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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,
please let me know!

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(Vol. V) Strabo

 p233  Book XI, Chapter 5

1 (503) The Amazons, too, are said to live in the mountains above Albania. Now Theophanes,1 who made the expedition with Pompey and was in the country of the Albanians, says that the Gelae and the Legae, Scythian people, live between the Amazons and the Albanians, and that the Mermadalis River flows there, midway between these people and the Amazons. 504 But others, among whom are Metrodorus of Scepsis2 and Hypsicrates, who themselves, likewise, were not unacquainted with the region in question, say that the Amazons live on the borders of the Gargarians, in the northerly foothills of those parts of the Caucasian Mountains which are called Ceraunian;3 that the Amazons spend the rest of their time4 off to themselves, performing their several individual tasks, such as ploughing, planting, pasturing cattle, and particularly in training horses, though the bravest engage mostly in hunting on horseback and practise warlike exercises; that the right breasts of all are seared when they are infants, so that they can easily use their right arm for every needed purpose, and especially that of throwing the javelin; that they also use bow and sagaris5 and light shield, and make the skins of wild animals serve as helmets, clothing, and girdles; but that they have two special months in the spring in which they go up into the neighbouring mountain which separates them and the Gargarians. The Gargarians also, in accordance with an ancient custom, go up  p235 thither to offer sacrifice with the Amazons and also to have intercourse with them for the sake of begetting children, doing this in secrecy and darkness, any Gargarian at random with any Amazon; and after making them pregnant they send them away; and the females are born are retained by the Amazons themselves, but the males are taken to the Gargarians to be brought up; and each Gargarian to whom a child is brought adopts the child as his own, regarding the child as his son because of his uncertainty.

2 The Mermodas6 dashes down from the mountains through the country of the Amazons and through Siracenê and the intervening desert and then empties into Lake Maeotis. It is said that the Gargarians went up from Themiscyra into this region with the Amazons, then revolted from them and in company with some Thracians and Euboeans who had wandered thus far carried on war against them, and that they later ended the war against them and made a compact on the conditions above-mentioned, that is, that they should have dealings with one another only in the matter of children, and that each people should live independent of the other.

3 A peculiar thing has happened in the case of the account we have of the Amazons; for our accounts of other peoples keep a distinction between the mythical and the historical elements; for the things that are ancient and false and monstrous are called myths, but history wishes for the truth, whether ancient or recent, and contains no monstrous element, or else only rarely. But as regards the Amazons, the same stories are told now as in early  p237 times, though they are marvellous and beyond belief. For instance, who could believe that an army of women, or a city, or a tribe, could ever be organised without men, and not only be organised, but even make inroads upon the territory of other people, and not only overpower the peoples near them to the extent of advancing as far as what is now Ionia, 505 but even send an expedition across the sea as far as Attica? For this is the same as saying that the men of those times were women and that the women were men. Nevertheless, even at the present time these very stories are told about the Amazons, and they intensify the peculiarity above-mentioned and our belief in the ancient accounts rather than those of the present time.

4 At any rate, the founding of cities and the giving of names to them are ascribed to the Amazons, as, for instance, Ephesus and Smyrna and Cymê and Myrinê; and so are tombs and other monuments; and Themiscyra and the plains about Thermodon and the mountains that lie above them are by all writers mentioned as having belonged to the Amazons; but they say that the Amazons were driven out of these places. Only a few writers make assertions as to where they are at the present time, but their assertions are without proof and beyond belief, as in the case of Thalestria, queen of the Amazons, with whom, they say, Alexander associated in Hyrcania and had intercourse for the sake of offspring; for this assertion is not generally accepted.a Indeed, of the numerous historians, those who care most for the truth do not make the assertion, nor do those who are most trustworthy mention any such thing, nor do those  p239 who tell the story agree in their statements. Cleitarchus7 says that Thalestria set out from the Caspian Gates and Thermodon and visited Alexander; but the distance from the Caspian country to Thermodon is more than six thousand stadia.

