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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Pliny: Natural History 6.96-111. (On India)


XXVI [96] But before we go on to a detailed account of these countries, it is suitable to indicate the facts reported by Onesicritus after sailing with the fleet of Alexander round from India to the interior of Farsistan, and quite recently related in detail by Juba, and then to state the sea-route that has been ascertained in recent times and is followed at the present day.

The record of the voyage of Onesicritus and Nearchus does not include the names of the official stopping places nor the distances travelled; and to begin with, no sufficiently clear account is given of the position of the city of Timbertown, founded by Alexander, which was their starting point, nor is the river on which it stood indicated. Nevertheless they give the following places worth mentioning: [97] the town of Arbis, founded by Nearchus during his voyage, and the river Arbium, navigable by ships, and an island opposite to Arbis, 81 miles distant; Alexandria, founded in the territory of this race by Leonnatus at the order of Alexander; Argenus, with a serviceable harbour; the navigable river Tonberum, in the neighbourhood of which are the Parirae; then the Fish-eaters, covering so wide a space of coast that it took 30 days to sail past them; the island a called the Isle of the Sun and also the Couch of the Nymphs, the soil of which is red in colour, and on which all animals without exception die, from causes not ascertained; [98] the Ori tribe; the Carmanian river Hyctanis, affording harbourage and producing gold. The travellers noted that it was here that the Great and Little Bear first became visible, and that Arcturus is not visible at all on some nights and never all night long; that the rule of the Persian kings extended to this point; and that copper, iron, arsenic and red-lead are mined here. Next there is the Cape of Carmania, from which it is a passage of five miles to cross to the Arabian tribe of the Macae on the opposite coast; three islands, of which only Oracta, 25 miles from the mainland, has a supply of fresh water and is inhabited; [99] four islands quite in the gulf, off the coast of Farsistan -- in the neighbourhood of these the fleet was terrified by sea-serpents 30 ft. long that swam alongside -- ; the island of Aradus and that of Gauratae, both inhabited by the Gyani tribe; at the middle of the Persian Gulf the river Hyperis, navigable for merchant vessels; the river Sitioganus, up which it is seven days' voyage to Pasargadae; the navigable river Phrystimus; and an island that has no name. The river Granis, carrying vessels of moderate size, flows through Susiane, and on its right bank dwell the Deximontani, who manafacture asphalt; the river Zarotis, the mouth of which is difficult to navigate except for those familiar with it; and two small islands. Then comes a shallow stretch of water like a marsh which nevertheless is navigable by way of certain channels; the mouth of the Euphrates; a lake formed in the neighbourhood of Charax by the Eulaeus and the Tigris; then by the Tigris they reached Susa. [100] There after three months' voyaging they found Alexander celebrating a festival; it was seven months since he had left them at Patala. Such was the route followed by the fleet of Alexander; but subsequently it was thought that the safest line is to start from Ras Fartak in Arabia with a west wind (the native name for which in those parts is Hippalus) and make for Patale, the distance being reckoned as 1332 miles. [101] The following period considered it a shorter and safer route to start from the same cape and steer for the Indian harbour of Sigerus, band for a long time this was the course followed, until a merchant discovered a shorter route, and the desire for gain brought India nearer; indeed, the voyage is made every year, with companies of archers on board, because these seas used to be very greatly infested by pirates.

And it will not be amiss to set out the whole of the voyage from Egypt, now that reliable knowledge of it is for the first time accessible. It is an important subject, in view of the fact that in no year does India absorb less than fifty million sesterces of our empire's wealth, sending back merchandise to be sold with us at a hundred times its prime cost. [102] Two miles from Alexandria is the town of Juliopolis. The voyage up the Nile from there to Keft is 309 miles, and takes 12 days when the midsummer trade-winds are blowing. From Keft the journey is made with camels, stations being placed at intervals for the purpose of watering; the first, a stage of 22 miles, is called Hydreuma; the second is in the mountains, a day's journey on; [103] the third at a second place named Hydreuma, 85 miles from Keft; the next is in the mountains; next we come to Apollo's Hydreuma, 184 miles from Keft; again a station in the mountains ; then we get to New Hydreuma, 230 miles from Keft. There is also another old Hydreuma known by the name of Trogodyticum, where a guard is stationed on outpost duty at a caravanserai accommodating two thousand travellers; it is seven miles from New Hydreuma. Then comes the town of Berenice where there is a harbour on the Red Sea, 257 miles from Keft. But as the greater part of the journey is done by night because of the heat and the days are spent at stations, the whole journey from Keft to Berenice takes twelve days. [104] Travelling by sea begins at midsummer before the dogstar rises or immediately after its rising, and it takes about thirty days to reach the Arabian port of Cell a or Caned in the frankincense-produeing district. There is also a third port named Mokha, which is not called at on the voyage to India, and is only used by merchants trading, in frankincense and Arabian perfumes. Inland there is a town, the residence of the king of the district, called Sapphar, and another called Save. But the most advantageous way of sailing to India is to set out. from Cella; from that port it is a 40 days' voyage, if the Hippalus is blowing, to the first trading station in India, Cranganore not a desirable port of call, on account of the neighbouringpirates, who occupy a place called Nitriae, nor is it specially rich in articles of merchandise; and furthermore the roadstead for shipping is a long way from the land, and cargoes have to be brought in and carried out in boats. The king of Muziris, at the date of publication, was Caelobothras. [105] There is another more serviceable port, belonging to the Neacyndi tribe, called Porakad; this is where king Pandion reigned, his capital being a town in the interior a long way from the port, called Madura; while the district from which pepper is conveyed to Becare in canoes made of hollowed tree-trunks is called Cottonara. But all these names of tribes and ports or towns are to be found in none of the previous writers, which seems to show that the local conditions of the places are changing. [106] Travellers set sail from India on the return voyage at the beginning of the Egyptian month Tybis, which is our December, or at all events before the sixth day of the Egyptian Mechir, which works out at before January 13 in our calendar -- so making it possible to return home in the same year. They set sail from India with a southeast winds and after entering the Red Sea, continue the voyage with a south-west or south wind.

We will now return to our main subject.

XXVII [107] Nearchus writes that the length of the coast of Carmania is 1250 miles, anct the distance from its beginning to the river Sabis 100 miles; and that from that river to the river Ananis, a space of 25 miles, there' are vineyards and arable land.' The district is called Armysia; and towns of Carmania are Zetis and Alexandria.

XXVIII. Moreover in this region the sea then makes a double inroad, into the land; the name given to it by our countrymen is the Red Sea, while the Greeks call it Erythrum, from King Brythras, or, according to others, in the belief that the water is given a red colour by the reflexion of the sun, while others say that the name comes from the sand and the soil, and others that it is due to the actual water being naturally of such a character. [108] However, this sea is divided into two bays. The one to the east is called the Persian Gulf, and according to the report of Eratosthenes measures 2500 miles round. Opposite is Arabia, with a coastline 1500 miles in length, and on its other side Arabia is encompassed by the second bay, named the Arabian Gulf; the ocean flowing into this is called the Azanian Sea. The width of the Persian Gulf at its entrance some make five and others four miles ; the distance in a straight line from the entrance to the innermost part of the Gulf has been ascertained to be nearly 1125 miles, and its outline has been found to be in the likeness of a human head. [109] Onesicritus and Nearchus write that from the river Indus to the Persian Gulf and from there to Babylon by the marshes'of the Euphrates is a voyage of 1700 miles.

In an angle of Carmania are the Turtle-eaters, who roof their houses with the shells and live on the flesh of turtles. These people inhabit the promontory, that is reached next after leaving the river Arabis. They are covered all over, except their heads, with shaggy, hair, and they wear clothes made of the skins of fishes. [110] After the district belonging to these people, in the direction of India there is said to be an uninhabited island, Cascandrus, 50 miles out at sea, and next to it, with a strait flowing between, Stoidis, with a valuable pearl-fishery. After the promontory the Carmanians are adjoined by the Harmozaei, though some authorities place the Arbii between them, stretching all along the coast for 421 miles. Here are the Port of the Macedonians and the Altars of Alexander situated on a promontory; the rivers are Siccanas and then the Dratinus and the Salsum. [111] After the Salsum is Cape Themisteas, and the inhabited island of Aphrodisias. Here is the beginning of Farsistan, at the river Tab, which separates Farsistan from Elymais. Off the coast of Farsistan lie the islands of Psilos, Cassandra and Aracha, the last with an extremely lofty mountain, and consecrated to Neptune. Farsistan itself occupies 550 miles of coast, facing west. It is wealthy even to the point of luxury. It has long ago changed its name to Parthia.


Source:

http://www.und.ac.za/und/classics/india/pliny.htm


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