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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


published in Vol. V
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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(Vol. V) Strabo

 p223  Book XI, Chapter 4

1 (501) The Albanians are more inclined to the shepherd's life than the Iberians and closer akin to the nomadic people, except that they are not ferocious; and for this reason they are only moderately warlike. They live between the Iberians and the Caspian Sea, their country bordering on the sea towards the east and on the country of the Iberians towards the west. Of the remaining sides the northern is protected by the Caucasian Mountains (for these mountains lie above the plains, though their parts next to the sea are generally called Ceraunian), whereas the southern side is formed by Armenia, which stretches alongside it; and much of Armenia consists of plains, though much of it is mountainous, like Cambysenê, where the Armenians border on both the Iberians and the Albanians.

2 The Cyrus, which flows through Albania, and the other rivers by which it is supplied, contribute to the excellent qualities of the land; and yet they thrust back the sea, for the silt, being carried forward in great quantities, fills the channel, and consequently even the adjacent isles are joined to the mainland and form shoals that are uneven and difficult to avoid; and their unevenness is made worse by the back-wash of the flood-tides. Moreover, they say that the outlet of the river is divided into twelve mouths, of which some are choked with silt, while the others are altogether shallow and leave not even a mooring-place. At any rate, they add, although the shore is washed on all sides by the sea  p225 and the rivers for a distance of more than sixty stadia, every part of it is inaccessible; and the silt extends even as far as five hundred stadia, making the shore sandy. Near by is also the mouth of the Araxes, a turbulent stream that flows down from Armenia. But the silt which this river pushes before it, thus making the channel passable for its stream, is compensated for by the Cyrus.1

3 Now perhaps a people of this kind have no need of a sea; 502 indeed, they do not make appropriate use of their land either, which produces, not only every kind of fruit, even the most highly cultivated kind, but also every plant, for it bears even the evergreens. It receives not even slight attention, yet the good things all "spring up for them without sowing and ploughing,"2 according to those who have made expeditions there,3 who describe the mode of life there as "Cyclopeian."a In many places, at any rate, they say, the land when sown only once produces two crops or even three, the first a crop of even fifty-fold, and that too without being ploughed between crops; and even when it is ploughed, it is not ploughed with an iron share, but with a wooden plough shaped by nature. The plain as a whole is better watered by its rivers and other waters than the Babylonian and the Egyptian plains; consequently it always keeps a grassy appearance, and therefore is also good for pasturage. In addition to this, the climate here is better than there. And the people never dig about the vines, although they prune them every fifth year;4 the new vines begin  p227 to produce fruit the second year, and when mature they yield so much that the people leave a large part of the fruit on the branches. Also the cattle in their country thrive, both the tame and the wild.

4 The inhabitants of this country are unusually handsome and large. And they are frank in their dealings, and not mercenary;5 for they do not in general use coined money, nor do they know any number greater than one hundred, but carry on business by means of barter, and otherwise live an easy-going life. They are also unacquainted with accurate measures and weights, and they take no forethought for war or government or farming. But still they fight both on foot and on horseback, both in light armour and in full armour,6 like the Armenians.7

5 They send forth a greater army than that of the Iberians; for they equip sixty thousand infantry and twenty‑two thousand8 horsemen, the number with which they risked their all against Pompey. Against outsiders the nomads join with the Albanians in war, just as they do with the Iberians, and for the same reasons; and besides, they often attack the people, and consequently prevent them from farming. The Albanians use javelins and bows; and they wear breastplates and large oblong shields, and helmets made of the skins of wild animals, similar to those worn by the Iberians. To the country of the Albanians belongs also the territory called Caspianê, which was named after the Caspian  p229 tribe, as was also the sea; but the tribe has now disappeared. The pass from Iberia into Albania leads through Cambysenê, a waterless and rugged country, to the Alazonius River. Both the people and their dogs are surpassingly fond of hunting, engaging in it not so much because of their skill in it as because of their love for it.

6 503 Their kings, also, are excellent. At the present time, indeed, one king rules all the tribes, but formerly the several tribes were ruled separately by kings of their own according to their several languages. They have twenty‑six languages, because of the fact that they have no easy means of intercourse with one another. The country produces also certain of the deadly reptiles, and scorpions and phalangia.9 Some of the phalangia cause people to die laughing, while others cause people to die weeping over the loss of their deceased kindred.

7 As for gods, they honour Helius,10 Zeus, and Selenê,11 but especially Selenê;12 her temple is near Iberia. The office of priest is held by the man who, after the king, is held in highest honour; he has charge of the sacred land, which is extensive and well-populated, and also of the temple slaves, many of whom are subject to religious frenzy and utter prophecies. And any one of those who, becoming violently possessed, wanders alone in the forests, is by the priest arrested, bound with sacred fetters, and sumptuously maintained during that year, and then led forth to the sacrifice that is performed in honour of the goddess, and, being anointed, is sacrificed along with other victims. The sacrifice is performed as follows: Some person holding a sacred lance, with which it is the custom to sacrifice human  p231 victims, comes forward out of the crowd and strikes the victim through the side into the heart, he being not without experience in such a task; and when the victim falls, they draw auguries from his fall13 and declare them before the public; and when the body is carried to a certain place, they all trample upon it, thus using it as a means of purification.

8 The Albanians are surpassingly respectful to old age, not merely to their parents, but to all other old people. And when people die it is impious to be concerned about them or even to mention them. Indeed, they bury their money with them, and therefore live in poverty, having no patrimony. So much for the Albanians. It is said that Jason, together with Armenus the Thessalian, on his voyage to the country of the Colchians, pressed on from there as far as the Caspian Sea, and visited, not only Iberia and Albania, but also many parts of Armenia and Media, as both the Jasonia14 and several other memorials testify. And it is said that Armenus was a native of Armenium, one of the cities on Lake Boebeïs between Pherae and Larisa, and that he and his followers took up their abode in Acilisenê and Syspiritis, occupying the country as far as Calachanê and Adiabenê; and indeed that he left Armenia named after himself.

The Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. the excessive amount of silt deposited by the Cyrus compensates for the failure of the Araxes in this respect. On these rivers see Tozer, Selections, pp262‑263.

2 Odyssey 9.109.

3 In particular Theophanes of Mitylenê (already mentioned in 11.2.2).

4 i.e. every four years.

5 See § 8 following.

6 For a description of this heavy armour, see Tacitus, Hist. 1.79.

7 Cf. 11.14.9.

8 Plutarch, Pompey 35, says twelve thousand.

9 Members of the spider family; but here, apparently, tarantulas (see Tozer, op. cit., p265).

10 The Sun.

11 The Moon.

12 Cf. 12.3.31.

13 As among the Lusitanians (3.3.6) and the Gauls (4.4.5).

14 i.e. temples dedicated to Jason (see 11.14.12).

Thayer's Note:

a 13.1.25; see also 8.6.11.

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Page updated: 9 Sep 12