Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 23

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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. 23. (20.) — The Indus.

Wikified by Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

The Indus, called Sindis by the natives, rises in that branch of the Caucasian range which bears the name of Paropanisus,1 and runs in an easterly direction, receiving in its course the waters of nineteen rivers. The most famous of these are the Hydaspes,2 into which four other rivers have already discharged themselves, the Cantaba,3 which receives three other rivers, the Acesinus, and the Hypasis,4 which last two are navigable themselves.

Still however, so moderate, as it were, do the waters of this river show themselves in their course, that it is never more than fifty stadia in width, nor does it ever exceed fifteen paces in depth.

Of two islands, which it forms in its course, the one, which is known as Prasiane, is of very considerable size; the other, which is smaller, is called Patale.

According to the accounts given by the most moderate writers, this river is navigable for a distance of twelve hundred and fifty miles, and after following the sun's course to the west, in some degree, discharges itself into the ocean. I will here give the distances of various places situate on the coast to the mouth of this river, in a general way, just as I find them stated, although they none of them tally with each other.

From the mouth of the Ganges to the Promontory of the Calingi and the town of Dandaguda,5 is six hundred and twenty-five miles; from thence to Tropina twelve hundred and twenty-five; from thence to the promontory of Perimula, where is held the most celebrated mart in all India, seven hundred and fifty, and from thence to the city of Patala, in the island just mentioned, six hundred and twenty miles.

The mountain races between the Indus and the Jomanes are the Cesi,6 the Cetriboni, who dwell in the woods, and after them the Megallæ, whose king possesses five hundred elephants, and an army of horse and foot, the numbers of which are unknown; then the Chrysei, the Parasangæ, and the Asmagi,7 whose territory is infested by wild tigers; these people keep in arms thirty thousand foot, three hundred elephants, and eight hundred horse. They are bounded by the river Indus, and encircled by a range of mountains and deserts for a distance of six hundred and twenty-five miles.

Below these deserts are the Dari and the Surve, and then deserts again for one hundred and eighty-seven miles, sands in general encircling these spots just as islands are surrounded by the sea. Below these deserts, again, are the Maltecoræ, the Singæ, the Marohæ, the Rarungæ, and the Morontes. These last peoples, who possess the mountains throughout the whole range of country as far as the shores of the ocean, are free, and independent of all kings, and hold numerous cities upon the declivities of the mountains.

After them come the Nareæ,8 who are bounded by Capitalia, the most lofty of all the Indian peaks: the inhabitants who dwell on the other side of it have extensive mines of gold and silver.

After these again are the Oratæ, whose king possesses only ten elephants, but a large army of foot;

next come the Suarataratæ, who live under the rule of a king as well, but breed no elephants, as they depend solely on their horse and foot;

then the Odonbeores, the Arabastree, and the Horacæ, which last inhabit a fine city fortified by trenches cut in the marshes. It is quite impossible to approach the city, except by the bridge, as the water in the trenches is full of crocodiles, an animal most insatiate for human flesh. There is another city also in their territory, which has been greatly extolled, Automula by name, situate on the sea-shore, a famous mart, lying at the point of confluence of five rivers: their king possesses sixteen hundred elephants, one hundred and fifty thousand foot, and five thousand horse. The king of the Charmæ is a less opulent potentate; he has only sixty elephants and some small remains of his former strength.

After these we come to the nation of the Pandæ,9 the only one throughout all India which is ruled by women. It is said that Hercules had but one child of the female sex, for which reason she was his especial favourite, and he bestowed upon her the principal one of these kingdoms. The sovereigns who derive their origin from this female, rule over three hundred towns, and have an army of one hundred and fifty thousand foot, and five hundred elephants.

After passing through this list of three hundred cities, we come to the Darangæ,10 the Posingæ, the Butæ, the Gogaræi, the Umbræ, the Nereæ, the Brancosi, the Nobundæ, the Cocondæ, the Nesei, the Palatitæ, the Salobriasæ, and the Olostræ, who reach up to the island of Patala, from the extremity of whose shores to the Caspian Gates it is a distance of nineteen hundred and twenty-five miles.

After passing this island, the other side of the Indus is occupied, as we know by clear and undoubted proofs, by the Athoæ, the Bolingæ, the Gallitalutæ, the Dimuri, the Megari, the Ardabæ, the Mesæ,

and after them, the Uri and the Silæ; beyond which last there are desert tracts, extending a distance of two hundred and fifty miles.

After passing these nations, we come to the Organagæ, the Abortæ, the Bassuertæ, and, after these last, deserts similar to those previously 'mentioned.

We then come to the peoples of the Sorofages, the Arbæ, the Marogomatræ, the Umbrittæ, of whom there are twelve nations, each with two cities, and the Asini, a people who dwell in three cities, their capital being Bucephala,11 which was founded around the tomb of the horse belonging to king Alexander, which bore that name.

Above these peoples there are some mountain tribes, which lie at the foot of Caucasus, the Soseadæ and the Sondræ, and,

after passing the Indus and going down its stream, the Samarabriæ, the Sambraceni, the Bisambritæ, the Orsi, the Anixeni, and the Taxilæ, with a famous city, which lies on a low but level plain,

the general name of the district being Amenda: there are four nations here, the Peucolaitæ,12 the Arsagalitæ, the Geretæ, and the Assoï.

