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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


published in Vol. V
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. V) Strabo

 p191  Book XI, Chapter 2

1 (492) Of the portions thus divided, the first is inhabited, in the region toward the north and the Ocean, by Scythian nomads and waggon-dwellers, and south of these, by Sarmatians, these too being Scythians, and by Aorsi and Siraci,​1 who extend towards the south as far as the Caucasian Mountains, some being nomads and others tent-dwellers and farmers. About Lake Maeotis live the Maeotae. And on the sea lies the Asiatic side of the Bosporus, or the Sindic territory. After this latter, one comes to the Achaei and the Zygi and the Heniochi, and also the Cercetae and the Macropogones.​2 And above these are situated the narrow passes of the Phtheirophagi;​3 and after the Heniochi the Colchian country, which lies at the foot of the Caucasian, or Moschian, Mountains. But since I have taken the Tanaïs River as the boundary between Europe and Asia, I shall begin my detailed description therewith.

2 Now the Tanaïs flows from the northerly region, — not, however, as most people think, in a course diametrically opposite to that of the Nile, but more to the east than the Nile — and like the Nile its sources are unknown. 493 Yet a considerable part of the Nile is well known, since it traverses a country which is everywhere easily accessible and since it is navigable for a great distance inland. But as for the Tanaïs, although we know its outlets (they are two in number and are in the most northerly region of Lake Maeotis, being sixty stadia  p193 distant from one another), yet but little of the part that is beyond its outlets is known to us, because of the coldness and the poverty of the country. This poverty can indeed be endured by the indigenous peoples, who, in nomadic fashion, live on flesh and milk, but people from other tribes cannot stand it. And besides, the nomads, being disinclined to intercourse with any other people and being superior both in numbers and in might, have blocked off whatever parts of the country are passable, or whatever parts of the river happen to be navigable. This is what has caused some to assume that the Tanaïs has its sources in the Caucasian Mountains, flows in great volume towards the north, and then, making a bend, empties into Lake Maeotis (Theophanes of Mitylenê​4 has the same opinion as these), and others to assume that it flows from the upper region of the Ister, although they produce no evidence of its flowing from so great a distance or from other "climata,"​5 as though it were impossible for the river to flow both from a near‑by source and from the north.

3 On the river and the lake is an inhabited city bearing the same name, Tanaïs; it was founded by the Greeks who held the Bosporus. Recently, however, it was sacked by King Polemon​6 because it would not obey him. It was a common emporium, partly of the Asiatic and the European nomads, and partly of those who navigated the lake from the Bosporus, the former bringing slaves, hides, and such other things as nomads possess, and the latter  p195 giving in exchange clothing, wine, and the other things that belong to civilised life. At a distance of one hundred stadia off the emporium lies an island called Alopecia, a settlement of promiscuous people. There are also other small islands near by in the lake. The Tanaïs​7 is two thousand two hundred stadia distant from the mouth of Lake Maeotis by a direct voyage towards the north; but it is not much farther by a voyage along the coast.

4 In the voyage along the coast, one comes first, at a distance of eight hundred stadia from the Tanaïs, to the Greater Rhombites River, as it is called, where are made the greatest catches of the fish that are suitable for salting. Then, at a distance of eight hundred more, to the Lesser Rhombites and a cape, which latter also has fisheries, although they are smaller. The people who live about the Greater Rhombites have small islands as bases for their fishing; but the people who carry on the business at the Lesser Rhombites are the Maeotae themselves, for the Maeotae live along the whole of this coast; 494 and though farmers, they are no less warlike than the nomads. They are divided into several tribes, those who live near the Tanaïs being rather ferocious, but those whose territory borders on the Bosporus being more tractable. It is six hundred stadia from the Lesser Rhombites to Tyrambê and the Anticeites River; then a hundred and twenty to the Cimmerian village, which is a place of departure for those who navigate the lake; and on this coast are said to be some look‑out places​8 belonging to the Clazomenians.

 p197  5 Cimmericum was in earlier times a city situated on a peninsula, and it closed the isthmus by means of a trench and a mound. The Cimmerians once possessed great power in the Bosporus, and this is why it was named Cimmerian Bosporus. These are the people who overran the country of those who lived in the interior on the right side of the Pontus as far as Ionia. However, these were driven out of the region by the Scythians; and then the Scythians were driven out by the Greeks who founded Panticapaeum and the other cities on the Bosporus.

