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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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(Vol. VII) Strabo

 p43  Book XV, Chapter 1

(sections 26‑38)

26 (696) But I must tell also the several details concerning the rivers, so far as they are useful for the purposes of geography and so far as I have learned their history. For the rivers in particular, being a kind of natural boundary for both the size and the shape of countries, are very convenient for the purposes of the whole of our present subject; 697 but the Nile and the Indian rivers offer a certain advantage as compared with the rest because of the fact that apart from them the countries are uninhabitable, being at the same time navigable and tillable, and that they can neither be travelled over otherwise nor inhabited at all. Now as for the rivers worthy of mention that flow down into the Indus, I shall tell their history, as also that of the countries traversed by them; but as for the rest there is more ignorance than knowledge. For Alexander, who more than any other uncovered these regions, at the outset, when those who had treacherously slain Dareius set out to cause the revolt of Bactriana, resolved that it would be most desirable to pursue and overthrow them.  p45 He therefore approached India through Ariana, and, leaving India on the right, crossed over Mt. Paropamisus to the northerly parts and Bactriana; and, having subdued everything there that was subject to the Persians and still more, he then forthwith reached out for India too, since many men​31 had been describing it to him, though not clearly. Accordingly he returned, passing over the same mountains by other and shorter roads, keeping India on the left, and then turned immediately towards India and its western boundaries and the Cophes River and the Choaspes, which latter empties into the Cophes River near a city Plemyrium, after flowing past Gorys, another city, and flowing forth through both Bandobenê and Gandaritis. He learned by inquiry that the mountainous and northerly part was the most habitable and fruitful, but that the southerly part was partly without water and partly washed by rivers and utterly hot, more suitable for wild beasts than for human beings. Accordingly, he set out to acquire first the part that was commended to him, at the same time considering that the rivers which it was necessary to cross, since they flow transversely and cut through the country which he meant to traverse, could more easily be crossed near their sources. At the same time he also heard that several rivers flowed together into one stream, and that this was always still more the case the farther forward they advanced, so that the country was more difficult to cross, especially in the event of lack of boats. Afraid of this, therefore, he crossed the Cophes and began to subdue all the mountainous country that faced towards the east.

 p47  27 After the Cophes he went to the Indus, then to the Hydaspes, then to the Acesines and the Hyarotis, and last to the Hypanis; for he was prevented from advancing farther, partly through observance of certain oracles and partly because he was forced by his army, which had already been worn out by its labours, though they suffered most of all from the waters, being continually drenched with rain. Of the eastern parts of India, then, there have become known to us all those parts which lie this side the Hypanis, 698 and also any parts beyond the Hypanis of which an account has been added by those who, after Alexander, advanced beyond the Hypanis, as far as the Ganges and Palibothra. Now after the Cophes follows the Indus; and the region between these rivers is occupied by Astaceni, Masiani, Nysaei, and Hypasii; and then one comes to the country of Assacanus, where is a city Mesoga, the royal seat of the country; and now near the Indus again, one comes to another city, Peucolaïtis, near which a bridge that had already been built afforded a passage for the army.

28 Between the Indus and the Hydaspes lies Taxila, a city which is large and has most excellent laws; and the country that lies round it is spacious and very fertile, immediately bordering also on the plains. Both the inhabitants and their king, Taxiles, received Alexander in a kindly way; and they obtained from Alexander more gifts than they themselves presented, so that the Macedonians were envious and said that Alexander did not have anyone, as it seemed, on whom to bestow his benefactions until he crossed the Indus. Some say that this country is larger than Aegypt. Above this country  p49 in the mountains lies the country of Abisarus, who, according to the ambassadors that came from him, kept two serpents, one eighty cubits in length and another one hundred and forty, according to Onesicritus, who cannot so properly be called arch-pilot of Alexander as of things that are incredible; for though all the followers of Alexander preferred to accept the marvellous rather than the true, Onesicritus seems to surpass all those followers of his in the telling of prodigies. However, he tells some things that are both plausible and worthy of mention, and therefore they are not passed by in silence even by one who disbelieves them. At any rate, others too speak of the serpents, saying that they are caught in the Emodi mountains and kept in caves.

