Explaining Herodotos’s Gold-Digging Ants of India: The Ancient Origins, Historical Embellishments, Linguistic Variations, and Anthropological Interpretations of a Folkloric Text

Author: Maxwell-Stuart, Peter
Herodotos’ reputation as the teller of tall stories has undergone revision over the years. In India, he said,
there were ants almost as large as dogs. The story was repeated many times by Greek authors and then
by Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Persian writers, before finding its way into Mediaeval and early
Renaissance European literature. Attempts to rationalise the tale have centred upon the ants themselves.
By the mid-twentieth century the puzzle appeared to be regarded as settled. However, based on studies of the etymology of various languages spoke in those area, and on anthropological investigations the book offers a new explanation of Herodotos’s story based on historical context rather than fantasy.


“In order to fully understand and appreciate the history of the Persians – on their own terms- it was important to approach their own material, however fanciful it may appear, with a critical eye…These are of course matters of interpretation and judgment, especially the fanciful accounts of Herodotus’ ants.”
-Professor Ali M, Ansari,
President of the British Institute for Persian Studies

Table of Contents

Foreword by Ali M. Ansari
1. The Anecodote and its History: Ancient Sources
2. The Anecdote and its History: Mediaeval Sources
3. Exotic Animals, Miners, and Plays upon Names
4. Herodotos, Megasthenes, and India
5. Sources of Gold: Thok-Jalung and Khotan
6. Sources of Gold: ‘Ladakh”
7. Sources of Gold: Pukli, Gilgit, Hunza-Nagir
8. Kafiristan
9. Bibliography
10. Index