with water, the machines raising the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it being done. Now this park, as I have said, was a later construction.
11 Semiramis founded other cities also along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in which she established trading-places for the merchants who brought goods from Media, Paraetacenê, and all the neighbouring region. For the Euphrates and Tigris, the most notable, one may say, of all the rivers of Asia after the Nile and Ganges, have their sources in the mountains of Armenia and are two thousand five hundred stades apart at their origin, and after flowing through Media and Paraetacenê they enter Mesopotamia, which they enclose between them, thus giving this name to the country. After this they pass through Babylonia and empty into the Red Sea. Moreover, since they are great streams and traverse a spacious territory they offer many advantages to men who follow a merchant trade and it is due to this fact that the regions along their banks are filled with prosperous trading-places which contribute greatly to the fame of Babylonia.
Semiramis quarried out a stone from the mountains of Armenia which was one hundred and thirty feet long and twenty-five feet wide and thick and this she hauled by means of many multitudes of yokes of mules and oxen to the river and there loaded it on a raft, on which she brought it down the stream to Babylonia she then set it up beside the most famous street, an astonishing sight to all who passed by. And this stone is called by some an obelisk from its shape, and they number it among the seven wonders of the world.
12 Although the sights to be seen in Babylonia are many and singular, not the least wonderful is the enormous amount of bitumen which the country produces so great is the supply of this that it not only suffices for their buildings, which are numerous and large, but the common people also, gathering at the place, draw it out without any restriction, and drying it burn it in place of wood. And countless as is the multitude of men who draw it out, the amount remains undiminished, as if derived from some immense source. Moreover, near this source there is a vent-hole, of no great size but of remarkable potency. For it emits a heavy sulphurous vapour which brings death to all living creatures that approach it, and they meet with an end swift and strange for after being subjected for a time to the retention of the breath they are killed, as though the expulsion of the breath were being prevented by the force which has attacked the processes of respiration and immediately the body swells and blows up, particularly in the region about the lungs. And there is also across the river a lake whose edge offers solid footing, and if any man, unacquainted with it, enters it he swims for a short time, but as he advances towards the centre he is dragged down as though by a certain force and when he begins to help himself and makes up his mind to turn back to shore again, though he struggles to extricate himself, it appears as if he were being hauled back by something else and he becomes benumbed, first in his feet, then in his legs as far as the groin, and finally, overcome by numbness in his whole body, he is carried to the bottom, and a little later is cast up dead.
Now concerning the wonders of Babylonia let what has been said suffice.
13 After Semiramis had made an end of her building operations she set forth in the direction of Media with a great force. And when she had arrived at the mountain known as Bagistanus, she encamped near it and laid out a park, which had a circumference of twelve stades and, being situated in the plain, contained a great spring by means of which her plantings could be irrigated. The Bagistanus Mountain is sacred to Zeus and on the side facing the park has sheer cliffs which rise to a height of seventeen stades. The lowest part of these she smoothed off and engraved thereon a likeness of herself with a hundred spearmen at her side. And she also put this inscription on the cliff in Syrian letters: "Semiramis, with the pack-saddles of the beasts of burden in her army, built up a mound from the plain and thereby climbed this precipice, even to this very ridge."
Setting forth from that place and arriving at the city of Chauon in Media, she noticed on a certain high plateau a rock both of striking height and mass. Accordingly, she laid out there another park of great size, putting the rock in the middle of it, and on the rock she erected, to satisfy her taste for luxury, some very costly buildings from which she used to look down both upon her plantings in the park and on the whole army encamped on the plain. In this place she passed a long time and enjoyed to the full every device that contributed to luxury she was unwilling, however, to contract a lawful marriage, being afraid that she might be deprived of her supreme position, but choosing out the most handsome of the soldiers she consorted with them and then made away with all who had lain with her.
After this she advanced in the direction of Ecbatana and arrived at the mountain called Zarcaeus and since this extended many stades and was full of cliffs and chasms it rendered the journey round a long one. And so she became ambitious both to leave an immortal monument of herself and at the same time to shorten her way consequently she cut through the cliffs, filled up the low places, and thus at great expense built a short road, which to this day is called the road of Semiramis. Upon arriving at Ecbatana, a city which lies in the plain, she built in it an expensive palace and in every other way gave rather exceptional attention to the region. For since the city had no water supply and there was no spring in its vicinity, she made the whole of it well watered by bringing to it with much hardship and expense an abundance of the purest water. For at a distance from Ecbatana of about twelve stades is a mountain, which is called Orontes and is unusual for its ruggedness and enormous height, since the ascent, straight to its summit, is twenty-five stades. And since a great lake, which emptied into a river, lay on the other side, she made a cutting through the base of this mountain. The tunnel was fifteen feet wide and forty feet high and through it she brought in the river which flowed from the lake, and filled the city with water. Now this is what she did in Media.
14 After this she visited Persis and every other country over which she ruled throughout Asia. Everywhere she cut through the mountains and the precipitous cliffs and constructed expensive roads, while on the plains she made mounds, sometimes constructing them as tombs for those of her generals who died, and sometimes founding cities on their tops. And it was also her custom, whenever she made camp, to build little mounds, upon which setting her tent she could look down upon all the encampment. As a consequence many of the works she built throughout Asia remain to this day and are called Works of Semiramis.
After this she visited all Egypt, and after subduing most of Libya she went also to the oracle of Ammon to inquire of the god regarding her own end. And the account runs that the answer was given her that she would disappear from among men and receive undying honour among some of the peoples of Asia, and that this would take place when her son Ninyas should conspire against her. Then upon her return from these regions she visited most of Ethiopia, subduing it as she went and inspecting the wonders of the land. For in that country, they say, there is a lake, square in form, with a perimeter of some hundred and sixty feet, and its water is like cinnabar in colour and the odour of it is exceedingly sweet, not unlike that of old wine moreover, it has a remarkable power for whoever has drunk of it, they say, falls into a frenzy and accuses himself of every sin which he had formerly committed in secret. However, a man may not readily agree with those who tell such things.
15 In the burial of their dead, the inhabitants of Ethiopia follow customs peculiar to themselves for after they have embalmed the body and have poured a heavy coat of glass over it they stand it on a pillar, so that the body of the dead man is visible through the glass to those who pass by. This is the statement of Herodotus. But Ctesias of Cnidus, declaring that Herodotus is inventing a tale, gives for his part this account. The body is indeed embalmed, but glass is not poured about the naked bodies, for they would be burned and so completely disfigured that they could no longer preserve their likeness. For this reason they fashion a hollow statue of gold and when the corpse has been put into this they pour the glass over the statue, and the figure, prepared in this way, is then placed at the tomb, and the gold, fashioned as it is to resemble the deceased, is seen through the glass. Now the rich among them are buried in this wise, he says, but those who leave a smaller estate receive a silver statue, and the poor one made of earthenware as for the glass, there is enough of it for everyone, since it occurs in great abundance in Ethiopia and is quite current among the inhabitants. With regard to the custom prevailing among the Ethiopians and the other features of their country we shall a little later set forth those that are the most important and deserving of record, at which time we shall also recount their early deeds and their mythology.
16 But after Semiramis had put in order the affairs of Ethiopia and Egypt she returned with her force to Bactra in Asia. And since she had great forces and had been at peace for some time she became eager to achieve some brilliant exploit in war. And when she was informed that the Indian nation was the largest one in the world and likewise possessed both the most extensive and the fairest country, she purposed to make a campaign into India. Stabrobates at that time was king of the country and had a multitude of soldiers without number and many elephants were also at his disposal, fitted out in an exceedingly splendid fashion with such things as would strike terror in war. For India is a land of unusual beauty, and since it is traversed by many rivers it is supplied with water over its whole area and yields two harvests each year consequently it has such an abundance of the necessities of life that at all times it favours its inhabitants with a bounteous enjoyment of them. And it is said that because of the favourable climate in those parts the country has never experienced a famine or a destruction of crops. It also has an unbelievable number of elephants, which both in courage and in strength of body far surpass those of Libya, and likewise gold, silver, iron, and copper furthermore, within its borders are to be found great quantities of precious stones of every kind and of practically all other things which contribute to luxury and wealth.
When Semiramis had received a detailed account of these facts she was led to begin her war against the Indians, although she had been done no injury by them. And realizing that she needed an exceedingly great force in addition to what she had she despatched messengers to all the satrapies, commanding the governors to enroll the bravest of the young men and setting their quota in accordance with the size of each nation and she further ordered them all to make new suits of armour and to be at hand, brilliantly equipped in every other respect, at Bactra on the third year thereafter. She also summoned shipwrights from Phoenicia, Syria, Cyprus, and the rest of the lands along the sea, and shipping thither an abundance of timber she ordered them to build river boats which could be taken to pieces. For the Indus river, by reason of its being the largest in that region and the boundary of her kingdom, required many boats, some for the passage across and others from which to defend the former from the Indians and since there was no timber near the river the boats had to be brought from Bactriana by land.
Observing that she was greatly inferior because of her lack of elephants, Semiramis conceived the plan of making dummies like these animals, in the hope that the Indians would be struck with terror because of their belief that no elephants ever existed at all apart from those found in India. Accordingly she chose out three hundred thousand black oxen and distributed their meat among her artisans and the men who had been assigned to the task of making the figures, but the hides she sewed together and stuffed with straw, and thus made dummies, copying in every detail the natural appearance of these animals. Each dummy had within it a man to take care of it and a camel and, when it was moved by the latter, to those who saw it from a distance it looked like an actual animal. And the artisans who were engaged in making these dummies for her worked at their task in a certain court which had been surrounded by a wall and had gates which were carefully guarded, so that no worker within could pass out no one from outside could come in to them. This she did in order that no one from the outside might see what was taking place and that no report about the dummies might escape to the Indians.
17 When the boats and the beasts had been prepared in the two allotted years, on the third she summoned her forces from everywhere to Bactriana. And the multitude of the army which was assembled, as Ctesias of Cnidus has recorded, was three million foot-soldiers, two hundred thousand cavalry, and one hundred thousand chariots. There were also men mounted on camels, carrying swords four cubits long, as many in number as the chariots. And river boats which could be taken apart she built to the number of two thousand, and she had collected camels to carry the vessels overland. Camels also bore the dummies of the elephants, as has been mentioned and the soldiers, by bringing their horses up to these camels, accustomed them not to fear the savage nature of the beasts. A similar thing was also done many years later by Perseus, the king of the Macedonians, before his decisive conflict with the Romans who had elephants from Libya. But neither in his case did it turn out that the zeal and ingenuity displayed in such matters had any effect on the conflict, nor in that of Semiramis, as will be shown more precisely in our further account.
When Stabrobates, the king of the Indians, heard of the immensity of the forces mentioned and of the exceedingly great preparations which had been made for the war, he was anxious to surpass Semiramis in every respect. First of all, then, he made four thousand river boats out of reeds for along its rivers and marshy places India produces a great abundance of reeds, so large in diameter that a man cannot easily put his arms about them and it is said, furthermore, that ships built of these are exceedingly serviceable, since this wood does not rot. Moreover, he gave great care to the preparation of his arms and by visiting all India gathered a far greater force than that which had been collected by Semiramis. Furthermore, holding a hunt of the wild elephants and multiplying many times the number already at his disposal, he fitted them all out splendidly with such things as would strike terror in war and the consequence was that when they advanced to the attack the multitude of them as well as the towers upon their backs made them appear like a thing beyond the power of human nature to understand.
18 When he had made all his preparations for the war he despatched messengers to Semiramis, who was already on the road, accusing her of being the aggressor in the war although she had been injured in no respect then, in the course of his letter, after saying many slanderous things against her as being a strumpet and calling upon the gods as witnesses, he threatened her with crucifixion when he had defeated her. Semiramis, however, on reading his letter dismissed his statements with laughter and remarked, "It will be in deeds that the Indian will make trial of my valour." And when her advance brought her with her force to the Indus River she found the boats of the enemy ready for battle. Consequently she on her side, hastily putting together her boats and manning them with her best marines, joined battle on the river, while the foot-soldiers which were drawn up along the banks also participated eagerly in the contest. The struggle raged for a long time and both sides fought spiritedly, but finally Semiramis was victorious and destroyed about a thousand of the boats, taking also not a few men prisoners. Elated now by her victory, she reduced to slavery the islands in the river and the cities on them and gathered in more than one hundred thousand captives.
After these events the king of the Indians withdrew his force from the river, giving the appearance of retreating in fear but actually with the intention of enticing the enemy to cross the river. Thereupon Semiramis, now that her undertakings were prosperous as she wished, spanned the river with a costly and large bridge, by means of which she got all her forces across and then she left sixty thousand men to guard the pontoon bridge, while with the rest of her army she advanced in pursuit of the Indians, the dummy elephants leading the way in order that the king's spies might report to the king the multitude of these animals in her army. Nor was she deceived in this hope on the contrary, when those who had been despatched to spy her out reported to the Indians the multitude of elephants among the enemy, they were all at a loss to discover from where such a multitude of beasts as accompanied her could have come. However, the deception did not remain a secret for long for some of Semiramis' troops were caught neglecting their night watches in the camp, and these, in fear of the consequent punishment, deserted to the enemy and pointed out to them their mistake regarding the nature of the elephants. Encouraged by this information, the king of the Indians, after informing his army about the dummies, set his forces in array and turned about to face the Assyrians.
19 Semiramis likewise marshalled her forces, and as the two armies neared each other Stabrobates, the king of the Indians, despatched his cavalry and chariots far in advance of the main body. But the queen stoutly withstood the attack of the cavalry, and since the elephants which she had fabricated had been stationed at equal intervals in front of the main body of troops, it came about that the horses of the Indians shied at them. For whereas at a distance the dummies looked like the actual animals with which the horses of the Indians were acquainted and therefore charged upon them boldly enough, yet on nearer contact the odour which reached the horses was unfamiliar, and then the other differences, which taken all together were very great, threw them into utter confusion. Consequently some of the Indians were thrown to the ground, while others, whence their horses would not obey the rein, were carried with their mounts pell-mell into the midst of the enemy. Then Semiramis, who was in the battle with a select band of soldiers, made skilful use of her advantage and put the Indians to flight. But although these fled towards the battle-line, King Stabrobates, undismayed, advanced the ranks of his foot-soldiers, keeping the elephants in front, while he himself, taking his position on the right wing and fighting from the most powerful of the beasts, charged in terrifying fashion upon the queen, whom chance had placed opposite him. And since the rest of the elephants followed his example, the army of Semiramis withstood but a short time the attack of the beasts for the animals, by virtue of their extraordinary courage and the confidence which they felt in their power, easily destroyed everyone who tried to withstand them. Consequently there was a great slaughter, which was effected in various ways, some being trampled beneath their feet, others ripped up by their tusks, and a number tossed into the air by their trunks. And since a great multitude of corpses lay piled one upon the other and the danger aroused terrible consternation and fear in those who witnessed the sight, not a man had the courage to hold his position any longer.
Now when the entire multitude turned in flight the king of the Indians pressed his attack upon Semiramis herself. And first he let fly an arrow and struck her on the arm, and then with his javelin he pierced the back of the queen, but only with a glancing blow and since for this reason Semiramis was not seriously injured she rode swiftly away, the pursuing beast being much inferior in speed. But since all were fleeing to the pontoon bridge and so great a multitude was forcing its way into a single narrow space, some of the queen's soldiers perished by being trampled upon by one another and by cavalry and foot-soldiers being thrown together in unnatural confusion, and when the Indians pressed hard upon them a violent crowding took place on the bridge because their terror, so that many were pushed to either side of the bridge and fell into the river. As for Semiramis, when the largest part of the survivors of the battle had found safety by putting the river behind them, she cut the fastenings which held the bridge together and when these were loosened the pontoon bridge, having been broken apart at many points and bearing great numbers of pursuing Indians, was carried down in haphazard fashion by the violence of the current and caused the death of many of the Indians, but for Semiramis it was the means of complete safety, the enemy now being prevented from crossing over against her. After these events the king of the Indians remained inactive, since heavenly omens appeared to him which his seers interpreted to mean that he must not cross the river, and Semiramis, after exchanging prisoners, made her way back to Bactra with the loss of two-thirds of her force.
20 Sometime later her son Ninyas conspired against her through the agency of a certain eunuch and remembering the prophecy given her by Ammon, she did not punish the conspirator, but, on the contrary, after turning the kingdom over to him and commanding the governors to obey him, she at once disappeared, as if she were going to be translated to the gods as the oracle had predicted. Some, making a myth of it, say that she turned into a dove and flew off in the company of many birds which alighted on her dwelling, and this, they say, is the reason why the Assyrians worship the dove as a god, thus deifying Semiramis. Be that as it may, this woman, after having been queen over all Asia with the exception of India, passed away in the manner mentioned above, having lived sixty-two years and having reigned forty-two.
Such, then, is the account that Ctesias of Cnidus has given about Semiramis but Athenaeus and certain other historians say that she was a comely courtesan and because of her beauty was loved by the king of the Assyrians. Now at first she was accorded only a moderate acceptance in the palace, but later, when she had been proclaimed a lawful wife, she persuaded the king to yield the royal prerogatives to her for a period of five days. And Semiramis, upon receiving the sceptre and the regal garb, on the first day held high festival and gave a magnificent banquet, at which she persuaded the commanders of the military forces and all the greatest dignitaries to co‑operate with her and on the second day, while the people and the most notable citizens were paying her their respects as queen, she arrested her husband and put him in prison and since she was by nature a woman of great designs and bold as well, she seized the throne and remaining queen until old age accomplished many great things. Such, then, are the conflicting accounts which may be found in the historians regarding the career of Semiramis.
The river crossing of Hydaspes by Alexander the Great
With the Hydaspes in flood, there was, of course, no immediate possibility of fording the river. Alexander gave out publicly that he was content to wait for the autumn months when the water would run very much lower. No doubt he intended that such a pronouncement should come to the ears of the enemy but it is quite evident that he had laid other plans.
Porus strongly guarded all possible ferry crossings, and his elephants became extremely useful in this role, for they would certainly terrify any horses that confronted them, making a cavalry landing from rafts or barges quite impossible. But Alexander was, as ever, resourceful. Before moving up to the frontiers of Porus’ territory, he had dismantled the boats and galleys he had used on the Indus. The smaller craft had been broken into two parts, the 3o–oar galleys into three parts the sections had then been transported on wagons overland and the whole flotilla reassembled on the Hydaspes. From the first, these boats had been able to navigate the river unmolested, the Indians having made no attempt to deny them the use of the midway channel.
During the weeks that followed, Alexander moved his cavalry continually up and down the river bank. Porus, to forestall the concentration of Alexander’s troops at any single point, dispatched forces to march level with Alexander’s men on the opposite bank, guided by the noise that the Macedonians were deliberately creating. Any place at which a crossing seemed contemplated was immediately guarded in strength by the Indians. Alexander’s movements were however, mere feints. No attack materialized and eventually Porus relaxed his vigilance. This, of course, was Alexander’s intention. The Macedonians were now in a position to make a real attack. Any sound of their movements would inevitably be discounted by the enemy as another false alert.
As they moved up and down the riverbank, Alexander’s cavalry had been reconnoitring for suitable crossing places, reporting back to Alexander. He now selected one, and made plans to cross the Hydaspes by night. He left his officer Craterus in the area where the Macedonian army had originally encamped, together with the cavalry unit this officer normally commanded, as well as attached units of Asiatic cavalry and local Indian troops to the number of 5,000, plus two units of the Macedonian phalanx.
Alexander himself set out for the chosen crossing place with a similarly mixed but stronger force. It included the vanguard of the Companion cavalry and the cavalry units of his officers Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Demetrius. These units were hipparchies of greater strength than the squadrons he had used in Asia Minor. He also led Asiatic troops that included mounted archers, and two phalanx units with archers and Agrianians.
The purpose of leaving a substantial force at the base camp was to disguise Alexander’s movements from Porus. It was imperative that the Indians knew nothing of the crossing until it was accomplished. His orders to Craterus were that if Porus led away only part of his army to meet this emergency, leaving a force of elephants behind him, then the Macedonians at the base camp should remain where they were, covering the enemy on the opposite bank. However, if Porus abandoned his position entirely, either in flight, or to face Alexander, then Craterus and his men might safely cross. In fact, the main danger to the Macedonian cavalry was from the elephants. Once these were withdrawn, the river might confidently be crossed, no matter what other Indian troops remained.
The point selected as a crossing place was about 18 miles upstream from the base camp. Here, on the opposite bank, was a headland where the river bent, covered with luxuriant undergrowth, and in the river alongside it rose the island of Admana, also densely forested and so providing concealment for the proximity or presence of cavalry. Along the Macedonian bank Alexander had already posted a chain of pickets, capable of communicating with each other either by visual or audible signals. Similar to his previous practice, Alexander had allowed the enemy to become accustomed to the shouts and nightly watchfires of these outposts.
Screened by such diversions, Alexander’s march was made in great secrecy. It followed an inland route, possibly a short cut. As the Macedonians marched through the night, they were overtaken by a thunderstorm and heavy rain. Though they cannot have enjoyed it, the storm must have rendered their movement imperceptible to the enemy.
At the crossing place a ferry fleet had been prepared in advance. Many of the ferries were rafts floated on skins that had been transported empty to the spot, then stuffed with chaff and sewn up to make them watertight. Alexander had previously used this technique for ferrying troops on the Danube and on the Oxus. Alongside these waited the 30-oar galleys carried overland from the Indus.