6 Then, twenty stadia distant, one comes to the village Achilleium, where is the temple of Achilles. Here is the narrowest passage across the mouth of Lake Maeotis, about twenty stadia or more; and on the opposite shore is a village, Myrmecium; and near by are Heracleium and Parthenium.9

7 Thence ninety stadia to the monument of Satyrus, which consists of a mound thrown up on a certain cape in memory of one of the illustrious potentates of the Bosporus.10

8 Near by is a village, Patraeus, from which the distance to a village Corocondamê is one hundred and thirty stadia; and this village constitutes the limit of the Cimmerian Bosporus, as it is called. The Narrows at the mouth of the Maeotis are so called from the narrow passage at Achilleium and Myrmecium; they extend as far as Corocondamê and the small village named Acra, which lies opposite to it in the land of the Panticapaeans, this village  p199 being separated from it by a strait seventy stadia wide; for the ice, also,​11 extends as far as this, the Maeotis being so frozen at the time of frosts that it can be crossed on foot. And these Narrows have good harbours everywhere.

9 Above Corocondamê lies a lake of considerable size, which derives its name, Corocondamitis, from that of the village. It empties into the sea at a distance of ten stadia from the village. A branch of the Anticeites empties into the lake and forms a kind of island which is surrounded by this lake and the Maeotis and the river. Some apply the name Hypanis to this river, just as they do to the river near the Borysthenes.

10 Sailing into Lake Corocondamitis one comes to Phanagoreia, 495 a noteworthy city, and to Cepi, and to Hermonassa, and to Apaturum, the sanctuary of Aphroditê. Of these, Phanagoreia and Cepi are situated on the island above-mentioned, on the left as one sails in, but the other cities are on the right, across the Hypanis, in the Sindic territory. There is also a place called Gorgipia in the Sindic territory, the royal residence of the Sindi, near the sea; and also a place called Aboracê. All the people who are subject to the potentates of the Bosporus are called Bosporians; and Panticapaeum is the metropolis of the European Bosporians, while Phanagoreium (for the name of the city is also spelled thus) is the metropolis of the Asiatic Bosporians. Phanagoreia is reputed to be the emporium for the commodities that are brought down from the Maeotis and the barbarian country that lies above it, and Panticapaeum  p201 for those which are carried up thither from the sea. There is also in Phanagoreia a notable temple of Aphroditê Apaturus. Critics derive the etymology of the epithet of the goddess by adducing a certain myth, according to which the Giants attacked the goddess there; but she called upon Heracles for help and hid him in a cave, and then, admitting the Giants one by one, gave them over to Heracles to be murdered through "treachery."12

11 Among the Maeotae are the Sindi themselves, Dandarii, Toreatae, Agri, and Arrechi, and also the Tarpetes, Obidiaceni, Sittaceni, Dosci, and several others. Among these belong also the Aspurgiani, who live between Phanagoreia and Gorgipia, within a stretch of five hundred stadia; these were attacked by King Polemon under a pretence of friendship, but they discovered his pretence, outgeneralled him, and taking him alive killed him. As for the Asiatic Maeotae in general, some of them were subjects of those who possessed the emporium on the Tanaïs, and the others of the Bosporians; but in those days different peoples at different times were wont to revolt. And often the rulers of the Bosporians held possession of the region as far as the Tanaïs, and particularly the latest rulers, Pharnaces, Asander, and Polemon. Pharnaces is said at one time actually to have conducted the Hypanis River over the country of the Dandarii through an old canal which he cleared out, and to have inundated the country.

12 After the Sindic territory and Gorgipia, on  p203 the sea, one comes to the coast of the Achaei and the Zygi and the Heniochi, which for the most part is harbourless and mountainous, being a part of the Caucasus. These peoples live by robberies at sea. Their boats are slender, narrow, and light, holding only about twenty-five people, though in rare cases they can hold thirty in all; the Greeks call them "camarae."​13 They say that the Phthiotic Achaei​14 in Jason's crew settled in this Achaea, but the Laconians in Heniochia, the leaders of the latter being Rhecas​15 and Amphistratus, 496 the "heniochi"​16 of the Dioscuri,​17 and that in all probability the Heniochi were named after these. At any rate, by equipping fleets of "camarae" and sailing sometimes against merchant-vessels and sometimes against a country or even a city, they hold the mastery of the sea. And they are sometimes assisted even by those who hold the Bosporus, the latter supplying them with mooring-places, with market-place, and with means of disposing of their booty. And since, when they return to their own land, they have no anchorage, they put the "camarae" on their shoulders and carry them to the forests where they live and where they till a poor soil. And they bring the "camarae" down to the shore again when the time for navigation comes. And they do the same thing in the countries of others, for they are well acquainted with wooded places; and in these they first hide their "camarae" and then themselves wander on foot night and day for the sake of kidnapping  p205 people. But they readily offer to release their captives for ransom, informing their relatives after they have put out to sea. Now in those places which are ruled by local chieftains the rulers go to the aid of those who are wronged, often attacking and bringing back the "camarae," men and all. But the territory that is subject to the Romans affords but little aid, because of the negligence of the governors who are sent there.

13 Such is the life of these people. They are governed by the chieftains called "sceptuchi,"​18 but the "sceptuchi" themselves are subject to tyrants or kings. For instance, the Heniochi had four kings at the time when Mithridates Eupator,​19 in flight from the country of his ancestors to the Bosporus, passed through their country; and while he found this country passable, yet he despaired of going through that of the Zygi, both because of the ruggedness of it and because of the ferocity of the inhabitants; and only with difficulty could he go along the coast, most of the way marching on the edge of the sea, until he arrived at the country of the Achaei; and, welcomed by these, he completed his journey from Phasis, a journey not far short of four thousand stadia.

14 Now the voyage from Corocondamê is straight towards the east; and at a distance of one hundred and eighty stadia is the Sindic harbour and city; and then, at a distance of four hundred stadia, one comes to Bata, as it is called, a village and harbour, at which place Sinopê on the south is thought to lie almost directly opposite this coast, just as Carambis has been referred to as opposite Criumetopon.20  p207 After Bata Artemidorus​21 mentions the coast of the Cercetae, with its mooring-places and villages, extending thence about eight hundred and fifty stadia; and then the coast of the Achaei, five hundred stadia; and then that of the Heniochi, one thousand; and then Greater Pityus, 497 extending three hundred and sixty stadia to Dioscurias. The more trustworthy historians of the Mithridatic wars name the Achaei first, then the Zygi, then the Heniochi, and then the Cercetae and Moschi and Colchi, and the Phtheirophagi who live above these three peoples and the Soanes, and other small tribes that live in the neighbourhood of the Caucasus. Now at first the coast, as I have said, stretches towards the east and faces the south, but from Bata it gradually takes a turn, and then faces the west and ends at Pityus and Dioscurias; for these places border on the above-mentioned coast of Colchis. After Dioscurias comes the remaining coast of Colchis and the adjacent coast of Trapezus, which makes a considerable bend, and then, extending approximately in a straight line, forms the right-hand side of the Pontus, which faces the north. The whole of the coast of the Achaei and of the other peoples as far as Dioscurias and of the places that lie in a straight line towards the south in the interior lie at the foot of the Caucasus.

15 This mountain lies above both seas, both the Pontic and the Caspian, and forms a wall across the isthmus that separates the two seas. It marks the boundary, on the south, of Albania and Iberia, and, on the north, of the plains of the Sarmatae. It is  p209 well wooded with all kinds of timber, and especially the kind suitable for ship-building. According to Eratosthenes, the Caucasus is called "Caspius" by the natives, the name being derived perhaps from the "Caspii." Branches of it project towards the south; and these not only comprise the middle of Albania but also join the mountains of Armenia and the Moschian Mountains, as they are called, and also the Scydises and the Paryadres Mountains. All these are parts of the Taurus, which forms the southern side of Armenia, — parts broken off, as it were, from that mountain on the north and projecting as far as the Caucasus and that part of the coast of the Euxine which stretches from Colchis to Themiscyra.

16 Be this as it may, since Dioscurias is situated in such a gulf and occupies the most easterly point of the whole sea, it is called not only the recess of the Euxine, but also the "farthermost" voyage. And the proverbial verse, "To Phasis, where for ships is the farthermost run," must be interpreted thus, not as though the author​22 of the iambic verse meant the river, much less the city of the same name situated on the river, but as meaning by a part of Colchis the whole of it, since from the river and the city of that name there is left a straight voyage into the recess of not less than six hundred stadia. 498 The same Dioscurias is the beginning of the isthmus between the Caspian Sea and the Euxine, and also the common emporium of the tribes who are situated above it and in its vicinity; at any rate, seventy tribes come together in it, though others, who care nothing for the facts, actually say three hundred.  p211 All speak different languages because of the fact that, by reason of their obstinacy and ferocity, they live in scattered groups and without intercourse with one another. The greater part of them the Sarmatae, but they are all Caucasii. So much, then, for the region of Dioscurias.

17 Further, the greater part of the remainder of Colchis is on the sea. Through it flows the Phasis, a large river having its sources in Armenia and receiving the waters of the Glaucus and the Hippus, which issue from the neighbouring mountains. It is navigated as far as Sarapana, a fortress capable of admitting the population even of a city. From here people go by land to the Cyrus in four days by a wagon-road. On the Phasis is situated a city bearing the same name, an emporium of the Colchi, which is protected on one side by the river, on another by a lake, and on another by the sea. Thence people go to Amisus and Sinopê by sea (a voyage of two or three days), because the shores are soft and because of the outlets of the rivers. The country is excellent both in respect to its produce — except its honey, which is generally bitter — and in respect to everything that pertains to ship-building; for it not only produces quantities of timber but also brings it down on rivers. And the people make linen in quantities, and hemp, wax, and pitch. Their linen industry has been famed far and wide; for they used to export linen to outside places; and some writers, wishing to show forth a kinship between the Colchians and the  p213 Egyptians, confirm their belief by this. Above the aforesaid rivers in the Moschian country lies the temple of Leucothea, founded by Phrixus, and the oracle of Phrixus, where a ram is never sacrificed; it was once rich, but it was robbed in our time by Pharnaces, and a little later by Mithridates of Pergamum. For when a country is devastated, "things divine are in sickly plight and wont not even to be respected," says Euripides.23

18 The great fame this country had in early times is disclosed by the myths, which refer in an obscure way to the expedition of Jason as having proceeded as far even as Media, and also, before that time, to that of Phrixus. After this, when kings succeeded to power, the country being divided into "sceptuchies,"​24 they were only moderately prosperous; but when Mithridates Eupator​25 grew powerful, the country fell into his hands; and he would always send one of his friends 499 as sub‑governor or administrator of the country. Among these was Moaphernes, my mother's uncle on her father's side. And it was from this country that the king received most aid in the equipment of his naval forces. But when the power of Mithridates had been broken up, all the territory subject to him was also broken up and distributed among many persons. At last Polemon got Colchis; and since his death his wife Pythodoris has been in power, being queen, not only of the Colchians, but also of Trapezus and Pharnacia and of the barbarians who live above these places, concerning whom I shall speak later on.​26 Now the Moschian country, in  p215 which is situated the temple,​27 is divided into three parts: one part is held by the Colchians, another by the Iberians, and another by the Armenians. There is also a small city in Iberia, the city of Phrixus,​28 the present Ideëssa, well fortified, on the confines of Colchis. And near Dioscurias flows the Chares River.

19 Among the tribes which come together at Dioscurias are the Phtheirophagi,​29 who have received their name from their squalor and their filthiness. Near them are the Soanes, who are no less filthy, but superior to them in power, — indeed, one might almost say that they are foremost in courage and in power. At any rate, they are masters of the peoples around them, and hold possession of the heights of the Caucasus above Dioscurias. They have a king and a council of three hundred men; and they assemble, according to report, an army of two hundred thousand; for the whole of the people are a fighting force, though unorganised. It is said that in their country gold is carried down by the mountain-torrents, and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins, and that this is the origin of the myth of the golden fleece — unless they call them Iberians, by the same name as the western Iberians, from the gold mines in both countries. The Soanes use remarkable poisons for the points of their missiles; and even people who  p217 are not wounded by the poisoned missiles suffer from their odour. Now in general the tribes in the neighbourhood of the Caucasus occupy barren and cramped territories, but the tribes of the Albanians and the Iberians, which occupy nearly all the isthmus above-mentioned, might also be called Caucasian tribes; and they possess territory that is fertile and capable of affording an exceedingly good livelihood.

The Editor's Notes:

1 Also spelled "Siraces." See 11.5.8.

2 "Long-beards."

3 "Lice-eaters."

4 Intimate friend of Pompey; wrote a history of his campaigns.

5 See Vol. I, p22, foot-note 2.

6 Polemon I. He became king of the Bosporus about 16 B.C. (Dio Cassius 54.24).

7 i.e. the mouth of the Tanaïs.

8 i.e. for the observation of fish.

Thayer's Note: Here, Strabo just has the generic σκοπαί, but elsewhere he calls them θυννοσκοπεῖα, thynnoscopia — literally, tuna-scopes (V.2.68). The person doing the observing, the tuna- or tunny-watcher, was a θυννοσκόπος: Oppian, Halieutica III.638 and note in Mair's translation, p401.

9 Cf. 7.4.5.

10 See 7.4.4.

11 i.e. as well as the Narrows.

12 In Greek, "apatê."

13 i.e. "covered boats" (cf. Lat. and English "camera"). See the description of Tacitus (Hist. 3.47).

Thayer's Note: — and a few further citations in the article Camara in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

14 Cf. 9.5.10.

15 Apparently an error for "Crecas."

16 "charioteers."

17 Castor and Pollux.

18 "Sceptre-bearers" (see note on "sceptuchies," § 18 below).

19 See Dictionary in Vol. I.

20 See 2.5.22 and 7.4.3.

21 See Dictionary in Vol. II.

22 An unknown tragic poet (Adesp. 559, Nauck).

23 Troades 26.

24 i.e. divisions corresponding to the rank of Persian "sceptuchi" ("sceptre-bearers").

25 See Dictionary in Vol. I.

26 12.3.28 ff.

27 Of Leucothea (§ 17 above).

28 Phrixopolis.

29 "Lice-eaters."

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