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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

Nysa on Map showing the route of Alexander the Great

Dionysus, also known as Bacchus or Father Liber, is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology. It is belief that the deity, after subduing the Indians, traversed the greater part of Asia[1]. Arrian[2] writes that in the country, lying between the rivers Cophen (Kabul)) and Indus, which was traversed by Alexander, the city of Nysa is said to be situated. The report is, that its foundation was the work of Dionysus who built it after he had subjugated the Indians. The ancient Greeks believe Śiva as Indian Dionysus and the god from the orient. "[3]

Variants of name

Jat Gotras Namesake

Jat Gotras Namesake

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[4] mentions Nations situated around the Hyrcanian Sea... Beyond it are the Sogdiani,24 the town of Panda, and, at the very extremity of their territory, Alexandria,25 founded by Alexander the Great. At this spot are the altars which were raised by Hercules and Father Liber, as also by Cyrus, Semiramis, and Alexander; for the expeditions of all these conquerors stopped short at this region, bounded as it is by the river Jaxartes, by the Scythians known as the Silis, and by Alexander and his officers supposed to have been the Tanais. This river was crossed by Demodamas, a general of kings Seleucus and Antiochus, and whose account more particularly we have here followed. He also consecrated certain altars here to Apollo Didymæus.26

24 D'Anville says that there is still the valley of Al Sogd, in Tartary, beyond the Oxus. The district called Sogdiana was probably composed of parts of modern Turkistan and Bokhara. The site of Panda does not appear to be known.

25 It was built on the Jaxartes, to mark the furthest point reached by Alexander in his Scythian expedition. It has been suggested that the modern Kokend may possibly occupy its site.

26 The "twin," of the same birth with Diana.


His name, thought to be a theonym in Linear B tablets as di-wo-nu-so (KH Gq 5 inscription), shows that he may have been worshipped as early as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks; other traces of the Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete.

H. W. Bellew[5] writes that ...Alexander then entered that part of the country which lies between the two rivers Kophenes and Indus (Kabul and Indus rivers), where Nysa is said to be situate, and on arrival at Nysa (modern Nisatta, on the left bank of the Landi Swat river, near its junction with the Kabul stream) with his army, the citizens sent a deputation headed by Akalphis (perhaps a chief of the Aka tribe of the Naga), beseeching Alexander to leave the liberties of the city entire for the sake of their god Dionysus, and assuring him that Bacchus, having subdued the Indians and determined to return to Greece, built this city as a monument of his victories, and the mountain also which is so near it (Kohi Mor or Kiamur) he would have denominated Merus.

His origins

His origins are uncertain, and his cults took many forms; some are described by ancient sources as Thracian, others as Greek. In some cults, he arrives from the east, as an Asiatic foreigner; in others, from Ethiopia in the South. He is a god of epiphany, "the god that comes", and his "foreignness" as an arriving outsider-god may be inherent and essential to his cults. He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and is included in some lists of the twelve Olympians. Dionysus was the last god to be accepted into Mt. Olympus. He was the youngest and the only one to have a mortal mother. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. He is an example of a dying god.

Also known as Bacchus

Also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans[6] and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. He is also called Eleutherios ("the liberator"), whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself. His cult is also a "cult of the souls"; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.[7]

Shiva and Dionysus

The famous American Indologist, Wendy Doniger (O' Flaherty), wrote:

"That Śiva and Dionysus bear a striking resemblance to one another has been known for a long time. The ancient Greeks noticed it, referring to Śiva as Indian Dionysus, on the one hand, and to Dionysus as the god from the orient.... In recent times, scholars have pointed out numerous significant points of correspondence...."[8]

Infancy at Mount Nysa

According to the myth, Zeus gave the infant Dionysus to the care of Hermes. One version of the story is that Hermes took the boy to King Athamas and his wife Ino, Dionysus' aunt. Hermes bade the couple to raise the boy as a girl, to hide him from Hera's wrath.[9]

Another version is that Dionysus was taken to the rain-nymphs of Nysa, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their care Zeus rewarded them by placing them as the Hyades among the stars (see Hyades star cluster). Other versions have Zeus giving him to Rhea, or to Persephone to raise in the Underworld, away from Hera. Alternatively, he was raised by Maro.

