Wisdom of the East – 2

McCrindle in his note on ‘Aspasioi Assakenoi’ in ‘Ancient India as Described by Arrian etc.’observes thus: “The Aspasioi are the people called by Strabo, in his list of the tribes that occupied the country between the Kophes (this is the Kabul river, called otherwise by the classical writers the Kophes, except by Ptolemy, who calls it the Koa. Its name in Sanskrit is the Kubha) and the Indus, the Hippasioi. They are easily to be recognized under either of these names as the As’vaka who is mentioned in the Mahabharata along with the Gandhara as the barbarous inhabitants of far distant regions in the north. The name of the Asvaka, derived from As’va, a “horse”, means cavaliers, and indicates that their country was renowned in primitive times, as it is at the present day, for its superior breed of horses. The fact that the Greeks translated their name into Hippaasioi (from a Greek word for horse) shows that they must have been aware of its etymological signification. V. de Saint Martin inclines to think that the name of the Hippasioi is partly preserved in that of the Prachi, a considerable tribe located in the upper regions of the Kophes (modern day Kabul) basin. It is more distinctly preserved in Asip or isap, the Pukhto name of this tribe, called by Mohammedans the Yusufzai. The name of the Assakenoi, like that of the Aspasioi, represents the Sanskrit As’vaka, which in the  popular dialect is changed into Assaka, and by the addition of the Persian plural termination into Assakan, a form which Arrian has all but exactly transcribed, and which appears without any change in the Assakanoi of Strabo and the Assacani of Curtius.

  “They are now represented by the Aspin of Chitral and the Yashkun of Gilgit. Some writers think, however, that the name of the Assakans or Asvakans is still extant in that of the Afghans, for the change of the sibilant into the rough aspirate is quite normal, and also that of K into g, a mute of its order. Dr. Bellew, however, in his Inquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, finds the source of the name in the Armenian Aghvan, and says it seems clear from what he has explained that the name Afghan merely means “mountaineer,” and is neither an ethnic term of distinct race nationality nor of earlier origin than the period of the Roman dominion in Asia Minor.”

  McCrindle further states in his notes thus: “The people living between Oxus and Juxartes rivers were called Paraitakenoi and we find mention of them by Alexander’s historians. We are told that after capturing the Rock Chorienes, Alexander went himself to Baktra and dispatched a cavalry and a force of infantry against Katanes and Austanes, the two chiefs left in the country of Paraitakenai who still held out against him. The Parai – tak – enai possessed part the mountainous country between the upper courses of the Oxus and the Juxartes. They were perhaps one in race with the Takkas of India, who had a great and flourishing capital, Taxila (i.e. Takkasila, the rock of the Takkas), situated between the Indus and upper Hydaspes (Bias), the first part of their name Parai represents perhaps the Sanskrit Parvata, a hill, or Pahar (a hill) of the common dialect. A tribe of the same name occupied a mountainous part of Media (Herodotus. I. 101) and another is located by Isidoros of Charax between Drangiana and Archosia. Another form of the name is Paraitakai (Arrian, iii. 19; Strabo, xvi. 736; Stephanos Byz.)”.

  We are informed by these historians that Alexander led his army from Baktra to invade the Indians and arrived at the city of Alexandria that he had founded in the land of the Parapamisadai when he first marched to Baktra. The tribes collectively designated Paropanisadai were according to Ptolemy (who calls them Paropanisadai), the five following: the Bolitai, Aristophyloi, Parsioi, Parsyetai and Ambautai. They lived along the spurs of the Hindu Kush, chiefly along its southern and eastern sides. They thus occupied the whole of Kabulistan and part of Afghanistan. The Bolitai were probably the people of Kabul, a city which, no doubt, represents that which Ptolemy calls Karoura (Kaboura?) or Ortospana. These Indian tribes lived at far apart from each other but they shared more a common feeling of spiritual values of life than a sense of political unity. The geographical map of true India does not coincide with her political map.

