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Strabo - Assyria, Syria, Egypt

Excerpt from Book XVI. Chapter I. 3. Assyria.

In Aturia is situated Gaugamela, a village where Darius was defeated and lost his kingdom. This place is remarkable for its name, which, when interpreted, signifies the Camel’s House. Darius, the son of Hystaspes, gave it this name, and assigned (the revenues of) the place for the maintenance of a camel, which had undergone the greatest possible labour and fatigue in the journey through the deserts of Scythia, when carrying baggage and provision for the king. The Macedonians, observing that this was a mean village, but Arbela a considerable settlement (founded, as it is said, by Arbelus, son of Athmoneus), reported that the battle was fought and the victory obtained near Arbela, which account was transmitted to historians.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 4. Assyria.

After Arbela and the mountain Nicatorium(1) (a name which Alexander, after the victory at Arbela, superadded), is the river Caprus,(2) situated at the same distance from Arbela as the Lycus. The country called Artacene.(3) Near Arbela is the city Demetrias; next is the spring of naphtha, the fires, the temple of the goddess Anaea,(4) Sadracae, the palace of Darius, son of Hystaspes, the Cyparisson, or plantation of Cypresses, and the passage across the Caprus, which is close to Seleucia and Babylon.

(1) Probably a branch of the Karadgeh-dagh.
(2) The little Zab, or Or.
(3) As the name Artacene occurs nowhere else, Groskurd, following Cellarius, (v. Geogr. Ant. i. 771) suspects that here we ought to read Arbelene, and would understand it by the same district which is called Arbelitis by Ptolemy, vi. 1, and by Pliny, H. N. vi. 13, & 16, but as this form of the national name is nowhere to be found, it would appear improper to introduce it into the text. It is more probable, continues Kramer, that Strabo wrote Adiabene, of which Arbelitis was a part, according to Pliny, loco citato.
(4) The same, no doubt, as the goddess Anaitis.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 5. Assyria.

Babylon itself also is situated in a plain. The wall is 385* stadia in circumference, and 32 feet in thickness. The height of the space between the towers is 50, and of the towers 60 cubits. The roadway upon the walls will allow chariots with four horses when they meet to pass each other with ease. Whence, among the seven wonders of the world, are reckoned this wall and the hanging garden; the shape of the garden is a square, and each side of it measures four plethora. It consists of vaulted terraces, raised one above another, and resting upon cube-shaped pillars. These are hollow and filled with earth to allow trees of the largest size to be planted. The pillars, the vaults, and the terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt.

*All manuscripts agree in giving this number, but critics agree also in it being an error for 365. The number of stadia in the wall, according to ancient authors, corresponded with the number of days in the year.

The ascent to the highest story is by stairs, and at their side are water engines, by means of which persons, appointed expressly for the purpose, are continually employed in raising water from the Euphrates into the garden. For the river, which is a stadium in breadth, flows through the middle of the city, and the garden is on the side of the river. The tomb also of Belus is there. At present it is in ruins, having been demolished, it is said, by Xerxes. It was a quadrangular pyramid of baked brick, a stadium in height, and each of the sides a stadium in length. Alexander intended to repair it. It was a great undertaking, and required a long time for its completion (for ten thousand men were occupied two months in clearing away the mound of earth), so that he was not able to execute what he had attempted, before disease hurried him rapidly to his end. None of the persons who succeeded him attended to this undertaking; other works also were neglected and the city was dilapidated, partly by the Persians, partly by time, and, through the indifference of the Macedonians to things of this kind, particularly after Seleucus Nicator had fortified Seleucia on the Tigris near Babylon, at the distance of about 300 stadia.

Both this prince and all his successors directed their care to that city, and transferred to it the seat of empire. At present it is larger than Babylon; the other is in great part deserted, so that no one would hesitate to apply to it what one of the comic writers said of Megalopolitae in Arcadia,
“The great city is a great desert.”
On account of the scarcity of timber, the beams and pillars of the houses were made of palm wood. They wind ropes of twisted reed round the pillars, paint them over with colours, and draw designs upon them; they cover the doors with a coat of asphaltus. These are lofty, and all the houses are vaulted on account of the want of timber. For the country is bare, a great part of it is covered with shrubs, and produces nothing but the palm. This tree grows in the greatest abundance in Babylonia. It is found in Susiana also in great quantity, on the Persian coast, and in Carmania.

