II. CASSITERIDES ARCHIPELAGO
Sailing to Tartessos
Chronicle 16. MEDITERRANEAN PERIPLUS-PARAPLUS
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE BEHIND MAN’S decision to take his chances and go out to sea? As always, he had needs to satisfy: he initially was in search of a better place to live. After settling down, his needs changed: there was much food in the sea and he could certainly fish far better with a canoe or a boat. The more he familiarized himself with the sea, the further he went out there, and thus the vessel also became a means of transport. Men started exchanging goods and, as long as production increased, the boatmen were divided into fishermen and traders – and warriors, as well. Commerce developed in parallel with navigation. As a rule, a sea trader was obliged to take notes and map out his routes. This notebook gradually developed into a
P E R I P L U S
“PERIPLUS” is the Latin form of the Hellenic word περίπλους, a “sailing-around”. The word also developed specialized meanings; one of them became a term in the navigation of Greeks and other peoples. Such a periplus was a manuscript listing – in order and with approximate intervening distances – the ports and coastal landmarks that the captain of a vessel would see along a shore.(a) It served the same purpose as the Roman itinerarium, i.e. a map of road stops. If the navigators were skilled geographers (as many were), they added various notes, contributing to the geographical knowledge of the time. In that sense the periplus was a type of log. We can have an idea about such ancient logs from the earliest Hellene historian, Hecataeus of Miletus. The Histories by Herodotus and Thucydides contain passages that appear to have been based on such peripli, as well.
● The Milesian Hecataeus (Ἑκαταῖος, c. 550 – c. 476 BCE) lived in the time of the Persian invasion. Having travelled extensively, he settled in his native city devoting his time to the composition of geographical and historical works. He is the first Greek historian to mention the Celts. He is credited with a work written in two books and entitled Γῆς περίοδος (World Survey, or Travels Round the Earth). Each book is organized like a periplus, a point-to-point coastal survey. One, on Europe, was like a Mediterranean periplus, describing each region in turn, and reaching as far north as Scythia. The other, on Asia, was similar to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, giving information on the countries and inhabitants of this area, the account of Egypt being particularly comprehensive. It was accompanied by a corrected and enlarged version of Anaximander’s map of the Earth.(b) This work survives only in fragments, mainly in Ethnica, the geographical lexicon compiled by Stephanus of Byzantium (6th century CE). Another work of Hecataeus was the Genealogiae, a systematized account of the Hellenic legends and myths, where he breaks with the epic myth-making tradition. The extant fragments are just enough to show what we are missing.
● Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος, c. 484 – c. 425 BCE), born in Halicarnassus, is regarded as the “Father of History”. He was the first historian known to systematically collect his material, test its accuracy to a certain extent and arrange it in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. His celebrated Histories were a record of his Inquiries into the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars that culminated in 490–479 BCE. He describes in detail that period, which would otherwise be poorly documented – adding numerous long digressions about the various places and people he encountered during his wide-and-long-ranging travels around the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and beyond.
Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος Ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι, τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται. (Herodotus of Halicarnassus’ Inquiries are here set down to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of other peoples).
It was rather conventional at that time for authors to have their works “published” by reciting them at popular festivals. Herodotus took his Histories to Olympia, in the Olympian Games, and presented his entire work to the assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause at the end. Others, nevertheless, said that he refused to begin reading his work until some clouds offered him a bit of shade, by which time, however, the assembly had dispersed – hence the proverbial expression “Herodotus and his shade” to describe anyone who misses his opportunity through delay.
● The Athenian Thucydides (Θουκυδίδης, c. 460 – c. 395 BCE) is the notable author of the History of the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (431–404 BCE) to the year 411. Its finale is recounted by Xenophon in his Hellenica. Thucydides is regarded as the father of “scientific history” due to his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis in terms of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods. He has also been called as the father of the school of political realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right. His Melian dialogue still to this day remains a seminal work of international relations theory.(c)
The Peloponnesian War, after the glorious end of
the Persian Wars, marked the dramatic finale
to the Golden Age of Hellenic civilization.
