Greeks In India Before Alexander? (Part 2)

(NovoScriptorium: Even though we do not fully agree with all the information and argument of this article, we feel that our readers will find it quite interesting, even amusing)


A.Sindhu –Hindu _ India

2. Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu, the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.

B.The Great Persian Empire

3. King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the vale of Peshawar . By about 516 B.C., Darius son of Hystaspes annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth satrapy of the Persian Empire . The annexed areas included parts of Punjab . This became the twentieth satrapy, the richest and most populous Satrapy of the Persian Empire . In the inscription at Nakshi–e-Rustam(486.BCE) a reference is made to the tributes paid to Darius by Hidush and others vassal such as Ionians, Spartans, Bactrians, Parthians, and Medes.

4. Thus, the Indus region became the easternmost boundary of the vast Persian Empire, which sprawled across all of western Asia to include, after 546 B.C., most of the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor. The skills and labor of all of Persia ‘s subjects, Greeks included, were employed in imperial building projects. Many Greeks served as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. Indian troops formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Indian troopers were also a part of the army that faced Alexander at Gaugamela in 331 B.C.

The Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery. The requirements of war, administration and commerce in the far-flung Persian Empire provided numerous occasions for the Indians and Greeks to work together. Most of such interactions may have been inconsequential; but it is likely some genuine exchanges of ideas might have taken place.

C.Scholars and Historians

– Hekataios and Herodotus

5. The term Indos(India) first appeared in Greek literature in about 5th century B.C. in the works of Hekataios of Miletos (B.C. 549–486) and Herodotus of Halikarnassos (484-425 B. C.), The word Inder or India, in Greek and in Persian, originally referred only to the Indus region, which then was under the Persian Empire. Herodotus, however, used the term in a wider sense to denote the whole country and classical Greek usage followed his example.

6. Long before Alexander’s march into India, Greek writers, such as Hekataeos and Herodotus, possessed some information about India . This information however was not gained directly by visit to India or by study of its texts. Most of what the Greeks knew of India came to them by word of mouth, percolated through Persia , from its soldiers, merchants and officials in the Persian Empire . That perhaps explains why the early Greek writings of India look like a strange concoction of facts and fantasy. Hekataeos mentions the river Indus, Herodotus speaks of the Gandarioi race, perhaps inhabitants of the Peshawar valley, whose town was Kaspapyros( Peshawar ?). Herodotus mentions the name of one of the deities, worshipped in common by the Vedic Indians and the Persian Zoroastrians, namely Mitra; but he takes Mitra for a female deity. The knowledge so gained through Persia was also the source for those few Indian names that appear in the surviving remnants of Hekataio’s Geography (ca. 500 B.C.) Unfortunately, his work is now in fragments and it is nearly impossible to tell precisely what Hekataios did know about India . Like his predecessor, Herodotus also did not visit India , but he was a tireless collector of anecdotes from many sources

– Ktesias (405-397 B.C.)

7. The last of those Greeks, before Alexander, who wrote about India, was Ktesias of Knidos. He had a better access to information on India than his predecessors did. Ktesias was a medical doctor by profession; he served for eight years (405-397 B.C.) as the personal physician to the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. . He did not claim he visited India . He may have had occasions to meet Indians or Persian officials who served in the empire’s Indian territories. Even from the vantage point of the Persian court at Susa , India still seemed a strange and virtually unknown country. Upon his return to Greece , Ktesias wrote a book called Persika, covering the entire history of the Near East from its beginnings down to his own time, as well as a much smaller work called Indika, about India . With respect to India , the information Ktesias has to offer is occasionally accurate, though more often exaggerated. He did take care, nonetheless, to distinguish between things he had himself seen and the information he acquired by hearsay.

Both his works have disappeared; but there are a number of citations, together with extensive excerpts made by the Byzantine Photios – Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century.

8. What the early Greeks knew about India did not amount to much and it was not accurate either. Nevertheless, the writings of Hekataios, Herodotus and Ktesias did not only evoke some awareness of India ‘s existence among the educated Greek but also added a very important chapter to cultural history of India and Greece . Presumably, these histories had some effect on the Greek intellectual life. Herodotus explained in his works how foreign contacts might produce a relativistic point of view.

(End of Part 2)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: