Sir William Smith William Latham Bevan.

The student's manual of ancient geography online

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Varro {De Re Rust.y i. 2, § 4) refers to a map of Italy delineated on a
wall ; and at a later date Propertius (iv. 3, 37) complains —

** Cogor et e tabula pictos ediscere mundos."

§ 9. Measures of Length. — The methods of ascertaining distances are an *
important subject in connexion with ancient geography. The standard
measure among the Greeks was the stadium {(Tr&iov)^ among the
Romans the mile {milliarium), among the Persians the parasang {irapa-
(rdyyns), and among the Egyptians the schoenus {arxoiyos). The sta-
dium contained 606 feet 9 inches English : about 8§ stades, therefore,
equal a mile. In considering the distances as given m stades by Hero-
dotus and other writers, it is important to remember that these were
not meas'wed, but simply calculated. Thus a day's journey by land =
200 or 180 stades, or, in the case of an army, 150 ; the rate of a sailing
ship = 700 stades by day, and 600 by night (Herod, iv. 86, .101, v. 53).
The result of this mode of calculation was that distances were gene-
rally over-estimated. The Roman mile = 1618 English yards, and is
thus less than an English mile by 142 yards. The parasang was com-
monly estimated at 30 stades, but, like the modem farsakh of Persia, it
indicated rather the time spent in traversing a certain district, than
the space traversed. The schocnus was estimated as equal to two
parasangs, or 60 stades. The admixture of the idea of time and space
m the same word may be illustrated by the use of the German word
stttiuUf which in one sense means an ''hour," in another a "league."

II. Physical Geography.

§ 10. The physical geography of the ancients is most conveniently
trMited by considering separately the three constituent elements of
land, water, and air.

Land, — The terms descriptive of the various forms which land


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asBumee are as follows — continent (liirctpoSf terra continms), ifilandB
(rijtrot, insiUce), isthmuses {M/jloU isthmt), tongues of land {ratflat^
lingua') t peninsulas {x*p<r6yriaroi, pminsuke), plains (irc8(a, campi, piani-
ties), mountains {6pri, monies) ^ valleys {abXHyts, Ayicrit Kot\d9fs, valies,
oonvaUes), gorges or ravines (i^ircu, ^>^ip€tyyts, X"^P^i fauces), and
passes (irtJXo*, portce).

§ 11. Mountains. — These were either isolated hills or chains {$pn
trvytxVf monies continut). The heights of mountains were calculated
by the Alexandrian geographers, but in a very imperfect way: the
loftiest mountains in each continent were reputed to be, in Asia —
Caucfl^us, ParopamiRus, and Imaus; in Africa — Atla^ and The6n
Ochema ; and in Europe — the Alps and the Sarmatian mountains, and
next to them the Pyrenees. The protrusion of mountain-chains into
the sea formed promontories {^Kpoorfipta, promontoria) . Certain moun-
tains were known as volcanoes, the most famous being Mosychlus in
Lemnos, ^tna, Vesuvius, the iEolian and Liparian isles, Chimsera in
Asia Minor, and The6n Ochema in Africa : they were reputed to be
the residence of Vulcan (whence their title), and the eruptions to be
the consequences of the struggles of giants and Titans. Caves ((nr^Acua,
iktrrpa, antra, spelunco') attracted much notice among the ancients : the
largest known were the Corycian caves of Parnassus and Cilicia, and
the Givtto of Posilippo near Naples : some of those whence mephitic
vapours arose, as at Delphi, were the seats of famous oracles ; others of
a similar nature were reputed the entrances to the nether world (dx*-
p6vria, Pluionia, ostia Ditis).

§ 12. Spruujs may be noticed in connexion with mountains. Homer
supposed all the springs to be united by subterraneous channels with
the river of Ocean : later philosophers held views hardly more conso-
nant with truth on this subject : Aristotle, for instance, supposed that
rain was formed inside the earth, just as it is outside it, by the com-
pression of the internal air; Seneca went farther, and held that the
earth itself turned into water, which, through the pressure of the air,
circulated about the earth, as the blood does in the human body.
Water was held to be in itself tasteless, inodorous, colourless, and
imponderous, the opposite qualities being attributed wholly to the
admixture of earthy particles. It was supposed to be cool in propor-
tion to the depth of its source, the phenomenon of hot springs being
ascribed to the presence of volcanic action. Mine;*al springs were
resorted to for medicinal purposes ; among the most famous may be
reckoned those at Baia^ in Campania, the springs at Aix (which is
merely a corruption of Aquce) in France and Prussia, and many others:
there is abimdant proof that Bath (Aqua Soils) was the fashionable
resort of the wealthy Romans 4n Britain. The various qualities of
springs were carefully noted, as the petrifying springs at Tibur, and
on the island of Cos ; the pitch -springs of Zacynthus ; the oily springs
of Nyssa, &c. No spring, however, has attained such celebrity as Cas-
talia at Delphi, in which all visitors were ordered to purify themselves,
Apollo' himself not disdaining to do so.

