Showing posts with label Ants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ants. Show all posts

Wednesday, 15 July 2015



"Eastward of India lies a desert of sand…. There is found in this desert a kind of ant of great size—bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog…. These creatures as they burrow underground throw up the sand in heaps, just as our own ants throw up the earth…. The sand has a rich content of gold, and this is what the Indians are after when they make their expeditions into the desert…. When the Indians reach the place where the gold is, they fill the bags they have brought with them with sand and start for home again as fast as they can go; for if the ants—if we can believe the Persians’ story—smell them, they at once give chase."

95. Now if we compare Babylonian with Euboïc talents, the silver is found to amount to nine thousand eight hundred and eighty[82] talents; and if we reckon the gold at thirteen times the value of silver, weight for weight, the gold-dust is found to amount to four thousand six hundred and eighty Euboïc talents. These being all added together, the total which was collected as yearly tribute for Dareios amounts to fourteen thousand five hundred and sixty Euboïc talents: the sums which are less than these[83] I pass over and do not mention.

96. This was the tribute which came in to Dareios from Asia and from a small part of Libya: but as time went on, other tribute came in also from the islands and from those who dwell in Europe as far as Thessaly. This tribute the king stores up in his treasury in thefollowing manner:--he melts it down and pours it into jars of earthenware, and when he has filled the jars he takes off the earthenware jar from the metal; and when he wants money he cuts off so much as he needs on each occasion.

97. These were the provinces and the assessments of tribute: and the Persian land alone has not been mentioned by me as paying a contribution, for the Persians have their land to dwell in free from payment. The following moreover had no tribute fixed for them to pay, but brought gifts, namely the Ethiopians who border upon Egypt, whom Cambyses subdued as he marched against the Long-lived Ethiopians, those[84] who dwell about Nysa, which is called "sacred," and who celebrate the festivals in honour of Dionysos: these Ethiopians and those who dwell near them have the same kind of seed as the Callantian Indians, and they have underground dwellings.[85] These both together brought every other year, and continue to bring even to my own time, two quart measures[86] of unmelted gold and two hundred blocks of ebony and five Ethiopian boys and twenty large elephant tusks. The Colchians also had set themselves among those who brought gifts, and with them those who border upon them extending as far as the range of the Caucasus (for the Persian rule extends as far as these mountains, but those who dwell in the parts beyond Caucasus toward the North Wind regard the Persians no longer),--these, I say, continued to bring the gifts which they had fixed for themselves every four years[87] even down to my own time, that is to say, a hundred boys and a hundred maidens. Finally, the Arabians brought a thousand talents of frankincense every year. Such were the gifts which these brought to the king apart from the tribute.

98. Now this great quantity of gold, out of which the Indians bring in to the king the gold-dust which has been mentioned, is obtained by them in a manner which I shall tell:--That part of the Indian land which is towards the rising sun is sand; for of all the peoples in Asia of which we know or about which any certain report is given, the Indians dwell furthest away towards the East and the sunrising; seeing that the country to the East of the Indians is desert on account of the sand. Now there are many tribes of Indians, and they do not agree with one another in language; and some of them are pastoral and others not so, and some dwell in the swamps of the river [88] and feed upon raw fish, which they catch by fishing from boats made of cane; and each boat is made of one joint of cane. These Indians of which I speak wear clothing made of rushes: they gather and cut the rushes from the river and then weave them together into a kind of mat and put it on like a corslet.

99. Others of the Indians, dwelling to the East of these, are pastoral and eat raw flesh: these are called Padaians, and they practise the following customs:--whenever any of their tribe falls ill, whether it be a woman or a man, if a man then the men who are his nearest associates put him to death, saying that he is wasting away with the disease and his flesh is being spoilt for them:

[89] and meanwhile he denies stoutly and says that he is not ill, but they do not agree with him; and after they have killed him they feast upon his flesh: but if it be a woman who falls ill, the women who are her greatest intimates do to her in the same manner as the men do in the other case. For

[90] in fact even if a man has come to old age they slay him and feast upon him; but very few of them come to be reckoned as old, for they kill every one who falls into sickness, before he reaches old age.

100. Other Indians have on the contrary a manner of life as follows:--they neither kill any living thing nor do they sowany crops nor is it their custom to possess houses; but they feed on herbs, and they have a grain of the size of millet, in a sheath, which grows of itself from the ground; this they gather and boil with the sheath, and make it their food: and whenever any of them falls into sickness, he goes to the desert country and lies there, and none of them pay any attention either to one who is dead or to one who is sick.

