1st Edition

Megasthenes' Indica A New Translation of the Fragments with Commentary

By Richard Stoneman Copyright 2021
    172 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    172 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book provides a new translation of all the surviving portions of the description of India written by Megasthenes in about 310 BCE, the fullest account of Indian geography, history and customs available to the classical world. The Indica was a pioneering work of ethnography that exemplified a new direction in Hellenistic writing; India was little-known to the Greeks before the expedition of Alexander the Great in 326–325 BCE, and Megasthenes, who resided as an ambassador in the Maurya capital Pataliputra for some time, provided the classical world with most of what it knew about India.   

    Megasthenes’ book, which became a classic in antiquity, now survives only in fragments preserved in other Greek and Latin authors. Stoneman’s work offers a reliable and accessible version of all the writings that can plausibly be ascribed to Megasthenes. His subject ranges from detailed accounts of social structure and the royal household, to descriptions of elephant hunting and Indian philosophical ideas. His book is the only written source contemporary with the Maurya kingdom of Candragupta, since writing was not in use in India at this date. This translation provides a path to clearer understanding of Greek ethnography and a valuable resource on Indian history.

    The book will be of value not only to classical scholars with an interest in Hellenistic history and cultural attitudes, and to their students, but also to scholars working on the early history of India, who have had to rely (unless they are also Greek scholars) on scattered and dated collections of evidence.

    Abbreviations and conventions
    Concordance of Fragment Numbers with the Editions of Schwanbeck and Jacoby

     Life and Work
     The Reliability of Megasthernes
     What is a Fragment?
     Other Greek Writers on India
     Maps: North-west India
      Megasthenes’ India

    The Fragments

    Book I: Geography and Resources
    1. Summary of geography, history and society
    2. The Geography of India
    3. Geography and dimensions of India
    4. The Himalayas (“Caucasus”)
    5. Controversy on the size of India
    6. The size of India again
    7. The northern stars
    8. Rivers
    9. Megasthenes’ knowledge of India
    10. The river Silas
    11. The Fertility of India
    12. Dionysus and Heracles
    13. Dionysus and Heracles as civilizers
    14. Pandaea
    15. Taprobane
    16. The kartazon
    17. Pearls
    18. Trees that grow in the sea
    19. Poisonous fish
    20. Monkeys (and other animals)
    21. Snakes
    22. The hoopoe (and other birds)
    23. The gold-guarding ants
    24. The monstrous races
    25. The Reverse-feet
    26. The Mouthless ones and the Dog-heads
    27. Plutarch on the mouthless ones

    Book II: Political Structures
    28. The Seven ‘Castes’
    29. Funeral rites
    30. Absence of slavery
    31. Meals
    32. Cities
    33. Palibothra (Pataliputra)
    34. City officials
    35. Laws and customs
    36. Laws and punishments
    37. Elephants
    38. Elephant medicine
    39. Elephant ethics

    Book III: The Indian Philosophers
    40. The Philosophers
    41. Calanus and suicide
    42. Calanus and Dandamis
    43. The Brahmans
    44. Strabo on Indian religion and philosophy
    45. Brahmans austerity
    46. Brahmans and Jews

    a. Other accounts of the philosophers
    b. Pliny’s account of India


    Commentary on Book I
    Commentary on Book II
    Commentary on Book III
    Commentary on Appendix

    Table: Pliny’s Indian tribes



    Richard Stoneman is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter, UK. His research concentrates on the legends of Alexander the Great and on Greek knowledge of India (most of which was due to Alexander’s campaign). His books include Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend (2008) and The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks (2019). His three-volume edition of the Alexander Romance is in the process of publication.

    "The new translation of the fragments by Richard Stoneman will be the standard point of entry for subsequent scholars and readers approaching what remains of this text, especially in the English-speaking world. It offers a clear and accurate translation, and the notes will helpfully orient those new to Megasthenes, as well as offering much that is stimulating to those already familiar with his work... It makes accessible and comprehensible an important author for the study of Greek knowledge of, and interest in, other cultures and places, and is sure to have a considerable life as a valuable resource for scholars of the Greek and Roman and of the Indian worlds." - Bryn Mawr Classical Review

    "[Stoneman's] edition of Megasthenes’ Indica is a very welcome addition to the scholarly material on this text...The dated nature of the previously available sources signalled a strong need for such a work. Not only does it make the
    research of Megasthenes easier for those of us with a particular interest in the Indica, but it makes the text significantly more accessible for researchers who are less singularly focused on this author. Additionally, it makes it much easier to include Megasthenes’ work within teaching materials. As a result of this, the book has the potential to expand the number of people reading and working on the Indica." - The Classical Review