Greek Travellers on the Negroid Origin of Sudras

The distinction between the black-skinned Sudroid races of southern India and the fair-skinned Aryan races of northern India is not an invention of English colonialist historians; it is a feature mentioned by the earliest Greek travellers who visited south Asia centuries before the advent of Robert Clive.

The ancient Greeks considered the Africans and Sudras (modern Dalits and Dravidians) as belonging to the same `Ethiopian' stock. `Ethiopian' was the Greek word for `Negro', and Greek authors referred to the African Negroes as `Western Ethiopians' and to the Sudroids as `Eastern Ethiopians' (ie. Eastern Negroes) [ cf. Herodotus.VI.70 ]. Witness the following citation from Herodotus -

" The Eastern Ethiopians, [ ie. Sudras ] differed in nothing from the other Ethiopians, save in their language, and the character of their hair. For the Eastern Ethiopians have straight hair, while they of Libya are more woolly-haired than any other people in the world. "

The Greek authors always referred to " the distinction between the inhabitants of the north and south " of India [ Elphinstone, Vol.I, p.287 ]. The southern Indians are universally described as " black " , and " not unlike Ethiopians "; the northern ones are described as fairer, and " like Egyptians " [ Arrian, Indica; Strabo, lib.xv, chap.6 cited in Elphinstone ]. Arrian explicitly mentions the North-South difference -


" [I]n other respects India is not unlike Ethiopia, and the Indian rivers have crocodiles like the Ethiopian and Egyptian Nile; and some of the Indian rivers have fish and other large water animals like those of the Nile, save the river-horse: though Onesicritus states that they do have the river-horse also. The appearance of the inhabitants, too, is not so far different in India and Ethiopia; the southern Indians resemble the Ethiopians a good deal, and, are black of countenance, and their hair black also, only they are not as snub-nosed or so woolly-haired as the Ethiopians; but the northern Indians are most like the Egyptians in appearance. "

Arrian, `Anabasis Alexandri, Book VIII (Indica),' Chapter 6, tr. E. Iliff Robson (1933)

This statement is confirmed by Strabo -

" I might almost say that the same animals are to be found in India as in Aethiopia and Egypt, and that the Indian rivers have all the other river animals except the hippopotamus, although Onesicritus says that the hippopotamus is also to be found in India. As for the people of India, those in the south are like the Aethiopians in colour, although they are like the rest in respect to countenance and hair (for on account of the humidity of the air their hair does not curl), whereas those in the north are like the Egyptians. "

It is sometimes alleged that these eminent historians are not referring to the Sudras in general, but only to the Pygmies of the Andamans. This theory is refuted by the following statement of the Periplus, which no doubt describes the tall and black Malabari Dravidians -

" Beyond the gulf of Baraca is that of Barygaza and the coast of the country of Ariaca, which is the beginning of the Kingdom of Nambanus and of all India. That part of it lying inland and adjoining Scythia is called Abiria, but the coast is called Syrastrene. It is a fertile country, yielding wheat and rice and sesame oil and clarified butter, cotton and the Indian cloths made therefrom, of the coarser sorts. Very many cattle are pastured there, and the men are of great stature and black in color. The metropolis of this country is Minnagara, from which much cotton cloth is brought down to Barygaza. In these places there remain even to the present time signs of the expedition of Alexander, such as ancient shrines, walls of forts and great wells. The sailing course along this coast, from Barbaricum to the promontory called Papica opposite Barygaza, and before Astacampra, is of three thousand stadia. "

The Makran was referred to by the Greeks as `Gedrosia', ie. the land of the black people. Black Sudroids form a sizeable portion of the population in this region to this day, and formed one of the groups referred to as `East Ethiopians' [ Kondratov, p.145 ]. Indeed, several geographers considered India merely another extension of Ethiopia or Abyssinia -

Itinerarium Alexandri.49 (cx)
" India as a whole originates from the north, embraces all the area which is Persian, and continues as far as Egypt and the lands of Ethiopia. "


  • `Riddles of 3 Oceans', Alexander Kondratov
  • `Anabasis Alexandri, Book VIII (Indica) ' by Arrian, tr. E. Iliff Robson (1933)
  • `Herodotus, The History' , trans. George Rawlinson, Dutton & Co., N.York, 1862
  • `Itinerarium Alexandri,' Anonymous, 4th century AD, `Alexander's Itinerary, An English Translation' by Iolo Davies, The Ancient History Bulletin 12.1-2 (1998) 29-54
  • `The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century,' W.H. Schoff (tr. & ed.), London, Bombay & Calcutta 1912.
  • `History of India', Mountstuart Elphinstone, J.Murray, Albemarle Street, London 1841, reprinted 1988, Atlantic Publishers New Delhi 1988.
  • `Geography,', Strabo, translated by H. L. Jones (ed.),

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