Dionysus in Greek mythology is a god of foreign origin, and while Mount Nysa is a mythological location, it is invariably set far away to the east or to the south. The Homeric hymn to Dionysus places it "far from Phoenicia, near to the Egyptian stream". Others placed it in Anatolia, or in Libya ("away in the west beside a great ocean"), in Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus).

According to Herodotus:

As it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt; and as for Pan, the Greeks do not know what became of him after his birth. It is therefore plain to me that the Greeks learned the names of these two gods later than the names of all the others, and trace the birth of both to the time when they gained the knowledge.
Herodotus, Histories 2.146

Sudrakas descendants of Bacchus

Alexander Cunningham[10] writes that The ancient town of Ajudhan or Pakpatan, is situated on the high bank of the old Satlej, 28 miles to the south-west of Depalpur Pakistan, and 10 miles from the present course of the river.

Its foundation is assigned to a Hindu saint, or raja, of the same name, of whom nothing else is recorded. This part of the Doab is still known as Surāt-des, a name which recalls the Surakousae of Diodorus, and the Sudrakae and Oxudrakae of other Greek writers.

Now, the Sudrakae are always coupled with the Malli by classical authors, just as Ajudhan and Multan are joined together by the Muhammadan historians. I think, therefore, that we may look upon Ajudhan and its neighbour Depalpur Pakistan as two of the chief cities of the Sudrakas, or Surakas, who, in the time of Alexander, were one of the free nations of India.

Dionysius and Nonnus use the form of Hudarkae, Pliny has Sydrakae, which agrees with Strabo's Sudrakae ; and Diodorus has Surakousae. Arrian and Curtius alone give Oxudrakae. Strabo adds that they were said

[p.215]: to be descendants of Bacchus;[11] and as Chares of Mytilene states that the name of the Indian god Σοροάδεως meant οινοποώς, or the "Wine-bibber," I infer that the people who boasted a descent from Bacchus may have called themselves Surakas, or Bacchidae. The d in Sudrakae I look upon as a redundant addition of the Greeks, which is also found in the Adraistae of Arrian and the Andrestae of Diodorus. The Sanskrit name of this people was Arashtraka, or "the Kingless," which is well preserved in Justin's Arestae. Surakai, or the descendants of Sura, must therefore be the true Greek form. This is confirmed by the longer form of the name given by Diodorus as Sυρακονσαι, which is most probably derived from the Sanskrit sura, "wine," and kusa, "mad, or inebriated." It would thus mean simply the " drunkards," a nickname which was no doubt given by their Arian neighbours, who were very liberal in their abuse of the Turanian population of the Panjab.

Bajaur Pakistan

Bajaur Pakistan borders with Afghanistan's Kunar province makes it of strategic importance to Pakistan and the region. An interesting feature in the topography is a mountain spur from the Kunar range, which, curving eastwards, culminates in the well-known peak of Koh-i-Mor, which is visible from the Peshawar valley. It was here, at the foot of the mountain, that Alexander the Great founded the ancient city of Nysa and the Nysaean colony, traditionally said to have been founded by Dionysus. The Koh-i-Mor has been identified as the Meros of Arrian's history—the three-peaked mountain from which the god issued.[12]

