Sir William Smith William Latham Bevan.

The student's manual of ancient geography online

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NavM9. — The history of the names '< Libya" and "Africa" is strik-
ingly aniUogoiis to that of *' Asia." When we first hear of this conti-
nent in the Homeric poems no general name is given to it. " Libya ** is
the name only of a dittrict contiguous to Egypt on the W. The Greeks
early became acquainted with the use of this name through their inters
course with Egypt, and thus gradually extended it to the whole of the
continent, in the first instance exclusive, and finally inclusive, of Egypt
itself. The origin of the name is doubtful. It was referred by the
Qreeks to a mythological personage, who was either a daughter of
Oceanus or a hero. In later times it has been variously connected with
the Biblical "Lubim" — who were not, however, a maritime, but pro-
bablv an inland people— and with the Greek Ait|^ (from Xtlfiw), ''the
south-west wind," wmch blew to Greece from that quarter, and derived
its name from its moist character. The name "Africa" originated
with the Romans in the district adjacent to Carthage, which constituted
their first province on this continent. It was probably the name of a
native tribe, but its origin is still a matter of great uncertainty. Jose-
phus connects it with Epher, a grandson of Abraham and Keturah. It
may perhaps have a Phoenician origin, and mean ** Nomads," in which
case it would be equivalent to the Greek Numidia.

§ 2. The seas that surround the continent of Africa are singularly
deficient in bays and estuaries, and hence the coast-line bears a
very small proportion to the area, as compared with either of the
other continents. The uniformity of the Mediterranean coast is
indeed broken by the deep indentations named Syrtes Mi^or and
Xiiior, answering to the Ouy^s of Sidra and Khahs, These are
really the innermost angles of an extensive sea which penetrates
between the highlands of Gyrene on the E. and the Atlas range on
the W. The special names for the parts of the sea adjacent to Africa
were, Mare iBgyptiunit off the coast of Egypt, and Libj^oun Hare,
more to the W. The shores of the Ooeanus Atlaations were explored
by the Carthaginians, but the records contain no topics of interest
connected with it. Of the Southern Ocean the ancients knew still
less. The portion adjacent to the coast was named generally Mare
JBthiopIoiimi and a portion of it S. of Cape Quwrd(rfui Mare Bar-

§ 3. Libya, or Northern Airica W. of Egypt, was divided by He-
rodotus into three parallel belts or districts — the cultivated, the
wild-beast district, and the sandy desert. The first and third of
these denominations answer respectively to the TeQ of the Arabs
and the Sahara. The second is a misrepresentation, and the true
intermediate district is better described by the modem Arabic name
Bded-elrJerid — ** the date-district " — the chain of oases, in which


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tiiat fruit 18 found most abundantly, lying between the cultivated
district of the coast and the great sandy desert of the interior. It
is a mistake, however, to suppose that the three belts are marked
off from each other by any well-defined lines of demarcation ; on
the contrary the limits are shifting; the Tell and Sahara are
often intermixed, even in the W., where the range of Atlas would
seem to form a barrier between the two. The true distinction is
one o( production^ and not of position, and the remarks of Herodotus
must be accepted as only generally true.

§ 4. The mountains of Africa do not present the same uniformity
as those of Asia. In the W. there is an extensive but isolated
system, to which the ancients transferred the mythological name of
AtUs»^ occupying that division of the continent which lies between
the Syrtes and the Atlantic Ocean. The extreme points of this
range may be regarded as C\ Ohir in the W. and C. Bon in the E.,
and the general dii-ection would therefore be from W.S.W. to E.N.E.
It is divided into two portions by the valley of the Molocath. The
W. division, or High Atlas, strikes northwards along the course of
that river, and in the neighbourhood of the sea sends out lateral
ridges parallel to the coast towards the W., to which the ancients
gaire the specific name of Atlas Minor. The eastern division consists
of the range of Jehel Amer and a series of subordinate parallel
ridges, which gradually approach the Mediterranean coast and
decline into the desert in the neighbourhood of the Syrtes.

§ 5. The only river in Africa that holds an important place in
ancient geography is the NilOi which was at once the great fertilizer
of Egypt and the high-road of commerce and civilization.

The Nile, more than any other river in the world, attracted the atten-
tion of writers of all classes. Its sources then, as now, were unknown, and

1 We have already noticed the Homeric seftse of the term Atlas (p. 30). The
same idea was sustained by the later poets, as when fsch^lus spealu of the giant

hi irpbs iairipo\K T<Jirow
lim|ic« kIov* tnifHUfW tc koX xBovh^
&/IIHV ipeCSmVf ax^ ovx w^ficaXov. Prom, Vbtct, 348.

