Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]

(Vol. V) Strabo

 p317  Book XI, Chapter 14

1 (526) As for Armenia, the southern parts of it have the Taurus situated in front of them,​1 which separates it from the whole of the country between the Euphrates and the Tigris, 527 the country called Mesopotamia; and the eastern parts border on Greater Armenia and Atropatenê; and on the north  p319 the mountains of Parachoathras that lie above the Caspian Sea, and Albania, and Iberia, and the Caucasus, which last encircles these nations and borders on Armenia, and borders also on the Moschian and Colchian mountains as far as the Tibarani, as they are called; and on the west are these nations and the mountains Paryadres and Scydises in their extent to Lesser Armenia and the river-land of the Euphrates, which latter separates Armenia from Cappadocia and Commagenê.

2 For the Euphrates, having its beginnings on the northern side of the Taurus, flows at first towards the west through Armenia, and then bends towards the south and cuts through the Taurus between Armenia, Cappadocia, and Commagenê, and then, after falling outside the Taurus and reaching the borders of Syria, it bends towards the winter-sunrise​2 as far as Babylon, and with the Tigris forms Mesopotamia; and both rivers end in the Persian Gulf. Such, then, is our circuit of Armenia, almost all parts being mountainous and rugged, except the few which verge toward Media. But since the above-mentioned Taurus​3 takes a new beginning on the far side of the Euphrates opposite Commagenê and Melitenê, countries formed by that river, Mt. Masius is the mountain which lies above the Mygdonians of Mesopotamia on the south, in whose country is Nisibis, whereas Sophenê is situated in the northern parts, between Masius and Antitaurus. The Antitaurus takes its beginning at the Euphrates  p321 and the Taurus and ends towards the eastern parts of Armenia, thus on one side​4 enclosing the middle of Sophenê,​5 and having on its other side Acilisenê, which is situated between the Antitaurus​6 and the river-land​7 of the Euphrates, before that river bends towards the south. The royal city of Sophenê is Carcathiocerta. Above Mt. Masius, far towards the east opposite Gordyenê, lies Mt. Niphates; and then comes Mt. Abus, whence flow both the Euphrates and the Araxes, the former towards the west and the latter towards the east; and then Mt. Nibarus, which stretches as far as Media.

3 I have already described the course of the Euphrates. As for the Araxes, it first flows towards the east as far as Atropatenê, and then bends towards the west and towards the north and flows first past Azara and then past Artaxata, Armenian cities, and then, passing through the Araxene Plain, empties into the Caspian Sea.

4 528 In Armenia itself there are many mountains and many plateaus, in which not even the vine can easily grow; and also many valleys, some only moderately fertile, others very fertile, for instance, the Araxene Plain, through which the Araxes River flows to the extremities of Albania and then empties into the Caspian Sea. After these come Sacasenê, this too bordering on Albania and the Cyrus River; and then comes Gogarenê. Indeed, the whole of  p323 this country abounds in fruits and cultivated trees and evergreens, and even bears the olive. There is also Phauenê,​8 a province of Armenia, and Comisenê, and Orchistenê, which last furnishes the most cavalry. Chorzenê and Cambysenê are the most northerly and the most subject to snows, bordering on the Caucasian mountains and Iberia and Colchis. It is said that here, on the passes over the mountains, whole caravans are often swallowed up in the snow when unusually violent snowstorms take place, and that to meet such dangers people carry staves, which they raise to the surface of the snow in order to get air to breathe and to signify their plight to people who come along, so as to obtain assistance, be dug out, and safely escape. It is said that hollow masses of ice form in the snow which contain good water, in a coat of ice as it were; and also that living creatures breed in the snow (Apollonides​9 calls these creatures "scoleces"​10 and Theophanes​11 "thripes");​12 and that good water is enclosed in these hollow masses which people obtain for drinking by slitting open the coats of ice; and the genesis of these creatures is supposed to be like that of the gnats which spring from the flames and sparks at mines.

5 According to a report, Armenia, though a small country in earlier times, was enlarged by Artaxias and Zariadris, who formerly were generals of  p325 Antiochus the Great,​13 but later, after his defeat, reigned as kings (the former as king of Sophenê, Acisenê, Odomantis, and certain other countries, and the latter as king of the country round Artaxata), and jointly enlarged their kingdoms by cutting off for themselves parts of the surrounding nations, — I mean by cutting off Caspianê and Phaunitis and Basoropeda from the country of the Medes; and the country along the side of Mt Paryadres and Chorzenê and Gogarenê, which last is on the far side of the Cyrus River, from that of the Iberians; and Carenitis and Xerxenê, which border on Lesser Armenia or else parts of it, from that of the Chalybians and the Mosynoeci; and Acilisenê and the country round the Antitaurus from that of the Cataonians; and Taronitis from that of the Syrians; and therefore they all speak the same language, as we are told.

