Gangaridai is a terminology used by the ancient Greco-Roman writers to represent a people or a geographical region of the ancient Indian subcontinent.
Some of these writers state that Alexander the Great withdrew from the Indian subcontinent because of the strong war elephant force of the Gangaridai. The writers differently mention the Gangaridai as a separate tribe. However, the geographical region was annexed and governed by the Nanda Empire at the time.
Several modern scholars locate Gangaridai in the Ganges Delta of the Bengal region, although alternative theories also exist.
The Greek writers use the names “Gandaridae” (Diodorus), “Gandaritae”, and “Gandridae” (Plutarch) to describe these people. The ancient Latin writers use the name “Gangaridae”, a term that seems to have been coined by the 1st-century poet Virgil.
Some modern languages of the word Gangaridai split it as “Gaṅgā-rāṣṭra”, “Gaṅgā-rāḍha” or “Gaṅgā-hṛdaya”.
D. C. Sircar believes that the word is only the plural form of “Gangarid” (derived from the base “Ganga”), and means “Ganga (Ganges) people”.
Greek Accounts of Gangaridai
Several ancient Greek writers discuss Gangaridai, but their accounts are largely based on hearsay.
The most advanced surviving description of Gangaridai appears in Bibliotheca historica of the 1st century BCE writer Diodorus Siculus. This account is based on a now-lost work, probably the writings of either Megasthenes or Hieronymus of Cardia.
In Book 2 of Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus asserts that “Gandaridae” (i.e. Gangaridai) territory was found to the east of the Ganges river, which was 30 stades wide. He states that no foreign enemy had ever won Gandaridae, because of its strong elephant force. He additionally states that Alexander the Great introduced up to the Ganges after defeating other Indians, but decided to retreat when he heard that the Gandaridae had 4,000 elephants.
In Book 17 of Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus once again illustrates the “Gandaridae” and states that Alexander had to leave after his soldiers refused to take an expedition against the Gandaridae. The book (17.91.1) also mentions that a nephew of Porus fled to the land of the Gandaridae, although C. Bradford Welles translates the name of this land as “Gandara”.
In Book 18 of Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus represents India as a large kingdom including several nations, the largest of which was “Tyndaridae” (which seems to be a scribal error for “Gandaridae”). He besides states that a river separated this nation from their neighboring territory; this 30-stadia wide river was the greatest in this region of India (Diodorus does not mention the name of the river in this book).
He goes on to mention that Alexander did not campaign against this nation, because they had a large number of elephants.
Diodorus’ account of India in the Book 2 is based on Indica, a book written by the 4th century BCE writer Megasthenes, who visited India. Megasthenes’ Indica is now lost, although it has been reproduced from the works of Diodorus and other later writers. J. W. McCrindle (1877) attributed Diodorus’ Book 2 passage about the Gangaridai to Megasthenes in his reconstruction of Indica. However, according to A. B. Bosworth (1996), Diodorus’ reference for the information about the Gangaridai was Hieronymus of Cardia (354–250 BCE), who was a contemporary of Alexander and the main source of information for Diodorus’ Book 18. Bosworth points out that Diodorus describes the Ganges as 30 stadia wide, but it is well-attested by other sources that Megasthenes described the median (or minimum) width of Ganges as 100 stadia. This suggests that Diodorus obtained the information about the Gandaridae from another source, and appended it to Megasthenes’ description of India in Book 2.
Plutarch (46-120 CE) mentions the Gangaridai as “‘Gandaritae” (in Parallel Lives – Life of Alexander 62.3) and as “Gandridae” (in Moralia 327b.).
Ptolemy (2nd century CE), in his Geography, states that the Gangaridae occupied “all the region about the mouths of the Ganges”. He names a city called Gange as their capital. This suggests that Gange was the name of a city, derived from the name of the river. Based on the city’s name, the Greek writers used the word “Gangaridai” to describe the local people.
Dionysius Periegetes (2nd-3rd century CE) states “Gargaridae” found near the “gold-bearing Hypanis” (Beas) river. “Gargaridae” is sometimes considered to be a variant of “Gangaridae”, but another theory recognizes it with Gandhari people. A. B. Bosworth rejects Dionysius’ account as “a farrago of nonsense”, noting that he inaccurately describes the Hypanis river as flowing down into the Gangetic plain.
Gangaridai also finds a mention in Greek mythology. In Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica (3rd century BCE), Datis, a chieftain, leader of the Gangaridae who was in the army of Perses III, argued against Aeetes during the Colchian civil war. Colchis was located in modern-day Georgia, on the east of the Black Sea. Aeetes was the famous king of Colchia against whom Jason and the Argonauts began their expedition in search of the “Golden Fleece”. Perses III was the brother of Aeetes and king of the Taurian tribe.
Identification o Gangaridai
The ancient Greek writers provide vague information about the center of the Gangaridai power. As a result, later historians have put forward various theories about its location.