Ubi coelifer Atlas
Axem homcro torqnet stalls ardentibns aptum. — ^Vnto. ^n. vL 797.

Atlas en ipse laborat
Vixque sois humeris candentem sosttnet axem. — Or. 2fet. ii. 297,
Qunntus erat, mons factus Atlas. Jam barba comsBqne
In silvas abeunt ; juga sunt homerique manosqae ;
Quod caput ante fuit, summo est in monte cacumen,
Ossa lapis fiunt. Turn partes auctns in omnes
Crevit in immensum (sic Dt statuistis), et omne
Cum tot sideribus coolom requievit in lllo. — Ov. Met. ir. 656.


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266 AFRICA. Book 111.

the Bearch after them bad already passed into a proverb.' It was indeed
believed that it issued from marshes at the foot of the Limse Montes,
hut the true position * of the Mountains of the Moon was uuknown, and
the description will apply to other Abyssmian rivers, which generally
rise in lagoons. It appears moreover probable that the ancients re-
garded the Astapus, or Blue NiUt to be the true river, and that their
observations applied to that rather than to the White Nile, which
modems generally regard as ** the true Nile/' as being the larger stream.
At the same time it should be ob6er\'ed that the '* blue/* or rather
the ** black," Nile — for that is the meaning of the Arabic Azrek — has
the true characteristics of the Nile. These two branches foi*m a junc-
tion S. of Meroe, and for some milee flow together without mixing their
watera. N. of Meroe the imited stream receives the Aftabirai, Tacazze;
between that point and the border of Egypt is the region of the ** Cata-
racts," as thev are called, which are in reaility nothing more than rapids
formed by ridges of granite, which rise through the sandstone, and, by
dividing its stream, mcrease its rapidity. The fall is, after all, not so
considerable as the imagination of the poets pictured it, the Great
Cataract having a descent only of 80 feet in a space of five miles.
Below the junction of the Astaboras the river flows N. for 120 miles,
then makes a great bend to the S. W. — skirting in this part of its course
the desert of Bahiouda^and finally resumes its northerly direction to
the head of the Delta, where it is divided into seven channels,^ which
were named from E. to W. — the Pelusian, now dry ; the Tanitic, pro-
bably the canal of Moneys; the Mendesian, now lost in Lake Men-
zaleh ; the Phatnitic, or Bucolic, the lower portion of the Damietta
branch ; the Sebenn^ic, coinciding with the upper part of the Damietta
branch, and having its outlet covered by the lake of Bourlos; the Bol-

' Nile pator, qnanam pownin te dlcere eaona.

Ant quiboB in terris ooculoisse caput.— TiBtrLL. 1. 7, 2S.

Te, fcmtiiim qui oelat origines

Nflus. Hoa. Carm, It. 14, 45.

Ble fluens dives septena per ostia Niloa,
Qui patriam tantas tam bene celat aqun.— Ov. Amor. ill. 6, 30.

Qui rapido tractu mediis elatus ab antria,

FlanunigerflB patiens xonoD Canerique calentiB,

Fluctibus ignoUa noetrum procurrit in orbem,

Seereto de fonts cadens, qui semper inani

Querendus ratione latet ; nee contigit uili

Hoc Tidiase caput : fertur sine teste creatus,

Flumina proftindena alieni oonscia cicli.— Clavd. Idffl. iv. 8.

Aut aeptemgemini caput hamt penetrahiU Nile.— »tat. Silt, iU. 5, 21.

Cfcsar is represented as wilUng to reUnquish all his sebemea of grandeur for
the solution of the problem —

•pes alt mihi oerta videndi
Niliacos fontea, bellum civile reUnquam.— Luc. x. 191.

» The source of the «Wbite Nlle» is probably S. of the Abrssiiiian range*
between O** and b^ 8. lat.

* Et aeptemgemini turbant trepida ostia Nill.— Vimo. ifiis. vi. 801
Et aeptem digestum in comua NUum. Ov. Met, ix. 778.

Sive qua septemgeminus oolorat

JEquora Nilus. Catwll. xL 7.


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bitic, the lower part of the Roaetta branch ; and the Canopic, or Nau-
cratic, coinciding in its upper part with the Rosetta branch, from which,
however, it diverged at 31^ lat., and ran more to the W., discharging
itself at the Lake of Madieh, near Ahoukir.