They do not use tiles for their houses, because there are no great rains. The case is the same in Susiana and in Sitacene.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 6. Assyria.

In Babylon a residence was set apart for the native philosophers called Chaldaeans, who are chiefly devoted to the study of astronomy. Some, who are not approved of by the rest, profess to understand genethlialogy, or the casting of nativities. There is also a tribe of Chaldaeans, who inhabit a district of Babylonia, in the neighborhood of the Arabians, and of the sea called the Persian Sea.* There are several classes of the Chaldaean astronomers. Some have the name of Orcheni, some Borsippeni, and many others, as if divided into sects, who disseminate different tenets on the same subjects. The mathematicians make mention of some individuals among them, as Cidenas, Naburianus, and Sudinus. Seleucus also of Seleucia is a Chaldaean, and many other remarkable men.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 7. Assyria.

Borsippa is a city sacred to Diana and Apollo. Here is a large linen manufactory. Bats of much larger size than those in other parts abound in it. They are caught and salted for food.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 9. Assyria.

The country is intersected by many rivers, the largest of which are the Euphrates and the Tigris; next to the Indian rivers, the rivers in the southern part of Asia are said to hold the second place. The Tigris is navigable upwards from its mouth to Opis,* and to the present Seleucia. Opis is a village and a mart for the surrounding places. The Euphrates also is navigable up to Babylon, a distance of more than 3000 stadia. The Persians, through fear of incursions from without, and for the purpose of preventing vessels from ascending these rivers, constructed artificial cataracts. Alexander, on arriving there, destroyed as many of them as he could, those particularly (on the Tigris from the sea) to Opis. But he bestowed great care upon the canals; for the Euphrates, at the commencement of summer, overflows. It begins to fill in the spring, when the snow in Armenia melts: the ploughed land, therefore, would be covered with water and be submerged, unless the overflow of the superabundant water were diverted by trenches and canals, as in Egypt the water of the Nile is diverted. Hence the origin of canals. Great labour is requisite for their maintenance, for the soil is deep, soft, and yielding, so that it would easily be swept away by the stream; the fields would be laid bare, the canals filled, and the accumulation of mud would soon obstruct their mouths. Then, again, the excess of water discharging itself into the plains near the sea forms lakes, and marshes, and reed-grounds, supplying the reeds with which all kinds of platted vessels are woven; some of these vessels are capable of holding water, when covered over with asphaltus; others are used with the material in its natural state. Sails are also made of reeds; these resemble mats or hurdles.

*Some extensive ruins near the angle formed by the Adhem (the ancient Physcus) and the Tigris, and the remains of the Nahr-awan canal, are said to mark the site of Opis.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 10. Assyria.

It is not, perhaps, possible to prevent inundations of this kind altogether, but it is the duty of good princes to afford all possible assistance. The assistance required is to prevent excessive overflow by the construction of dams, and to obviate the filling of rivers, produced by the accumulation of mud, by cleansing the canals, and removing stoppages at their mouths. The cleansing of the canals is easily performed, but the construction of dams requires the labour of numerous workmen. For the earth being soft and yielding, does not support the superincumbent mass, which sinks, and is itself carried away, and this a difficulty arises in making dams at the mouth. Expedition is necessary in closing the canals to prevent all the water flowing out. When the canals dry up in the summer time, they cause the river to dry up also; and if the river is low (before the canals are closed), it cannot supply the canals in time with water, of which the country, burnt up and scorched, requires a very large quantity; for there is no difference, whether the crops are flooded by an excess or perish by drought and a failure of water. The navigation up the rivers (a source of many advantages) is continually obstructed by both the above-mentioned causes, and it is not possible to remedy this unless the mouths of the canals were quickly opened and quickly closed, and the canals were made to contain and preserve a mean between excess and deficiency of water.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 11. Assyria.

Aristobulus relates that Alexander himself, when he was sailing up the river, and directing the course of the boat, inspected the canals, and ordered them to be cleared by his multitude of followers; he likewise stopped up some of the mouths, and opened others. He observed that one of these canals, which took a direction more immediately to the marshes, and to the lakes in front of Arabia, had a mouth very difficult to be dealt with, and which could not be easily closed on account of the soft and yielding nature of the soil; he (therefore) opened a new mouth at the distance of 30 stadia, selecting a place with a rocky bottom, and to this the current was diverted. But in doing this he was taking precautions that Arabia should not become entirely inaccessible in consequence of the lakes and marshes, as it was already almost an island from the quantity of water (which surrounded it). For he contemplated making himself master of this country; and he had already provided a fleet and places of rendezvous; and had built vessels in Phoenicia and at Cyprus, some of which were in separate pieces, others were in parts, fastened together by bolts. These, after being conveyed to Thapsacus in seven distances of a day’s march, were then to be transported down the river to Babylon. He constructed other boats in Babylonia, from cypress trees in the groves and parks, for there is a scarcity of timber in Babylonia. Among the Cossaei and some other tribes, the supply of timber is not great.

