Tin (Ancient India's Contribution)

sudheer birodkar sudheer_birodkar at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 18 05:03:53 UTC 1997

Dear Klaus,

My arguement for the derivation of the Greek word Kassiteros and the 
English Cassiterite from the Sanskrit Kasthira is based on the 
references to the import of Tin from India by Rome as mentioned in the 
Periplus. According to the Periplus, tin was used for hardening copper. 
The Periplus also mentions Copper as an item of export from India. 

Other examples of metals smelted first in India could be Corundum 
(crystallised aluminium oxide). This word is derived from the Sanskrit 
Kuruvinda. Nowshadder (chloride of ammonium) is another not very 
familiar term which is said to have been derived from the Sanskrit 

Philostratus of Lemnos, in about 230 A.D. has mentioned a shrine in 
Taxila (Taskhashila) in northwestern India (today in Pakistan). In this 
shrine Philostratus says were hung pictures on copper tablets 
representing the feats of Alexander and Porus (or Paurava - the Indian 
king who resisted Alexander). In the words of Philostratus "The various 
figures were portrayed in a mosaic of orichalcum, silver, gold and 
oxidised copper, but the weapons were in iron. The metals were worked so 
ingeniously into one another that the picture that they formed was 
comparable to that of the best Greek artists."(Periplus of the Erythrean 
Sea P 151).

Simlar references have been made by Ktesias the Knidian who was the 
Greek ambassador at the court of Darius the king of Achamenian Persia.

All said and done smelting technology (and in fact all culture and 
civilization) the world over is a result of give and take.



>From indology-request at liverpool.ac.uk Tue Jun 17 07:05:45 1997
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>From: Klaus Karttunen <KJKARTTU at elo.Helsinki.fi>
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>Subject: Re: Tin (Ancient India's Contribution)
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>Thu, 12 Jun 1997 Dominique.Thillaud wrote:
>>At 6:49 +0200 12/06/97, sudheer birodkar wrote:
>>>- the making of tin (the technical English word for tin
>>>is Cassiterite which is derived from the Sanskrit term
>>>"Kasthira" according to the Oxford Dictionary).
>>	That's highly improbable. The Indian word for tin is trapu (AV) and
>>kastIra, appearing only in lexicography, is borrowed from the Greek
>>kassiteros (Hom.), perhaps via the Latin cassiterum. According are
>>Mayrhofer (KEWA) and Chantraine (DELG). (Eurindian common origin is
>>impossible, the Greek 'k' is palatalized in Sanskrit)
>>	Regards,
>>Dominique THILLAUD
>>Universite' de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France
>A few years ago I was pointed out by the late Dr. Claes Wennerberg of 
>Gothenburg that there is actually one text reference for kastIra, in 
>Jagaddeva's "Traumbuch" (ed. Negelein). But this is late, too, and it 
>has been suggested (by Kern or Speyer, I think) that kastIra was 
>actually derived from Arabic. The unfortunate preference for kastIra as 
>ancient word and perhaps even as origin of Greek kassiteros hails from 
>the pioneers of Western Indology, but is occasionally still quoted 
>through some uncritical intermediaries (see my India in Early Greek 
>Literature). As noted by Dominique, the real Indian word is trapu (cf. 
>Rau, Metalle). The origin of Greek kassiteros is not clear, but in any 
>case Greeks obtained their tin from the West, not from India where the 
>metal seems always been scarce. In early Roman period the Periplus 
>actually mentions tin and lead among imports of India.

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