Iberians and others: Avienus on a journey along the southern coast of Spain (mid-fourth century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Iberians and others: Avienus on a journey along the southern coast of Spain (mid-fourth century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 18, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=16077.

Ancient author: Rufus Festus Avienus (mid-fourth century CE), Sea Coast / Ora Maritima, entire surviving first portion (link to Latin).

Comments: The surviving portions of Rufus Festus Avienus’ mid-fourth century CE poetic travelogue (or periplus / periplous) start out with a brief sketch of the coast from Britannia or Ireland down to the pillars of Hercules (with an aside on the Irish) before focussing on the southern coast of Iberia or Spain from the pillars to Marseille. Avienus outlines many peoples along the coast, sometimes briefly characterizing populations as he goes along. Avienus’ introduction also mentions many of the primarily Greek geographic or ethnographic sources that he employed, including a work attributed to Himilco the Punic author.

Duane W. Roller’s work was particularly helpful in identifying modern equivalents of ancient places, just to give the reader some geographical bearings (not by any means to suggest complete accuracy on the part of Avienus).

Works consulted: D.W. Roller, Three Ancient Geographical Treatises in Translation: Hanno, the King Nikomedes Periodos, and Avienus (New York: Routledge, 2021)..

Source of the translation: Translation from Topostext.org by Ralph B. Morley (1992), used under the license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, adapted by Harland with addition of modern place names for general orientation.


[Introduction and dedication to Probus]

(1) Probus, since I thought that you have often pondered
with your mind and your understanding
how the situation of the Taurian sea
might be understood with reasonable confidence by those
whom the furthest expanses of the earth separate,
I gladly entered upon this task
so that what you have longed for should become clear for you in song.
I did not think it right that at a great age
the outline of that region should not lie
within the compass of your understanding –
a region which I have learned about through more private study
from very old texts, and through every day of my life,
to begrudge another what you possess without any expense
I think is the mark of an uneducated and coarse man.
To those things I add this, that you stand in place of a child
to me in my affections and in the bond of blood.
Nor would that be enough, if I did not know that you
had always drunk in with jaws wide open literature
and secret things, that you are of an open mind,
that you are capable in your understanding,
that your thirst for such things is yoked to your heart,
(20) and that you are mindful of what has been made known to you beyond others:
Why would I pour out secrets to someone who could not remember them?
Who would prattle about deep mysteries to someone who could not comprehend?
Thus, many things – many! – have driven me, Probus,
to finish for you what you have demanded of me.
Indeed, I believed that this would also be a parent’s task,
if my muse were to make known to you more richly and more abundantly
what you long for.
To give what has been asked for is the mark of a man who is not mean;
but to increase further the sum of the gift with new things
is the mark of a kindly and sufficiently generous mind.


You asked, if you remember, what the region of the Maiotic sea [Sea of Azov] is.
I know that Sallust has reported this, and I could not deny that his words
are accepted by everyone to be of settled authority.
So, to his famous description, where that writer, adept with his pen and truthful,
has set out with graceful speech
the pattern and appearance of those places
almost as though they were before our sight, I have added many things
(40) taken from the commentaries of very many authors.
Obviously, Hekataios the Milesian will be found there,
Hellanikos of Lesbos, Phileas the Athenian, too,
Skylax of Karyanda [i.e. Pseudo-Skylax – link],
So too Pausimachos, whom ancient Samos bore
And of course, Damastes, born in noble Sige,
Bakoros, sprung from Rhodes, Euktemon, too,
of the democratic city in Attica, Kleon the Sicilian,
Herodotos of Thurii himself, and then he who is
the great glory of speaking, the Athenian Thucydides.

[Further introductory words]

Here, Probus, part of my heart, you shall have further
whatever islands are conspicuous in the sea –
I mean through that sea which, after the openings
of the world gaping wide from the Tartessian strait
and the waves of the Atlantic,
pushes on our sea
right up to the land situated far away.
[And you shall have] the curved bays and the outcrops –
how the shore stretches itself out with its curving shape,
how the ridges extend themselves far into the waves,
(60) and how the lofty cities are washed by the sea,
which sources pour out the greatest rivers,
how the streams headlong enter the current of the sea,
how they then often surround islands
and how the ports wind through sheltered reaches,
how the creeks spread out, how the lakes lie,
how the high mountains lift up their rugged crest
and how the white wave of the current laps the pastures.
But this will be the end of our work:
that the Scythian sea and the salty Euxine sea [Black Sea],
and any islands which crop up on that deep
should be set forth in full. We have written further
about the remainder more fully in that volume
which we wrote about the shores and regions of world.
So that you should indeed have an open declaration
of my sweat and my labour,
let us begin the narrative of this work a little more profoundly.
You must store up in your innermost heart
what I have set forth, for this trust supports
what has been sought far and wide and drawn from authors.