The pretext for the war, says Aristobulus, was that the Arabians were the only people who did not send their ambassadors to Alexander; but the true reason was his ambition to be lord of all.

When he was informed that they worshipped two deities only, Jupiter and Bacchus, who supply what is most requisite for the subsistence of mankind, he supposed that, after his conquests, they would worship him as a third, if he permitted them to enjoy their former national independence. Thus was Alexander employed in clearing the canals, and in examining minutely the sepulchers of the kings, most of which are situated among the lakes.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 14. Assyria.

Babylonia produces barley in larger quantities than any other* country, for a produce of three hundred-fold is spoken of. The palm tree furnishes everything else, bread, wine, vinegar, and meal; all kinds of woven articles are also procured from it. Braziers use the stones of the fruit instead of charcoal. When softened by being soaked in water, they are food for fattening oxen and sheep.

It is said that there is a Persian song in which are reckoned up 360 useful properties of the palm.

They employ for the most part the oil of sesamum, a plant with is rare in other places.

*Herod. i. 193.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 15. Assyria.

Asphaltus is found in great abundance in Babylonia. Eratosthenes describes it as follows.

The liquid asphaltus, which is called naphtha, is found in Susiana; the dry kind, which can be made solid, in Babylonia. There is a spring of it near the Euphrates. When this river overflows at the time of the melting of the snow, the spring also of asphaltus is filled, and overflows into the river, where large clods are consolidated, fit for buildings constructed of baked bricks. Others say that the liquid is also found in Babylonia. With respect to the solid kind, I have described its great utility in the construction of buildings. They say that boats (of reeds) are woven,* which, besmeared with asphaltus, are firmly compacted. The liquid kind, called naphtha, is of a singular nature. When it is brought near the fire, the fire catches it; and if a body smeared over with it is brought near the fire, it burns with a flame, which it is impossible to extinguish, except with a large quantity of water; with a small quantity it burns more violently, but it may be smothered and extinguished by mud, vinegar, alum, and glue. It is said that Alexander, as an experiment, ordered naphtha to be poured over a boy in a bath, and a lamp to be brought near his body. The boy became enveloped in flames, and would have perished if bystanders had not mastered the fire by pouring upon him a great quantity of water, and thus saved his life.

*Herod. i. 194.

Poseidonius says that there are springs of naphtha in Babylonia, some of which produce white, others black, naphtha; the first of these, I mean the white naphtha, which attracts flame, is liquid sulphur; the second, or black naphtha, is liquid asphaltus, and is burnt in lamps instead of oil.


Book XVI. Chapter I. 20. Assyria.

Their customs are like those of the Persians, but this is peculiar to themselves: three discreet persons, chiefs of each tribe, are appointed, who present publicly young women who are marriageable, and give notice by the crier, beginning with those most in estimation, of a sale of them to men intending to become husbands. In this manner marriages are contracted.

As often as the parties have sexual intercourse with one another, they rise, each apart from the other, to burn perfumes. In the morning they wash, before touching any household vessel. For as ablution is customary after touching a dead body, so it is practiced after sexual intercourse.(1) There is a custom prescribed by an oracle for all the Babylonian women to have intercourse with strangers. The women repair to a temple of Venus, accompanied by numerous attendants and a crowd of people. Each woman has a cord round her head. The man approaches a woman, and places on her lap as much money as he thinks proper; the then leads her away to distance from the sacred grove, and has intercourse with her. The money is considered as consecrated to Venus.

There are three tribunals, one consisting of persons who are past military service, another of nobles, and a third of old men, besides another appointed by the king. It is the business of the latter(2) to dispose of the virgins in marriage, and to determine causes respecting adultery; of another to decide those relative to theft; and of the third, those of assault and violence.

The sick are brought out of their houses into the highways, and inquiry is made of passengers whether any of them can give information of a remedy for the disease. There is no one so ill-disposed as not to accost the sick person, and acquaint him with anything that he considers may conduce to his recovery.

