Indians: Hierokles on visiting the Brahmans (fifth century CE or earlier)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Indians: Hierokles on visiting the Brahmans (fifth century CE or earlier),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 5, 2023,

Ancient authors: Hierokles, Philostores, as cited by Stephanos of Byzantium (sixth century CE), Ethnics / Ethnika at Brachmanes = FHG (Müller) IV 430 F1 (link) and by John Tzetzes (twelfth century CE), Book of Histories, or Chiliades 7, lines 710-730 = FHG (Müller) IV 430 F2 (link).

Comments: In these excerpts from a little known work by an obscure author named Hierokles (likely dating to the fifth century CE or earlier), that author claims to have visited the Brahmans for himself, providing a quick sketch of their lifestyle and clothing. However, the poetic rendition by John Tzetzes suggests that Hierokles’ work Philistores (Lover of Knowledge) was more along the lines of a fantastical narrative focussed on paradoxes (e.g. strange peoples with unusual body parts), rather than an actual travel report. Although brief, these passages are worth preserving here, particularly since this Hierokles is so obscure.

Source of translations: O. Priaulx, Indian Travels of Apollonius of Tyana, and the Indian Embassies to Rome from the Reign of Augustus to the Death of Justinian (London: Quaritch, 1873), 193-194 (link), public domain, and John Tztezes by Vasiliki Dogani (link) adapted by Harland.


Hierokles, Philistores, as cited by Stephanos of Byzantium (sixth century CE)

Brahmans, a very wise Indian people (ethnos), who are also called “Brahmans.” Hierokles in the Philistores (Lover of Knowledge) says:

After this I thought it worth my while to go and visit the Brahman tribe (phylon). These men are philosophers and friends of the gods. They are especially devoted to the sun. They abstain from all meats and live out in the open air. They honour truth. Their dress is made of the soft and skin-like fibres of stones, which they weave into a stuff that no fire bums or water cleanses. When their clothes get soiled or dirty, they are thrown into a blazing fire and the clothes come out quite white and bright.


Hierokles as cited by John Tzetzes, Book of Histories, or Chiliades (twelth century CE)

Even Ktesias claims that among the Indians there are such things as / the amber-producing trees and the Kynokephalians (literally, Dog-headed men). / He says that they are very fair and live by hunting.

In like manner Hierokles in his Philistores relates: / “Speaking in a consequential manner, we saw a country very dry, / and burned up by the sun, and near this land we saw men / naked and homeless near the desert, / of whom some shaded their faces with their ears, / while others shaded the rest of their bodies, by stretching out their feet above them.” /

These details even Strabo recalls, as well as the no-headed, / the ten-headed and the four-hands-and-feet men. / Hierokles relates things, which I have never seen. / These things Hierokles related. Iamboulos, in turn, / says of the round animals in the islands of the Ethiopians, / and the double-tongued men who could with one turn of the scale / converse with two different people. / These things and numerous others Iamboulos relates.


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