Close to the river bank, at an intermediate position between the base camp and the ferry point, he stationed three of his officers, Meleager, Attalus and Gorgias, each in charge of his own infantry unit, with attached cavalry and infantry detailed from the mercenaries. Like Craterus, this force was ordered to cross only when it saw that the enemy on the opposite bank of the river was committed elsewhere. The crossing was to be made in three waves, probably because there were not enough ferries to permit a transit in one body.
At dawn the storm subsided. As the ferry flotilla, led by Alexander and his staff in a galley, moved out into the river, it was initially out of sight of the opposite bank. But as they went further across the river they were obliged to break cover, and enemy scouts galloped off to report their approach.
Alexander’s men now ran into unforeseen difficulties, as the bank that had seemed to be the mainland opposite in reality belonged to another island. A deep but narrow channel separated it from the land beyond, and men and animals barely managed to ford the fast–flowing current – sometimes with little more than their heads above water. Emerging at last from this second crossing, Alexander was able to marshal his troops unmolested by the enemy and without difficulty on the opposite bank.
First Century B.C.
Among the interesting early accounts of India is one by the Greek geographer Strabo, who wrote in the first century before the Christian era. Strabo was an extensive traveller, and although he had not visited India itself, he had journeyed sufficiently in distant lands to be able to judge of the general characteristics of countries described by others, even if he himself had not seen them. His account of Hindustan he draws chiefly from Greek records of Alexander&rsquos campaigns and of the historians of Seleukos. He frequently cites Megasthenes and Onesikritos, who accompanied the Macedonian conqueror on his victorious march through the East, but he places more confidence in Aristoboulos, who was likewise with Alexander on
the expedition, and in Nearchos, the chief commander of Alexander&rsquos fleet. Strabo&rsquos account of India is found in the first portion of the fifteenth book of his Geography, and I have reproduced it here with a few unimportant omissions. He opens his description as follows:&ndash
The reader must receive this account of India with indulgence, for the country lies at a very great distance, and few persons of our nation have seen it and those who have visited it have seen only some portions of it the greater part of what they relate is from hearsay, and even what they saw, they observed during their passage through the country with an army, and in great haste. For this reason they do not agree in their accounts of the same things, although they write about them as if they had examined them with the greatest care and attention. Some of these writers were fellow soldiers and fellow travellers, for example, those who belonged to the army which, under the command of Alexander, conquered Asia yet they frequently contradict each other. If, then, they differ so much respecting things which they had seen, what must we think of what they relate from hearsay?
Nor do the writers who, many ages since Alexander&rsquos time, have given an account of these countries, nor even those who at the present time make voyages thither, afford any precise information. Apollodoros, for instance, author of the &ldquoHistory of Parthia,&rdquo when he mentions the Greeks who occasioned the revolt of Baktriane from the Syrian kings, who were the successors
Coin of Alexander the Great
of Seleukos Nikator, says that when they became powerful they invaded India. He adds no new information to what was previously known, and even asserts, in contradiction to others, that the Baktrians had subjected to their dominion a larger portion of India than had the Macedonians for Eukratidas (one of these kings) had a thousand cities subject to his authority. But other writers affirm 7, that the Macedonians conquered the nine nations situated between the Hydaspes (Jihlam) and the Hypanis (Bias), and obtained possession of five hundred cities, not one of which was less than Kos in Meropis (an island in the Aegean Sea), and that Alexander, after having conquered all this country, delivered it up to Poros.
Very few of the merchants who now sail from Egypt by the Nile and the Arabian Gulf to India have sailed around as far as the Ganges and, being ignorant persons, are not qualified to give an account of places they have visited. From one place in India, and from one king, namely, Pandion, or, according to others, Poros, presents and embassies were sent to Augustus Caesar. With the ambassadors came the Indian sophist (or ascetic), who committed himself to the flames at Athens, like Kalanos, who exhibited the same spectacle in the presence of Alexander.
If we set these stories aside and direct our attention to accounts of the country prior to the expedition
of Alexander, we shall find them even more obscure. It is probable that Alexander, elated by his extraordinary good fortune, believed these accounts. According to Nearchos, he was ambitious of conducting his army through Gedrosia (Mekran) when he heard that Semiramis and Cyrus (Kyros) had undertaken expeditions against India (through this country), although both had abandoned the enterprise, the former escaping with twenty, and Cyrus with seven men only. For that reason Alexander considered that it would be a glorious achievement for him to lead a conquering army safe through the same nations and countries where Semiramis and Cyrus had suffered such disasters and he therefore gave credence to the stories.
But how can we place any real confidence in the accounts of India derived from such expeditions as those of Cyrus and Semiramis? Megasthenes is also of this opinion, for he advises persons not to credit the ancient histories of India, owing to the fact that, with the exception of the expeditions of Herakles (Hercules), of Dionysos (Bacchus), and the later invasion of Alexander, no army was ever sent out of their country by the Indians, nor did any foreign enemy ever invade or conquer it. Sesostris the Egyptian, he says, and Tearkon the Ethiopian, advanced as far as Europe and Nabokodrosoros (Nebuchadnezzar) who was more celebrated among the Chaldmans than Herakles among the Greeks, penetrated even as far as the Pillars, which Tearkon also reached Sesostris conducted an army from Iberia to Thrake and Pontos Idanthyrsos the
Skythian overran Asia as far as Egypt but not one of these persons proceeded as far as India, and Semiramis died before her intended enterprise was undertaken. The Persians had sent for a body of mercenary troops, the Hydrakes1, from India, but they did not lead an army into that country, and only approached it when Cyrus was marching against the Massagetai.
Strabo then gives an account of the storming of the fortress of Nysa and of Aornos, as described in the second volume of this series (pp. 35 - 45), and adds some remarks on the geographical boundaries of India, after which he turns to the subject of the rivers of Hindustan.
The whole of India is watered by rivers, some of which empty themselves into the two largest, the Indus and the Ganges others discharge themselves into the sea by their own mouths. But all of them have their sources in the Caucasus. At their commencement their course is toward the south some of them continue to flow in the same direction, particularly those which unite with the Indus others turn to the east, as the Ganges. This, the largest of the Indian rivers, descends from the mountainous country, and when it reaches the plains, turns to the east, then flowing past Palibothra2, a very large city, it proceeds onward to the sea in that quarter, and discharges its waters by a single mouth. The Indus falls into the Southern Sea, and empties itself by two mouths, encompassing the
country called Patalene, which resembles the Delta of Egypt.
By the exhalation of vapours from such vast rivers, and by the Etesian winds, as Eratosthenes affirms, India is watered by summer rains, and the plains are inundated.
Nearchos, speaking of the accretion of earth formed by the rivers, adduces the following instances. The plains of Hermos, Kaystros, Maiandros, and Kaïkos have these names because they have been formed by the soil which has been carried over the plains by the rivers or rather they were produced by the fine and soft soil brought down from the mountains whence the plains are, as it were, the offspring of the rivers, and it is rightly said that the plains belong to the
rivers. What is said by Herodotus of the Nile, and of the land about it, namely, that it is the gift of the Nile (wherefore Nearchos says that the Nile was synonymous with Egypt), may be applied equally well to this country.
Aristoboulos, however, says that rain and snow fall only on the mountains and the country immediately below them, and that the plains experience neither one nor the other, but are overflowed only by the rise of the waters of the rivers that the mountains are covered with snow in the winter that the rains set in at the commencement of spring, and continue to increase that at the time of the blowing of the Etesian winds they pour down impetuously, without intermission, night and day till the rising of Arktouros, and that the rivers, filled by the melting of the snow and by the rains, irrigate the plains.
These things, he says, were observed by himself and by others on their journey into India from the Paropamisadai. This was after the setting of the Pleiades, and during their stay in the mountainous country in the territory of the Hypasioi, and in that of Assakanos during the winter. At the beginning of spring they descended into the plains to a large city called Taxila thence they proceeded to the Hydaspes (Jihlam) and the country of Poros. During the winter they saw no rain, but only snow. The first rain which fell was at Taxila3. After their descent to the Hydaspes (Jihlam)
and the conquest of Poros, their progress was eastwards to the Hypanis (Bias), and thence back to the Hydaspes (Jihlam). At this time it rained continually, and particularly during the blowing of the Etesian winds, but at the rising of Arktouros the rains ceased. They remained at the Hydaspes while the ships were being built, and began their voyage not many days before the setting of the Pleiades, and were occupied during the whole autumn, winter, and the ensuing spring and summer in sailing down the river, and they arrived at Patalene (in the delta of the Indus) about the rising of the Dog-star during the passage down the river, which lasted ten months, they did not experience rain at any place, not even when the Etesian winds were at their height, when the rivers were full and the plains overflowed the sea could not be navigated on account of the blowing of contrary winds, but no land breezes succeeded.
Nearchos gives the same account, but does not agree with Aristoboulos respecting the rains in summer, but says that the plains are watered by rain in the summer, and that they are without rain in winter. Both writers, however, speak of the rise of the rivers. Nearchos says that the men encamped upon the Akesines (Chinab) were obliged to change their situation for another more elevated, and that this was at the time of the rise of the river, and of the summer solstice.
Aristoboulos even gives the measure of the height to which the river rises, namely, forty cubits, twenty of which would fill the channel up to the margin, above
The Sabarmati, a river of western India, on its way to the sea
its previous depth, and the other twenty are the measure of the water when it overflows the plains. .
From what Aristoboulos relates, it is natural that the country should be subject to shocks of earthquakes, since the ground is loose and hollow by excess of moisture, and easily splits into fissures, so that even the course of rivers is altered. He says that when he was despatched upon some business into the country, he saw a deserted tract of land which contained more than a thousand cities with their dependent villages. The Indus, having left its proper channel, had become diverted into another and much deeper channel on the left hand, and precipitated itself into this like a cataract, so that the country on the right hand, from which it had receded, was no longer watered by the inundations, since it was elevated above the level, not only
of the new channel of the river, but above that of the inundations.
The account of Onesikritos confirms the facts of the rising of the rivers and of the absence of land breezes. He says that the seashore is swampy, particularly near the mouths of rivers, on account of the mud, tides, and the force of the winds blowing from the sea.
Megasthenes also indicates the fertility of India by the circumstance of the soil producing fruits and grain twice a year. Eratosthenes relates the same facts, for he speaks of a winter and a summer sowing, and of the rain at the same seasons. For, according to him, there is no year which is without rain at both those periods, whence ensues great abundance, the ground never failing to bear crops.