Ch 5.1: Alexander at Nysa

Arrian[13] writes... IN this country, lying between the rivers Cophen and Indus, which was traversed by Alexander, the city of Nysa1 is said to be situated. The report is, that its foundation was the work of Dionysus, who built it after he had subjugated the Indians.2 But it is impossible to determine who this Dionysus3 was, and at what time, or from what quarter he led an army against the Indians. For I am unable to decide whether the Theban Dionysus, starting from Thebes or from the Lydian Tmolus4 came into India at the head of an army, and after traversing the territories of so many warlike nations, unknown to the Greeks of that time, forcibly subjugated none of them except that of the Indians. But I do not think we ought to make a minute examination of the legends which were promulgated in ancient times about the deity; for things which are not credible to the man who examines them according to the rule of probability, do not appear to be wholly incredible, if one adds the divine agency to the story. When Alexander came to Nysa the citizens sent out to him their president, whose name was Acuphis, accompanied by thirty of their most distinguished men as envoys, to entreat Alexander to leave their city free for the sake of the god. The envoys entered Alexander’s tent and found him seated in his armour still covered with dust from the journey, with his helmet on his head, and holding his spear in his hand. When they beheld the sight they were struck with astonishment, and falling to the earth remained silent a long time. But when Alexander caused them to rise, and bade them be of good courage, then at length Acuphis began thus to speak: “The Nysaeans beseech thee, 0 king, out of respect for Dionysus, to allow them to remain free and independent; for when Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians, and was returning to the Grecian sea, he founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit for military service, and were under his inspiration as Bacchanals, so that it might be a monument both of his wandering and of his victory to men of after times; just as thou also hast founded Alexandria near mount Caucasus, and another Alexandria in the country of the Egyptians. Many other cities thou hast already founded, and others thou wilt found hereafter, in the course of time, inasmuch as thou hast achieved more exploits than Dionysus. The god indeed called the city Nysa, and the land Nysaea after his nurse Nysa. The mountain also which is near the city he named Meros (i.e. thigh), because, according to the legend, he grew in the thigh of Zeus.’ From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order. And let this be to thee a proof that our city owes its foundation to Dionysus; for ivy, which does not grow in the rest of the country of India, grows among us.”

1. This city was probably on the site of Jelalabad.

2. ὲπει τε. This is the only place where Arrian uses this Ionic form for the simple ὲπει.

3. The Indians worship a god Homa, the personification of the intoxicating soma juice. This deity corresponds to the Greek Dionysus or Bacchus.

4. The slopes of this mountain were covered with vines. See Ovid (Fasti, ii. 313; Metamorphoses, xi. 86); Vergil (Georgics, ii. 98); Pliny, xiv. 9.


Ch 5.2: Alexander at Nysa

Arrian[14] writes... ALL this was very pleasant to Alexander to hear; for he wished that the legend about the wandering of Dionysus should be believed, as well as that Nysa owed its foundation to that deity, since he had himself reached the place where Dionysus came, and had even advanced beyond the limits of the latter’s march. He also thought that the Macedonians would not decline still to share his labours if he advanced further, from a desire to surpass the achievements of Dionysus. He therefore granted the inhabitants of Nysa the privilege of remaining free and independent; and when he heard about their laws, and that the government was in the hands of the aristocracy he commended these things. He required them to send 300 of their horsemen to accompany him, and to select and send ioo of the aristocrats who presided over the government of the State, who also were 300 in number. He ordered Acuphis to make the selection, and appointed him governor of the land of Nysaea. When Acuphis heard this, he is said to have smiled at the speech; whereupon Alexander asked him why he laughed. Acuphis replied —“How, O king, could a single city deprived of ioo of its good men be still well governed? But if thou carest for the welfare of the Nysaeans, lead with thee the 300 horsemen, and still more than that number if thou wishest: but instead of the hundred of the best men whom thou orderest me to select lead with thee double the number of the others who are bad, so that when thou comest here again the city may appear1 in the same good order in which it now is.” By these remarks he persuaded Alexander; for he thought he was speaking with prudence. So he ordered them to send the horsemen to accompany him, but no longer demanded the hundred select men, nor indeed others in their stead. But he commanded Acuphis to send his own son and his daughter’s son to accompany him. He was now seized with a strong desire of seeing the place where the Nysaeans boasted to have certain memorials of Dionysus. So he went to Mount Merus with the Companion cavalry and the foot guard, and saw the mountain, which was quite covered with ivy and laurel and groves thickly shaded with all sorts of timber, and on it were chases of all kinds of wild animals.2 The Macedonians were delighted at seeing the ivy, as they had not seen any for a long time; for in the land of the Indians there was no ivy, even where they had vines. They eagerly made garlands of it, and crowned themselves with them, as they were, singing hymns in honour of Dionysus, and invoking the deity by his various names3. Alexander there offered sacrifice to Dionysus, and feasted in company with his companions. Some authors have also stated, but I do not know if any one will believe it, that many of the distinguished Macedonians in attendance upon him, having crowned themselves with ivy, while they were engaged in the invocation of the deity, were seized with the inspiration of Dionysus, uttered cries of Evoi in honour of the god, and acted as Bacchanals.5