29 Between the Hydaspes and the Acesines is, first, the country of Porus, extensive and fertile, containing about three hundred cities; secondly, the forest near the Emodi mountains, from which Alexander cut, and brought down on the Hydaspes, a large quantity of fir, pine, cedar, and other logs of all kinds fit for shipbuilding, from which he built a fleet on the Hydaspes near the cities founded by him on either side of the river where he crossed and conquered Porus. Of these cities, he named one Bucephalia, after Bucephalas, the horse which fell during the battle with Porus (the horse was called Bucephalas​32 from the width of his forehead; he was an excellent war-horse and was always used by Alexander in his fights); 699 and he called the other Nicaea, after his victory. In the forest above-mentioned both the number and the size of the long-tailed  p51 apes​33 are alike described as so extraordinary that once the Macedonians, seeing many of these standing as in front-line array on some bare hills (for this animal is very human-like in mentality, no less so than the elephant), got the impression that they were an army of men; and they actually set out to attack them as human enemies, but on learning the truth from Taxiles, who was then with the king, desisted. The capture of the animal is effected in two ways. It is an imitative animal and takes to flight up the trees. Now the hunters, when they see an ape seated on a tree, place in sight a bowl containing water and rub their own eyes with it; and then they put down a bowl of bird-lime instead of the water, go away, and lie in wait at a distance; and when the animal leaps down and besmears itself with the bird-lime, and when, upon winking, its eyelids are shut together, the hunters approach and take it alive. Now this is one way, but there is another. They put on baggy breeches like trousers and then go away, leaving behind them others that are shaggy and smeared inside with bird-lime; and when the animals put these on, they are easily captured.​a

30 Some put both Cathaea and the country of Sopeithes, one of the provincial chiefs, between these two rivers,​34 but others on the far side of the Acesines and the Hyarotis, as bordering on the country of the second Porus, who was a cousin​35 of the Porus captured by Alexander. The country that was subject  p53 to him is called Gandaris. As for Cathaea, a most novel regard for beauty there is reported; I mean that it is prized in an exceptional manner, as, for example, for the beauty of its horses and dogs; and, in fact, Onesicritus says that they choose the handsomest person as king, and that a child is judged in public after it is two months old as to whether it has the beauty of form required by law and is worthy to live or not; and that when it is judged by the appointed magistrate it is allowed to live or is put to death; and that the men dye their beards with many most florid colours for the sole reason that they wish to beautify themselves; and that this practice is carefully followed by numerous other Indian peoples also (for the country produces marvellous colours, he says), who dye both their hair and their garments; and that the people, though shabby in every other way, are fond of adornment. The following too is reported as a custom peculiar to the Cathaeans: the groom and bride choose one another themselves, and wives are burned up with their deceased husbands for a reason of this kind — that they sometimes fell in love with young men 700 and deserted their husbands or poisoned them; and therefore the Cathaeans established this as a law, thinking that they would put a stop to the poisoning.​b However, the law is not stated in a plausible manner, nor the cause of it either. It is said that in the country of Sopeithes there is a mountain of mineral salt sufficient for the whole of India. And gold and silver mines are reported in other mountains not far away, excellent mines, as has been plainly shown by Gorgus the mining expert. But since the Indians are inexperienced in mining and  p55 smelting, they also do not know what their resources are, and handle the business in a rather simple manner.

31 Writers narrate also the excellent qualities of the dogs in the country of Sopeithes. They say, at any rate, that Alexander received one hundred and fifty dogs from Sopeithes; and that, to prove them, two were let loose to attack a lion, and when they were being over­powered, two others were let loose upon him, and that then, the match having now become equal, Sopeithes bade someone to take one of the dogs by the leg and pull him away, and if the dog did not yield to cut off his leg; and that Alexander would not consent to cutting off the dog's leg at first, wishing to spare the dog, but consented when Sopeithes said that he would give him four instead; and that the dog suffered the cutting off of his leg by slow amputation before he let go his grip.

32 Now the march to the Hydaspes was for the most part towards the south, but from there to the Hypanis it was more towards the east, and as a whole it kept to the foothills more than to the plains. At all events, Alexander, when he returned from the Hypanis to the Hydaspes and the naval station, proceeded to make ready his fleet and then to set sail on the Hydaspes. All the above-mentioned rivers, last of all the Hypanis, unite in one river, the Indus; and it is said that the Indus is joined by fifteen noteworthy rivers all told, and that after being filled so full by all that it is widened in some places, according to writers who are immoderate, even to the extent of one hundred stadia, but, according to the more  p57 moderate, fifty at the most and seven at the least (and there are many tribes and cities all about it),​36 it then empties into the southern sea by two mouths and forms the island called Patalenê. Alexander conceived this purpose​37 after dismissing from his mind the parts towards the east; first, because he had been prevented from crossing the Hypanis, and, secondly, because he had learned by experience the falsity of the report which had preoccupied his mind, that the parts in the plains were burning hot and more habitable for wild beasts than for a human race;​38 and therefore he set out for these parts, dismissing those others, so that the former became better known than those others.

