Megasthenes

Megasthenes

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Megasthenes'
Start a new discussion about 'Megasthenes'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Megasthenes was a Greek ethnographer in the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

, author of the work Indica.
He was born in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

 (modern day Turkey) and became an ambassador of Seleucus I of Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 possibly to Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya , was the founder of the Maurya Empire. Chandragupta succeeded in conquering most of the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta is considered the first unifier of India and its first genuine emperor...

 in Pataliputra, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

. However the exact date of his embassy is uncertain. Scholars place it before 288 BC, the date of Chandragupta's death.

Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

 explains that Megasthenes lived in Arachosia
Arachosia
Arachosia is the Latinized form of the Greek name of an Achaemenid and Seleucid governorate in the eastern part of their respective empires, around modern-day southern Afghanistan. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Iranian land of Harauti which was between Kandahar in Afghanistan and...

, with the satrap
Satrap
Satrap was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires....

 Sibyrtius
Sibyrtius
Sibyrtius was a Greek officer from Crete in the service of Alexander the Great, who was appointed by him, on his return from India , governor of the province of Carmania. This post he shortly after exchanged for the more important satrapy of Arachosia and Gedrosia, to which he succeeded on the...

, from where he visited India:

"Megasthenes lived with Sibyrtius, satrap of Arachosia, and often speaks of his visiting Sandracottus, the king of the Indians." Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

, Anabasis Alexandri
Anabasis Alexandri
Anabasis Alexandri , the Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, is the most important source on Alexander the Great.The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. The term katabasis referred to a trip from the interior to the coast...




We have more definite information regarding the parts of India Megasthenes visited. He entered the country through the district of the Pentapotamia, providing a full account of the rivers there (thought to be the five affluents of the Indus
Indus River
The Indus River is a major river which flows through Pakistan. It also has courses through China and India.Originating in the Tibetan plateau of western China in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region, the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and...

 that form the Punjab region
Punjab region
The Punjab , also spelled Panjab |water]]s"), is a geographical region straddling the border between Pakistan and India which includes Punjab province in Pakistan and the states of the Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and some northern parts of the National Capital Territory of Delhi...

), and proceeded from there by the royal road to Pataliputra. There are accounts of Megasthenes having visited Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

 (then, a bustling city and capital of the Pandyan kingdom
Pandyan Kingdom
The Pandyan dynasty was an ancient Tamil dynasty. The Pandyas were one of the four Tamil dynasties , which ruled South India until the 15th century CE. They initially ruled their country Pandya Nadu from Korkai, a seaport on the Southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, and in later times moved...

), but appears not to have visited any other parts of India. At the beginning of his Indica, he refers to the older Indians who know about the prehistoric arrival of Dionysus and Hercules in India. A story very popular amongst the Greeks during the Alexandrian period. Particularly important are his comments on the religions of the Indians. He mentions the devotees of Heracles (Lord Krishana) and Dionysus (Lord Shiva or King Lord Indra), but he does not write a word for Buddhists, something that gives ground to the theory that the latter religion was not widely known before the reign of Asoka.

His Indica served as an important source to many later writers such as Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 and Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

. He describes such features as the Himalayas
Himalayas
The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains Sanskrit: Devanagari: हिमालय, literally "abode of snow"), usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya for short, is a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau...

 and the island of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

. He also described a caste system different from what exist today, showing that the caste system may be fluid and evolves to some extent. However, it may be that, being a foreigner, he was not adequately informed about the caste system. His description follows:
The first is formed by the collective body of the Philosophers, which in point of number is inferior to the other classes, but in point of dignity preeminent over all. The philosopher who errs in his predictions incurs censure, and then observes silence for the rest of his life.
The second caste consists of the Husbandmen, who appear to be far more numerous than the others. They devote the whole of their time to tillage; nor would an enemy coming upon a husbandman at work on his land do him any harm, for men of this class, being regarded as public benefactors, are protected from all injury.
The third caste consists of the Shepherds and in general of all herdsmen who neither settle in towns nor in villages, but live in tents.
The fourth caste consists of the Artizans. Of these some are armourers, while others make the implements that husbandmen and others find useful in their different callings. This class is not only exempted from paying taxes, but even receives maintenance from the royal exchequer.
The fifth caste is the Military. It is well organized and equipped for war, holds the second place in point of numbers, and gives itself up to idleness and amusement in the times of peace. The entire force--men-at-arms, war-horses, war-elephants, and all--are maintained at the king's expense.
The sixth caste consists of the Overseers. It is their province to inquire into and superintend all that goes on in India, and make report to the king, or, where there is not a king, to the magistrates.
The seventh caste consists of the Councillors and Assessors,--of those who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class, looking to number, but the most respected, on account of the high character and wisdom of its members; for from their ranks the advisers of the king are taken, and the treasurers, of the state, and the arbiters who settle disputes. The generals of the army also, and the chief magistrates, usually belong to this class.


Later writers such as Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

, Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, Diodorus, and Pliny
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him...

 refer to Indica in their works. Of these writers, Arrian speaks most highly of Megasthenes, while Strabo and Pliny treat him with less respect. Indica contained many legends and fabulous stories, similar to those we find in the Indica of Ctesias
Ctesias
Ctesias of Cnidus was a Greek physician and historian from Cnidus in Caria. Ctesias, who lived in the 5th century BC, was physician to Artaxerxes Mnemon, whom he accompanied in 401 BC on his expedition against his brother Cyrus the Younger....

.

Megasthenes' Indica is the first Western well known account of India. He is regarded by the Western school as one of the founders of the study of Indian history. He is also the first foreigner Ambassador to be mentioned in the Indian history.

Megasthenes also comments on the presence of pre-Socratic views among the Brahmans and Jews. Five centuries later Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromateis, may have misunderstood Megasthenes to be responding to claims of Greek primacy by admitting Greek views of physics were preceded by those of Jews and Indians. Megasthenes, like Numenius of Apamea
Numenius of Apamea
Numenius of Apamea was a Greek philosopher, who lived in Apamea in Syria and flourished during the latter half of the 2nd century AD. He was a Neopythagorean and forerunner of the Neoplatonists.- Philosophy :...

, was simply comparing the ideas of the different ancient cultures.

External links