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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.
If you find a mistake though,
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(Vol. III) Strabo

 p229  Book VII, Chapter 4

1 (308) Here is the isthmus​206 which separates what is called Lake Sapra​207 from the sea; it is forty stadia in width and forms what is called the Tauric, or Scythian, Chersonese. Some, however, say that the breadth of the isthmus is three hundred and sixty stadia. But though Lake Sapra is said to be as much as four thousand stadia,​208 it is only a part, the western part, of Lake Maeotis, for it is connected with the latter by a wide mouth. It is very marshy and is scarcely navigable for sewn boats,​209 for the  p231 winds readily uncover the shallow places and then cover them with water again, and therefore the marshes are impassable for the larger boats. The gulf​210 contains three small islands, and also some shoals and a few reefs along the coast.

2 As one sails out of the gulf, one comes, on the left, to a small city and another harbour​211 belonging to the Chersonesites. For next in order as one sails along the coast is a great cape which projects towards the south and is a part of the Chersonesus as a whole;​212 and on this cape is situated a city of the Heracleotae, a colony of the Heracleotae who live on the Pontus,​213 and this place itself​214 is called Chersonesus,​215 being distant as one sails along the coast​216 four thousand four hundred stadia from the Tyras. In this city is the temple of the Parthenos, a certain deity;​217 and the cape​218 which  p233 is in front of the city, at a distance of one hundred stadia, is also named after this deity, for it is called the Parthenium, and it has a shrine and xoanon​219 of her. Between the city and the cape are three harbours. Then comes the Old Chersonesus, which has been razed to the ground; and after it comes a narrow-mouthed harbour, where, generally speaking, the Tauri, a Scythian tribe, used to assemble their bands of pirates in order to attack all who fled thither for refuge. It is called Symbolon Limen.​220 This harbour forms with another harbour called Ctenus Limen​221 an isthmus forty stadia in width; and this is the isthmus that encloses the Little Chersonesus, which, as I was saying, is a part of the Great Chersonesus and has on it the city of Chersonesus, which bears the same name as the peninsula.

3 This city​222 was at first self-governing, but when it was sacked by the barbarians it was forced to choose Mithridates Eupator as protector. 309He was then leading an army against the barbarians who lived beyond the isthmus​223 as far as the Borysthenes and the Adrias;​224 this, however, was preparatory to a campaign against the Romans. So, then, in accordance with these hopes of his he gladly sent an army to Chersonesus, and at the same time carried on war against the Scythians, not only against Scilurus, but also the sons of Scilurus —  p235 Palacus​225 and the rest — who, according to Poseidonius were fifty in number, but according to Apollonides​226 were eighty. At the same time, also, he not only subdued all these by force, but also established himself as lord of the Bosporus,​227 receiving the country as a voluntary gift from Parisades​228 who held sway over it. So from that time on down to the present the city of the Chersonesites has been subject to the potentates of the Bosporus. Again, Ctenus Limen is equidistant from the city of the Chersonesites and Symbolon Limen. And after Symbolon Limen, as far as the city Theodosia,​229 lies the Tauric seaboard, which is about one thousand stadia in length. It is rugged and mountainous, and is subject to furious storms from the north. And in front of it lies a promontory which extends far out towards the high sea and the south in the direction of Paphlagonia and the city Amastris;​230 it is called Criumetopon.​231 And opposite it lies that promontory of the Paphlagonians, Carambis,​232 which, by means of the strait, which is contracted on both sides, divides the Euxine Pontus into two seas.​233 Now the distance from Carambis to the city of the Chersonesites is two thousand five hundred stadia,​234 but the number to Criumetopon is much less; at any rate, many who have sailed across  p237 the strait say that they have seen both promontories, on either side, at the same time.​235 In the mountainous district of the Taurians is also the mountain Trapezus,​236 which has the same name as the city​237 in the neighbourhood of Tibarania and Colchis. And near the same mountainous district is also another mountain, Cimmerius,​238 so called because the Cimmerians once held sway in the Bosporus; and it is because of this fact that the whole of the strait​239 which extends to the mouth of Lake Maeotis is called the Cimmerian Bosporus.

