The Celtic Literature Collective

Strabo's Geography

Book III Chapter 5

§1. Of the islands which lie off Iberia, the two Pityussae, and the two Gymnesiae (which are also called the Baliarides),Link to the editor's note at the bottom of this page lie off the stretch of coast that is between Tarraco and Sucro, whereon Saguntum is situated; they are also out in the open sea, all of them, although the Pityussae have a greater inclination to the west than the Gymnesiae. Now one of the Pityussae is called Ebusus, and it has a city of the same name; the circuit of the island is four hundred stadia, with the breadth and the length about equal. The other island, Ophiussa, which lies near Ebusus, is desert and much smaller. Of the Gymnesiae, the larger has two cities, Palma and Polentia, one of which, Polentia, is situated in the eastern part of the island, and the other in the western. The length of the island falls but little short of six hundred stadia, and the breadth but little short of two hundred — although Artemidorus has stated the length and breadth at double these figures. The smaller of the two is about two hundred and seventy stadia distant from Polentia. Now although it falls far short of the larger island in size, it is in no respect inferior thereto in the excellence of its soil; for both are blessed with fertility, and also have good harbours, though the harbours are full of reefs at the entrances, so that there is need of vigilance on the part of those who sail in. And it is on account of the fertility of these regions that the inhabitants are peaceable, as is also the case with the people on the island of Ebusus. But merely because a few criminals among them had formed partnerships with the pirates of the high seas, they were all cast into disrepute, and an over-sea expedition was made against them by Metellus, surnamed Balearicus, who is the man that founded their cities. On account of the same fertility of their islands, however, the inhabitants are ever the object of plots, albeit they are peaceable; still they are spoken of as the best of slingers. And this art they have practised assiduously, so it is said, ever since the Phoenicians took possession of the islands. And the Phoenicians are also spoken of as the first to clothe the people there in tunics with a broad border; but the people used to go forth to their fights without a girdle on — with only a goat-skin, wrapped round the arm, or with a javelin that had been hardened in the fire (though in rare cases it was also pointed with a small iron tip), and with three slings worn round the head, of black-tufted rush (that is, a species of rope-rush, out of which the ropes are woven; and Philetas, too, in his "Hermeneia" says, "Sorry his tunic befouled with dirt; and round about him his slender waist is entwined with a strip of black-tufted rush," meaning a man girdled with a rush-rope), of black-tufted rush, I say, or of hair or of sinews: the sling with the long straps for the shots at short range, and the medium sling for the medium shots. And their training in the use of slings used to be such, from childhood up, that they would not so much as give bread to their children unless they first hit it with the sling. This is why Metellus, when he was approaching the islands from the sea, stretched hides above the decks as a protection against the slings. And he brought thither as colonists three thousand of the Romans who were in Iberia.

§2. In addition to the fruitfulness of the soil, there is also the fact that no injurious animal can easily be found in the Gymnesiae. For even the rabbits there, it is said, are not native, but the stock sprang from a male and female brought over by some person from the opposite mainlind; and this stock was, for a fact, so numerous at first, that they even overturned houses and trees by burrowing beneath them, and that, as I have said, the people were forced to have recourse to the Romans. At present, however, the ease with which the rabbits are caught prevents the pest from prevailing; indeed, the landholders reap profitable crops from the soil. Now these islands are this side of what are called the Pillars of Heracles.

