THE MYRMEX INDIKOS (Indian Ant) was a giant, dog-sized breed of ant which guarded rich deposits of gold in the Indian desert. Local tribes gathered gold from the ant hills in a dangerous rush and grab maneuver.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Herodotus, Histories 3. 102. 1 ff (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"Other Indians dwell near the town of Kaspatyros (Caspatyrus) and the Paktyic country, north of the rest of India; these live like the Baktrians (Bactrians); they are of all Indians the most warlike, and it is they who are sent for the gold; for in these parts all is desolate because of the sand. In this sandy desert are ants, not as big as dogs but bigger than foxes; the Persian king has some of these, which have been caught there. These ants live underground, digging out the sand in the same way as the ants in Greece, to which they are very similar in shape, and the sand which they carry from the holes is full of gold. It is for this sand that the Indians set forth into the desert. They harness three camels apiece, males on either side sharing the drawing, and a female in the middle : the man himself rides on the female, that when harnessed has been taken away from as young an offspring as may be. Their camels are as swift as horses, and much better able to bear burdens besides.
Thus and with teams so harnessed the Indians ride after the gold, being careful to be engaged in taking it when the heat is greatest; for the ants are then out of sight underground. Now in these parts the sun is hottest in the morning, not at midday as elsewhere, but from sunrise to the hour of market-closing. Through these hours it is much hotter than in Hellas at noon, so that men are said to sprinkle themselves with water at this time. At midday the sun's heat is nearly the same in India as elsewhere. As it goes to afternoon, the sun of India has the power of the morning sun in other lands; as day declines it becomes ever cooler, until at sunset it is exceedingly cold.
So when the Indians come to the place with their sacks, they fill these with the sand and drive back as fast as possible; for the ants at once scent them out, the Persians say, and give chase. They say nothing is equal to them for speed, so that unless the Indians have a headstart while the ants were gathering, not one of them would get away. They cut loose the male trace-camels, which are slower than the females, as they begin to lag, one at a time; the mares never tire, for they remember the young that they have left. Such is the tale. Most of the gold (say the Persians) is got in this way by the Indians; they dig some from mines in their country, too, but it is less abundant."
Aelian, On Animals 3. 4 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"The Indian Ants (Myrmkes Indikoi) which guard the gold will not cross the river Kampylinos (Campylinus). The Issedonians who inhabit the same country as the Ants [i.e. north-east of the Caspian Sea]."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 1 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"And the Grypes (Griffins) of the Indoi (Indians) and the Ants of the Aithiopes (Ethiopians), though they are dissimilar in form, yet, from what we hear, play similar parts; for in each country they are, according to the tales of poets, the guardians of gold, and devoted to the gold reefs of the two countries."
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - 3rd A.D.
- Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd A.D.