101. The sexual intercourse of all these Indians of whom I have spoken is open like that of cattle, and they have all one colour of skin, resembling that of the Ethiopians: moreover the seed which they emit is not white like that of other races, but black like their skin; and the Ethiopians also are similar in this respect. These tribes of Indians dwell further off than the Persian power extends, and towards the South Wind, and they never became subjects of Dareios.

102. Others however of the Indians are on the borders of the city of Caspatyros and the country of Pactyïke, dwelling towards the North[91] of the other Indians; and they have a manner of living nearly the same as that of the Bactrians: these are the most warlike of the Indians, and these are they who make expeditions for the gold. For in the parts where they live it is desert on account of the sand; and in this desert and sandy tract are produced ants, which are in size smaller than dogs but larger than foxes, for[92] there are some of them kept at the residence of the king of Persia, which are caught here. These ants then make their dwelling under ground and carry up the sand just in the same manner as the ants found in the land of the Hellenes, which they themselves[93] also very much resemble in form; and the sand which is brought up contains gold. To obtain this sand the Indians make expeditions into the desert, each one having yoked together three camels, placing a female in the middle and a male like a trace-horse to draw by each side. On this female he mounts himself, having arranged carefully that she shall be taken to be yoked from young ones, the more lately born the better. For their female camels are not inferior to horses in speed, and moreover they are much more capable of bearing weights.

103. As to the form of the camel, I do not here describe it, since the Hellenes for whom I write are already acquainted with it, but I shall tell that which is not commonly known about it, which is this:--the camel has in the hind legs four thighs and four knees,[94] and its organs of generation are between the hind legs, turned towards the tail.

104. The Indians, I say, ride out to get the gold in the manner and with the kind of yoking which I have described, making calculations so that they may be engaged in carrying it off at the time when the greatest heat prevails; for the heat causes the ants to disappear underground. Now among these nations the sun is hottest in the morning hours, not at midday as with others, but from sunrise to the time of closing the market: and during this time it produces much greater heat than at midday in Hellas, so that it is said that then they drench themselves with water. Midday however has about equal degree of heat with the Indians as with other men, while after midday their sun becomes like the morning sun with other men, and after this, as it goes further away, it produces still greater coolness, until at last at sunset it makes the air very cool indeed.

105. When the Indians have come to the place with bags, they fill them with the sand and ride away back as quickly as they can, for forthwith the ants, perceiving, as the Persians allege, by the smell, begin to pursue them: and this animal, they say, is superior to every other creature in swiftness, so that unless the Indians got a start in their course, while the ants were gathering together, not one of them would escape. So then the male camels, for they are inferior in speed of running to the females, if they drag behind are even let loose

[95] from the side of the female, one after the other;

[96] the females however, remembering the young which they left behind, do not show any slackness in their course.

[97] Thus it is that the Indians get most part of the gold, as the Persians say; there is however other gold also in their land obtained by digging, but in smaller quantities.

106. It seems indeed that the extremities of the inhabited world had allotted to them by nature the fairest things, just as it was the lot of Hellas to have its seasons far more fairly tempered than other lands: for first, India is the most distant of inhabited lands towards the East, as I have said a little above, and in this land not only the animals, birds as well as four-footed beasts, are much larger than in other places (except the horses, which are surpassed by those of Media called Nessaian), but also there is gold in abundance there, some got by digging, some brought down by rivers, and some carried off as I explained just now: and there also the trees which grow wild produce wool which surpasses in beauty and excellence that from sheep, and the Indians wear clothing obtained from these trees.

107. Then again Arabia is the furthest of inhabited lands in the direction of the midday, and in it alone of all lands grow frankincense and myrrh and cassia and cinnamon and gum-mastich. All these except myrrh are got with difficulty by the Arabians. Frankincense they collect by burning the storax, which is brought thence to the Hellenes by the Phenicians, by burning this, I say, so as to produce smoke they take it; for these trees which produce frankincense are guarded by winged serpents, small in size and of various colours, which watch in great numbers about each tree, of the same kind as those which attempt to invade Egypt:[97a] and they cannot be driven away from the trees by any other thing but only the smoke of storax. 

