Nearchus' voyage home

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.

Sections 24 and 32 are offered below in a translation made by E. Iliff Robson.

Nearchus' Indikê 24

[24.1] Thence they set sail and progressed with a favoring wind; and after a passage of five hundred stadesnote the anchored by a torrent, which was called Tomerus.note

[24.2] There was a lagoon at the mouths of the river, and the depressions near the bank were inhabited by natives in stifling cabins. These seeing the convoy sailing up were astounded, and lining along the shore stood ready to repel any who should attempt a landing.

[24.3] They carried thick spears, about six cubits long; these had no iron tip, but the same result was obtained by hardening the point with fire. They were in number about six hundred.

[24.4] Nearchus observed these evidently standing firm and drawn up in order, and ordered the ships to hold back within range, so that their missiles might reach the shore; for the natives' spears, which looked stalwart, were good for close fighting, but had no terrors against a volley.

[24.5] Then Nearchus took the lightest and lightest armed troops, such as were also the best swimmers, and bade them swim off as soon as the word was given.

[24.6] Their orders were that, as soon as any swimmer found bottom, he should await his mate, and not attack the natives till they had their formation three deep; but then they were to raise their battle cry and charge at the double.

[24.7] On the word, those detailed for this service dived from the ships into the sea, and swam smartly, and took up their formation in orderly manner, and having made a phalanx, charged, raising, for their part, their battle cry to the god of War, and those on shipboard raised the cry along with them; and arrows and missiles from the engines were hurled against the natives

[24.8] They, astounded at the flash of the armor, and the swiftness of the charge, and attacked by showers of arrows and missiles, half naked as they were, never stopped to resist but gave way. Some were killed in flight; others were captured; but some escaped into the hills.

[24.9] Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts' claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes.


Nearchus' Indikê 32

[32.1] Beyond these Fish-eatersnote the Gedrosians 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.note

[32.2] 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.

[32.3] From there they sailed no further due west, but took a new course and steered with their bows pointing between north and west.

[32.4] Carmania is better wooded than the country of the Fish-eaters, and bears more fruits; it has more grass, and is well watered.

[32.5] They moored at an inhabited place called Badis, in Carmania;note with many cultivated trees growing, except the olive tree, and good vines; it also produced corn.

[32.6] Thence they set out and voyaged eight hundred stades,note 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.

[32.7] Those who had knowledge of the district said that this promontory belonged to Arabia, and was called Maceta;note and that thence the Assyrians imported cinnamon and other spices.

[32.8] 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. 

[32.9] 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.

[32.10] Nearchus, however, replied that Onesicritus was a fool, if he was ignorant of Alexander's purpose in dispatching the expedition.

[32.11] 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.

[32.12] 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. 

[32.13] 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.