Sir Thomas Browne (1683) Certain Miscellany Tracts. Tract X: Of Troas; Also, of the Situations of Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah, and Zeboim, pp. 157-166.




What place is meant by that Name.

Also, of the situations of Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah, Zeboim, in the dead Sea.


To your Geographical Queries, I answer as follows.

In sundry passages of the new Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles, and Epistles of S. Paul, we meet with the word Troas; how he went from Troas to Philippi in Macedonia, from thence unto Troas again: how he remained seven days in that place; from thence on foot to Assos, whither the Disciples had sailed from Troas, and there, taking him in, made their Voyage unto Cæsarea.1

Now, whether this Troas be the name of a City or a certain Region seems no groundless doubt of yours: for that ’twas sometimes taken in the signification of some Country, is acknowledged by Ortelius, Stephanus and Grotius; and it is plainly set down by Strabo, that a Region of Phrygia in Asia minor was so taken in ancient times; and that, at the Trojan War, all the Territory which comprehended the nine Principalities subject unto the King of Illium, Τροίη λεγομένη, was called by the name of Troja.2 And this might seem sufficiently to salve the intention of the description, when he came or went from Troas, that is, some part of that Region; and will otherwise seem strange unto many how he should be said to go or come from that City which all Writers had laid in the Ashes about a thousand years before.

All which notwithstanding, since we reade in the Text a particular abode of seven days, and such particulars as leaving of his Cloak, Books and Parchments at Troas: And that S. Luke seems to have been taken in to the Travels of S. Paul in this place, where he begins in the Acts to write in the first person, this may rather seem to have been some City or special Habitation, than any Province or Region without such limitation.

Now that such a City there was, and that of no mean note, is easily verified from historical observation. For though old Ilium was anciently destroyed, yet was there another raised by the relicts of that people, not in the same place, but about thirty Furlongs westward, as is to be learned from Strabo.3

Of this place Alexander in his Expedition against Darius took especial notice, endowing it with sundry Immunities, with promise of greater matters at his return from Persia; inclined hereunto from the honour he bore unto Homer, whose earnest Reader he was, and upon whose Poems, by the help of Anaxarchus and Callisthenes, he made some observations. As also much moved hereto upon the account of his cognation with the Æacides and Kings of Molossus, whereof Andromache the Wife of Hector was Queen. After the death of Alexander, Lysimachus surrounded it with a Wall, and brought the inhabitants of the neighbour Towns unto it, and so it bore the name of Alexandria; which, from Antigonus, was also called Antigonia, according to the inscription of that famous Medal in Goltsius, Colonia Troas Antigonia Alexandrea, Legio vicesima prima.

When the Romans first went into Asia against Antiochus ’twas but a Κωσμόπολις and no great City; but, upon the Peace concluded, the Romans much advanced the same.4 Fimbria, the rebellious Roman, spoiled it in the Mithridatick War, boasting that he had subdued Troy in eleven days which the Grecians could not take in almost as many years.5 But it was again rebuilt and countenanced by the Romans, and became a Roman Colony, with great Immunities conferred on it; and accordingly it is so set down by Ptolomy.6 For the Romans, deriving themselves from the Trojans, thought no favour too great for it; especially Julius Cæsar, who, both in imitation of Alexander, and for his own descent from Julus, of the posterity of Æneas, with much passion affected it, and in a discontented humour,7 was once in mind to translate the Roman wealth unto it; so that it became a very remarkable place, and was, in Strabo’s time, ἐλλογίμων πόλεων, one of the noble Cities of Asia.8

And, if they understood the prediction of Homer in reference unto the Romans, as some expound it in Strabo,9 it might much promote their affection unto that place; which being a remarkable prophecy, and scarce to be parallel’d in Pagan story, made before Rome was built, and concerning the lasting Reign of the progeny of Æneas, they could not but take especial notice of it. For thus is Neptune made to speak, when he saved Æneas from the fury of Achilles.10

Verum agite hunc subito præsenti à morte trahamus
Ne Cronides ira flammet si fortis Achilles
Hunc mactet, fati quem Lex evadere jussit.
Ne genus intereat de læto semine totum
Dardani ab excelso præ cunctis prolibus olim,
Dilecti quos è mortali stirpe creavit,
Nunc etiam Priami stirpem Saturnius odit,
Trojugenum posthæc Æneas sceptra tenebit
Et nati natorum & qui nascentur ab illis.

The Roman favours were also continued unto S. Paul’s days; for Claudius,11 producing an ancient Letter of the Romans unto King Seleucus, concerning the Trojan Privileges, made a Release of their Tributes; and Nero elegantly pleaded for their Immunities, and remitted all Tributes unto them.12

And, therefore, there being so remarkable a City in this Territory, it may seem too hard to loose the same in the general name of the Country; and since it was so eminently favoured by Emperours, enjoying so many Immunities, and full of Roman Privileges, it was probably very populous, and a fit abode for S. Paul, who being a Roman Citizen, might live more quietly himself, and have no small number of faithfull well-wishers in it.

Yet must we not conceive that this was the old Troy, or re-built in the same place with it: For Troas was placed about thirty Furlongs West, and upon the Sea shore; so that, to hold a clearer apprehension hereof than is commonly delivered in the Discourses of the Ruines of Troy, we may consider one Inland Troy or old Ilium, which was built farther within the Land, and so was removed from the Port where the Grecian Fleet lay in Homer; and another Maritime Troy, which was upon the Sea Coast placed in the Maps of Ptolomy, between Lectum and Sigæum or Port Janizam, Southwest from the old City, which was this of S. Paul, and whereunto are appliable the particular accounts of Bellonius, when, not an hundred years ago, he P163 described the Ruines of Troy with their Baths, Aqueducts, Walls and Towers, to be seen from the Sea as he sailed between it and Tenedos; and where, upon nearer view, he observed some signs and impressions of his conversion in the ruines of Churches, Crosses, and Inscriptions upon Stones.

Nor was this onely a famous City in the days of S. Paul, but considerable long after. For, upon the Letter of Adrianus, Herodes Atticus,13 at a great charge, repaired their Baths, contrived Aqueducts and noble Water-courses in it. As is also collectible from the Medals of Caracalla, of Severus, and Crispina; with Inscriptions, Colonia Alexandria Troas, bearing on the Reverse either an Horse, a Temple, or a Woman; denoting their destruction by an Horse, their prayers for the Emperour’s Safety, and, as some conjecture, the memory of Sibylla, Phrygia or Hellespontica.

Nor wanted this City the favour of Christian Princes, but was made a Bishop’s See under the Archbishop of Cyzicum; but in succeeding discords was destroyed and ruined, and the nobler Stones translated to Constantinople by the Turks to beautifie their Mosques and other Buildings.

Concerning the Dead Sea, accept of these few Remarks.14

In the Map of the Dead Sea we meet with the Figure of the Cities which were destroyed: of Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah and Zeboim; but with no uniformity; men placing them variously, and, from the uncertainty of their situation, taking a fair liberty to set them where they please.

For Admah, Zeboim and Gomorrha, there is no light from the text to define their situation.15 But, that Sodom could not be far from Segor which was seated under the Mountains near the side of the Lake, seems inferrible from the sudden arrival of Lot, who, coming from Sodom at day break, attained to Segor at Sun rising; 16 and therefore Sodom is to be placed not many miles from it, not in the middle of the Lake, which against that place is about eighteen miles over, and so will leave nine miles to be gone in so small a space of time.

The Valley being large, the Lake now in length about seventy English miles, the River Jordan and divers others running over the Plain, ’tis probable the best Cities were seated upon those Streams: but how the Jordan passed or winded, or where it took in the other Streams, is a point too old for Geography to determine.17

For, that the River gave the Fruitfulness unto the Valley by over watring that low Region, seems plain from that expression in the Text,18 that it was watered, sicut Paradisus & Ægyptus, like Eden and the Plains of Mesopotamia, where Euphrates yearly overfloweth; or like Ægypt where Nilus doth the like: and seems probable also from the same course of the River not far above this Valley where the Israelites passed Jordan, where ’tis said that Jordan overfloweth its Banks in the time of Harvest.19

That it must have had some passage under ground in the compass of this Valley before the creation of this Lake, seems necessary from the great current of Jordan, and from the Rivers Arnon, Cedron, Zaeth, which empty into this Valley; but where to place that concurrence of Waters or place of its absorption, there is no authentick decision.

The probablest place may be set somewhat Southward, below the Rivers that run into it on the East or Western Shore: and somewhat agreeable unto the account which Brocardus received from the Sarazens which lived near it, Jordanem ingredi Mare Mortium & rursum egredi, sed post exiguum intervallum à Terra absorberi.

Strabo speaks naturally of this Lake, that it was first caused by Earthquakes, by sulphureous and bituminous eruptions, arising from the Earth.20 But the Scripture makes it plain to have been from a miraculous hand, and by a remarkable expression, pluit Dominum ignem & Sulphur à Domino.21 See also Deut. 29, in ardore Salis:22 burning the Cities and destroying all things about the Plain, destroying the vegetable nature of Plants and all living things, salting and making barren the whole Soil, and, by these fiery Showers, kindling and setting loose the body of the bituminous Mines, which shewed their lower Veins before but in some few Pits and openings, swallowing up the Foundation of their Cities; opening the bituminous Treasures below, and making a smoak like a Furnace able to be discerned by Abraham at a good distance from it.

If this little may give you satisfaction, I shall be glad, as being, Sir,

Yours, &c.


Original marginalia are in green.

1 Acts 16:8-11, 20:5-6; 2 Corinthians 2:12. See also 2 Timothy 4:13, concerning Paul’s messy housekeeping thereat. Troas, the name of both a region and a city (like “New York”); the modern Eski Stanbul, "Old Constantinople", in Turkey. See the Catholic Encyclopedia for a good short history. There is a map at Second Voyage of Paul.

2 Strabo describes Troy in 13.1, remarking on the confusion of territory and city names, as well as the varying descriptions of the boundaries of Troy. Τροίη λεγομένη: see Geography 13.1.7.

3 Strabo Geography 13.1.25. The identification of Troy was already difficult and contentious.

4 In the early second century BC.

5 Strabo Geography 13.1.27 In 85 BC. Gaius Flavius Fimbria, who had been consul in 104, was sent as legate to the army of Flaccus in the Mithradatic war. The subsequent story depends on the source. In its outline, Flaccus’ army rebelled against Flaccus; Fimbria killed Flaccus and led the army on to victory; the army then rebelled against Fimbria in favor of the Sullan side in the Roman civil wars; Fimbria committed suicide. In a time when all were in rebellion — that is, there were (at least) two sides, either of which could well have prevailed, and no one allowed to sit on the fence — it seems somewhat unjust to call Fimbria “the rebellious Roman”, but there it is.

6 Ptolemy 5.2 at LacusCurtius.

7 Sueton. In Divus Iulius 79; “discontented” because he had been forced to disavow his very real desire to be king. Suetonius in Iul. 80 says that it was this expression of a desire to move the capital (with its wealth) that hastened the conspiracy to murder Cæsar.

8 ἐλλογίμων πόλεων, Strabo 13.1.26; but it may be Alexandreia (= Antigonia) rather than Alexandria Troas that he is speaking of. See the note at Perseus on this passage.

9 Strabo Geography 13.1.53.

10 Homer Iliad 20 300-308; cf. Virgil's spin: Vergil Aeneid 3 90-98.

11 Sueton. in Divus Claudius 25.

12 Tacit. l. 13.. Annales XII.58. Nero was sixteen.

13 Philostrat. in Vita Herodis Attici.

14 On the Dead Sea, see also Chapter XV of Book VII of Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

15 The closest being Gen. 10:19: “And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha”, which gives some indication at least of their positions relative to one another.

16 Gen. 19:15-23; the Vulgate's Segor = Zoar.

17 See Harris & Beardow (1995) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: a geotechnical perspective, Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology, 28, 349-362, on the location of Sodom and its satellites, as well as their destruction (and Lot’s Wife).

18 Gen. 13. 10. In the Vulgate, “elevatis itaque Loth oculis vidit omnem circa regionem Iordanis quae universa inrigabatur antequam subverteret Dominus Sodomam et Gomorram sicut paradisus Domini et sicut Aegyptus venientibus in Segor.” Notice that Browne firmly places Eden in Mesopotamia, or at least in a place much like it.

19 Joshua 3:15.

20 Strabo, Geography XVI.2.42 and 44.

21 Paraphrasing the Vulgate's Gen. 19:24: “igitur Dominus pluit super Sodomam et Gomorram sulphur et ignem a Domino de caelo”. I do not believe that this phrasing requires a supernatural source for the the fire and sulfur.

22 Deut. 29:23. “sulphure et salis ardore conburens ita ut ultra non seratur nec virens quippiam germinet in exemplum subversionis Sodomae et Gomorrae Adamae et Seboim quas subvertit Dominus in ira et furore suo”. The kind of land that will be left to those who neglect or subvert their covenant with God.

This page is by James Eason.