[Overview of the inhabited earth from the perspective of the Pillars of Hercules in the far west]

(80) The circle of the broad earth is widely spread,
and, on the other hand, waves surround the earth.
But where, from the Ocean itself, the deep sea penetrates amid the rock,
such that here the current of our sea
extends far, there is the Atlantic gulf.
Here is the city of Gadir, previously called Tartessos;
here are the pillars of unyielding Hercules,
Abila and Calpe. Calpe is on the left of the land I have spoken of;
Abila is next to Africa. They make a harsh noise,
and here rises the crest of the overshadowing ridge.
A more ancient age called it Oestrymnis,
and the lofty bulk of the rocky outcrops
all turns towards the warm south wind.

[Oestrymnians of the extreme west]

But beneath the top of this peak,
the Oestrymnian gulf [perhaps Douarnenez bay in France] gapes open for its inhabitants,
in which the Oestrymnian islands spring up,
lying over a wide area and rich in deposits
of tin and lead. Great is the energy of the people here,
proud their character, pragmatic their skill.
(100) All things are connected to affairs of business.
They cleave the tempestuous sea,
and the current of the Ocean abounding in monsters, with woven boats.
Indeed, these people do not know how to fashion keels with pine and maple.
They do not, as is usual, shape their boats from fir,
but, in a miraculous thing, they always fit out
bessels from hides stitched together,
and often travel through the immense sea in a skin.

[Hiernians on the Sacred island, likely Britannia or Ireland, drawing on Himilco]

Then from here it is two days’ journey by boat to the Sacred island –
so the ancients called it.
This island lies as an expanse of ground amid the waves,
and the people (gens) of the Hiernians cultivate it all over.
The island of the Albionians (Albiones) also lies nearby.
It was the habit of the Tartessians
to do business among the furthest parts of the Oestrymnides.
The colonists from Carthage and the ordinary people, bearing on through
the Pillars of Hercules [Strait of Gibraltar], used to come down to these seas,
which Himilco the Punic person [i.e. descendent of Phoenicians settled in northern Africa] reports –
having proved it by sailing all the way –
could scarcely be crossed in four months.
(121) This is so because no breezes drive the ship,
and the sluggish water of the inert sea stands still.
He adds this comment too: among the currents,
there is a lot of seaweed, and often, in the manner of a bush,
it checks a ship. He says that nonetheless here
the surface of the sea does not extend to a great depth,
and the seabed is scarcely covered with a little water.
Here and there sea creatures meet, and sea monsters
swim amid the slow ships sluggishly crawling along.

[Ligurians imagined as having previously lived in the north and migrated to northwestern Italy]
If anyone were to dare to launch a cutter into the waves
from the Oestrymnian islands, where the air is frozen
in the northern sky, he would come upon the land of the Ligurians (Ligures),
devoid of inhabitants. For the fields have been empty
for a long time because of a band of Celts and frequent battles,
and the Ligurians were driven out, as fortune often drives out others,
and came to those places, which they possess amid plenty of bristling bushes.
In these places, there is roundabout abundant rough stone,
rugged cliffs and mountains threatening the sky. And this people, which
in fact avoided contact, for some time now led its life amid the narrow confines of the rocks
(140) far from the waves. For they were afraid of the sea,
on account of the danger they had experienced in ancient times.
Later, since freedom from care fortified their boldness, peace and an untroubled life
coaxed them to be led down from their high dwelling-places
and to come down to the areas now by the sea.
Then, after those places which we have set out above,
the great bay of the open sea extends up to Ophiussa.
Then, from the shore of this place to the inshore sea,
where the sea wends itself amid the land
(as I have said before), and which they call the sea of the Sardi,
is a journey of seven days for a traveller on foot.
Ophiussa [land of the snake] extends its side to a distance
as much as you hear the island of Pelops lies
in the land of the Greeks. Ophiussa was first called Oestrymnis,
since the Oestrymnians inhabited the places and the fields.
Some time later a serpent forced the inhabitants to flee
and imposed on the empty land its name.

