Pygmaioi ( via



Pygmies fighting cranes, Athenian black-figure volute krater C6th B.C., National Archaeological Museum of Florence

The Pygmies were also described as an actual African tribe in various ancient geographical treatises.

Ctesias, Indica (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 72) (trans. Freese) (Greek historian C4th B.C.) :
„In the middle of India there are black men, called Pygmaioi (Pygmies), who speak the same language as the other inhabitants of the country. They are very short, the tallest being only two cubits in height, most of them only one and a half. Their hair is very long, going down to the knees and even lower, and their beards are larger than those of any other men. When their beards are full grown they leave off wearing clothes and let the hair of their head fall down behind far below the knees, while their beard trails down to the feet in front. When their body is thus entirely covered with hair they fasten it round them with a girdle, so that it serves them for clothes. They are snubnosed and ugly. Their sheep are no bigger than lambs, their oxen, asses, horses, mules, and other beasts of burden about the size of rams. Being very skilful archers, 3000 of them attend on the king of India. They are very just and have the same laws as the Indians. They hunt the hare and the fox, not with dogs, but with ravens, kites, crows, and eagles.“

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3. 45 – 47 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
„[The C1st A.D. prophet Apollonios of Tyana asked the Indian sage Iarkhos (Iarchus)] about the Men who live Underground (anthropoi hypogen) and the Pygmaioi (Pygmies) . . . and larkhas answered his questions thus : ‘. . . As to the Pygmaioi, he said that they lived underground (hypogeioi), and that they lay on the other side of the Ganges and lived in the manner which is related by all.’“

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 1 :
„We meet in them [both Aithiopia (Ethiopia) and India] with races of Pygmaioi (Pygmies).“

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 23 – 25 :
„The Nasamones and the Androphagoi (Man-Eaters) and the Pygmaioi (Pygmies) and Skiapodes (Sciapods, Shadow-Foots) people are also tribes of Aithiopia (Ethiopia), and they extend as far as the Okeanos Aithiopos (Ethiopian Ocean), which no mariners ever enter except as castaways who do so against their will.“

Eusebius, Treatise Against Hierocles 21 (trans. Jones) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
„He [Apollonios of Tyana] also asked them [the Brahmans of India] about . . . the Pygmaioi (Pygmies) . . . and Iarkhas (Iarchus) instructed him about the Pygmaioi, and told him that they were indeed people dwelling underground, but spent their lives on the other side of the river Ganges.“

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 4. 44 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
„This whole region [the Black Sea coast of Thrace] was occupied by the Scythian tribe called the Ploughmen, their towns being . . . And Gerania, stated to have been the abode of the race of Pygmaei (Pygmies): their name in the local dialect used to be Catizi, and there is a belief that they were driven away by cranes.“

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 109 :
„The district of Berecynthus, Nysa and Trallis [in the region of Caria and Phrygia in Asia Minor] . . . is washed by the river Eudon and the Tehbais flows through it; some record that a race of Pygmae (Pygmies) formerly lived in it.“


Pygmies fighting cranes, Athenian black-figure volute krater C6th B.C., National Archaeological Museum of Florence

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6. 70 :
„In the region to the south of the Ganges [River of India] the tribes are browned by the heat of the sun to the extent of being coloured, though not as yet burnt black like the Aethiopes (Ethiopians); the nearer they get to the Indus the more colour they display. We come to the Indus immeditatly after leaving the Prasii, a tribe in whose mountain regions there is said to be a race of Pygmaei (Pygmies).“

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6. 187 :
„Some writers have even reported a race of Pygmaei (Pygmies) living among the marshes in which the Nile rises.“

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 26 :
„Megasthenes [Greek historian C4th B.C.] tells . . . [of the Astomoi tribe who live near the source of the Ganges in India and] beyond these in the most outlying mountain region we are told of the Three-Span (trispithami) Pygmae (Pygmies) who do not exceed three spans, that is, twenty-seven inches, in height; the climate is healthy and always spring-like, as it is protected on the north by a range of mountains; this tribe Homer has also recorded as being beset by cranes. It is reported that in springtime their entire band, mounted on the backs of rams and she-goats and armed with arrows, goes in a body down to the sea and eats the cranes‘ eggs and chickens, and that this outing occupies three months; and that otherwise they could not protect themselves against the flocks of cranes would grow up; and that their houses are made of mud and feathers and egg-shells. Aristotle says that the Pygmae (Pygmies) live in caves, but in the rest of this statement about them he agrees with the other authorities.“

Nonnosus, History (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 3) (trans. Freese) (Roman historian C6th A.D.):
„During his voyage from Pharsan [near Ethiopia on the Red Sea], Nonnosos [ambassador of the Roman Emperor Justinian C6th A.D.], on reaching the last of the islands, had a remarkable experience. He there saw certain creatures [the Pygmies] of human shape and form, very short, black-skinned, their bodies entirely covered with hair. The men were accompanied by women of the same appearance, and by boys still shorter. All were naked, women as well as men, except for a short apron of skin round their loins. There was nothing wild or savage about them. Their speech was human, but their language was unintelligible even to their neighbours, and still more so to Nonnosos and his companions. They live on shell-fish and fish cast up on the shore. According to Nonnosus, they were very timid, and when they saw him and his companions, they shrank from them as we do from monstrous wild beasts.“


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