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This webpage reproduces a section of
published in Vol. II
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. II) Herodotus

 p217  Book IV: chapters 16‑45

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. II, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 16 Rawlinson p14 H & W As for the land of which my history has begun to speak, no one exactly knows what lies northward of it; for I can learn from none who claims to know as an eyewitness. For even Aristeas, of whom I lately made mention — even he did not claim to have gone beyond the Issedones, no, not even in his poems; but he spoke of what lay northward by hearsay; saying that the Issedones had so told him. But as far as we have been able to hear an exact report of the farthest lands, all shall be set forth.

[link to original Greek text] 17 Northward of the port of the Borysthenites,​1 which lies midway in the coastline of all Scythia, the first inhabitants are the Callippidae, who are Scythian Greeks; and beyond them another tribe called Alazones; these and the Callippidae, though in other  p219 matters they live like the Scythians, sow and eat corn,º and onions, garlic, lentils, and millet. Above the Alazones dwell Scythian tillers of the land, who sow corn not for eating but for selling; north of these, the Neuri; to the north of the Neuri the land is uninhabited so far as we know.

[link to original Greek text] 18 Rawlinson p16 These are the tribes by the river Hypanis,​2 westwards of the Borysthenes. But on the other side of the Borysthenes the tribe nearest to the sea is the tribe of the Woodlands; and north of these dwell Scythian farmers, whom the Greek dwellers on the Hypanis river (who call themselves Olbiopolitae) call Borystheneitae. These farming Scythians inhabit a land stretching eastward a three days' journey to a river called Panticapes,​3 and northward as far as an eleven days' voyage up the Borysthenes; and north of these the land is uninhabited for a long way; after which desert is the country of the Man‑eaters, who are a nation by themselves and by no means Scythian; and beyond them is true desert, wherein no nation of men dwells, as far as we know.

[link to original Greek text] 19 But to the east of these farming Scythians, cross the river Panticapes, and you are in the land of nomad Scythians, who sow nothing, nor plough; and all these lands except the Woodlands are bare of trees. These nomads inhabit to the eastward a country that stretches fourteen days' journey to the river Gerrus.4

[link to original Greek text] 20 Rawlinson p18 Across the Gerrus are those lands called  p221 Royal, where are the best and most in number of the Scythians, who deem all other Scythians their slaves; their territory stretches southward to the Tauric land, and eastward to the fosse that was dug by the sons of the blind men, and on the Maeetian lake to the port called The Cliffs;​5 and part of it stretches to the river Tanais. Above the Royal Scythians to the north dwell the Blackcloaks, who are of another and not a Scythian stock; and beyond the Blackcloaks the land is all marshes and uninhabited by men, so far as we know.

[link to original Greek text] 21 H & W Across the Tanais it is no longer Scythia; the first of the divisions belongs to the Sauromatae, whose country begins at the inner end of the Maeetian lake and stretches fifteen days' journey to the north, and is all bare of both forest and garden trees. Above these in the second division dwell the Budini, inhabiting a country thickly overgrown with trees of all kinds.

[link to original Greek text] 22 Northward of the Budini the land is uninhabited for seven days' journey; after this desert, and somewhat more towards the east wind, dwell the Thyssagetae, a numerous and a separate nation, living by the chase. Adjoining these and in the same country dwell the people called Iyrkae; these also live by the chase, in such manner as I will show. The hunter climbs a tree, and there sits ambushed; for trees grow thick all over the land; and each man has his horse at hand, trained to couch upon its belly for lowliness' sake, and his dog; and when he marks the quarry from the tree, he shoots with the  p223 bow and mounts his horse and pursues after it, till the dog grips the prey. Beyond these and somewhat towards the east dwell Scythians again, who revolted from the Royal Scythians and so came to this country.

[link to original Greek text] 23 Rawlinson p20 As far as the country of these Scythians all the aforesaid land is level and its soil is deep; but thereafter it is stony and rough. After a long passage through this rough country, there are men inhabiting the foothills of high mountains, who are said to be all bald from their birth (male and female alike) and snub-nosed and with long beards; they speak a tongue of their own, and wear Scythian raiment, and their fare comes from trees. The tree wherefrom they live is called "Pontic"; it is about the size of a fig‑tree, and bears a fruit as big as a bean, with a stone in it. When this fruit is ripe, they strain it through cloth, and a thick black liquid flows from it, which they call "aschu";​6 this they lick up or mix it with milk for drinking, and of the thickest of the lees of it they make cakes, and eat them. For they have but few of smaller cattle, the pasture in their land not being good. They dwell each man under a tree, covering it in winter with a white felt cloth, but using no felt in summer. These people are wronged by no man, for they are said to be sacred; nor have they any weapon of war. These are they who judge in the quarrels between their neighbours; moreover, whatever  p225 banished man has taken refuge with them is wronged by none. They are called Argippeans.

