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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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. V) Strabo

 p257  Book XI, Chapter 8

1 (510) As one proceeds from the Hyrcanian Sea towards the east, one sees on the right the mountains that extend as far as the Indian Sea, which by  p259 the Greeks are named the Taurus. Beginning at Pamphylia and Cilicia they extend thus far in a continuous line from the west and bear various different names. In the northerly parts of the range dwell first the Gelae and Cadusii and Amardi, as I have said,​1 and certain of the Hyrcanians, and after them the tribe of the Parthians and that of the Margianians and the Arians; and then comes the desert 511 which is separated from Hyrcania by the Sarnius River as one goes eastwards and towards the Ochus River. The mountain which extends from Armenia to this point, or a little short of it, is called Parachoathras. The distance from the Hyrcanian Sea to the country of the Arians is about six thousand stadia. Then comes Bactriana, and Sogdiana, and finally the Scythian nomads. Now the Macedonians gave the name Caucasus to all the mountains which follow in order after the country of the Arians; but among the barbarians​2 the extremities​3 on the north were given the separate names "Paropamisus" and "Emoda" and "Imaus"; and other such names were applied to separate parts.

2 On the left and opposite these people are situated the Scythian or nomadic tribes, which cover the whole of the northern side. Now the greater part of the Scythians, beginning at the Caspian Sea, are called Däae, but those who are situated more to  p261 the east than these are named Massagetae and Sacae, whereas all the rest given the general name of Scythians, though each people is given a separate name of its own. They all for the most part nomads. But the best known of the nomads are those who took away Bactriana from the Greeks, I mean the Asii, Pasiani, Tochari,​4 and Sacarauli, who originally came from the country on the other side of the Iaxartes River that adjoins that of the Sacae and the Sogdiani and was occupied by the Sacae. And as for the Däae, some of them are called Aparni, some Xanthii, and some Pissuri. Now of these the Aparni are situated closest to Hyrcania and the part of the sea that borders on it, but the remainder extend even as far as the country that stretches parallel to Aria.

3 Between them​5 and Hyrcania and Parthia and extending as far as the Arians is a great waterless desert, which they traversed by long marches and then overran Hyrcania, Nesaea, and the plains of the Parthians. And these people agreed to pay tribute, and the tribute was to allow the invaders at certain appointed times to overrun the country and carry off booty. but when the invaders overran their country more than the agreement allowed, war ensued, and in turn their quarrels were composed and new wars were begun. Such is the life of the other nomads also, who are always attacking their neighbours and then in turn settling their differences.

4 The Sacae, however, made raids like those of  p263 Cimmerians and Treres,​6 some into regions close to their own country, others into regions farther away. For instance, they occupied Bactriana, and acquired possession of the best land in Armenia, which they left named after themselves, Sacasenê; and they advanced as far as the country of the Cappadocians, 512 particularly those situated close to the Euxine, who are now called the Pontici. But when they were holding a general festival and enjoying their booty, they were attacked by night by the Persian generals who were then in that region and utterly wiped out. And these generals, heaping up a mound of earth over a certain rock in the plain, completed it in the form of a hill, and erected on it a wall, and established the temple of Anaïtis and the gods who share her altar — Omanus and Anadatus, Persian deities; and they instituted an annual sacred festival, the Sacaea, which the inhabitants of Zela (for thus the place is called) continue to celebrate to the present day. It is a small city belonging for the most part to the temple-slaves. But Pompey added considerable territory to it, settled the inhabitants thereof within the walls, and made it one of the cities which he organised after his overthrow of Mithridates.

5 Now this is the account which some writers give of the Sacae. Others say that Cyrus made an expedition against the Sacae, was defeated in the battle, and fled; but that he encamped in the place where he had left behind his supplies, which consisted of an abundance of everything and especially of wine, rested his army a short time, and set out at nightfall, as though he were in flight, leaving the tents full of supplies; and that he proceeded as far  p265 as he thought best and halted; and that the Sacae pursued, found the camp empty of men but full of things conducive to enjoyment, and filled themselves to the full; and that Cyrus turned back, and found them drunk and crazed, so that some were slain while lying stupefied and asleep, whereas others fell victims to the arms of the enemy while dancing and revelling naked, and almost all perished; and Cyrus, regarding the happy issue as of divine origin, consecrated that day to the goddess of his fathers and called it Sacaea; and that wherever there is a temple of this goddess, there the festival of the Sacaea, a kind of Bacchic festival, is the custom, at which men, dressed in the Scythian garb, pass day and night drinking and playing wantonly with one another, and also with the women who drink with them.

6 The Massagetae disclosed their valour in their war with Cyrus, to which many writers refer again and again; and it is from these that we must get our information. Statements to the following effect are made concerning the Massagetae: that some of them inhabit mountains, some plains, others marshes which formed by the rivers, and others the islands in the marshes. But the country is inundated most of all, they say, by the Araxes River, which splits into numerous branches and empties by its other mouths 513 into the other sea​7 on the north, though by one single mouth it reaches the Hyrcanian Gulf. They regard Helius​8 alone as god, and to him they sacrifice horses. Each man marries only one wife, but they use also the wives of  p267 one another; not in secret, however, for the man who is to have intercourse with the wife of another hangs up his quiver on the wagon and has intercourse with her openly. And they consider it the best kind of death when they are old to be chopped up with the flesh of cattle and eaten mixed up with that flesh. But those who die of disease are cast out as impious and worthy only to be eaten by wild beasts. They are good horsemen and foot-soldiers; they use bows, short swords, breastplates, and sagares​9 made of brass; and in their battles they wear head-bands and belts made of gold. And their horses have bits and girths made of gold. Silver is not found in their country, and only a little iron, but brass and gold in abundance.

7 Now those who live in the islands, since they have no grain to sow, use roots and wild fruits as food, and they clothe themselves with the bark of trees (for they have no cattle either), and they drink the juice squeezed out of the fruit of the trees. Those who live in the marshes eat fish, and clothe themselves in the skins of the seals that run up thither from the sea. The mountaineers themselves also live on wild fruits; but they have sheep also, though only a few, and therefore they do not butcher them, sparing them for their wool and milk; and they variegate the colour of their clothing by staining it with dyes whose colours do not easily fade. The inhabitants of the plains, although they possess land, do not till it, but in the nomadic or Scythian fashion live on sheep and fish. Indeed, there not only is a certain mode of life common to all such peoples, of which I often speak,​10 but their burials, customs, and their way of living as a whole,  p269 are alike, that is, they are self-assertive, uncouth, wild, and warlike, but, in their business dealings, straightforward and not given to deceit.

8 Belonging to the tribe of the Massagetae and the Sacae are also the Attasii and the Chorasmii, to whom Spitamenes​11 fled from the country of the Bactriani and the Sogdiani. He was one of the Persians who escaped from Alexander, as did also Bessus; and later Arsaces,​12 when he fled from Seleucus Callinicus,​13 withdrew into the country of the Apasiacae. Eratosthenes says that the Arachoti and Massagetae situated alongside the Bactrians towards the west along the Oxus River, and that the Sacae and the Sogdiani, with the whole of their lands, are situated opposite India, but the Bactriani only for a slight distance; 514 for, he says, they are situated for the most part alongside the Paropamisus, and the Sacae and the Sogdiani are separated from one another by the Iaxartes River, and the Sogdiani and the Bactriani by the Oxus River; and the Tapyri live between the Hyrcanians and the Arians; and in a circuit round the sea after the Hyrcanians one comes to the Amardi, Anariacae, Cadusii, Albani, Caspii, Vitii, and perhaps also other peoples, until one reaches the Scythians; and on the other side of the Hyrcanians are Derbices; and the Cadusii border on the Medi and Matiani below the Parachoathras.

9 Eratosthenes gives the distances as follows: From Mt. Caspius to the Cyrus River, about one  p271 thousand eight hundred stadia; thence to the Caspian Gates, five thousand six hundred; then to Alexandreia in the country of the Arians, six thousand four hundred; then to the city Bactra, also called Zariaspa, three thousand eight hundred and seventy; then to the Iaxartes River, to which Alexander came, about five thousand; a distance all told of twenty‑two thousand six hundred and seventy stadia. He gives also the distance from the Caspian Gates to India as follows: To Hecatompylus, they say one thousand nine hundred and sixty stadia; to Alexandreia in the country of the Arians, four thousand five hundred and thirty; then to Prophthasia in Drangê, one thousand six hundred (others say one thousand five hundred); then to the city Arachoti, four thousand one hundred and twenty; then to Ortospana, to the junction of the three roads leading from Bactra, two thousand; then to the borders of India, one thousand; a distance all told of fifteen thousand three hundred stadia.​14 We must conceive of the length of India, reckoned from the Indus River to the eastern sea, as continuous with this distance in a straight line. So much for the Sacae.

The Editor's Notes:

1 11.7.1.

2 i.e. the "natives," as referred to in 15.1.11.

3 i.e. the "farthermost (or outermost) parts of the Taurus," as mentioned in 15.1.11 (q.v.).

4 On the Tochari and their language, see the article by T. A. Sinclair in the Classical Review, XXXVII, Nov., Dec., 1923, p159.

5 The Aparnian Däae (see 11.9.2).

6 Cf. 1.3.21, 12.3.24, 12.8.7, 13.1.8, 13.4.8, 14.1.40.

7 The Northern Ocean.

8 The Sun.

9 See note on "sagaris," 11.5.1.

10 e.g. 7.3.7‑8.

11 See Arrian's Expedition of Alexander, 3.28.16, 29.12, 30.1.

12 King of Parthia.

13 King of Syria 246‑226 B.C.

14 The sum total of the distances here given is 15,210 stadia, not 15,300 (15,500 MSS.). The total of 15,300 is again found in 15.2.8.

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