Dyrbaians: Ktesias on an extremely just people between Baktria and India (early fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Dyrbaians: Ktesias on an extremely just people between Baktria and India (early fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 4, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=11945.

Ancient authors: Ktesias of Knidos (early fourth century BCE), Persian Matters as cited by Stephanus of Byzantium (sixth century CE), Ethnica at “Dyrbaians” (142) = Nichols F11.

Comments: This is one of the very few references to Dyrbaians (or: Dyrbaeans) as a people to the east, presumably pictured as living between Baktria and India. Another reference is found on a fragmentary papyrus of a now lost work, perhaps by Nymphodoros (link). In both cases, there is emphasis on both honesty (regarding not taking things that do not belong to them) and diet. In Ktesias, at least (the other passage is fragmentary), there is a reference to this being a “most just” people, having the ring of ancient Greek notions of the noble barbarian (on which compare the most just Abians of Homer as discussed by Strabo and/or Ephoros – link).

Source of the translation: Translations by Harland.


Dyrbaians (Dyrbaioi): This is a people (ethnos) belonging to the Baktrians and India. In Persian Matters book 10, Ktesias says: “the country of the Dyrbaians extends southwards towards Baktria and India. They are happy and wealthy men, and extremely just. They never commit an unjust act or kill another person. If anyone finds gold, silver, a piece of cloth, or anything else on the street they would never take it away. They do not bake or eat bread or have the custom . . . except for a ritual. But they mill barley very thin, like the Greeks do, and they eat cakes made from grass.

Δυρβαῖοι, ἔθνος καθῆκον εἰς Βάκτρους καὶ τὴν Ἰνδικήν. Κτησίας ἐν Περσικῶν ι, χώρα δὲ πρὸς νότον πρόσκειται, Δυρβαῖοι, πρὸς τὴν Βακτρίην καὶ Ἰνδικὴν κατατείνοντες. οὗτοι εὐδαίµονες ἄνδρες καὶ πλούσιοι καὶ κάρτα δίκαιοί εἰσι· οὗτοι οὔτε ἀδικοῦσιν οὔτε ἀποκτέννυσιν ἄνθρωπον οὐδένα. ἐὰν δέ τι εὕρωσιν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἢ χρυσίον ἢ ἱµάτιον ἢ ἀργύριον ἢ ἄλλο τι, οὐδὲν <ἂν> ἀποκινήσειαν. οὗτοι οὔτε ἀρτοποιέουσιν οὔτ’ ἐσθίουσι οὔτε †νοµίζουσι† ἐὰν µὴ ἱερῶν οὕνεκεν. ἄλφιτα δὲ ποιοῦσιν λεπτότερα καθάπερ οἱ Ἕλληνες· καὶ ἐσθίουσι µάζας ποῶν



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