What is the importance of Megasthenes' Indica

Megasthenes’ Indica is a very important source of Indian history. Indica has importance in the reconstruction of ancient India under the Mauryan Empire.

It shows us the rich culture and economy of India. Also helps us to understand the administration, diverse culture, and philosophy of Ancient Indian people.

But, before we know the importance of Indica, we should learn what is Indica.

What is Indica?

Indica is an account of India under the reign of the Maurya Dynasty. Greek writer Megasthenes was the author of Indica. 

Unfortunately, the original book is now lost, but its fragments survived in the works of Greek and Latin writers. These earliest works are by Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Arrian, and Pliny.

Brief introduction of Megasthenes

Megasthenes was an ancient historian, diplomat, and Indian ethnographer. He was also an explorer in the Hellenistic period.

Megasthenes wrote a book called Indica to describe India. 

We have very little knowledge of Megasthenes. He must have been an educated man and a reputed officer, which explains his appointment as an ambassador to India.

In 303 BC, there was a treaty between the Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator and the Indian ruler Chandragupta Maurya. At that time, he appears to have been serving as an officer under Sibyrtius, who was Seleucus’s satrap of Arachosia.

Megasthenes visited India sometime between 302 BC and 288 BC, during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. These dates and duration is not verified but is an estimate.

Importance of Megasthenes’ Indica

E. A. Schwanbeck was successful in tracing the fragments to Megasthenes. Based on this collection, John Watson McCrindle reconstructed the Indica and published it in 1887. However, this reconstruction is not universally accepted. 

According to the text reconstructed by J. W. McCrindle, Megasthenes’ Indica helps us to know these things about India: 

Geography

Indica helps us to know about the geography of India. It helps us to construct a map of India. 

Megasthenes’ Indica gives the name used by the people of India and by the Greek people.

Indica gives an account of the region of Gangaridai and the huge for of elephants, which made the Gangaridai unconquered by any foreign king.

History

Megasthenes’ Indica has inclosed some part of history which helps us to know more about India before the Mauryan Dynasty, especially about the Greeks.

It tells us about the contributions of the Greek people in India. Indica also says that Herakles built many cities, including the great city Palibothra (Patliputra).

Flora and Fauna

Megasthenes’ Indica has given a picture of India’s rich flora and fauna. India has several mountains with every kind of fruit tree. Indian elephants are far better and stronger than the Libyan elephants. There was an abundance of food.

People domesticated a large number of elephants and trained them for war. The oldest elephants live up to 200 years.

Economy

A rich picture of rich India can be seen in Indica. India has an abundance of gold, silver, copper, and iron.

India has very fertile plains and different types of irrigation methods are used. The main crops of India were rice, millet, a crop called bosporum, cereals, pulses, and other food plants. Indica also explains other factors of agriculture. There was no famine in India.

Society

Megasthenes’ Indica gives an account of India’s diverse culture. India was home to many diverse races. There were no foreign colony and Indians have no colony outside India

India was divided into 7 endogamous and hereditary castes:

  1. Philosophers (believed to be most dear to the gods)
  2. Farmers 
  3. Herders (hunters, lived outside villages and towns)
  4. Artisans (created weapons and tools)
  5. Military (secured the city and equipped for war)
  6. Overseers (carry out administrative tasks)
  7. Councilors and Assessors (wise people with a good character)

Other than this, Indica also provides relevant knowledge about the administration of the cities, how Indians treated foreigners, the philosophy of Indians, and much more.

Read about Bindusara Maurya

Recommended Books

  • Ancient India: As Described by Megasthenes and Arrian – Buy Now
  • Mauryan India as Reflected in Indica of Megasthenes: (An Historical Overview) – Buy Now
  • Indica – Buy Now
  • Megasthenes’ Indica: A New Translation of the Fragments with Commentary – Buy Now
  • Megasthenes(Free) – Buy Now

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