Their dress is a tunic reaching to the feet, an upper garment of wool, (and) a white cloak. The hair is long. They wear a shoe resembling a buskin. They wear also a seal, and carry a staff not plain, but with a figure upon the top of it, as an apple, a rose, a lily, or something of the kind. They anoint themselves with oil of sesamum. They bewail the dead, like the Egyptians and many other nations. They bury the body in honey, first besmearing it with wax.

There are three communities which have no corn. They live in the marshes, and subsist on fish. Their mode of life is like that of the inhabitants of Gedrosia.

(1) Herod. i. 198. Almost all the details concerning the Babylonian customs are taken from Herodotus, who sets them forth with greater clearness; there are, however, some differences, as, for example, the disposal of young women in marriage, and the different tribunals, which prove that Strabo had other sources of information.
(2) Groskurd here suspects a corruption of the text.


Excerpt from Book XVI. Chapter II. 10. Syria.

In the district of Apameia is a city well-fortified in almost every part. For it consists of a well-fortified hill, situated in a hollow plain, and almost surrounded by the Orontes, which, passing by a large lake in the neighborhood, flows through wide-spread marshes and meadows of vast extent, affording pasture for cattle and horses. The city is thus securely situated, and received the name Cherrhonesus (or the peninsula) from the nature of its position. It is well supplied from a very large fertile tract of country, through which the Orontes flows with numerous windings. Seleucus Nicator, and succeeding kings, kept there five hundred elephants, and the greater part of their army.

It was formerly called Pella by the first Macedonians, because most of the soldiers of the Macedonian army had settled there; for Pella, the native place of Philip and Alexander, was held to be the metropolis of the Macedonians. Here also the soldiers were mustered, and the breed of horses kept up. There were in the royal stud more than thirty thousand brood mares and three hundred stallions. Here were employed colt-breakers, instructors in the method of fighting in heavy armour, and all who were paid to teach the arts of war.


Book XVI. Chapter II. 23. Syria.

Tyre is wholly an island, built nearly in the same manner as Aradus. It is joined to the continent by a mound which Alexander raised, when he was besieging it. It has two harbours, one close, the other open, which is called the Egyptian harbour. The houses here, it is said, consist of many stories, of more even than at Rome; on the occurrence, therefore, of an earthquake, the city was nearly demolished. It sustained great injury when it was taken by siege by Alexander, but it rose above these misfortunes, and recovered itself both by the skill of the people in the art of navigation, in which the Phoenicians in general have always excelled all nations, and by (the export of) purple-dyed manufactures, the Tyrian purple being in the highest estimation. The shell-fish from which it is procured is caught near the coast, and the Tyrians have in great abundance other requisites for dyeing. The great number of dyeing works renders the city unpleasant as a place of residence, but the superior skill of the people in the practice of this art is the source of its wealth. Their independence was secured to them at a small expense to themselves, not only by the kings of Syria, but also by the Romans, who confirmed what the former had conceded. They pay extravagant honours to Hercules. The great number and magnitude of their colonies and cities are proofs of their maritime skill and power.

Such then are the Tyrians.


Book XVI. Chapter II. 26. Syria. Phoenice.

(On tidal waves and earthquakes)

A phenomenon of the rarest kind is said to have occurred on the shore between Tyre and Ptolemais. The people of Ptolemais had engaged in a battle with Sarpedon the general, and after a signal defeat were left in this place, when a wave from the sea, like the rising tide, overwhelmed the fugitives; some were carried out to sea and drowned, others perished in hollow places; then again the ebb succeeding, uncovered and displayed to sight the bodies lying in confusion among dead fish.

A similar phenomenon took place at Mount Cesium in Egypt. The ground, to a considerable distance, after a violent and single shock fell in parts, at once exchanging places; the elevated parts opposed the access of the sea, and parts which had subsided admitted it. Another shock occurred, and the place recovered its ancient position, except that there was an alteration (in the surface of the ground) in some places, and none in others. Perhaps such occurrences are connected with periodical returns the nature of which is unknown to us. This is said to be the case with the rise of the waters of the Nile, which exhibits a variety in its effects, but observes (in general) a certain order, which we do not comprehend.


Extract from Book XVI. Chapter IV. 27. Arabia.

