Cappadocians: Strabo on their temple-states and supposed desire for subservience (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Cappadocians: Strabo on their temple-states and supposed desire for subservience (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 23, 2024,

Ancient author: Strabo, Geography `12.1-2 (link)

Comments: There are very few ethnographic accounts on the peoples of Cappodocia (in eastern Turkey), so it is worthwhile sharing Strabo’s discussion even though he is not consistently focussed on the customs of the peoples themselves. Nonetheless, he does provide a picture of a less urbanized countryside where temples populated by temple servants seem to be among the important centres. In particular, he focusses most on the Kataonians’ and the Mazekenians’ resources and temple-states. While he mostly refrains from expressing stereotypes concerning Cappadocian peoples, the entire narrative ends with him asserting a very common Greek stereotype regarding easterners or “Asians” generally: namely, that they are averse to freedom and inherently inclined to subservience to kings or others. The notion that easterners were by nature servile and effeminate was, of course, a quite important ideology underlying Greco-Roman slavery as a whole and this common perception impacted Phrygians, Carians, Paphlagonians, Cappadocians and other Anatolians that found themselves elsewhere, whether captured by the slave-trade or not.


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Baktrians, Sogdians, and others go to this link.]

[Geography and language of the Cappadocians]

1 (1) Cappadocia, also, is a country of many parts and has undergone numerous changes. However, the inhabitants who speak the same language are, generally speaking, those who are bounded on the south by the “Cilician” Tauros mountain-range, as it is called; on the east by Armenia and Kolchis [modern Georgia east of the Black Sea] and by the intervening peoples who speak a different group of languages; on the north by Euxine [Black Sea] as far as the outlets of the Halys [Kızılırmak] river; and, on the west both by the people of the Paphlagonians and by those Galatians who settled in Phrygia and extended as far as the Lykaonians and those Cilicians who occupy Cilicia Tracheia.

(2) Now as for those who speak the same language, the ancients set one of them, the Kataonians, by themselves, distinguishing them from the Cappadocians, considering the latter as a different people (heteroethnos). In their enumeration of the peoples (ethnē), they placed Kataonia after Cappadocia, and then placed the Euphrates and the peoples beyond it so as to include in Kataonia Melitene, which lies between Kataonia and the Euphrates, borders on Commagene, and, according to the division of Cappadocia into ten provinces (stratēgiai), is a tenth portion of the country. Indeed, it was in this way that the kings in my time who preceded Archelaos [last client king of Cappadocia, died 17 CE] held their several provinces over Cappadocia. Also, Kataonia is a tenth portion of Cappadocia. In my time each of the two countries had its own prefect. But since, as compared with the other Cappadocians, there is no difference to be seen either in the language or in any other usages of the Kataonians, it is remarkable how completely all signs of their being a different people have disappeared. At any rate, they were once a distinct people, but they were annexed by Ariarathes, the first man to be called king of the Cappadocians [i.e. Ariarathes I, reigning ca. 331-322 BCE].

(3) Cappadocia constitutes the isthmus, as it were, of a large peninsula bounded by two seas, by that of the Issian gulf as far as Cilicia Tracheia and by that of the Euxine [Black Sea] as far as Sinope and the coast of the Tibarenians. By “peninsula” I mean all the country which is west of Cappadocia this side the isthmus, which by Herodotos [Inquiries 1.6.28 – link] is called “the country this side [i.e. west of] the Halys [Kızılırmak] river.” For this is the country which in its entirety was ruled by Croesus, whom Herodotos calls the tyrant of the peoples this side the Halys river.

[Different uses of “Asia” clarified]

However, the writers of today give the name of “Asia” to the country this side of the Tauros mountains, applying to this country the same name as to the whole continent of Asia. This Asia comprises: the first peoples on the east, the Paphlagonians, Phrygians and Lykaonians; then the Bithynians and Mysians and the newly acquired region; besides these, it includes the Troad and Hellespontia; after these, on the sea, the Aiolians and Ionians, who are Greeks; among the rest, the Carians and Lycians; and, in the interior, the Lydians. As for the other peoples, I will discuss them later.

