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An Historical Disquisition


Concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India and the progress of trade with that country prior to the discovery of the passage to it by the Cape of Good Hope with an appendix containing observations on the Civil Policy, the Laws and Judicial Proceedings, the Arts, the Sciences, and Religious Institutions of the Indians by William Roberson, D.D. (1822)

Preface

The perusal of Major Rennell's Memoir for illustrating his Map of Indostan, one of the most valuable geographical treatises that has appeared in any age or country, gave rise to the following Work. It suggested to me the idea of examining more fully than he had done in the Introductory Book to my History of America, into the knowledge which the Ancients had of India, and of considering what is certain, what is obscure, and what is fabulous, In the accounts of that country which they have handed down to us. In undertaking this inquiry, I had originally no other object than my own amusement and instruction: But in carrying it on, and consulting with diligence the authors of antiquity, some facts, hitherto unobserved, and many which had not been examined with proper attention, occurred; new views opened; my ideas gradually extended and became more interesting; until at length I imagined, that the result of my researches might prove amusing and instructive to others, by exhibiting such a view of the various modes in which intercourse with India had been carried on from the earliest times, as might shew how much that great branch of commerce has contributed, in every age, to increase the wealth and power of" the nations which possessed it.

Thus the Historical Disquisition which I now lay before the reader was begun and completed. What degree of merit it possesses, the Public must determine. My grateful recollection of the favourable manner in which my other works have been received, naturally increases the solicitude wilh which I wait for its decision concerning this which I now publish.

When I first turned my thoughts to this subject, I was so fully aware of the disadvantage under which I laboured in undertaking to describe countries of which I had not any local knowledge, that I have been at the utmost pains to guard against any errors which this might occasion. I have consulted, with persevering industry, the works of all the authors I could procure, who have given any account of India; I have never formed any decided opinion, which was not supported by respectable authority; and as I have the good fortune to reckon among the number of my friends, some Gentlemen who have filled important stations, civil and military, in India, and who have visited many different parts of it, I had recourse frequently to them, and from their conversation learned things which I could not have found in books. Were it proper to mention their names, the Public would allow, that, by their discernment and abilities, they are fully entitled to the confidence which I have placed in them.

In the progress of the Work, I became sensible of my own deficiency with respect to another point. In order to give an accurate idea of the imperfection both of the theory and practice of navigation among the Ancients, and to explain, with scientific precision, the manner in which they ascertained the position of places, and calculated their longitude and latitude, a greater portion of mathematical knowledge was requisite, than my attention to other studies had permitted me to acquire. What I wanted, the friendship of my ingenious and respectable Colleague. Mr Playfair, Professor of Mathematics, has supplied; and I have been enabled by him to elucidate all the points I have mentioned, in a manner which, I am confident, will afford my readers complete satisfaction. To him, likewise, I am indebted for the construction of a map necessary tor illustrating this Disquisition, which without his assistance I could not have undertaken.

I have adhered, in this Work, to an arrangement I followed in my former compositions, and to which the public has been long accustomed. I have kept historical narrative as much separate as possible from scientific and critical discussions, by reserving the latter for Notes and Illustrations. I flatter myself that I may claim, without presumption, the merit of having examined with diligence what I submit to public inspection, and of having referred, with scrupulous accuracy, to the authors from whom I have derived information.

College of Edinburgh,
May
10. 1791.

Contents

Section I
Intercourse with India, from the earliest Times until the Conquest of Egypt by the Romans.

Section II
Intercourse with
India, from the Establishment of the Roman Dominion in Egypt, to the Conquest of that Kingdom by the Mahomedans

Section III
Intercourse with India, from the Conquest of Egypt by the Mahomedans, to the Discovery after Passage by the Cape of Good Hope, and the Establishment of the Portuguese Dominion in the East.

Section IV
General Observations

Appendix
In which he makes some observations upon the genius, the manners, and institutions of the people of India.

Notes and Illustrations

Index


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