Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Maiotians, Bosporians, Kaukasians, and other Pontic peoples: Strabo on northern Asia (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 6, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9970.
Author: Strabo of Amaseia, Geography 11.1-2 (link)
Comments: At this point in his narrative, Strabo of Amaseia (writing in the early first century CE) shifts from what he considers European peoples to northern Asian peoples. He begins the section with a description of what he and some others consider the boundary between Europe and Asia, the Tanais (modern Don) river that feeds into Maiotis lake (Sea of Azov). Strabo explains that Greeks divide Asia into this side (inside) of the Taurus mountains, and that side (outside) of the Taurus mountains. Strabo then goes on to offer some details about the “Asian” peoples (on that side of the Taurus) found near Maiotis lake and then goes east and then gradually south down to Kolchis, the region around the Kaukasos (now Caucasus) mountain range (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea – mostly what is Georgia today). This means he deals with Maiotians, Bosporians, and then a large group of peoples (he says there are 70, many with different languages) that he considers Kaukasian (Caucasian) peoples, including some that others would call “Sarmatians.”
As usual, Strabo tends to describe non-urban peoples who occupy mountainous or otherwise rough environments as either uncivilized or bandits or both. (He likes settled farmers better, though). As is common in ethnographic materials, Strabo’s description of peoples as “bandits” – by sea or land (e.g. Achaians [not Greek ones], Zygians and Heniochians) – is rather formulaic and should not be taken as actual information about such peoples’ activities. Generally speaking someone with a Roman imperial perspective (like Strabo) would describe as “bandits” (lēstai / lēstēria) any people seen as an obstacle to the advancement of Roman or other outside, “civilizing” colonial powers.
One thing to note is that this section of Strabo’s work contains one of the very few autobiographical tidbits that this author offers as he claims to be related to royalty through the governor Moaphernes. Moaphernes may have served as governor of the Kolchis region under the infamous Mithridates IV Eupator, king of the Pontic kingdom (ca. 120-63 BCE).
Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.
[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of the Pannonians, Illyrians and others in “Europe”, go to this link.]
[Geography of Asia denominated]
1 (1) Asia is adjacent to Europe, bordering it along the Tanais [Don] river. I must therefore describe this country next, first dividing it, for the sake of clearness, by means of certain natural boundaries. That is, I must do for Asia precisely what Eratosthenes did for the inhabited world as a whole. (2) The Tauros moutain [Taurus mountain range] forms a partition approximately through the middle of this continent, extending from the west towards the east, leaving one portion of it on the north and the other on the south. Of these portions, the Greeks call the one part of Asia “inside the Tauros” and the other part of Asia “outside the Tauros.” I have said this before, but let me repeat it by way of reminder. (3) Now the mountain is in many places as wide as three thousand stadium-lengths and as long as Asia itself, that is, about forty-five thousand stadia, reckoning from the coast opposite Rhodes to the eastern extremities of India and Scythia.
[Peoples within the area of the Tauros mountain range and the climate]
(4) It has been divided into many parts with many names, determined by boundaries that circumscribe areas both large and small. But since certain peoples (ethnē) exist within the vast width of the mountain, some rather insignificant, but others extremely well known – for instance, the Parthians, the Medes, the Armenians, part of the Cappadocians (or: Cappadocians), the Cilicians (Cilicians), and the Pisidians – those which lie for the most part in its northerly parts must be assigned there, and those in its southern parts to the southern. While those which are situated in the middle of the mountains should, because of the likeness of their climate, be assigned to the north, for the climate in the middle is cold, whereas that in the south is hot. Further, almost all the rivers that rise in the Tauros flow in contrary directions, that is, some into the northern region and others into the southern (they do so at first, at least, although later some of them bend towards the east or west). These therefore are naturally helpful in our use of these mountains as boundaries in the two‑fold division of Asia. This is similar to how the sea inside the Pillars [of Herakles; straits of Gibralter], which for the most part is approximately in a straight line with these mountains, has proved convenient in the forming of two continents, Europe and Libya, it being the noteworthy boundary between the two.
[First, northern portion of Asia: Where Europe and Asia meet]
(5) As we pass from Europe to Asia in our geography, the northern division is the first of the two divisions to which we come, so we need to begin with the north. In the northern division, the first portion is the region of the Tanais [Don] river, which I have taken as the boundary between Europe and Asia. This portion forms, in a way, a peninsula, for it is surrounded on the west by the Tanais river and Maiotis lake [Sea of Azov] as far as the Bosporos and that part of the coast of the Euxine sea [Black Sea] which terminates at Kolchis; then on the north by the Ocean as far as the mouth of the Kaspian [Caspian] sea; then on the east by this same sea as far as the boundary between Albania and Armenia, where the rivers Cyrus and Araxes empty, the Araxes flowing through Armenia and the Cyrus through Iberia and Albania; and, finally, on the south by the tract of country which extends from the outlet of the Cyrus river to Kolchis, which is about three thousand stadium-lengths from sea to sea, across the territory of the Albanians and the Iberians, and therefore it is described as an isthmus.
[Disagreements among authors about the boundary, and some anecdotes about Poseidonios]
But those writers who have reduced the width of the isthmus as much as Kleitarchos has, who says that it is subject to inundation from either sea, should not be considered even worthy of mention. Poseidonios states that the isthmus is fifteen hundred stadium-lengths across, as wide as the isthmus from Pelousion to the Red Sea. “And in my opinion,” he says, “the isthmus from lake Maiotis to the Ocean does not differ much from this.” (6) But I do not know how anyone can trust him concerning things that are uncertain if he has nothing plausible to say about them, when he reasons so illogically about things that are obvious; and this too, although he was a friend of Pompey, who made an expedition against the Iberians and the Albanians, from sea to sea on either side, both the Kaspian and the Kolchian seas. At any rate, it is said that Pompey, upon arriving at Rhodes on his expedition against the sea-bandits (immediately afterwards he was to set out against both Mithridates and the peoples which extended as far as the Kaspian sea), happened to attend one of the lectures of Poseidonios, and that when he went out he asked Poseidonios whether he had any orders to give, and that Poseidonios replied: “Always be the bravest, and pre‑eminent over others.” Add to this the fact that, among other works, he wrote the history of Pompey. So for this reason he should have been more careful about the truth.
[Second, third, and fourth portions of Asia]
(7) The second portion would be that beyond the Hyrkanian sea, which we call the Kaspian Sea, as far as the Scythians near India. The third portion would consist of the part which is adjacent to the isthmus above mentioned and of those parts of the region inside the Tauros and nearest Europe which come next after this isthmus and the Kaspian Gates, I mean Media, Armenia, Cappadocia and the intervening regions. The fourth portion is the land inside the Halys river [Kızılırmak River in Turkey], and all the region in the Tauros itself and outside there which falls within the limits of the peninsula which is formed by the isthmus that separates the Pontic and the Cilician seas. As for the other countries, I mean those outside the Tauros, I place among them not only India, but also Ariana as far as the peoples that extend to the Persian sea and the Arabian gulf and the Nile and the Egyptian and Issic seas.
[Peoples of Asia in the northeast Black Sea area]
2 (1) Among these portions of Asia, the first is inhabited, in the region toward the north and the Ocean, by Scythian nomads and wagon-dwellers and, south of these, by Sarmatians, who are also Scythians, and by Aorsians and Sirakians, who extend towards the south as far as the Kaukasos [Caucasus] mountains. Some of these are nomads and others tent-dwellers and farmers. Around lake Maiotis live the Maiotians. And on the sea lies the Asiatic side of the Bosporos, or the Sindic territory. After this latter, one comes to the Achaians [not to be confused with Achaia in Greece], the Zygians and the Heniochians, as well as the Kerketians and the Makropogonians. And above these are situated the narrow passes of the Phtheirophagians (literally: “Lice-eaters”) [obviously not a self-designation in its origins], and after the Heniochians is the Kolchian country, which lies at the foot of the Kaukasian, or Moschian, mountains. But since I have taken the Tanais [Don] river as the boundary between Europe and Asia, I will begin my detailed description with that.
[Nomadic peoples and the environment around the Tanais river]
(2) Now the Tanais flows from the northerly region (not, however, as most people think, in a course diametrically opposite to that of the Nile, but more to the east than the Nile) and, like the Nile, its sources are unknown. Yet a considerable part of the Nile is well known since it traverses a country which is everywhere easily accessible and since it is navigable for a great distance inland. But as for the Tanais, although we know its outlets (they are two in number and are in the most northerly region of lake Maiotis, being sixty stadium-lengths away from one another), little is known about the part that is beyond its outlets, because of the coldness and the poverty of the country.
