Bangladesh, officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a sovereign state in South Asia. It forms the largest and eastern portion the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. Located at the apex of the Bay of Bengal, the country is bordered by India and Myanmar and is separated from Nepal and Bhutan by the narrow Siliguri Corridor. If you look at the map below, you can see that it's a long ways away from Greece (even ancient Hellas) either by boat or by land. And yet, it seems, the ancient Hellenes were aware of its existence. This writes the Dhaka Tribune.

One of the earliest, if not in fact, the earliest identifiable documentary mentions of the lands that are now Bangladesh can be found in one of the most famous tales from ancient Greece; the immortal, epic poem that is the story of Jason, his Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece.

This famous, archaic work of literature, known as the Argonautica, is probably the best known of its era, and of the small anthology of the Apollonius’ writings. It was, in fact, a rewrite of a much more ancient legend from the Homeric Period, around the eighth century BC. How, in the 3rd century BCE, Apollonius would have come to add a warrior from a distant land to his recreation of the famous legend is not clear, but Datis, ‘a chieftain, leader of the Gangaridai,’ duly makes his appearance.

He is written into the army of 'Perses III', one of the protagonists in the civil war being fought in Colchis,  located in modern day Georgia, on the Black Sea, between Perses, and his brother, Aeetes, for the throne of the Taurian tribe. Jason, and his Argonauts, joining him in his endeavours. The inclusion of such a character in the drama invites speculation, especially the reason for doing so.

On the face of it, the inclusion in a drama, presented by travelling entertainers, seems likely to presuppose awareness, at least, of what we are only now beginning to recognise as the 'kingdom' at the very heart of the Ganges delta, that of Gangaridai. But we may well wonder how the addition would enhance the dramatic appeal of the narrative.

There are, of course, signs of the prowess of the people of the lands around the Ganges delta, in the literature of much earlier times; the Mahabharata, another epic drama, with origins in lands around the north east of the sub-continent itself, probably about the period contemporary with that of the earlier, Homeric Jason, which includes stories of the heroic achievements of peoples from these lands.

It may, therefore, be considered possible at the very least, that the adventurousness of the early peoples of the lands was well-established by the time of Apollonius. And it may also be of significance that, working as he did in the famous library at Alexandria, he could probably have had ready access to written references to Gangaridai and its people. However, since the telling of such epics demanded drama, we may, also, be entitled to consider that it was the very remoteness of the, perhaps, near mythical lands of the east, that lent drama to the tale.

It is evident from the map made by the Libyan-born cartographer Eratosthenes in the second century BC, who also subsequently worked in the Library of Alexandria, that the well known shape of the Indian sub-continent, with the Ganges, together with its origins, clearly marked, was believed to fringe on Scythia, to the exclusion of most of China and the East. In that world view, the Ganges was considered to be the very limit of the world that, even two or three centuries earlier, Hecataeus of Miletus had remarked so in his cartography.

It may, therefore, be reasonable to suppose that, at the time, the Ganges and Gangaridai enjoyed almost mythical status to such as Apollonius, and enhanced both the drama, and the exotic sense of international appeal to his poem. Equally, of course, the inclusion of Datis may well derive from the perhaps more prosaic, real knowledge of the people living in the lands around the Ganges delta.

Megasthenes, the roughly contemporary, Hellenic commentator on Alexander’s humiliating rebuff by the Gangaridai, a century or so before the time of Apllonius, himself appears to attribute Alexander’s ultimate defeat to the people of Gangaridai. What is, therefore, fairly clear is that the people of Gangaridai, the lands that, today, lie at the very heart of Bangladesh, had, even before the famous Greco-Roman geographer, Strabo, wrote of the opportunities for trade at the mouth of the Ganges, around the year 1CE/AD, had become famous, not only for trade, but also for the prowess to undertake, and protect, their trade and sovereignty.

The significance of this, of course, is that the increasing documentary, empirical, and archaeological evidence of a well developed centre of trade, in, around, and through the lands of today’s Bangladesh, was well known to writers like Apollonius, Virgil, and Strabo, who were themselves neither travellers, nor traders. But it appears from the Argonautic poem that the people of the delta, a little like today’s Army of Bangladesh, had secured for themselves an outstanding reputation as soldiers. And, of course, it takes wealth and courage to acquire such a reputation.

There is little doubt that burgeoning trading relationships between the Middle East, ancient Mediterranean lands, and even Africa, saw a growing knowledge of the more remote corners of the 'known' world. And Apollonius, although, in fact, it is hard to tell quite how he acquired the Rhodes epithet, appears to have been born and lived, as far as we know, in Egypt. At the time, Egypt was continuing to emerge as a great centre of, especially, international maritime, trade. It may well be, too, that the canal built about 1,000 years BCE from the Nile to the Red Sea, facilitated both that trade, and communication with such as the lands of the Ganges.

Working, as he did, in the great library of Alexandria, he would have had access to, not only the more famous tracts written about their 'mystic' East, but probably many other, perhaps long lost, similar pieces. And the list of Greek, Greco Roman, and Roman writers familiar with the lands, now those of Bangladesh, is a long and distinguished one. Documentary evidence, indeed, of an interesting early period in the history of the nation.

Indeed, it is clearly possible that a military mercenary, named Datis, really did exist, and actually did take himself and his people to fight as mercenaries in improbable corners of the contemporary world. Who knows, perhaps, taking the 'highway of the ancient world', the waters of the sea, Datis may, himself, have been encountered by Apollonius, in Egypt!