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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.
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(Vol. III) Strabo

p165 Book VII, Chapter 2

1 (292) As for the Cimbri, some things that are told about them are incorrect and others are extremely improbable. For instance, one could not accept such a reason for their having become a wandering and piratical folk as this — that while they were dwelling on a Peninsula they were driven out of their habitations by a great flood-tide; 293for in fact they still hold the country which they held in earlier times; and they sent as a present to Augustus the most sacred kettle37 in their country, with a p167plea for his friendship and for an amnesty of their earlier offences, and when their petition was granted they set sail for home; and it is ridiculous to suppose that they departed from their homes because they were incensed on account of a phenomenon that is natural and eternal, occurring twice every day. And the assertion that an excessive flood-tide once occurred looks like a fabrication, for when the ocean is affected in this way it is subject to increases and diminutions, but these are regulated and periodical.38 And the man who said that the Cimbri took up arms against the flood-tides was not right, either; nor yet the statement that the Celti, as a training in the virtue of fearlessness, meekly abide the destruction of their homes by the tides and then rebuild them, and that they suffer a greater loss of life as the result of water than of war, as Ephorus says. Indeed, the regularity of the flood-tides and the fact that the part of the country subject to inundations was known should have precluded such absurdities; for since this phenomenon occurs twice every day, it is of course improbable that the Cimbri did not so much as once perceive that the reflux was natural and harmless, and that it occurred, not in their country alone, but in every country that was on the ocean. Neither is Cleitarchus right; for he says that the horsemen, on seeing the onset of the sea, rode away, and though in full flight came very near being cut off by the water. Now we know, in the first place, that the invasion of the tide does not rush on with such speed as that, but that the sea advances imperceptibly; and, secondly, that what takes place daily and is audible to all who are about to draw near it, even before they p169behold it, would not have been likely to prompt in them such terror that they would take to flight, as if it had occurred unexpectedly.a

2 Poseidonius is right in censuring the historians for these assertions, and his conjecture is not a bad one, that the Cimbri, being a piratical and wandering folk, made an expedition even as far as the region of Lake Maeotis, and that also the "Cimmerian" Bosporus39 was named after them, being equivalent to "Cimbrian," the Greeks naming the Cimbri "Cimmerii." And he goes off to say that in earlier times the Boii dwelt in the Hercynian Forest, and that the Cimbri made a sally against this place, but on being repulsed by the Boii, went down to the Ister and the country of the Scordiscan Galatae,40 then to the country of the Teuristae41 and Taurisci (these, too, Galatae), and then to the country of the Helvetii — men rich in gold but peaceable; however, when the Helvetii saw that the wealth which the Cimbri had got from their robberies surpassed that of their own country, they, and particularly their tribes of Tigyreni and of Toygeni, were so excited that they sallied forth with the Cimbri. 294All, however, were subdued by the Romans, both the Cimbri themselves and those who had joined their expeditions, in part after they had crossed the Alps into Italy and in part while still on the other side of the Alps.

3 Writers report a custom of the Cimbri to this effect: Their wives, who would accompany them on their expeditions, were attended by priestesses who p171were seers; these were grey-haired, clad in white, with flaxen cloaks fastened on with clasps, girt with girdles of bronze, and bare-footed; now sword in hand these priestesses would meet with the prisoners of war throughout the camp, and having first crowned them with wreaths would lead them to a brazen vessel of about twenty amphorae;42 and they had a raised platform which the priestess would mount, and then, bending over the kettle,43 would cut the throat of each prisoner after he had been lifted up; and from the blood that poured forth into the vessel some of the priestesses would draw a prophecy, while still others would split open the body and from an inspection of the entrails would utter a prophecy of victory for their own people; and during the battles they would beat on the hides that were stretched over the wicker-bodies of the wagons and in this way produce an unearthly noise.

4 Of the Germans, as I have said,44 those towards the north extend along the ocean;45 and beginning at the outlets of the Rhenus, they are known as far as the Albis; and of these the best known are the Sugambri and the Cimbri; but those parts of the country beyond the Albis that are near the ocean are wholly unknown to us. For of the men of earlier times I know of no one who has made this voyage along the coast to the eastern parts that extend as far as the mouth46 of the Caspian Sea; and the Romans have not yet advanced into the parts that are beyond the Albis; and likewise no one has made the journey by land either. However, it is clear from the "climata" and the parallel distances that if one travels longitudinally towards the east, one encounters the regions that are about p173the Borysthenes and that are to the north of the Pontus; but what is beyond Germany and what beyond the countries which are next after Germany — whether one should say the Bastarnae, as most writers suspect, or say that others lie in between, either the Iazyges, or the Roxolani,47 or certain other of the wagon-dwellers48 — it is not easy to say; nor yet whether they extend as far as the ocean along its entire length, or whether any part is uninhabitable by reason of the cold or other cause, or whether even a different race of people, succeeding the Germans, is situated between the sea and the eastern Germans. And this same ignorance prevails also in regard to the rest of the peoples that come next in order on the north; for I know neither the Bastarnae,49 nor the Sauromatae, nor, in a word, any of the peoples who dwell above the Pontus, nor how far distant they are from the Atlantic Sea,50 nor whether their countries border upon it.

The Editor's Notes:

37 When the throats of prisoners of war were cut, the blood was caught in huge brazen kettles (7.2.3).

38 Cp. 3.5.9.

39 The Strait of Kerch (or Yenikale).

40 The Galatae lived between the Ister (Danube) and Morava Rivers on the confines of Illyria.

41 Cp. "Tauristae,"º 7.3.2.

42 About 120 gallons.

43 Cp. 7.2.1.

44 7.1.1.

45 Cp. 7.1.1 and the footnote on "ocean."

46 See the Frontispiece, Vol. I.

47 Cp. 2.5.7 and 7.3.17.

48 Cp. 2.5.26.

49 See 2.5.30.

50 The same in Strabo as "the Atlantic Ocean," including "the Northern Ocean."

Thayer's Note:

a As we are now all aware, an "excessive flood-tide", i.e. a tsunami, can be caused by an earthquake or a meteorite strike; that this may have happened to the Cimbri is not implausible, and Clitarchus' account of horses just barely outrunning the water is well within recorded fact. Any survivor whose home was on lowlands now permanently underwater would have been quite obliged to go somewhere else, of course; and there are reported to be archaeological indications that a fairly large patch of the North Sea between Kent and Holland may have been dry land in very recent times. All of this is sheer speculation, of course, but eminently possible.

Page updated: 24 Sep 12