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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


published in Vol. III
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. III) Strabo

 p137  Book VI, Chapter 4

1 (285) Such, indeed, is the size and such the character of Italy. And while I have already mentioned many things which have caused the Romans at the present time to be exalted to so great a height, I shall now indicate the most important things. 286One is, that, like an island, Italy is securely guarded by the seas on all sides, except in a few regions, and even these are fortified by mountains that are hardly passable. A second is that along most of its coast it is harbourless and that the harbours it does have are large and admirable. The former is useful in meeting attacks from the outside, while the latter is helpful in making counter-attacks and in promoting an abundant commerce. A third is that it is characterised by many differences of air and temperature, on which depend the greater variation, whether for better or for worse, in animals, plants, and, in short, everything that is useful for the support of life.241 Its length extends from north to south, generally speaking, and Sicily counts as an addition to its length, already so great. Now mild temperature and harsh temperature of the air are judged by heat, cold, and their intermediates;242 and so from this it necessarily follows that what is now Italy, situated as it is between the two extremes and extending to such a length, shares very largely in the temperate zone and in a very large number of ways. And the following is still another advantage which has fallen to the lot of Italy; since the  p139 Apennine Mountains extend through the whole of its length and leave on both sides plains and hills which bear fine fruits, there is no part of it which does not enjoy the blessings of both mountain and plain. And add also to this the size and number of its rivers and its lakes, and, besides these, the fountains of water, both hot and cold, which in many places nature has provided as an aid to health, and then again its good supply of mines of all sorts. Neither can one worthily describe Italy's abundant supply of fuel, and of food both for men and beast, and the excellence of its fruits. Further, since it lies intermediate between the largest races243 on the one hand, and Greece and the best parts of Libya on the other, it not only is naturally well-suited to hegemony, because it surpasses the countries that surround it both in the valour of its people and in size, but also can easily avail itself of their services, because it is close to them.

2 Now if I must add to my account of Italy a summary account also of the Romans who took possession of it and equipped it as a base of operations for the universal hegemony, let me add as follows: After the founding of Rome, the Romans wisely continued for many generations under the rule of kings. Afterwards, because the last Tarquinius was a bad ruler, they ejected him, framed a government which was a mixture of monarchy and aristocracy, and dealt with the Sabini and Latini as with partners. 287But since they did not always find either them or the other neighbouring peoples well  p141 intentioned, they were forced, in a way, to enlarge their own country by the dismemberment of that of the others. And in this way, while they were advancing and increasing little by little, it came to pass, contrary to the expectation of all, that they suddenly lost their city,244 although they also got it back contrary to expectation. This took place, as Polybius245 says, in the nineteenth year after the naval battle at Aegospotami, at the time of the Peace of Antalcidas.246 After having rid themselves of these enemies, the Romans first made all the Latini their subjects; then stopped the Tyrrheni and the Celti who lived about the Padus from their wide and unrestrained licence; then fought down the Samnitae, and, after them, the Tarantini and Pyrrhus; and then at last also the remainder of what is now Italy, except the part that is about the Padus. And while this part was still in a state of war, the Romans crossed over to Sicily, and on taking it away from the Carthaginians came back again to attack the peoples who lived about the Padus; and it was while that war was still in progress that Hannibal invaded Italy. This latter is the second war that occurred against the Carthaginians; and not long afterwards occurred the third, in which Carthage was destroyed; and at  p143 the same time the Romans acquired, not only Libya, but also as much of Iberia as they had taken away from the Carthaginians. But the Greeks, the Macedonians, and those peoples in Asia who lived this side the Halys River and the Taurus Mountains joined the Carthaginians in a revolution, and therefore at the same time the Romans were led on to a conquest of these peoples, whose kings were Antiochus, Philip, and Perseus. Further, those of the Illyrians and Thracians who were neighbours to the Greeks and the Macedonians began to carry on war against the Romans and kept on warring until the Romans had subdued all the tribes this side the Ister and this side the Halys. And the Iberians, Celti, and all the remaining peoples which now give ear to the Romans had the same experience. As for Iberia, the Romans did not stop reducing it by force of arms until they had subdued the whole of it, first, by driving out the Nomantini,247 and, later on, by destroying Viriathus248 and Sertorius, and, last of all, the Cantabri, who were subdued by Augustus Caesar. As for Celtica (I mean Celtica as a whole, both the Cisalpine and Transalpine, together with Liguria),249 the Romans at first brought it over to their side only part by part, from time to time, but later the Deified Caesar, and afterwards Caesar Augustus, acquired it all at once in a general war. But at the present time the Romans are carrying on war against the Germans, setting out from the Celtic regions as the most appropriate base of operations, and have already glorified the fatherland with some triumphs over them. 288As for Libya, so much of it as did not belong to the Carthaginians was turned over to kings who were subject to the Romans, and, if they ever revolted, they were deposed. But at the present time Juba has been invested with the rule, not only of Maurusia, but also of many parts of the rest of Libya, because of his loyalty and  p145 his friendship for the Romans. And the case of Asia was like that of Libya. At the outset it was administered through the agency of kings who were subject to the Romans, but from that time on, when their line failed, as was the case with the Attalic, Syrian, Paphlagonian, Cappadocian, and Egyptian kings, or when they would revolt and afterwards be deposed, as was the case with Mithridates Eupator and the Egyptian Cleopatra, all parts of it this side the Phasis and the Euphrates, except certain parts of Arabia, have been subject to the Romans and the rulers appointed by them. As for the Armenians, and the peoples who are situated above Colchis, both Albanians250 and Iberians,251 they require the presence only of men to lead them, and are excellent subjects, but because the Romans are engrossed by other affairs, they make attempts at revolution — as is the case with all the peoples who live beyond the Ister in the neighbourhood of the Euxine, except those in the region of the Bosporus252 and the Nomads,253 for the people of the Bosporus are in subjection, whereas the Nomads, on account of their lack of intercourse with others, are of no use for anything and only require watching. Also the remaining parts of Asia, generally speaking, belong to the Tent-dwellers and the Nomads, who are very distant peoples. But as for the Parthians, although they have a common border with the Romans and also are very powerful, they have nevertheless yielded so far to the preeminence of the  p147 Romans and of the rulers of our time that they have sent to Rome the trophies which they once set up as a memorial of their victory over the Romans, and, what is more, Phraates has entrusted to Augustus Caesar his children and also his children's children, thus obsequiously making sure of Caesar's friendship by giving hostages; and the Parthians of to‑day have often gone to Rome in quest of a man to be their king,254 and are now about ready to put their entire authority into the hands of the Romans. As for Italy itself,a though it has often been torn by factions, at least since it has been under the Romans, and as for Rome itself, they have been prevented by the excellence of their form of government and of their rulers from proceeding too far in the ways of error and corruption. But it were a difficult thing to administer so great a dominion otherwise than by turning it over to one man, as to a father; at all events, never have the Romans and their allies thrived in such peace and plenty as that which was afforded them by Augustus Caesar, from the time he assumed the absolute authority, and is now being afforded them by his son and successor, Tiberius, who is making Augustus the model of his administration and decrees, as are his children, Germanicus and Drusus, who are assisting their father.

The Editor's Notes:

241 This statement is general and does not apply to Italy alone (cp. 2.3.1 and 2.3.7).

242 Cp. 2.3.1.

243 Iberians, Celts and Germans.

244 To the Gauls, under Brennus.

245 1.6.

246 Concluded at Sparta in the Spring of 386 B.C.

247 134‑133 B.C., under the leadership of Scipio Aemilianus.

248 Cp. 3.4.5.

249 Literally, "Ligystica" (cp. 4.6.3, and 5.2.1).

250 Their country is to be identified with what is now Chirwan and Daghestan (cp. 11.1.6).

251 Their country is to be identified with what is now Georgia (cp. 11.1.6).

252 Cp. 7.4.4.

253 Cp. 7.3.17.

254 For example, Vonones.

Thayer's Note:

a A different translation, more modern-sounding but presumably by our same translator, is given in his Introduction.

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