[Different parts and designations of Cappadocia]

(4) Cappadocia was divided into two satrapies by the Persians at the time when it was taken over by the Macedonians. The Macedonians willingly allowed one part of the country, but unwillingly the other, to change to kingdoms instead of satrapies. And one of these kingdoms they named “Cappadocia Proper” and “Cappadocia near Tauros,” and even “Greater Cappadocia,” and the other they named “Pontos,” though others named it “Cappadocia Pontica.” As for Greater Cappadocia, we at present do not yet know its administrative divisions, for after the death of king Archelaos [17 CE], Caesar and the senate decreed that it was a Roman province. But when, in the reign of Archelaos and of the kings who preceded him, the country was divided into ten provinces, those near the Tauros moutains were reckoned as five in number, I mean Melitene, Kataonia, Cilicia, Tyanitis, and Garsauritis; and Laviansene, Sargarausene, Saravene, Chamanene, and Morimene as the remaining five. The Romans later assigned to the predecessors of Archelaos an eleventh province, taken from Cilicia, I mean the country round Kastabala and Kybistra, extending to Derbe, which last had belonged to Antipater the bandit (lēstēs). And to Archelaos they further assigned the part of Cilicia Tracheia round Elaioussa, and also all the country that had organised the business of piracy (peiratēria).

2 (1) Melitene is similar to Commagene, for the whole of it is planted with fruit-trees, the only country in all Cappadocia of which this is true, so that it produces, not only the olive, but also the Monarite wine, which rivals the Greek wines. It is situated opposite to Sophene and the Euphrates river flows between it and Commagene, which latter borders on it. On the far side of the river is a noteworthy fortress, called Tomisa, belonging to the Cappadocians. This was sold to the ruler of Sophene for one hundred talents, but later was presented by Leucullus as a reward of valour to the ruler of Cappadocia who took the field with him in the war against Mithridates.


(2) Kataonia is a broad hollow plain, and produces everything except evergreen-trees. It is surrounded on its southern side by mountains, among others by the Amanos mountains, which is a branch of the Cilician Tauros range, and by the Anti-taurus range, which branches off in the opposite direction. For the Amanos extends from Kataonia to Cilicia and the Syrian sea towards the west and south, and in this intervening space it surrounds the whole of the gulf of Issos and the intervening plains of the Cilicians which lie towards the Tauros range. But the Anti-taurus range inclines to the north and takes a slightly easterly direction, and then terminates in the interior of the country.

[Kataonians of Komana and the temple of Ma]

(3) In this Anti-taurus range are deep and narrow valleys, in which are situated Komana and the temple of Enyo, whom the people there call “Ma.” It is a considerable city. Its inhabitants, however, consist mostly of the divinely inspired people and the temple-servants who live in it. Its inhabitants are Kataonians, who, though in a general way classed as subject to the king, are in most respects subject to the priest. The priest is master of the temple, and also of the temple-servants, who on my sojourn there were more than six thousand in number, men and women together. Also, considerable territory belongs to the temple, and the revenue is enjoyed by the priest. The priest is second in rank in Cappadocia after the king and in general the priests belonged to the same family as the kings. It is thought that Orestes, with his sister Iphigeneia, brought these sacred rites here from the Tauric Scythia, the rite in honour of Artemis Tauropolos, and that here they also deposited the hair of mourning, from which the city gets its name. Now the Saros [Seyhan] river flows through this city and passes out through the gorges of the Tauros range to the plains of the Cilicians and to the sea that lies below them.

[Pyramos river]

(4) But the Pyramos, a navigable river with its sources in the middle of the plain, flows through Kataonia. There is a notable pit in the earth through which one can see the water as it runs into a long hidden passage underground and then rises to the surface. If one lets down a javelin from above into the pit, the force of the water resists so strongly that the javelin can hardly be immersed in it. But even though it flows in great volume because of its immense depth and width, when it reaches the Tauros range it undergoes a remarkable contraction. Also remarkable is the cleft of the mountain through which the stream is carried. For, as in the case of rocks which have been broken and split into two parts, the projections on either side correspond so exactly to the cavities on the other that they could be fitted together. This was the case with the rocks I saw there, which, lying above the river on either side and reaching almost to the summit of the mountain at a distance of two or three plethra from each other, had cavities corresponding with the opposite projections. The whole intervening bed is rock, and it has a cleft through the middle which is deep and so extremely narrow that a dog or hare could leap across it. This cleft is the channel of the river, is full to the brim, and in width resembles a canal but on account of the crookedness of its course and its great contraction in width and the depth of the gorge, a noise like thunder strikes the ears of travellers long before they reach it. In passing out through the mountains it brings down so much silt to the sea, partly from Kataonia and partly from the Cilician plains, that even an oracle is reported as having been given out in reference to it, as follows: “Men that are yet to be will experience this at the time when the Pyramos of the silver eddies will silt up its sacred sea‑beach and come to Cyprus.” Indeed, something similar to this takes place also in Egypt, since the Nile is always turning the sea into dry land by throwing out silt. Accordingly, Herodotos calls Egypt “the gift of the Nile,” while Homer speaks of Pharos as “being out in the open sea,” since in earlier times it was not, as now, connected with the mainland of Egypt.