4 After the aforesaid mountainous district is the city Theodosia. It is situated in a fertile plain and has a harbour that can accommodate as many as a hundred ships; this harbour in earlier times was a boundary between the countries of the Bosporians and the Taurians. And the country that comes next after that of Theodosia is also fertile, as far as Panticapaeum. Panticapaeum is the metropolis of the Bosporians and is situated at the mouth of Lake Maeotis. The distance between Theodosia and Panticapaeum is about five hundred and thirty stadia; the district is everywhere productive of grain, and it contains villages, as well as a city called Nymphaeum,​240 which possesses a good harbour. Panticapaeum is a hill inhabited on all sides in a circuit of twenty stadia. To the east it has a harbour, and docks for about thirty ships; and it also has an acropolis. 310It is a colony of the Milesians. For a long time it was ruled as a monarchy by the dynasty of Leuco, Satyrus, and Parisades, as were  p239 also all the neighbouring settlements near the mouth of Lake Maeotis on both sides, until Parisades gave over the sovereignty to Mithridates. They were called tyrants, although most of them, beginning with Parisades and Leuco, proved to be equitable rulers. And Parisades was actually held in honour as god. The last​241 of these monarchs also bore the name Parisades, but he was unable to hold out against the barbarians, who kept exacting greater tribute than before, and he therefore gave over the sovereignty to Mithridates Eupator. But since the time of Mithridates the kingdom has been subject to the Romans. The greater part of it is situated in Europe, although a part of it is situated in Asia.242

5 The mouth of Lake Maeotis is called the Cimmerian Bosporus. It is rather wide at first — about seventy stadia — and it is here that people cross over from the regions of Panticapaeum to Phanagoria, the nearest city of Asia; but it ends in a much narrower channel. This strait separates Asia from Europe; and so does the Tanaïs​243 River, which is directly opposite and flows from the north into the lake and then into the mouth of it. The river has two outlets into the lake which are about sixty stadia distant from one another. There is also a city​244 which has the same name as the river, and next to Panticapaeum is the greatest emporium of the barbarians. On the left, as one sails into the  p241 Cimmerian Bosporus, is a little city, Myrmecium,​245 at a distance of twenty stadia from Panticapaeum. And twice this distance from Myrmecium is the village of Parthenium;​246 here the strait is narrowest — about twenty stadia — and on the opposite side, in Asia, is situated a village called Achilleium. Thence, if one sails straight to the Tanaïs and the islands near its outlets, the distance is two thousand two hundred stadia, but if one sails along the coast of Asia, the distance slightly exceeds this; if, however, one sails on the left as far as the Tanaïs, following the coast where the isthmus is situated, the distance is more than three times as much. Now the whole of the seaboard along this coast, I mean on the European side, is desert, but the seaboard on the right is not desert; and, according to report, the total circuit of the lake is nine thousand stadia. The Great Chersonesus is similar to the Peloponnesus both in shape and in size. It is held by the potentates​247 of the Bosporus, though the whole of it has been devastated by continuous wars. But in earlier times only a small part of it — that which is close to the mouth of Lake Maeotis and to Panticapaeum and extends as far as Theodosia — 311was held by the tyrants of the Bosporians, whereas most of it, as far as the isthmus and the Gulf of Carcinites, was held by the Taurians, a Scythian tribe. And the whole of this country, together with about all the country outside the isthmus as far as the Borysthenes, was called Little Scythia. But on account of the large number of people who left Little Scythia and crossed both the Tyras and the Ister and took up their abode in the land beyond, no small portion of Thrace as well came to be called Little Scythia; the Thracians  p243 giving way to them partly as the result of force and partly because of the bad quality of the land, for the greater part of the country is marshy.

6 But the Chersonesus, except for the mountainous district that extends along the sea as far as Theodosia, is everywhere level and fertile, and in the production of grain it is extremely fortunate. At any rate, it yields thirty-fold if furrowed by any sort of a digging-instrument.​248 Further, the people of this region, together with those of the Asiatic districts round about Sindice, used to pay as tribute to Mithridates one hundred and eighty thousand medimni​249 and also two hundred talents of silver.​250 And in still earlier times the Greeks imported their supplies of grain from here, just as they imported their supplies of salt-fish from the lake. Leuco, it is said, once sent from Theodosia to Athens two million one hundred thousand medimni.​251 These same people used to be called Georgi,​252 in the literal sense of the term, because of the fact that the people who were situated beyond them were Nomads and lived not only on meats in general but also on the meat of horses, as also on cheese made from mare's milk, on mare's fresh milk, and on mare's sour milk, which last, when prepared in a particular way, is much relished by them. And this is why the poet calls all the people in that part of the world "Galactophagi."​253 Now although the Nomads  p245 are warriors rather than brigands, yet they go to war only for the sake of the tributes due them; for they turn over their land to any people who wish to till it, and are satisfied if they receive in return for the land the tribute they have assessed, which is a moderate one, assessed with a view, not to an abundance, but only to the daily necessities of life; but if the tenants do not pay, the Nomads go to war with them. And so it is that the poet calls these same men at the same time both "just" and "resourceless"; for if the tributes were paid regularly, they would never resort to war. But men who are confident that they are powerful enough either to ward off attacks easily or to prevent any invasion do not pay regularly; such was the case with Asander,​254 who, according to Hypsicrates,​255 walled off the isthmus of the Chersonesus which is near Lake Maeotis and is three hundred and sixty stadia in width, and set up ten towers for every stadium. But though the Georgi of this region are considered to be at the same time both more gentle and civilised, still, since they are money-getters and have to do with the sea, they do not hold aloof from acts of piracy, 312nor yet from any other such acts of injustice and greed.

7 In addition to the places in the Chersonesus which I have enumerated, there were also the three  p247 forts which were built by Scilurus and his sons — the forts which they used as bases of operations against the generals of Mithridates — I mean Palacium, Chabum, and Neapolis.​256 There was also a Fort Eupatorium,​257 founded by Diophantus when he was leading the army for Mithridates. There is a cape about fifteen stadia distant from the wall of the Chersonesites;​258 it forms a very large gulf which inclines towards the city. And above this gulf is situated a lagoon​259 which has salt-works. And here, too, was the Ctenus Harbour. Now it was in order that they might hold out that the besieged generals of the king fortified the place, established a garrison on the cape aforesaid, and filled up that part of the mouth of the gulf which extends as far as the city, so that there was now an easy journey on foot and, in a way, one city instead of two. Consequently, they could more easily beat off the Scythians. But when the Scythians made their attack, near Ctenus, on the fortified wall that extends across the isthmus, and daily filled up the trench with straw, the generals of the king set fire by night to the part thus bridged by day, and held out until they finally prevailed over them. And to‑day everything is subject to whatever kings of the Bosporians the Romans choose to set up.

 p249  8 It is a peculiarity of the whole Scythian and Sarmatian race that they castrate their horses to make them easy to manage; for although the horses are small, they are exceedingly quick and hard to manage. As for game, there are deer and wild boars in the marshes, and wild asses and roe deer in the plains. Another peculiar thing is the fact that the eagle is not found in these regions. And among the quadrupeds there is what is called the "colos";​260 it is between the deer and ram in size, is white, is swifter than they, and drinks through its nostrils into its head, and then from this storage supplies itself for several days, so that it can easily live in the waterless country. Such, then, is the nature of the whole of the country which is outside the Ister between the Rhenus and the Tanaïs Rivers as far as the Pontic Sea and Lake Maeotis.

The Editor's Notes:

206 Isthmus of Perekop.

207 i.e. "Putrid"; called by Ptolemaeus (3.5.2) and other ancient writers "Byce"; now called by the Russians "Ghuiloje More."º

Thayer's Note: The "lake", in Ukraine and Ukrainian Crimea, is as Strabo describes it, except that (today at least) its mouth onto the Azov Sea is not wide, being less than 100 meters across at its narrowest point at Henichesk. Essentially cut off from the open sea, it is very shallow, swampy, silt-laden, and has a high salt concentration, whence its native Ukrainian name Гниле Море, which also just means "rotten sea".

208 Strabo does not specify whether in breadth, length, or perimeter: he must mean perimeter, in which case the figure is, roughly speaking, correct.

209 Boats made of hides sewn together.

210 i.e. Carcinites. In numerous cases Strabo unexpectedly reverts to a subject previously dismissed (cp. 7.3.18 and footnote 194). The present instance, among others, clearly shows that Groskurd, Forbiger, and Meineke are hardly justified in transferring passages of the text to different positions. However, they do not make a transfer here.

211 Corais, from a conjecture of Casaubon, emends "another harbour" to "Fair Harbour." But since Ptolemaeus (3.5.2) refers to a Kalos Limen on the opposite coast, the present translator conjectures that Strabo wrote "another Fair Harbour." It is now known that there were two settlements of the Chersonesites north of the great bay on which the city of Chersonesus was situated and that their names were "Cercinitis" and "Kalos Limen." See Latyschew, and the inscription in S. Ber. Akad. Berl. 1892, 479; and Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "Bosporos," p772 and s.v. "Chersonesos," p2265.

212 Also called the "Great Chersonesus" (Crimea, now part of Ukraine), as distinguished from the "Little Chersonesus." Strabo means that the cape in question and the Little Chersonesus are identical. The cape (or peninsula) was bounded on the north by the isthmus (later mentioned), and this isthmus was marked by a wall and trench (see 7.4.7) which connected Ctenus Harbour (now the Harbour of Sebastopol) with Symbolon Limen (now the Harbour of Balaklava).

213 In the Paphlagonian city called Heracleia Pontica (now Erekli).

214 The "city" just mentioned.

215 "New Chersonesus," which is now in ruins near Sebastopol. "Old Chersonesus" (in ruins in Strabo's time) was near the isthmus of the little peninsula which terminates in Cape Fanary.

216 That is, including the entire circuit around the coast of Karkinit Bay.

217 "Parthenos" ("Virgin") usually means Athene; but in this case it means either the Tauric Artemis (see 5.3.12 and Diodorus Siculus, 4.44), or (what is more likely) Iphigenia (see Herodotus, 4.103). In saying "deity," and not "goddess," Strabo seems purposely non-committal as between the two.

218 Now Cape Fanary.

219 See 4.1.4, and footnote.

220 "Signal Harbour"; now the Harbour of Balaklava.

221 "Comb Harbour" (now the Harbour of Sebastopol); probably so called from the sharp indentations in the coast.

222 Strabo is now thinking of the Old Chersonesus.

223 Isthmus of Perekop.

224 That is, the head of the Adriatic.

225 See 7.3.17.

226 Little is known of this Apollonides. According to the scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (4.983, 1175), he wrote a geographical treatise entitled Periplus of Europe.

227 The Cimmerian Bosporus, the country about the strait of Kertch. The capital was Panticapaeum (now Kertch).

228 The correct spelling of the name seems to be "Paerisades" (so on coins), but several ancient writers spell it Parisades.

229 Now called Feodosia or Kaffa.

230 Now Amasra.

231 Literally, "Ram's-forehead"; now Cape Karadje.

232 Now Cape Kerembe.

233 Cp. 2.5.22, where the same thought is clearly expressed.

234 But cp. 2.5.22.

235 Cp. the footnote on seeing from Lilybaeum to the Carthaginian harbour, 6.2.1.

236 Now Tchadir-Dagh.

237 i.e. the Trebizond of to‑day.

238 Now Aghirmisch-Daghi.

239 The strait of Kertch.

240 Now Kalati.

241 His title seems to have been Paerisades V. On the titles and times of the monarchs in this dynasty, see Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "Bosporus," p758.

242 According to Strabo, the boundary between Europe and Asia was formed by the Tanaïs (Don) River, Lake Maeotis (sea of Azof), and the Cimmerian Bosporus (strait of Kertch). See 2.5.2631 and 7.4.5.

243 The Don.

244 The site was near Nedrigofka.

245 On the site of, or near, Yenikale.

246 Exact site unknown.

247 Chosen by the Romans (7.4.7).

248 Or perhaps, "plough-share."

249 The Attic medimnus was about one bushel and a half.

250 The Attic silver talent was about $1000.

251 Leuco sent to Athens 400,000 medimni of wheat annually, but in the year of the great famine (about 360 B.C.) he sent not only enough for Athens but a surplus which the Athenians sold at a profit of fifteen talents (Demosthenes, Against Leptines, 20.32‑33).

252 i.e., "Tillers of the soil."

253 Cp. 7.3.3, 7, 9.

254 Asander usurped the throne of the Bosporus in 47 (or 46) B.C., after he had overthrown and killed his chief, King Pharnaces, and had defeated and killed Mithridates of Pergamon who sought the throne. His kingdom extended as far as the Don (see 11.2.11 and 13.4.3), and he built the fortifications above mentioned to prevent the invasions of the Scythians.

255 Hypsicrates flourished in the time of Julius Caesar. He wrote a number of historical and geographical treatises, but the exact titles are unknown (see Pauly-Wissowa, s.v.).

256 The sites of these forts are unknown, but they must have been not far from the line of fortifications which ran along the eastern boundary of the Little Chersonesus (see 7.4.2).

257 Fort Eupatorium is not to be identified with the city of Eupatoria (mentioned by Ptolemaeus 3.6.2), nor with the modern Eupatoria (the Crimean Kozlof). It was situated on what is now Cape Paul, where Fort Paul is, to the east of Sebastopol (Becker, Jahrb. für Philol., Suppl. vol., 1856), or else on the opposite cape between the harbour of Sebastopol and what is called Artillery Bay, where Fort Nicholas was (C. Müller, note on Ptolemaeus, l.c.).

258 i.e., the wall of the city of New Chersonesus.

259 Now Uschakowskaja Balka (Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "Eupatoria").

260 "A large he-goat without horns" (Hesychius, s.v.).

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