Scylax of Caryanda and the Circumnavigation of Arabia

The Adventures of Scylax of Caryanda

After the Persian King Darius the Great conquered a portion of the Indus River in 515 BC he needed a better understanding of the terrain ahead of him and thus, commissioned the Greek sailor Scylax of Caryanda to explore the course of the Indus River and find out where it met the sea.

Darius was destined to expand the Persian empire to its territorial peak, and likely had a military campaign in the works. He trusted Scylax to be his eyes and ears while scouting the region.

Scylax wrote an account of his travels, perhaps entitled Periplus (Circumnavigation); it is said to have been dedicated to Darius.

Unfortunately, the work has been lost to history, however, it was occasionally cited by later ancient Greek and Roman authors.

The Circumnavigation of Arabia

According to Herodotus, the expeditionary force set out from the city of Caspatyrus and the Pactyic country, and sailed down the river toward the east and the sunrise until they came to the sea.

There are some geographic issues with this assessment but for the sake of sticking to the big picture, let’s continue.

Upon reaching the Indian Ocean, or at least whatever they perceived the large body of water to be, they turned right and ventured west.

That’s one of the craziest parts of these ancient stories, the sailors have not the slightest clue whether the large body of water they’ve emptied into is something akin to North America’s Great Lakes, a considerably sized Sea, or the Ocean.

Who knows at what point they saw a recognizable geographic or cultural landmark, and how relieved that made them.

Thirty months were spent circumnavigating the waters surrounding the Arabian Peninsula, from the Persian Gulf to a northern point of the Red Sea.

Herodotus writes, “After this circumnavigation, Darius subjugated the Indians and made use of this sea.”

Darius went on to rule over the lands West of the Indus River through the Arabian Peninsula, coastal Sudan, and eastern parts of North Africa like Egypt.

His understanding of the vast swath of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa he conquered was surely bolstered by Scylax’s voyage.

The Persian empire of Darius also extended North into parts of the Balkans and the Caucasus, most of the Black Sea’s coastal regions, and Central Asia.

Hence, their related mappings combined with that of Scylax’s voyage, demonstrate how the Persians were the first to successfully circumnavigate Arabia, and gain a complete comprehension of its geographical makeup.

Following his famous voyage, Scylax of Caryanda disappears from the historical record.


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