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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

 p151  Book VII, Chapter 1

1 289Now that I have described Iberia and the Celtic and Italian tribes, along with the islands near by, it will be next in order to speak of the remaining parts of Europe, dividing them in the approved manner. The remaining parts are: first, those towards the east, being those which are across the Rhenus and extend as far as the Tanaïs​1 and the mouth of Lake Maeotis,​2 and also all those regions lying between the Adrias​3 and the regions on the left of the Pontic Sea that are shut off by the Ister​4 and extend towards the south as far as Greece and the Propontis;​5 for this river divides very nearly the whole of the aforesaid land into two parts. It is the largest of the European rivers, at the outset flowing towards the south and then turning straight from the west towards the east and the Pontus. It rises in the western limits of Germany, as also near the recess of the Adriatic (at a distance from it of about one thousand stadia), and comes to an end at the Pontus not very far from the outlets of the Tyras​6 and the Borysthenes,​7 bending from its easterly course approximately towards the north. Now the parts that are beyond the Rhenus and Celtica are to the north of the Ister; these are the  p153 territories of the Galatic and the Germanic tribes, extending as far as the Bastarnians and the Tyregetans and the River Borysthenes. And the territories of all the tribes between this river and the Tanaïs and the mouth of Lake Maeotis extend up into the interior as far as the ocean​8 and are washed by the Pontic Sea. But both the Illyrian and the Thracian tribes, and all tribes of the Celtic or other peoples that are mingled with these, as far as Greece, are to the south of the Ister. But let me first describe the parts outside the Ister, for they are much simpler than those on the other side.

2 290Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said​9 the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name "Germani," as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were "genuine" Galatae, for in the language of the Romans "germani" means "genuine."10

3 The first parts of this country are those that are next to the Rhenus, beginning at its source and extending as far as its outlet; and this stretch of  p155 river-land taken as a whole is approximately the breadth of the country on its western side. Some of the tribes of this river-land were transferred by the Romans to Celtica, whereas the others anticipated the Romans by migrating deep into the country, for instance, the Marsi; and only a few people, including a part of the Sugambri,​11 are left. After the people who live along the river come the other tribes that live between the Rhenus and the River Albis,​12 which latter flows approximately parallel to the former, towards the ocean, and traverses no less territory than the former. Between the two are other navigable rivers also (among them the Amasias,​13 on which Drusus won a naval victory over the Bructeri), which likewise flow from the south towards the north and the ocean; for the country is elevated towards the south and forms a mountain chain​14 that connects with the Alps and extends towards the east as though it were a part of the Alps; and in truth some declare that they actually are a part of the Alps, both because of their aforesaid position and of the fact that they produce the same timber; however, the country in this region does not rise to a sufficient height for that. Here, too, is the Hercynian Forest,​15 and also the tribes of the Suevi, some of which dwell inside the forest, as, for instance, the tribes of the Coldui,​16 in whose territory is Boihaemum,​17 the  p157 domain of Marabodus, the place whither he caused to migrate, not only several other peoples, but in particular the Marcomanni, his fellow-tribesmen; for after his return from Rome this man, who before had been only a private citizen, was placed in charge of the affairs of state, for, as a youth he had been at Rome and had enjoyed the favour of Augustus, and on his return he took the ruler­ship and acquired, in addition to the peoples aforementioned, the Lugii (a large tribe), the Zumi, the Butones, the Mugilones, the Sibini,​18 and also the Semnones, a large tribe of the Suevi themselves. However, while some of the tribes of the Suevi dwell inside the forest, as I was saying, others dwell outside of it, and have a common boundary with the Getae.​19 Now as for the tribe of the Suevi,​20 it is the largest, for it extends from the Rhenus to the Albis; and a part of them even dwell on the far side of the Albis, as, for instance, the Hermondori and the Langobardi; 291and at the present time these latter, at least, have, to the last man, been driven in flight out of their country into the land on the far side of the river. It is a common characteristic of all the peoples in this part of the world​21 that they migrate with ease, because of the meagerness of their livelihood and because they do not till the soil or even store up food, but live in small huts that are merely temporary structures; and they live for the most part off their flocks, as the Nomads do,  p159 so that, in imitation of the Nomads, they load their household belongings on their wagons and with their beasts turn whithersoever they think best. But other German tribes are still more indigent. I mean the Cherusci, the Chatti, the Gamabrivii and the Chattuarii,​a and also, near the ocean, the Sugambri, the Chaubi, the Bructeri, and the Cimbri, and also the Cauci, the Caülci, the Campsiani, and several others. Both the Visurgis​22 and the Lupias​23 Rivers run in the same direction as the Amasias, the Lupias being about six hundred stadia distant from the Rhenus and flowing through the country of the Lesser Bructeri.​24 Germany has also the Salas River;​25 and it was between the Salas and the Rhenus that Drusus Germanicus, while he was successfully carrying on the war, came to his end.​26 He had subjugated, not only most of the tribes, but also the islands along the coast, among which is Burchanis,​27 which he took by siege.

4 These tribes have become known through their wars with the Romans, in which they would either yield and then later revolt again, or else quit their settlements; and they would have been better known if Augustus had allowed his generals to cross the Albis in pursuit of those who emigrated thither. But as a matter of fact he supposed that he could conduct the war in hand more successfully if he should hold off from those outside the Albis, who  p161 were living in peace, and should not incite them to make common cause with the others in their enmity against him. It was the Sugambri, who live near the Rhenus, that began the war, Melo being their leader; and from that time on different peoples at different times would cause a breach, first growing powerful and then being put down, and then revolting again, betraying both the hostages they had given and their pledges of good faith. In dealing with these peoples distrust has been a great advantage, whereas those who have been trusted have done the greatest harm, as, for instance, the Cherusci and their subjects, in whose country three Roman legions, with their general Quintilius Varus, were destroyed by ambush in violation of the treaty. But they all paid the penalty, and afforded the younger Germanicus a most brilliant triumph​28 — that triumph in which their most famous men and women were led captive, I mean Segimuntus, son of Segestes and chieftain of the Cherusci, and his sister Thusnelda, the wife of Armenius, the man who at the time of the violation of the treaty against Quintilius Varus was commander-in‑chief of the Cheruscan army 292and even to this day is keeping up the war, and Thusnelda's three-year‑old son Thumelicus; and also Sesithacus, the son of Segimerus and chieftain of the Cherusci, and Rhamis, his wife, and a daughter of Ucromirus chieftain of the Chatti, and Deudorix,​29 a Sugambrian, the son of Baetorix the brother of Melo. But Segestes, the father-in‑law of Armenius, who even from the outset had opposed​30 the purpose of Armenius, and, taking advantage of an opportune  p163 time, had deserted him, was present as a guest of honour at the triumph over his loved ones. And Libes too, a priest of the Chatti, marched in the procession, as also other captives from the plundered tribes — the Caülci, Campsani, Bructeri, Usipi, Cherusci, Chatti, Chattuarii, Landi, Tubattii. Now the Rhenus is about three thousand stadia distant from the Albis, if one had straight roads to travel on, but as it is one must go by a circuitous route, which winds through a marshy country and forests.

5 The Hercynian Forest is not only rather dense, but also has large trees, and comprises a large circuit within regions that are fortified by nature; in the centre of it, however, lies a country (of which I have already spoken)​31 that is capable of affording an excellent livelihood. And near it are the sources of both the Ister and the Rhenus, as also the lake​32 between the two sources, and the marshes​33 into which the Rhenus spreads.​34 The perimeter of the lake is more than three hundred stadia, while the passage across it is nearly two hundred.​35 There is also an island in it which Tiberius used as a base of operations in his naval battle with the Vindelici. This lake is south of the sources of the Ister, as is also the Hercynian Forest, so that necessarily, in  p165 going from Celtica to the Hercynian Forest, one first crosses the lake and then the Ister, and from there on advances through more passable regions — plateaus — to the forest. Tiberius had proceeded only a day's journey from the lake when he saw the sources of the Ister. The country of the Rhaeti adjoins the lake for only a short distance, whereas that of the Helvetii and the Vindelici, and also the desert of the Boii, adjoin the greater part of it. All the peoples as far as the Pannonii, but more especially the Helvetii and the Vindelici, inhabit plateaus. But the countries of the Rhaeti and the Norici extend as far as the passes over the Alps and verge toward Italy, a part thereof bordering on the country of the Insubri and a part on that of the Carni and the legions about Aquileia. And there is also another large forest, Gabreta;​36 it is on this side of the territory of the Suevi, whereas the Hercynian Forest, which is also held by them, is on the far side.