[Further travels]

From there the ridge of Venus extends into the swells,
and the sea barks round two islands,
(160) which are inhospitable on account of the meanness of the land.
Then the promontory of Aryium rises up in the harsh north.
The journey from here by ship
to the Pillars of powerful Hercules is five days.
After that there is a sea isle
abounding in grass and sacred to Saturn.
But there is such great natural force in the island
that if anyone approaches it by sailing,
soon the sea in the region of the island is stirred up,
the island itself is shaken and all the sea
leaps up, beginning to quake deeply.
But the rest of the sea is still like a pond.
From here the promontory of Ophiussa rises up to the air.
From the ridge of Aryium to this place is a journey of two days.
But the bay which opens up over some distance from here
does not pass by easily navigable with one wind:
you can reach the middle with the west wind
carrying you, but the remainder of the bay requires the south wind.
Then from there, if anyone makes for the shore
of the Tartessians on foot, he would come
(180) to the end of the journey on just about the fourth day.
If anyone directed his path to our sea and the port of Malaca,
It is a journey of five days.
Then the Cempsican ridge looms large. Beneath it in turn lies the
Island of Achale, named by its inhabitants.
There is scarcely any credibility in the tale, because it is a miracle,
but repeated assertion sufficiently supports it:
they say in the bounds of this island,
There is nothing equal in appearance to the rest of the swell.
it is certain that everywhere there is brightness in the waves
like the sheen of glass, and through the depth of the sea
There is a bluish appearance.
But the ancients relate that there the sea
is always thick with foul mud and dirt,
like streams abounding in sediment.

[Cempsians, Sefians, Draganians, and Cynetians in western Iberia]
The Cempsians and the Sefians (Sefes) inhabit the steep hills
In the country of Ophiussa. Nearby to these
striving Ligus and the offspring of the Draganians (Draganes)
located their home beneath the very snowy north wind.
then, Poetanion is an island on the border of the Sefians,
(200) and an accessible port. After that, the peoples of the Cynetians (Cynetes)
lie next to the Cempsians. Then the ridge of the Cynetians,
looming on high where the starlight sets, the furthest ridge
of fertile Europe, faces towards the sea filled with ocean monsters.
There the river Ana runs through the Cynetians,
and cleaves the land. The bay opens up
and hollow land stretches out to the south.

From the river I have told you about, twin streams
suddenly separate themselves and push on
their slow courses through the dense water of the bay mentioned above.
This is of course because all the sea here is thick with mud.
Here the crest of two islands rises up high.
The smaller lacks a name.
Enduring tradition calls the other Agonis.
The rough rock bristles with cliffs
and is Saturn’s sacred isle. The sea is struck against it and foams up.
The rocky shore stretches out over a wide area.
Here, shaggy she-goats and many a billy-goat belonging to the natives
wander constantly among the turf’s thickets.
They also grow long and thick hairs,
(220) suited to military use and to sailors’ clothing.
From here to the river I spoke about is a journey of one day.
Here too the people of the Cynetes have their border.

[Tartessians, Iberians, Vasconians and others in south-central Iberia]

The Tartessian region borders this,
and the river Tartessos flows through the country.
From there extends the ridge dedicated to the west wind.
In fact, the summit of the peak is called Zephyris.
The tops of the peak rise high from the ridge.
Its great elevation reaches to the air, and something like
a mist sitting on top of it always covers its overcast crest.
From that point, all the country greatly abounds in grassy soil.
These inhabitants have slopes that are always cloudy.
The upper air is denser, and the day more humid;
there is lots of dew, as though it were night.
No breezes blow through, as is usual; no breath of wind
shakes the air upwards. An inert mist sits on the land
and the earth is wet over a wide area.
If anyone were to set out from the peak of Zephyris by ship
and be carried towards the current of our sea,
(240) he would immediately be borne along by the breezes of the west wind.
Then there is a ridge, sacred to the goddess of the lower world,
and a sumptuous sanctuary in a concealed hollow
and a dark adyton. There is a great marsh roundabout,
called Erebea. In fact, the city of Herbi
is said to have stood in these parts in an ancient era,
this city, annihilated by the storms of battle,
left its reputation and its name to the salty ground.
But from there the Iberos (Hiberus) [Ebro river in Spain] river flows, and it makes
the region fertile with its water. Many people say
that the Iberians (Hiberi) are named for this,
and not from that river which
glides past the restless Vasconians (Vascones).
For whatever part of this people lies
west of this river, they call the people Iberian.
The eastern part in turn contains the Tartessians
and Cilbicenians (Cilbiceni). After that is the island Cartare:
the Cempsians held it for a long time:
there is sufficient faith concurring to support this.
Afterwards, since they were driven out because of
war with their neighbours, they set out in search
of different places. From there, mount Cassius rises:
(260) the Greek language formerly called tin “cassiterum” because of it.

