Indians, Ethiopians, Celts, and Scythians: Ephoros on a four-fold division of the known world (mid-fourth century BCE)

Authors: Ephoros of Kyme as cited in various authors indicated further below.

Comments: Ephoros (or: Ephorus) of Kyme (writing ca. 340 BCE), whose works survive only in brief citations by others, was known for proposing a theory that the entire known world could be framed primarily in terms of four peoples, all of them usually considered “barbarians”: Indians (where the south wind originates), Ethiopians (south), Scythians (north), and Celts (west). Ephoros’ views on this are preserved in three substantial passages from three different works presented below. For more on Ephoros’ ethnographic observations about Celts, go to this link.

To read more on Ephoros, see Harland’s article: “Revisiting Wise ‘Barbarians’ in the Hellenistic Era” (link forthcoming).

Source of the translations: Various, indicated with each passage below.


[Four-fold division as explained by Strabo]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F 30a = Strabo, Geography 1.2.28; trans. Jones 1917, adapted]

(28) Ephoros also discloses the ancient belief regarding Ethiopia, for in his work “On Europe” [perhaps one book of his History] he says that if we divide the regions of the heavens and of the earth into four parts, the Indians will occupy that part from which the east wind blows, the Ethiopians the part from which the south wind blows, the Celts the part on the west, and the Scythians the part from which the north wind blows.​ He adds that Ethiopia and Scythia are the larger regions. For it is thought, he says, that the people (ethnos) of the Ethiopians stretches from the winter sunrise to sunset, and that Scythia lies directly opposite in the north.


[Four-fold division as quoted by Indicopleustes]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F 30b = Cosmas Indicopleustes (sixth century CE), Christian Topography 2.148; trans. J.W. McCrindle, The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk (London: Hakluyt Society, 1897), adapted]

For some of the old philosophers, who in the course of their travels visited almost every part of the inhabited world and wrote accounts of what they learned, have explained the position of the earth and the revolution of the heavenly bodies in close agreement with divine scripture. Let one of them now come forward and give this evidence. Extract from book four of Ephoros’ History (or: Inquiry):

“The Indians live in the east near sunrise, while the Ethiopians live in the south near the Meridian, the Celts in the west near sunset, and the Scythians in the north towards the Pole. These regions are not of equal size. Scythia and Ethiopia are larger and India and the Celtic regions smaller. The two larger regions, however, are of similar size, and so are the two smaller regions. For the Indians are situated between the summer and the winter sunrise, while the Celts occupy the land from the summer to the winter sunset. The two distances are equal as well as nearly opposite each other. The Scythians inhabit those lands which the sun leaves unvisited in the course of its revolution. They are situated opposite the nation of the Ethiopians, which seems to extend from the winter sunrise to the shortest sunset.”

Ephoros, both in his text and by means of his sketch [apparently there was a sketch of the four divisions in the manuscript being used], explains accurately, like the divine scripture, the position of the earth and the revolution of the heavenly bodies. For this Ephoros was an historical writer who, in the fourth book of his History, has inserted the exposition which we have cited.


[Four-fold division as reused by pseudo-Skymnos]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F 30c = Pseudo-Skymnos, Voyage around the Earth for Nikomedes 167-182; trans. by Brady Kiesling,, used with permission and slightly adapted. Pseudo-Skymnos does not expressly cite Ephoros but seems to depend on Ephoros in a confused manner.]

(167) Then there is the land called Celtica, as far as the sea lying off Sardinia, the greatest people (ethnos) in the west. For the Indians occupy almost all the land toward the east, and toward the south the Ethiopians lying near the south wind, and the Celts have from the west wind up to the summer sunset, and the Scythians that to the north. So the Indians live between the summer and winter sunrise; the Celts the opposite, between the equinox and the summer sunset, legend has it. So the peoples are four, equal in the crowd and number of their inhabitants. That of the Ethiopians and Skythians has the most desert land, because of the fiery parts of the one and the watery parts of the other. The Celts use Greek customs, since they are familiar with Greece through receiving travellers. They conduct their assemblies with music, and are eager for it as a taming influence. There is a so-called extreme north pillar which is very tall, rising on a headland of the wave-tossed sea. In the places near the pillar live those who end up as last of the Celts, the Enetians and the last of the Istrians who reach down into the Adriatic. They say the Ister [Danube] receives the source of its flow from here.

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