Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gangaridai; The lands of Bangladesh

Ancient map, indicating 'Gangeticvs Sinvs'.
As we seek to explain the rapidly growing evidence, now accepted by United Nations World Tourism Organisation, that Bangladesh, as the lands of the Ganges Delta, the entry to the Indian Ocean of three of Asia’s greatest rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, that these lands were not only a flourishing centre of world trade, perhaps from as early as 2nd Millennium BCE, but also a vital trade link to China for most of that period, exciting new evidence is also emerging of the Kingdom of Gangaridai.
That the Silk Road, identified as the Southwest Silk Road by Chinese archaeologists, flourished from at least the 1st Century BCE there is documentary, archaeological and circumstantial evidence which it is hard to refute, but that the lands around the Delta were, what almost appears to have been a mythical kingdom, now seems to be confirmed by emerging further documentary evidence.
Greek historian, Siculus.
As early as the ‘mythical’ age, of which the Greek, Sicilian born historian, Diodorus Siculus wrote in the middle of 1st Century BCE, we find, in Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, that Datis, a chieftain, leader of the Gangaridai who was in the army of Perses 3rd, fought against Aeetes during the Colchian civil war. Colchis was situated in modern day Georgia, on the east of the Black Sea. Aeetes was the famous king of Colchia against whom Jason and the Argonauts undertook their famous expedition in search of the Golden Fleece.
Virgil, the great Roman poet of 1st Century BCE also wrote of the valour of the Gangaridae in his famous Georgics, 'On the doors will I represent in gold and ivory the battle of the Gangaridae and the arms of our victorious Quirinius’, in his celebration of Quirinius victory in the Gallatian Wars, evidently with Gangaridian mercenaries in his army.

Which raises the suspicion that soldiers from the Gagaridai were mercenaries in the Roman Army in the 1st Century BCE. Evidently valued allies of all conquering Rome.
These soldiers are first mentioned in the Greek diplomat and historian Megasthenes writing about Alexander the Great’s retreat from India.
The least breadth of the Ganges is eight miles, and its greatest twenty. In depth where it is shallowest is fully a hundred feet. The people who live in the furthest part are the Gangarides, whose king possesses 1,000 horse, 700 elephants and 60,000 foot in apparatus of war.
In fact, this number is vastly increased by the 1st Century, Greco Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus, whose king, Xandrammes, had an army of 20,000 horse, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants equipped for war’ However, it is unclear whether or not he was aggregating the combined forces of the Gangaridai and the  ‘Prasioi’, who were probably the people of the Indian side of the Ganges, that became the peoples who, with their capital at Patna, were the hub of both Mahagda Kingdom and Mauryan Empire.
Both were writing of the force that so intimidated the army of Alexander, that they refused to follow him across the river, and started his retreat from his long advance across Europe and Asia.
There seems little doubt, now, that Alexander’s advance towards Gangaridai was occasioned by the prospect of considerable loot, which supports the view that this was at the centre of a great trading network across the oceans.

Still a busy trade network today.
But even Plutarch, another of the great 1st century Roman writers, agreed, ‘This river... the Ganges'... they heard, had its furthest banks covered all over with armed men, horses and elephants.
Strabo, the great Roman geographer and historian offers another take on the area, less concerned with Alexander, and the military might of those lands, writing, instead, in his ‘Geographia’, published about 7CE/AD. ‘Concerning those merchants who sail from Egypt... even to the Ganges, they are but private citizens, and know nothing of the history of the places they visit’.
That it was, above all, a great centre of trade is, perhaps, significantly confirmed by the 3rd Century Roman writer and traveller, Dionysius Periegetes, who, in describing  a crossing of north India, wrote, ‘Next come the wild tribes of the Peukalensians, beyond whom lie the seats of the Gangaridae, worshippers of Bacchus..’. That the people whose lands were the destination of merchants, travellers and sailors from across the known world, and including men who had travelled that world, no doubt as sailors, but, as we know from other writers, probably as mercenary soldiers too, should be dedicated followers of the Roman god of wine and drunkenness can come as no surprise!

Traditional cargo ship that travels the 'Gangaridai' today.

It is left to the mid 1st Century, mariner’s bible, the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’, to observe, ‘sailing with the ocean on the right and the shore remaining beyond the left, Ganges comes into view, and near it the very last land towards the east, Chryse'... which is the name often used by the ancients as a ‘mythical’ land. In other words, the ends of the known world! The Periplus list, ‘raw silk, from an inland city called Thina’, as well as, ‘malabathrum', the bay tree herb, and Gangetic spikeyard, another valuable herb, and pearls and muslin of the finest sorts, which are called Gangetic. It is said there are gold mines near these places.
Ptolemy, the 2nd century Greco Roman cartographer, described the lands of the Gangaridai, ‘All the country about the mouths of the Ganges is occupied by the Gangaridai with this city:- 'Gange, the royal residence'.
The location of this capital, identified by Ptolemy, and others, has yet to be identified, although excavation work in India and Bangladesh has produced candidates, with Wari Bateshwar, at Narshingdhi, in Bangladesh the most evident candidate, given its size, enclosed by the banks of the Old Brahmaputra, and a 5.3km rampart, still substantially intact,on the landside. Sadly, Bangladesh lacks the resources for substantial investigation of what was, quite evidently, a major centre of trade, with evidence of ancient coinage, carbon dated to 7th Century BCE, and significant manufacturing.

Remains of 'considerable loot" found in Wari Bateshwar!

Other candidates certainly include Vikrampur, the almost entirely submerged city on the north bank of the Padma/Ganges , and south bank of the Old Ganges, of which only a small, experimental excavation has, at least, suggested a huge size of ancient city.
Beneath the rich soil of the delta plains, other candidates may well emerge, and even ancient Barisal and the Forbes magazine listed ‘lost city’ of Bagerhat, must be candidates.

Perhaps the most thought provoking aspect of this mysterious history is that, with the number of classical Greek and Roman writers who have written of the lands of Bangladesh, evidently fully familiar with land, and location, is that, in today’s ‘Information Age’, these same lands, and their rich history, are so little known, either as a nation, or its location!
It may well be said that such research raises more questions than it answers, but then, that is the beginning of knowledge! What is certain is that, emerging from the rich ground of these deltaic lands, and from the myths and legends of history, is emerging a rich, and powerful kingdom, once allies with Rome itself, that laid the foundation of the fabulous wealth of the region that brought so many traders, then invaders, over the ensuing centuries and millennia. Alexander, it seems, was the first of many, but even he failed, defeated, in the end, not by the enemy, but by the fear of his own army, terrified by the stories from seeking the loot he promised them, at the end of the known world.

Local jewels found today.

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