[Further travels]

Then there is the peak of a shrine which also retains its very old Greek name:
it is the high citadel of Geron. We have received the tradition
that Geryon was once named because of it.
Here are the wide-extending shores of the bay of Tartessos.
And from the river I have mentioned to this part of the area is
a journey of a day.
Here is the town of Gadir, for the Punic language [Phoenician dialect as spoken in northern Africa]
used to call a place that had been enclosed “Gadir” [Cádiz].
It was previously named Tartessos. It was a great and wealthy city
in ancient times. Now it is poor, now it is small,
now it is forsaken. Now it is a heap of ruins.
We saw nothing wonderful here,
except the festival of Hercules.
But there was such power in those rites, or such glory,
in a former age (if we believe the thing)
that an arrogant kind, powerful beyond all those
whom the Mauritanian people chanced to have in that era,
most welcome to the emperor Octavian
(280) and always applying himself to the study of literature – Juba –
although separated by the sea flowing between the places,
believed he was more illustrious because he held the duumvirate of that city.
The river Tartessos flows through its openings
from the Ligustine lake and binds fast the island on all sides with its swash.
Nor does that river flow on by a single course,
or in one body cut through the ground that lies nearby.
In fact, it carries three mouths into the country
in the eastern region, and it washes
the southern parts of the city with a fourfold mouth.
Mount Argentarius overhangs the marsh,
so named by the ancients from its appearance.
It shines in its flanks with abundant tin,
and reflects more light into the air at a distance
when the sun beats down on the ridges with its glow from on high.
Moreover, the same river, heavy with its waves of tin,
Rolls along the small pieces and carries the rich metal
down to the city walls.

[Etamanians, Ileatians, and Cilbicensians]

From here onwards, a great expanse of territory
recedes from the sea’s salty current through the middle of the land.
(300) The people of the Etmanians (Etamanes) lives here.
Then, after that, the Ileatians (Ileates) stretch out themselves up to the field of the Cempsians
over the fruitful country.
The Cilbicenians, in fact, possess the coastal regions.
The sea in the middle separates
the peak of Geron and the promontory of the shrine, as I have said above.
The bay curves inwards between the high points of the rocks.
By the next ridge a great river unfolds:
From here the mountain of the Tartessians rises on high,
shaded with woods. Then there is the island of Erytheia
spreading out its soil, once under the sway of Carthage.
Certainly, colonists of ancient Carthage first held it.

[Further travels]