Alexander might be adduced to bear witness to the wealth of the Arabians, for he intended, it is said, after his return from India, to make Arabia the seat of empire. All his enterprises terminated with his death, which happened suddenly; but certainly one of his projects was to try whether the Arabians would receive him voluntarily, or resist him by force of arms; for having found that they did not send ambassadors to him, either before or after his expeditions to India, he was beginning to make preparations for war, as we have said in a former part of this work.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 6. Egypt. Alexandria.

As Alexandria and its neighborhood occupy the greatest and principal portion of the description, I shall begin with it.

In sailing towards the west, the sea-coast from Pelusium to the Canobic mouth of the Nile is about 1300 stadia in extent, and constitutes, as we have said, the base of the Delta. Thence to the island Pharos are 150 stadia more.

Pharos is a small oblong island, and lies quite close to the continent, forming towards it a harbour with a double entrance. For the coast abounds with bays, and has two promontories projecting from the sea. The island is situated between these, and shuts in the bay, lying lengthwise in front of it.

Of the extremities of the Pharos, the eastern is nearest to the continent and to the promontory in that direction, called Lochias, which is the cause of the entrance to the port being narrow. Besides the narrowness of the passage, there are rocks, some under water, others rising above it, which at all times increase the violence of the waves rolling in upon them from the open sea. This extremity itself of the island is a rock, washed by the sea on al sides, with a tower upon it of the same name as the island, admirably constructed of white marble, with several stories. Sostratus of Cnidus, a friend of the kings, erected it for the safety of mariners, as the inscription imports.* For as the coast on each side is low and without harbours, with reefs and shallows, an elevated and conspicuous mark was required to enable navigators coming in from the open sea to direct their course exactly to the entrance of the harbour.

*The words “Sostratus of Cnidus, son of Dexiphanes, to the gods preservers,” are rejected by Kramer as being introduced from the margin.

The western mouth does not afford an easy entrance, but it does not require the same degree of caution as the other. It forms also another port, which has the name of Eunostus, or Happy Return: it lies in front of the artificial and close harbour. That which has its entrance at the above-mentioned tower of Pharos is the great harbour. These (two) lie contiguous in the recess called Heptastadium, and are separated from it by a mound. This mound forms a bridge from the continent to the island, and extends along its western side, leaving two passages only through it to the harbour of Eunostus, which are bridged over. But this work served not only as a bridge, but as an aqueduct also, when the island was inhabited. Divus Caesar devastated the island, in his war against the people of Alexandria, when they espoused the party of the kings. A few sailors live near the tower.

The great harbour, in addition to its being well enclosed by the mound and by nature, is of sufficient depth near the shore to allow the largest vessel to anchor near the stairs. It is also divided into several ports.

The former kings of Egypt, satisfied with what they possessed, and not desirous of foreign commerce, entertained a dislike to all mariners, especially the Greeks (who, on account of the poverty of their own country, ravaged and coveted the property of other nations), and stationed a guard here, who had orders to keep off all persons who approached. To the guard was assigned as a place of residence the spot called Rhacotis, which is now a part of the city of Alexandria, situated above the arsenal. At that time, however, it was a village. The country about the village was given up to herdsmen, who were also able (from their numbers) to prevent strangers from entering the country.

When Alexander arrived, and perceived the advantages of the situation, he determined to build the city on the (natural) harbour. The prosperity of the place, which ensued, was imitated, it is said, by a presage which occurred while the plan of the city was tracing. The architects were engaged in marking out the line of the wall with chalk, and had consumed it all, when the king arrived; upon which the dispensers of flour supplied the workmen with a part of the flour, which was provided for their own use; and this substance was used in tracing the greater part of the divisions of the streets. This, they said, was a good omen for the city.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 7. Egypt. Alexandria.

The advantages of the city are of various kinds. The city is washed by two seas; on the north, by what is called the Egyptian Sea, and on the south, by the sea of the lake Mareia, which is also called Mareotis. This lake is filled by many canals from the Nile, both by those above and those at the sides, through which a greater quantity of merchandise is imported than by those communicating with the sea. Hence the harbour on the lake is richer than the maritime harbour. The exports by sea from Alexandreia exceed the imports. This any person may ascertain, either at Alexandreia or Dicaearchia, by watching the arrival and departure of the merchant vessels, and observing how much heavier or lighter their cargoes are when they depart or when they return.