§3. Close to the Pillars there are two isles, one of which they call Hera's Island; moreover, there are some who call also these isles the Pillars. Gades, however, is outside the Pillars. Concerning Gades I have said only thus much, that it is about seven hundred and fifty stadia distant from Calpe (that is, it is situated near the outlet of the Baetis), but there is more to be said about it than the others. For example, here live the men who fit out the most and largest merchant-vessels, both for Our Sea and the outer sea, although, in the first place, it is no large island they live in, and secondly, they do not occupy much of the continent opposite the island, and, thirdly, are not well-off in the possession of other islands; indeed, they live mostly on the sea, though a mere few keep at home or else while away their time at Rome. In population, however, Gades does not fall short, it would seem, of any of the cities except Rome; at any rate I have heard that in one of the censuses of our own time there were five hundred men assessed as Gaditanian Knights — a number not equalled even in the case of the Italian cities except Patavium. But though the Gaditanians are so numerous, they occupy an island not much larger than a hundred stadia in length, and in places merely a stadium in breadth. As for their city, the one they lived in at first was very small indeed, but Balbus of Gades, who gained the honour of a triumph, founded another for them, which they call "Nea"; and the city which is composed of the two they call "Didyme," although it is not more than twenty stadia in circuit, and even at that not crowded. For only a few stay at home in the city, because in general they are all at sea, though some live on the continent opposite the island, and also, in particular, on account of its natural advantages, on the islet that lies off Gades; and because they take delight in its geographical position they have made the island a rival city, as it were, to Didyme. Only a few, however, comparatively speaking, live either on the islet or in the harbour-town which was constructed for them by Balbus on the opposite coast of the mainland. The city of Gades is situated on the westerly parts of the island; and next to it, at the extremity of the island and near the islet, is the temple of Cronus; but the temple of Heracles is situated on the other side, facing towards the east, just where the island runs, it so happens, most closely to the mainland, thus leaving a strait of only about a stadium in width. And they say that the temple is twelve miles distant from the city, thus making the number of the miles equal to that of the Labours; yet the distance is greater than that and amounts to almost as much as the length of the island; and the length of the island is that from the west to the east.

§4. By "Erytheia," in which the myth-writers place the adventures of Geryon, Pherecydes seems to mean Gades. Others, however, think that Erytheia is the island that lies parallel to this city and is separated from it by a strait of a stadium in width, that is, in view of the fine pasturage there, because the milk of the flocks that pasture there yields no whey. And when they make cheese they first mix the milk with a large amount of water, on account of the fat in the milk. Further, the animals choke to death within fifty days, unless you open a vein and bleed them. The grass upon which they graze is dry, but it makes them very fat and it is from this fact, it is inferred, that the myth about the cattle of Geryon has been fabricated. The whole of the coast, however, is peopled jointly.

§5. In telling stories of the following sort about the founding of Gades, the Gaditanians recall a certain oracle, which was actually given, they say, to the Tyrians, ordering them to send a colony to the Pillars of Heracles: The men who were sent for the sake of spying out the region, so the story goes, believed, when they got near to the strait at Calpe, that the two capes which formed the strait were the ends of the inhabited world and of Heracles' expedition, and that the capes themselves were what the oracle called "Pillars"; and they therefore landed at a place inside the narrows, namely, where the city of the Exitanians now is; and there they offered sacrifice, but since the sacrifices did not prove favourable they turned homeward again; but the men who were sent at a later period went on outside the strait, about fifteen hundred stadia, to an island sacred to Heracles, situated near the city of Onoba in Iberia, and believing that this was where the Pillars were they offered sacrifice to the god, but since again the sacrifices did not prove favourable they went back home; but the men who arrived on the third expedition founded Gades, and placed the temple in the eastern part of the island but the city in the eastern. For this reason some are of the opinion that the capes at the strait are the Pillars; others, Gades; and others that they lie on ahead still farther outside the strait than Gades. Again, some have supposed that Calpe and Abilyx are the Pillars, Abilyx being that mountain in Libya opposite Calpe which is situated, according to Eratosthenes, in Metagonium, country of a nomadic tribe; while others have supposed that the isles near each mountain, one of which they call Hera's Island, are the Pillars. Artemidorus speaks of Hera's Island and her temple, and he says there is a second isle, yet he does not speak of Mount Abilyx or of a Metagonian tribe. There are some who transfer hither both the Planctae and the Symplegades, because they believe these rocks to be the pillars which Pindar calls the "gates of Gades" when he asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles. And Dicaearchus, too, and Eratosthenes and Polybius and most of the Greeks represent the Pillars as in the neighbourhood of the strait. But the Iberians and Libyans say that that Pillars are in Gades, for the regions in the neighbourhood of the strait in no respect, they say, resemble pillars. Others say that it is the bronze pillars of eight cubits in the temple of Heracles in Gades, whereon is inscribed the expense incurred in the construction of the temple, that are called the Pillars; and those people who have ended their voyage with visiting these pillars and sacrificing to Heracles have had it noisily spread abroad that this is the end of both land and sea. Poseidonius, too, believes this to be the most plausible account of the matter, but that the oracle and the many expeditions from Tyre are a Phoenician lie. Now, concerning the expeditions, what could one affirm with confidence as to their falsity of the trustworthiness when neither of the two opinions is contrary to reason? But to deny that the isles or the mountains resemble pillars, and to search for the limits of the inhabited world or of the expedition of Heracles at Pillars that were properly so called, is indeed a sensible thing to do; for it was a custom in early times to set up landmarks like that. For instance, the people of Rhegium set up the column — a sort of small tower — which stands at the strait; and opposite this column there stands what is called the Tower of Pelorus. And in the land about midway between the Syrtes there stand what are called the Altars of the Philaeni. And mention is made of a pillar placed in former times on the Isthmus of Corinth, which was set up in common by those Ionians who, after their expulsion from the Peloponnesus, got possession of Attica together with Megaris, and by the peoples who got possession of the Peloponnesus; they inscribed on the side of the pillar which faced Megaris, "This is not the Peloponnesus, but Ionia," on the other, "This is the Peloponnesus, not Ionia." Again, Alexander set up altars, as limits of his Indian Expedition, in the farthermost regions reached by him in Eastern India, thus imitating Heracles and Dionysus. So then, this custom was indeed in existence.

§6. More than that, it is reasonable for place where a landmark is to take on the same appellation, and especially after time has once destroyed the landmark that has been set up. For instance, the Altars of the Philaeni no longer remain, yet the place has taken on the appellation. In India, too, there are no pillars, it is said, either of Heracles or of Dionysus to be seen standing, and, of course, when certain of the places there were spoken of or pointed out to the Macedonians, they believed to be Pillars those places only in which they found some sign of the stories told about Dionysus or of those about Heracles. So, in the case of Gades, too, one might not disbelieve that the first visitors used, so to speak, "hand-wrought" landmarks — altars or towers or pillars — setting them up in the most conspicuous of the farthermost places they came to (and the most conspicuous places for denoting both the ends and beginnings of regions are the straits, the mountains there situated, and the isles), and that when the hand-wrought monuments had disappeared, their name was transferred to the places — whether you mean thereby the isles, or the capes that form the strait. For this is a distinction now hard to make — I mean to which of the two we should attach the appellation — because the term "Pillars" suits both. I say "suits" because both are situated in places of a sort that clearly suggest the ends; and it is on the strength of this fact that the strait has been called a "mouth," — not only this strait, but several others as well: that is, as you sail in, the mouth is the beginning, and, as you sail out, the end. Accordingly, it would not be foolish for one to liken to pillars the isles at the mouth, since they have the attributes of being both sharp of outline and conspicuous as signs; and so, in the same way, it would not be foolish to liken to pillars the mountains that are situated at the strait, since they present just such a prominent appearance as do columns or pillars. And in this way Pindar would be right in speaking of the "gates of Gades," if the pillars were conceived of as at the mouth; for the mouths of straits are like gates. But Gades is not situated in such a geographical position as to denote an end; rather it lies at about the centre of a long coastline that forms a bay. And the argument that refers those pillars which are in the temple of Heracles at Gades to the Pillars of Heracles is less reasonable still, as it appears to me. For it is plausible that the fame of the name "Pillars of Heracles" prevailed because the name originated, not with merchants, but rather with commanders, just as in the case of the Indian pillars; and besides that, "the inscription" which they speak of, since it does not set forth the dedication of a reproduction but instead a summary of expense, bears witness against the argument; for the Heracleian pillars should be reminders of Heracles' mighty doings, not of the expenses of the Phoenicians.

§7. Polybius says that there is a spring in the Heracleium at Gades, with a descent of only a few steps to the water (which is good to drink), and that the spring behaves inversely to the flux and reflux of the sea, since it fails at the time of the flood-tides and fills up at the time of the ebb-tides. And he alleges as the cause of this that the air which is expelled from the depths of the earth to the surface, if the surface be covered by the waters at the time of the overflows of the sea, is shut off from its proper exit there, and turning back into the interior blocks up the passages of the spring and thus causes a failure of water, whereas if the surface be bared of waters again the air passes straight forward and thus sets free the veins of the spring, so that it gushes forth abundantly. As for Artemidorus, although he speaks out against Polybius and at the same time puts forth a cause of his own, and also recalls the opinion of Silanus the historian, he does not seem to me to have stated anything worth recording, since both he himself and Silanus are, you might say, laymen with respect to these matters. But Poseidonius, although he calls the story of this spring false, says that there are two wells in the Heracleium and a third in the city; and, of the two wells in the Heracleium, if you draw water continuously from the smaller it actually fails in the same hour, and if you leave off drawing the water, it fills up again; whereas you may draw water all day long from the larger (though it is diminished thereby, of course, just as all other wells are), and it fills up by night if you no longer draw from it, but since the ebb-tide often occurs at the particular time of the well's fullness, the natives have believed anew in the inverse-behaviour. Now not only has Poseidonius told us that the story has been believed, but I too, since it is told over and over again among the paradoxes, have been taught the story. And I have been hearing that there are still other wells, some in the gardens in front of the city, and others within the city, but that on account of the impurity of the water reservoirs of cistern-water are prevalent in the city. Whether, however, any of these wells proves the truth of the supposition of the inverse-behaviour, I do not know. But as for the causes alleged — if it be true that the case is as reported — we should, regarding the problem as a difficult one, welcome them. For it is reasonable to suppose that the cause is what Polybius says it is; and it is reasonable to suppose also that some of the veins of the spring, if soaked from the outside, become relaxed and thus afford their water an outflow at the sides, instead of forcing it up along the old channel into the spring (the veins are necessarily soaked when the tidal wave has washed over the land). Yet if, as Artemidorus says, the case with the flood-tides and with the ebb-tides is like inhalation and exhalation, then, of the flowing waters, he says, there might be some which by certain passages (whose mouths, of course, we call fountains or springs) naturally have their outflow to the surface, and by certain other passages are drawn in together to the depths of the sea; that is, in helping raise the sea to flood-tide when the exhalation, as it were, takes place, they abandon their proper channel, and then retreat to their proper channel again when the sea itself takes its retreat.

§8. I do not know how Poseidonius, who in other instances has represented the Phoenicians as clever people, can here charge them with foolishness rather than shrewdness. In the first place, a day and night is measured by the revolution of the sun, which, at one time, is below the earth, but, at another, shines above the earth. And yet Poseidonius says that the movement of the ocean is subject to periods like those of the heavenly bodies, since, behaving in accord with the moon, the movement exhibits first the diurnal, secondly the monthly, and thirdly the yearly period; for when the moon rises above the horizon to the extent of a zodiacal sign, the sea begins to swell, and perceptibly invades the land until the moon is in the meridian; but when the heavenly body begins to decline, the sea retreats again, little by little, until the moon rises a zodiacal sign above her setting; than remains stationary until such time as the moon reaches the setting itself, and, still more than that, until such time as the moon, moving on below the earth, should be a sign distant from the horizon; then invades the land again until the moon reaches the meridian below the earth; then retreats until the moon, moving round towards her risings, is a sign distant from the horizon; but remains stationary again until the moon is elevated a sign above the earth, and then it again invades the land. This, he continues, is the diurnal period. As for the monthly period, he says the flux and reflux become greatest about the time of the conjunction, and then diminish until half-moon; and, again, they increase until the full moon and diminish again until the waning half-moon; and then, until the conjunction, the increases take place again, and the increases are further increased in respect both to duration and to speed. As for the annual periods, he says that he learned of them from the people at Gades, who told him that both the retreat and the invasion grew greatest at the time of the summer solstice. And from this he himself surmises that they are diminished from that solstice up to the equinox, increased up to the winter solstice, then diminished up to the spring equinox, and then increased up to the summer solstice. But if these periods repeat themselves every separate day and night, the sea invading the land twice and also retreating twice during the combined time of day and night, in regular order both within the day-time and within the night-time, how is it possible for the filling up of the well to occur "often" at the time of the ebb-tides but for the failure not also to occur often? or often, but not equally often? or even equally often indeed, but for the people of Gades to have been incapable of observing these phenomena that were taking place every day, and yet to have been capable of observing the annual periods from what occurred only once a year? Furthermore, that Poseidonius really believes these people, is clear from the surmise which he adds to their story, namely, that the diminutions, and, in turn, the increases, take place from one solstice on to the other, and also that recurrences take place from the latter solstice back to the former. Moreover, that other supposition of Poseidonius is not reasonable either, namely, that, although they were an observant people, they did not see the phenomena that occurred and yet believed in the things that did not occur.

§9. Be that as it may, he says that Seleucus — the Seleucus from the region of the Erythraean Sea — speaks of a certain irregularity in these phenomena, or regularity, according to the differences of the signs of the zodiac; that is, if the moon is in the equinoctial signs, the behaviour of the tides is regular, but, in the solstitial signs, irregular, in respect both to amount and to speed, while, in each of the other signs, the relation is in proportion to the nearness of the moon's approach. But although he himself spent several days in the Heracleium at Gades at the summer solstice, about the time of the full moon, as he says, he was unable to discern those annual differences in the tides; about the time of the conjunction, however, during that month, he observed at Ilipa a great variation in the back-water of the Baetis, that is, as compared with the previous variations, in the course of which the water did not wet the banks so much as half-way up, whereas at the time in question the water overflowed to such an extent that the soldiers got their supply of water on the spot (and Ilipa is about seven hundred stadia distant from the sea). And, he continues, although the plains near the sea were covered as far as thirty stadia inland, to such a depth that islands were enclosed by the flood-tide, still the altitude of the foundations, but the foundation of the temple in the Heracleοum and that of the mole which lies in front of the port of Gades, was, by his own measurement, as he says, not covered as high up as ten cubits; and further, if one should add the double of this figure for the additional increases which at times have taken place, one might thus present to the imagination the aspect which is produced in the plains by the magnitude of the flood-tide. This behaviour of the tides, then, according to his account, is general along the whole circuit of the ocean-coast, whereas the behaviour of the Iberus River is "novel, and peculiar," he says, to that river, namely: it floods the country in some places, even independently of rains or snows, when the north winds blow to excess; and the lake through which the river flows is the cause of this, since the lake-water is by the winds driven out of the lake along with the river-water.

§10. Poseidonius also tells of a tree in Gades which has branches that bend to the ground, and oftentimes has leaves (they are sword-like) a cubit in length but only four fingers in breadth. And near New Carthage, he says, there is a tree whose thorns yield a bark out of which most beautiful woven stuffs are made. Now I too know a tree in Egypt which is like that in Gades so far as the bending down of the branches is concerned, but unlike it in respect to the leaves and also in that it has no fruit (he says the tree in Gades has fruit). Thorn-stuffs are woven in Cappadocia also; it is no tree, however, that produces the bark-yielding thorn, but only a sort of herb that keeps close to the ground. In regard to the tree at Gades, this additional circumstance is told: if a branch is broken, milk flows from it, while if a root is cut, a red liquid oozes forth. Concerning Gades, then, I have said enough.

§11. The Cassiterides are ten in number, and they lie near each other in the high sea to the north of the port of the Artabrians. One of them is desert, but the rest are inhabited by people who wear black cloaks, go clad in tunics that reach to their feet, wear belts around their breasts, walk around with canes, and resemble the goddesses of vengeance in tragedies. They live off their herds, leading for the most part a nomadic life. As they have mines of tin and lead, they give these metals and the hides from their cattle to the sea-traders in exchange for pottery, salt and copper utensils. Now in former times it was the Phoenicians alone who carried on this commerce (that is, from Gades), for they kept the voyage hidden from every one else. And when once the Romans were closely following a certain ship-captain in order that they too might learn the markets in question, out of jealousy the ship-captain purposely drove his ship out of its course into shoal water; and after he had lured the followers into the same ruin, he himself escaped by a piece of wreckage and received from the State the value of the cargo he had lost. Still, by trying many times, the Romans learned all about the voyage. After Publius Crassus crossed over to these people and saw that the metals were being dug from only a slight depth, and that the men there were peaceable, he forthwith laid abundant information before all who wished to traffic over this sea, albeit a wider sea than that which separates Britain from the continent. So much, then, for Iberia and the islands that lie off its coast.

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