This poverty can indeed be endured by the indigenous peoples, who, in nomadic fashion, live on flesh and milk, but those from other peoples cannot stand it. And besides, the nomads, being disinclined to interact with any other people and being superior both in numbers and in might, have blocked off whatever parts of the country are passable, or whatever parts of the river happen to be navigable. This is what has caused some to assume that the Tanais has its sources in the Kaukasian mountains, flows in great volume towards the north, and then, making a bend, empties into lake Maiotis. Theophanes of Mitylene has the same opinion as these people. Others assume that the Tanais flows from the upper region of the Ister [Danube], although they produce no evidence of its flowing far or from another latitude, as though it were impossible for the river to flow both from a near‑by source and from the north.
[Tanais city, nearby islands, and peoples]
(3) On the river and the lake is an inhabited city bearing the same name, Tanais. It was founded by the Greeks who held the Bosporos. Recently, however, it was sacked by king Polemon [I, king of Pontos in the late first century BCE] because it would not obey him. It was a common trading-centre (emporion), partly of the Asiatic and the European nomads, and partly of those who navigated the lake from the Bosporos. The former bring slaves, hides, and such other things as nomads possess, and the latter trade in exchange clothing, wine, and the other things that belong to civilized life. At a distance of one hundred stadium-lengths off the trading-centre lies an island called Alopekia, a settlement of promiscuous people. There are also other small islands near by in the lake. The Tanais is two thousand two hundred stadium-lengths away from the mouth of lake Maiotis by a direct voyage towards the north. But it is not much farther by a voyage along the coast.
(4) In the voyage along the coast, one comes first, at a distance of eight hundred stadium-lengths from the Tanais, to the Greater Rhombites [perhaps Jeja] river, as it is called, where there are the greatest catches of fish suitable for salting. Then, at a distance of eight hundred more, to the Lesser Rhombites and a cape, which latter also has fisheries, although they are smaller. The people who live about the Greater Rhombites have small islands as bases for their fishing.
But the people who carry on the business at the Lesser Rhombites are the Maiotians themselves, for the Maiotians live along the whole of this coast. And though farmers, they are no less warlike than the nomads. They are divided into several peoples, those who live near the Tanais being rather ferocious, but those whose territory borders on the Bosporos being more tractable. It is six hundred stadium-lengths from the Lesser Rhombites to Tyrambe and the Antikeites [Kuban] river. then a hundred and twenty to the Kimmerian village, which is a place of departure for those who navigate the lake. And on this coast are said to be some look‑out places belonging to the Klazomenians [i.e. colonists from Klazomenai on the western coast of Asia Minor / Turkey].
(5) Kimmerikon (or: Cimmericum) was in earlier times a city situated on a peninsula, and it closed the isthmus by means of a trench and a mound. The Kimmerians (or: Cimmerians) once possessed great power in the Bosporos, and this is why it was named Kimmerian Bosporos. These are the people who overran the country of those who lived in the interior on the right side of the Pontos as far as Ionia. However, these were driven out of the region by the Scythians, and then the Scythians were driven out by the Greeks who founded Pantikapaion (or: Panticapaeum) and the other cities on the Bosporos.
(6) Then, twenty stadium-lengths distant, one comes to the village Achilleion, where the temple of Achilles is situated. Here is the narrowest passage across the mouth of lake Maiotis, about twenty stadium-lengths or more. And on the opposite shore is a village, Myrmekion. And near by are Herakleion and Parthenion. (7) From there it is ninety stadium-lengths to the monument of Satyros [I, king of the Bosporan kingdom ca. 433-389 BCE], which consists of a mound thrown up on a certain cape in memory of one of the illustrious potentates of the Bosporos.
(8) Near by is a village, Patrasys [Garkushi], from which the distance to a village Korokondame is one hundred and thirty stadia. And this village constitutes the limit of the Kimmerian Bosporos, as it is called. The Narrows at the mouth of the Maiotis are so called from the narrow passage at Achilleion and Myrmekion. They extend as far as Korokondame and the small village named Akra, which lies opposite to it in the land of the Pantikapaians, this village being separated from it by a strait seventy stadium-lengths wide. For the ice, also, extends as far as this. The Maiotis is so frozen at the time of frosts that it can be crossed on foot. And these Narrows have good harbours everywhere.