In addition to the wealth derived from the merchandise landed at the harbours on each side, on the sea and on the lake, its fine air is worthy of remark: this results from the city being on two sides surrounded by water, and from the favourable effects of the rise of the Nile. For other cities, situated near lakes, have, during the heats of summer, a heavy and suffocating atmosphere, and lakes at their margins become swampy by the evaporation occasioned by the sun’s heat. When a large quantity of moisture is exhaled from swamps, a noxious vapour rises, and is the cause of pestilential disorders. But at Alexandria, at the beginning of summer, the Nile, being full, fills the lake also, and leaves no marshy matter which is likely to occasion malignant exhalations. At the same period, the Etesian winds blow from the north, over a large exposure of sea, and the Alexandrines in consequence pass their summer very pleasantly.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 8. Egypt. Alexandria.

The shape of the site of the city is that of a chlamys or military cloak. The sides, which determine the length, are surrounded by water, and are about thirty stadia in extent; but the isthmuses, which determine the breadth of the sides, are each of seven or eight stadia, bounded on one side by the sea, and on the other by the lake. The whole city is intersected by roads for the passage of horsemen and chariots. Two of these are very broad, exceeding a plethrum n breadth, and cut one another at right angles. It contains also very beautiful public grounds and royal palaces, which occupy a fourth or even a third part of its whole extent. For as each of the kings was desirous of adding some embellishment to the places dedicated to the public use, so, besides the buildings already existing, each of them erected a building at his own expense; hence the expression of the poet may be here applied.

“one after the other springs.”*

All the buildings are connected with one another and with the harbour, and those also which are beyond it.

*Od. xvii. 266.

The Museum is a part of the palaces. It has a public walk and a place furnished with seats, and a large hall, in which the men of learning, who belong to the Museum, take their common meal. This community possesses also property in common; and a priest, formerly appointed by kings, but at present by Caesar, presides over the Museum.

A part belonging to the palaces consists of that called Sema, an enclosure, which contained the tombs of the kings and that of Alexander (the Great). For Ptolemy the son of Lagus took away the body of Alexander from Perdiccas, as he was conveying it down from Babylon; for Perdiccas had turned out of his road towards Egypt, incited by ambition and a desire of making himself master of the country. When Ptolemy had attacked (and made him prisoner), he intended to (spare his life and) confine him in a desert island, but he met with a miserable end at the hand of his own soldiers, who rushed upon and dispatched him by transfixing him with the long Macedonian spears. The kings who were with him, Aridaeus, and the children of Alexander, and Roxana his wife, departed to Macedonia. Ptolemy carried away the body of Alexander, and deposited it at Alexandreia in the place where it now lies; not indeed in the same coffin, for the present one is of hyalus (alabaster?) whereas Ptolemy had deposited it in one of gold: it was plundered by Ptolemy surnamed Cocce’s son and Pareisactus, who came from Syria and was quickly deposed, so that his plunder was of no service to him.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 9. Egypt. Alexandria.

In the great harbour at the entrance, on the right hand, are the island and Pharos tower; on the left are the reef of rocks and the promontory Lochias, with a palace upon it: at the entrance, on the left hand, are the inner palaces, which are continuous with those on the Lochias, and contain numerous painted apartments and groves. Below lies the artificial and close harbour, appropriated to the use of the kings; and Antirrhodus a small island, facing the artificial harbour, with a palace on it, and a small port. It was called Antirrhodus, a rival as it were of Rhodes.

Above this is the theatre, then the Poseidium, a kind of elbow projecting from the Emporium, as it is called, with a temple of Neptune upon it. To this Antony added a mound, projecting still further into the middle of the harbour, and built at the extremity a royal mansion, which he called Timonium. This was his last act, when, deserted by his partisans, he retired to Alexandreia after his defeat at Actium, and intended, being forsaken by so many friends, to lead the (solitary) life of Timon for the rest of his days.

Next are the Caesarium, the Emporium, and the Apostaseis, or magazines; these are followed by docks, extending to the Heptastadium. This is the description of the great harbour.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 10. Egypt. Alexandria.

Next after the Heptastadium is the harbour of Eunostus, and above this the artificial harbour, called Cibotus (or the Ark), which also has docks. At the bottom of this harbour is a navigable canal, extending to the lake Mareotis. Beyond the canal there still remains a small part of the city. Then follows the suburb Necropolis, in which are numerous gardens, burial-places, and buildings for carrying on the process of embalming the dead.

On this side the canal is the Sarapium and other ancient sacred places, which are now abandoned on account of the erection of the temples at Nicopolis; for (there are situated) an amphitheatre and a stadium, and there are celebrated quinquennial games; but the ancient rites and customs are neglected.