● In the first phase of the war Sparta launched invasions of Attica, and Athens raided the Peloponnesian coast, taking advantage of its naval supremacy. The Athenians sent later a huge expeditionary force to attack Syracuse in Sicily failing disastrously. This ushered in the final phase of the war, when Sparta, already receiving support from Persia, incited rebellions in the Athenians’ subject states in the Aegean and Asia Minor, undermining their hegemony. The destruction of their fleet put an end to the war and Athens surrendered in the next year. This Greek “civil war”, a few years after the glorious end of the Median (Persian) Wars (499–449 BCΕ), reshaped the ancient Hellenic world. Athens, the strongest polis in Greece prior to the war’s beginning, was reduced to almost complete subjection, while Sparta became established as the leading power. However, the economic costs of the war were felt all across Hellas; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, while Athens, totally devastated, would never recover its pre-war prosperity. The war also wrought subtler changes to Grecian society; the antagonism between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta, each of which supported friendly political factions within other poleis, made civil war a common occurrence in Hellas. Greek warfare, meanwhile, originally on a limited scale, was transformed into an all-out struggle between city-states, complete with large-scale atrocities. Shattering religious and cultural taboos, devastating whole cities and the countryside, this war marked the dramatic finale to the 5th century BCΕ and the Golden Age of Hellenic civilization.
During celebrations for victory, someone sang a song of Euripides.
The Spartans were so moved they changed their minds: “They felt it
would be barbarous to annihilate Athens that produced such men.”
● The Peloponnesian War is the background of a didactic story on music and politics centered on Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE), who is thought to have been perhaps the best of the Greek tragedians. He was also musically avant-garde, working with the most experimental musicians – something that conservatives, such as Aristophanes, exploited in order to ridicule him. Nevertheless, it was Euripides’ music (and not that by Aristophanes, neither by Aeschylus, nor by Sophocles) that saved many Athenians and Athens itself during the war. Since then, and for many centuries to come, people used to sing the best odes of tragedies (we can say “arias” in operatic terminology). Hence, in modern Greece, the word for “song” (“τραγούδι”) originates from the word “tragedy” (τραγῳδία). After the utterly disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily, many Athenians held captives there saved their lives because they were able to sing songs of Euripides that were so much loved by all, despite their avant-gardism! At the end of the war, when Sparta conquered Athens, the victorious generals had a meeting to decide the fate of Athens. They concluded that the city should be demolished and its citizens enslaved. Then a feast was held to celebrate victory and someone during the banquet sang an ode from Euripides’ Electra. The generals were so moved that they changed their minds. “They felt it would be a barbarous act to annihilate a city that produced such men”! These generals, needless to say, could appreciate the music of Euripides thanks to their culture. Some celebrated aria in the ears of today’s generals or politicians would have no effect whatsoever… (These episodes are from Plutarch’s Parallel Lives – those of Nicias and Lysander).
A “Periplus” made of stone and the first one around Africa
JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, merchant shipping started in… “our own Orient” (it’s time for me to be sarcastic with this cliché! See Chronicle 6). The available data lead us to Egypt. But very soon the initiative passed to some sea peoples (Hellenes, Carians, Phoenicians, etc.), for the Egyptians, as a land people, were prone to agriculture. The Mediterranean, a closed sea with many islands, was in fact ideal for… sailing courses – the Aegean even more! Periplus as a log appeared with long-distance navigation, which is unthinkable without such a log. A captain kept his notes in any script, even… stenographic scribble, he could manage. It was impossible to memorize everything, and he could not impart his expertise to others.
● Hannu (Hennu, or Henenu), serving under Mentuhotep III (late 21st century BCE) re-opened the old trade routes to the land of Punt (in the Horn of Africa) and “Libya” – i.e. Africa beyond the Nile (the Maghreb). Hannu set out as head of 3000 soldiers, crossed the mountainous desert via Wadi Hammamat (“Valley of Many Baths”) and went on to the coast of the Red Sea. He wrote of his expedition on stone, on a rock-inscription in the same valley (therefore, his “Periplus” was made of stone):
“I was sent to conduct ships to the land of Punt, to fetch for Pharaoh sweet-smelling spices… I reached the Great Green [i.e. the sea]. Then I made the ships and dispatched them with all manner of things and made for them a great oblation of cattle, oxen and gazelles. When I returned from the Great Green… I brought for His Majesty every product that I found on the shores of God’s Land; [… and also] splendid blocks of stone for the temple statues.”
