In ancient times, many travelers from Greece, West Asia, China, and Arabia. They left many accounts of the incidents they had observed. They had no obligations to any of the kings in any region, so their accounts are impartial providing unchanged information on the subjects they discussed.
Why it is important?
The foreign accounts given by travelers are unbiased. These travelers had no obligations to any king of any region. They had mentioned what they had seen and observed. The foreign accounts supplement the domestic literature.
We come to know about the achievements of Alexander from Greek sources. Alexander’s invasion is not mentioned in the Indian sources. Megasthenes, Seleucus’ ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya given a precise account of interior Indian. It has been preserved in pieces quoted by classical writers like Arrian, Strabo, and Justin.
When these pieces are read together provide valuable information not only about the administration but also about social classes and economic activities in the Mauryan period.
The Greeks and Romans
Greek sources give us much valuable information about ancient India. Greek and Roman accounts of the first and second centuries all mention many Indian ports and list items of trade between India and the Roman Empire.
Herodotus is known as the Father of History. He referred to Indian soldiers fighting from the Persians’ side, during the war between Persian and Greece.
Megasthenes was the ambassador of Seleucus Nicator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. In his book ‘Indica‘, he has explained the layout of Pataliputra during the Mauryan Empire. He also mentioned social structure, caste-system, caste-relations, etc. The original Indica is lost but its description can be found in the accounts of travelers who came into India later Megasthenes.
He was a Roman geographer. He gives information on a geographical treatise on India.
In his book ‘Natural Historia’, he described the trade relation between Rome and India, Indian animal and plants.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
This travelogue is anonymous. It gives us unbiased and accurate information on the Indo-Roman trade during the Early Historic period. It tells us about the posts on India’s coast-line, trade-centers in India, the trade-routes-connecting trade centers and ports, the distance between centers, the list of items-of-trade, the annual volume of trade, the rates, types of ships, etc.
Chinese accounts are a valuable source of information about the Gupta period and the years directly following the end of the Gupta rule.
In the 5th century, during the Gupta period, he visited India. He was a Buddhist monk. He visited India to seek knowledge and to visit Buddhist pilgrimages. During these three years, he has written ‘Records of Buddhist Countries’ in which he described the community and culture of North India during the Gupta administration.
Hiuen-Tsang was also a Buddhist monk. He visited India during the reign of Harshavardhana. His journey was started in 629 AD and reached in 630 AD. Hiuen-Tsang visited Buddhist pilgrimages and stayed at Nalanda University where he studied Buddhism. He collected original manuscripts and mementos, read them, and made copies. During his 15 years of journey throughout India, he also attended Harsha’s assembly. He returned to China in 645 AD.
The accounts of Arabs are valuable sources for the study of ancient Indian history. Many of them who visited India were merchants.
He was a merchant who visited India in the 9th century AD during the time of Bhoja. He had written about Pal and Pratihar kings of his time.
He visited in India for two years from 941 to 943 AD. He had written about Rashtrakutas.
Al-Biruni was an Iranian scholar Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al Biruni visited with conqueror Mahmud Ghazni who attacked India. He visited most parts of India for thirteen years in India and learned Sanskrit and Indian literature. He mentioned the situations and culture in his book ‘Taqeeq-e-Hind’.