An Historical Disquisition Concerning the Knowledge Which the Ancients had of India
William Robertson (1721-93), Principal of the University of Edinburgh and historiographer to His Majesty for Scotland, published this work in 1791. Already famous for a History of Scotland, which went into many editions, and a History of America, Robertson aimed to synthesise all earlier western accounts of the subcontinent from classical times to the sixteenth century. Beginning with a consideration of the practical difficulties facing explorers from Europe and Africa who headed east, Robertson discusses the (legendary) Pharaoh Sesostris of Egypt, Alexander the Great, and Roman military incursions into, and trade with, India, before turning to the Portuguese, Spanish, French and English explorers of the early modern period, furnishing his account with copious source notes. A long appendix then describes 'the genius, the manners, and institutions of the people of India, as far as they can be traced from the earliest ages to which our knowledge of them extends'.