Foreign Accounts – Sources of Ancient History of India

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Foreign Accounts – Sources of Ancient History of India| The Greeks and Romans, Chinese and Arabs

In ancient times, a number of travellers from Greece, Arabs, Western Asia, and China visited India. These travellers left numerous accounts of the happenings seen by them. These foreign travellers had no obligation to any king of the region therefore their accounts are unbiased which provides first hand information on the subjects they touched upon. The invasion of Alexander provided a passage to the various Greeks and Roman explorers and travellers to India.

The Greeks and Romans

Herodotus

He is considered as first historian of the world. He mentioned Indian soldiers, fighting along the side of Persians. during the war between Persian and Greece.

Megasthenes

He was the ambassador of Seleucus Nicator in the court of Chandrgupt Maurya. He in his book ‘Indica’ describe the layout of Pataliputra during Maurayan Empire. He talked about 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 after Megasthenes.

Ptolemy

He was a Roman geographer which provides information on geographical treatise on India.

Pliny

He in his book ‘Natural Historia’ described the trade relation between Rome and India, Indian animal and plants.

Peryplus of the Erythraean Sea

This travelogue is an anonymous work which gives us impartial and objective information on the Indo-Roman trade during Early Historic period. It informs us about the ports on India’s coast-line, trade-centres in India, the trade-routes-connecting trade centres and ports, distance between centres, the list of items-of-trade, the annual volume of trade, the rates, types of ships etc.

Chinese

Fa-Hien

He came India in 5th century AD. during Gupta period. He was a Buddhist monk, visited India to seek knowledge and visit Buddhist pilgrimage centres. During his three years of travel, he has written ‘Records of Buddhist Countries’ describing society and culture of North India during Gupta administration.

Hiuen-Tsang

He is Chinese Buddhist monk who visited India during Harshavardhana’s reign. He started his journey in 629 AD and reached in 630 AD. He visited Buddhist pilgrimage centres, stayed at Nalanda University and studied Buddhism. He read original Buddhist works, collected original manuscripts and mementos, made copies, attended Harsha’s assembly during his 15 years of travel throughout India, returned to China in 645 AD. He describes the political, religious and cultural life.

I-tsing

He is also a Buddhist monk who gives useful information about the social, religious and cultural life of the people of India.

Arabs

Sulaiman

He visited India in 9th century A.D. He had written about Pal and Pratihar rulers of his time.

Al-Masudi

He stayed in India for two years from 941 to 943 A.D. He had written about Rashtrakutas.

Albiruni

He is a Iranian scholar Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al Biruni arrived with conqueror Mahmud Ghazni who invaded India. He visited most parts of India during thirteen years in India and learned Sanskrit and Indian literature. He mentioned the conditions and culture in his book ‘Taqeeq-e-Hind’.

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