An abundance of fruit is produced by trees and the roots of plants, particularly of large reeds, possess a sweetness which they have by nature and by coction for the water, both from rains and rivers, is warmed by the sun&rsquos rays. The meaning of Eratosthenes seems to be this, that what among other nations is called the ripening of fruits and juices, is called among these coction, and it contributes as much to produce an agreeable flavour as the coction by fire. To this is attributed the flexibility of the branches of trees, from which wheels of carriages are made, and to the same cause is imputed the growth of wool (i.e. cotton) upon some trees. Nearchos says that their fine clothes were made of this wool, and that the Macedonians used it for mattresses and the stuffing of saddles. The Serika (silks)
The descending branches of a Banyan-tree
are also of a similar kind and are made of carded byssos (or fibre), which is obtained from some sort of bark of plants. Nearchos states that reeds yield honey, although there are no bees, and that there is a tree from the fruit of which honey is procured, but that the fruit eaten fresh causes intoxication.
India produces many singular trees. There is one whose branches incline downwards, and whose leaves are not less in size than a shield. Onesikritos, describing
minutely the country of Mousikanos, which he says is the most southerly part of India, relates that there are some large trees [the banyan] the branches of which extend to the length even of twelve cubits. They then grow downwards, as though bent (by force), till they touch the earth, where they penetrate and take root like layers. They next shoot upwards and form a trunk. They again grow as we have described, bending downwards, and implanting one layer after another, and in the above order, so that one tree forms a long shady roof, like a tent supported by many pillars. In speaking of the size of the trees, he says their trunks could scarcely be clasped by five men.
Aristoboulos also, where he mentions the Akesines (Chinab) and its confluence with the Hyarotis (Ravi), speaks of trees with their boughs bent downwards and of a size so great that fifty horsemen, or, according to Onesikritos, four hundred horsemen, might take shelter at mid-day beneath the shade of a single tree.
Aristoboulos mentions another tree, not large, bearing great pods, like the bean, ten fingers in length, full of honey, and says that those who eat this fruit do not easily escape alive. But the accounts of all these writers about the size of the trees have been outdone by those who assert that there has been seen, beyond the Hyarotis (Ravi), a tree which casts a shade at noon of five stadia (about 3000 feet).
Aristoboulos says of the wool-bearing trees, that the flower pod contains a kernel, which is taken out, and the remainder is carded like wool.
In the country of Mousikanos there grows, he says, spontaneously grain resembling wheat, and a vine that produces wine, whereas other authors affirm that there is no wine in India. Hence, according to Anacharsis, they had no pipes or any musical instruments, except cymbals, drums, and rattles, which were used by jugglers.
Both Aristoboulos and other writers relate that India produces many medicinal drugs and roots, both of a salutary and noxious quality, and dyes yielding a variety of colours. He adds that, by a law, any person discovering a deadly substance is punished with death unless he also discover the antidote in case he discovers the antidote, he is rewarded by the king.
Southern India, like Arabia and Ethiopia, produces cinnamon, nard, and other aromatics. It resembles these countries as regards the effect of the sun&rsquos rays, but it surpasses them in having a copious supply of water, whence the atmosphere is humid, and on this account more conducive to fertility and fecundity and this applies to the earth and to the water, hence those animals which inhabit both one and the other are of a larger size than are found in other countries.&rsquo
At this point Strabo allows himself to digress for a couple of pages on the subject of resemblances between India and Egypt in regard to the water-supply of both countries, and then he returns to the more specific question of the rivers of India and the fertility caused by their overflow &ndash a topic of interest to any one who is concerned with India&rsquos history.
Falls of the Kivari, Swasamudram.
It is admitted by those who maintain the resemblance of India to Egypt and Ethiopia, that the plains which are not overflowed do not produce anything for want of water.
Nearchos says that the old question respecting the rise of the Nile is answered by the case of the Indian rivers, namely, that it is the effect of summer rains. When Alexander saw crocodiles in the Hydaspes (Bias) and Egyptian beans in the Akesines (Chinab), he thought that he had discovered the sources of the Nile and was about to equip a fleet with the intention of sailing by this river to Egypt but he found out shortly afterwards that his design could not be accomplished. &ldquofor between were vast rivers, fearful waters, and, first of all, the ocean4,&rdquo into which all the Indian rivers discharge themselves then come Ariane, the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, all Arabia and Troglodytike. .
We shall speak of the noteworthy rivers that flow into the Indus, and of the countries which they traverse with regard to the rest, our ignorance is greater than our knowledge.
Alexander, who discovered the greatest portion of this country, first of all decided that it was more expedient to pursue and destroy those who had treacherously killed Darius, and were meditating the revolt of Baktriane. He approached India therefore through Ariane, which he left on the right hand, and crossed the Paropamisos to the northern parts, and to Baktriane. Having conquered all the country subject to
the Persians, and many other places besides, he then entertained the desire of possessing India, of which he had received many accounts, although indistinct.
He therefore returned, crossing over the same mountains by other and shorter roads, keeping India on the left hand he then immediately turned toward it, and toward its western boundaries and the rivers Kophes (the Kophen of Kabul) and Choaspes. The latter river empties itself into the Kophes, near Plemyrion, after passing by another city, Gorys, in its course through Bandobene and Gandaritis.
He was informed that the mountainous and northern parts were the most habitable and fertile, but that the southern part was either without water, or was liable to be overflowed by the rivers at one time, and burnt up at another, more fit to be the haunts of wild beasts than the habitations of men. He resolved, therefore, first to get possession of that part of India which had been well spoken of, considering at the same time that the rivers which it was necessary to pass, and which flowed transversely through the country which he intended to attack, would be crossed more easily near their sources. He also heard that several of the rivers united and formed one stream, and that this occurred more and more frequently the farther they advanced, so that, in the absence of boats, the country would be more difficult to traverse. Being apprehensive of this obstruction, he crossed the Kophes (Kophen of Kabul), and conquered the whole of the mountainous country situated toward the east.
Next to the Kophes was the Indus, then the Hydaspes (Jihlam), the Akesines (Chinab), the Hyarotis (Ravi), and lastly, the Hypanis (Bias). He was prevented from proceeding farther, partly because of some oracles, and partly because compelled by his army, which was exhausted by toil and fatigue, but whose principal distress arose from their constant exposure to rain. Hence we became acquainted with the eastern parts of India on this side of the Hypanis, and whatever parts besides which have been described by those who, after Alexander, advanced beyond the Hypanis to the Ganges and Palibothra (Pataliputra, Patna).
After the river Kophes, follows the Indus. The country lying between these two rivers is occupied by Astakenoi, Masianoi, Nysaioi, and Hypasioi5. Next is the territory of Assakanos, where is the city Masoga (Massaga?), the royal residence of the country. Near the Indus is another city, Peukolaitis. At this place a bridge, which was constructed, afforded a passage for the army.
Between the Indus and the Hydaspes is Taxila, a large city, and governed by good laws. The neighbouring country is crowded with inhabitants and very fertile, and here unites with the plains. The people and their king Taxiles received Alexander with kindness, and obtained in return more presents than they had offered to Alexander so that the Macedonians
Bridge of boats on the Indus
became jealous, and observed that it seemed as if Alexander had found none on whom he could confer favours before he passed the Indus. Some writers say that this country is larger than Egypt.
Above this country among the mountains is the territory of Abisaros (Abhisara), who, as the ambassadors that came from him reported, kept two serpents, one of eighty, and the other, according to Onesikritos, of one hundred and forty cubits in length. This writer may as well be called the master fabulist as the master pilot of Alexander. For all those who accompanied Alexander preferred the marvellous to the true, but this writer seems to have surpassed all in his description of prodigies. Some things, however, he relates which are probable and worthy of record, and will not be passed over in silence even by one who does not
believe their correctness. Other writers also mention the hunting of serpents in the Emoda Mountains, and the keeping and feeding of them in caves.
Between the Hydaspes (Jihiam) and Akesines (Chinab) is the country of Poros, an extensive and fertile district, containing nearly three hundred cities. Here also is the forest in the neighbourhood of the Emoda Mountains in which Alexander cut down a large quantity of fir, pine, cedar, and a variety of other trees fit for ship-building, and brought the timber down the Hydaspes. With this he constructed a fleet on the Hydaspes, near the cities which he built on each side of the river where he had crossed it and conquered Poros. One of these cities he called Boukephalia, from the horse Boukephalos, which was killed in the battle with Poros. The name Boukephalos (ox-headed) was given to it from the breadth of its forehead. It was an excellent war-horse, and Alexander constantly rode it in battle6. The other city he called Nikaia from the victory (nike) which he had obtained.
In the forest before mentioned it is said there is a vast number of monkeys, and they are as large as they are numerous. On one occasion the Macedonians, seeing a body of them standing in array opposite to them on some bare eminences (for this animal is not less intelligent than the elephant) and presenting the appearance of an army, prepared to attack them as real enemies, but being informed of the facts of the case by Taxiles, who was then with the king, they desisted.
At the monkey temple, Benares
The chase of this animal is conducted in two different manners. It is an imitative creature and takes refuge up among the trees. The hunters, when they perceive a monkey seated on a tree, place in sight a basin containing water, with which they wash their own eyes then, instead of water, they put a basin of bird-lime, go away, and lie in wait at a distance. The animal leaps down and besmears itself with the bird-lime, and when it winks, the eyelids are fastened together the hunters then come upon it and take it.
The other method of capturing them is as follows: the hunters dress themselves in bags like trousers, and go away, leaving behind them others which are hairy, with the inside smeared over with bird-lime. The monkeys put them on, and are easily taken.
Some writers place Kathaia and the country of Sopeithes (King Subhuti), one of the governors, in the tract between the rivers (Hydaspes and Akesines)
at Madhura The Great Temple at Madhura
some, on the other side of the Akesines and of the liyarotis, on the confines of the territory of the other Poros, the nephew of the Poros who was taken prisoner by Alexander, and call the country subject to him Gandaris.
A very singular usage is related of the high estimation in which the inhabitants of Kathaia hold the quality of beauty, even in the matter of beauty in horses and dogs. According to Onesikritos, they elect the handsomest person as king. [It is likewise their custom regarding children that] a child undergoes a public inspection and examination two months after birth. They determine whether it has the amount of beauty required by law, and whether it is worthy to be permitted to live. The presiding magistrate then pronounces whether it is to be allowed to live or whether it is to be put to death.
They dye their heads with various and extremely striking colours, for the purpose of improving their appearance. This custom prevails elsewhere among many of the Indians, who pay great attention to their hair and dress and the country produces colours of great beauty. In other respects the people are frugal, but are fond of ornament.
A peculiar custom is related of the Kathaioi. The bride and the husband are respectively the choice of each other, and the wives burn themselves with their deceased husbands. The reason assigned for this practice is that the women sometimes fell in love with young men, and deserted or poisoned their husbands. This law was
therefore established in order to check the practice of administering poison but neither the existence nor the origin of the law are probable facts.
It is said, that in the territory of Sopeithes there is a mountain composed of salt to be mined, sufficient for the whole of India. Valuable mines also, both of gold and silver, are situated, it is said, not far off among other mountains, according to the testimony of Gorgos, the miner of Alexander. The Indians, unacquainted with mining and smelting, are ignorant of their own wealth, and therefore traffic with great simplicity.