(9) Above Korokondame [modern Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina] lies a lake of considerable size, which derives its name, Korokondamitis [Gulf of Taman], from that of the village. It empties into the sea at a distance of ten stadium-lengths from the village. A branch of the Antikeites empties into the lake and forms a kind of island which is surrounded by this lake and the Maiotis and the river. Some apply the name Hypanis to this river, just as they do to the river near the Borysthenes.
(10) Sailing into lake Korokondamitis one comes to Phanagoreia, a noteworthy city, Kepoi, Hermonassa, and Apatoureion, the sanctuary of Aphrodite. Of these, Phanagoreia and Kepoi are situated on the island mentioned above, on the left as one sails in, but the other cities are on the right, across the Hypanis, in the Sindic territory. There is also a place called Gorgippia in the Sindic territory, the royal residence of the Sindians, near the sea. and also a place called Aborake. All the people who are subject to the potentates of the Bosporos are called Bosporians.
Pantikapaion is the metropolis of the European Bosporians, while Phanagoreion (for the name of the city is also spelled this way) is the metropolis of the Asiatic Bosporians. Phanagoreia is reputed to be the trading-centre for the commodities that are brought down from the Maiotis and the barbarian country that lies above it, and Pantikapaion for those which are carried up there from the sea. There is also in Phanagoreia a notable temple of Aphrodite Apatouros. Critics derive the etymology of the epithet of the goddess by adducing a certain myth, according to which the Giants attacked the goddess there. But she called upon Herakles for help and hid him in a cave. Then, admitting the Giants one by one, she gave them over to Herakles to be murdered through “treachery” (apatēs) [i.e. this sounds a bit like “Apatouros”].
[Maiotians and their sub-groups]
(11) Among the Maiotians are the Sindians themselves, Dandarians, Toreatians, Agrians, and Arrechians, and also the Tarpetians, Obidiakenians, Sittakenians, Doskians, and several others. Among these belong also the Aspurgianians, who live between Phanagoreia and Gorgippia, within a stretch of five hundred stadia. These were attacked by king Polemon under a pretence of friendship, but they discovered his pretence, outgeneralled him, and, capturing him alive, killed him. As for the Asiatic Maiotians in general, some of them were subjects of those who possessed the trading-centre on the Tanais, and the others were subjects of the Bosporians. But in those days different peoples at different times engaged in revolt.
[Bosporians and rulers of the Bosporan / Pontic kingdom]
And often the rulers of the Bosporians held possession of the region as far as the Tanais, and particularly the latest rulers, Pharnakes [II, reigning ca. 63-47 BCE], Asander [ca. 44-17 BCE], and Polemon [I, reigning ca. 16-8 BCE]. Pharnacks is said at one time actually to have conducted the Hypanis river over the country of the Dandarians through an old canal which he cleared out, and to have inundated the country.
[Achaians, Zygians, and Heniochians, and their lifestyle of banditry]
(12) After the Sindic territory and Gorgippia, on the sea, one comes to the coast of the Achaians, Zygians and Heniochians. The coast is mostly harbourless and mountainous, being a part of the Kaukasos (or: Caucasus). These peoples live by banditry at sea. Their boats are slender, narrow, and light, holding only about twenty-five people, though in rare cases they can hold thirty in all. The Greeks call them “kamarai.” They say that the Phthiotic Achaians in Jason’s crew settled in this Achaia, but the Lakonians in Heniochia, the leaders of the latter being Rhekas and Amphistratos, the “heniochiai” of the Dioskouroi gods, and that in all probability the Heniochians were named after these [i.e. these peoples are associated with the tales of Jason and the Argonauts]. Anyways, by equipping fleets of “kamarai” and sailing sometimes against merchant-vessels and sometimes against a country or even a city, they hold the mastery of the sea. And they are sometimes assisted even by those who hold the Bosporos, the latter supplying them with mooring-places, with a market-place, and with means of disposing of their stolen goods.
Since, when they return to their own land, they have no anchorage, they put the “kamarai” on their shoulders and carry them to the forests where they live and where they till a poor soil. They bring the “kamarai” down to the shore again when the time for navigation comes. They also do the same thing in the countries of others, for they are well acquainted with wooded places. And in these they first hide their “kamarai” and then themselves wander on foot night and day for the sake of kidnapping people. But they readily offer to release their captives for ransom, informing their relatives after they have put out to sea. Now in those places which are ruled by local chieftains the rulers go to the aid of those who are wronged, often attacking and bringing back the “kamarai,” men and all. But the territory that is subject to the Romans affords only a little help because of the negligence of the governors who are sent there. (13) That is the lifestyle of these people.
