Account of Foreign Travellers

Indigenous literature can be supplemented by foreign accounts. To India came Greek, Roman and Chinese visitors, either as ambassadors or travellers or to seek religious knowledge from time to time. They have left behind an account of the things they saw.

To the court of Chandragupta Maurya came a Greek Ambassador called Megasthenes who wrote Indika. Its original text is lost but parts of it have been preserved in fragments quoted by subsequent Greek writers. When read together, these fragments, furnish valuable information not only about the administration but also social classes and economic activities of the Mauryan period.

Greek and Roman accounts of the first and second centuries mention many Indian ports and commodities of trade between India and the Roman Empire. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy’s Geography, both written in Greek, provide valuable data in this regard.

Of the Chinese travelers, mention may be made of Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang. Both of them were Buddhist and came to this country mainly to visit the Buddhist shrines and to study Buddhism. Fa-hsien who came to India in the fifth century AD describes the conditions in India in the age of Guptas whereas Hsuan Tsang presents a similar account of India in the seventh century during the time of king Harshavardhan. Hsuan Tsang also describes in detail the glory of Nalanda University (Bihar) during his times.