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Strabo - Amazons, Caspian, Hyrcania

Book XI. Chapter V. 3. Amazons.

There is a peculiarity in the history of the Amazons. In other histories the fabulous and the historical parts are kept distinct. For what is ancient, false, and marvelous is called fable. But history has truth for its object, whether it be old or new, and it either rejects or rarely admits the marvelous. But, with regard to the Amazons, the same facts are related both by modern and by ancient writers; they are marvelous and exceed belief. For who can believe that an army of women, or a city, or a nation, could ever subsist without men ? and not only subsist, but make inroads upon the territory of other people, and obtain possession not only of the places near them, and advance even as far as the present Ionia, but even dispatch an expedition across the sea to Attica? This is as much as to say that the men of those days were women, and the women men. But even now the same things are told of the Amazons, and the peculiarity of their history is increased by the credit, which is given to ancient, in preference to modern, accounts.


Book XI. Chapter V. 4. Amazons.

They are said to have founded cities, and to have given their names to them, as Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyme, Myrina, besides having sepulchers and other memorials. Themiscyra, the plains about the Thermodon, and the mountains lying above, are mentioned by all writers as once belonging to the Amazons, from whence, they say, they were driven out. Where they are at present few writers undertake to point out, nor do they advance proofs or probability for what they state; as in the case of Thalestria, queen of the Amazons, with whom Alexander is said to have had intercourse in Hyrcania with the hope of having offspring. Writers are not agreed on this point, and among many who have paid the greatest regard to the truth, none mention the circumstance, nor do writers of the highest credit mention anything of the kind, nor do those who record it relate the same facts. Cleitarchus says that Thalestria set out from the Caspian Gates and Thermodon to meet Alexander. Now from the Caspian Gates to Thermodon are more than 6000 stadia.


Book XI. Chapter V. 5. Amazons.

Stores circulated from the purpose of exalting the fame (of eminent persons) are not received with equal favour by all; the object of the inventors was flattery rather than truth; they transferred, for example, the Caucasus to the mountains of India, and to the eastern sea, which approaches close to them, from the mountains situated above Colchis, and the Euxine sea. These are the mountains to which the Greeks give the name of Caucasus, and are distant more than 30,000 stadia from India. Here they lay the scene of Prometheus and his chains, for these were the farthest places towards the east with which the people of those times were acquainted. The expeditions of Bacchus and of Hercules against the Indi indicate a mythological story of later date, for Hercules is said to have released Prometheus a thousand years after he was first chained to the rock. It was more glorious too for Alexander to subjugate Asia as far as the mountains of India than to the recess only of the Euxine Sea and the Caucasus. The celebrity, and the name of the mountain, together with the persuasion that Jason and his companions had accomplished the most distant of all expeditions when they had arrived in the neighborhood of the Caucasus, and the tradition that Prometheus had been chained on Caucasus at the extremity of the earth, induced writers to suppose that they should gratify the king by transferring the name of the mountain to India.


Book XI. Chapter VI. 4. The Caspian.

We cannot easily credit the generality of the historians of Alexander, for they practise deception with a view to enhance the glory of Alexander; the expedition also was directed to the extremities of Asia, at a great distance from our country, and it is difficult to ascertain or detect the truth or falsehood of what is remote. The dominion of the Romans and of the Parthians has added very much to former discoveries, and the writers who speak of these people describe nations and places where certain actions were performed, in a manner more likely to produce belief than proceeding historians, for they had better opportunities of personal observation.


Book XI. Chapter VII. 1. Hyrcania.

The nomades, or wandering tribes, who live on the left side of the coast on entering the Caspian Sea, are called by the moderns Dahae, and surnamed Parni. Then there intervenes a desert tract, which is followed by Hyrcania: here the Caspian spreads like a deep sea till it approaches the Median and Armenian mountains. The shape of these hills at the foot is lunated. Their extremities terminate at the sea and form the recess of the bay.

A small part of this country at the foot of the mountains, as far as the heights, if we reckon from the sea, is inhabited by some tribes of Albanians and Armenians, but the greater portion by Gelae, Cadusii, Amardi, Vitii, and Anariacae. It is said, that some Parrhasii were settled together with the Anariacae who are now called Parrhasii (Parsii?) and that the Aenianes built a walled city in the territory of the Vitii, which city is now called Aeniana (Aenia). Grecian armour, brazen vessels, and sepulchers are shown there. There also is a city Anariacae, in which it is said an oracle is shown, where the answer is given to those who consult it, during sleep, (and some vestiges of Greek colonization, but all these) tribes are predatory, and more disposed to war than husbandry, which arises from the rugged nature of the country. The greater part of the coast at the foot of the mountainous region is occupied by Cadusii, to the extent of nearly 5000 stadia, according to Patrocles, who thinks that this sea equals the Euxine in size. These countries are sterile.


Excerpt from Book XI. Chapter VII. 2. Hyrcania.

But neither this country, nor the sea which is named after it, has received proper care and attention from the inhabitants, for there are no vessels upon the sea, nor is it turned to any use. According to some writers there are islands on it, capable of being inhabited, in which gold is found. The cause of this neglect is this; the first governors of Hyrcania were barbarians, Medes, and Persians, and lastly, people who were more oppressive than these, namely Parthians. The whole of the neighboring country was the haunt of robbers and wandering tribes, and abounded with tracts of desert land. For a short time Macedonians were sovereigns of the country, but being engaged in war were unable to attend to remote possessions. Aristobolus says that Hyrcania has forests, and produces the oak, but not the pitch pine, nor the fir, nor the pine, but that India abounds with these trees.

Nesaea* belongs to Hyrcania, but some writers make it an independent district.

*The country here spoken of appears to be that celebrated from the earliest times for its breed of horses to which the epithet Nesaean was applied by ancient writers.


Excerpt from Book XI. Chapter VII. 3. Hyrcania.

Hyrcania is watered by the rivers Ochus and Oxus as far as their entrance into the sea. The Ochus flows though Nesaea, but some writers say that the Ochus empties itself into the Oxus.

Aristobulus avers that the Oxus was the largest river, except those in India, which he had seen in Asia. He says also that it is navigable with ease, (this circumstance both Aristobulus and Eratosthenes borrow from Patrocles,) and that large quantities of Indian merchandise are conveyed by it to the Hyrcanian Sea, and are transferred from thence into Albania by the Cyrus, and through the adjoining countries to the Euxine. The Ochus is not often mentioned by the ancients, but Apollodorus, the author of the Parthica, frequently mentions it, (and describes it) as flowing very near the Parthians.


Book XI. Chapter VII. 4. Hyrcania.

Many additional falsehoods were invented respecting this (Hyrcanian) sea, to flatter the ambition of Alexander and his love of glory; for, as it was generally acknowledge that the river Tannis separated Europe from Asia throughout its whole course, and that a large part of Asia, lying between this sea and the Tanais, had never been subjected to the power of the Macedonians, it was resolved to invent an expedition, in order that, according to fame at least, Alexander might seem to have conquered those countries. They therefore made the lake Maeotis, which receives the Tanais, and the Caspian Sea, which also they call a lake, one body of water, affirming that there was a subterraneous opening between both, and that one was part of the other. Polycleitus produces proofs to show that this sea is a lake, for instance, that it breeds serpents and that the water is sweetish.* That it was not a different lake from the Maeotis, he conjectures from the circumstance of the Tanais discharging itself into it. From the same mountains in India, where the Ochus and the Oxus rise, many other rivers take their course, and among these the Iaxartes, which like the former empties itself into the Caspian Sea, although it is the most northerly of them all. This river then they called Tanais, and alleged, as a proof that it was the Tanais mentioned by Polycleitus, that the country on the other side of the river produced the fir-tree, and that the Scythians there used arrows made of fir-wood. It was a proof also that the country on the other side of the river was a part of Europe and not of Asia, that Upper and Eastern Asia do not produce the fir-tree. But Eratosthenes says that the fir does grow even in India, and that Alexander built his ships of that wood. Eratosthenes collects many things of this kind, with a view to show their contradictory character. But I have said enough about them.

*The same statement was made to Pompey, when in these regions in pursuit of Mithridates.


Book XI. Chapter VIII. 8. Sacae. Massagetae.

The Attasii (Augasii?) and the Chorasmii belong to the Massagetae and Sacae, to whom Spitamenes directed his flight from Bactria and Sogdiana. He was one of the persons who, like Bessus, made his escape from Alexander by flight, as Arsaces afterwards fled from Seleucus Callinicus and retreated among the Aspasiacae.

Eratosthenes says, that the Bactrians lie along the Arachoti and Massagetae on the west near the Oxus, and that Sacae and Sogdiani, through the whole extent of their territory, are opposite to India, but the Bactrii in part only, for the greater part of their country lies parallel to the Parapomisus; that the Sacae and Sogdiani are separated by the Iaxartes, and the Sogdiani and Bactriani by the Oxus; that Tapyri occupy the country between Hyrcani and Arii; that around the shores of the sea, next to the Hyrcani, are Amardi, Anariacae, Cadusii, Albani, Caspii, Vitii, and perhaps other tribes extending as far as the Scythians; that on the other side of the Hyrcani are Derbices, that the Caducci are contiguous both to the Medes and Matiani below the Parachoathras.


Book XI. Chapter VIII. 9. Sacae. Massagetae.

These are the distances which he gives. From the Caspian Sea to the Cyrus, about 1800 stadia. Thence to the Caspian Gates, 5600 stadia. Thence to Alexandreia in the territory of the Arii, 6400 stadia. Thence to the city Bactra, which is also called Zariaspa, 3870 stadia. Thence to the river Iaxartes, which Alexander reached, about 5000 stadia; making a total of 22,670 stadia.

He also assigns the following distances from the Caspian Gates to India. To Hecatompylos, 1960 stadia. To Alexandreia(1) in the country of the Arii (Ariana), 4530 stadia. Thence to Prophthasia in Dranga, 1600 stadia (or according to others, 1500). Thence to the city Arachoti, 4120 stadia. Thence to Ortospana on the three roads from Bactra, 2000 stadia. Thence to the confines of India, 1000 stadia, which together amount to 15,300 stadia.(2)

(1) Now Herat, the capital of Khorassan.
(2) The sum total is 15,210 stadia, and not 15.300 stadia. Corrections of the text have been proposed, but their value is doubtful.


Book XI. Chapter XI. 3. Bactria.

Anciently the Sogdiani and Bactriani did not differ much from the nomads in their mode of life and manners, yet the manners of the Bactriani were a little more civilized. Onesicritus however does not give the most favourable account of this people. Those who are disabled by disease or old age are thrown alive to be devoured by dogs kept expressly for this purpose and whom in the language of the country call entombers. The places on the exterior of the walls of the capital of the Bactrians are clean, but the interior is for the most part full of human bones. Alexander abolished this custom. Something of the same kind is related of the Caspii also, who, when their parents have attained the age of 70 years, confine them, and let them die of hunger. This custom, although Scythian in character, is more tolerable than that of the Bactrians, and is similar to the domestic law of the Cei; the custom however of the Bactrians is much more according to Scythian manners. We may be justly at a loss to conjecture,* if Alexander found such customs prevailing there, what were the customs which probably were observed by them in the time of the first kings of Persia, and of the princes who preceded them.

*The text is corrupt.


Book XI. Chapter XI. 4. Bactria.

Alexander, it is said, founded eight cities in Bactriana and Sogdiana, some he razed, among which were Cariatae in Bactriana, where Callisthenes was seized and imprisoned; Maracanda in Sogdiana, and Cyra, the last of the places founded by Cyrus, situated upon the river Iaxartes, and the boundary of the Persian empire. This also, although it was attached to Cyrus, he razed on account of its frequent revolts.

Alexander took also, it is said, by means of treachery, strong fortified rocks; one of which belonged to Sisimithres in Bactriana, where Oxyartes kept his daughter Roxana; another to Oxus in Sogdiana, or, according to some writers, to Ariamazas. The stronghold of Sisimithres is described by historians to have been fifteen stadia in height, and eighty stadia in circuit. On the summit is a level ground, which is fertile and capable of maintaining 500 men. Here Alexander was entertained with sumptuous hospitality, and here he espoused Roxana the daughter of Oxyartes. The height of the fortress in Sogdiana is double the height of this. It was near these places that he destroyed the city of the Branchidae, whom Xerxes settled there, and who had voluntarily accompanied him from their own country. They had delivered up to the Persians the riches of the god at Didymi, and the treasure there deposited. Alexander destroyed the city in abhorrence of their treachery and sacrilege.


Excerpt from Book XI. Chapter XI. 5. Bactria.

Aristobulus calls the river, which runs through Sogdiana, Polytimetus, a name imposed by the Macedonians, as they imposed many others, some of which were altogether new, others were defections from the native appellations. This river after watering the country flows through a desert and sandy soil, and is absorbed in the sand, like the Arius, which flows through the territory of the Arii.

It is said that on digging near the river Ochus a spring of oil was discovered. It is probably, that as certain nitrous, astringent, bituminous, and sulphurous fluids permeate the earth, greasy fluids may be found, but the rarity of their occurrence makes their existence almost doubtful.


Book XI. Chapter XI. 6. Northern Asia.

In proceeding from Hyrcania towards the rising sun as far as Sogdiana, the nations beyond (within?) the Taurus were known first to the Persians, and afterwards to the Macedonians and Parthians. The nations lying in a straight line above these people are supposed to be Scythian, from their resemblance to that nation. But we are not acquainted with any expeditions which have been undertaken against them, nor against the most northerly tribes of the nomades. Alexander proposed to conduct his army against them, when he was in pursuit of Bessus and Spitamenes, but when Bessus was taken prisoner, and Spitamenes put to death by the Barbarians, he desisted from executing his intention.

It is not generally admitted, that persons have passed round by the sea from India to Hyrcania, but Patrocles asserts that it may be done.

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