  These people inhabit today in a conglomeration of Asian nations that stretches from the Central Asian nations to Afghanistan to the shores of Caspian Sea. People of political India today are but a small part of this large single ancient community. These people share a common tendency to stick to their ancient traditions and accord primacy to things that are spiritual in nature over material pursuits of secular nature in their daily life. This is an element which is common to them all and still surviving despite all odds of time. This element once formed a cornerstone of one nationality.  However, their secular life – which is reflex of the Spirit – is fragmented today by divisive religious and political forces. However, the harmonious symmetry of inner life among all these people – that is latent and responds spontaneously to the Spirit – is despite strangulating centuries of divisive ravages still extant though badly bruised. It lies buried under the turbulent waves of divisive forces and waits for its hour of resurgence.

  Ancient historians from Herodotus to Arrian etc. talk of a people called Medes and their country as Media. Who were these people? The famous historian Edward Gibbon says that Media is Aderbijan (modern Ajairbaijan). The organization of Medians into a nation by their first prince named Deioces has been described by Herodotus in his Histories. Herodotus says, “Now these are the tribes of which they (Medes) consist: the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi.”

  After the legend of Asurbanipal, we get no information about the history of Bactria (Bulkh). Well-known historian H.G. Rawlinson in his ‘Bactria – from the Earliest Times to the Extinction of Bactro-Greek Rule in the Punjab – 1908’ says in chapter II (the Early History of Bactria) thus: “Under the Persian Empire, Bactria was conquered by Cyrus, and the importance of the undertaking is emphasized by Herodotus, who informs us that Cyrus conducted the expedition in person, as a task too difficult to be left to a subordinate. Cyrus recognized the real importance of Bactria to the vast and nebulous Persian Empire; he saw that its primary function was to act as a barrier, interposed to protect the Aryan civilization of the Western Asia and Eastern Europe from the oncoming tide of Mongolian invasion. As Curtis says, it was no doubt due to the proximity of the Scythians and the constant marauding raids to which their fertile lands were always liable, that the Bactrian owed those martial qualities, which made them at once such useful and such troublesome subjects to their Persian masters.”

  Rawlinson further says: “In the reign of Xerxes, two of his brothers hold the Imperial Satrapy (of Bactria) in turn. Prince Hystaspes, the elder of these, is chiefly known to us in connection with the great invasion of Greece in 480 BC when he appeared at the head of the Bactrian and Sacaean contingent… It is noteworthy, however, that when Mardonius was selecting a picked force to carry on the campaign after the retreat of Xerxes, he chose “Medes, Sacae, Bactrians and Indians, both Infantry and Cavalry.” which attests to the military prowess of the Bactrian (note: also of Sacae and Indian) troops. We hear little more of Bactria till the days of Alexander.”

  He goes on thus: “Alexander was leaving (Bactria) for India, and wished to have a settled country in his rear. Garrison towns had sprung up in all directions; the numbers of Greco-Macedonian settlers, including the army of occupation, were probably considerably over 20,000. We know that 23,000 went home on Alexander’s death and 7,000 had been settled in the Caucasian Alexandria.

  ‘’Considerable garrisons were in the forts near Margiana, in Maracanda (Samarkand), Bactria and other towns. Alexander founded twelve cities in Bactria alone. Alexandria Eschate was largely populated with natives from the city of Cyropolis, when the later was destroyed. Alexander while retreating after his conquest had settled old, disabled and retiring Greek soldiers among the Baktrian Indian tribes to colonize the area as a part of his empire.

  ‘’However, soon after these Greek-Indians staged a revolt against the imperial domination and became independent. Seleukos Nikator, who was one of the Alexander’s generals and had participated with him in the invasion of India and to whose share of imperial division Baktria had fallen after the death of Alexander, attacked and conquered Baktria from Greek-Indian rebels. After the conquest, he made it a dependency of the Syrian Kingdom that he had founded.