Pliny (1st century CE) in his NH, terms the Gangaridai as the novisima gens (nearest people) of the Ganges river. It cannot be determined from his writings whether he means “nearest to the mouth” or “nearest to the headwaters”. But the later writer Ptolemy (2nd century CE), in his Geography, explicitly locates the Gangaridai near the mouths of the Ganges.
A. B. Bosworth notes that the ancient Latin writers almost always use the word “Gangaridae” to define the people, and connect them with the Prasii people.
According to Megasthenes, who lived in India, the Prasii people lived near the Ganges. Besides, Pliny explicitly mentions that the Gangaridae lived beside the Ganges, naming their capital as Pertalis. All this evidence suggests that the Gangaridae lived in the Gangetic plains.
Diodorus (1st century BCE) asserts that the Ganges river formed the eastern boundary of the Gangaridai. Based on Diodorus’s writings and the testimony of Ganges with Bhāgirathi-Hooghly (a western distributary of Ganges), Gangaridai can be recognized with the Rarh region in West Bengal.
The larger part of Bengal
The Rarh is found to the west of the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly (Ganges) river. However, Plutarch (1st century CE), Curtius (possibly 1st century CE), and Solinus (3rd century CE), recommend that Gangaridai was located on the eastern banks of the Gangaridai river.
Historian R. C. Majumdar theorized that earlier historians like Diodorus used the word Ganga for the Padma River (an eastern distributary of Ganges).
Pliny names five mouths of the Ganges river and states that the Gangaridai occupied the entire region about these mouths. He names five mouths of Ganges as Kambyson, Mega, Kamberikon, Pseudostomon, and Antebole. These exact present-day locations of these mouths cannot be determined with certainty because of the changing river courses. According to D. C. Sircar, the region surrounding these mouths appears to be the region extending between the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly River in the west and the Padma River in the east. This suggests that the Gangaridai territory covered the coastal region of present-day West Bengal and Bangladesh, up to the Padma river in the east.
Gaurishankar De and Subhradip De believe that the five mouths may refer to the Bidyadhari, Jamuna, and other branches of Bhāgirathi-Hooghly at the entrance of Bay of Bengal.
According to the archaeologist Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti, the center of the Gangaridai power was located in the vicinity of Adi Ganga (a now dried-up flow of the Hooghly river). Chakrabarti considers Chandraketugarh as the strongest candidate for the center, followed by Mandirtala. James Wise believed that Kotalipara in present-day Bangladesh was the capital of Gangaridai. Archaeologist Habibullah Pathan identified the Wari-Bateshwar ruins as the Gangaridai territory.
William Woodthorpe Tarn (1948) recognizes the “Gandaridae” mentioned by Diodorus with the people of Gandhara. Historian T. R. Robinson (1993) locates the Gangaridai to the immediate east of the Beas River, in the Punjab region. According to him, the unnamed river described in Diodorus’ Book 18 is Beas (Hyphasis); Diodorus misunderstood his source, and incompetently combined it with other material from Megasthenes, erroneously naming the river like the Ganges in Book 2. Robinson identified the Gandaridae with the ancient Yaudheyas.
A. B. Bosworth (1996) rejects this theory, pointing out that Diodorus describes the unnamed river in Book 18 as the greatest river in the region. But Beas is not the largest river in its region. Even if one excludes the territory captured by Alexander in “the region” (thus excluding the Indus River), the largest river in the region is Chenab (Acesines).
Robison argues that Diodorus describes the unnamed river as “the greatest river in its immediate area”, but Bosworth thinks that this interpretation is not supported by Diodorus’s wording. Bosworth also notes that Yaudheyas were an independent confederation, and do not match the ancient descriptions that describe Gandaridae as part of a strong kingdom.
According to Nitish K. Sengupta, it is likely that the term “Gangaridai” refers to the whole of northern India from the Beas River to the western part of Bengal.
Pliny mentions the Gangaridae and the Calingae (Kalinga) together. One interpretation based on this reading suggests that Gangaridae and the Calingae were part of the Kalinga tribe, which spread into the Ganges delta. N. K. Sahu of Utkal University identifies Gangaridae as the northern part of Kalinga.
Political status of Gangaridai
Diodorus states Gangaridai and Prasii as one nation, naming Xandramas as the king of this nation. Diodorus calls them “two nations under one king.”
Historian A. B. Bosworth thinks that this is a reference to the Nanda dynasty, and the Nanda territory matches the ancient descriptions of the kingdom in which the Gangaridae were located.
According to Nitish K. Sengupta, it is likely that Gangaridai and Prasii are two different names of the same people or nearly allied people. However, this cannot be said with confidence.
Historian Hemchandra Ray Chowdhury writes: “It may reasonably be inferred from the statements of the Greek and Latin writers that about the time of Alexander’s invasion, the Gangaridai was a very powerful nation, and either formed a dual monarchy with the Pasioi [Prasii], or were closely associated with them on equal terms in a common cause against the foreign invader.