§ 13. Water may be described according to the two principal aspects
which it presents, as either running in the form of rivers, brooks, &c.,
or standing in the form of lakes, seas, marshes.

Rivers. — Any phenomena connected with rivers were carefully noted;

' " Qui rore puro CastallsB larit

Crlnes solutos."— Hor. CVirm. ill. 4, 61.


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for instance) streams which disappeared for a space beneath the earth,
as the Eulffius, Orontee, MsDander, Acheloiis» and others— a circumstance
on which was founded the poetical idea of the union of distant streams,
as of the Alpheus with the fountain of Arethusa in Sicily, the Mseander
wi^ the Asopus in Sicyonia. Briny streams, such as the Phasis and the
Sicilian Him^ra were reputed to be — petri^iug streams, as the Sil&rus —
and again those which brought down gold-dust, as the Pactolus and
the Tagus, were also noticed; as also the not imusual occurrence of
confluent rivers keeping their waters distinct for some distance from
their junction ; the Titaresius, for instance, refusing to mingle with the
Peneus, and the Hypanis with the Borysthfines : and lastly, rapids and
cataracts {Karaf^4jCTcu,dejecta8 aqute), as in the Nile, Euphrates, Danube,
and other rivers.

§ 14. Lakes not unfrequently possess peculiarities, which were noticed
by classical writers. Tne vapours of Avemus, the medicinal qualities
of the Lake Vellnus, the salt lakes of Phrygia, the asphalt of the Dead
Sea, the naphtha of the Lake of Samos&ta, the natron-lakes Thonitis
and Ascanius, may be cited as instances. Marshes were held to be
prejudicial to the health ; the Pontine Marshes are a well known

§ 15. The Sea. — Various opinions were broached as to the origin of
the sea: Anaximander held it to be the surplus moisture which the
fire had failed to consume ; EmpedOcles thought it to be the sweat of
the earth ; and so forth. The original view held by Homer was that
the ocean flowed round the earth in a circle, and fed the various seas
and rivers, the Mediterranean being connected with it at its western
extremity. The progress of discovery exploded this view, and the
ocean was recognised to be not a river, but a vast sea covering a large
portion of the earth's surface. The general view held was that all
the different seas (Atlantic, Indian, &c.) were connected together,
though many took the opposite view. The Northern Ocean was in-
vested with many terrors in the eyes of the ancients: navigators
reported the existence of constant darkness, calms, impenetrable masses
of sea-weed ; each of these reports had a certain amount of foundation,
though the truth was distorted ; the fact of its being frozen was first
discovered in Stmbo's time. As to the depth of the sea, the ocean was
held to be unfathomable, but the Mediterranean had been sounded in
various spots. The temperature of the sea was observed to be more
equable than that of the land, being cooler in summer and warmer in
winter. From the circumstance of its not freezing, it was supposed
to have a higher temperature generally than rivers, which was attri-
buted to its constant motion. The specific gravity of sea-water was
observed to exceed that of fresh. The saltness of sea-water was attri-
buted by A n a xi ma n der to the constant evaporation of the water, by
which a large residuum of salt and other bitter particles was len
behind. Empedocles, following up his opinion of the earth's sweat,
was at no loss to account for the saltness on the ground that sweat is
salt ; while others attributed it to lai^e deposits of salt. The colour
of the sea, when quiet, is expressed in Homer by the term fi4?SMS ;
and, when in motion, by irop<l>vptos, olror^, lociS^s, ii€po€td'fis, y\avK6s,
ito\i6s'y the Romans described it by the terms ceenileus, virklui, and
purpurcus. The constant motion of the sea was usiuilly attributed to
the influence of wind: and some others, however, conceived
that there was some internal agency at work even during calm weather,
analogous to the heaving of the chest in taking breath. Waves were in