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At this point Herodotus is describing the road to the Issedones in the far east, which would later be later called the Silk Road.

Photo © Livius.Org | Sigrid van Roode, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 24 Now as far as the land of these bald men we have full knowledge of the country and the nation on the hither side of them; for some of the Scythians make their way to them, from whom it is easy to get knowledge, and from some too of the Greeks from the Borysthenes port and the other ports of Pontus; such Scythians as visit them do their business with seven interpreters and in seven languages.

[link to original Greek text] 25 Rawlinson p22 So far then as these men this country is known; but, for what lies beyond the bald men, no one can speak with exact knowledge; for mountains high and impassable bar the way, and no man crosses them. These bald men say (but for my part I believe them not) that the mountains are inhabited by men with goats' feet; and that beyond these again are men who sleep for six months of the twelve. This I cannot at all accept for true. But the country east of the bald-heads is known for certain to be inhabited by the Issedones; howbeit, of what lies northward either of the bald-heads or the Issedones we have no knowledge, save what comes from the report of these latter.

[link to original Greek text] 26 It is said to be the custom of the Issedones, that whenever a man's father dies, all the nearest of kin bring beasts of the flock, and having killed these and cut up the flesh they cut up also the dead father of their host, and set out all the flesh mingled together for a feast. As for his head, they strip it bare and cleanse and gild it, and keep it for a sacred relic, whereto they offer yearly solemn sacrifice. Every  p227 son does so by his father, even as the Greeks in their festivals in honour of the dead.α For the rest, these also are said to be a law‑abiding people; and the women have equal power with the men.

[link to original Greek text] 27 Of these then also we have knowledge; but for what is northward of them, it is from the Issedones that the tale comes of the one‑eyed men and the griffins that guard gold; this is told by the Scythians, who have heard it from them; and we again have taken it for true from the Scythians, and call these people by the Scythian name, Arimaspians; for in the Scythian tongue arima is one, and spou is the eye.

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Herodotus believed there were griffins and Amazons living in Scythia, and that griffins guarded the gold ores in the north. These animals were well-known in Anatolian art, as shown on the painted panel above from Düver in Phrygia, dating from the early reign of Darius. The amphora below is Greek, from the 4c B.C.

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Top: Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels.
Bottom: Archaeological Museum, Kavala.
Photos © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 28 Rawlinson p24 H & W All this aforementioned country is exceeding cold; for eight months of every year there is frost unbearable, and in these you shall not make mud by pouring out water but by lighting a fire; the sea freezes, and all the Cimmerian Bosporus; and the Scythians dwelling this side of the fosse lead armies over the ice, and drive their wains across to the land of the Sindi. So it is ever winter for eight months, and it is cold in that country for the four that remain.β Here is a winter of a different sort from the winters that come in other lands; for in the season for rain there falls scarce any, but for all the summer there is rain unceasing; and when there are thunderstorms in other lands, here there are none, but in summer there is great plenty of them; if there come a thunderstorm in winter they are wont to marvel at it for a portent. And so too if there come an earthquake, be it in summer or winter, it is esteemed a portent in Scythia. Horses have endurance to bear the Scythian winter, mules  p229 and assess cannot at all bear it; yet in other lands, whereas asses and mules can endure frost, horses that stand in it are frostbitten.

[link to original Greek text] 29 And to my thinking it is for this cause that the hornless kind of oxen grows no horns in Scythia. There is a verse of Homer in the Odyssey​a that witnesses to my judgment; it is this:

"Libya, the land where lambs are born with horns on their foreheads,"

wherein it is rightly signified, that in hot countries the horns grow quickly, whereas in very cold countries beasts grow horns hardly, or not at all.

[link to original Greek text] 30 Rawlinson p26 In Scythia, then, this happens because of the cold. But I hold it strange (for it was ever the way of my history to seek after subsidiary matters) that in the whole of Elis no mules can be begotten, albeit neither is the country cold nor is there any manifest cause. The Eleans themselves say that it is by reason of a curse that mules cannot be begotten among them; but whenever the season is at hand for the mares to conceive, they drive them away into the countries of their neighbours, and then send the asses to them in the neighbouring land, till the mares be pregnant; and then they drive them home again.