6 The cities of Armenia are Artaxata, also called Artaxiasata, which was founded by Hannibal​14 for Artaxias the king, 529 and Arxata, both on the Araxes River, Arxata being near the borders of Atropatia, whereas Artaxata is near the Araxene plain, being a beautiful settlement and the royal residence of the country. It is situated on a peninsula-like elbow of land and its walls have the river as protection all round them, except at the isthmus, which is enclosed by a trench and a palisade. Not  p327 far from the city the treasuries of Tigranes and Artavasdes,​15 the strong fortresses Babyrsa and Olanê. And there were other fortresses on the Euphrates. Of these, Artageras​16 was caused to revolt by Ador,​17 its commandant, but Caesar's generals sacked it after a long siege and destroyed its walls.

7 There are several rivers in the country, but the best known are the Phasis and the Lycus, which empty into the Pontic Sea (Eratosthenes wrongly writes "Thermodon" instead of "Lycus"), whereas the Cyrus and the Araxes empty into the Caspian Sea, and the Euphrates and the Tigris into the Red Sea.

8 There are also large lakes in Armenia; one the Mantianê, which being translated means "Blue";​18 it is the largest salt-water lake after Lake Maeotis, as they say, extending as far as Atropatia; and it also has salt-works. Another is Arsenê, also called Thopitis.​19 It contains soda,​20 and it cleanses and restores clothes;​21 but because of this ingredient the water is also unfit for drinking.  p329 The Tigris flows through this lake after issuing from the mountainous country near the Niphates; and because of its swiftness it keeps its current unmixed with the lake; whence the name Tigris, since the Median word for "arrow" is "tigris." And while the river has fish of many kinds, the fish in the lake are of one kind only. Near the recess of the lake the river falls into a pit, and after flowing under­ground for a considerable distance rises near Chalonitis.​22 Thence the river begins to flow down towards Opis and the wall of Semiramis, as it is called, leaving the Gordiaeans and the whole of Mesopotamia on the right, while the Euphrates, on the contrary, has the same country on the left. Having approached one another and formed Mesopotamia, the former flows through Seleuceia to the Persian Gulf and the latter through Babylon, as I have already said somewhere in my arguments against Eratosthenes and Hipparchus.23

9 There are gold mines in Syspiritis and Caballa, to which Menon was sent by Alexander with soldiers, and he was led up​24 to them by the natives. There are also other mines, in particular those of sandyx,​25 as it is called, which is also called "Armenian" colour, like chalcê.​26 The country is so very good  p331 for "horse-pasturing," not even inferior to Media,​27 530 that the Nesaean horses, which were used by the Persian kings, are also bred there. The satrap of Armenia used to send to the Persian king twenty thousand foals every year at the time of the Mithracina.​28 Artavasdes,​29 at the time when he invaded Media with Antony, showed him, apart from the rest of the cavalry, six thousand horses drawn up in battle array in full armour. Not only the Medes and the Armenians pride themselves upon this kind of cavalry, but also the Albanians, for they too use horses in full armour.

10 As for the wealth and power of the country, the following is no small sign of it, that when Pompey imposed upon Tigranes, the father of Artavasdes, a payment of six thousand talents of silver, he forthwith distributed to the Roman forces as follows: to each soldier fifty drachmas, to each centurion a thousand drachmas, and to each hipparch and chiliarch a talent.

11 The size of the country is given by Theophanes:​30 the breadth one hundred "schoeni," and the length twice as much, putting the "schoenus" at forty stadia;​31 but his estimate is too high; it is nearer the truth to put down as length what he gives as breadth, and as breadth the half, or a little more, of what he gives as breadth. Such, then, is the nature and power of Armenia.