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all cases the result of wind: the Greeks believed the third wave (rpi-
KVfda), the Romans the tenth to be the strongest and most dangerous.
The ebb and flow of the tide {irXiififAvpU Koti Afiirmcis, astus et recesaus)
was explained in various fanciful ways. The Stoics literally believed
that ocean lived, and explained the rise and fall of the water as the
panting of the giant's breath: Aristotle supposed it to arise from the
pressure of the exhalations raised by the sun acting upon the water
and driving it forward : Seleucus attributed it to the influence of the
moon, whose motion he supposed to be in a contrary direction to that
of the earth, and so to cause conflicting currents of air, which, alter-
nately gaining the supremacy, made the water flow backwards and
forwards. The Phoenicians were well acquainted with the ordinary
phsenomena of the tides, but the early Greeks could have known but
little of the matter, as the tides in the Mediterranean are hardly per-
ceptible. The currents in the sea were supposed to originate in the
waters seeking a lower level. Whirlpools were caused either by the
sudden depressions in the bed of the ocean, by the presence of reefs,
or by antagonistic currents of wind. The level of the sea was by some
supposed to be everywhere equal ; by others a contrary opinion was
held, and, in proof of their opinion, it was alleged that the Red Sea
was higher than the Mediterranean, an opinion which has been repro-
duced m modem times, and has only lately been falsified.

$ 16. Air, — Of the various phenomena connected with the air, those
which have the most direct bearing upon geography are winds and

Wifuig {jSufffioi, tentt). — ^Various terms were used to describe these,
according to their violence or their source: thus we hear of land-
breezes (&ir<(7ctoi, abogei tentt)^ sea-breeses {rp^aioi, aitani ventt),
storms (xcifUtfvcT, BitWat^^proceHa:)^ hurricanes {^Krt^iaif tempestates
faedof), and whirlwinds {jv^vtSt turbines). The most prevalent and
important winds proceeded from the four quarters of the heavens,
N., S., £., and W., and were termed the cardinal winds (yciriM^aroi,
cardinales). Their names were (1) Notus {U6tos) or Aaster, the south
wind, which prevailed in the early part of the summer, and from the
end of the- dog-days to the beginning of harvest — a violent, capricious,
and unhealthy wind, generally accompanied witU wet ; (2) Boreas
(Bop4as) or Septemtrio, from the north, a clear, cold, but healthy wind;
(3) Zephprus {Z4^vpos) or Fuvoninsy the west wind, which set in with
early spring, and was particularly prevalent at the time of the summer
solstice ; in Greece it brought rain and stormy weathel*, in Italy it was
a mild breeze ; (4) Etu-us (Eloos) or Vaitarnus, the east wind, which
prevailed about the winter solstice, and was known for its dry cha-
racter. We need not assume that these winds proceeded from the
exact cardinal points of the compass, but rather that they represent
generally the four quarters of the heavens, just as the terms are used
by ourselves in ordinary conversation. In addition to these cardinal
winds, we meet with others in later writers — ^viz. (5) Soldnus, *Ain)-
Xi^trris, which was substituted for Eurus, to specify due east wind;
(6) AquUo, KcuKtas, from the N.E., very constant at the time of the
vernal equinox, bright and cold; (7) Afiicus, Aiy^, from the S.W.,
moist and violent, prevalent about the autumnal equinox ; (8) Corust
CauruSf *Apy4arrnSf *I<irv(, from the N.W., cool and dry. The eight
already specified were marked on the Horologium of Audronicus
^rrhestes, commonly called the Temple of the Winds, at Athens.
We may further notice the winds named M4ffTis, N.N.E. ; ♦otvucfos.


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S.S.E. ; SpoKias, N.N.W.; and Aifi6yoTos or Aifio^lvt^, S.S.W.
The Etesian winds blew regularly from the N.W. in the inten^al
between the spring solstice and the rise of Sirius. It was a favourite
idea of the poets mat the winds had their several fixed abodes, whence
they issued; hence it was inferred that the lands beyond these abodes
wei*e not subject to the influence of the winds, and that thus beyond
the abode of Boreas, which was supposed to be in one of the northern
mountain-ranges, there might be a country enjoying a superlatively
mild climate, where the Hyper-boreans passed their tranquil life.

§ 17. Temperature. — The temperature of any spot was held to be
mainly dependent upon its proximity to the sun's course, and to be
modified by the presence either of mountain-chains or of bodies of water.
Great mistakes arose, however, as to the degree of proximity to the
sun which certain spots attained. Homer supposed the E. and W. to
be the hottest, as the sun seemed to touch those spots in his rising
and setting, and there accordingly he placed the Ethiopians. This
was found to be an error; but it was succeeded by one hardly less
egregious — ^that the south pole was the hottest point in the world, as
being opposite to the north, which was known to be cold. The effect
of a chain of mountains shielding a district from the cold north wind,
could not escape notice : the altitude of any spot above the level of
the sea was also known to have its influence.

§ 18. The ancient geographers were observant of the changes that
toDk place on the suriface of the earth. These were attributable to
three causes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and alluvial deposits.