5 The story that have been spread far and wide with a view to glorifying Alexander are not accepted by all; and their fabricators were men who cared for flattery rather than truth. For instance: they transferred the Caucasus into the region of the Indian mountains and of the eastern sea which lies near those mountains from the mountains which lie above Colchis and the Euxine; for these are the mountains which the Greeks named Caucasus, which is more thirty thousand stadia distant from India; and here it was that they laid the scene of the story of Prometheus and of his being put in bonds; for these were the farthermost mountains towards the east that were known to writers of that time. And the expedition of Dionysus and Heracles to the country of the Indians look like a mythical story of later date, because Heracles is said to have released Prometheus one thousand years later. And although it was a more glorious thing for Alexander to subdue Asia as far as the Indian mountains than merely to the recess of the Euxine and to the Caucasus, yet the glory of the mountain, and its name, and the belief that Jason and his followers had accomplished the longest of all expeditions, reaching as far as the neighbourhood of the Caucasus, 506 and the tradition that Prometheus was bound at the ends of the earth on the Caucasus, led writers to suppose that they  p241 would be doing the king a favour if they transferred the name Caucasus to India.

6 Now the highest parts of the real Caucasus are the most southerly — those next to Albania, Iberia, and the Colchians, and the Heniochians. They are inhabited by the peoples who, as I have said,8 assemble at Dioscurias; and they assemble there mostly in order to get salt. Of these tribes, some occupy the ridges of the mountains, while the others have their abodes in glens and live mostly on the flesh of wild animals, and on wild fruits and milk. The summits of the mountains are impassable in winter, but the people ascend them in summer by fastening to their feet broad shoes made of raw ox‑hide, like drums, and furnished with spikes, on account of the snow and the ice. They descend with their loads by sliding down seated upon skins, as is the custom in Atropatian Media and on Mount Masius in Armenia; there, however, the people also fasten wooden discs furnished with spikes to the soles of their shoes. Such, then, are the heights of the Caucasus.

7 As one descends into the foothills, the country inclines more towards the north, but its climate is milder, for there it borders on the plains of the Siraces. And here are also some Troglodytae, who, on account of the cold, live in caves; but even in their country there is plenty of barley. After the Troglodytae one comes to certain Chamaecoetae9 and Polyphagi,10 as they are called, and to the villages of the Eisadici, who are able to farm because they are not altogether exposed to the north.

 p243  8 The next peoples to which one comes between Lake Maeotis and the Caspian Sea are nomads, the Nabiani and the Panxani, and then next the tribes of the Siraces and the Aorsi. The Aorsi and the Siraces are thought to be fugitives from the upper tribes of those names11 and the Aorsi are more to the north than the Siraces. Now Abeacus, king of the Siraces, sent forth twenty thousand horsemen at the time when Pharnaces held the Bosporus; and Spadines, king of the Aorsi, two hundred thousand; but the upper Aorsi sent a still larger number, for they held dominion over more land, and, one may almost say, ruled over most of the Caspian coast; and consequently they could import on camels the Indian and Babylonian merchandise, receiving it in their turn from the Armenians and the Medes, and also, owing to their wealth, could wear golden ornaments. Now the Aorsi live along the Tanaïs, but the Siraces live along the Achardeüs, which flows from the Caucasus and empties into Lake Maeotis.

The Editor's Notes:

1 Cnaeus Pompeius Theophanes of Mytilenê.

2 See 13.1.55.

3 See 11.4.1.

4 i.e. ten months of the year.

5 Apparently some sort of single-edged weapon (see Hesychius s.v.).

6 Apparently the same river as that called Mermadalis in the preceding paragraph.

7 See Dictionary in Vol. II.

8 11.2.16.

9 i.e. "People who sleep on the ground."

10 i.e. "Heavy-eaters."

11 i.e. the southern tribes. The tribes of the Aorsi and Siraces (also spelt Siraci, 11.2.1) extended towards the south as far as the Caucasian Mountains (11.2.1).

Thayer's Note:

a Diodorus accepts the tale (XVII.77), which isn't so surprising, as do Curtius and Justin. His Loeb editor finds it plausible: see notes 75 and 76 ad loc.

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Page updated: 19 Sep 12