The greater part of the geographers, in fact, do not look upon India as bounded by the river Indus, but add to it the four Satrapies of the Gedrosi,13 the Arachotæ,14 the Arii,15 and the Paropauisidæ,16 the river Cophes17 thus forming the extreme boundary of India. All these territories, however, according to other writers, are reckoned as belonging to the country of the Arii. (21.)

Many writers, too, place in India the city of Nysa,18 and the mountain of Merus, sacred to Father Bacchus; in which circumstance19 originated the story that he sprang from the thigh of Jupiter.

They also place here the nation of the Astacani, whose country abounds in the vine, the laurel, the box-tree, and all the fruits which are produced in Greece. As to those wonderful and almost fabulous stories which are related about the fertility of the soil, and the various kinds of fruits and trees, as well as wild beasts, and birds, and other sorts of animals, they shall be mentioned each in its proper place, in a future portion of this work. I shall also very shortly have to make some further mention of the four Satrapies, it being at present my wish to hasten to a description of the island of Taprobane.

But first there are some other islands of which we must make mention. Patala,20 as we have already stated, lies at the mouth of the Indus: it is of a triangular figure, and is two hundred and twenty miles in breadth. Beyond the mouth of the Indus are the islands of Chryse and Argyre,21 abounding in metals, I believe; but as to what some persons have stated, that their soil consists of gold and silver, I am not so willing to give a ready credence to that. After passing these islands we come to Crocala,22 twenty miles in breadth, and then, at twelve miles' distance from it, Bibraga,23 abounding in oysters and other bell-fish. At eight miles' distance from Bibraga we find Toralliba, and many others of no note.

Foot Notes

1 Or Hindoo Koosh. In this statement he is supported by Arrian, Strabo, Mela, and Quintus Curtius. It rises, however, a considerable distance on the north-east side of the Himalaya.

2 The modern Jhelum.

3 Some writers suppose that this must be the same as the Hydraotes, or modern Ravi River, because the latter is not otherwise found mentioned in the list given by Pliny. The name, however, leaves but little doubt that Pliny had heard of the Acesines under its Indian name of Chandabragha, and out of it has made another river.

4 The modern Sutlej.

5 Probably in the vicinity of the modern Calingapatam; none of the other places seem to be identified.

6 Ansart suggests that the Cesi may be the same race as the modern Sikhs.

7 Perhaps the people of modern Ajmere.

8 These peoples are supposed by Hardouin to have occupied the southern parts of the peninsula now known as Bisnagar, Calicut, and the Deccan, with the Malabar and Coromandel coasts.

9 Hardouin suggests that this people dwelt on the present peninsula of Guzerat.

10 None of these appear to have been identified; indeed, it appears to be next to impossible, owing to the corrupt state in which they have come down to us.

11 Built on the Hydaspes by Alexander after his victory over Porus, B. C. 326, at the spot where he had crossed the river before the battle, and in memory of his celebrated charger Bucephalus, who had expired during the battle from fatigue and old age, or from wounds. The exact site of this place is not known, but the probabilities appear in favour of Jhelum, at which place is the usual passage of the river, or else of Jellapoor, about sixteen miles lower down. 78 Probably the same that is mentioned in c. 21 of the present Book.

12 Parisot supposes that these were the inhabitants of the district which now bears the name of Pekheli.

13 Gedrosia comprehended probably the same district as is now known by the name of Mekran, or, according to some, the whole of modern Beloochistan.

14 The people of the city and district of Arachotus, the capital of Arachosia. M. Court has identified some ruins on the Argasan river, near Kandahar, on the road to Shikarpur, with those of Arachotus; but Professor Wilson considers them to be too much to the south-east. Colonel Rawlinson thinks they are those to be seen at a place called Ulan Robat. He states that the most ancient name of the city, Cophen, (mentioned by Pliny in c. 25 of the present Book), has given rise to the territorial designation. See p. 57.

15 The people of Aria, consisting of the eastern part of Khorassan, and the western and north-western part of Afghanistan. This was one of the most important of the eastern provinces or satrapies of the Persian empire.

16 This was the collective name of several peoples dwelling on the southern slopes of the Hindoo Koosh, and of the country which they inhabited which was not known by any other name. It corresponded to the eastern part of modern Afghanistan and the portion of the Punjaub lying to the west of the Indus.

17 It is supposed that the Cophes is represented by the modern river of Kabul.

18 The place here alluded to was in the district of Goryræa, at the north-western corner of the Punjaub, near the confluence of the rivers Cophen and Choaspes being probably the same place as Nagara or Dionysopolis, the modern Nagar or Naggar.

19 The word μν́ρος, in Greek, signifying a "thigh."

20 Supposed by some to have been Lower Scinde, and the vicinity of Kurrachee, with its capital Potala.

21 Ansart suggests that these may be the Laccadives. Their name means the "gold" and "silver" islands.

22 Probably an island near the mouths of the Indus.

23 Probably the same as the Bibacta of Arrian. The present name of it is Chilney Isle.

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