In short, the city of Alexandreia abounds with public and sacred buildings. The most beautiful of the former is the Gymnasium, with porticos exceeding a stadium in extent. In the middle of it are the court of justice and groves. Here also is a Paneium, an artificial mound of the shape of a fir-cone, resembling a pile of rock, to the top of which there is an ascent by a spiral path. From the summit may be seen the whole city lying all around and beneath it.

The wide street extends in length along the Gymnasium from the Necropolis to the Canobic gate. Next is the Hippodromos (or race-course), as it is called, and other buildings near it, and reaching to the Canobic canal. After passing through the Hippodromos is the Nicopolis, which contains buildings fronting the sea not less numerous than a city. It is 30 stadia distant from Alexandreia. Augustus Caesar distinguished this place because it was here that he defeated Antony and his party of adherents. He took the city at the first onset, and compelled Antony to put himself to death, but Cleopatra to surrender herself alive. A short time afterwards, however, she also put an end to her life secretly, in prison, by the bite of an asp, or (for there are two accounts) by the application of a poisonous ointment. Thus the empire of the Lagidae, which had subsisted many years, was dissolved.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 11. Egypt. Alexandria.

Alexander was succeeded by Ptolemy the son of Lagus, the son of Lagus by Philadelphus, Philadelphus by Euergetes; next succeeded Philopater the lover of Agathocleia, then Epiphanes, afterwards Philometor, the son (thus far) always succeeding the father. But Philometor was succeeded by his brother, the second Euergetes, who was also called Physcon. He was succeeded by Ptolemy surnamed Lathurus, Lathurus by Auletes of our time, who was the father of Cleopatra. All these kings, after the third Ptolemy, were corrupted by luxury and effeminacy, and the affairs of government were very badly administered by them; but worst of all by the fourth, the seventh, and the last (Ptolemy), Auletes (or the Piper), who, besides other deeds of shamelessness, acted the piper; indeed he gloried so much in the practice, that he scrupled not to appoint trials of skill in his palace; on which occasions he presented himself as a competitor with other rivals. He was deposed by the Alexandrines; and of his three daughters, one, the eldest, who was legitimate, they proclaimed queen; but his two sons, who were infants, were absolutely excluded from the succession.


Excerpt from Book XVII. Chapter I. 12. Egypt. Alexandria.

Of the native magistrates in the cities, the first is the expounder of the law, who is dressed in scarlet; he receives the customary honours of the country, and has the care of providing what is necessary for the city. The second is the writer of records, the third is the chief judge. The fourth is the commander of the night guard. These magistrates existed in the time of the kings, but in consequence of the bad administration of affairs by the latter, the prosperity of the city was ruined by licentiousness. Polybius expresses his indignation at the state of things when he was there: he describes the inhabitants of the city to be composed of three classes; the (first) Egyptians and natives, acute but indifferent citizens, and meddling with civil affairs. The second, the mercenaries, a numerous and undisciplined body; for it was an ancient custom to maintain foreign soldiers, who, for the worthlessness of their sovereigns, knew better how to govern than to obey. The third were the Alexandrines, who, for the same reason, were not orderly citizens, but still they were better than the mercenaries, for although they were a mixed race, yet being of Greek origin, they retained the customs common to the Greeks. But this class was extinct nearly about the time of Euergetes Physcon, in whose reign Polybius came to Alexandreia. For Physcon, being distressed by factions, frequently exposed the multitude to the attacks of the soldiery, and thus destroyed them. By such a state of things in the city the words of the poet (says Polybius) were verified:

“The way to Egypt is long and vexatious.”*

*Od. iv. 481


Book XVII. Chapter I. 13. Egypt. Alexandria.

Such then, if not worse, was the condition of the city under the last kings. The Romans, as far as they were able, corrected, as I have said, many abuses, and established an orderly government, by appointing vice-governors, nomarchs, and ethnarchs, whose business it was to superintend affairs of minor importance.

The greatest advantage which the city possesses arises from its being the only place in all Egypt well situated by nature for communication with the sea by its excellent harbour, and with the land by the river, by means of which everything is easily transported and collected together into this city, which is the greatest mart in the habitable world.