§ 6. The Oases form a peculiar and a very important feature in
the continent of Africa. The word Oasis is derived from the Coptic
ou(ihf " a resting-place." It was a general apr»ellation for spots of
cultivated land in the midst of sandy deserts, but was more especi-
ally applied to those verdant spots in the Libyan desert which con-
nect eastern with western and southern Africa. The ancients de-
scribe these as islands rising out of the ocean of the wilderness, and
by their elevation escaping the waves of sand which overspread the
surrounding districts. They are, however, depressions rather than
elevations — basins which retain the water through the circumstance
of a stratum of clay or marble overlying the sand. The moisture
thus secured produces in the centre of the basin a prolific vegeta-
tion, which presents the most striking contrast to the surroundinj::
desert, and justifies the appellation of the " Island of the Blessed,**
which the ancients * applied to one of them, llieir commercial im-
portance was very great. They served as stations to connect Eg\*pt
and Ethiopia with Carthage in one direction, and with central Africa
in another. . TTieir full advantage indeed was not realised imtil the
camel was introduced from Asia by the Persians. After that time
they were permanently occupied and garrisoned by the Greeks and
Romans. Herodotus describes a chain of oases ' as crossing Africa
from E. to W. at intervals of ten days' journey. With the exception
of the two most westerly — the Atarantes and Atlantes — the locali-
ties admit of easy identification, but the distances require a little
adjustment, for Ammonium is twice ten days from TTiebes, and a
similar interval exists between Aiigila and Phazania. Li the first
instance he probably computes the distance from the Oasis Magna,
which is midway between TTiebes and Ammonium ; in the second,
he omits the intervening oasis of Zala,

§ 7. The commerce of Africa was known to classical writers
chiefly through the two nations in whose hands the foreign trade
rested, viz. the Egyptians in the E. and the Carthaginians in the
W. These regulated the trade of the interior, whence they obtained
certain articles of luxury and ornament highly prized by the
wealthy of Greece and Rome, and received in exchange the oil and
wine of which they themselves stood in need. But though Egypt

> Herod, iii. 26.

* They are Ammoninm, el-Sheah ; Aogila, AvJiUh ; the Oaramantet, Fexean ;
the Atarantes, who may represent a place on the outskirts of FezuiH ; and the
Atlantes, whose name hears reference to the range of Atlas.


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and Carthage were thus the great marts of African commerce, the
trade with the interior was actually carried on by certain tribes
who were fitted by birth and habit to endure the privations and
dangers incident to the long journeys across the desert. The
Nubians were the carriers '^f Egypt ; the Nasamonians and
other tribes that lived about the Syrtes were the carriers of
Carthage. These tribes conducted their business very much in
the same manner, and by the same routes, as the Africans of the
present day, the physical character of the continent necessitating
the adoption of the caravan as the only secure mode of travelling,
and fixing the routes with undeviating certainty by the occasional
supplies of water.

§ 8. The most valued productions of the interior were gold,
precious stones, ivory, ebony, and slaves.

(1.) Qold was abundant both in the Ethiopian mountains and in the
very heart of the continent S. of the Niger.

(2.) Precious stones were procured firom the mountains of Central
Africa. The most common species was the carbuncle, which derived its
classical name, "calcedonius, from the Qreek name of Carthage, whence
it was exported to Italy.

(8.) Ivory was found in all parts. The Ptolemies had their stations
on the shores of the Red Sea for the express purpose of hunting elephants.
In the interior of u£thiopia and the adjacent districts of Kordofan and
Darfur, it was the staple commodity, while even on the western coast
of the Atlantic the Carthaginians found it abundant.

(4.) Slaves were perhaps the largest article of African commerce.
Not only did the Egyptians and Carthaffiniaxis require them for their
own domestic use, but the latter people exported them, pai'ticularly
females, in immense numbers to Italy and the Mediterranean islands.
The supply was obtained from the interior of the continent, particularly
the districts about the Niger. Herodotus tells us that the GJaramantes
had regular slave-hunts, and his statement is verified by the modern
practice of the chieftains of Fezzarif who hunt down the Tibhooa,

As the trade was chiefly carried on by means of barter, it becomes
an interesting question what productions were given in exchange by
the merchants. The same articles appear to have formed the media of
exchange in ancient as in modem times. The northern peu:t of the
desert is abundant in salt ; Central Africa is deficient in it ; and a
scarcity of this necessary article operates as a famine in the districts S.
of the great desert; this, therefore, forms the great staple of trade in
exchange for gold and slaves. Dates are another valuable commodity.
The region of dates lies between 26^ and 29-^ N. lat., and from tlus
district it is exported largely in all directions — southwards as far as the
Niger, and northwards to the shores of the Mediterranean, whence the
agricultural tribes, in the time of Herodotus as at the present day,
made periodical journeys to obtain their supply. With regard to the
Carthaginian trade on the shores of the Atlantic we are told that
trinkets^ harness, cups, wine, and linen, were given to the natives.