[Temple of Zeus Dakieios]

(5) The third in rank is the priesthood of Zeus Dakieios, which, though inferior to that of Enyo, is noteworthy. At this place there is a reservoir of salt water which has the circumference of a considerable lake. It is shut in by brows of hills so high and steep that people go down to it by ladder-like steps. The water, they say, neither increases nor anywhere has a visible outflow.

[Temple of Kataonian Apollo]

(6) Neither the plain of the Kataonians nor the country Melitene has a city, but they have strongholds on the mountains, I mean Azamora and Dastarkon and round the latter flows the Carmalas river. It contains also a temple, that of the Kataonian Apollo, which is held in honour throughout the whole of Cappadocia. The Cappadocians have made it the model of temples of their own. Neither do the other provinces, except two, contain cities. And of the remaining provinces, Sargarausene contains a small town Herpa, and also the Carmalas river, this too emptying into the Cilician Sea. In the other provinces are Argos, a lofty stronghold near the Tauros mountains, and Nora, now called Neroassos, in which Eumenes held out against a siege for a long time. In my time it served as the treasury of Sisines, who made an attack upon the empire of the Cappadocians. To him also belonged Cadena, which had the royal palace and had the aspect of a city. Situated on the borders of Lykaonia is also a town called Garsauira. This too is said once to have been the metropolis of the country. In Morimene, at Venasa, is the temple of the Venasian Zeus, which has a settlement of almost three thousand temple-servants and also a sacred territory that is very productive, affording the priest a yearly revenue of fifteen talents. He, too, is priest for life, as is the priest at Comana, and is second in rank after him.


(7) Only two provinces have cities, Tyanitis the city Tyana, which lies below the Tauros at the Cilician Gates, where for all is the easiest and most commonly used pass into Cilicia and Syria. It is called “Eusebeia near the Tauros” and its territory is for the most part fertile and level. Tyana is situated upon a mound of Semiramis, which is beautifully fortified.

Not far from this city are Kastabala and Kybistra, towns still nearer to the mountain. At Kastabala is the temple of the Perasian Artemis, where the priestesses, it is said, walk with naked feet over hot embers without pain. And here, too, some tell us over and over the same story of Orestes and Tauropolos, asserting that she was called “Perasian” because she was brought “from the other side.”

[Mazakenians and their resources]

So then, in the province Tyanitis, one of the ten above mentioned is Tyana (I am not enumerating along with these provinces those that were acquired later, I mean Kastabala and Kybistra and the places in Cilicia Tracheia, where Elaioussa is located. Elaioussa is a very fertile island which was settled in a noteworthy manner by Archelaos, who spent the greater part of his time there). Whereas Mazaka, the metropolis of the people, is in the Cilician province, as it is called.

This city, too, is called “Eusebeia,” with the additional words “near the Argaios,” for it is situated below the Argaios, the highest mountain of all, whose summit never fails to have snow upon it. And those who ascend it (those are few) say that in clear weather both seas, both the Pontos and the Issian sea [gulf of Iskenderun], are visible from it. Now in general Mazaka is not naturally a suitable place for the founding of a city, for it is without water and unfortified by nature. Because of the neglect of the prefects, it is also without walls. Perhaps this is intentionally so, in order that people inhabiting a plain, with hills above it that were advantageous and beyond range of missiles, might not, through too much reliance on the wall as a fortification, engage in plundering. Further, the districts all around are completely barren and untilled, although they are level, but they are sandy and are rocky underneath.

[Forests and timber]

Proceeding a little farther on, one comes to plains extending over many stadium-lengths that are volcanic and full of fire-pits and therefore the necessaries of life must be brought from a distance. And further, that which seems to be an advantage is attended with peril, for although almost the whole of Cappadocia is without timber, the Argaios has forests all round it, and therefore the working of timber is close at hand. But the region which lies below the forests also contains fires in many places and at the same time has an underground supply of cold water, although neither the fire nor the water emerges to the surface and therefore most of the country is covered with grass. In some places, also, the ground is marshy, and at night flames rise therefrom. Now those who are acquainted with the country can work the timber, since they are on their guard, but the country is perilous for most people, and especially for cattle, since they fall into the hidden fire-pits.


(8) There is also a river in the plain before the city. It is called Melas, it is about forty stadium-lengths distant from the city, and has its sources in a district that is below the level of the city. For this reason, therefore, it is useless to the inhabitants, since its stream is not in a favourable position higher up, but spreads abroad into marshes and lakes. In the summer-time, it vitiates the air round the city and also makes the stone-quarry hard to work, though otherwise easy to work. For there are ledges of flat stones from which the Mazakenians obtain an abundant supply of stone for their buildings, but when the slabs are concealed by the waters they are hard to obtain. And these marshes, also, are everywhere volcanic.