33 Now the country between the Hypanis and the Hydaspes is said to contain nine tribes, 701 and also cities to the number of five thousand — cities no smaller than Cos Meropis,​39 though the number stated seems to be excessive. And as for the country between the Indus and the Hydaspes, I have stated approximately the peoples worthy of mention by which it is inhabited;​40 and below them, next in order, are the people called Sibae, whom I have mentioned before,​41 and the Malli and the Sydracae, large tribes. It was in the country of the Malli that Alexander was in peril of death, being wounded in the capture of some small city; and as for the Sydracae, I have already spoken of them as mythically akin to Dionysus.​42 Near Patalenê, they say, one comes at once to the country of Musicanus, and to that of Sabus, where is Sindomana,  p59 and also to the country of Porticanus and others, who, one and all, were conquered by Alexander, these peoples dwelling along the river-lands of the Indus; but last of all to Patalenê, a country formed by the Indus, which branches into two mouths. Now Aristobulus says that these mouths are one thousand stadia distant from one another, but Nearchus adds eight hundred; and Onesicritus reckons each of the two sides of the included island, which is triangular in shape, at two thousand, and the width of the river, where it branches into the mouths, at about two hundred; and he calls the island Delta, a statement which is not true. For it is said that the Aegyptian Delta has a base of one thousand three hundred stadia, though each of the two sides is shorter than the base. In Patalenê there is a noteworthy city, Patala, after which the island is named.

34 Onesicritus says that most of the seaboard in this part of the world abounds in shoals, particularly at the mouths of the rivers, on account of the silt and the overflows and also of the fact that no breezes blow from the land, and that this region is subject for the most part to winds that blow from the high sea. He describes also the country of Musicanus, lauding it rather at length for things of which some are reported as common also to other Indians, as, for example, their length of life, thirty years beyond one hundred (and indeed some say  p61 that the Seres live still longer than this), and their healthfulness, and simple diet, even though their country has an abundance of everything. Peculiar to them is the fact that they have a kind of Laconian common mess,​43 where they eat in public and use as food the meat of animals taken in the chase; and that they do not use gold or silver, although they have mines; and that instead of slaves they use young men in the vigour of life, as the Cretans use the Aphamiotae and the Laconians the Helots;​44 and that they make no accurate study of the sciences except that of medicine, for they regard too much training in some of them as wickedness; 702 for example, military science and the like; and that they have no process at law except for murder and outrage, for it is not in one's power to avoid suffering these, whereas the content of contracts is in the power of each man himself, so that he is required to endure it if anyone breaks faith with him, and also to consider carefully who should be trusted and not to fill the city with lawsuits. This is the account of those who made the expedition with Alexander.

35 But there has also been published a letter of Craterus to his mother Aristopatra, which alleges many other strange things and agrees with no one else, particularly in saying that Alexander advanced as far as the Ganges. And he says that he himself saw the river and monsters on its banks, and a magnitude both of width and of depth which is remote from credibility rather than near it. Indeed, it is sufficiently agreed that the Ganges is the largest of known rivers on the three continents, and after it the Indus, and third and fourth the Ister and the  p63 Nile; but the several details concerning it are stated differently by different writers, some putting its minimum breadth at thirty stadia and others even at three, whereas Megasthenes says that when its breadth is medium it widens even to one hundred stadia​45 and that its least depth is twenty fathoms.46

36 It is said that Palibothra lies at the confluence of the Ganges and the other river,​47 a city eighty stadia in length and fifteen in breadth, in the shape of a parallelogram, and surrounded by a wooden wall that is perforated so that arrows can be shot through the holes; and that in front of the wall lies a trench used both for defence and as a receptacle of the sewage that flows from the city; and that the tribe of people amongst whom this city is situated is called the Prasii and is far superior to all the rest; and that the reigning king must be surnamed after the city, being called Palibothrus in addition to his own family name, as, for example, King Sandrocottus to whom Megasthenes was sent on an embassy.​48 Such is also the custom among the Parthians; for all are called Arsaces, although personally one king is called Orodes, another Phraates, and another something else.

