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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.
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(Vol. V) Strabo

p279 Book XI, Chapter 11

1 (516) As for Bactria, a part of it lies alongside Aria towards the north, though most of it lies above Aria and to the east of it. And much of it produces everything except oil. The Greeks who caused Bactria to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Ariana, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander — by Menander in particular (at least if he actually crossed the Hypanis towards p281the east and advanced as far as the Imaüs), for some were subdued by him personally and others by Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus the king of the Bactrians; and they took possession, not only of Patalena, but also, on the rest of the coast, of what is called the kingdom of Saraostus and Sigerdis. In short, Apollodorus says that Bactriana is the ornament of Ariana as a whole; and, more than that, they extended their empire even as far as the Seres and the Phryni.

2 Their cities were Bactra (also called Zariaspa, through which flows a river bearing the same name and emptying into the Oxus), and Darapsa, and several others. Among these was Eucratidia, which was named after its ruler. The Greeks took possession of it and divided it into satrapies, 517 of which the satrapy Turiva and that of Aspionus were taken away from Eucratides by the Parthians. And they also held Sogdiana, situated above Bactriana towards the east between the Oxus River, which forms the boundary between the Bactrians and the Sogdians, and the Iaxartes River. And the Iaxartes forms also the boundary between the Sogdians and the nomads.

3 Now in early times the Sogdians and Bactrians did not differ much from the nomads in their modes of life and customs, although the Bactrians were a little more civilised; however, of these, as of the others, Onesicritus1 does not report their best traits, saying, for instance, that those who have become helpless because of old age or sickness are thrown out p283alive as prey to dogs kept expressly for this purpose, which in their native tongue are called "undertakers," and that while the land outside the walls of the metropolis of the Bactrians looks clean, yet most of the land inside the walls is full of human bones; but that Alexander broke up the custom. And the reports about the Caspians are similar, for instance, that when parents live beyond seventy years they are shut in and starved to death. Now this latter custom is more tolerable; and it is similar to that of the Ceians,2 although it is of Scythian origin; that of the Bactrians, however, is much more like that of the Scythians. And so, if it was proper to be in doubt as to the facts at the time when Alexander was finding such customs there, what should one say as to what sort of customs were probably in vogue among them in the time of the earliest Persian rulers and the still earlier rulers?

4 Be this as it may, they say that Alexander founded eight cities in Bactriana and Sogdiana, and that he rased certain cities to the ground, among which was Cariatae in Bactriana, in which Callisthenes was seized and imprisoned, and Maracanda and Cyra in Sogdiana, Cyra being the last city founded by Cyrus3 and being situated on the Iaxartes River, which was the boundary of the Persian empire; and that although this settlement was fond of Cyrus, he rased it to the ground because of its frequent revolts; and that through a betrayal he took also two strongly fortified rocks, one in Bactrians, that of Sisimithres, where Oxyartes kept his daughter p285Rhoxana, and the other in Sogdiana, that of Oxus, though some call it the rock of Ariamazes. Now writers report that that of Sisimithres is fifteen stadia in height and eighty in circuit, and that on top it is level and has a fertile soil which can support five hundred men, and that here Alexander met with sumptuous hospitality and married Rhoxana, the daughter of Oxyartes; but the rock in Sogdiana, they say, is twice as high as that in Bactriana. And near these places, they say, Alexander destroyed also the city of the Branchidae, 518 whom Xerxes had settled there — people who voluntarily accompanied him from their home-land — because of the fact that they had betrayed to him the riches and treasures of the god at Didyma. Alexander destroyed the city, they add, because he abominated the sacrilege and the betrayal.

5 Aristobulus4 calls the river which flows through Sogdiana Polytimetus, a name imposed by the Macedonians (just as they imposed names on many other places, giving new names to some and slightly altering the spelling of the names of others); and watering the country it empties into a desert and sandy land, and is absorbed in the sand, like the Arius which flows through the country of the Arians. It is said that people digging near the Ochus River found a spring of oil. It is reasonable to suppose that, just as nitrous5 and astringent and bituminous and sulphurous liquids flow through the earth, so also oily liquids are found; but the rarity causes surprise.6 According to some, the Ochus flows through Bactriana; according to p287others, alongside it. And according to some, it is a different river from the Oxus as far as its mouths, being more to the south than the Oxus, although they both have their outlets into the Caspian Sea in Hyrcania, whereas others say that it is different at first, but unites with the Oxus, being in many places as much as six or seven stadia wide. The Iaxartes, however, from beginning to end, is a different river from the Oxus, and although it ends in the same area, the mouths of the two, according to Patrocles, are about eighty parasangs distant from one another. The Persian parasang, according to some, is sixty stadia, but according to others thirty or forty. When I was sailing up the Nile, they used different measures when they named the distance in "schoeni" from city to city, so that in some places the same number of "schoeni" meant a longer voyage and in others a shorter;7 and thus the variations have been preserved to this day as handed down from the beginning.

6 Now the tribes one encounters in going from Hyrcania towards the rising sun as far as Sogdiana became known at first to the Persians — I mean the tribes inside8 Taurus — and afterwards to the Macedonians and to the Parthians; and the tribes situated on the far side of those tribes and in a straight line with them are supposed, from their identity in kind, to be Scythian, although no expeditions have been made against them that I know of, any more than against the most northerly of the nomads. Now Alexander did attempt to lead an expedition p289against these when he was in pursuit of Bessus9 and Spitamenes, but when Bessus was captured alive and brought back, and Spitamenes was slain by the barbarians, he desisted from his undertaking. It is not generally agreed that persons have sailed around from India to Hyrcania, but Patrocles states that it is possible.

7 519 It is said that the last part of the Taurus, which is called Imaïus and borders on the Indian Sea, neither extends eastwards farther than India nor into it;10 but that, as one passes to the northern side, the sea gradually reduces the length and breadth of the country, and therefore causes to taper towards the east the portion of Asia now being sketched, which is comprehended between the Taurus and the ocean that fills the Caspian Sea. The maximum length of this portion from the Hyrcanian Sea to the ocean that is opposite the Imaïus is about thirty thousand stadia, the route being along the mountainous tract of the Taurus, and the breadth less than ten thousand; for, as has been said,11 the distance from the Gulf of Issus to the eastern sea at India is about forty thousand stadia, and to Issus from the western extremity at the Pillars of Heracles thirty thousand more.12 The recess of the Gulf of Issus is only slightly, if at all, farther east than Amisus, and the distance from Amisus to the Hyrcanian land is about ten thousand stadia, being parallel to that of the above-mentioned distance from issu to India. Accordingly, there remain thirty thousand stadia as the above-mentioned length p291towards the east of the portion now described. Again, since the maximum breadth of the inhabited world, which is chlamys-shaped,13 is about thirty thousand stadia, this distance would be measured near the meridian line drawn through the Hyrcanian and Persian Seas, if it be true that the length of the inhabited world is seventy thousand stadia. Accordingly, if the distance from Hyrcania to Artemita in Babylonia is eight thousand stadia, as is stated by Apollodorus of Artemita, and the distance from there to the mouth of the Persian Sea another eight thousand, and again eight thousand, or a little less, to the places that lie on the same parallel as the extremities of Ethiopia, there would remain of the above-mentioned breadth of the inhabited world the distance which I have already given,14 from the recess of the Hyrcanian Sea to the mouth of that sea. Since this segment of the earth tapers towards the eastern parts, its shape would be like a cook's knife, the mountain being in a straight line and conceived of as corresponding to the edge of the knife, and the coast from the mouth of the Hyrcanian Sea to Tamarum as corresponding to the other side of the knife, which ends in a line that curves sharply to the point.

8 I must also mention some strange customs, everywhere talked about, of the utterly barbarous tribes; for instance, the tribes round the Caucasus and the mountainous country in general. 520 What Euripides refers to is said to be a custom among some of them, "to lament the new‑born babe, in view of all the sorrows it will meet in life, but on the other hand to carry forth from their homes with joy and benedictions those who are dead and at rest from their p293troubles";15 and it is said to be a custom among others to put to death none of the greatest criminals, but only to cast them and their children out of their borders — a custom contrary to that of the Derbices, for these slaughter people even for slight offences. The Derbices worship Mother Earth; and they do not sacrifice, or eat, anything that is female; and when men become over seventy years of age they are slaughtered, and their flesh is consumed by their nearest of kin; but their old women are strangled and then buried. However, the men who die under seventy years of age are not eaten, but only buried. The Siginni imitate the Persians in all their customs, except that they use ponies that are small and shaggy, which, though unable to carry a horseman, are yoked together in a four-horse team and are driven by women trained thereto from childhood; and the woman who drives best cohabits with whomever she wishes. Others are said to practise making their heads appear as long as possible and making their foreheads project beyond their chins. It is a custom of the Tapyri for the men to dress in black and wear their hair long, and for the women to dress in white and wear their hair short. They live between the Derbices and the Hyrcanians. And he who is adjudged the bravest marries whomever he wishes. The Caspians starve to death those who are over seventy years of age and place their bodies out in the desert; and then they keep watch from a distance, and if they see them dragged from their biers by birds, they consider them fortunate, and if by wild beasts or dogs, less so, but if by nothing, they consider them cursed by fortune.

The Editor's Notes:

1 See Dictionary in Vol. I.

2 Cf. 10.5.6.

Thayer's Note: Citations of similar accounts in ancient authors are collected by Oldfather in his note to Diodorus, XVII.105.

3 Cyrus the Elder.

4 See 11.7.3 and foot-note.

5 i.e. containing soda (see 11.14.8 and foot-note).

6 i.e., apparently, when one does happen to find them.

7 On the variations in the length of the "schoenus," see 17.1.24.

8 i.e. "north of" Taurus (see 11.1.2).

9 Satrap of Bactria under Darius III.

10 To understand this discussion, see Map in Vol. I.

11 See 2.1.3 ff.

12 See, and compare, 1.4.5, 2.1.35, 2.4.3, and 11.1.3.

13 See Vol. I, p435, note 3.

14 Six thousand (2.1.17).

15 Frag. Cresphontes 449 (Nauck).

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