The peak of Erytheia [largely mythical] is cut off from the mainland
at a distance of five stadium-lengths by the sea flowing between as a boundary.
In the west, there is an island consecrated to Venus of the Sea:
there is a temple of Venus on it, a deep hollow and an oracle.
From that mountain (which I had told you bristled with woods) to
the promontory of Venus lies a shore which bends back and is soft with sands,
(320) into which the Besilus and Cilbus rivers drive on their currents.
After that, to the west, the sacred ridge raises up its domineering rocks.
This place Greece once called Herma.
Herma is a fortification of earth
which on both sides fortifies the lake that flows between.
Others on the contrary call it the “way of Hercules”:
Hercules, of course, is said to have smoothed over the seas,
so that an easy route would lie open for the flock he had captured.
Then that Herma was for a long time under the control of the African land:
several writers relate this.
Nor should we reject Dionysius [perhaps Dionysios of Alexandria] as a source,
who explains that Tartessium is the border of Africa.
In the European territory, which I have indicated is called
sacred by the inhabitants, a peak rises up.
A narrow strait flows between both places.
Euktemon [perhaps fifth century BCE], an inhabitant of the city of Amphipolis, says that
that place which is called Herma and the “way of Hercules”
extends for no greater length than a distance of one hundred and seven miles,
(340) And both are separated by a distance of three miles.
Here stand the Pillars of Hercules which we read
are reckoned to be the boundary of each continent.
There are, too, equally projecting rocks, Abyla and Calpe.
Calpe is in Hispania,
Abyla is in the land of the Maurusians.
For the Punic people (genos) [i.e Phoenicians long ago settled in North Africa] calls “Abyla” in its barbarian language
what is a “high mountain” in the Latin language. Plautus is authority for this.
And “kalpe” in Greece is the name of a type of water pitcher,
hollow and smoothed from use.
Euktemon the Athenian also says that there are no rocks or peaks rising on each side:
he relates that two islands lie between Africa’s soil and Europe’s shore.
He says that these are named the Pillars of Hercules, and reports that thirty stadium-lengths
separate these two; they bristle with woods everywhere,
and are always inhospitable for sailors.
Indeed, he says that these islands have on them temples and altars of Hercules,
and that strangers who are carried to the islands by ship
make offerings to the gods and depart with hastening sail:
(360) It is thought impermissible to linger on the islands.
He relates that the shallow sea spreads over a wide area
round and next to most of the region. Laden ships are not able to approach the place
because of the meagre depth of water, and the thick mud of the shore.
But if his will happens to impel anyone to approach the temple,
he hastens to direct his ship to the island of the Moon,
to remove the loads from his vessel,
and thus to be carried across the sea in a light craft.
But as to the heaving sea that flows between the Pillars,
Damastes says that it is scarcely seven stadium-lengths.
Skylax of Karyanda maintains that the water flowing between the Pillars
extends as far as swell of the Bosphorus.
Beyond these Pillars, by the European side,
inhabitants from Carthage once possessed the villages and cities:
it was their custom to build ships with flatter keels
by means of which a boat wider in the beam
could glide along the shallower bed of the sea.
(380) Beyond, towards the area to the west,
Himilco relates that from the Pillars there is a sea without end:
The ocean lies open across a wide area, and the sea stretches out.
No man has entered upon these seas. No man has ever set ships on that ocean,
because the sea lacks winds that would drive the ship along,
and no breeze from the sky favours a ship.
Then, because a mist clothes the air with a kind of cloak, fog always conceals the sea
and lasts through the day, which is rather thick with clouds.

[Digression on the Ocean, drawing on Dionysios of Alexandria, lines 26-67 – link]

That is the Ocean, which roars far off around the vast earth.
That is the great sea. This sea encircles the shores.
This is the source of the water of the inner saltwater [Mediterranean Sea]; this is the parent of our sea.
Indeed, on the outside it curves into shape very many gulfs
and the power of the deep sea penetrates our world.
But let us speak of the four greatest gulfs.
Accordingly, the first narrow entry point of this Ocean in between the dry land
is the Western tide and the saltwater of the Atlantic;
then there are the waters of Hyrkania, the Caspian sea;
(400) the salt sea of the Indians [Indian Ocean], the surface of the Persian [Gulf] swell;
and the Arabian gulf beneath the south wind, already warm.
An old habit once called the Arabian gulf the Ocean;
and another custom called the Atlantic sea the same.
The Ocean’s current extends encircling far and wide,
and it is stretched out over a broad area along dispersed coasts.
For the most part, in fact, the sea is spread shallow,
with the result that it scarcely covers the sands which lie beneath it.
Moreover, thick seaweed rises above the gulf,
and the swell here is checked by the marshy seabed.
Abundant sea creatures swim amongst all the sea,
and great terror, because of these creatures, abides in the deep.
Himilco the Punic person [i.e. descendant of Phoenicians in North Africa] reported that he had once seen these
creatures in the Ocean and proved their existence.
These we have related to you, revealed a long time ago
deep in the Punic annals.

[More peoples in Iberia / Spain, following along the southern coast]

Now let us return to the prior subject matter of our pen.
And so opposite the Libyastadic Pillar [of Hercules], as I have said, rises up another
in European soil.
Here the river Chrysus enters the deep sea; on this side and that
(420) four peoples (gentes) dwell.
For there are the fierce Libyphoenicians in this place;
there are the Massienians; and the Cilbicenan domains
in a wild country, and the rich Tartessians,
who extend to the Calactican Bay.
Nearby these lies the Barbetian ridge,
and the river Malacha [Guadalmedina river], with the city of the same name [Málaga, Spain],
which in an earlier age was called Menake.
There an island under the sway of the Tartessians
lies opposite the city, consecrated by the inhabitants
to Noctiluca [island] a long time ago. On the island is a pool
and a safe port: the town of Menake lies above it.
Where the region which I have mentioned draws itself away from the waves,
Silurus [now Sierra Nevada] swells up with its lofty peak.
There a great rock rises up and extends into the deep sea.
Once numerous pines gave this rock to be named for them in the Greek language.
And the shore slopes back right as far as the shrine of Venus [i.e. Aphrodite] and the ridge of Venus.
In fact, on that shore there stood numerous cities in times past,
and many Phoenicians held these places a long time ago.
Now the empty land presents inhospitable sand. Bereft of farmers,
the ground lies neglected.