  ‘’Seleukos Nikator while accompanying Alexander in his Asiatic expedition had distinguished himself particularly in Indian campaigns. In the second partition of the empire the important province of Babylonia fell to his share. Afterwards he subdued Sousiana, Media and all the eastern dominions conquered by Alexander from the Euphrates to the bank of the Oxus and the Indus rivers. In 306 BC he assumed the regal title.

  “He then undertook an expedition into India with a view to recover the Macedonian provinces within India that had been conquered by Chandragupta (Sandrokottos) few years after Alexander’s death.

  ‘’’A war took place between Chandragupta and Seleukos that was concluded by a treaty. By virtue of the Seleukos surrendered to Chandragupta all the provinces of India that were conquered by the Macedonians as well as those to the west of the Indus as far as the Paropanisos range and agreed to marry his daughter Helena to Chandragupta in exchange of a nominal gift of 500 elephants given by Chandragupta.

  ‘’Seleukos was assassinated in 280 BC by Ptolemy Keraunos at Hellespont after reigning for thirty-two years and at the age of seventy-eight. Baktria was wrested from the third prince Seleukos line about 256 BC by Theodotos who raised the dependency to the status of an independent Kingdom. It was a warlike dynasty that lasted for about 130 years.”

There is a long ist of ancient Indian frontier peoples. One should not confuse India that we are dealing with here with geographical India of today. And, there is no scope for nationalist sentiment on this account. Ancient Hindu scriptures, like Poorans, also describe an Aryavrata that was geographically much wide than today’s India. In fact, Aryavrata was the abode of Aryans that encompassed most of the modern Central Asian States of today and beyond. It is a matter of research.

One Ammianus Marcellinus, who probably lived in 390 AD, was a native of Antioch in Syria, being a professional soldier took part in several campaigns in the East and later settled in Rome, provides details of the Indian frontiers in the sixth chapter of twenty-third book of his ‘History’ thus: “To the north of the Seres lives the Ariani- a people exposed to the blasts of the north wind. Their country is traversed by the Arias, a navigable river, which forms a lake of the same name. Aria possesses a great many towns, of which the most distinguished are Bitaxa, Sarmatina, Sotera, and Nisibis and Alexandria. From this last place the distance by water to the Caspian Sea is reckoned at 1500 stadia. In proximity to Aria are the Paropanisatae, whose country has the Indians on its eastern frontier and Caucasus on the western. They occupy the slopes of this range.

  “The Ortogordomaris, which is the largest of all their rivers, has its sources in Bactriana. They have besides some towns, of which the more notable are Agazaca and Naulibus and Ortopana. From thence a coasting voyage as far as the frontiers of Media next to the Caspian Gates is a run of 2200 stadia. Over against Drangiana Arachosia comes into view, touching India on its right (eastern) side. It is called after the river which washes it, and which issues from the Indus, the greatest of rivers, than which it is far smaller, though it has amplitude of waters, and forms the lake called Arachotoscrene. Among the cities of this country the most important are Alexandria and Arbaca and Choaspa.

  ‘’At the extremity of Persis is situated Gedrosia, which on the right touches the borders of India. It is fertilized by the Artabius and some other smaller streams. Here terminate the Barbitanian Mountains, whence other streams issue, and lose each of them its name in that of the mightier river Indus. Gedrosia too has its cities, not to mention islands subject to its rule. The cities, which are considered superior to the others, are Sedratyra and Gynaeconlimen.”

  Jaganmohan Verma, who has translated from Chinese into Hindi the travelogue of Fa-Hian, says in a note thus: “Yuche people were expelled from North West of China around 173 BC and in 160 BC they defeated Sacae. Then Sacae made them flee to the north of Oxus river. A very long time after this event, Kada Faisus got these Yuche together. According to Ital these people were Sacae and Tatar and in 180 BC they were expelled by Huns and thereupon in 126 BC they conquered Bactria near Oxus and then finally conquered Punjab and Kashmir etc.”

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