Alexander and Socotra

 Socotra, also spelt Soqotra, is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra, is about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago It lies some 240 kilometres (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula. The island is very isolated and through the process of speciation, a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth. (Wikipedia)

Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo.

Scotra_ probably represented the usual pronunciation of the name SOCOTRA, which has been hypothetically traced to a Sanskrit original, _Dvνpa-Sukhαdhαra_, “the Island Abode of Bliss,” from which (contracted _Diuskadra_) the Greeks made “the island of _Dioscorides_.”

So much painful interest attaches to the history of a people once Christian, but now degenerated almost to savagery, that some detail maybe permitted on this subject.

The _Periplus_ calls the island very large, but desolate; … the inhabitants were few, and dwelt on the north side. They were of foreign origin, being a mixture of Arabs, Indians, and Greeks, who had come thither in search of gain…. The island was under the king of the Incense Country…. Traders came from _Muza_ (near Mocha) and sometimes from _Limyrica_ and _Barygaza_ (Malabar and Guzerat), bringing rice, wheat, and Indian muslins, with female slaves, which had a ready sale. Cosmas (6th century) says there was in the island a bishop, appointed from Persia.The inhabitants spoke Greek, having been originally settled there by the Ptolemies. “There are clergy there also, ordained and sent from Persia to minister among the people of the island, and a multitude of Christians. We sailed past the island, but did not land. I met, however, with people from it who were on their way to Ethiopia, and they spoke Greek.”

The ecclesiastical historian Nicephorus Callistus seems to allude to the people of Socotra, when he says that among the nations visited by the missionary Theophilus, in the time of Constantius, were “the Assyrians on the verge of the outer ocean towards the East … whom Alexander the Great, after driving them from Syria, sent thither to settle, and to this day they keep their mother tongue, though all of the blackest, through the power of the sun’s rays.” The Arab voyagers of the 9th century say that the island was colonised with Greeks by Alexander the Great, in order to promote the culture of the Socotrine aloes; when the other Greeks adopted Christianity these did likewise, and they had continued to retain their profession of it. The colonising by Alexander is probably a fable, but invented to account for facts.

[Edrisi says (_Jaubert’s transl._ pp. 47, seqq.) that the chief produce of Socotra is aloes, and that most of the inhabitants of this island are Christians; for this reason: when Alexander had subjugated Porus, his master Aristotle gave him the advice to seek after the island producing aloes; after his conquest of India, Alexander remembered the advice, and on his return journey from the Sea of India to the Sea of Oman, he stopped at Socotra, which he greatly admired for its fertility and the pleasantness of its climate. Acting on the advice of Aristotle, Alexander removed the inhabitants from their island, and established in their place a colony of Ionians, to whom he entrusted the care of cultivating aloes. These Greeks were converted when the Christian religion was preached to them, and their descendants have remained Christians.–H.C.] 


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