These may be said to be the superior excellencies of the city. Cicero, in one of his orations,* in speaking of the revenues of Egypt, states that an annual tribute of 12,500 talents was paid to (Ptolemy) Auletes, the father of Cleopatra. If then a king, who administered his government in the worst possible manner, and with the greatest negligence, obtained so large a revenue, what must we suppose it to be at present, when affairs are administered with great care, and when the commerce with India and with Troglodytica has been so greatly increased? For formerly not even twenty vessels ventured to navigate the Arabian Gulf, or advance to the smallest distance beyond the straits at its mouth; but now large fleets are dispatched as far as India and the extremities of Ethiopia, from which places the most valuable freights are brought to Egypt, and are thence exported to other parts, so that a double amount of custom is collected, arising from imports on the one hand, and from exports on the other. The most expensive description of goods is charged with the heaviest impost; for in fact Alexandreia has a monopoly of trade, and is almost the only receptacle for this kind of merchandise and place of supply for foreigners. The natural convenience of the situation is still more apparent to persons traveling through the country, and particularly along the coast which commences at Catabathmus; for to this place Egypt extends.

Next to it is Cyrenaea, and the neighbouring barbarians, the Marmaridae.

*No longer existing.


Excerpt from Book XVII. Chapter I. 18. Egypt.

On the right of the Canobic canal is the Menelaite Nome, so called from the brother of the first Ptolemy, but certainly not from the hero (Menelaus), as some writers assert, among whom is Artemidorus.


Excerpt from Book XVII. Chapter I. 30. Egypt.

After Heliopolis is the “Nile above the Delta.” The country on the right hand, as you go up the Nile, is called Libya, as well as that near Alexandreia and the lake Mareotis; the country on the left hand is called Arabia. The territory belonging to Heliopolis is in Arabia, but the city Cercesure is in Libya, and situated opposite to the observatory of Eudoxus. For there is shown an observing station in front of Heliopolis, as there is in front of Cnidus, where Eudoxus marked certain motions of the heavenly bodies. This is the Letopolite Nome.

In sailing up the river we meet with Babylon, a strong fortress, built by some Babylonians who had taken refuge there, and had obtained permission from the kings to establish a settlement at that place. At present it is an encampment for one of the three legions which garrison Egypt. There is a mountainous ridge, which extends from the encampment as far as the Nile. At this ridge are wheels and screws, by which water is raised from the river, and one hundred and fifty prisoners are thus employed.

The pyramids on the other side (of the river) at Memphis may be clearly discerned from this place, for they are not far off.


Book XVII. Chapter I. 43. Egypt.

Having before spoken at length of the temple of Ammon, we wish to add this only, that in ancient times divination in general and oracles were held in greater esteem than at present. Now they are greatly neglected; for the Romans are satisfied with the oracles of the Sibyl, and with Tyrrhenian divination by the entrails of animals, the flight of birds, and portentous appearances. Hence the oracle of Ammon, which was formerly held in great esteem, is now nearly deserted. This appears chiefly from the historians who have recorded the actions of Alexander, adding, indeed, much that has the appearance of flattery, but yet relating what is worthy of credit. Callisthenes, for instance, says that Alexander was ambitious of the glory of visiting the oracle, because he knew that Perseus and Hercules had before performed the journey thither. He set out from Paraetonium, although the south winds were blowing, and succeeded in his undertaking by vigour and perseverance. When out of his way on the road, he escaped being overwhelmed in a sand-storm by a fall of rain, and by the guidance of two crows, which directed his course. These things are stated by way of flattery, as also what follows: that the priest permitted the king alone to pass into the temple in his usual dress, whereas the others changed theirs; that all heard the oracles on the outside of the temple, except Alexander, who was in the interior of the building; that the answers were not given, as at Delphi and at Branchidae, in words, but chiefly by nods and signs, as in Homer;

“the son of Saturn nodded with his sable brows.”*

the prophet imitating Jupiter. This, however, the man told the king, in express terms, that he was the son of Jupiter. Callisthenes adds, (after the exaggerating style of tragedy,) that when Apollo had deserted the oracle among the Branchidae, on the temple being plundered by the Branchidae (who espoused the party of the Persians in the time of Xerxes,) and the spring had failed, it then re-appeared (on the arrival of Alexander); that the ambassadors also of the Milesians carried back to Memphis numerous answers of the oracle respecting the descent of Alexander from Jupiter, and the future victory which he should obtain at Arbela, the death of Darius, and the political changes at Lacedaemon. He says also that the Erythraean Athenais, who resembled the ancient Erythraean Sibyl, had declared the highest descent of Alexander. Such are the accounts of historians.

*Iliad. I. 528.

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