Hannu’s road was the one used in the time of the Ptolemies and Romans; it led from Coptos to Leucos Limen (White Harbour, now Qoseir) on the Red Sea. It’s the same commercial thoroughfare of merchants of all countries, who traded in the wonderful products of Arabia and India, and thus turned into a bridge of all nations, which of old united Asia and Europe. Hannu is the first eponymous explorer. Coming back to Egypt, he brought precious treasures, e.g. myrrh, metal, wood. As for the Kingdom of Punt, it was probably situated in the area of today’s Somalia; others point towards neighbouring eastern Ethiopia and Eritrea. This lucrative trade network continued all the way into the classical era connecting local merchants with Phoenicia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Greece, Parthian Persia, Sheba, Nabataea, and the Roman Empire.
● In Hannu’s time, or perhaps a little later, the Cretans started their voyages during the Minoan thalassocracy in the Mediterranean, and maybe beyond. There followed the Argonautic expedition, and the Odyssey (meaning Odysseus’ wanderings) in the late Bronze Age.(d) Everything we know about those voyages, and many others in that period, comes not from the navigators’ logbooks but from other sources. This does not mean they did not keep notes: long-distance voyages were inconceivable with no such peripli-logs of some sort, as we have said.
● According to Herodotus, the Phoenicians carried out a great feat: the first periplus of “Libya” (i.e. Africa), on behalf of the Egyptians, in the years of Necho II (610–595 BCE). It started from the Red Sea and lasted almost three years. A Persian awaiting execution attempted to repeat the feat, following the reverse course, in an effort to save his life, but eventually abandoned – though death was waiting for him… Even now, a voyage from the Red Sea to the Nile around Africa is not an easy thing. Epic voyages of such calibre have nothing to envy from today’s manned flights in space! Like the astronauts, in case of a long stay “out there”, the Phoenicians, too, were obliged to sow and harvest every year, since it was impossible to carry supplies for an indefinite period of time.
Herodotus’ Histories, Melpomene: “Libya is washed on all sides by the sea except where it joins Asia, as was first demonstrated, so far as our knowledge goes, by the Egyptian king Necho, who, after calling off the construction of the canal between the Nile and the Arabian Gulf, sent out a fleet manned by a Phoenician crew with orders to sail west about and return to the Mediterranean and Egypt by way of the Pillars of Heracles. The Phoenicians sailed from the Erythraean Sea into the southern ocean, and every autumn put in at some convenient spot on the Libyan coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for next year’s harvest. Then, having got in their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Heracles in the course of the third, and returned to Egypt”…
The Phoenicians’ voyage to the unknown (on a “boat” called… hope) was additionally unknown how long it will last, as we have said. Consequently, the crew had to create temporary settlements, cultivate the land and maintain themselves. Herodotus’ brief reference to this incredible venture ends with a truly fantastic assertion:
“These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya, they had the sun on their right – to northward of them. This is how Libya was first discovered by sea.”
As they sailed round the southern tip of Africa, the sailors told him, they had the sun on their right – something that he wrote down, although he was doubtful, as it went beyond the knowledge of his time. This is exactly what makes his story reliable. For sure, the Greeks could understand the movement of the sun, but found it incredible that Africa reached so far south; they thought it was a lot smaller with the southern part connected to Asia. Thus we believe Herodotus, because he did not believe an account handed down to him by oral tradition, which is why he recorded it: this is where he differed from Thucydides; the latter would not bother to mention it – so we would never get to know the story… And it was not only Thucydides: Polybius, Strabo and Ptolemy had also many doubts, unlike Pliny. The Egyptologist A. B. Lloyd observes: “It is extremely unlikely that an Egyptian king would, or could, have acted as Necho is depicted as doing.” This rumour, he says, might have been triggered by the failure of Sataspes (the death-row Persian) to circumnavigate Africa under Xerxes I.
So, what could the pharaoh’s motives be? When Necho took over, the situation was anything but rosy in Egypt’s northeastern border. The Babylonians had captured the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, and then defeated the Egyptians in Carchemish to punish them for their support to the Assyrians. According to the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle, Necho was campaigning in Syria (609–605 BCE), when the Babylonian king defeated him. The pharaoh perhaps considered the possibility to attack southern Babylonia by sea, and ordered a canal to be constructed between the Nile and the Red Sea. Then he realized he was giving free access to his enemies, as well. Consequently, the canal remained uncompleted until the Persians took over Egypt, in late 6th century, and Darius commissioned its completion. But it was Necho who started the construction (or restoration) of a canal some 85 kilometers long, foreshadowing the Suez Canal.