(1.) Eartliqnakes. — The cause of these convulsions was originally
referred to the action of water, whence Neptune was styled the
" earth -shaker *' (^Eyyofflyatos or *Eyo<rtx9o»y) : this was the opinion of
the Ionian philosophers, though they were not agreed as to what was
the disturbing cause — ^whether heat or air coming in contact with the
water. Aristotle explained earthquakes as arising fi-om the escape of
Vigours generated within the earth's bowels. Others, again, attributed
them to the action of subterraneous fire in various ways. Great effects
were assigned to earthquakes, as the separation of Sicily from Italy,
and of Euboea from Boeotia, and the formation of the Vale of Tempe.

(2.) Volcanic Eruptions. — The activity of volcanic agency jit particular
spots was supposed to arise either from a superabundance of fire in
those spots or from a thinness in the crust of the earth. The oi-dinary

Ehenomena attendant on an eruption were closely observed, and one
imous philosopher (Pliny) sacrificed his life to his scientific zeal in
reference to this question. The most striking effect of volcanic action
was the elevation or depression of masses of land, which led occa-
sionally to the sudden appearance of new islands.

(3.) Alluvi'tl Deposit. — Great changes were observed to take place on
the sea-coast through the amount of mud and sand brought down by
rivers. Herodotus supposed, though erroneously, that the existence
of Egypt was wholly attributable to the deposits of the Nile : he also
remarks the advance of the coast of Acarnania, by which some of the
Echin&des were absorbed into the mainland, and again the changes
that took place in the coast of Asia Minor at the mouth of the
Mssander. The plain of Cilicia is due to the alluvial deposits of the
Sams and Pyr&mus. Many districts have been entirely altered since
classical times by the same cause— particularly the pass of Theinno-
p^ke, the western coast of the Adriatic, the coast line of the Persian
Gulf, and of the western coast of Asia Minor.


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The Mesopotaiuian Plain.




§ 1. Boundaries. Name. § 2. OceanB. § 3. Mountains. § 4. Plateaus
and plains. § 5. Rivers. § 6. Climate. § 7. Productions. § 8.
Commerce and commercial routes. § 9. Ethnography.

§ 1. The continent of Asia was but partially known to the geo-
graphers of Greece and Rome. Their acquaintance with it was
limited to the western and southern quarters ; the north and east
were a terra incognita. The true boundaries of the continent in
the latter directions were consequently unknown : it was surmised,
indeed, that the w^orld was bounded on all sides by water, and
consequently that Asia, as the most easterly of the three continents,
was washed on the E. by an ocean, to which some few geographers
assigned the name of Oceanus Edus, the " Eastern Ocean :" the true
position of this ocean was, however, entirely unknown. We have
seen that both Eratosthenes and Strabo conceived it to commence on
the eastern coast of Hindostariy the island of Taprob&ne, or Ceylon^


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being at the extreme S.E. of the world : we have also setn that
Ptolemy, whose information as to the east was more extensive, carried
on the Indian Ocean beyond that point to the coast of Cochin Chindf
but that he supposed the coast then to trend towards the S. instead
of the N., and consequently ignored the existence of an eastern
ocean altogether. We must therefore regard the opinions of those
who notice the ocean as the eastern boundary of Asia as a surmise,
rather than an ascertained fact : the boundary was really unknown.
The same observation applies to the northern boundary : the belt
of sandy steppes, which stretches across the continent from the
eastern shores of the Euxine to the confines of China, formed an
impassable barrier to the progress of discovery in that direction,
and may be regarded as really the northern boundary of Asia as
known to the ancients. It was, indeed, surmised that an ocean
existed in this direction also : but this surmise seems partly to have
been grounded on the assumption, that so large a sea as the Caspian
miu^t have had a connexion with the ocean, and that as no outlet
existed towards the S., E., or W., it must have been towards the
N. ; accordingly, the geographers who recognized the existence of
such an ocean (as Strabo and Eratosthenes did), placed it a very
short distance N. of the Caspian Sea. Ptolemy, who knew that this
was incorrect, but was unable to supply the true boundary, leaves
out the ocean altogether. 1'he southern boundary was the well-
known Oceanus Indicus. The western boundary was formed partly
by land, and partly by water: the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the
Euxine, and the chain of intermediate seas connecting the two
latter, have supplied, in all ages, fixed limits, but more to the N.
the limit has varied considerably. The usually recognized boun-
dary was formed by the Palus Mieotis, Sea of Azov, and the Tanais,
Don : it has since been carried eastwards to the Caspian and the
river Ural,

Name, — The origin of the name " Asia " is uncertain : most probably
it cumes from a Semitic root, and means the ''Land of the East," as
distinct from Europe, "the Land of the West." Greek mythology
referred it to Asia, the daughter uf Oceanus and Tethys, and the wife
of Prometheus ; or to a hero named Asius. The name first occurs in
Homer, as applicable to the marsh about the Cayster, ^ and was thenoe
extended over the whole continent. The Romans applied it in a
restricted sense to their province in the W. of Asia Minor.