They are governed by the chieftains called “staff-bearers” (skeptouchoi), but the staff-bearers themselves are subject to tyrants or kings. For instance, the Heniochians had four kings at the time when Mithridates Eupator [VI] fled from the country of his ancestors to the Bosporos and passed through this country. While he found this country passable, he still despaired going through the territory of the Zygians, both because of the ruggedness of it and because of the ferocity of the inhabitants. And only with difficulty could he go along the coast, most of the way marching on the edge of the sea, until he arrived at the country of the Achaians. Welcomed by Achaians, Mithridates completed his journey from Phasis, a journey not far short of four thousand stadia.
(14) Now the voyage from Korokondame is straight towards the east and at a distance of one hundred and eighty stadium-lengths is the Sindic harbour and city. And then, at a distance of four hundred stadia, one comes to Bata, as it is called, a village and harbour, at which place Sinope on the south is thought to lie almost directly opposite this coast, just as Karambis has been referred to as opposite the Rams’ Forehead. After Bata, Artemidoros mentions the coast of the Kerketai, with its mooring-places and villages, extending from there about eight hundred and fifty stadia. and then the coast of the Achaians, five hundred stadia. And then that of the Heniochians, one thousand. And then Greater Pityus, extending three hundred and sixty stadium-lengths to Dioskourias.
[Navigation of the area and order of the settlements]
The more trustworthy historians of the Mithridatic wars name the Achaians first, then the Zygians, Heniochians, Kercetians and Moschians, Kolchians, Phtheirophagians who live above these three peoples, Souanians, and other small peoples that live in the neighbourhood of the Kaukasos mountains. Now at first the coast, as I have said, stretches towards the east and faces the south, but from Bata it gradually takes a turn, and then faces the west and ends at Pityos and Dioskourias [Abkhazia, Georgia]. For these places border on the above-mentioned coast of Kolchis. After Dioskourias comes the remaining coast of Kolchis and the adjacent coast of Trapezos, which makes a considerable bend, and then, extending approximately in a straight line, forms the right-hand side of the Pontos [Black Sea], which faces the north. The whole of the coast of the Achaians and of the other peoples as far as Dioskourias and of the places that lie in a straight line towards the south in the interior lie at the foot of the Kaukasos mountains [i.e. on the northeastern coast of the Black Sea].
(15) This mountain [Caucasus] lies above both seas, both the Pontic and the Kaspian, and forms a wall across the isthmus that separates the two seas. It marks the boundary, on the south, of Albania and Iberia, and, on the north, of the plains of the Sarmatians. It is well wooded with all kinds of timber, and especially the kind suitable for ship-building. According to Eratosthenes, the Kaukasos is called “Kaspios” by the natives, the name being derived perhaps from the “Kaspians” [i.e. a people]. Branches of it project towards the south. And these not only comprise the middle of Albania but also join the mountains of Armenia and the Moschian mountains, as they are called, and also the Skydises and the Paryadres mountains. All these are parts of the Tauros, which forms the southern side of Armenia. These are parts broken off, as it were, from that mountain on the north and projecting as far as the Kaukasos and that part of the coast of the Euxine [Black Sea] which stretches from Kolchis to Themiskyra.
[Kaukasians (Caucasians) and, as a subset, Sarmatians = Seventy peoples of the Kolchis region]
(16) Be this as it may, since Dioskourias is situated in such a gulf and occupies the most easterly point of the whole sea, it is called not only the recess of the Euxine, but also the “furthest” voyage. And the proverbial verse, “To Phasis [Rioni in Georgia] river, where for ships is the furthest place run,” must be interpreted in this way: not as though the author of the iambic verse meant the river, much less the city of the same name situated on the river, but as meaning by a part of Kolchis the whole of it, since from the river and the city of that name there is left a straight voyage into the recess of not less than six hundred stadia. The same Dioskourias is the beginning of the isthmus between the Kaspian Sea and the Euxine, and also the common trading-centre of the peoples who are situated above it and in its vicinity. At any rate, seventy peoples come together in it. However, others who care nothing for the facts actually say three hundred peoples. All speak different languages because of the fact that, by reason of their obstinacy and ferocity, they live in scattered groups and without intercourse with one another. The greater part of them are Sarmatians, but they are all Kaukasians. So much, then, for the region of Dioscurias.
