Ancient Egypt Wiki
Darius I statue India

The term "India" on an Egyptian statue of Darius I.

Historical India (transliteration: HndwꜢy, modern-day South Asia) and Ancient Egypt have had a long history of contact and trade. The Earliest known contact Egypt had with Ancient India was with the Indus Valley Civilization. Egypt continued to have trade relations with India well into the Roman Period. Much of the Egyptian knowledge of India starts with the Argead and Ptolemaic periods, part of the larger Hellenistic Period. It was during this time that three Pharaohs, Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I Soter, and Caesarion, visited India. The Hellenistic Period also ushered in new cultural influences into Egypt, including the religion Buddhism. Buddhism expanded its presence in Egyptian society by the early Roman Period. Following the ancient eras of Egypt, India continued to have an important role in Egyptian trade well into the modern era, with the creation of the Suez Canal.

Indus Valley Civilization and Ancient Egypt[]

Hathor Lapis

Hathor carved from Afghan Lapis Lazuli. 22nd dynasty, reign of Osorkon II. Egypt. Cairo Egyptian museum

By the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, the gemstone lapis lazuli was being traded from its only known source in the ancient world—Badakhshan, in what is now northeastern Afghanistan—as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt. By the 3rd millennium BCE, the lapis lazuli trade was extended to Harappa, Lothal and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley Civilization (Ancient India) of modern-day Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan, and northwestern India. The Indus Valley colony of Shortugai in northern Afghanistan was a center of lapis lazuli mining and trading; it is possibly the source of this gemstone in Egypt.

The Indus Valley was also known as Meluhha, the earliest maritime trading partner of the Sumerians and Akkadians in Mesopotamia. The ancient harbor constructed in Lothal, India, around 2400 BCE is one of the oldest seafaring harbours known.[1]

A complete set of terra-cotta gamesmen, has been found in Lothal—animal figures, pyramids with ivory handles and castle-like objects. It is similar to the chess set of Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt

Hellenistic Period[]

Alexander elephant scalp

Ptolemaic coin of Alexander wearing an elephant scalp from his Indian Campaign

The Tamil states of the Pandyan, Chola and Chera dynasties had trade relations with the the Greco-Roman world since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty.[2] According to Will Durant, Mauryan Emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Egypt, Syria, and Greece during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.[3] This would be the earliest known connection between Buddhism and Egypt. Pharaohs, including Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I Soter, and Caesarion visited India

Roman Period[]

Berenike Buddha

The Roman Berenike Buddha

Indian trade with Egypt greatly expanded during the Roman Period. Buddhism was well-known by Egyptian scholars, such as Philo, Lucian, and Clement of Alexandria during the Roman Period of Egypt. It is during the Roman Period that the first Buddhist artifacts are known, such as the Berenike Buddha. Interestingly, the Berenike Buddha statue was located in a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis.[4]


  1. S. R. Rao (1985). Lothal. Archaeological Survey of India. pp. 27–29.
  2. History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce (4 vols. 8vo, London, 1874–6)
  3. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Part One (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), vol. 1, p. 449.