§ 9. We are acquainted with several of the main routes by which
the traflSc was carried on. In Africa, as in Asia, there were certain


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spots which were the focusses of the caravan-trade. Thebes in
Egypt was the chief emporium in the lower valley of the Kile ;
Meroe in ^Ethiopia was the chief one on the Upper Kile ; Phazania,
Fezzan, was the chief one in the interior. These were connected
by chains of posts, forming the great lines of cotaimunication, and
each post, in its measure, becoming a commercial mart. Lastly,
Coptos was the chief emporium for the Indian trade, which passed
through the ports of Myoe Hormos and Berenice.

(I.) From Thebes a route led westward through the oases of Ammo-
nium and Augila to Phazania, whence it branched off either southwards
to the Niger or northwards to Leptis and Cai*thage. Two routes led
northwards from Thebes to Meroe; one by the course of the Nile
throughout, another by the course of the Nile until the point where
it makes its great bend, and thence across the Nubian desert.

(2.) From Meroe a route led westward to the shores of the Red Sea,
whence ports, such as Adule, were found, communicating either with
Lower Egypt or witJi the opposite coast of Arabia. Another route un-
doubtedly led from Meroe southwards to the districts of Sef*aar and

(3.) From Phazania routes led northwards to the coast of the Medi-
terranean, where Leptis formed the great emporium, and southwards to
the districts of Central Africa.

(4.) From Coptos, roads, with caravanserais, were constructed by the
Ptolemies to Myos Hormos and Berenice, and a vast amount of traffic
passed by this ''overland route" between India and Europe. Pliny
estimated the annual value of the imports from the East at about
1,500,000 pounds sterling.

§ 10. The ethnology of ancient Africa is not a subject of much
* interest. The nations with whom the Greeks and Romans came in
contact were almost wholly of Asiatic origin. The north Africans,
though darker than Europeans, and hence occasionally described in
terms which seem only applicable to negroes, were really allied to
the races of Euro^ie and Asia, as the Mosaic genealogy indicates
vfhea it represents the sons of Ham, the brother of Shem and
Japheth, as occupying ^Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya, and Canaan. This
opinion prevailed even in ancient times. Juba, according to Pliny,
pronounced the Egyptians to be Arabs ; while far away to the W.,
in Mauritania, a tradition of the Asiatic origin of the people was
perpetuated. The -Ethiopians were perhaps the nearest approach
to the negro ; but the sncient monuments prove that there was a
wide distinction, even in their case, and that they were no more
true oegroes than their modem representatives, the Bisharies and
- ShangaUoB, The other great divisions of the family of Noah were
represented in the colonies on the coast of the Mediterranean — the
Semitic in the Phoenicians, the Japhetic in the Greeks and


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I. Egypt. § 1. Boundaries. § 2. Position and character. § 3. The
Nile. § 4. Hills. § 5. Canals. § 6. Lakes. § 7. Inhabitants.
§ 8. Divisions. § 9. Towns — their names ; the capitals. § 10. The
Delta. § 11. Its towns. § 12. Heptanomis, and its towns. § 13. The
Thebaid and its towns. § 14. The Oases. II. ^Ethiopia. § 15.
Boundaries and general character. § 16. Mbuntains, Rivers, &c.
§ 17. Inhabitants; Districts. § 18. Towns; History.

§ 1. The boundaries of JEgyptni, or Egypt , were — on the N., the
Mediterranean Sea; on the E., the Arabicus Sinus, and that
portion of Arabia which intervenes between the head of the Sinus
Heroopolites and the Mediterranean, now called the Isthmus of
Suez ; on the S. -Ethiopia, from which it was divided at Syene ;
and on the W. the Libyan desert. Its length is estimated at 526
miles, and the total area at about 9070 square miles, the upper
valley amounting to 2255, the Delta to 1975, and the outlying
districts to 4840. In shape it resembles an inverted Greek upsilon
(jt), as it consists of a single long valley, spreading out on either
side at its base. It was naturally divided into two parts — Lower


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262 EGYPT. Book 111.

and Upi)er Egypt : the former the wide alluvial plain of the Delta,
the latter the narrow valley of the Nile with its primitive formations
of granite, red sandstone, and limestone. Each of these had its cha-
racteristic productions — the papyrus being the symbol of the Delta ;
the lotus, that of Upper Egypt : and each had its own peculiar deities.