The periplus of Africa was related to Necho’s defense plans. He asked for Phoenician assistance because they were excellent sailors and had several colonies in the West, such as Gadir (Cádiz), next to the Pillars of Heracles. The Phoenicians must have also been happy to help, as they shared the Babylonian enemy. So, technically, a voyage around Africa would have been possible. The currents and winds favour a clockwise, East-West, periplus, according to plan, as long as it is a paraplus, sailing by the coast, keeping it in sight. The periplus’ purpose was to determine the exact size of Africa. If it was as small as they thought, the canal might not be such a great idea, taking into consideration the economic cost. Other Egyptologists dispute that a pharaoh would authorize such an expedition – except for the reason of trade, opening new maritime routes. Indeed, such voyages were made for economic gain. Despite Hannu’s accomplishments, the Egyptians lagged behind in the control of the seas; and they were not after sea adventures of any kind. There was already a status quo in place in the Mediterranean, with the Greeks exerting control over the northern shores, and the Phoenicians over the southern coast. The only region where Egypt, with its inferior fleet, might acquire influence and wealth was eastern Africa, where they had already established trade ties – that could thus be further expanded.
Re-enactment of the first periplus of Africa
According to the Livius site: “The Phoenicians must have started their expedition in July, and must have reached the Horn of Africa after an uneventful trip, relying on the northern wind. The Red Sea (which Herodotus calls ‘Arabian Gulf’) was well known to their Egyptian pilots, because the Egyptians traded incense with the Arabs of modern Yemen… After they had passed Africa’s most eastern shores, the northeast monsoon – which started in October – sped up their journey, and in March they must have reached the Equator. The Agulhas Current must have brought them through the Mozambique Channel and along the coast of modern South Africa. Sailing on their westerly course, they must have observed that they had the sun on their right… When they reached Cape Agulhas, they left the current that had helped them to the south. At the same time, they encountered the contrary South East trade winds. And they must have been surprised to discover that here, on the southern hemisphere, the winter was already approaching. However, they must happily have noticed that they had started to go north. The plain behind Saint Helena Bay, 150 kilometers north of modern Cape Τown, offered a fine opportunity to land. They must have sowed their wheat in June, started to repair their ships, and harvested in November.
“The Benguela Current and the now favorable South East trade winds brought the Phoenician sailors back to the hot equatorial regions; they will have experienced its effects in a most unpleasant way, when they sailed along the Namibian coast, which is a waterless desert. It took several weeks to reach a more fertile coast. In March, a new and equally unpleasant surprise awaited them: they had been traveling on a northerly course, but now, the coast curved to the west again. They may have benefited from the westward Guinea Current, but not for long, because it changes its direction during the spring. For weeks, they were struggling against the wind and the current, only to reach – in July – the African west coast, where they encountered the contrary Canary Current and the North Eastern trade winds. But they must have been relieved to find themselves rowing in a northerly direction again. Somehow they managed to beat against the wind and the current, and in November they must have landed somewhere on the coast of modern Mauritania… The voyagers sowed their wheat, repaired their ships, and waited for the next harvest…
“In May, they brought their ships to the sea, and started to beat their way up to along the Moroccan coast, where they discovered that they had returned to the world they knew: the town on Mogador island was occupied by Phoenicians. Having told the incredible story of their trip to the southern hemisphere, and no doubt with new equipment, they continued their voyage; soon they reached Phoenician towns like Lixus, modern Cádiz and Málaga, and Carthage. They must have reached Egypt at the end of the summer. Their expedition had lasted three full years. This story, told by Herodotus, was generally questioned after the famous geographer Ptolemy had said that it was impossible to circumnavigate Africa”… Thus this “top secret” epic periplus left no trace in the geographical knowledge of the time.
Peripli of the Classical and Hellenistic eras
SEVERAL PERIPLI have survived, in whole or in fragments, and in quotations cited by other writers. The impression one gets, even with a first look at the list below, is that for a long time, from the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE, it was a Graeco-Phoenician “bras de fer” between Massalia and Carthage aimed at dominating the sea routes leading to regions rich mainly in gold, silver, tin and amber:
● The Massaliote Periplus (6th century BCE), preserved in Avienus’ Ora Maritima (Sea Coast, 4th century CE), followed Tartessian trade routes along the Atlantic shores of Europe, and recorded a voyage from Marseille to the British Isles, circumnavigating Iberia. It described the coasts of Spain and Portugal, and made a brief mention of a visit to the “sacred isle” Ierne (Ireland), located across from Albion (Britain). It is the earliest work about the trade links between northern and southern Europe; the fact that such a manual existed indicates the importance of these trade links. Especially the trade in tin to be used for making bronze is attested by archaeological evidence from even earlier periods. The riches to be won attracted numerous adventurers to the North Atlantic coast.