From the aforementioned ridge of Venus, Libyan Herma is seen at a distance,
(440) as I have said before. Here again the shore is exposed,
Now devoid of inhabitants, and of degraded soil.
Here, too, in fact, in days of old stood very many cities,
and many peoples abounded.
For there a port spreads wide, near the town of the Massienians,
carving itself out from the deep sea,
and in the farthest part of the bay rises the city of the Massienians
with its high walls. After this, the ridge of Traete rises up,
and the small island of Strongyle stands nearby.

[Peoples of the past on nearby islands]

Next, on the edge of this island, a marshy level extends its great flanks.
There the Theodoros river (do not let it be bewildering to you
that in this fierce place, barbarian enough, you should hear tell
of the name of this river in the Greek language) oozes out.
The Phoenicians formerly used to inhabit those places.
(460) From here again the sands of the shore spread themselves out,
and three islands surround this shore on all sides:
here once stood the boundary of the Tartessians.
Here once was the city of Herna.
The people of the Gymnetians (Gymnetes) had settled those places.
Now forsaken, and for a long time lacking inhabitants,
the river Alebos flows, burbling to itself.
Next, through these swells is the island of Gymnesia,
which gave its old name to the population of inhabitants,
right up to the channel of the Sicanus which flows by.
There too the islands of Pityussians appear,
and the broad backs of the Baleares islands.

[Iberians and Berybrakians on the mainland]

On the far side, the Iberians (Hiberi) extend their sway right up
to the ridge of Pyrene [Pyrenees range], settled over a wide area
near the inner sea [northeastern Iberia]. Ilerda rises, the first of their cities:
from here, the shore stretches out barren sands:
here, too, a long time ago the city of Hemeroskopeion
was inhabited. But nowadays the ground, devoid
of inhabitants, is a languorous swamp.
Next, the city of Sicana rears itself,
(480) so named by the Iberians from the neighbouring river.
Not far from the fork in this river,
the Tyrius river [modern Turia] touches the town of Tyris.
But where the land draws far back from the sea,
the country extends inland full of thickets.

There the Berybrakians (Berybraces), a rural and fierce people,
used to wander amid their herds abounding in cattle.
These people, feeding themselves very hardily with milk and fatty cheese,
used to live their lives in the manner of wild beasts.

[Further travels along the southern coast of Spain]

Beyond that the ridge of Caprasia comes into view on high,
and the shores lie bare right up to the boundary of Ophiussa, the empty Chersonese.
The marsh of the Naccarares spreads out along those shores.
Custom, in fact, gave this name to that marsh.
In the middle of the swamp also rises a small island abounding in olives:
for this reason, it stands sacred to Minerva.
There were many cities nearby.
It was in fact here that Hylactes, Hystra, Sarna and noble Tyrichae stood.
The town had an old name, and the inhabitants’ treasure
(500) was greatly renowned through all the lands of the earth.
Since, beyond the richness of the soil, as a result of which the
ground sustained cattle, sustained vines, and sustained
the gifts of flaxen Ceres, foreign goods are carried up the
Iberus river.

Very near by, the sacred mountain raises its proud head
and the Oleum river flows between the twin crests of the ridges,
dividing up the neighbouring country.
Not much beyond this, in fact, Sellus (this is the old name for the mountain)
is carried up as far as the heights of the clouds.
The city of Lebedontia stood nearby the mountain
in an earlier age; now the country, devoid of dwellings,
gives a home to the haunts and dens of wild beasts.
After these places, sands lie through much of the region:
over these sands the town of Salauris once stood;
in them once lay ancient Kallipolis.
That is Kallipolis which by the great height of its walls
and its lofty gables once drew near to the winds.

Kallipolis used to touch on both sides,
with the edge of its great expanse of dwellings
a pool which always abounded in fish.
Then there is the town of Tarrakon [Tarragona, Spain]
(520) and the charming seat of the Barcilonians [now Barcelona].
There a port spreads out its safe reaches,
and the land is always wet with pleasant water.


After that, the harsh Indigetians (Indigetes) show themselves:
that people is hardy, a fierce people in hunting
and one which sticks to its haunts.
Then the Celebantic ridge extends its spine
right up to the salt sea.
It is now only hearsay that here stood
the city of Cypsela:
for the rugged land preserves no traces
of the earlier city.
There a port opens wide in a great bay,
and the salt sea laps the soil in a curve over a wide expanse.