[link to original Greek text] 31 But as touching the feathers whereof the Scythians say that the air is full, insomuch that none can see or traverse the land beyond, I hold this opinion. Northward of that country snow falls continually, though less in summer than in winter, as is to be expected. Whoever has seen snow falling thickly near him knows of himself my meaning; for  p231 the snow is like feathers; and by reason of the winter, which is such as I have said, the parts to the north of this continent are uninhabited. I think therefore that in this tale of feathers the Scythians and their neighbours do but speak of snow in a figure. Thus then I have spoken of those parts that are said to be most distant.

[link to original Greek text] 32 Concerning the Hyperborean people neither the Scythians nor any other dwellers in these lands tell us anything, except perchance the Issedones. And, as I think, even they tell nothing; for were it not so, then the Scythians too would have told, even as they tell of the one‑eyed men. But Hesiod speaks of Hyperboreans, and Homer too in his poem The Heroes' Sons,​7 if that be truly the work of Homer.

[link to original Greek text] 33 H & W But the Delians​8 tell much more concerning them than do any others. They say that offerings wrapt in wheat-straw are brought from the Hyperboreans to Scythia; when they have passed Scythia, each nation in turn receives them from its neighbours till they are carried to the Adriatic sea, which is the most westerly limit of their journey; thence they are brought on to the south, the people of Dodona being the first Greeks to receive them. From Dodona they come down to the Melian gulf, and are carried across to Euboea, and city sends them on to city till they come to Carystus; after this, Andros is left out of their journey, for it is Carystians who carry them to Tenos, and Tenians to Delos. Thus (they  p233 say) these offerings come to Delos. But on the first journey the Hyperboreans sent two maidens bearing the offerings, to whom the Delians give the names Hyperoche and Laodice, sending with them for safe conduct five men of their people as escort, those who are now called Perpherees​9 and greatly honoured at Delos. But when the Hyperboreans found that those whom they sent never returned, they were very ill content that it should ever be their fate not to receive their messengers back; wherefore they carry the offerings, wrapt in wheat-straw, to their borders, and charge their neighbours to send them on from their own country to the next; and the offerings, it is said, come by this conveyance to Delos. I can say of my own knowledge that there is a custom like these offerings, namely, that when the Thracian and Paeonian women sacrifice to the Royal Artemis,γ they have wheat-straw with them while they sacrifice.

[link to original Greek text] 34 Rawlinson p29 This I know that they do. The Delian girls and boys cut their hair in honour of these Hyperborean maidens, who died at Delos; the girls before their marriage cut off a tress and lay it on the tomb, wound about a spindle; this tomb is at the foot of an olive-tree, on the left hand of the entrance of the temple of Artemis; the Delian boys twine some of their hair round a green stalk, and they likewise lay it on the tomb.

[link to original Greek text] 35 Thus then are these maidens honoured by the inhabitants of Delos. These same Delians relate that two virgins, Arge and Opis, came from the  p235 Hyperboreans by way of the peoples aforesaid to Delos, yet earlier than the coming of Hyperoche and Laodice; these latter came to bring to Ilithiya the tribute whereto they had agreed for ease of child-bearing; but Arge and Opis, they say, came with the gods themselves,​10 and received honours of their own from the Delians. For the women collected gifts for them, calling upon their names in the hymn made for them by Olen a man of Lycia; it was from Delos that the islanders and Ionians learnt to sing hymns to Opis and Arge, calling upon their names and collecting gifts (this Olen after his coming from Lycia made also the other and ancient hymns that are sung at Delos). Further they say that when the thighbones are burnt in sacrifice on the altar, the ashes of them are all used for casting on the burial-place of Opis and Arge; which burial-place is behind the temple of Artemis, looking eastwards, nearest to the refectory of the people of Ceos.

[link to original Greek text] 36 Rawlinson p30 H & W Thus far have I spoken of the Hyperboreans, and let it suffice; for I do not tell the story of that Abaris, alleged to be a Hyperborean, who carried the arrow over the whole world, fasting the while. But if there be men beyond the north wind, then there are others beyond the south. And I laugh to see how many have ere now drawn maps of the world, not one of them showing the matter reasonably;δ for they draw the world as round as if fashioned by compasses, encircled by the river of Ocean, and Asia and Europe of a like bigness. For myself, I will in a few words show the extent of the two, and how each should be drawn.

 p237  [link to original Greek text] 37 The land where the Persians dwell reaches to the south sea, that sea which is called Red; beyond these to the north are the Medes, and beyond the Medes the Saspires, and beyond the Saspires the Colchians, whose country reaches to the northern sea​11 into which issues the river Phasis; so these four nations dwell between the one sea and the other.