108. The Arabians say also that all the world would have been by this time filled with these serpents, if that did not happen with regard to them which I knew happened with regard to vipers: 

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History 
John Bostock


Gold is found in our own part of the world; not to mention the gold extracted from the earth in India by the ants,226 and in Scythia by the Griffins.227 Among us it is procured in three different ways; the first of which is, in the shape of dust, found in running streams, the Tagus228 in Spain, for instance, the Padus in Italy, the Hebrus in Thracia, the Pactolus in Asia, and the Ganges in India; indeed, there is no gold found in a more perfect state than this, thoroughly polished as it is by the continual attrition of the current.

A second mode of obtaining gold is by sinking shafts or seeking it among the debris of mountains; both of which methods it will be as well to describe. The persons in search of gold in the first place remove the "segutilum,"229 such being the name of the earth which gives indication of the presence of gold. This done, a bed is made, the sand of which is washed, and, according to the residue found after washing, a conjecture is formed as to the richness of the vein. Sometimes, indeed, gold is found at once in the surface earth, a success, however, but rarely experienced. Recently, for instance, in the reign of Nero, a vein was discovered in Dalmatia, which yielded daily as much as fifty pounds' weight of gold. The gold that is thus found in the surface crust is known as "talutium,"230 in cases where there is auriferous earth beneath. The mountains of Spain,231 in other respects arid and sterile, and productive of nothing whatever, are thus constrained by man to be fertile, in supplying him with this precious commodity.

The gold that is extracted from shafts is known by some persons as "canalicium," and by others as "canaliense;"232 it is found adhering to the gritty crust of marble,233and, altogether different from the form in which it sparkles in the sapphirus234 of the East, and in the stone of Thebais235 and other gems, it is seen interlaced with the molecules of the marble. The channels of these veins are found running in various directions along the sides of the shafts, and hence the name of the gold they yield—"canalicium."236 In these shafts, too, the superincumbent earth is kept from falling in by means of wooden pillars. The substance that is extracted is first broken up, and then washed; after which it is subjected to the action of fire, and ground to a fine powder. This powder is known as "apitascudes," while the silver which becomes disengaged in the237 furnace has the name of "sudor"238 given to it. The im- purities that escape by the chimney, as in the case of all other metals, are known by the name of "scoria." In the case of gold, this scoria is broken up a second time, and melted over again. The crucibles used for this purpose are made of "tasconium,"239a white earth similar to potter's clay in appearance; there being no other substance capable of with-standing the strong current of air, the action of the fire, and the intense heat of the melted metal.

The third method of obtaining gold surpasses the labours of the Giants240 even: by the aid of galleries driven to a long distance, mountains are excavated by the light of torches, the duration of which forms the set times for work, the workmen never seeing the light of day for many months together. These mines are known as "arrugiæ;"241 and not unfrequently clefts are formed on a sudden, the earth sinks in, and the workmen are crushed beneath; so that it would really appear less rash to go in search of pearls and purples at the bottom of the sea, so much more dangerous to ourselves have we made the earth than the water! Hence it is, that in this kind of mining, arches are left at frequent intervals for the purpose of supporting the weight of the mountain above. In mining either by shaft or by gallery, barriers of silex are met with, which have to be driven asunder by the aid of fire and vinegar;242 or more frequently, as this method fills the galleries with suffocating vapours and smoke, to be broken to pieces with bruising- machines shod with pieces of iron weighing one hundred and fifty pounds: which done, the fragments are carried out on the workmen's shoulders, night and day, each man passing them on to his neighbour in the dark, it being only those at the pit's mouth that ever see the light. In cases where the bed of silex appears too thick to admit of being penetrated, the miner traces along the sides of it, and so turns it. And yet, after all, the labour entailed by this silex is looked upon as comparatively easy, there being an earth—a kind of potter's clay mixed with gravel, "gangadia" by name, which it is almost impossible to overcome. This earth has to be attacked with iron wedges and hammers like those previously mentioned,243 and it is generally considered that there is nothing more stubborn in existence—except indeed the greed for gold, which is the most stubborn of all things.

When these operations are all completed, beginning at the last, they cut away244 the wooden pillars at the point where they support the roof: the coming downfall gives warning, which is instantly perceived by the sentinel, and by him only, who is set to watch upon a peak of the same mountain. By voice as well as by signals, he orders the workmen to be immediately summoned from their labours, and at the same moment takes to flight himself. The mountain, rent to pieces, is cleft asunder, hurling its debris to a distance with a crash which it is impossible for the human imagination to conceive; and from the midst of a cloud of dust, of a density quite incredible, the victorious miners gaze upon this downfall of Nature. Nor yet even then are they sure of gold, nor indeed were they by any means certain that there was any to be found when they first began to excavate, it being quite sufficient, as an inducement to undergo such perils and to incur such vast expense, to entertain the hope that they shall obtain what they so eagerly desire.