 p333  12 There is an ancient story of the Armenian race to this effect: that Armenus of Armenium, a Thessalian city, which lies between Pherae and Larisa on Lake Boebe, as I have already said,​32 accompanied Jason into Armenia; and Cyrsilus the Pharsalian and Medius the Larisaean, who accompanied Alexander, say that Armenia was named after him, and that, of the followers of Armenus, some took up their abode in Acilisenê, which in earlier times was subject to the Sopheni, whereas others took up their abode in Syspiritis, as far as Calachenê and Adiabenê, outside the Armenian mountains. They also say that the clothing of the Armenians is Thessalian, for example, the long tunics, which in tragedies are called Thessalian and are girded round the breast; and also the cloaks that are fastened on with clasps, another way in which the tragedians imitated the Thessalians, for the tragedian had to have some alien decoration of this kind; and since the Thessalians in particular wore long robes, probably because they of all the Greeks lived in the most northerly and coldest region, they were the most suitable objects of imitation for actors in their theatrical make‑ups. And they say that their style of horseman­ship is Thessalian, 531 both theirs and alike that of the Medes. To this the expedition of Jason and the Jasonian monuments bear witness, some of which were built by the sovereigns of the country, just as the temple of Jason at Abdera was built by Parmenion.

 p335  13 It is thought that the Araxes was given the same name as the Peneius by Armenus and his followers because of its similar to that river, for that river, too, they say, was called Araxes because of the fact that it "cleft"​33 Ossa from Olympus, the cleft called Tempê. And it is said that in ancient times the Araxes in Armenia, after descending from the mountains, spread out and formed a sea in the plains below, since it had anoint outlet, but that Jason, to make it like Tempê, made the cleft through which the water now precipitates​34 itself into the Caspian Sea, and that in consequence of this the Araxene Plain, through which the river flows to its precipitate​35 descent, was relieved of the sea. Now this account of the Araxes contains some plausibility, but that of Herodotus not at all; for he says that after flowing out of the country of the Matieni it splits into forty rivers​36 and separates the Scythians from the Bactrians. Callisthenes, also, follows Herodotus.

14 It is also said of certain of the Aenianes that some of them took up their abode in Vitia and others above the Armenians beyond the Abus and the Nibarus. These two mountains are parts of the Taurus, and of these the Abus is near the road that leads into Ecbatana past the temple of Baris. It is also said that certain of the Thracians, those called "Saraparae," that is "Decapitators," took up their abode beyond Armenia near the Guranii and the  p337 Medes, a fierce and intractable people, mountaineers, scalpers, and beheaders, for this last is the meaning of "Saraparae." I have already discussed Medeia in my account of the Medes;​37 and therefore, from all this, it is supposed that both the Medes and the Armenians are in a way kinsmen to the Thessalians and the descendants of Jason and medeia.

15 This, then, is the ancient account; but the more recent account, and that which begins with Persian times and extends continuously to our own, might appropriately be stated in brief as follows: The Persians and Macedonians were in possession of Armenia; after this, those who held Syria and Media; and the last was Orontes, the descendant of Hydarnes, one of the seven Persians;​38 and then the country was divided into two parts by Artaxias and Zariadris, the generals of Antiochus the Great, who made war against the Romans; and these generals ruled the country, since it was turned over to them by the king; but when the king was defeated, they joined the Romans 532 and were ranked as autonomous, with the title of king. Now Tigranes was a descendant of Artaxias and held what is properly called Armenia, which lay adjacent to Media and Albania and Iberia, extending as far as Colchis and Cappadocia on the Euxine, whereas the Sophenian Artanes,​39 who held the southern parts and those that lay more to the west than these, was a descendant of Zariadris. But he was overcome by Tigranes, who established himself as lord of all. The changes of fortune experienced by  p339 Tigranes were varied, for at first he was a hostage among the Parthians; and then through them he obtained the privilege of returning home, they receiving as reward therefor seventy valleys in Armenia; but when he had grown in power, he not only took these places back but also devastated their country, both that about Ninus and that about Arbela; and he subjugated to himself the rulers of Atropatenê and Gordyaea, and along with these the rest of Mesopotamia, and also crossed the Euphrates and by main strength took Syria itself and Phoenicia; and, exalted to this height, he also founded a city near Iberia,​40 between this place and the Zeugma on the Euphrates; and, having gathered peoples thither from twelve Greek cities which had laid waste, he named it Tigranocerta; but Leucullus, who had waged war against Mithridates, arrived before Tigranes finished his undertaking and not only dismissed the inhabitants to their several home-lands but also attacked and pulled down the city, which was still only half finished, and left it a small village;​41 and he drove Tigranes out of both Syria and Phoenicia. His successor Artavasdes​42 was indeed prosperous for a time, while he was a friend to the Romans, but when he betrayed Antony to the Parthians in his war against them he paid the penalty for it, for he was carried off prisoner to Alexandreia by Antony and was paraded in chains through the city; and for a time he was kept in prison, but was afterwards  p341 slain, when the Actian war broke out. After him several kings reigned, these being subject to Caesar and the Romans; and still to‑day the country is governed in the same way.

16 Now the sacred rites of the Persians, one and all, are held in honour by both the Medes and the Armenians; but those of Anaïtis are held in exceptional honour by the Armenians, who have built temples in her honour in different places, and especially in Acilisenê. Here they dedicate to her service male and female slaves. This, indeed, is not a remarkable thing; but the most illustrious men of the tribe actually consecrate to her their daughters while maidens; and it is the custom for these first to be prostituted in the temple of the goddess for a long time and after this to be given in marriage; and no one disdains to live in wedlock with such a woman. 533 Something of this kind is told also by Herodotus​43 in his account of the Lydian women, who, one and all, he says, prostitute themselves. And they are so kindly disposed to their paramours that they not only entertain them hospitably but also exchange presents with them, often giving more than they receive, inasmuch as the girls from wealthy homes are supplied with means. However, they do not admit any man that comes along, but probably those of equal rank with themselves.

The Editor's Notes:

1 The Greek implies that Armenia is protected on the south by the Taurus.

2 See Vol. I, p105, note 2.

3 Cf. 11.2.4.

4 See critical note.

5 i.e. "enclosing Sophenê in a very between itself (the Antitaurus) and the Taurus" (11.12.4).

6 See critical note.

7 See critical note.

8 See critical note.

9 See Vol. III, p234, foot-note 2.

10 "Worms" or "larvae."

11 See foot-note on 11.2.2.

12 Wood-worms.

13 Reigned as king of Syria 223‑187 B.C.

14 The Carthaginian.

Thayer's Note: The story is given in better detail by Plutarch, Lucullus, 31.3‑4.

15 Father and son, respectively, kings of Armenia.

16 See critical note.

17 See critical note.

18 Mantianê (apparently the word should be spelled "Matianê"; see 11.8.8 and 11.13.2) is the lake called "Capauta" in 11.13.2, Capauta meaning "Blue" and corresponding to the old Armenian name Kapoit-azow (Blue Lake), according to Tozer (note ad loc.), quoting Kiepert.

19 On the position of this lake see Tozer (note ad loc.).

20 The Greek word "nitron" means "soda" (carbonate of soda, our washing soda), and should not be confused with our "nitre" (potassium nitrate), nor yet translated "potash" (potassium carbonate). Southgate (Narrative of a Tour through Armenia, Kurdistan, etc., Vol. II, p306, Eng. ed.) says that "a chemical analysis of a specimen shows it to be alkaline salts, composed chiefly of carbonate of soda and chloride" (chlorite in Tozer is a typographical error) "of sodium" (salt).

21 See 11.13.2.

22 There must have been a second Chalonitis, one "not far from Gordyaea" (see 16.1.21), as distinguished from that in eastern Assyria, or else there is an error in the name.

23 2.1.27.

24 "Led up" or ("inland") seems wrong. The verb has been emended to "destroyed," "imprisoned," "hanged" (Meineke), and other such words, but the translator knows of no evidence either to support any one of these emendations or to encourage any other.

25 An earthy ore containing arsenic, which yields a bright red colour.

26 i.e. purple dye. The usual spelling is calchê.

27 See 11.13.7.

28 The annual festival in honour of the Persian Sun‑god Mithras.

29 See 11.13.4.

30 See foot-note on 11.2.2.

31 On the variations in the meaning of "schoenus," see 17.1.24.

32 11.4.8.

33 "ap‑arax‑ae" is the Greek verb.

34 "cat‑arax‑ae."

35 Again a play on the root "arax."

36 "The Araxes discharges through forty mouths, of which all, except one, empty into marshes and shoals. . . . The one remaining mouth flows through a clear channel into the Caspian sea" (Herod. 1.202).

37 11.13.10.

38 See Herodotus 3.70.

39 See critical note.

40 This cannot be the country Iberia; and, so far as is known, the region in question had no city of that name. Kramer conjectures "Nisibis" (cp. 11.12.4); but C. Müller, more plausibly, "Carrhae." Cp. the reference to "Carrhae" in 16.1.23.º

41 69 B.C.

42 See 11.13.4.

43 1.93, 199.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 13 Apr 18