Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 16th, 2010
The World History Blog asks the question: “Did Alexander the Great Fight the Yeti?” My simple answer is “no.” But what actually might be behind the record being examined could be a lot more interesting.
The blogger Dr. Miland Brown sets up the question after reading the Anabasis Alexandri (Robson translation). He writes that it reads “as though Alexander’s men, in the course of the invasion of India, fought a pitched battle with a tribe of Yeti!”
The passage Brown quotes is this one:
Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts’ claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes.
Out of context, with little knowledge of the traditional Yetis from the Himalayan area, perhaps one could make such an error.
Brown gives the original passage, and therein are contained some important details.
Henry Stokes at the “I Love Yeti” blog passed this along to me about a week ago. I mentioned why I didn’t think it was Yetis, with some of my reasoning below. The idea of Alexandar the Great and Yetis now seems to be gaining a life of its own, as it is popping up in email communiques. I suppose I best deal with it here, within the realistic context of hominology.
Brown points to the longer passage, here:
Thence they set sail and progressed with a favouring wind; and after a passage of five hundred stades the anchored by a torrent, which, was called Tomerus. There was a lagoon at the mouths of the river, and the depressions near the bank were inhabited by natives in stifling cabins. These seeing the convoy sailing up were astounded, and lining along the shore stood ready to repel any who should attempt a landing. They carried thick spears, about six cubits long; these had no iron tip, but the same result was obtained by hardening the point with fire. They were in number about six hundred. Nearchus observed these evidently standing firm and drawn up in order, and ordered the ships to hold back within range, so that their missiles might reach the shore; for the natives’ spears, which looked stalwart, were good for close fighting, but had no terrors against a volley. Then Nearchus took the lightest and lightest-armed troops, such as were also the best swimmers, and bade them swim off as soon as the word was given. Their orders were that, as soon as any swimmer found bottom, he should await his mate, and not attack the natives till they had their formation three deep; but then they were to raise their battle cry and charge at the double. On the word, those detailed for this service dived from the ships into the sea, and swam smartly, and took up their formation in orderly manner, and having made a phalanx, charged, raising, for their part, their battle cry to the God of War, and those on shipboard raised the cry along with them; and arrows and missiles from the engines were hurled against the natives. They, astounded at the flash of the armour, and the swiftness of the charge, and attacked by showers of arrows and missiles, half naked as they were, never stopped to resist but gave way. Some were killed in flight; others were captured; but some escaped into the hills. Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts’ claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes.
Okay, that is much more than just a description of them being hairy bipedals. We become aware that these hairy people lived in “stifling cabins,” wore clothing of “animal skins”/”fish skins,” used fire to harden the tips of their spears, and fought in organized units. They are not Yetis.
The nail in the coffin for the Yeti origins is the clarification of the location, which is certainly not in India. The lagoon, the inlet, and the area itself has previously been described as Persia. Pierre Eggermont’s 1975 book, Alexander’s campaigns in Sind and Baluchistan and the siege of the Brahmin, identifies these peoples as the Fish-Eaters and discusses where they lived. Specifically, the Tomerus River is located as being in Persian Baluchistan, which today is the western province of Pakistan. Balochistan is located at the southeastern extremes of the Persian plateau. These are far west of the known habitat of the traditional Yetis (which are, in essence, rock apes, that is pongids, not hominids).
The barmanu (which means literally “the big hairy one”) are said to live in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. But do the Fish-Eaters sound more like kaptars? Could these “hairy ones” have been surviving Neandertals, not necessarily yetis or Homo sapiens? Most definitely with that description of the use of fire to harden their spear tips, they are not Yetis.
The area has a wide variety of local names for the hairy ones.
There is the case of the killing of a gul’bi-yavan – the Tajik name for a wild man – in 1925 in the Pamir mountains. The incident was described to the Commission of the Academy of Sciences by KGB General Michael Topilski.
The military doctor Vazgen Karapetyan is shown checking a captured kaptar – the local name of the wild people – in Daghestan, Caucasus, in 1941, during World War II. The creature died in captivity. Karapetyan gave this information about his encounter to the same Commission.
These peoples that battled Alexander the Great might be Neandertals, but they just could be “wild people” of some archaic tribe that were, by comparison, hairier than the Greeks.