Another labour, too, quite equal to this, and one which entails even greater expense, is that of bringing rivers245 from the more elevated mountain heights, a distance in many instances of one hundred miles perhaps, for the purpose of washing these debris. The channels thus formed are called "corrugi," from our word "corrivatio,"246I suppose; and even when these are once made, they entail a thousand fresh labours. The fall, for instance, must be steep, that the water may be precipitated, so to say, rather than flow; and it is in this manner that it is brought from the most elevated points. Then, too, vallies and crevasses have to be united by the aid of aqueducts, and in another place impassable rocks have to be hewn away, and forced to make room for hollowed troughs of wood; the person hewing them hanging suspended all the time with ropes, so that to a spectator who views the operations from a distance, the workmen have all the appearance, not so much of wild beasts, as of birds upon the wing.247 Hanging thus suspended in most instances, they take the levels, and trace with lines the course the water is to take; and thus, where there is no room even for man to plant a footstep, are rivers traced out by the hand of man. The water, too, is considered in an unfit state for washing, if the current of the river carries any mud along with it. The kind of earth that yields this mud is known as "urium;"248 and hence it is that in tracing out these channels, they carry the water over beds of silex or pebbles, and carefully avoid this urium. When they have reached the head of the fall, at the very brow of the mountain, reservoirs are hollowed out, a couple of hundred feet in length and breadth, and some ten feet in depth. In these reservoirs there are generally five sluices left, about three feet square; so that, the moment the reservoir is filled, the floodgates are struck away, and the torrent bursts forth with such a degree of violence as to roll onwards any fragments of rock which may obstruct its passage.

When they have reached the level ground, too, there is still another labour that awaits them. Trenches—known as "agogæ"249—have to be dug for the passage of the water; and these, at regular intervals, have a layer of ulex placed at the bottom. This ulex250 is a plant like rosemary in appearance, rough and prickly, and well-adapted for arresting any pieces of gold that may be carried along. The sides, too, are closed in with planks, and are supported by arches when carried over steep and precipitous spots. The earth, carried onwards in the stream, arrives at the sea at last, and thus is the shattered mountain washed away; causes which have greatly tended to extend the shores of Spain by these encroachments upon the deep. It is also by the agency of canals of this description that the material, excavated at the cost of such immense labour by the process previously described,251 is washed and car- ried away; for otherwise the shafts would soon be choked up by it.

The gold found by excavating with galleries does not require to be melted, but is pure gold at once. In these excavations, too, it is found in lumps, as also in the shafts which are sunk, sometimes exceeding ten pounds even. The names given to these lumps are "palagæ," and "palacurnæ,"252 while the gold found in small grains is known as "baluce." The ulex that is used for the above purpose is dried and burnt, after which the ashes of it are washed upon a bed of grassy turf, in order that the gold may be deposited thereupon.

Asturia, Gallæcia, and Lusitania furnish in this manner, yearly, according to some authorities, twenty thousand pounds' weight of gold, the produce of Asturia forming the major part. Indeed, there is no part of the world that for centuries has maintained such a continuous fertility in gold. I have already253 mentioned that by an ancient decree of the senate, the soil of Italy has been protected from these researches; otherwise, there would be no land more fertile in metals. There is extant also a censorial law relative to the gold mines of Victumulæ, in the territory of Vercellæ,254by which the farmers of the revenue were forbidden to employ more than five thousand men at the works.


Like the giant gold-digging ants Herodotus described in the fifth century BC or this 16th-century depiction of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors battling giant crabs in the Indian Ocean, the fantastic, the strange and the astonishing have always been ascribed to whatever lands were little-known and distant. For Europeans, this was the East.
The first thing Herodotus mentions about India is gold. In a discussion of Darius’s revenues from 19 tributary nations, Herodotus says that the largest amount was paid by India: "The Indians, the most populous nation in the known world, paid the largest sum: 360 talents of gold." The fact that it is improbable that the Indians paid Darius any tribute at all does not detract from the significance of the account: It shows that, by the time of Herodotus, India was already regarded as the richest and most populous place in the world—and that it produced gold. The idea of the fabled "riches of the east," so to obsess Europeans, had already reached its classical formulation some 2500 years ago.