Ariarathes the king, since the Melas river had an outlet into the Euphrates by a certain narrow defile, dammed this and converted the neighbouring plain into a sea‑like lake, and there, shutting off certain islands – like the Kyklades – from the outside world, passed his time there in boyish diversions. But the barrier broke all at once, the water streamed out again, and the Euphrates, thus filled, swept away much of the soil of Cappadocia, and obliterated numerous settlements and plantations. It also caused considerable damage to the country of the Galatians who held Phrygia. In return for the damage, the inhabitants, who gave over the decision of the matter to the Romans, exacted of him a fine of three hundred talents. The same was the case also in regard to Herpa, for there too he dammed the stream of the Carmalas river and then, the mouth having broken open and the water having ruined certain districts in Cilicia in the neighbourhood of Mallus, he paid damages to those who had been wronged.

(9) However, although the district of the Mazakenians is in many respects not naturally suitable for habitation, the kings seem to have preferred it, because of all places in the country this was nearest to the centre of the region which contained timber and stone for buildings, and at the same time provender, of which, being cattle-breeders, they needed a very large quantity, for in a way the city was for them a camp. And as for their security in general, both that of themselves and of their slaves, they got it from the defences in their strongholds, of which there are many, some belonging to the king and others to their friends.

Mazaka is distant from Pontos about eight hundred stadium-lengths to the south, from the Euphrates slightly less than double that distance, and from the Cilician Gates and the camp of Cyrus a journey of six days by way of Tyana. Tyana is situated at the middle of the journey and is three hundred stadium-lengths distant from Kybistra. The Mazakenians use the laws of Charondas, choosing also a Nomodos, who, like the jurisconsults among the Romans, is the expounder of the laws. But Tigranes, the Armenian, put the people in bad plight when he overran Cappadocia, for he forced them, one and all, to migrate into Mesopotamia and it was mostly with these that he settled Tigranokerta. But later, after the capture of Tigranokerta, those who could returned home.

[Size of Cappadocia]

(10) The size of the country is as follows: In width, from Pontos to the Tauros, about one thousand eight hundred stadia, and in length, from Lycaonia and Phrygia to the Euphrates towards the east and Armenia, about three thousand. It is an excellent country, not only in respect to fruits, but particularly in respect to grain and all kinds of cattle. Although it lies farther south than Pontos, it is colder. Bagadania, though level and farthest south of all (for it lies at the foot of the Tauros), produces hardly any fruit-bearing trees, although it is grazed by wild asses, both it and the greater part of the rest of the country, and particularly that round Garsauira and Lycaonia and Morimene. In Cappadocia is produced also the ruddle called “Sinopean,” the best in the world, although the Iberian rivals it. It was named “Sinopean” because the merchants were wont to bring it down thence to Sinope before the traffic of the Ephesians had penetrated as far as the people of Cappadocia. It is said that also slabs of crystal and of onyx stone were found by the miners of Archelaos near the country of the Galatians. There was a certain place, also, which had white stone that was like ivory in colour and yielded pieces of the size of small whetstones and from these pieces they made handles for their small swords. And there was another place which yielded such large lumps of transparent stone that they were exported. The boundary of Pontos and Cappadocia is a mountain tract parallel to the Tauros, which has its beginning at the western extremities of Chammanene, where is situated Dasmenda, a stronghold with sheer ascent, and extends to the eastern extremities of Laviansene. Both Chammanene and Laviansene are provinces in Cappadocia.

[Roman control, client kings, and the Cappadocians’ supposed dislike of freedom]

(11) It came to pass, as soon as the Romans, after conquering Antiochus, began to administer the affairs of Asia and were forming friendships and alliances both with the peoples and with the kings, that in all other cases they gave this honour to the kings individually, but gave it to the king of Cappadocia and the people jointly. And when the royal family died out, the Romans, in accordance with their compact of friendship and alliance with the people, conceded to them the right to live under their own laws. But those who came on the embassy not only requested to take away this freedom (for they said that they were unable to bear it), but requested that a king be appointed for them. The Romans were amazed that any people should be so tired of freedom. Anyways, they permitted them to choose by vote from their own number whomever they wished. And they chose Ariobarzanes, but in the course of the third generation his family died out and Archelaos was appointed king, though not related to the people, being appointed by Antony. So much for Greater Cappadocia. As for Cilicia Tracheia, which was added to Greater Cappadocia, it is better for me to describe it in my account of the whole of Cilicia.

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of Bithynians and others along the southern coast of the Black Sea, go to this link].


Source of the translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.

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