Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 21

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Pliny the Elder, The Natural History

John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed. London, 1855.

Chap. 21. — The Nations of India.

Wikified by Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

But we come now to nations as to which there is a more general agreement among writers. Where the chain of Emodus1 rises, the nations of India begin, which borders not only on the Eastern sea, but on the Southern as well, which we have already mentioned2 as being called the Indian Ocean.

That part which faces the east runs in a straight line a distance of eighteen hundred and seventy-five miles until it comes to a bend, at which the Indian Ocean begins. Here it takes a turn to the south, and continues to run in that direction a distance of two thousand four hundred and seventy-five miles, according to Eratosthenes, as far as the river Indus, the boundary of India on the west.3

Many authors have represented the entire length of the Indian coast as being forty days' and nights' sail, and as being, from north to south, two thousand eight hundred and fifty miles. Agrippa states its length to be three thousand three hundred miles, and its breadth, two thousand three hundred. Posidonius has given its measurement as lying from north-east to south-east, placing it opposite to Gaul, of which country he has given the measurement as lying from north-west to south-west; making the whole of India to lie due west of Gaul. Hence, as he has shewn by undoubted proofs, India lying opposite to Gaul must be refreshed by the blowing of that wind,4 and derive its salubrity there- from.

In this region, the appearance of the heavens is totally changed, and quite different is the rising of the stars; there are two summers in the year, and two harvests, while the winter intervenes between them during the time that the Etesian5 winds are blowing: during our winter too, they enjoy light breezes, and their seas are navigable.

In this country there are nations and cities which would be found to be quite innumerable, if a person should attempt to enumerate them. For it has been explored not only by the arms of Alexander the Great and of the kings who succeeded him, by Seleucus and Antiochus, who sailed round even to the Caspian and Hyrcanian Sea, and by Patrocles,6 the admiral of their fleet, but has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations.

Still, however, there is no possibility of being rigorously exact, so different are the accounts given, and often of a nature so incredible. The followers of Alexander the Great have stated in their writings, that there were no less than five thousand cities in that portion of India which they vanquished by force of arms, not one of which was smaller than that of Cos;7 that its nations were eight in number, that India forms one-third of the whole earth, and that its populations are innumerable—a thing which is certainly far from improbable, seeing that the Indians are nearly the only race of people who have never migrated from their own territories. From the time of Father Liber8 to that of Alexander the Great, one hundred and fifty-three kings of India are reckoned, extending over a period of six thousand four hundred and fifty-one years and three months.

The vast extent of their rivers is quite marvellous; it is stated that on no one day did Alexander the Great sail less than six hundred stadia9 on the Indus, and still was unable to reach its mouth in less than five months and some few days: and yet it is a well-known fact that this river is not so large as the Ganges.10 Seneca, one of our fellow-countrymen, who has written a treatise11 upon the subject of India, has given its rivers as sixty-five in number, and its nations as one hundred and eighteen. The difficulty too would be quite as great, if we were to attempt to enumerate its mountains. The chains of Emaüs, of Emodus, of Paropanisus, and of Caucasus, are all connected, the one with the other; and from their foot, the country of India runs down in the form of a vast plain, bearing a very considerable resemblance to that of Egypt.

However, that we may come to a better understanding relative to the description of these regions, we will follow in the track of Alexander the Great. Diognetus and Bæton, whose duty it was to ascertain the distances and length of his expeditions, have written that from the Caspian Gates to Hecatompylon, the city of the Parthians, the distance is the number of miles which we have already12 stated; and that from thence to Alexandria,13 of the Arii, which city was founded by the same king, the distance is five hundred and seventy-five miles; from thence to Prophthasia,14 the city of the Drangæ, one hundred and ninety-nine; from thence to the city of the Arachosii,15 five hundred and sixty-five; from thence to Ortospanum,16 one hundred and seventy-five; and from thence to the city built by Alexander,17 fifty, miles. In some copies, however, the numbers are found differently stated; and we find this last city even placed at the very foot of Mount Caucasus!

From this place to the river Cophes18 and Peucolaitis, a city of India, is two hundred and thirty-seven miles; from thence to the river Indus and the city of Taxilla19 sixty; from thence to the famous river Hydaspes20 one hundred and twenty; and from thence to the Hypasis,21 a river no less famous, two hundred and ninety miles, and three hundred and ninety paces. This last was the extreme limit of the expedition of Alexander, though he crossed the river and dedicated certain altars22 on the opposite side. The dispatches written by order of that king fully agree with the distances above stated.

The remaining distances beyond the above point were ascertained on the expedition of Seleucus Nicator. They are, to the river Sydrus,23 one hundred and sixty-eight miles; to the river Jomanes, the same; some copies, however, add to this last distance five miles; thence to the Ganges, one hundred and twelve miles; to Rhodapha, five hundred and sixty-nine—though, according to some writers, this last distance is only three hundred and twenty-five miles; to the town of Calinipaxa,24 one hundred and sixty-seven, according to some, two hundred and sixty-five; thence to the confluence of the river Jomanes25 and Ganges, six hundred and twenty-five; most writers, however, add thirteen miles to this last distance; thence to the city of Palibothra,26 four hundred and twenty-five—and thence to the mouth of the Ganges, six hundred and thirty-seven miles and a half.

The nations whom it may be not altogether inopportune to mention, after passing the Emodian Mountains, a cross range of which is called "Imaus," a word which, in the language of the natives, signifies "snowy,"27 are the Isari, the Cosyri, the Izi, and, upon the chain of mountains, the Chisiotosagi, with numerous peoples, which have the surname of Brachmanæ,28 among whom are the Maccocalingæ. There are also the rivers Prinas and Cainas,29 which last flows into the Ganges, both of them navigable streams. The nation of the Calingæ30 comes nearest to the sea, and above them are the Mandei and the Malli.31 In the territory of the last-named people is a mountain called Mallus: the boundary of this region is the river Ganges.

Foot Notes

1 The Emodi Montes (so called probably from the Indian hemâdri, or the "golden") are supposed to have formed that portion of the great lateral branch of the Indian Caucasus, the range of the Himalaya, which extends along Nepaul, and probably as far as Bhotan.

2 In c. 14 of the present Book.

3 The whole of this passage seems very intricate, and it is difficult to make sense of it. His meaning, however, is probably this: that the coast of India, running from extreme north-east to south-east, relatively to Greece, the country of Eratosthenes, is exactly opposite to the coast of Gaul, running from extreme north-west to south-west—India thus lying due west of Gaul, without any intervening land. This, it will be remembered, was the notion of Columbus, when contemplating the possibility of a western passage to India.

4 This appears also to be somewhat obscure. It is clear that if India lies to the west of Gaul, it cannot be Pliny's meaning that it is refreshed by the west wind blowing to it from Gaul. He may possibly mean that the west wind, which is so refreshing to the west of Europe, and Gaul in particular, first sweeps over India, and thus becomes productive of that salubrity which Posidonius seems to have discovered in India, but for which we look in vain at the present day. Amid, however, such multiplied chances of a corrupt text, it is impossible to assume any very definite position as to his probable meaning. The French translators offer no assistance in solving the difficulty, and Holland renders it, "This west wind which from behind Gaul bloweth upon India, is very healthsome," &c.

5 As to the Etesian winds, see 1. ii. c. 48.

6 In the geographical work which Patrocles seems to have published, he is supposed to have given some account of the countries bordering on the Caspian Sea, and there is little doubt that, like other writers of that period, he regarded that sea as a gulf or inlet of the Septentrional Ocean, and probably maintained the possibility of sailing thither by sea from the Indian Ocean. This statement, however, seems to have been strangely misinterpreted by Pliny in his present assertion, that Patrocles had himself accomplished this circumnavigation.

7 See B. v. c. 36.

8 Or Bacchus.

9 Or seventy-five miles.

10 This is the statement of Arrian.

11 Among the lost works of that philosopher.

12 In c. 17 of the present Book.

13 See c. 25 of the present Book.

14 See c. 25 of the present Book.

15 See c. 25 of the present Book.

16 A town placed by Strabo on the confines of Bactriana, and by Ptolemy in the county of the Paropanisidæ.

17 See c. 25 of the present Book.

18 See c. 24 of the present Book.

19 The present Attok, according to D'Anville.

20 One of the principal rivers of that part of India known as the Punjaub. It rises in the north-western Himalayah mountains in Kashmere, and after flowing nearly south, falls into the Acesines or Chenab. Its present most usual name is the Jhelum.

21 The most eastern, and most important of the five rivers which water the country of the Punjaub. Rising in the western Himalaya, it flows in two principal branches, in a course nearly south-west (under the names respectively of Vipasa and Satadru), which it retains till it falls into the Indus at Mittimkote. It is best known, however, by its modern name of Sutlej, probably a corrupt form of the Sanscrit Satadru.

22 See c. 18 of the present Book. The altars there spoken of, as consecrated by Alexander the Great, appear to have been erected in Sogdiana, whereas those here mentioned were dedicated in the Indian territory.

23 It does not appear that this river has been identified. In most of the editions it is called Hesidrus; but, as Sillig observes, there was a town of India, near the Indus, called Sydros, which probably received its name from this river.

24 It has been suggested that this place is the modern Kanouge, on the Ganges.

25 The modern Jumna. It must be borne in mind by the reader, that the numbers given in this Chapter vary considerably in the different MSS.

26 See the next Chapter.

27 The Sanscrit for "snowy" is "himrarat." The name of Emodus, combined with Imaiis, seems here to be a description of the knot of mountains formed by the intersections of the Himalaya, the Hindoo Koosh, and the Bolor range; the latter having been for many ages the boundary between the empires of China and Turkistan. It is pretty clear, that, like Ptolemy, Pliny imagined that the Imaiis ran from south to north; but it seems hardly necessary, in this instance at least, to give to the word "promontorium" the meaning attached to our word "promontory," and to suppose that he implies that the range of the Imaüs runs down to the verge of the eastern ocean.

28 A name evidently given to numerous tribes of India, from the circumstance that Alexander and his followers found it borne by the Brahmins or priestly caste of the Hindoos.

29 Still called the Cane, a navigable river of India within the Ganges, falling into the Ganges, according to Arrian as well as Pliny, though in reality it falls into the Jumna.

30 The Calingæ, who are further mentioned in the next Chapter, probably dwelt in the vicinity of the promontory of Calingon, upon which was the town of Dandaguda, mentioned in c. 23 of the present Book. This promontory and city are usually identified with those of Calinapatnam, about half-way between the rivers Mahanuddy and Godavery; and the territory of the Calingæ seems to correspond pretty nearly to the district of Circars, lying along the coast of Orissa.

31 By the Malli, Parisot is of opinion that the people of Moultan are meant.