1. φανείη. Arrian does not comply with the Attic rule, that the subjunctive should follow the principal tenses in the leading sentence. Cf. V. 6, 6; 7, 5; vii. 7, 5; 15, 2.

2. Cf. Pliny (Nat. Hist., vi. 23; viii. 60; xvi. 62). The ordinary reading is αλση παντοια και ιδειν συσκιον. For this Krüger has proposed αλση παντοια υλη συσκια.

3. The other names of Dionysus were: Bacchus, Bromius, Evius, Iacchus, Lenaeus, Lyaeus]. The Romans called him Liber.

4. Curtius (viii. 36) says that the Macedonians celebrated Bacchanalia for the space of ten days on this mountain.

5.The 1st aor. pass. εσχεθην is found only in Arrian and Plutarch. Cf. vii. 22, 2 infra.


Ch 5.26: Alexander's Speech (continued)

Arrian[15] writes..."I, for my part, think, that to a brave man there is no end to labours except the labours themselves, provided they lead to glorious achievements. But if any one desires to hear what will be the end to the warfare itself, let him learn that the distance still remaining before we reach the river Ganges and the Eastern Sea is not great; and I inform you that the Hyrcanian Sea will be seen to be united with this, because the Great Sea encircles the whole earth. I will also demonstrate both to the Macedonians and to the Grecian allies, that the Indian Gulf is confluent with the Persian, and the Hyrcanian Sea with the Indian Gulf. From the Persian Gulf our expedition will sail round into Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles.[1] From the pillars all the interior of Libya[2] becomes ours, and so the whole of Asia[3] will belong to us, and the limits of our empire, in that direction, will be those which God has made also the limits of the earth. But, if we now return, many warlike nations are left unconquered beyond the Hyphasis as far as the Eastern Sea, and many besides between these and Hyrcania in the direction of the north wind, and not far from these the Scythian races. Wherefore, if we go back, there is reason to fear that the races which are now held in subjection, not being firm in their allegiance, may be excited to revolt by those who are not yet subdued. Then our many labours will prove to have been in vain; or it will be necessary for us to incur over again fresh labours and dangers, as at the beginning. But, O Macedonians and Grecian allies, stand firm! Glorious are the deeds of those who undergo labour and run the risk of danger; and it is delightful to live a life of valour and to die leaving behind immortal glory. Do ye not know that our ancestor[4] reached so great a height of glory as from being a man to become a god, or to seem to become one, not by remaining in Tiryns[5] or Argos, or even in the Pelopounese or at Thebes? The labours of Dionysus were not few, and he was too exalted a deity to be compared with Heracles. But we, indeed, have penetrated into regions beyond Nysa[6]; and the rock of Aornus, which Heracles was unable to capture, is in our possession. Do ye also add the parts of Asia still left unsubdued to those already acquired, the few to the many. But what great or glorious deed could we have performed, if, sitting at ease in Macedonia, we had thought it sufficient to preserve our own country without any labour, simply repelling the attacks of the nations on our frontiers, the Thracians, Illyrians, and Triballians, or even those Greeks who were unfriendly to our interests? If, indeed, without undergoing labour and being free from danger I were acting as your commander, while you were undergoing labour and incurring danger, not without reason would you be growing faint in spirit and resolution, because you alone would be sharing the labours, while procuring the rewards of them for others. But now the labours are common to you and me, we have an equal share of the dangers, and the rewards are open to the free competition of all. For the land is yours, and you act as its viceroys. The greater part also of the money now comes to you; and when we have traversed the whole of Asia, then, by Zeus, not merely having satisfied your expectations, but having even exceeded the advantages which each man hopes to receive, those of you who wish to return home I will send back to their own land, or I will myself lead them back; while those who remain here, I will make objects of envy to those who go back."[7]

