is the name of an ancient book about
written by Arrian
, one of the main ancient historians of
Alexander the Great
mainly tells the story of Alexander's officer Nearchus’ voyage from India to the Persian Gulf after Alexander the
Great’s conquest of the Indus Valley.
However, much of the importance of the work
comes from Arrian
’s in depth asides
describing the history, geography, and culture of the ancient
his Indica in the Ionic
for his literary mode.
is also the name of a similar book by
that also describes the
history of India and was a major source from which Arrian
Indica deals with the period of Alexander the Great
. After Alexander the Great conquered the
Indus valley, he planned to return to
the center of his empire in Babylon.
planned to return himself over land but wanted to learn about the
mouth of the Indus (which he
himself did not reach) and the sea between India and Babylon.
Therefore, he sent one of his officers, Nearchus
, to perform such a voyage and report what
he saw. Indica mostly describes what Nearchus
saw on that voyage.
About the author
Indica was written by Arrian
, a Greek
historian, philosopher, and statesman during the Roman
period. Arrian lived from c. 95-175 CE mostly in
minor and Athens.
Therefore, he was writing about events that occurred several
hundreds of years before his time (but see Sources). He is still
seen as one of the foremost ancient historians of Alexander the Great
begins with a description of the geography of India, in particular
focusing on the size of the rivers Indus and the
Ganges, together with their tributaries.
comparison is made with the Danube
The text then proceeds to tell the stories of Heracles
Indica also describes the classes of occupation that the Indians
have and their overall social structure. The text also describes
their manner of hunting (which includes a description of many of
the great fauna
of India) and making
then moves into the story of Nearchus’
voyage from India to Babylon following
the conquests of Alexander the
From this point onwards, the text mostly tells
the story of a naval adventure. However, Arrian
leaves the main story from time to time to
tell in detail about the various peoples that lived along the way,
as the Ichthyophagi
’ soldiers’ battles with the local
ends with Nearchus meeting up with Alexander the Great, who had been
conducting his own land voyage from India to Susa.
is congratulated for a safe
journey and rewarded for his efforts.
draws upon a number of ancient sources
in composing his Indica. His main source is the account written by
himself. This text is now mostly
lost, but it appears that Arrian
extant and complete copy in his own time. Because Arrian
was in part cribbing from a primary source,
Arrian manages to be quite accurate despite being at a several
hundred year remove from the events he describes.
also drew on a number of other ancient
writers, including Eratosthenes
most notably, Megasthenes
book was also named Indica
As an historical source
Indica’s importance as a historical source can be judged in three
ways: (1) as fact, (2) as a reflection of Alexander
’s campaign’s influence on
human knowledge, and (3) as a window onto Greek and Roman
Indica as fact
The detailed aside stories in Indica are not completely accurate.
Though they are certainly accurate or close to accurate on a wide
variety of topics (sometimes more so than other ancient texts,
sometimes less so), Indica in no way can be compared with our
modern knowledge of the areas and peoples it describes.
However, it would be a mistake to stop the inquiry there. For
is not always accurate
regarding the ‘’details’’ of his stories, he is rather close to the
truth on the ‘’existence’’ of the things he describes. Because this is a
story of discovery rather than detailed scientific experiment and
observation, the importance is that the text conveys to the reader
the general existence of the Indus delta, the
breadth of the Indian
Ocean, the existence of whales and
other animals, and a general understanding of
the people who live in the areas described.
local histories of some of the places described in Indica are not
extent or widely available, Indica remains a valuable source of
information regarding the ancient peoples of, for example, the
Pakistani and Iranian
Reflection of Alexander’s campaign’s influence
Indica is useful as a historical source in establishing the
influence of Alexander the
’s campaign. For the first time, a large body of
knowledge about the Near East, Central Asia, and India were
Information was exchanged in all directions: the whole of Alexander
’s empire experienced somewhat
of a cultural shift in one way or another. As knowledge from and
about the East moved west, knowledge from and about the West moved
Indica is important for showing how some of that knowledge was
gained. The text makes clear that Alexander
had high hopes for gaining and
disseminating knowledge about his empire. Nearchus
’ voyage explains how Alexander
went about learning about the
world and gives some insight into the amount of never before
exchanged knowledge his conquests resulted in spreading.
Indica as a window onto Greek and Roman knowledge
Indica gives the historian a good idea of how the Greeks and Roman saw
India. Though, as stated above, everything in
Indica is not completely factual in its details, it is useful to
know what the Greeks and Roman thought of India and how they
may have viewed it.
Some descriptions about Indian people
from the Indica:
- "the southern Indians resemble the Ethiopians a good deal, and,
are black of countenance, and their hair black also, only they are
not as snub-nosed or so woolly-haired as the Ethiopians; but the
northern Indians are most like the Egyptians in appearance."
- "No Indian ever went outside his own country on a warlike
expedition, so righteous were they."
- "Indians do not put up memorials to the dead; but they regard
their virtues as sufficient memorials for the departed, and the
songs which they sing at their funerals."
- "This also is remarkable in India, that all Indians are free,
and no Indian at all is a slave. In this the Indians agree with the
Lacedaemonians. Yet the Lacedaemonians have Helots for slaves, who perform the duties of
slaves; but the Indians have no slaves at all, much less is any
Indian a slave."
- "The Indians generally are divided into seven castes, the wise
men, farmers, herdsmen, artisans, soldiers and shopkeepers,
overlookers, and government officials and ministers."
- "The Indians in shape are thin and tall and much lighter in
movement than the rest of mankind."
Reference and further reading
- Arrian, Volume II, Loeb Classical Library, tr.