Was Alexander aware of China’s existence?

By Sunil Kumar

Most historical sources indicate that Alexander was not aware of China’s existence; and Greek historians believed in many fanciful theories about the rest of the world; such as ants burrowing for gold in ancient Kashmir; giants in South India etc.

In ancient Greek geography, the basin of the Indus River (essentially corresponding to the territory of modern Pakistan) was on the extreme eastern fringe of the known world.

9th century fresco from the Bezeklik grottoes ...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in 9th century fresco from the Bezeklik grottoes near Turfan, Tarim Basin, China. The person to the left is an European/Western Asian trader or monk (distinguishable by his red hair and full beard and face), to the right an East Asian buddhist monk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the source from Herodotus(Histories):

For it is in this part of India that the sandy desert lies. Here, in this desert, there live amid the sand great ants, in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes. The Persian king has a number of them, which have been caught by the hunters in the land whereof we are speaking. Those ants make their dwellings under ground, and like the Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up sand heaps as they burrow. Now the sand which they throw up is full of gold.

Now after Alexander made his way into Northwest India and Bactria(parts of present-day Afghanistan); he founded the city of Alexandria Eschate (“Alexandria the Furthest”) in the Ferghana valley(modern Tajikistan) about 400 kms(249 miles) west of the Tarim Basin(now Xinjiang). The Greeks(Macedonians) of the time were fixated on the Persians; the guys they had the most conflicts with. To get into China; which was largely on its eastern seaboard; and divided into 7 states(the strongest being the Qin); he would have to pass through present-day Sinkiang(Xinjiang, Turkestan) and make his way to battle these splintered kingdoms. It would then be an interesting fight.

The most probable explanation seems to be true. He was not aware of the existence of these kingdoms; which were to later merge.

This is a map of the Tarim River drainage basi...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in This is a map of the Tarim River drainage basin. Note that river courses shown crossing the Taklamakan Desert are usually dry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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