Greek Ion, which originally had a digamma, Ivon. Pott says that it means the young, in opposition to the Graikci, the old. According to Aristotle (Meteorologica, i. 14) the Hellenes were originally called Graikoi. Cf. Sanscrit, jewan; Zend, jawan; Latin, juvenis; English, young.

1. Cf. Arrian (Anabasis, vii. 1; Indica, 43). Herodotus (iv. 42) says that Pharaoh Neco sent a Phoenician expedition from the Bed Sea, which circumnavigated Africa and returned by the Straits of Gibraltar, or the Pillars of Hercules. The Carthaginian Hanno is said to have sailed from Cadiz to the extremity of Arabia. See Pliny (Historia Naturalis, ii. 67; v. 1). Herodotus (iv. 43) says that the Carthaginians asserted they had sailed round Africa. There is a Greek translation of Hanno's Periplus still extant. As to the Pillars of Hercules, see Aelian (Varia Historia, v. 3). They are first mentioned by Pindar (Olym. iii. 79; Nem. iii. 36).

2. Arrian, like many other ancient writers, includes Africa, or Libya, as a part of Asia. The boundaries were the Eastern Sea and the Atlas Mountains. Cf. Arrian, iii. 30; vii. 1 and 30. The name Asia first occurs in Homer (Iliad, ii. 461), in reference to the marsh about the Cayster, and was thence gradually extended over the whole continent.

3. The interior of Africa, from the Straits of Gibraltar to Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the then unexplored South.

4. Heracles, from whom the Macedonian kings claimed to be descended.

5. Hence Hercules is called Tirynthius. (Virgil, ,Aeneid. 662; viii. 228).

6. See chap. 1 of this book.

7. Cf. Xenophon (Anab., i. 7, 4).


Ch 6.28: Alexander in Carmania

Arrian[16] writes ... Certain authors have said (though to me the statement seems incredible) that Alexander led his forces through Carmania lying extended with his Companions upon two covered waggons joined together, the flute beinig played to him; and that the soldiers followed him wearing garlands and sporting. Food was provided for them, as well as all kinds of dainties which had been brought together along the roads by the Carmanians. They say that he did this in imitation of the Bacchic revelry of Dionysus, because a story was told about that deity, that after subduing the Indians he traversed the greater part of Asia in this manner and received the appellation of Thriambus.[1] For the same reason the processions in honour of victories after war were called thriambi. This has been recorded neither by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, nor by Aristobulus, son of Aristobulus, nor by any other writer whose testimony on such points any one would feel to be worthy of credit. It is sufficient therefore for me to record it as unworthy of belief.[2] But as to what I am now going to describe I follow the account of Aristobulus. In Carmania Alexander offered sacrifices to the gods as thank-offerings for his victory over the Indians, and because his army had been brought in safety out of Gadrosia. He also celebrated a musical and gymnastic contest. He then appointed Peucestas one of his confidential body-guards, having already resolved to make him viceroy of Persis. He wished him, before being appointed to the viceroyalty, to experience this honour and evidence of confidence, as a reward for his exploit among the Mallians., Up to this time the number of his confidential body-guards had been seven:—Leonnatus, son of Anteas, Hephaestion, son of Amyntor, Lysimachus, son of Agathocles, Aristonous, son of Pisaeus, these four being Pellaeans; Perdiccas, son of Orontes, from Orestis, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Peithon, son of Crateas, the Heordaeans. Peucestas, who had held the shield over Alexander, was now added to them as an eighth. At this time Nearchus, having sailed round the coast of Ora and Gadrosia and that of the Ichthyophagi, put into port in the inhabited part of the coastland of Carmania,[3] and going up thence into the interior with a few men he reported to Alexander the particulars of the voyage which he had made along the coasts of the external sea. Nearchus was then sent down to the sea again to sail round as far as the country of Susiana, and the outlets of the river Tigres.[4] How he sailed from the river Indus to the Persian Sea and the mouth of the Tigres, I shall describe in a separate book, following the account of Nesa-chus himself.[5] For he also wrote a history of Alexander in Greek. Perhaps I shall be able to compose this narrative in the future, if inclination and the divine influence urge me to it. Alexander now ordered Hephaestion to march into Persis[6] from Carmania along the sea-shore with the larger division of the army and the beasts of burden, taking with him also the elephants; because, as he. was making the expedition in the season of winter,[7] the part of Persis near the sea was warm and possessed abundant supplies of provisions.

1. The thriambus was a hymn to Bacchus, sung in festal processions in his honour. It was also used as a name of that deity, as we learn from Diodorus, iv. 5. It was afterwards used as synonymous with the Roman triumphus, by Polybius, Dionysius, and Plutarch.

2. The Bacchanalian procession through Carmania is described by Curtius (ix. 42); Plutarch (Alex. 67); and Diodorus (xvii. 106).

3. Diodorus (xvii. 106) says that the port into which Nearchus put was called Salmus.

4. ἐκπεριπλεύσοντα. The Attic future of πλέω is πλεύσομαι. πλεύσω is only found in Polybius and the later writers.

5. See Arrian (Indica, 18-43).

6. The name for Persia and the Persians in the Hebrew Bible, is Paras. Cyrus is called Koresh (the sun) in Hebrew; in the cuneiform inscriptions the name is Khurush. Cambyses is called Ahasuerus in Ezra iv. 6; and Smerdis the Magian is the Artaxerxes who was induced by the Samaritans to forbid the further building of the temple (Ezra iv. 7-24). The Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther is probably Xerxes. Artaxerxes the Long-handed was the patron of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra vii. 11-28; Neh. ii. 1-9, etc). " Darius the Persian," mentioned in Neh. xii. 22, was probably Darius Oodomannus, who was conquered by Alexander. The province of Susiana, previously called Elymais, appears in the Hebrew under the name of Eilam or Elam. Persis is still called Fars.

7. B.C. 325.



  1. Arrian:The Anabasis of Alexander/6b, Ch.28
  2. The Anabasis of Alexander/5a, Ch.1
  3. JSTOR: History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 1/2, (Aug. - Nov., 1980), pp. 81-111.
  4. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 18
  5. An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan By H. W. Bellew, p.69
  6. In Greek "both votary and god are called Bacchus". Burkert, Greek Religion 1985:162. For the initiate as Bacchus, see Euripides, Bacchantes 491. For the god, who alone is Dionysus, see Sophocles, Oedipus the King 211 and Euripides, Hippolytus 560.
  7. Xavier Riu, Dionysism and Comedy, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999, p.105
  8. JSTOR: History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 1/2, (Aug. - Nov., 1980), pp. 81-111.
  9. Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Includes Frazer's notes. ISBN 0-674-99135-4, ISBN 0-674-99136-2
  10. The Ancient Geography of India/Ransi,pp.214-215
  11. Geogr., xiv. 1, 8, and 33.
  12. 1911: Britannica)
  13. The Anabasis of Alexander/5a, Ch.1
  14. The Anabasis of Alexander/5a, Ch.2
  15. The Anabasis of Alexander/5b, Ch.26
  16. Arrian:The Anabasis of Alexander/6b, Ch.28