East Indies, a vague geographical term applied to southern Asia east of the Indus, and to the adjacent islands. (See India.) The name India was unknown to the earlier Greeks, and the later ones used it to signify an indefinite extent of country lying beyond the Indus, of which they had a very imperfect knowledge. The modern Europeans applied it in much the same way until after the discovery of America. Columbus supposed that he had reached India by sailing westward, and the lands discovered by him and the other Spanish navigators in the western hemisphere were for a time collectively known as India. The king of Spain assumed the title of king of the Indies, and the council for the colonies was styled the supreme council of the Indies. When the mistake was discovered, the distinctive term West Indies was applied to America, and that of East Indies to Asiatic India. In process of time the term West Indies became restricted to the islands lying between North and South America, and the term India to the two peninsulas of Hither and Further India. The latter country is also called Chin-India or Indo-China, and in its most restricted sense the term India now includes only the western of the two peninsulas, or Hindostan in the wider sense.
The term East Indies, as vaguely and popularly used, comprises Hindostan, Burmah, Siam, Laos, Anam, Malacca, Ceylon, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, the Sunda and Banda islands, the Moluccas, the Philippines, and the rest of that vast archipelago, and is sometimes extended even to China and Japan.
See East Indies, and India.