Megasthenes (Μεγασθένης, ca. 350 – 290 BCE) was a Greek ethnographer and explorer in the Hellenistic period, author of the work Indica. He was born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and became an ambassador of Seleucus I of the Seleucid dynasty possibly to Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra, India. However the exact date of his embassy is uncertain. Scholars place it before 298 BC, the date of Chandragupta's death.
Arrian explains that Megasthenes lived in Arachosia, with the satrap Sibyrtius, 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, Anabasis Alexandri
We have more definite information regarding the parts of India Megasthenes visited. He entered the subcontinent through the district of the Pentapotamia, providing a full account of the rivers there (thought to be the five affluents of the Indus that form the Punjab region), and proceeded from there by the royal road to Pataliputra. There are accounts of Megasthenes having visited Madurai (then, a bustling city and capital of the Pandyas), but he 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, which was 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 Krishna) and Dionysus (Lord Shiva or King Lord Indra), but he does not mention Buddhists, something that gives support to the theory that the latter religion was not widely known before the reign of Ashoka.
His Indica served as an important source for many later writers such as Strabo and Arrian. He describes such features as the Himalayas and the island of Sri Lanka. He also describes a caste system different from the one that exists today, which shows that the caste system may to some extent be fluid and evolve. However, it might 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, Strabo, Diodorus, and Pliny 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.
Megasthenes' Indica is the first well-known Western account of India and he is regarded as one of the founders of the study of Indian history in the West. He is also the first foreign Ambassador to be mentioned in 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, was simply comparing the ideas of the different ancient cultures.
Other articles related to "megasthenes":
... Megasthenes in Indika wrote about Gangaridai "Now this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of ... " –Megasthenes (c ... Quoted from the Epitome of Megasthenes, Indika ...
... Megasthenes wrote about the people known as Gangarides "The least breadth of the Ganges is eight miles, and its greatest twenty ... whose king possesses 1,000 horse, 700 elephants, and 60,000 foot in apparatus of war." –Megasthenes (Indica) ... of Indian Races, Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian ...
... relations were established and several Greeks, such as the historian Megasthenes, Deimakos and Dionysius resided at the Mauryan court ... state with a complex administration at Pataliputra, which, according to Megasthenes, was "surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers— (and) rivaled the ... Megasthenes describes a disciplined multitude under Chandragupta, who live simply, honestly, and do not know writing "The Indians all live frugally ...
... The beginnings of the study of India date back to Megasthenes (ca ... Based on his life in India Megasthenes composed a four-volume Indica, fragments of which still exist, which influenced classical geographers Arrian, Diodor and Strabon ... Megasthenes reported India amongst others to be dominated by the caste system and still essentially illiterate ...
... As an ambassador, he was the successor to the famous ambassador and historian Megasthenes ... sent ambassadors to Palimbothra (Pataliputra) Megasthenes to Sandrocottus, Deimachus to Allitrochades his son" ... temperate zone and habitable earth." (Strabo II,1,14) "The computations of Megasthenes and Deïmachus are more moderate, for they estimate the distance ...