[link to original Greek text] 38 Rawlinson p32 But westwards of this region two promontories stretch out from it into the sea, which I will now describe. On the north side one of the promontories begins at the Phasis and stretches seaward along the Pontus and the Hellespont, as far as Sigeum in the Troad; on the south side the same promontory has a seacoast beginning at the Myriandric gulf that is near Phoenice, and stretching seaward as far as the Triopian headland. On this promontory dwell thirty nations.

[link to original Greek text] 39 This is the first promontory. But the second, beginning with Persia, stretches to the Red Sea, being the Persian land, and next the neighbouring country of Assyria, and after Assyria, Arabia; this promontory ends (yet not truly but only by common consent) at the Arabian Gulf, whereunto Darius brought a canal from the Nile. Now from the Persian country to Phoenice there is a wide and great tract of land; and from Phoenice this promontory runs beside our sea by the way of the Syrian Palestine and Egypt, which is at the end of it; in this promontory there are but three nations.

[link to original Greek text] 40 H & W So much for the parts of Asia west of the Persians. But what is beyond the Persians, and  p239 Medes, and Saspires, and Colchians, eastward and toward the rising sun, this is bounded on the one hand by the Red Sea, and to the north by the Caspian Sea, and the river Araxes,​b that flows towards the sun's rising. As far as India, Asia is an inhabited land; but thereafter all to the east is desert, nor can any man say what kind of land is there.

[link to original Greek text] 41 Such is Asia, and such its extent. But Libya is on this second promontory; for Libya comes next after Egypt. The Egyptian part of the promontory is narrow; for from our sea to the Red Sea it is a distance of an hundred thousand fathoms, that is, a thousand furlongs; but after this narrow part the promontory which is called Libya is very be road.

[link to original Greek text] 42 I wonder, then, at those who have mapped out and divided the world into Libya, Asia, and Europe; for the difference between them is great, seeing that in length Europe stretches along both the others together, and it appears to me to be beyond all comparison broader. For Libya shows clearly that it is encompassed by sea, save only where it borders on Asia; and this was proved first (as far as we know) by Necos king of Egypt. He, when he had made an end of digging the canal which leads from the Nile to the Arabian Gulf, sent Phoenicians in ships, charging them to sail on their return voyage past the Pillars of Heracles till they should come into the northern sea and so to Egypt. So the Phoenicians set out from the Red Sea and  p241 sailed the southern sea; whenever autumn came they would put in and sow the land, to whatever part of Libya they might come, and there await the harvest; then, having gathered in the crop, they sailed on, so that after two years had passed, it was in the third that they rounded the Pillars of Heracles and came to Egypt. There they said (what some may believe, though I do not) that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on their right hand.12

[link to original Greek text] 43 Rawlinson p35 Thus the first knowledge of Libya was gained. The next story is that of the Carchedonians; for as for Sataspes son of Teaspes, an Achaemenid, he did not sail around Libya, though he was sent for that end; but he feared the length and the loneliness of the voyage and so returned back without accomplishing the task laid upon him by his mother. For he had raped the virgin daughter of Zopyrus son of Megabyzus; and when on this charge he was to be impaled by King Xerxes, Sataspes' mother, who was Darius' sister, begged for his life, saying that she would lay a heavier punishment on him than did Xerxes; for he should be compelled to sail round Libya, till he completed his voyage and came to the Arabian Gulf. Xerxes agreeing to this, Sataspes went to Egypt, where he received a ship and a crew from the Egyptians, and sailed past the Pillars of Heracles. Having sailed out beyond them, and rounded the Libyan promontory called Solois,​13 he  p243 sailed southward; but when he had been many months sailing far over the sea, and ever there was more before him, he turned back and made sail for Egypt. Thence coming to Xerxes, he told in his story how when he was farthest distant he sailed by a country of little men, who wore palm-leaf raiment; these, whenever he and his men put in to land with their ship, would ever leave their towns and flee to the hills; he and his men did no wrong when they landed, and took naught from the people but what they needed for eating. As to his not sailing wholly round Libya, the reason (he said) was that the ship could move no farther, but was stayed. But Xerxes did not believe that Sataspes spoke truth, and as the task appointed was unfulfilled he impaled him, punishing him on the charge first brought against him. This Sataspes had an eunuch, who as soon as he heard of his master's death escaped to Samos, with a great store of wealth, of which a man of Samos possessed himself. I know the man's name but of set purpose forget it.

[link to original Greek text] 44 Rawlinson p37 But as to Asia, most of it was discovered by Darius. There is a river Indus, in which so many crocodiles are found that only one river in the world has more. Darius, desiring to know where this Indus issues into the sea, sent ships manned by Scylax, a man of Caryanda, and others in whose word he trusted; these set out from the city Caspatyrus and the Pactyic country, and sailed down the river towards the east and the sunrise till they came to the sea; and voyaging over the sea westwards, they came in the thirtieth month to that place whence the Egyptian king sent the Phoenicians afore-mentioned to sail round Libya. After  p245 this circumnavigation Darius subdued the Indians and made use of this sea. Thus it was discovered that Asia, saving the parts towards the rising sun, was in other respects like Libya.

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It is not known where exactly Scylax started his voyage, but he must have sailed to the Indus along the Kabul River, seen here.

Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

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That one river with even more crocodiles is of course the Nile; Herodotus has discussed them in II.68‑70. This handsome Egyptian statuette is missing the more fragile part of its tail.

Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst, Munich.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 45 Rawlinson p38 H & W But of Europe it is plain that none have obtained knowledge of its eastern or its northern parts so as to say if it is encompassed by seas; its length is known to be enough to stretch along both Asia and Libya. Nor can I guess for what reason the earth, which is one, has three names, all of women, and why the boundary lines set for it are the Egyptian river Nile and the Colchian river Phasis (though some say that the Maeetian river Tanaïs and the Cimmerian Ferries​14 are boundaries); nor can I learn the names of those who divided the world, or whence they got the names which they gave. For Libya is said by most Greeks to be called after a native woman of that name, and Asia after the wife of Prometheus;​15 yet the Lydians claim a share in the latter name, saying that Asia was not called after Prometheus' wife Asia, but after Asies, the son of Cotys, who was the son of Manes, and that from him the Asiad clan at Sardis also takes its name. But as for Europe, no men have any knowledge whether it be surrounded or not by seas, nor whence it took its name, nor is it clear who gave the name, unless we are to say that the land took its name from the Tyrian Europa, having been (as it would seem) till then nameless like the others. But it is plain that this woman was of Asiatic birth, and never came to this land which the Greeks now call  p247 Europe, but only from Phoenice to Crete and from Crete to Lydia. Thus far have I spoken of these matters, and let it suffice; we will use the names by custom established.

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Europa on her bull. Figurine from the age of Herodotus.

Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Another Milesian colony, called by Greeks generally Olbia (the Fortunate) or Miletopolis; it was the most important Greek centre north of the Euxine.

2 The Bug.

3 Not identified.

4 Not identified.

5 Apparently on the west coast of the Sea of Azov; cp. 110.

6 The fruit of the "Prunus Padus" is said to be made by the cossacks into a drink called "atschi."

Thayer's Note: The Pontic nut fruit mentioned by Herodotus is sometimes identified as the bird cherry (Prunus padus), possibly on the above grounds; but the identification remains uncertain, and translations vary widely. See for example Gulick's note at Athenaeus  57C.

7 One of the "Cyclic" poems; a sequel to the "Thebais" (story of the seven against Thebes).

8 This Delian story about the Hyperboreans is additional evidence of the known fact that trade routes from the earliest times linked northern with south-eastern Europe. Amber in especial was carried from the Baltic to the Aegean.

9 That is, probably, the Bearers.

10 Apollo and Artemis, probably.

11 Here, the Black Sea; in 42, the "northern sea" is the Mediterranean.

12 The detail which Herodotus does not believe incidentally confirms the story; as the ship sailed west round the cough, the sun of the southern hemisphere would be on its right. Most authorities now accept the story of the circumnavigation.

13 Probably Cape Cantin, in the latitude of Madeira.

14 cp. ch. 12.

15 The Fire-giver celebrated by Aeschylus and Shelley; Asia is one of the principal characters in Prometheus Unbound.

Thayer's Notes:

a Od. IV.83.

b See the Loeb editor's note to I.202 (and the handsome photograph in the text there).

Lendering's Notes:

α In Athens, the Genesia were celebrated on 5 Boedromion (September/October).

β A misrepresentation of the continental climate of what is now called Ukraine, where the summers are quite warm.

γ The Thracian goddess Bendis.

δ Herodotus' polemic is directed against the Milesian philosophers Anaximander and Hecataeus.

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Page updated: 6 May 22