● The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator (6th or 5th century BCE) described the South Atlantic, along the African coast from Morocco down to the Gulf of Guinea – at best; in the worst case, the Punics probably did not sail beyond Morocco. If we trust their trumped-up information, Hanno was in charge of 60 ships and 30,000 colonists and soldiers! In fact, they should not exceed 5,000. This fleet was designed to explore and colonize Northwest Africa. The Punics founded or repopulated seven colonies on the Moroccan coast beyond the Pillars of Heracles (as a rule, the Phoenician settlements were not populous). Then, according to the official version, they proceeded further south, meeting several native tribes. The members of a hirsute and savage tribe were called “Gorillae”. In the 19th century, Hanno’s description was used as a name for the well-known primates.
The primary source for this expedition is a Hellenic periplus, supposedly a translation of a tablet Hanno had reportedly hung up on his return to Carthage in the temple of Ba’al Hammon, whom the Greeks identified with Cronus. Its full title was The Periplus of Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians, round the parts of Libya [Africa] beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he deposited in the Temple of Cronus.(e) Obviously, the tablet contained falsified information, so that Carthage’s competitors, especially the Hellenes, could not profit. The sole purpose of the tablet was to gratify the pride of the Punics in their achievements. The very purpose of the voyage – the consolidation of the route to the African gold market – is not even mentioned…
● Along with the Massaliote Periplus, sailing to the North Atlantic, the explorations extended south also with the voyage of Euthymenes of Massalia (early 6th century or, according to other writers, second half of the 5th century BCE). Unfortunately, the original text of his Periplus in the Outer Sea was lost; only some quotations survived, such as those by Plutarch, or Seneca the Younger, who was very skeptical. During his exploration, Euthymenes arrived at a large river with hippopotami and crocodiles, whose outflow made the sea at its mouth fresh or brackish. It seems that it was the Senegal River. The Massaliotes should have known that the Punics, led by Hanno, had undertaken a great expedition in the same area and perhaps in the same period. There is no information, however, that the two fleets met. The results of Euthymenes’ venture were probably considered poor. So, the Massaliotes abandoned their effort in the South Atlantic.
● It was the Punics’ turn to expand into the North Atlantic, in the area described by the Massaliote Periplus. The expedition was headed by Himilco the Navigator (late 6th century BCE), with a periplus sailing by the coasts of Iberia and France. Following Tartessian routes, he reached Ophiussa (Portugal-Galicia) to trade for tin and other precious metals. Himilco gave a new dimension to the propaganda of Carthage: his voyage was presented as particularly painful; he painted a grim picture while referring to sea monsters and giant seaweed, so that the competitors, especially the Greeks, would not dare sail out into the Atlantic. It seems that this tactic was particularly effective: the Punic stories about sinister “signs and wonders” became the source of the myths discouraging voyages beyond the Pillars of Heracles.
● The Periplus of Scylax of Caryanda (late 6th – early 5th century BCE), on behalf of the Persians, explored the mouth of the Indus River, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea coasts as far as Suez. Scylax was born in Caria; he was a renowned Hellenized Carian explorer and writer in the years of Darius I. His expedition’s aim, circa 515, was to find the Indus River estuary. Sailing out into the Indian Ocean, he turned west until he arrived at the Red Sea, which he also explored. His voyage took 30 months. His report, perhaps entitled Periplus, and dedicated to king Darius, was lost, except for the quotations by later writers – such as Strabo in his Geography, Herodotus in his Histories, and Aristotle in his Politics, when he refers to the Indian kings. There are seven quotations in all, indicating his Periplus was not merely a log, but contained accounts of people, landscape, the natural conditions and political affairs. Hence it contained information intended for the expansion of the Persian Empire. Written in Greek, it was among the first works to be written in Hellenic prose. Moreover, it was the first account of the peoples of the Orient reaching the Mediterranean world and served as a model for later Greek writers. More lastingly, it registered the name of India and the Indians in geography.
● Periplus Outside the Pillars of Heracles, a work of the historian, chronographer, and logographer Charon of Lampsacus (1st half of the 5th century BCE), who lived before Herodotus; Periplus of the Inner Sea (the Mediterranean), a work of the astronomer, meteorologist and geographer Euctemon of Athens (mid-5th century), who was a student and partner of his compatriot, Meton; and also Ocean Periplus, of the great Abderitan “atomic” philosopher Democritus (c. 460 – c. 370 BCE): none of them has survived; especially in the case of Democritus, there are other reasons beyond fate (see Chronicle 22).
● The epic exploration of the top Massaliote navigator, Pytheas (c. 380 – c. 310, or c. 350 – c. 285 BCE), took place around 325, and led him to Britain, Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea and, via river routes, to the Black and Mediterranean Seas, completing a periplus of Europe! His work, Τὰ περὶ τοῦ Ὠκεανοῦ (Things about [or Description of] the Ocean, or even Περίοδος γῆς (Travel around the Earth), survives only in excerpts quoted by other writers, some of whom treat him with skepticism, e.g. the constantly doubtful Strabo, and also Polybius. Pytheas said he “travelled over the whole of Britain that was accessible”, and explored the entire North. He saw the inhabitants of Cornwall to be involved in the manufacture of tin. Some of his observations may be the earliest report of Stonehenge; he also introduced the idea of ultimate Thule to the geographic imagination.(f) He is the first person to describe the Midnight Sun and polar ice, and to state that the tides are caused by the moon. He measured latitude by the gnomon, and observed Germanic and possibly Finnic tribes.
Excerpts from his work are quoted or paraphrased by many others, such as Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, Geminus of Rhodes. Late writers gave titles to his book. Other simpler titles are Periplus, On the Ocean, or Ocean. After Britain and Norway, there followed the discovery of the Baltic and the voyage to the Don. And there, Polybius, willingly or not, created uncertainty, claiming that Pytheas turned back at the mouth of the Vistula, at the border of Scythia: “… on his return hence, he traversed the whole of the coast of Europe from Gades to the Tanais”… Was it a second leg in his exploration? And he didn’t pass by Massalia to refit and refresh the crew? Others claimed that the “Tanais” was not the Don, but the Elbe. Some writers raised questions on the first leg of the voyage, implying it had never happened! Since the Punics had blockaded the Pillars of Heracles – is the “incontestable” argument of the “armchair intellectuals” – how could Pytheas pass? Thus we need to examine the relations among Punics, Massaliotes and Romans at the time of his exploration.
Massaliotes, Punics and Romans as… “bitter friends”
The Punics had imposed a blockade of the Pillars of Heracles to all ships from other nations. However, by the 4th century BCE, the western Hellenes, especially the Massaliotes, were more or less on “amicable” terms with them. First of all, Massalia was militarily superior to Carthage: they had defeated the empire in the late 6th and early 5th centuries. Not wishing to test the issue any further, the Punics had made an independent treaty with the Massaliotes; and the latter had no trouble to place and maintain colonies on the Mediterranean Iberian coast. Archaeologically the sites of the western Mediterranean show no diminishment of Grecian wares at any time; on the contrary, there was an increase due to their better quality – which is a good indication of trade. Second, Massalia was an old ally of Rome. The Massaliotes had helped the Romans in their conflicts with the Etruscans and the Gauls. In the mid-4th century, Carthage and Rome came to terms over the Sicilian Wars, defining with a treaty their mutual interests. Rome could use Sicilian markets and Carthage could buy and sell in Rome. If Carthage had enslaved allies of Rome, they were to be set free. Rome was to stay out of the western Mediterranean – excepting Massalia. During the last half of the 4th century – the time of Pytheas’ voyage – relations between Rome and its allies on the one hand, and Carthage on the other, were totally amicable. The Massaliotes were free to operate as they pleased. Neither is there any evidence in any of the sources about some kind of problem emerging “in the last moment” in relation to Pytheas’ exploration. On the contrary, mentions of Gades, Tartessos, and the “sacred promontory” (Sagres), at the southern tip of Portugal – all testify to his passing through the Pillars “in broad daylight” and heading north…
● While Pytheas was circumnavigating Europe, Nearchus, as Alexander’s admiral, was carrying out his Paraplus, under the instructions to steer the fleet from India to the Persian Gulf, sailing by the coast, and meet the Macedonian king at Susa. Nearchus Paraplus is preserved in Arrian’s Indica.(g) Nearchus was appointed as satrap of Lycia and Pamphylia in 334-333. In 328 he rejoined Alexander in Bactria, bringing with him reinforcements. Two years later, he was made admiral of the fleet that had been built at the Hydaspes (Jhelum) river, and steered it from the Indus to the Persian Gulf – a voyage that he recorded in every detail. Then he became the first Greek to visit Tylos (Bahrain), marking the area’s inclusion in the Hellenic world with the worship of Zeus (as the Arab sun goddess, Shams), and Greek being spoken as the language of upper classes. Nearchus Paraplus was intended by Alexander as a way to learn about the mouth of the Indus and the sea between India and Babylon. After many adventures, Nearchus arrived in Carmania (Kermā, in SE Iran, where one of the Alexandrias was founded), meeting with Alexander after the latter’s crossing of the Gedrosian desert. The king sent him off to complete his voyage – he went as far as the Euphrates river before turning back to rejoin Alexander at Susa, in early 324. He then took the fleet up to Babylon. Nearchus had a place in Alexander’s final plans, as he was to be the admiral of the Arabian invasion fleet – perhaps also in his other plans against Rome, Carthage and Iberia. But these plans were cut short by Alexander’s death in 323 BCE.