The dogs in the territory of Sopeithes are said to possess remarkable courage Alexander received from Sopeithes a present of one hundred and fifty of them. To test them, two were set at a lion when these were mastered, two others were set on when the battle became equal, Sopeithes ordered a man to seize one of the dogs by the leg, and to drag him away or, if he still held on, to cut off his leg. Alexander at first refused his consent to the dog&rsquos leg being cut off, as he wished to save the dog. But as Sopeithes said, &ldquoI will give you four in the place of it,&rdquo Alexander consented, and he saw the dog permit his leg to be cut slowly off, rather than loose his hold.
The direction of the march, as far as the Hydaspes, was for the most part toward the south. After that, to the Hypanis, it was more toward the east. The whole of it, however, was much nearer to the country lying at the foot of the mountains than to the plains. Alexander therefore, when he returned from the Hypanis
A tent of the primitive lepchas in North-east India.
to the Hydaspes and the station of his vessels, prepared his fleet, and set sail on the Hydaspes.
All the rivers which have been mentioned (the last of which is the Hypanis) unite in one stream, the Indus. It is said that there are altogether fifteen rivers of considerable size which flow into the Indus. Filled by these various streams, the river Indus becomes enlarged in some places to the extent of a hundred stadia, according to writers who exaggerate, or, according to a more moderate estimate, to fifty stadia at the utmost, and at the least to seven and they speak of many nations and cities about this river. It discharges itself by two mouths into the southern sea and forms the island called Patalene.
Alexander&rsquos intention was to relinquish the march toward the parts situated to the east, first, because he was prevented from crossing the Hypanis next, because he learned by experience the falsehood of the reports he had previously received to the effect that
the plains were burnt up with fire and more fit for the haunts of wild beasts than for the habitations of men. He therefore set out in this direction, relinquishing the other track, so that these parts became better known than the other.
The territory lying between the Hypanis and the Hydaspes is said to contain nine nations and five thousand cities, not less in size than Kos in Meropis (in the Aegean Sea) but the number seems to be exaggerated. We have already mentioned nearly all the nations deserving of notice which inhabit the country situated between the Indus and the Hydaspes.
Below, and next in order, are the people called Sibai and the great nations, the Malloi7 and Sydrakai (Oxydrakai). It was among the Malloi that Alexander was in danger of losing his life, from a wound he received at the capture of a small city. The Sydrakai are fabled to be allied to Dionysos (Bacchus).
Near Patalene is placed the country of Mousikanos, that of Sabos, whose capital is Sindomana, that of Portikanos, and of other princes who inhabited the country on the banks of the Indus. They were all conquered by Alexander last of all he made himself master of Patalene, which is formed by the two branches of the Indus. Aristoboulos says that these two branches are one thousand stadia distant from each other. Nearchos adds eight hundred stadia more to this number. Onesikritos reckons each side of the included island,
The north Indian tribes conquered by Alexander.
Reduced from a map by Vincent A. Smith.
which is of a triangular shape, at two thousand stadia and the breadth of the river, where it is separated into two mouths, at about two hundred stadia. He calls the island Delta, and says that it is as large as the Delta of Egypt but this is a mistake. For the Egyptian Delta is said to have a base of thirteen hundred stadia, and each of the sides is described as less than the base. In Patalene is Patala, a considerable city, from which the island has its name.
Onesikritos says that the greatest part of the coast in this quarter abounds with swamps, particularly at the mouths of the river, which is owing to the mud, the tides, and the absence of land breezes for these
parts are chiefly under the influence of winds blowing from the sea.
He expatiates also in praise of the country of Mousikanos and relates of the inhabitants what is common to other Indian tribes, that they are long-lived, and that life is protracted even to the age of 130 years (the Seres [Chinese], however, are said by some writers to be still longer lived), and that, although the country produces everything in abundance, they are temperate in their habits and healthy.
The following are their peculiarities. They have a kind of Lacedaemonian common meal, where they eat in public. Their food consists of what is taken in the chase. They make no use of gold or silver, although they have mines of these metals. Instead of slaves, they employ youths in the flower of their age, as the Kretans employ the Aphamiotai, and the Lacedaemonians the Helots. They study no science with attention except that of medicine for they consider the excessive pursuit of some arts, as that of war and the like, to be committing evil. There is no process at law except against murder and outrage, for it is not in a person&rsquos own power to escape either one or the other but as contracts are in the power of each individual, he must endure the wrong, if good faith is violated by another for a man should be cautious whom he trusts, and not disturb the city with constant lawsuits.
Such are the accounts of the persons who accompanied Alexander in his expedition.
A letter of Krateros to his mother Aristopatra is
current, which contains many other singular circumstances and differs from every other writer, particularly in saying that Alexander advanced as far as the Ganges. Krateros says that he himself saw the river and the sea monsters which it produces and his account of its magnitude, breadth, and depth far exceeds, rather than approximates, probability. It is generally agreed that the Ganges is the largest of known rivers in the three continents the next in size is the Indus the third is the Istros (Danube) and the fourth, the Nile. But different authors differ in their account of the Ganges, some assigning thirty, others three, stadia as the least breadth. Megasthenes, however, says that its ordinary width is one hundred stadia, and its least depth twenty orguiai (about 120 feet).
At the confluence of the Ganges and of another river there is situated (the city of) Palibothra, in length eighty stadia, and in breadth fifteen stadia. It is in the shape of a parallelogram, surrounded by a wooden wall pierced with openings through which arrows may be discharged. In front is a ditch, which serves the purpose of defence and of a sewer for the city. The people in whose country the city is situated are the most distinguished of all the tribes, and are called Prasioi. The king, besides his family name, has the surname of Palibothros, as the king to whom Megasthenes was sent on an embassy had the name of Sandrokottos8. The Parthians have a similar custom, for
all have the name Arsakai, although each has his peculiar name of Orodes, Phraates, or some other appellation.
The entire country on the other side of the Hypanis is said to be very fertile, but we have no accurate knowledge of it. Both because of ignorance and owing to its remote situation, everything relative to it is exaggerated or partakes of the wonderful. As, for example, the stories of myrmekes, or ants, which dig up gold of animals and men with peculiar shapes, and possessing extraordinary faculties of the longevity of the Seres, whose lives exceed the age of two hundred years. They speak also of an aristocratic form of government, consisting of five hundred counsellors, each of whom furnishes the state with an elephant.
According to Megasthenes, the largest tigers are found among the Prasioi, and are almost twice as large as lions, and of such strength that a tame one led by
four persons seized a mule by its hinder leg, overpowered it, and dragged it to him. The monkeys are larger than the largest dogs they are of a white colour, except the face, which is black. The contrary is observed in other places. Their tails are more than two cubits in length. They are very tame and are not of a mischievous disposition. They neither attack people nor do they steal.
Stones are found there of the colour of frankincense, and sweeter than figs or honey.
In some places there are serpents of two cubits in length, with membranous wings like bats. They fly at night and let fall drops of urine or sweat, which causes the skin of persons who are not on their guard to putrefy. There are also winged scorpions of great size. Ebony likewise grows there.
There are also dogs of great courage, which do not let go their hold till water is poured into their nostrils some of them have their sight distorted, and the eyes of others even fall out because of the tenaciousness of their bite. Both a lion and a bull were held fast by one of these dogs. The bull was caught by the muzzle, and died before the dog could be loosened.
In the mountainous country is a river, the Silas, on the surface of which nothing will float. Demokritos, who had travelled over a large part of Asia, disbelieves this, and Aristotle does not credit it, although atmospheres exist so rare that no bird can sustain its flight in them. Some ascending vapours also attract and absorb, as it were, whatever is flying over them, as
amber attracts chaff, and the magnet iron. Perhaps there may be a similar power in water. As these are matters belonging to physics and to the question of floating bodies, they are referred to them but at present we must turn to what follows and to the subjects more nearly relating to geography.
It is said that the Indians are divided into seven castes. The first in rank, but the smallest in number, are the philosophers. Persons who offer sacrifice, or make oblations to the dead, have the services of these persons on their private account but the kings employ them in a public capacity at the time of the Great Assembly, as it is called, when, at the beginning of the new year, all the philosophers repair to the king at the gate. At that time any useful designs which they have made relating to a prosperous season for crops and animals, and any observations they have made regarding the government of the state are publicly declared. If any one is caught giving false information three times, he is enjoined by law to maintain silence during the rest of his life but any one who has made correct observations is exempted from all contributions and tribute.
The second caste is that of husbandmen, who constitute the majority of natives and are a most mild and gentle people, as they are exempted from military service and cultivate their land free from alarm. They neither resort to cities to transact private business nor take part in public turmoils. It therefore frequently happens that at the same time, and in the same part
of the country, one body of men are in battle array and engaged in contests with the enemy, while others are ploughing or digging in security, having these soldiers to protect them. The whole of the territory belongs to the king and the people rent the land which they cultivate, besides paying over a fourth part of the produce.
The third caste consists of shepherds and hunters, who alone are permitted to hunt, to breed cattle, and to sell or let out for hire beasts of burden. In return for freeing the country from wild beasts and birds, which infest sown fields, they receive an allowance of corn from the king. They lead a wandering life and dwell in tents. No private person is allowed to keep a horse or an elephant. The possession of either one or the other is a royal privilege, and persons are appointed to take care of them.
The manner of hunting the elephant is as follows: a deep ditch is dug around a bare spot, about four or five stadia in extent, and at the place of entrance a very narrow bridge is constructed. Into the enclosure three or four of the tamest female elephants are driven. The men themselves lie in wait under cover of concealed huts. The wild elephants do not approach the stockade by day, but at night they enter the enclosure one by one when they have passed the entrance, the men secretly close it. They then introduce the strongest of the tame combatants, the drivers of which engage with the wild animals and also wear them out by starving them when the latter become exhausted by fatigue,
From Moore&rsquos The Queen&rsquos Empire, The Lippincott Co., Philadelphia.
the boldest of the drivers gets down unobserved and creeps under the belly of his own elephant. From this position he creeps beneath the belly of the wild elephant and ties his legs together when this is done, a signal is given to the tame elephants to beat those which are tied by the legs, till they fall to the ground.
After they have fallen down, they fasten the wild and tame elephants together by the neck with thongs of raw hide, and, in order that they may not be able to shake off those who are attempting to mount them, the men make cuts in the neck and put thongs of leather into these incisions, so that they submit to their bonds through pain, and therefore remain quiet.
Among the elephants which are taken, those are
rejected which are too old or too young for service the remainder are led away to the stables. They tie their feet one to another and their necks to a post firmly fastened in the ground, and then tame them by hunger. They afterwards recruit their strength with green cane and grass. Then they teach the elephants to obey some of them they train by words others they pacify by tunes, accompanied with the beating of a drum. Few of the elephants are difficult to tame, for they are naturally of a mild and gentle disposition, so as to approximate to the character of a rational animal Some have taken up their drivers, who have fallen fainting on the ground, and carried them safe out of battle. Others have fought and protected their drivers, who have crept between their fore-legs. If they have killed any of their feeders or masters in anger, they feel their loss so much that they refuse their food. through grief, and sometimes starve themselves to death.