(17) Further, the greater part of the remainder of Kolchis is on the sea. Through it flows the Phasis, a large river having its sources in Armenia and receiving the waters of the Glaukos and the Hippos, which issue from the neighbouring mountains. It is navigated as far as Sarapana [Shorapani, Georgia], a fortress capable of admitting the population even of a city. From here people go by land to the Cyrus [Kura] river in four days by a wagon-road. On the Phasis is situated a city bearing the same name, a trading-centre of the Kolchians, which is protected on one side by the river, on another by a lake, and on another by the sea. From there, people go to Amisos and Sinope by sea (a voyage of two or three days) [cities on the central northern coast of what is now Turkey], because the shores are soft and because of the outlets of the rivers.
The country [in Kolchis] is excellent both in respect to its produce — except its honey, which is generally bitter — and in respect to everything that pertains to ship-building. For it not only produces quantities of timber but also brings it down on rivers. The people make linen in quantities, and hemp, wax, and pitch. Their linen industry has been famed far and wide. for they used to export linen to outside places. Some writers [Herodotos, Inquiries 2.104-105 (link) or others dependent on that work], wishing to demonstrate a kinship between the Kolchians and the Egyptians, confirm their belief by this. Above the mentioned rivers in the Moschian country lies the sanctuary of Leukothea, founded by Phrixos [cf. Apollodoros, Library 1.9.1, on the golden fleece], and the oracle of Phrixos, where a ram is never sacrificed. It was once rich, but it was robbed in our time by Pharnakes [II, reigned ca. 63–47 BCE], and a little later by Mithridates of Pergamon [ca. 47-40s BCE]. For when a country is devastated, “things divine are in sickly plight and usually not even to be respected,” says Euripides [Trojan Women 27].
[Strabo’s connection to Pontic royalty]
(18) The great fame this country had in early times is revealed by the myths which refer in an obscure way to the expedition of Jason as having proceeded as far as Media and also, before that time, of Phrixos. After this, when kings succeeded to power, the country being divided into districts of the staff-bearers, they were only moderately prosperous. But when Mithridates Eupator [VI, reigned the Pontic kingdom ca. 120-63 BCE] grew powerful, the country fell into his hands. Mithridates would always send one of his friends as sub‑governor or administrator of the country. Among these was Moaphernes [perhaps governor of Kolchis under Mithridates], my mother’s uncle on her father’s side. And it was from this country that the king received most aid in the equipment of his naval forces. But when the power of Mithridates had been broken up, all the territory subject to him was also broken up and distributed among many persons. At last Polemon got Colchis. And since his death his wife Pythodoris has been in power, being queen, not only of the Colchians, but also of Trapezus and Pharnacia and of the barbarians who live above these places, concerning whom I shall speak later on. Now the Moschian country, in which is situated the temple, is divided into three parts: one part is held by the Colchians, another by the Iberians, and another by the Armenians. There is also a small city in Iberia, the city of Phrixus, the present Ideëssa, well fortified, on the confines of Colchis. And near Dioskourias flows the Chares river.
[Phtheirophagians, Souanians, and other peoples near Dioskourias]
(19) Among the peoples which come together at Dioskourias [Sukhumi, Georgia] are the Phtheirophagians (literally “Lice-eaters”), who have received their name from their squalor and their filthiness. Near them are the Souanians, who are no less filthy, but superior to them in power. In fact, one might almost say that they are foremost in courage and in power. At any rate, they are masters of the peoples around them, and hold possession of the heights of the Kaukasos mountain above Dioskourias. They have a king and a council of three hundred men, and they assemble an army of two hundred thousand (according to report) because the entire people are a fighting force, though unorganized. It is said that in their country gold is carried down by the mountain-torrents, and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins, and that this is the origin of the myth of the golden fleece. That is, unless they call them “Iberians” [in other words some people do call them that], by the same name as the western Iberians, from the gold mines in both countries. The Souanians use remarkable poisons for the points of their missiles. Even people who are not wounded by the poisoned missiles suffer from their odour.
Now in general the peoples in the neighbourhood of the Kaukasus [Caucasus mountain range] occupy barren and cramped territories. But the peoples of the Albanians and the Iberians, which occupy nearly all the isthmus mentioned above, might also be called Kaukasian peoples. And they possess territory that is fertile and capable of affording an exceedingly good livelihood.
[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of Kaukasian Iberians and Albanians, go to this link].