The Celtic Literature Collective

Strabo's Geography

Book III Chapter 3

1. Now if we again begin at the Sacred Cape, following the coast in the other direction, namely, towards the Tagus River, there is first a gulf, then a promontory, Barbarium, and near it the mouths of the Tagus; and the distance to these mouths in a direct voyage is ten stadia. Here, too, there are estuaries; one of them extends inland from the afore-mentioned tower for more than four hundred stadia, and along this estuary the country is watered as far as Salacia. Now the Tagus not only has a width of about twenty stadia at its mouth, but its depth is so great that very large merchant-ships can ascend it. And when the flood-tides come on, it forms two estuaries in the plains that lie above it, so that it forms a sea for a distance of one hundred and fifty stadia, and renders the plain navigable, and also, in the upper estuary, encloses an island about thirty stadia in length, and in breadth a trifle short of the length an island with fine groves and vines. The island is situated opposite Moron, a city happily situated on a mountain near the river, at a distance of about five hundred stadia from the sea. And further, not only is the country round about the city rich, but the voyages thither are easy even for large ships a considerable part of the way, though only for river-boats the rest of the way. And beyond Moron, also, the river is navigable for a still greater distance. This city Brutus, surnamed Callaicus, used as a base of operations when he warred against the Lusitanians and brought these people under subjection. And, to command the bar of the river, he fortified Olysipo, in order that the voyages inland and the importation of provisions might be unimpeded; so that among the cities about the Tagus these are strongest. The Tagus abounds in fish, and is full of oysters. It rises in Celtiberia, and flows through Vettonia, Carpetania, and Lusitania, towards the equinoctial west, up to a certain point being parallel to both the Anas and the Baetis, but after that diverging from those rivers, since they bend off towards the southern seaboard.

2. Now of the peoples situated beyond the mountains mentioned above, the Oretanians are most southerly, and their territory reaches as far as the seacoast in part of the country this side of the Pillars; the Carpetanians are next after these on the north; then the Vettonians and the Vaccaeans, through whose territory the Durius River flows, which affords a crossing at Acutia, a city of the Vaccaeans; and last, the Callaicans, who occupy a very considerable part of the mountainous country. For this reason, since they were very hard to fight with, the Callaicans themselves have not only furnished the surname for the man who defeated the Lusitanians but they have also brought it about that now, already, the most of the Lusitanians are called Callaicans. Now as for Oretania, its city of Castalo is very powerful, and so is Oria.

3. And yet the country north of the Tagus, Lusitania, is the greatest of the Iberian nations, and is the nation against which the Romans waged war for the longest times. The boundaries of this country are: on the southern side, the Tagus; on the western and northern, the ocean; and on the eastern, the countries of the Carpetanians, Vettonians, Vaccaeans, and Callaicans, the well-known tribes; it is not worth while to name the rest, because of their smallness and lack of repute. Contrary to the men of to-day, however, some call also these peoples Lusitanians. These four peoples, in the eastern part of their countries, have common boundaries, thus: the Callaicans, with the tribe of the Asturians and with the Celtiberians, but the others with only the Celtiberians. Now the length of Lusitania to cape Nerium is three thousand stadia, but its breadth, which is formed between its eastern side and the coast-line that lies opposite thereto, is much less. The eastern side is high and rough, but the country that lies below is all plain even to the sea, except a few mountains of no great magnitude. And this, of course, is why Poseidonius says that Aristotle is incorrect in making the coast-line and Maurusia the cause of the flood-tides and the ebb-tides; whom he quotes as saying that the sea ebbs and flows on account of the fact that the coast-lands are both high and rugged, which not only receive the waves roughly but give them back with equal violence. For on the contrary, Poseidonius correctly says, the coast-lands are for the most part sandy and low.

4. At all events, the country of which I am speaking is fertile, and it is also traversed by rivers both large and small, all of them flowing from the eastern parts and parallel to the Tagus; most of them offer voyages inland and contain very great quantities of gold-dust as well. Best known of the rivers immediately after the Tagus are the Mundas, which offers short voyages inland, and likewise the Vacua. After these two is the Durius, which, coming from afar, flows by Numantia and many other settlements of the Celtiberians and Vaccaenas, and is navigable for large boats for a distance of about eight hundred stadia inland. Then come other rivers. And after these the River of Lethe, which by some persons is called Limaeas, but by others Belion; and this river, too, rises in the country of the Celtiberians and the Vaccaenas, as also does the river that comes after it, namely the Baenis (others say "Minius"), which is by far the greatest of the rivers in Lusitania itself, also, being navigable inland for eight hundred stadia. Poseidonius, however, says that the Baenis rises in Cantabria. Off its mouth lies an island, and two breakwaters which afford anchorage for vessels. The nature of these rivers deserves praise, because the banks which they have are high, and adequate to receive within their channels the sea at high tide without overflowing or spreading over the plains. Now this river was the limit of Brutus' campaign, though farther on there are several other rivers, parallel to those mentioned.

5. Last of all come the Artabrians, who live in the neighbourhood of the cape called Nerium, which is the end of both the western and the northern side of Iberia. But the country round about the cape itself is inhabited by Celtic people, kinsmen of those on the Anas; for these people and the Turdulians made an expedition thither and then had a quarrel, it is said, after they had crossed the Limaeas River; and when, in addition to the quarrel, the Celtic peoples also suffered the loss of their chieftain, they scattered and stayed there; and it was from this circumstance that the Limaeas was also called the River of Lethe. The Artabrians have many thickly-peopled cities on that gulf which the sailors who frequent those parts call the Harbour of the Artabrians. The men of to-day, however, call the Artabrians Arotrebians. Now about thirty different tribes occupy the country between the Tagus and the Artabrians, and although the country was blest in fruits, in cattle, and in the abundance of its gold and silver and similar metals, still, most of the people had ceased to gain their livelihood from the earth, and were spending their time in brigandage and in continuous warfare with each other and with their neighbours across the Tagus, until they were stopped by the Romans, who humbled them and reduced most of their cities to mere villages, though they improved some of their cities by adding colonies thereto. It was the mountaineers who began this lawlessness, as was likely to be the case; for, since they occupied sorry land and possessed but little property, they coveted what belonged to the others. And the latter, in defending themselves against the mountaineers, were necessarily rendered powerless over their private estates, so that they, too, began to engage in war instead of farming; and the result was that the country, neglected because it was barren of planted products, became the home only of brigands.

6. At any rate, the Lusitanians, it is said, are given to laying ambush, given to spying out, are quick, nimble, and good at deploying troops. They have a small shield two feet in diameter, concave in front, and suspended from the shoulder by means of thongs (for it has neither arm-rings nor handles). Besides these shields they have a dirk or a butcher's-knife. Most of them wear linen cuirasses; a few wear chain-wrought cuirasses and helmets with three crests, but the rest wear helmets made of sinews. The foot-soldiers wear greaves also, and each soldier has several javelins; and some also make use of spears, and the spears have bronze heads. Now some of the peoples that dwell next to the Durius River live, it is said, after the manner of the Laconians using anointing-rooms twice a day and taking baths in vapours that rise from heated stones, bathing in cold water, and eating only one meal a day; and that in a cleanly and simple way. The Lusitanians are given to offering sacrifices, and they inspect the vitals, without cutting them out. Besides, they also inspect the veins on the side of the victim; and they divine by the tokens of touch, too. They prophesy through means of the vitals of human beings also, prisoners of war, whom they first cover with coarse cloaks, and then, when the victim has been struck beneath the vitals by the diviner, they draw their first auguries from the fall of the victim. And they cut off the right hands of their captives and set them up as an offering to the gods.

7. All the mountaineers lead a simple life, are water-drinkers, sleep on the ground, and let their hair stream down in thick masses after the manner of women, though before going into battle they bind their hair about the forehead. They eat goat's-meat mostly, and to Ares they sacrifice a he-goat and also the prisoners and horses; and they also offer hecatombs of each kind, after the Greek fashion as Pindar himself says, "to sacrifice a hundred of every kind." They also hold contests, for light-armed and heavy-armed soldiers and cavalry, in boxing, in running, in skirmishing, and in fighting by squads. And the mountaineers, for two-thirds of the year, eat acorns, which they have first dried and crushed, and then ground up and made into a bread that may be stored away for a long time. They also drink beer; but they are scarce of wine, and what wine they have made they speedily drink up in merry feastings with their kinsfolk; and instead of olive-oil they use butter. Again, they dine sitting down, for they have stationary seats builded around the walls of the room, though they seat themselves forward according to age and rank. The dinner is passed round, and amid their cups they dance to flute and trumpet, dancing in chorus, but also leaping up and crouching low. But in Bastetania women too dance promiscuously with men, taking hold of their hands. All the men dress in black, for the most part in coarse cloaks, in which they sleep, on their beds of litter. And they use waxen vessels, just as the Celts do. But the women always go clad in long mantles and gay-coloured gowns. Instead of coined money the people, at least those who live deep in the interior, employ barter, or else they cut off pieces from beaten silver metal and pass them as money. Those who are condemned to death they hurl from precipices; and the parricides they stone to death out beyond their mountains or their rivers. They marry in the same way as the Greeks. Their sick they expose upon the streets, in the same way as the Egyptians did in ancient times, for the sake of their getting suggestions from those who have experienced the disease. Again, up to the time of Brutus they used boats of tanned leather on account of the flood-tides and the shoal-waters, but now, already, even the dug-out canoes are rare. Their rock-salt is red, but when crushed it is white. Now this, as I was saying, is the mode of life of the mountaineers, I mean those whose boundaries mark off the northern side of Iberia, namely, the Callaicans, the Asturians, and the Cantabrians, as far as the Vasconians and the Pyrenees; for the modes of life of all of them are of like character. I shrink from giving too many of the names, shunning the unpleasant task of writing them down unless it comports with the pleasure of some one to hear "Pleutaurans," "Bardyetans," "Allotrigans," and other names still less pleasing and of less significance than these.

8. The quality of intractability and wildness in these peoples has not resulted solely from their engaging in warfare, but also from their remoteness; for the trip to their country, whether by sea or by land, is long, and since they are difficult to communicate with, they have lost the instinct of sociability and humanity. They have this feeling of intractability and wildness to a less extent now, however, because of the peace and of the sojourns of the Roman among them. But wherever such sojourns are rarer the people are harder to deal with and more brutish; and if some are so disagreeable merely as the result of the remoteness of their regions, it is likely that those who live in the mountains are still more outlandish. But now, as I have said, they have wholly ceased carrying on war; for both the Cantabrians (who still to-day more than the rest keep together their bands of robbers) and their neighbours have been subdued by Augustus Caesar; and instead of plundering the allies of the Romans, both the Coniacans and the Plentuisans, who live near the source of the Iberus, now take the field for the Romans. Further, Tiberius, his successor, has set over these regions an army of three legions (the army already appointed by Augustus Caesar), and it so happens that he already has rendered some of the peoples not only peaceable but civilised as well.

Onto Chapter 4