' Tht Name, — The name " ^gyptus " first appears aa the designation
of the Nile (Horn. Od» Iv. 477), and was thence transferred to the
country in which that river forms so prominent an object. The name
appears to have been specially applied to the Thebaid, where it was
perpetuated in that of the town Coptos. It may perhaps be con-
nected with the Biblical Caphthor ; the modem name ^' Copis " is evi-
dently a relic of it.

$ 2. lliC position and physical character of Egypt account to a
great degree for its importance in the ancient world. Situated
midway between the continents of Asia and Africa, it was the gate,
as it were, through which all intercourse between those two con-
tinents was carried on. With the Mediterranean on one side, and
the Bed Sea on the other, it held easy communication with the
southern peninsulas of Europe, and with the coasts of India ; and
was, even in early times, the link to connect the west with the east.
Surrounded by deserts, the valley of the Nile formed a large (kisU^
isolated from the adjacent countries, yet easily accessible on all
sides by means of routes which nature has formed. The wonderful
fertility of its soil admitted of the maintenance of an immense
population, and supplied the material wealth and comfort which
are essential to the early advance of civilization, llic climate has
been at all times famed for its salubrity, and the natural produc-
tions were not only varied, but in some instances had a direct
tendency to encourage art and manufacture.* Among the more
important articles we may notice — grain of all kinds (wheat, barley,
oats, and maize), vegetables in great profusion (onions, beans, cu-
cumbers, melons, garlic, &c.), flax, cotton, papynis (a most valuable
fibrous plant, used for making boats, baskets, rope, paper, sails,
sandals, as well as an article of food), the lotus, olives, figs,
almonds, and dates. Stone of the finest quality for building
abounded in Upper Egypt, while various ornamental species, such
as porphyry, were also found.

§ 3. ITie chief physical feature of Europe is the river and valley
of the Nile. The valley is enclosed between two imrallel ranges * of
limestone hills, the eastern shutting it off fix)m the Bed Sea, the
western from the Libyan desert. The average breadth of this valley

> Hlnc montM Naiuia vsgii oironmdedit midis,
Qui LibyflB te, Nile, negant : quoe inter in alta
It eonralle tacens jam moribvia unda reoeptis.
Prima tlbi campos pcmiittit, apertaqne Memphis
Bora, modnmqae rotat crescendi ponero ripas. — Lvc. x. 8S7.


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as far as 30^ N. lat. is about 7 miles. Between this point and 25^
its width varies from 11 miles at the widest to 2 at the narrowest
point : S. of 26® to Syene, the valley contracts so much that in
some places the hills rise almost immediately from the river's banks.
The plain is generally more extensive on the W. than on the E.
side of the river, and hence the towns are situated almost invariably
on the left bank. The length of the river from the sea to Syene is
732 miles, and its fall throughout this distance is estimated at 365
feet, or about i a foot per mile. We have already described the
general course of the river, but there are a few topics connected
with it that deserve further notice in this place.

Name. — ^The name "Nile" appears to have been of Indian origin,
and to signify the " blue river." The indigenous name was ** Hapi."
Homer names it the " iEjgyptus." '

lU TnuKdation. — The NUe be^jins to rise about the beginning of July.
About the middle of August it is high enough for purposes of irrigation,
and between the 20th and 30th of September it reaches its maximum
height: it remains stationary for a fortnight, and then gradually
recedes. An eleyation of 80 feet b ruinous from excess of moisture,
but one of 24 is necessary to insure a good harvest ; below 18 is again
ruinous from deficiency of moisture. Various theories were pro-
pounded by the ancients as to the cause of the inundation : Agathar-
chides of Cnidus correctly attributed it to the rains of Abyssinia,
which thoroughly saturate that country.

Its [mportance, — Egypt was in truth the "gift of the Nile." Its soil
was due to the action of the river: each succeeding inundation de-
posited a rich stratum, which is now known to exist to a depth of
above 60 feet below the present level of the land. Its fertility was
wholly dependent upon tne periodical inundations.' Its commerce

Ohcov HiKrifi^woVt koX a^¥ h irarfUSa ytuoMf
Hpiv y* St* oi* Aiyihrroto Suvrr^ vorofUMO
ASnc vi^p eX0tys. Od iv. 475

* The references to this subject in the classics are rery nnmeroos.
Aut pingui flumine Nilns,
Cum refloit campis, et Jam se condidit alveo. — Yiko. JEn, ix. 31.
Qnalis et, arentes com findit Sirios agros,
Fertilis lestiTa NUos abundet aqoa!

Te propter nullos tellns tua postnlat imbree

Arida neo Plurio snppUcat herba Jori. — Tibvll. i. 7, 31-23, 25, 26.

Online LibrarySir William Smith William Latham BevanThe student's manual of ancient geography → online text (page 30 of 82)