Elephants copulate like horses, and they produce their young chiefly in the spring. That is the season for the male he is then in heat and is ferocious. At this period he discharges some fatty matter through an opening in the temples. It is the season also for the females, when this same passage is open. Eighteen months is the longest, and sixteen the shortest period. of gestation. The dam suckles her young for six years.
Many elephants live as long as men who attain to the greatest longevity, some even to the protracted age of two hundred years. . Onesikritos says that they
Elephants at work hauling lumber
live three hundred years, and under rare circumstances five hundred, and that they go with young ten years. He and other writers say that they are larger and stronger than the African elephants. They will pull down with their trunks battlements, and uproot trees, standing erect upon their hind feet.
According to Nearchos, traps are laid in the hunting grounds, at certain places where roads meet the wild elephants are forced into the toils by the tame elephants, which are stronger and are guided by a driver. They become so tame and docile that they learn even to throw a stone at a mark, to use military weapons, and to be excellent swimmers. A chariot drawn by elephants is esteemed a most important possession, and they are driven without bridles. A woman who receives from her lover an elephant as a present is greatly honoured, but this does not accord with what has been
said before, that a horse and an elephant are the property of kings alone.
This writer says that he saw skins of the myrmekes, or ants, which dig up gold, and that they are like the skins of leopards. Megasthenes, however, speaking of the myrmekes, says that among the Derdai (Dards), a populous nation of the Indians, living toward the east and among the mountains, there was a mountain plain of about three thousand stadia in circumference that under this plain there were mines containing gold, which the myrmekes, in size not less than foxes, dig up. These animals are excessively fleet, and subsist on what they catch. In winter they dig holes and pile up the earth in heaps, like moles, at the mouths of the openings. The gold-dust which these creatures obtain requires little refining. The people of the neighbourhood go after it stealthily with beasts of burden, for if this is done openly, the myrmekes fight furiously, pursuing those that run away, and if they catch them, kill them as well as the beasts. In order to prevent discovery, therefore, they put pieces of the flesh of wild beasts in different places, and when the myrmekes are dispersed in various directions, the men take away the gold-dust and dispose of it in its rude state at any price to merchants, for they are not acquainted with the mode of smelting it.
Having mentioned what Megasthenes and other writers relate of the hunters and the beasts of prey, we shall add the following particulars.
Nearchos is surprised at the multitude as well as
the noxious nature of the reptiles. At the period of the inundations they retreat from the plains to the settlements, which are not covered with water, and swarm in the houses. For this reason the inhabitants raise their beds to some height from the ground, and are sometimes compelled to abandon their dwellings, when they are infested by great multitudes of these creatures and, if a large proportion of these multitudes were not destroyed by the waters, the country would be uninhabitable. Both the minuteness of some animals and the excessive magnitude of others are causes of danger the former, because it is difficult to guard against their attacks the latter, on account of their strength, for snakes are to be seen of sixteen cubits in length. Charmers go about the country and are supposed to cure serpent bites. This seems to comprise almost their whole art of medicine, for disease is not common among them, owing to their frugal manner of life and to the absence of wine whenever diseases do occur, they are treated by the Sophistai, or wise men.
Aristoboulos says that he saw no animals of these pretended magnitudes, except a snake which was nine cubits and a span in length, and I myself saw in Egypt one that was nearly of the same size and had been brought from India. Aristoboulos also says that he saw many adders of a much smaller size, and asps and large scorpions. None of these, however, are so noxious as the slender small serpents, a span long, which are found concealed in tents, in jars, and in hedges.
A snake-charmer at Benares
Persons wounded by them bleed from every pore, suffer great pain, and die, unless they have immediate assistance but this assistance is easily obtained by means of the virtues of the Indian roots and drugs.
Few crocodiles are found in the Indus, Aristoboulos says, and these are harmless, but most of the other animals, except the hippopotamus, are the same as those found in the Nile though Onesikritos says that this animal also is found there. On account of the crocodiles, according to Aristoboulos, none of the sea fish, except the shad, the grey mullet, and dolphin, ascend the Nile from the sea but great numbers ascend the river Indus. Small crawfish go up as far as the mountains, and the larger as far as the confluence of the Indus and the Akesines.
So much then on the subject of the wild animals of India. We shall return to Megasthenes and resume our account of the castes at the point where we digressed.
After the hunters and the shepherds, follows the fourth caste, which consists, he says, of those who work at trades, retail wares, and who are employed in bodily labour. Some of these pay taxes and perform certain stated services. But the armour-makers and shipbuilders receive wages and provisions from the king, for whom only they work. The general-in-chief furnishes the soldiers with arms, and the admiral lets out ships for hire to those who undertake voyages and traffic as merchants.
The fifth caste consists of fighting men, who pass the time not employed in the field in idleness and drinking, and are maintained at the charge of the king. They are ready whenever they are wanted to march on an expedition, for they bring nothing of their own with them, except their bodies.
The sixth caste is that of the Ephoroi, or inspectors. They are intrusted with the superintendence of all that is going on, and it is their duty to make private reports to the king. The city inspectors employ the courtesans of the town as their coadjutors and the inspectors of the camp enlist the services of the women who follow it. The best and most faithful persons are appointed to the office of inspector.
The seventh caste consists of counsellors and assessors of the king. To these persons belong the offices of state, tribunals of justice, and the whole administration of affairs.
It is not permitted to contract marriage with a person of another caste, or to change from one profession
or trade to another, or for the same person to undertake several, unless he is of the caste of philosophers, when permission is given on account of his superior qualifications.
Of the magistrates, some have charge of the market, others of the city, others of the soldiery. The first supervise the rivers, measure the land, as in Egypt, and inspect the closed reservoirs, from which water is distributed by canals, so that all may have an equal use of it. These persons have charge also of the hunters, and have the power of rewarding or punishing those who merit either. They collect the taxes and superintend the occupations connected with land, as woodcutters, carpenters, workers in brass, and miners. They construct the public roads, and place a pillar at every ten stadia (2022½ English yards) to indicate the by ways and distances.
Those who have charge of the city are divided into six bodies of five each. The first has the inspection of everything relating to the mechanical arts members of the second body entertain strangers, assign lodgings to them, observe their mode of life by means of attendants whom they attach to them, and escort them out of the country on their departure. If the strangers die, they take charge of forwarding their property (to their relatives), as well as having had the care of them when sick and burying them when they die.
The third class consists of those who inquire at what time and in what manner births and deaths take place, which is done with a view to taxation, and in order that
the deaths and births of persons both of good and bad character may not be concealed.
The fourth division consists of those who have to do with sales and exchanges. They have charge of measures and of the sale of products in season, duly regulated by stamp. The same person is not allowed to deal in various kinds of articles, unless he pays a double tax.
The fifth division presides over works of artisans, and disposes of articles, as regulated by stamp. New articles are sold separately from the old, and there is a fine imposed for mixing them together.
The sixth and last division comprises those who collect
the tenth of the price of the articles sold. Death is the punishment for committing a fraud with regard to the tax.
These are the peculiar duties performed by each class, but in their collective capacity they have charge both of private and of public affairs, and of the repairs of public works, walls, markets, harbours, and temples.
Next to the magistrates of the city there is a third body of governors, to whom is entrusted the care of military affairs. This class also consists of six divisions, each composed of five persons. One division is associated with the chief naval superintendent, another with the person who has the charge of the bullock-teams, by which military engines are transported, of provisions both for the men and beasts, and of other requisites for the army. They furnish attendants, who beat drums and carry gongs and they also provide grooms, mechanics, and their assistants. They despatch the foragers for grass by the sound of the gong, and insure speed and security by means of rewards and punishments. The third division has the care of the infantry the fourth, of the cavalry the fifth, of the chariots the sixth, of the elephants. There are royal stables for the horses and elephants. There is also a royal magazine of arms for the soldier returns his arms to the armoury, and the horse and elephant to their stables. They use the elephants without bridles. The chariots are drawn on the march by oxen. The horses are led by a halter, in order that their legs may not be chafed and inflamed, nor their spirit broken, by drawing
chariots. Besides the charioteer, there are two persons who fight by his side in the chariot. With the elephant are four persons, the driver and three bowmen, who discharge arrows from his back.
All the Indians are frugal in their mode of life, and especially in camp. They do not like an unnecessary rabble and they are, therefore, well disciplined. Theft is very rare among them. Megasthenes, who was in the camp of Sandrokottos, which consisted of four
hundred thousand men, did not on any day see a report of thefts exceeding the sum of two hundred drachmai, and this among a people who have no written laws, who are ignorant even of writing, and regulate everything by memory. They are, however, happy on account of their simple manners and frugal way of life. They never drink wine, except at sacrifices. Their beverage is made from rice instead of barley, and their food consists for the most part of rice pottage. The simplicity of their laws and contracts appears from their not having many lawsuits. They have no suits respecting pledges and deposits, nor do they require witnesses or seals, but make their deposits and trust one another. Their houses and property, moreover, are unguarded. These things denote temperance and sobriety but there are others, of which no one would approve, such as their always eating alone, and their not having one common hour for their meals, but each taking it as he likes. The contrary custom is more agreeable to the habits of social and civil life.
As an exercise of the body they prefer friction (or massage) in various ways, but particularly by making use of smooth sticks of ebony, which they pass over the surface of the body9.
Their burials are simple, and the tumuli of earth low. In contrast to their parsimony in other things they indulge in ornament. They wear ornaments made of gold and precious stones, and flowered robes, and
are attended by persons following them with umbrellas for as they highly esteem beauty, attention is given to everything which can improve their looks.
They respect alike truth and virtue therefore they do not assign any privilege to the old, unless they possess superior wisdom.
They marry many wives, who are purchased from their parents, and give in exchange for them a yoke of oxen. Some marry wives to possess obedient attendants, others with a view to pleasure and numerous offspring, and the wives may prostitute themselves, unless chastity is enforced by compulsion.
No one wears a garland when sacrificing, or burning incense, or pouring out a libation. They do not stab, but strangle the victim, so that nothing mutilated, but only that which is entire, may be offered to the Deity.
A person convicted of bearing false witness suffers a mutilation of his extremities. He who has maimed another not only undergoes in return the loss of the same limb, but his hand also is cut off. If he has caused a workman to lose his hand or his eye, he is put to death.
Megasthenes says that none of the Indians employ slaves, but, according to Onesikritos, this is peculiar to the people in the territory of Mousikanos. He speaks of this as an excellent rule and mentions many others to be found in that country, as the effects of a government by good laws.
The care of the king&rsquos person is committed to women, who are also purchased from their parents. The body-guard, and the rest of the military, are stationed
outside the gates. A woman, who puts to death a king when drunk, is rewarded by becoming the wife of his successor. The sons succeed the father. The king may not sleep during the day-time, and at night he is obliged from time to time to change his bed, from fear of treachery.
Beside leaving his palace in time of war, the king leaves it also when he goes to sit in his court as a judge. He remains there all day thus occupied, not suffering himself to be interrupted even though the time arrives for attending to his person. This attention to his person consists of rubbing (or massage) with pieces of wood, and he continues to listen to the case under consideration, while the friction is performed by four massageurs who stand around him. Another occasion of the king&rsquos leaving his palace is to offer sacrifice. The third is a sort of Bacchanalian start on the chase. Crowds of women surround him, and spearmen are stationed outside of these. The road is set off with ropes a man, or even a woman, who passes within the ropes is put to death. The king is preceded by drums and gongs. He hunts in the enclosures and discharges his arrows from a high seat. Near him stand two or three armed women. When hunting in the open, he shoots his arrows from an elephant. Of the women some are in chariots, some on horses, and others on elephants they are provided with all kinds of weapons, as if they were going on a military expedition.&rsquo
Strabo next devotes a page or more to some fabulous accounts of Eastern peoples, several of them being
The Dilwara temple at Mount Abu
tribes in India, as told by Megasthenes and others. He then proceeds on the authority of Megasthenes to describe the Hindu philosophers and their remarkable powers of asceticism.
Speaking of the philosophers, Megasthenes says that those who inhabit the mountains are worshippers of Dionysos (Bacchus), and show as a proof (of the god having come among them) the wild vine, which grows only in their country, the ivy, the laurel, the myrtle, the box-tree, and other evergreens, none of which are found beyond the Euphrates, except a few in parks, which are preserved only with great care. Other Bacchanalian customs are the wearing of robes and turbans, the use of perfumes, dressing in dyed and flowered garments, and for their kings to be preceded by gongs
and drums when they leave their palaces and appear abroad. But the philosophers who live in the plains worship Herakles (Hercules).
These are fabulous stories and are contradicted by many writers, particularly what is said about the vine and wine, because a great part of Armenia and the whole of Mesopotamia and Media, as far as Persia and Karmania, are beyond the Euphrates, and yet the greater part of these countries is said to abound in vines and to produce wine.
Megasthenes again divides the philosophers into two kinds, the Brachmanes (Brahmans) and the Garmanes (Sarmanes). The Brachmanes are held in greater repute, for they agree with each other more closely in their views. Even from the time of their conception in the womb they are under the care and guardianship of learned men, who go to the mother and seem to perform some incantation for the happiness and welfare of the mother and the unborn child, but in reality they suggest prudent advice, and the mothers who listen to them most willingly are thought to be the most fortunate in their offspring. After the birth of the children, there is a succession of persons who have the care of them, and as they advance in years, masters more able and accomplished succeed to the charge.
The philosophers live in a grove in front of the city within a moderate-sized enclosure. Their diet is frugal, and they lie upon straw pallets and on skins. They abstain from eating animal food and from sexual intercourse their time is occupied in listening to grave discourse
and in imparting it to those who wish to listen to them but the hearer is not permitted to speak or cough, or even to spit on the ground otherwise, he is expelled that very day from their society, because of his lack of self-control. After living thirty-seven years in this manner, each individual retires to his own possessions and lives with less circumspection and restraint, wearing robes of fine linen and rings of gold upon the hands and in the ears, but without profuseness. They eat the flesh of animals that do not assist man in his labour, and they abstain from sharp and seasoned food. They have as many wives as they please with a view to numerous offspring, for from many wives greater advantages are derived. As they have no slaves, they require more the immediate services of their children.
The Brachmanes do not communicate their philosophy to their wives, for fear they should divulge to the profane, if they became depraved, anything which ought to be concealed or lest they should abandon their husbands in case they became good (philosophers) themselves. For no one who despises alike pleasure and pain, life and death, is willing to be subject to the authority of another and such is the character of a virtuous man and a virtuous woman.
They discourse much on death, for it is their opinion that the present life is the state of one just conceived, and that to philosophers death is birth to the true and happy life. They therefore discipline themselves much to prepare for death, and maintain that nothing
which happens to man is bad or good, for otherwise the same things would not be the occasion of sorrow to some and of joy to others, opinions being merely dreams, nor that the same persons could be affected with sorrow and joy by the same things on different occasions.
With regard to opinions on physical phenomena, they display, says Megasthenes, great simplicity, their actions being better than their reasoning, for their belief is founded chiefly on fables. On many subjects their views are the same as those of the Greeks. According to the Brachmanes, the world was created and is liable to corruption it is of a spheroidal figure the god who made and governs it pervades the whole of it the principles of all things are different, but the principle of the world&rsquos formation was water in addition to the four elements there is a fifth nature, of which the heavens and the stars are composed the earth is situated in the centre of the universe. Many other similar things they say of the principle of generation and of the soul. They weave in fables also, after the manner of Plato, on the immortality of the soul, and on the punishments in Hades, and other things of this kind. Such is the account which Megasthenes gives of the Brach-manes.
Of the Garmanes (Sarmanes), the most honourable, he says, are the Hylobioi, who live in the forests and subsist on leaves and wild fruits they are clothed with garments made of the bark of trees, and they abstain from intercourse with women and from wine. The kings hold communication with them by messengers,
A hindu ascetic in a trance
concerning the causes of things, and through them worship and supplicate the Divinity.
Second in honour to the Hylobioi are the physicians, for they apply philosophy to the study of the nature of man. They are of frugal habits, but do not live in the fields, and they subsist upon rice and meal, which every one gives when asked and every one receives them hospitably. By means of charms they are able to cause persons to have numerous offspring and to have either male or female children. They cure diseases by diet, rather than by medicinal remedies. Among the latter, the most in repute are unguents and cataplasms. All others, they suppose, are, to a large extent, improper to use.
Both this and the other class of persons practise self-denial, as well in supporting active toil as in enduring suffering, so that they will continue a whole day in the same posture without moving.
There are enchanters and diviners, versed in the rites and customs relating to the dead, and they go about villages and towns begging. There are others, more civilized and better informed, who inculcate the
vulgar opinions concerning Hades, which tend to piety and sanctity according to their ideas. Women study philosophy with some of them, but abstain from sexual intercourse.
Aristoboulos says that he saw at Taxila two sophists, or wise men, both Brachmanes the elder had his head shaved, but the younger wore his hair both were attended by disciples. When not otherwise engaged, they spent their time in the market-place. They were honoured as public counsellors, and had the liberty of taking, without payment, whatever article they liked that was exposed for sale. When any one accosted them, he poured over them oil of sesame, in such profusion that it ran down over their eyes. Of honey and sesame, which was exposed for sale in large quantity,
they took enough to make cakes, and were fed without expense.
They came up to Alexander&rsquos table and took their meal standing by, and they gave an example of their fortitude by retiring to a neighbouring spot, where the elder, falling flat on the ground, endured the sun and the rain, which had now set in, as it was the beginning of spring. The other stood on one leg, with a piece of wood three cubits in length raised in both hands when one leg was tired he changed the support to the other, and continued thus the whole day. The younger appeared to possess much more self-command for, after following the king a short distance, he soon returned to his home. Alexander sent after him, but he bade the king to come to him, if he wanted anything of him. The other accompanied the king to the last. After being with him he changed his dress and altered his mode of life, and when reproached for his conduct, answered that he had completed the forty years of discipline which he had promised to observe. Alexander made presents to his children.
Aristoboulos relates also some strange and unusual customs of the people of Taxila. Those who through poverty are unable to marry their daughters, expose them for sale in the market-place, in the flower of their age, to the sound of shell trumpets and drums, with which the war-note is given. A crowd is thus assembled. First her back is uncovered as far as the shoulders, then the parts in front, for the examination of any man who comes for this purpose. If she pleases
him, he marries her on such conditions as may be determined upon.
The dead are thrown out to be devoured by vultures. To have many wives is a custom common to these and to other nations. Aristoboulos says he heard from some persons that wives burned themselves voluntarily with their deceased husbands, and that those women who refused to submit to this custom were disgraced. The same things have been told by other writers10.
Onesikritos says that he himself was sent to converse with these wise men, because Alexander heard that they went about naked, practised mortification of the body, and were held in the highest honour that, when invited, they did not go to other persons, but commanded others to come to them if they wished to participate in their exercises or their conversation. Such being their character, Alexander did not consider it to be consistent with propriety to go to them, or to compel them to do anything contrary to their inclination or against the custom of their country he therefore despatched Onesikritos to them.
Onesikritos found, at the distance of twenty stadia from the city, fifteen men standing in different postures, sitting or lying down naked, who continued in these positions until the evening, and then returned to the city. The most difficult thing to endure was the heat of the sun, which was so powerful that no one else could endure without pain to walk on the ground at mid-day with bare feet.
A statuette of a Hindu ascetic
He conversed with Kalanos (Calanus), one of these sophists, who accompanied the king to Persia and died after the custom of his country, being placed on a pile of burning wood. When Onesikritos came, he was lying upon stones. Onesikritos approached, addressed him, and told him that he had been sent by the king for the purpose of listening to his wisdom, and that he was to give an account of his interview, and, if there were no objection, he was ready to listen to his discourse. When Kalanos saw his mantle, head-covering, and shoes, he laughed, and said: &ldquoFormerly there was abundance everywhere of corn and barley, as there is now of dust fountains then flowed with water, milk, honey, wine, and oil, but mankind by repletion and
Monolithic Carvings of the Temple at Mahabalipuram, Madras Presidency
luxury became proud and insolent. Zeus, indignant at this state of things, destroyed all and appointed a life of toil for man. On the re-appearance of temperance and other virtues, there was again an abundance of good things but at present the condition of mankind approaches satiety and insolence, and there is danger lest the things which now exist should disappear.&rdquo
When he had finished, he proposed to Onesikritos, if he wished to hear his discourse, to strip off his clothes, to lie down naked by him on the same stones, and in that manner to listen to him. While the latter was hesitating what to do, Mandanis11, who was the oldest and wisest of the sophists, reproached Kalanos for his insolence, although he censured such insolence himself. Mandanis then called Onesikritos to him and said: &ldquoI commend the king, because, although he governs so large an empire, he is nevertheless desirous of acquiring wisdom, for he is the only person I ever saw philosophizing in arms. It would be of the greatest advantage, if those who have the power of persuading the willing and of compelling the unwilling to learn temperance, were philosophers. But I am entitled to indulgence if I am not able to demonstrate the utility of philosophy, when I have to converse through the medium of three interpreters who know nothing more than the common people, except the language. To attempt it is to expect water to flow pure through mud.&rdquo
The tendency of his discourse, Onesikritos said, was this, that the best philosophy was that which liberated.
the mind from pleasure and grief that grief differed from labour in that the former was inimical, the latter friendly to men, inasmuch as men laboriously exercised their bodies in order to strengthen the mental powers, by which means they might be able to put an end to dissensions and give good counsel to all, both to the community and to individuals that at present he certainly would advise Taxiles to receive Alexander as a friend for if he entertained a person better than himself, he might be improved, but if a worse person, he might dispose the latter to good.
