Indian Ancient Maritime History
India has had a maritime history dating back almost 2,500 years. While the initial impetus to develop maritime links was trade (primarily in cotton, pepper and other spices), due to the monopoly of the Persians and the Arabs over land-based caravan routes, the later maritime journeys spread the influence of early Indian civilisation as far as the islands of Sumatra to the East, and the East coast of Africa to the West.
During the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great shipped the bulk of his army from North Western India (Patala or Xylinepolis) to Egypt via the Indian Ocean led by his friend, Nearchus who also wrote the book, Indikê about the voyage. This was after he sailed down the Indus.
The earliest traceable reference to a organization devoted to ships in ancient India is to the Mauryan Empire from the 4th century BC. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya's Prime Minister Kautilya's Arthashastra devotes a full chapter on the state department of waterways under navadhyaksha (Sanskrit for Superintendent of ships) . The term, nava dvipantaragamanam (Sanskrit for sailing to other lands by ships) appears in this book in addition to appearing in the Buddhist text, Baudhayana Dharmasastra as the interpretation of the term, Samudrasamyanam.
House of Ptolemy
Around 116 BC an interesting incident that had happened in Egypt was reported by Posidonius (ca. 135 BC - 51 BC (also spelled Poseidonius), and later recorded by Strabo. We are told that a shipwrecked Indian sailor was discovered, half-dead, by coast guards on the Red Sea, and was brought to the Egyptian King Physkon (also known as Physcon or Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II) during 118 BC. The sailor said he was the sole survivor of a ship that had sailed from India. The sailor promised to guide any of the King’s navigators on a voyage to India. So a Greek sailor, Eudoxus of Kyzicus (himself an envoy from Greece to Ptolemy VIII), was appointed to that mission.
Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar in 26 BC commissioned his prefect in Egypt, Aelius Gallus, to capture the port of Aden to attack the Ethiopians who controlled the trade from India. This was after the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Although Augustus was unsuccesful in capturing Arabia Felix (present day Yemen), the Romans opened sea routes to India through the Red Sea, where they could buy Chinese silk, bypassing war-torn areas and diminishing the role of Persians and Arabs who previously dominated the trade. Greek writer, Nicolaus of Damascus records an Indian delegation from Pandion (Pandyan?) visited Emperor Augustus in 13 BC at Antioch.
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