The Editor's Notes:

1 The Don.

2 The sea of Azof.

3 The Adriatic.

4 The Danube.

5 The Sea of Marmora.

6 The Dniester.

7 The Dnieper.

8 Strabo here means the exterior or Northern ocean (see 2.5.31 and the Frontispiece, Vol. I).

9 4.4.2‑3.

10 So also Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Pliny and the ancient writers in general regarded the Germans as Celts (Gauls). Dr. Richard Braungart has recently published a large work in two volumes in which he ably defends his thesis that the Boii, Vindelici, Rhaeti, Norici, Taurisci, and other tribes, as shown by their agricultural implements and contrivances, were originally, not Celts, but Germans, and, in all probability, the ancestors of all Germans (Sudgermanen, Heidelberg, 1914).

11 e.g. the Ubii (see 4.3.4).

12 The Elbe.

13 The Ems.

14 The chain of mountains that extends from northern Switzerland to Mt. Krapak.

15 Now called the "Black Forest," although the ancient term, according to Elton (Origins, p51, quoted by Tozer), embraced also the forests of the Hartz, and the woods of Westphalia and Nassau.

16 Müller-Dübner and Forbiger, perhaps rightly, emend "Coldui" to "Coadui." But as Tozer (p187) says, the information Strabo here gives about Germany "is very imperfect, and hardly extends at all beyond the Elbe."

17 Hence the modern "Bohemia," "the home of the Boii."

18 Scholars have suggested different emendations for "Zumi," "Butones," "Mugilones," and "Sibini," since all these seem to be corrupt (see C. Müller, Ind. Var. Lect., p981). For "Butones" it is fairly certain that Strabo wrote "Gutones" (the Goths).

19 The "Getae," also called "Daci," dwelt in what are now Rumania and souther Hungary.

20 Strabo now uses "tribe" in its broadest sense.

21 Including the Galatae (see 4.4.2).

22 The Weser.

23 The Lippe.

24 The Lesser Bructeri appear to have lived south of the Frisii and west of the Ems, while the Greater Bructeri lived east of it and south of the Western Chauci (cp. Ptolemaeus 2.11.6‑7).

25 The Thüringianº Saale.

26 In his thirtieth year (9 A.D.) his horse fell on him and broke his leg (Livy, Epitome 140).

27 Now Borkum. The Romans nicknamed it "Fabaria" ("Bean Island") because of the wild beans that grew there (Pliny 4.27).

28 May 26, 17 A.D. (Tacitus, Annals 2.41).

29 The same name as "Theodoric."

30 So Tacitus, Annals, 1.55; see also 1.5871.

31 4.6.9 and 7.1.3.

32 Now the Lake of Constance; also called the Bodensee. Cp. 4.3.3 and 4.6.9.

33 The Untersee.

34 Cp. 4.3.3.

35 These figures, as they stand in the manuscripts, are, of course, relatively impossible, and Strabo could hardly have made such a glaring error. Meineke and others emend 300 to 500, leaving the 200 as it is; but on textual grounds, at least, 600 is far more probable. "Passage across" (in Strabo) means the usual boat-passage, but the terminal points of this passage are now unknown. According to W. A. B. Coolidge (Encyclopedia Britannica,º s.v. "Lake of Constance") the length of the lake is now 46½ miles (from Bregenz to Stein-am‑Rhein), while its greatest width is 10½ miles.

36 The forest of the Bohemians.

Thayer's Note:

a Velleius Paterculus (II.105) calls them Attuarii.

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Page updated: 24 Sep 12