Strabo and India
Parmar, Hiteshkumar Chimanlal
Scholarship on Strabo’s Geography has long noticed that the procedure adopted by the author in his account of India is inconsistent with the method he follows elsewhere (Puskás 1993). On the one hand, it has been argued that, while describing the subcontinent, the author quotes so extensively from his sources that he allows practically no space for his own reasoning. Such a writing strategy is unlike the practice he normally adopts (Dueck 2000:180-6). On the other hand, after stressing that the geographical writing may only draw on reliable sources and that the reports on India are unreliable (Geography, 2.1.9 C 70), Strabo writes his own account on the subcontinent by drawing on authors he deemed untrustworthy (Geography, 15.1.1-73 C 685-720). This procedure clearly shifts from the method he follows across his work. However, very few studies have been dedicated exclusively to the matter and this thesis proposes to fill the lacuna. In fact, within Strabonian studies, one trend has tended to analyse individual regions described in Geography (Andreotti 1999), while another has examined themes permeating the book (Clarke 2001 and Engels 1998). The description of India has been widely used to reconstruct relevant aspects of ancient history (Karttunen 1997 and Parker 2008). However, little attention has been paid to the author’s conception of India, which will be the main focus of this thesis. By analysing what Strabo selected from his sources and by considering a network of concepts pervading his work, we will see that apparent inconsistencies serve a number of purposes. In Chapter 1, it will be argued that the inclusion or omission of a given detail related to India was relevant for the political agenda underlying the text. In view of the literature produced at the time and the data made available today by the archaeological research on Indo-Roman trade, Strabo’s account shares the ideology underlying the Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Yet, at times, his text lies between a panegyric and a satire of the Roman Empire. Chapter 2 will show that the author creates an image of India that served to support the aforementioned political agenda. By portraying native kings in association with luxury and corruption, the text refers to traditional Greek conception of the East and this has a bearing on the depiction of the Roman Empire. In Chapter 3, we will see that Strabo’s description addresses ethical questions that were left unsolved by Greek philosophical schools at the time, namely, education for women and the relationship between the philosophical way of life and political compromise. Within this setting of philosophical reflection, the text provides a sound set of moral illustrations, exempla, complete with brief autobiographical remarks.