Ligurians: Diodoros on their extremely hard work (mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Ligurians: Diodoros on their extremely hard work (mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 3, 2023,

Ancient authors: Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 4.20 (link).

Comments: On the mention of Liguria in Diodoros’ narrative about the expeditions and achievements of Herakles, Diodoros has an ethnographic aside on Ligurians (on which also see Strabo at this link) living in the area around what is now modern Genoa, Italy, near the Alps (and therefore adjacent to or among Celts). Diodoros stresses the difficulties with cultivating the land and the extremely hard-working people these environmental conditions supposedly created, giving an anecdote about a woman who gave birth while working. He also suggests that these conditions led to different gender roles from what he was used to.

Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (passed away in 1954 and copyright not renewed), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Herakles’ civilizing campaigns as far as the Iberians and Celts, go to this link]

Book 4 

20  The Ligurians (Ligyes) who live in Liguria [area near modern Genoa, Italy] possess a soil which is stony and completely terrible. In return for the labours and exceedingly great hardships of the natives, the land produces only scanty crops which are squeezed from it. For this reason, the inhabitants are small in build and are kept vigorous by their constant exercise. For since they are far removed from the care-free life which accompanies luxury, they are light in their movements and excel in vigour when it comes to contests of war. (2) In general, the inhabitants of the region nearby are used to continuous work. Since cultivating the land requires so much labour, the Ligurians have become accustomed to require the women to share in the hardships of cultivation. And since both the men and the women work side by side for hire, it came to pass that a strange and surprising thing took place in our day in connection with a certain woman. (3) She was pregnant and, while working for hire alongside the men, she was seized by labour-pains in the midst of her work and quietly withdrew into an area with bushes. Here she gave birth to the child and then, after covering it with leaves, she hid the baby there and  rejoined the labourers, continuing to endure the same hardship as that in which they were engaged and giving no hint of what had happened. When the baby cried and the occurrence became known, the overseer could in no way persuade her to stop her work. In fact, she did not desist from the hardship until her employer took pity upon her, paid her the wages due her, and set her free from work.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Y, go to this link (coming soon)].

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