§ 2. The physical features of the continent first demand our
attention — its oceans, seas, mountains, plains, and rivers : these we
shall describe in the order named, noticing at present only such as
hold an important position on the continent, and reserving the
others to a future occasion.

*Ao-(y et' Xrifiinn, Kawrrplov 041^ ^M(M.—ll, tt. 461.


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Chap. VI. OCEANS. 69

(I.) The only ocean which requires notice is that which washes
the southern coast of Asia, and which was generally named the
** Southern Ocean " (voria BaKaao-a^ fitarififipivos aK€av6s\ occasion-
ally the ** Red Sea*' (JpvBph BaKcuTaay Herod, ii. 102), and after
improved knowledge of India, Ooaaniis IndXeiia. The coast line of
this ocean is regular as compared with that of Europe, and irregular
as compared with that of Africa, being, on the one hand, deficient
in thoee numerous inlets and estuaries which characterize the
former, and, on the other hand, devoid of that general uniformity
which characterizes the latter. The sinuosities, in short, are on
a large scale : two extensive bays fienetrate deeply into the in-
terior, viz. the Sinus Oangetitens, Bay of Bengal^ and the Hare
XrythnBom, Arabian Sea, divided from each other by the peninsula
of Hindostan, and bounded, the former on the E. by the Aurea
Chersonesus, Malay Peninstda, the latter on the W. by the Arabian
peninsula. From the latter of these seas, two gulfs penetrate yet
more deeply into the interior, viz. the PenXeuf Sinoi, Persian Ouff,
and the AraUons Sinm, Bed Sea, The Persian gulf occupies the
southern portion of the Mesopotamian plain, and, sj)reading out into
a broad sheet, divides the plateau of Iran from tljat of Arabia : the
Red Sea seems to occupy a deep narrow valley between the plateaus
of Arabia and Africa. The Red Sea is divided at its northern
extremity by the mountains of the Sinaitic peninsula into two arms,
the western named fiinus HeroopdIItes, Oid/ of Suez, and the eastern
fliniii AlanltM, Gulf of Ahaba, after the towns of Heroopolis and
iBlana, which stood resj^ctively at the head of each. In addition
to these, we may notice the less important seas in the Gangeticus
Sin., named Sabariou Sin., Gulf of Martabdn, and P«rimiilieiis Sin.,
Straits of Malacca; as also Xagnus Sin., Gulf of Siam, and
Sinamm Sin., Gulf of Tonquin, which were regarded as portions
of the Indian Ocean.

(2.) The Mediterranean Sea, Hare Intamiim or Xagnnm, which
bounds Asia on the W., belongs to the three continents, but more
especially to Europe, under which it is descriK-d at length.

The parts adjacent to Asia received the following special designa-
tions— Hare Pnomieiiini, along the coast of Phoenicia ; X. CUidnm,
between Cilicia and Cyprus ; X. loarinm, so named after the island of
Icaria, along the S.W. coast of Asia Minor; and M. JBgSBiun, the
extensive bcusin which separatee Asia Minor from Greece.

(3.) The Pontos Enzlnus, Black Sea, which in ancient goo^praphy
belongs rather to Asia than to Europe, was regarded by the ancients
as a part of the Mar« Internum, being connected with it by a chain of
intermediate seas — the HellatpontaSy Dardanelles, on the side of the
iEgaean, a strait about a mile in breadth, and probably regarded by

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Homer, who gives it the epithet " broad,** ^ as a river ; the Bospima
Thradiis, Straits of Constantinople, on the side of the Euxine, about
seventeen miles long, and at one point only 600 yards across ; and
the Propontis, Sea of Marmora, between the two, an extensive sheet
of water, about 120 miles from the entrance of one channel to that
of the other. The shape of the Euxine was coraparetl to that of a
Scythian bow, the north coast from the Bosporas to the Phasis
representing the bow itself, and the southern coast the string.

Names, — The Black Sea is said to have been originally named AxSuus,
" inhospitable,"* in consequence of the violent storms that sweep over
it ; this name was changed to '' Euxinus/' when it became better

Online LibrarySir William Smith William Latham BevanThe student's manual of ancient geography → online text (page 9 of 82)