[Further travels along the southeastern coast]

After that, the shore of the Indigetians slopes back
as far as the peak of the promontory of Pyrene [Pyrenees mountains].
After that shore, which we said lay in sloping territory,
Mount Malodes rears itself
amid the waves where two crags swell up,
and the twin peaks seek the lofty clouds.
Between these lies spread out a port [Gulf of Roses, Spain, near border with France]
and the sea is exposed to no breezes.
That is so because, since the rocky outcrops lie in front of it,
the summits of the crags surround it on all sides
(540) And the body of water, unmoving, lies hidden between the rocks.
The sea lies still: shut in, the ocean is struck dumb.
Then lake Tonon lies at the foot of the mountains,
and the ridge of the Tononian cliff rises:
through that region the roaring Anystos river
whirls along its foaming water
and it cuts through the salt sea with its current.
These waters, because of the waves, are salty.

[Ceretanians, Acroceretians, and Sordanians in the Pyrenees mountains]

All the countryside that draws back from the deep gulf [Gulf of Roses, Spain]
the Ceretians (Ceretes) and the hardy Acroceretians (Acroceretes) previously held.
Now, under one name, the people is the Iberians.
Then from there the Sordanian people used to live among
out-of-the-way places.
And they used to live their lives
amid the haunts of beasts
extending right up to the inner sea
where Pyrene [Pyrenees range] stands with its pine-bearing crest
and touches the fields on all sides and the gulf of the sea.
On the border of the Sordanian land
Pyrene, a wealthy city,
is said once to have stood.
(560) And here the inhabitants of Massalia [Marseille]
often used to engage in affairs of business.
But from the Pillars of Hercules,
the Atlantic swell and the border
of the western shore to Pyrene
is a journey of seven days for a swift ship.

[Further travels on the southeastern coast heading into what is now France]

After the ridge of Pyrene
lie the sands of the Cynetic shore
and the river Roschinos furrows them over a wide area.
Here is the muddy earth of the Sordians, as I have said;
here, in fact, a lake and a swamp lie extended wide.
And the inhabitants call it Sordike.
And beyond the rattling currents of the great body of water
(for on account of the broad circumference of its open border,
it swells up with stormy winds).
From this lake itself the river Sordos [modern Agly] flows out
… [text corrupt with missing two and a half lines]
It is bent by the sea, and through its own winding round
the earth is carved out; the waves creep more slowly,
(580) and the great bulk of the deep is stretched out.
Three very large islands stand in it
and the sea flows amid the harsh rocks.

[Elesycians and the kingdom of Narbo]

Not far from that place another bay curves open
where the land is broken apart, and it surrounds four islands
(though an old tradition said that there were three in all)
with the deep sea.
Once, the people of the Elesycians (Elesyces) inhabited these parts,
and the city of Narbo [Narbonne, France] was the great capital of a war-like kingdom.
Here the river Attagus [or: Attax; modern Aude] rushes into the salt sea
and adjacent here is the marsh of Helice.
An old tale relates that Besara stood next.
But now in fact the Ledus and Orobis rivers
wander through the empty fields and the mounds of ruins,
witnesses to its ancient loveliness.
Not far from those the Thyrius is borne into the deep sea
… [text corrupt with three lines missing]

the eddies of the currents are never roused up,
(600) And the halcyon calm always levels the whirlpool.
But the peak of this crag extends itself from the region
to that promontory which I have said is called Candidum.
Nearby is the island of Blasco [modern Brescou],
and the land is eroded by the salt sea to a smooth shape.
On the mainland, in between the tops of the ridges that rise up,
a plain of sandy soil unfolds:
These shores stretch out bereft of inhabitants.

[Rhodanians and Ligurians near the river Rhone in France]

Then high, pine-bearing mount Setius puffs up its peak.
The ridge of Setius [modern mount St.-Clair] stretches up to Taphros,
since its foot spreads over a wide area:
by way of explanation, the Rhodanian (Rhodani) peoples call the marsh next
to the river “Taphros”.
The Iberian land and the rugged Ligurians are separated
by the channel of this river.
Here, a rather simple town and slight in its population,
is the city of Polygium.
Then there are the village of Mansa and the town of Naustalo
and the city… [text corrupt with one illegible line and three missing lines].