After this Mandanis inquired whether such doctrines were taught among the Greeks. Onesikritos answered that Pythagoras taught a similar doctrine, and enjoined his disciples to abstain from whatever has life that Sokrates and Diogenes, whose discourses he had heard, held the same opinions. Mandanis replied that in other respects he thought them wise, but that in one thing they were mistaken, namely, in preferring custom to nature, for otherwise they would not be ashamed of going naked, like himself, and of subsisting on frugal fare for the best house was that which required least repairs.
Onesikritos says also that the philosophers occupy themselves much with physical science, as prognostics, rain, drought, and diseases. When they repair to the city, they disperse themselves in the market-places if they meet any one carrying figs or bunches of grapes, they take what is offered gratuitously if it is oil, it is poured over them, and they are anointed with it.
Every wealthy house, even to the women&rsquos apartment, is open to them when they enter it, they engage in conversation and partake of the repast. Disease of the body they regard as most disgraceful, and he who catches it, prepares a pyre and destroys himself by fire. He first anoints himself, then, sitting down upon the pyre, he orders it to be lighted, remaining motionless while he is burning.
Nearchos gives the following account of the sophists. The Brachmanes engage in public affairs, and attend the kings as counsellors the rest are occupied in the study of nature. Kalanos belonged to the latter class. Women study philosophy with them, and all lead an austere life.
Of the customs of the other Indians he says that their laws, whether relating to the community or to individuals, are not committed to writing, and differ altogether from those of other people. It is the practice among some tribes, for example, to set up virgins as prizes to the victors in a trial of skill in boxing wherefore they marry without portions. Among other tribes the ground is cultivated by families and in common when the produce is collected, each takes a load sufficient for his subsistence during the year the remainder is burned, in order to have a reason for renewing their labour, and not remaining inactive.
Their weapons consist of a bow and arrows, which are three cubits in length, or a javelin, and a shield, and a broadsword three cubits long. Instead of bridles,
From an Ajanta Cave Painting. (After Griffiths.)
they use muzzles, which differ little from a halter, and the lip-straps are perforated with spikes.
Nearchos, producing proofs of the skill of the Indians in works of art, says that when they saw sponges in use among the Macedonians, they imitated them by sewing hairs, thin threads, and strings in wool after the wool was felted, they drew out the hairs, threads, and strings, and dyed it with colours. There quickly appeared also manufactures of brushes for the body, and of vessels for oil (lekythoi). They write letters, he says, upon cloth that is smoothed by being well beaten, although other authors affirm that they have no knowledge of writing. They use brass which is cast and not wrought. He does not give a reason for this, although he mentions the strange fact that if vessels of this description fall to the ground, they break like those made of clay.
The following custom also is mentioned in accounts of India, that, instead of prostrating themselves before their kings, it is usual to address them, and all persons in authority and high station, with a prayer.
The country produces precious stones, as crystal, carbuncles of all kinds, and pearls.
As an instance of the disagreement among historians,
we may adduce their different accounts of Kalanos. They all agree that he accompanied Alexander and underwent a voluntary death by fire in his presence, but they differ as to the manner and cause of his death.
Some give the following account. Kalanos accompanied the king, as the rehearser of his praises, beyond. the boundaries of India, contrary to the common Indian custom for the philosophers attend upon their kings and act as instructors in the worship of the gods, in the same manner as the Magi attend the Persian kings. When he fell sick at Pasargadai, being then attacked with disease for the first time in his life, he put himself to death at the age of seventy-three years, regardless of the entreaties of the king. A pyre was raised, and a gilded couch placed upon it. He lay down upon it, and covering himself up, was burned to death.
Others say that a chamber was constructed of wood, which was filled with the leaves of trees, and a pyre being raised upon the roof, he was shut up in it, according to his directions, after the procession, with which he had been accompanied, had arrived at the spot. He threw himself upon the pyre and was consumed like a log of wood, together with the chamber.
Megasthenes says that self-destruction is not a dogma of the philosophers, and that those who commit this act are accounted foolhardy that some, who are harsh by nature, inflict wounds upon their bodies, or cast themselves down precipices those who are impatient of pain drown themselves those who can endure
An Elephant in a royal procession at Baroda
pain strangle themselves and those of ardent tempers throw themselves into the fire. Of this last description was Kalanos, who had no control over himself and was a slave to the table of Alexander. Kalanos is censured, while Mandanis is applauded. When Alexander&rsquos messengers invited the latter to come to the son of Zeus, promising a reward if he would comply, and threatening punishment if he refused, he answered, &ldquoAlexander was not the son of Zeus, for he did not govern even the smallest portion of the earth nor did he himself desire a gift from one who was satisfied with nothing. Neither did he fear his threats, for as long as he lived India would supply him with food enough, and when he died, he should be delivered from the flesh wasted by old age and be translated to a better and purer state of existence.&rdquo Alexander commended and pardoned him.
Historians also relate that the Indians worship Zeus Ombrios (&ldquothe Rainy&rdquo), the river Ganges, and the local divinities of the country that when the king washes his hair12, a great feast is celebrated, and large presents are sent, each person displaying his wealth in competition with his neighbour.
They say that some of the gold-digging myrmekes (ants) have wings, and that the rivers, like those of Iberia, bring down gold-dust.
In processions at their festivals, many elephants are in the train, adorned with gold and silver, numerous carriages drawn by four horses and by several pairs
of oxen then follows a body of attendants in full dress, bearing vessels of gold, large kettles, and huge bowls, an orguia (about six feet) in breadth, tables, chairs of state, drinking-cups, and lavers of Indian copper, most of which are set with precious stones, as emeralds, beryls, and Indian carbuncles, and wearing garments embroidered and interwoven with gold. In the procession are also wild beasts, as buffaloes, panthers, tame lions, and a multitude of birds of variegated plumage and of fine song.
Kleitarchos speaks of four-wheeled carriages bearing trees with large leaves, from which were suspended (in cages) different kinds of tame birds, among which the orion13 was said to possess the sweetest note, but the katreus (bird of paradise?) was the most beautiful in appearance, and had the most variegated plumage. In shape it approached nearest to the peacock, but the rest of the description must be taken from Kleitarchos.
Opposed to the Brachmanes there are philosophers called Pramnai (Buddhists), contentious and fond of argument. They ridicule the Brachmanes as boasters and fools for occupying themselves with natural science and astronomy. Some of the Pramnai are called Pramnai of the Mountains, others Gymnetai, and others again are called Townsmen and Countrymen. The Pramnai of the Mountains wear deerskins and carry scrips filled with roots and drugs they profess to practise medicine by means of incantations, charms, and amulets.
The Gymnetai, as their name imports, go naked and
Hindus at the well of knowledge, Benares
live chiefly in the open air, practising asceticism for the space of thirty-seven years, as I have mentioned above. Women live in their society, but without cohabitation. The Gymnetai are held in high esteem.
The Townsmen (Pramnai) dwell in cities and wear fine linen, or also in the country, clothed in the skins of fawns or antelopes. In short, the Indians wear white garments, white linen and muslin, contrary to the accounts of those who say that they wear garments of a bright colour all of them wear long hair and long beards, plait their hair, and bind it with a fillet.
Artemidoros says that the Ganges descends from the Emoda Mountains and proceeds toward the south when it arrives at the city Ganges, it turns to the east, and
keeps this direction as far as Palibothra (Patna) and the mouth by which it discharges itself into the sea. He calls one of the rivers which flow into it Oidanes, which breeds crocodiles and dolphins. Some other circumstances besides are mentioned by him, but in so confused and negligent a manner that they are not to be regarded. To these accounts may be added that of Nikolaos Damaskenos.
This writer states that at Antioch near Daphne14, he met with ambassadors from the Indians, who were sent to Augustus Caesar. From the letter it appeared that several persons were mentioned in it, but only three, whom he says he saw, survived. The rest had died, chiefly in consequence of the length of the journey. The letter was written in Greek upon a skin the import of it was that Poros was the writer that although he was sovereign of six hundred kings, he nevertheless esteemed the friendship of Caesar highly and that he was willing to allow him a passage through his country, in whatever direction he pleased, and to assist him in any undertaking that was just.
Eight naked servants, with girdles around their waists and fragrant with perfumes, presented the gifts which were brought. The presents were a Hermes (i.e. a man) born without arms, whom I have seen, large snakes, a serpent ten cubits in length, a river
tortoise of three cubits in length, and a partridge larger than a vulture. The ambassadors were accompanied by the person, it is said, who burnt himself to death at Athens. This is the practice with persons in distress, who seek escape from existing calamities, and with others in prosperous circumstances, as was the case with this man. For as everything hitherto had succeeded with him, he thought it necessary to depart, lest some unexpected calamity should happen to him by continuing to live with a smile, therefore, naked, anointed, and with his girdle round his waist, he leaped upon the pyre. On his tomb was this inscription:&ndash
Here lies Zarmanochegas15, an Indian, a native of Bargose16, having immortalized himself according to the custom of his country.&rsquo
1. The Oxydrakai, an autonomous tribe of the Panjab, are meant.
2. Pataliputra, the modern Patna see above, vol. ii, p. 110.
3. The ruins of Taxila (Skt. Takshasila) are still to be seen near Rawal Pindi in Northern India.
5. The modern names of most of these places will be found in the description given of Alexander&rsquos Indian campaign in the third and fourth chapters of the second volume of this series.
7. The Malloi occupied a part of Multan the Oxydrakai adjoined them in the neighbourhood of Lahore.
8. Sandrokottos is Chandragupta, mentioned frequently in connection with Alexander in the second volume of the present series.
9. This Indian custom of rubbing or massage is referred to in Sanskrit writings and also is mentioned by other authors.
10. See the descriptions in the next chapter.
11. By Arrian and Plutarch he is called Dandamis.
12. On his birthday, Herodotus, 9. 110.
13. Aelian, De Animalium Natura, 17. 22.
14. An unimportant town in the pashalic of Aleppo, the modern name of which is still Antakieh. In ancient times it was distinguished either as Antioch on the Orontes, because it was situated on the left bank of that river, or as Antioch near Daphne, because of a celebrated grove of Daphne, which was consecrated to Apollo.
15. In Dio Cassius, 54. 9, he is called Zarmanos, a variation probably of Sarmanos or Garmanos.
16. Bargosa is a corruption of Barygaza mentioned in Arrian&rsquos Periplus of the Red Sea &ndash the Sanskrit Bhrigukaccha, the Modern Broach.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage