), son of Androtimus, one of the most distinguished of the friends and officers of Alexander
He was a native of Crete, but settled at Amphipolis. (Arrian Ind. 18
; Diod. 19.19
. Stephanus Byzantinus, s. v. Λητή
, calls him a native of Lete in Macedonia, but this is certainly a mistake.) Of his family or parentage we know nothing, but he appears to have occupied a prominent position at the court of Philip, where he attached himself to the party of Alexander
, and was banished, together with Ptolemy, Harpalus, and others, for participating in the intrigues of the young prince.
After the death of Philip, he was recalled, and, in common with all those who had suffered on the same account, treated with the utmost distinction by Alexander
. (Plut. Alex. 10
; Arr. Anab. 3.6
After the conquest of the maritime provinces of Asia, Nearchus was appointed to the government of Lycia, together with the adjoining provinces south of the Taurus (Arr. l.c.
), a post which he continued to fill without interruption for five years. In B. C. 329 he joined Alexander
at Zariaspa in Bactria with a force of Greek mercenaries; and from this time, instead of returning to his government, he accompanied the king in his subsequent campaigns.
He appears to have held at first the rank of chiliarch of the hypaspists, a somewhat subordinate situation; but his acquaintance with naval matters, as well as the personal favour he enjoyed with Alexander
, induced the latter during his Indian expedition to confide to Nearchus the chief command of the fleet which he had caused to be constructed on the Hydaspes. (Arr. Anab. 4.7.4
18.) During the descent of that river and the Indus to the sea, his duties were comparatively easy, and he is only mentioned as commanding the fleet whenever the king himself was not with it; but it is evident that he had given sufficient proof of his skill and capacity, so that when Alexander
, after having reached the mouth of the Indus, meditated the sending round his ships by sea from thence to the Persian gulf, he gladly accepted the offer of Nearchus to undertake the command of the fleet during this long and perilous navigation. When we consider the total ignorance of the Greeks at this time concerning the Indian seas, and the imperfect character of their navigation, it is impossible not to admire the noble confidence with which Nearchus ventured to promise that he would bring the ships in safety to the shores of Persia, "if the sea were navigable, and the thing feasible for mortal man." (Arrian Ind. 19, 20
6.5, 19; Curt. 9.38
; Diod. 17.104
; Plut. Alex. 66
.) Nor did his conduct throughout the expedition fall short of his promises; and Arrian expressly attributes the safe result of the enterprise on more than one occasion to the prudence and judgment, as well as courage, of the commander. (Ind.
Nearchus was compelled to remain in the Indus for some sime after Alexander
had set out on his return, waiting for the cessation of the etesian winds, or south-western monsoon. Meanwhile, the Indians had gathered again, after the king's departure, in considerable force, and began to annoy him with their attacks, which caused him to hasten his departure, and he set out on the 21st of September B. C. 325, before the winds had become altogether favourable.
The consequence was, that after sailing out of the Indus, and a short distance along the coast, he was compelled to remain twenty-four days in a harbour near the confines of the Indians and Oreitae, to which he gave the name of the port of Alexander
. Leaving this on the 23d of October, he continued his voyage along the coast of the Oreitae, and after encountering many dangers from rocks and shoals, and losing three of his ships in a storm, he arrived at a place called Cocala, where he halted ten days to repair his vessels. During this interval he entered into communication with Leonnatus, who had been left behind in charge of the province of the Oreitae, and from whom he received supplies of provisions, and reinforcements of men to replace those whom he had found the least efficient of his crews. From this time, until he reached the coast of Carmania, Nearchus was entirely dependent upon his own resources, and had to contend not only with the perils of an unknown navigation, but with the greatest distress from want of provisions, as they coasted along the sandy and barren shores of the Ichthyophagi, and with the discontent of his own followers, to which that scarcity gave rise. Throughout this period he displayed the utmost firmness as well as energy; and the courage with which he confronted alike the novel dangers which threatened them from whales (Arr. Ind. 30
), and the mysterious perils of the island reputed to be enchanted (Ib.
31), proves him to have been a man altogether above the level of his age and country.
At a fishing village called Mosarna, he for the first time obtained a pilot acquainted with the coast, which greatly facilitated his farther progress, and at length on the eightieth day of his voyage (Dec. 9.) he anchored at the mouth of the river Anamis, in the fertile district of Harmozia, and had the happiness of learning that Alexander
himself was encamped at a short distance in the interior. Nearchus himself hastened to the king, who received him with every demonstration of joy, and celebrated sacrifices and festivals for the safety of his fleet, in which the admiral was distinguished by every kind of honour.
He was, however, unwilling to expose his friend to any farther dangers, and was desirous to transfer to some one else the task of conducting the fleet up the Persian gulf, but Nearchus insisted on being allowed to complete what he had so successfully begun, and returned to his camp on the Anamis, from whence he continued his voyage with comparatively little of difficulty or danger along the north shore of the Persian gulf to the mouth of the Pasitigris, and up that river to Susa. Here he arrived in February 324, shortly after Alexander
himself; and in the brilliant festivities with which the king here celebrated the conquest of Asia as well as his own nuptials with Stateira, Nearchus bore an important part, being one of those rewarded with crowns of gold for their distinguished services, at the same time that he obtained in marriage a daughter of the Rhodian Mentor and of Barsine, to whom Alexander
himself had been previously married. (Arrian Ind. 21 - 42
6.28, 7.4.9, 5.9; Strab. xv. pp. 721, 725, 726; Curt. x. 1.10; Diod. 17.106
; Plut. Alex. 68
. Concerning the chronology of the voyage, see Vincent, vol. i., and Droysen, Gesch. Alex.
pp. 478, 481.)
From this time Nearchus appears to have continued in close attendance upon Alexander
till his death, as we find him mentioned as dissuading the king from entering Babylon on account of the predictions of the Chaldaeans, and again during Alexander's
last illness holding a conversation with him upon naval matters.
It appears, indeed, that he had been already designated for the chief command of the fleet with which the king was at this time meditating the conquest of Arabia, B. C. 323; and the latter had just given him a sumptuous feast previous to his departure, when the illness of Alexander
himself put an end to the expedition. (Plut. Alex. 73
; Diod. 17.112
; Arr. Anab. 7.25
It was natural that one who had held so high a place in the confidence of the king should take a prominent part in the discussions that ensued after his death: yet it is remarkable that Curtius is the only writer who mentions his name at all upon that occasion.
But the statement of that author (10.20), that it was Nearchus who put forward the claims of Heracles, the son of Barsine, to the throne, is rendered so probable by his near connexion with the latter, that there can be little doubt of its correctness.
But it is probable that his not being a Macedonian by birth operated against Nearchus, and it would seem that his tranquil and unambitious character did not qualify him to take a leading part in the stormy dissensions that followed: he not only acquiesced in the adoption of arrangements opposed to his advice, but seems to have been contented, in the division of the provinces, to obtain his former government of Lycia and Painphylia, and to hold even these as subordinate to Antigonus. (Just. 13.4
; comp. Droysen, Hellenism,
vol. i. p. 42.) To the fortunes of the latter, whether from motives of private friendship or policy, we find him henceforth closely attached: in B. C. 317 he accompanied Antigonus in his march against Eumenes; and generously interceded with him in favour of the latter, when he had fallen into his hands as a prisoner. (Diod. 19.19
; Plut. Eum. 18
.) Again, in 314, he was one of the generals who were selected by Antigonus, on account of their mature age and experience in war, to assist with their counsels his son Demetrius, left for the first time in command of an army. (Diod. 19.69
This is the last occasion on which his name appears in history.
We learn from many ancient authors that Nearchus left a history or narrative of the voyage by which he had earned such great celebrity; and the substance of this interesting work has been fortunately preserved to us by Arrian, who has derived from it the whole of the latter part of his " Indica."
The strange paradox put forward by Dodwell (Dissert. de Arriani Nearcho,
ap. Geogr. Gr. Minores, tom. i., reprinted, together with a Latin translation of Vincent's refutation by Schmieder, in his edition of the Indica
of Arrian, p. 232, &c.), that the work made use of by Arrian was not really the production of Nearchus, but the forgery of a later age, though adopted by Bohlen (das alte Indien,
vol. i. p. 68), has been generally rejected by later writers, and is sufficiently refuted by Vincent in his elaborate work on "The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Seas (vol. i. p. 68-77):" but he justly adds: " The internal evidence of the work speaks more forcibly for itself than all the arguments which can be adduced in its favour."
The accuracy of the geographical details contained in it has been fully demonstrated by the same author, as well as by the eminent geographers d'Anville, Gosselin, and Ritter, who have also shown that many of the statements regarded by the ancients as marvellous or incredible have been confirmed by the researches of modern travellers.
In other instances, although we cannot defend the accuracy of his assertions, it is at least possible to show how the error has originated. (See particularly Schmieder, ad Arr. Ind.
25.) Indeed Strabo himself, while he censures Nearchus, together with Megasthenes and Onesicritus, for his fabulous tales (ii. p. 70), has, in numerous instances, made use of his authority without scruple (xv. pp. 689, 691, 696, 701, 705, 706, 716, 717, &c.). On the other hand, it seems probable that Pliny, on whose authority Dodwell mainly relied, had not consulted the original work of Nearchus, but had contented himself with the abridgment of that of Onesicritus, as published by Juba. (Plin. Nat. 6.23
; comp. Vincent, l.c.,
and Geier, Alex. Magni Hist. Script.
p. 80, &c.) Suidas, who accuses Nearchus of having falsely pretended to be commander of the whole fleet, when he was in fact only a pilot or captain (κυβερνήτης
), has by a strange error transferred to him what Arrian, whose very words he copies, rays of Onesicritus. (Suid. s. v. Νέαρχος
; Arr. Anab. 6.2
A Separate History of Alexander?
Schmieder and some other writers, relying partly upon a passage of Suidas (s. v. Νέαρχος
), partly upon some statements quoted by Strabo, which have no immediate reference to the voyage, have maintained that, besides the Παράπλους
, or narrative of his voyage, Nearchus had written a separate history of the wars of Alexander
: but there is certainly no occasion for such a supposition. If, as appears probable, he began his narrative from the first construction of the fleet on the Hydaspes, it would naturally include an account of Alexander's
wars against the Malli, as well as his subsequent march through Gedrosia and it is evident that he prefixed to his work a general account of India, its inhabitants and their customs, from which both Strabo and Arrian have borrowed largely. Geier (l.c.
p. 113-115) has justly pointed out that all the facts cited frem Nearchus are such as would naturally be comprised in a work thus limited, or might readily have been introduced in digressions.
All the questions, both literary and geographical, connected with the Paraplus of Nearchus, are fully discussed in the work of Dr. Vincent above cited (4to. London. 1807)
; in the preface, notes, and dissertations appended by Schmieder to his edition of Arrian's " Indica" (8vo. Hal. 1798)
; and in Geier's Alexandri Magni Historiarum Scriptores, pp. 108-150.
The last author has brought together all the fragments of Nearchus, that is to say, all the passages where he is cited by name
either by Strabo or Arrian; but there is no doubt that besides these his work is the sole authority followed by the latter writer throughout the narrative of his voyage.