(620) . . . and the river Classius flows into its sea.
But the country of Cimenice slopes down far
from the salty current. The ground extends over a long distance,
and the region is shaded with woods.
The source of the name is the mountain with its lofty summits:
the Rhodanos [Rhone] touches the lowest foothills of this,
And flows with its stream amid the rugged bulk of the peak.
The Ligurians (Ligures) spread themselves out over a great distance
up to the water of the inner sea
from the peak of Setis and the crags of the rocky ridge.

[Digression on the river Rhone, the Alps, and nearby peoples]

(630-699) But the subject almost demands that I should more fully
explain to you the current of the Rhodanos.
Probus, bear with this discussion by my lingering pen.
In fact, I shall speak of the source of the river, the cascade
of the great eddy,
the peoples which it laps with the waves of the river,
how great the gain for the inhabitants it waters
and the forks of its mouths.
The Alps raise their snowy ridge to the sky
in the east. The fields of the countryside of Gaul
are divided up with rocky outcrops,
and the storms always having puffing winds.
That river emanates from, and thrusts itself out from
a cave which gapes open,
furrowing the earth with savage force.
It is navigable at the source of its waters and at the very beginning.
But that side of the rock which raises itself on high,
which brings forth the river,
the peoples name the Column of the Sun.
That is because from so great an outcrop
it is borne right up to the lofty clouds,
such that the midday sun cannot be seen
from the opposite ridge
when it is about to bring back the day and
approaches the borders of the north.
For you know that the opinion of the
Epicureans was of this sort: that the Sun
was not brought down at sunset,
that it entered no whirlpools,
that it is never hidden,
but it traverses the world. It runs through the corners of the sky,
it gives life to the lands, and nurtures all the hollows
with the fodder of its light
and in turn the white torch of Phoebus
is denied to the regions in a sure pattern.
[For the ridge stands in its way with its high peak
which, since it extends from the west to the farthest north,
divides the two sides of the earth
and the courses of the sun with its turning-post.]
When it has cut a southern track
and turned its light towards the Atlantic clime
in order that it might bring its fire to the peoples of the farthest north
and carry itself from its rising in Persia,
it is bent towards the other parts of the sky
by its curving circuit, and crosses the turning post.
And when the Sun denies its splendour to our sight,
horrid night rushes down on the sky,
and blind darkness immediately covers our lands.
But then the bright day makes them bright
who grow stiff beneath a northern sky.
Then, when the shadow of night holds the northern regions
all our people enjoy bright day.
Then the river passes from its source through the Tylangians (Tylangi),
the Daliternians (Daliterna) and the fields of the Chabilcorians (Chabilcori),
and the Cemenican fields (the names are harsh enough
and all are wounding when first heard:
but you must not fail to say them, on account of your enthusiasm
and my effort).
From there it extends through ten bends
in the meandering of its eddies;
and many authors relate that there is a dense swamp:
from there, it bears itself on into great marshes,
which an old Greek custom called Akkion,
and it drives its headlong waters through the
calm of the swamp. Then, flowing out
and bending itself in the shape of rivers,
from there it is borne into the whirlpools
of the Atlantic, and into our sea,
facing the west.
It cuts through the wide sands with its five mouths.

There rises the city of Arelatus [Arles],
called Theline in an earlier age, when the Greeks inhabited it.
Matters have compelled me to say many things above
about the long Rhodanos with our pen.
But my mind is never turned towards that proposition
that I should claim that Europe and Africa are divided by that river.
Phileas [likely of Athens, perhaps late-fifth century BCE] may say this, and it may be an old proposition,
that the inhabitants thought so: let such barbarian ignorance
be an object of scorn and derision.
And let it be marked out by an appropriate name.

[Return to the travelogue approaching Massalia]

(699) It is a journey of two days and two nights for a ship:
from here lie the people of the Veragrians (Veragri), the city of Bergine,
the fierce Salyians (Salyes), the ancient town of the Mastramelan lake,
the peak with its lofty back which the inhabitants call Citharistium.
And there is Massalia [Marseille] itself, the city whose location is here.
The shore lies in front of the stream; a slender causeway
lies open amid the waves.
The gulf bathes the sides; the marsh surrounds the city
and waves extending on all sides lap the town and its dwellings.
The city is almost an island, since all the sea pours its force
over the ground.
But the careful hard work a long time ago of the founders
overcame the shape of the place and the natural terrain
by skill.
(714) If at all it pleases you to carry over these old names into new ones. . . [the manuscript cuts off mid-sentence and the remainder is not preserved].

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *