Peoples of Arachosia and Ariana: Pliny the Elder on peoples between Baktria and India (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Peoples of Arachosia and Ariana: Pliny the Elder on peoples between Baktria and India (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 21, 2023,

Ancient author: Pliny the Elder (first century CE), Natural History 6.92-95 (link).

Comments: After an extensive aside on Taprobane or Sri Lanka (link), Pliny the Elder comes back further west to the districts of Arachosia and Ariana, which had previously been among the Persian empire’s satrapies. Pliny skims through a variety of peoples located just south of both Baktria and the Hindu Kush mountains in what is now eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Subsequently, Pliny moves still further west to Persis and to Karmania and Gedrosia, also satrapies of the Persian empire in the past (link).

Source of the translation: H. Rackham, W.H.S. Jones, and D.E. Eichholz, Pliny: Natural History, 10 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1938-1962), public domain (Rackham passed away in 1944, Jones passed away in 1963, copyright not renewed as well), adapted by Harland.


[Peoples in Arachosia (Afghanistan)]

(6.92-95) The following is the arrangement of the four satrapies [of Persian empire] which we deferred to this place in our account. After leaving the peoples (gentes) nearest to India, you come to the mountain districts. The district of Kapisene formerly had a city named Kapisa, which was destroyed by Cyrus; and, next Arachosia, with a river and town of the same name. This town, which was founded by Semiramis, was called Cufis [also known as Alexandria in Arachosia; modern Kandahar, Afghanistan] by some writers. After this is the Erymandos, flowing past the Arachosian town of Parabeste.

Next to the Arachosians writers place the Dexendrusians on the south side, adjoining a section of the Arachosians, and the Paropanisadians on the north. Beneath the Kaukasos [Hindu Kush in this case] is the town of Kartana, later called Tetragonis. This region is opposite to Baktria, and then comes the region of the Arianians, whose town is called Alexandria after its founder. There are the Syndrakians, Dangalians, Parapinians, Katakians and Mazians. Near the Kaukasos [Hindu Kush] are the Kadrousians, whose town was founded by Alexander.

[Peoples of Ariana (Afghanistan and western Pakistan)]

Below these places the whole country is more level. In the direction of the Indus is the Ariana region, which is scorched by glowing heat and encircled by deserts. Extending in the district between them with plenty of shade, it is occupied by numerous farmers, settled especially on the banks of two rivers, the Tonberos and the Arosapes. There is a town, Artakoana, and a river, Anos, which flows past Alexandria, a town founded by Alexander which covers an area of nearly four miles.

There is also the much more beautiful as well as older town of Artakabene, the fortifications of which were renewed by Antiochos, covers an area of six miles. Then there is the Dorisdorsigian people; the rivers Pharnakotis and Ophrados; Prophthasia; the town of Zaraspadon; the Drangians, Euergetians, Zarangians and Gedrosians; the towns of Peukolis, Lyphorta and Methorkon; a space of desert; the river Manain, the Akutrian people; the river Loins; the Orbian people; the navigable river Pomanos at the frontier of the Pandae and the Kabiros river at the frontier of the Suarians, forming a good harbour at its mouth; and, the town of Condigramma and the river Kabul. Navigable tributaries of the Kabul are the Saddaros, Parospus and Sodamus. Some hold that Daritis is part of Ariana, and they give the dimensions of both as 1,950 miles long and a width one half of the width of India. Others place the Gedrosians and Sirians as covering an area of one hundred and thirty-eight miles.

Then there are the Ichthyphagian (“Fish-eating”) Oreitians, who do not speak the Indian language but have one of their own, covering a space of two hundred miles. (Alexander made an order forbidding a fish diet to all the Ichthyophagians.) Next they put the people of the Arbians, covering two hundred miles. Beyond them there is a region of desert, and then come Karmania, Persis, and Arabia.

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