37 Writers are agreed that the country as a whole on the far side of the Hypanis is best; but they do not describe it accurately, and because of their ignorance and of its remoteness magnify all things  p65 or make them more marvellous.​49 For example, the stories of the ants that mine gold​50 and of other creatures, both beasts and human beings, which are of peculiar form and in respect to certain natural powers have undergone complete changes, as, for example, the Seres, who, they say, are long-lived, and prolong their lives even beyond two hundred years. They tell also of a kind of aristocratic order of government that was composed outright of five thousand counsellors, each of whom furnishes the new commonwealth with an elephant. 703 Megasthenes says that the largest tigers are found among the Prasii, even nearly twice as large as lions, and so powerful that a tame one, though being led by four men, seized​51 a mule by the hind leg and by force drew the mule to itself; and that the long-tailed apes are larger than the largest dogs, are white except for their faces, which are black (the contrary is the case elsewhere), that their tails are more than two cubits long, and that they are very tame and not malicious as regards attacks and thefts; and that stones are dug up the colour of frankincense and sweeter than figs or honey; and that in other places there are reptiles two cubits long with membranous wings like bats, and that they too fly by night, discharging drops of urine, or also of sweat, which putrefy the skin of anyone who is not on his guard; and that there are winged scorpions of surpassing size; and that ebony is also produced; and that there are also brave dogs, which do not let go the object bitten till water is poured down into their nostrils;  p67 and that some bite so vehemently that their eyes become distorted and sometimes actually fall out; and that even a lion was held fast by a dog, and also a bull, and that the bull was actually killed, being over­powered through the dog's hold on his nose before he could be released.

38 Megasthenes goes on to say that in the mountainous country there is a River Silas on which nothing floats; that Democritus, however, disbelieves this, inasmuch as he had wandered over much of Asia.​52 But Aristotle also disbelieves it, although there are atmospheres so thin that no winged creature can fly in them. Besides, certain rising vapours tend to attract to themselves and "gulp down," as it were, whatever flies over them, as amber does with chaff and the magnet with iron; and perhaps there might also be natural powers of this kind in water. Now these things border, in a way, on natural philosophy and on the science of floating bodies, and therefore should be investigated there; but in this treatise I must still add the following, and whatever else is closer to the province of geography.

The Editor's Notes:

31 Historians and geographers who accompanied him.

32 i.e. Oxhead.

33 The species cercopitheces (for a fuller description see 15.1.37).

34 The Hydaspes and Acesines.

35 Or "nephew."

36 The words in parentheses are probably a gloss.

37 i.e. to turn back from the Hypanis.

38 See § 26.

39 See 14.2.19.

40 § 28 above.

41 § 8 above.

42 § 8 above.

43 See 10.4.16, 20.

44 See 8.5.4 and 12.3.4.

45 More than twelve miles.

46 About 120 feet. "According to the latest calculations, the length of the main stream of the Ganges is 1540 m.,º or with its longest affluent, 1680; breadth at true entrance into the sea, 20 m.; breadth of channel in dry season, 1¼ to 2¼ m; depth in dry season, 30 ft." (Holdich, in Encyc. Britannica.)

47 The Erannoboas (now the Sone), according to Groskurd (who cites Arrian, Indica 10) and the later editors (see critical note).

The critical note to the Greek text (Ἐπὶ δὲ τῇ συμβολῇ τούτου τε καὶ τοῦ ἄλλου ποταμοῦ) reads:

After ποταμοῦ Meineke inserts Ἐραννοβόα, following Arrian, Indica 10.

48 See 2.1.9.

49 See 2.1.9.

50 Apparently an imaginary creature (sometimes called "ant-lion") with the fore parts of a lion and the hind-parts of an ant. Herodotus (3.102) describes it as "smaller than a dog but larger than a fox." Strabo elsewhere (16.4.15) refers to "lions called ants."

51 The Greek word suggests seizing with the claws, not with the teeth.

52 This clause is obviously ironical, unless, as others suggest, the text is corrupt.

Thayer's Notes:

a The same story is told by Athenaeus, much less plausibly, of bustards! (IX 390D).

b Other Greek and Roman authors mention the practice of suttee: Diodorus (XVII.91 and especially XIX.33‑34.6), Plutarch (Moralia, 499C). They probably all take it ultimately from a single first-hand source: the Loeb editor of Diodorus credits it to Onesicritus (Introduction to Vol. 8, p9); the Loeb editor of Plutarch to Megasthenes (ad loc.).

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