As a consequence of Alexander’s invasion of India a number of Greek travellers visited India. They were the first to communicate to the outside world more or less accurate knowledge of India. Of the companions of Alexander on his campaigns, three are noted for their writings on India, viz., (i) Near- chus, whom Alexander deputed to explore the coast between the Indus and the Persian Gulf; (ii) Onesicritus, who took part in the voyage with Nearchus and afterwards wrote a book about it and India, and (iii) Aristobulus, whom Alexander entrusted with specific jobs in India.

Subsequent to these writers came the ambas­sadors from the Hellenistic kingdoms to the Mauryan court, whose observances on India were based on a wider and closer knowledge of the country. Among them the most celebrated was Megasthenes, who was sent as ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by Seleucus Nikator, the Greek ruler of Persia and Babylon.

Other Greek ambassadors or travellers who fol­lowed Megasthenes were: Deimachus, who resided for a long time in Pataliputra as ambas­sador to the court of Bindusara; Patrocles, the Admiral of Seleucus; Timosthenes, Admiral of the fleet of Ptolemy Philadelphia, and Dionysius, who was also sent as an ambassador to India. But none of them seem to have added anything of real im­portance to what Megasthenes had stated about India.

In fact, his account about Mauryan India, compiled in Indika, marks the culmination of the knowledge which ancient Europe ever had of India. As his original work (Indika) has been lost, we learn about his observations from the quota­tions of the later Greek authors among whom the following may be noted:


(i) Strabo (C 64 B.C.-19 A.D.) wrote an impor­tant geographical work of which Chapter I deals with India on the basis of material drawn from the companions of Alexander and Megasthenes. Strabo refers to the matrimonial alliance between Seleucus and Chandragupta Maurya and women body guards of the latter.

(ii) Diodorous (1st century B.C.) who lived up to 36 B.C. and wrote an account of India taken from Megasthenes. His account is the earliest available Greek account of India.

(iii) Pliny The Elder (1st century A.D.), the author of Natural History, an encyclopaedic work published about 75 A.D. gives the ac­count of India based on Greek sources and reports of Western merchants.

(iv) Arrian (C. 130-172 A.D.) who narrated the best available account of Alexander’s ex­pedition and India’s geography and social life, drawn extensively from the writings of Nearchus, Megasthenes and Eratosthenes, a Greek geographer (276-195 B.C.).


(v) Plutarch (C. 45-125 A.D.) who’s Lives in­cludes chapters on life of Alexander and general account of India mentions Chandragupta as Androkottus and writes that as a “youth he had seen Alexander”.

(vi) Justin (2nd century A.D.), author of an Epitome, gives an account of Alexander’s campaigns in India and Chandragupta Maurya’s rise to power. His work is based on the Greek works of the 1st century B.C. Writ­ing about Chandragupta’s role in overthrow­ing the Greek rule from the North-West India, Justin writes: “India, after the death of Alexander had shaken, as it were, the yoke of servitude from its neck, had put his Governors to death. The architect of this liberation was Sandrocottus (Chandragupta).”

J.W. MeCrindle has compiled these Greek and Latin sources in his three famous books: Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian (Calcutta, 1877), Ancient India as Described by Ptolemy (Calcutta, 1927) and Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature (London 1901). These Greek and Latin sources are immensely helpful for the study of the Mauryas.

Besides the sources mentioned above, the travel accounts of the celebrated Chinese travellers Fahien and Huen-tsang, who visited India during the fourth and seventh century A.D., respectively, are also relevant to the study of Mauryan history. While writing about their travel in India both referred to a number of Mauryan monuments.