The Macrobians (Μακροβίοι) were a legendary people and kingdom positioned in the Horn of Africa mentioned by Herodotus. Later authors (so Pliny on the authority of Ctesias' Indika) place them in India instead. It is one of the legendary peoples postulated at the extremity of the known world (from the perspective of the Greeks), in this case in the extreme south, contrasting with the Hyperboreans in the extreme north.
Their name is due to their legendary longevity, an average person supposedly living to the age of 120. They were said to be the "tallest and handsomest of all men". At the same time, they were reported as being physically distinct from the general inhabitants of the region below the Sahara.
According to Herodotus' account, the Persian Emperor Cambyses II upon his conquest of Egypt (525 BC) sent ambassadors to Macrobia, bringing luxury gifts for the Macrobian king to entice his submission. The Macrobian ruler, who was elected based at least in part on stature, replied instead with a challenge for his Persian counterpart in the form of an unstrung bow: if the Persians could manage to string it, they would have the right to invade his country; but until then, they should thank the gods that the Macrobians never decided to invade their empire.
According to Herodotus, the Macrobians practiced an elaborate form of embalming. The Macrobians preserved the bodies of the dead by first extracting moisture from the corpses, then overlaying the bodies with a type of plaster, and finally decorating the exterior in vivid colors in order to imitate the deceased as realistically as possible. They then placed the body in a hollow crystal pillar, which they kept in their homes for a period of about a year. Macrobia was also noted for its gold, which was so plentiful that the Macrobians shackled their prisoners in golden chains.
Some 19th-century authors tended to attempt linking Herodotus' Macrobians to some historical tribal group. Thus, Rennell (1830) mentions a common identification with the Abyssinians, while Reclus (1886) noted the opinion of Schweinfurth (1874) and before him Lejean (1862?) thought that they might be identified with the Makaberab tribe of Atbarah (in what is now northeastern Sudan).
- The Geography of Herodotus: Illustrated from Modern Researches and Discoveries by James Talboys Wheeler pg 528. The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, And Ecclesiastical Record Volume 11 pg 434
- Wheeler pg 526
- John Kitto, John Taylor, The Popular Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature: condensed from the larger work, (Gould and Lincoln: 1856), pp. 275-276.
- John Kitto, James Taylor, The popular cyclopædia of Biblical literature: condensed from the larger work, (Gould and Lincoln: 1856), p.302.
- Society of Arts (Great Britain), Journal of the Society of Arts, Volume 26, (The Society: 1878), pp.912-913.
- Rennell, James (1830). The Geographical System of Herodotus. p. 333.
- Reclus, Elisée (1886). The Earth and Its Inhabitants. D. Appleton and Company. p. 252.