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Nearchus' voyage home (2)


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). When Alexander returned from India, the greater part of his army was shipped to Babylonia by Nearchus, a youth friend of Alexander who served as his fleet commander. After Alexander's death, Nearchus wrote a book on his adventures, the Indikê. This work is now lost, but a summary can be found in another work called Indikê, written by the Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia. Section 33 is printed below in a translation made by E. Iliff Robson.
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Map of the expeditions of Scylax and Nearchus. Design Jona Lendering.
 
Beyond these Fish-eaters [1] the Gedrosians [2] inhabit the interior, a poor and sandy territory; this was where Alexander's army and Alexander himself suffered so seriously, as I have already related in my other book.[3]


But when the fleet, leaving the Fish-eaters, put in at Carmania, they anchored in the open, at the point where they first touched Carmania; since there was a long and rough line of surf parallel with the coast. From there they sailed no further due west, but took a new course and steered with their bows pointing between north and west. Carmania is better wooded than the country of the Fish-eaters, and bears more fruits; it has more grass, and is well watered. 

They moored at an inhabited place called Badis, in Carmania [4]; with many cultivated trees growing, except the olive tree, and good vines; it also produced corn. Thence they set out and voyaged eight hundred stades [5], and moored off a desert shore; and they sighted a long cape jutting out far into the ocean; it seemed as if the headland itself was a day's sail away.

Those who had knowledge of the district said that this promontory belonged to Arabia, and was called Maceta [6]; and that thence the Assyrians imported cinnamon and other spices. From this beach of which the fleet anchored in the open roadstead, and the promontory, which they sighted opposite them, running out into the sea, the bay (this is my opinion, and Nearchus held the same) runs back into the interior, and would seem to be the Red Sea. 

When they sighted this cape, Onesicritus bade them take their course from it and sail direct to it, in order not to have the trouble of  coasting round the bay. Nearchus, however, replied that Onesicritus was a fool, if he was ignorant of Alexander's purpose in dispatching the expedition. It was not because he was unequal to the bringing all his force safely through on foot that he had dispatched the fleet; but he desired to reconnoiter the coasts that lay on the line of the voyage, the roadsteads, the islets; to explore thoroughly any bay which appeared, and to learn of any cities which lay on the sea-coast; and to find out what land was fruitful, and what was desert. They must therefore not spoil Alexander's undertaking, especially when they were almost at the close of their toils, and were, moreover, no longer in any difficulty about provisions on their coasting cruise. His own fear was, since the cape ran a long way southward, that they would find the land there waterless and sun-scorched. 

This view prevailed; and I think that Nearchus evidently saved the expeditionary force by this decision; for it is generally held that this cape and the country about it are entirely desert and quite denuded of water.

Note 1:
The Fish-eaters were poor people living on the coast of Gedrosia; the region is now called Makran. 

Note 2:
Gedrosia was a satrapy in the west of modern Pakistan, also called Balûchistân. 

Note3:
Trying to cross the Gedrosian desert, Alexander had lost many men. You can find Arrian's narrative here.

Note 4:
Badis is perhaps identical to modern Tujak at the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz..

Note 5:
Roughly eighty nautical miles, but in fact Nearchus was unable to measure distances at sea. 

Note 6:
The Musandam peninsula in modern Oman; it was part of the Achaemenid empire and called Maka.

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