Megasthenes (// mi-GAS-thi-neez; Ancient Greek: Μεγασθένης, c. 350BCE– c. 290 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian, diplomat and Indian ethnographer and explorer in the Hellenistic period. He described India in his book Indika, which is now lost, but has been partially reconstructed from literary fragments found in later authors. Megasthenes was the first person to describe ancient India, and for that reason he has been called "the father of Indian history".
|Died||c. 290 BCE|
|Occupation||Historian and diplomat|
|Known for||Indika, a book on ancient India|
While Megasthenes's account of India has survived in the later works, little is known about him as a person, except that he spent time at the court of Sibyrtius, who was a satrap of Arachosia under Antigonus I and then Seleucus I. and was an ambassador for Seleucid king Seleucus I Nicator and to the court of the Mauryan King Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra (modern Patna). Dating for his journey to the Mauryan court is uncertain
As an ambassador
Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Arrian explains that Megasthenes lived in Arachosia, with the satrap Sibyrtius, from where he visited India:
Megasthenes visited India sometime during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. The exact dates of his visit to India, and the duration of his stay in India are not certain. The dates of Megasthenes' visit or visits to India is uncertain and disputed among scholars. A.B. Bosworth argued for an early date pre-Seleucus. This is thoroughly comprehensively disputed by Stoneman and others who argue for a date following the Mauryan-Seleucid settlement of c. 303 BCE. Although Arrian claims that Megasthenes met Porus: this claim seems to be an erroneous one, unless we assume that Megasthenes also accompanied Alexander the Great during the Greek invasion of India.
Megasthenes visited the Mauryan capital Pataliputra, but it is not certain which other parts of India he visited. He appears to have passed through the Punjab region in north-western India, as he provides a detailed account of the rivers in this area. He must have then traveled to Pataliputra along the Yamuna and the Ganga rivers.
Megasthenes compiled information about India in form of Indika, which is now a lost work, but survives in form of quotations by the later writers.
Among the ancient writers, Arrian (2nd century CE) is the only one who speaks favorably of Megasthenes. Diodorus (1st century BCE) quotes Megasthenes by omitting some parts of his narratives. Other writers explicitly criticize Megasthenes:
- Eratosthenes (2nd century BCE) accuses Megasthenes of engaging in falsehood, although he apparently borrowed much of his content about India from Megasthenes.
- Strabo (1st century CE) calls Megasthenes a liar for writing fabulous stories about India; he also brands as liars the other earlier writers on India, including Deimachus, Onesicritus, Nearchus. According to Strabo, "no faith whatever can be placed in Deimachos and Megasthenes".
- Pliny the Elder (1st century CE) criticizes Megasthenes's description of the fabulous races of India, and his account of Herakles and Dionysus.
Modern scholars such as E. A. Schwanbeck, B. C. J. Timmer, and Truesdell Sparhawk Brown, have characterized Megasthenes as a generally reliable source of Indian history. Schwanbeck finds faults only with Megasthenes's description of the gods worshipped in India. Brown is more critical of Megasthenes, but notes that Megasthenes visited only a small part of India, and must have relied on others for his observations: some of these observations seem to be erroneous, but others cannot be ignored by modern researchers. Thus, although he was often misled by the erroneous information provided by others, his work remained the principal source of information about India to some of the subsequent writers.
- "Megasthenes". Brittanica.
- Patel., Aakar (8 August 2020). "Hercules lived here: Megasthenes's 'Indika'". The Hindu.
- Stoneman, R. The Greek Experience of India (Princeton, 2019), p129
- Roller, Duane W., “Megasthenes (715)”, in: Brill’s New Jacoby, General Editor: Ian Worthington (Macquarie University).First published online: 2016
- N. S. Kalota 1978, p. 26.
- Traver, Andrew G. (2002). From Polis to Empire, the Ancient World, C. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-313-30942-7.
- Kosmin, Paul J. (2014). The Land of the Elephant Kings. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-72882-0.
- Shepherd, William R. (1926). The Historical Atlas, "Mediaeval Commerce (Asia)".
- Heirman, Ann; Bumbacher, Stephan Peter (2007). The Spread of Buddhism. BRILL. p. 135. ISBN 978-90-04-15830-6.
- Paul J. Kosmin 2014, p. 38.
- Arrian. "Book 5". Anabasis.
- Allan Dahlaquist 1996, p. 9.
- A.B Bosworth, The Historical Setting of Megasthenes, Indica, CPh. 91, 1996, 113-27
- Stoneman, R., The Greek Experience of India, 130-135
- N. S. Kalota 1978, p. 29.
- Thomas C. Mcevilley (2012). The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Allworth. p. 538. ISBN 978-1-58115-933-2.
Three Greek ambassadors are known by name: Megasthenes, ambassador to Chandragupta; Deimachus, ambassador to Chandragupta's son Bindusara; and Dyonisius, whom Ptolemy Philadelphus sent to the court of Ashoka, Bindusara's son
- N. S. Kalota 1978, p. 27.
- Allan Dahlaquist 1996, p. 27.
- Allan Dahlaquist 1996, p. 29.
- Allan Dahlaquist (1996). Megasthenes and Indian Religion: A Study in Motives and Types. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-1323-6.
- N. S. Kalota (1978). India as Described by Megasthenes. Concept.
- Paul J. Kosmin (2014), The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in Seleucid Empire, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-72882-0
- U. P. Arora (1982), Plagiarism and prejudices in Megasthenes's Indica, Indian History Congress
- Paul J. Kosmin (2013). "Apologetic Ethnography: Megasthenes' Indica and the Seleucid Elephant". In Eran Almagor, Joseph Skinner (ed.). Ancient Ethnography: New Approaches. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472537607.
- Harry Falk (1982). Die sieben "Kasten" des Megasthenes (in German).
- Shri Ram Goyal (2001). India as Known to Kauṭilya and Megasthenes. Kusumanjali Book World.
- "How the Hoopoe Got His Crest: Reflections on Megasthenes’ Stories of India." In Ancient Historiography on War and Empire, edited by Stoneman Richard, Howe Timothy, and Müller Sabine, 188–99. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2017. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1kw2b3r.17.