● Androsthenes of Thasos was another admiral of Alexander’s, and also a trierarch (commander of a trireme) of Nearchus’. The account of his voyage is a Paraplus of Indica. Alexander sent him down the Euphrates in an exploration, skirting the coast of Arabia and sailing farther than Archias of Pella. The latter was a geographer and officer who also served as trierarch under Nearchus. Archias was dispatched with a galley and reached Tylos; as he reported, the island was “about a day and a night’s sail” from the mouth of the Euphrates. Onesicritus was also an officer serving under Nearchus as a helmsman. Some quotations of his own Periplus referring to ancient India and its inhabitants have survived. Nevertheless, he was regarded as unreliable and conceited.
● The Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax (330s BCE) was written by an unknown Athenian. He entitled it as Periplus of the Sea of Universal Europe and Asia and Libya, and signed it as “Scylax” for reasons of prestige. He presented the Mediterranean and Black Seas clockwise, starting from Iberia and concluding in western Africa beyond the Pillars of Heracles.
● The Stadiasmus, i.e. Periplus of the Great Sea, is a work of an unknown geographer-helmsman (late 4th – early 3rd century BCE). Extant is only the part about distances, sailing directions, and descriptions of the Mediterranean harbours.
● The ten-volume Periplus of Timosthenes (early 3rd century BCE) was intended to describe more precisely countries already known, specifying the location of harbours and stations in the Mediterranean. Timosthenes of Rhodes was a major navigator, geographer, cartographer, and admiral of the Ptolemaic fleet. He additionally wrote On Harbours, On Islands, and Stadiasmi, drawing up several nautical maps. He was an expert on winds in antiquity, and the first Hellene geographer to use the winds for geographic orientation, rather than merely as meteorological phenomena. There are only quotations surviving in the works of other writers, who referred to him with admiration, such as Erathosthenes, or Strabo. The latter revealed another talent of this versatile man: he composed a Pythic nomos (law), a Pythian “canon”, if you like, for aulos and cithara to be played at Delphi in the Pythian Games in celebration of the victory of Apollo over Python.(h)
● Two great Greek navigators, who might have worked together in the Indian Ocean, were Eudoxus of Cyzicus (c. 150–100), and Hippalos (late 2nd – 1st centuries BCE). Eudoxus explored the Arabian Sea on behalf of the Ptolemies in Egypt. According to Poseidonius and Strabo, he was the first to sail on the monsoon wind system on the Indian Ocean in 118–116. They said that a shipwrecked sailor from India had been rescued in the Red Sea and taken to Alexandria. This Indian offered to guide Greek navigators to India. Eudoxus was appointed for the first voyage, in 118 BCE, guided by the Indian sailor. After he returned with a cargo of aromatics and precious stones, a second voyage was undertaken, in 116, sailing without a guide. Until then, Greek and Indian sailors met to trade at Arabian ports such as Aden, called by the Hellenes Εὐδαίμων (Felix: Fertile and Happy; just like Yemen was named Eudaemon Arabia). Attempts to sail beyond Aden were rare and discouraged, involving a long, laborious sailing by the coast to India. On the contrary, Indian ships used the monsoon winds to sail to Arabia. If the Greeks acquired the know-how, they would have no need of the Arabian ports, trading directly with India. Having this accomplished, very soon, by mid-1st century BCE, there was a marked increase in the number of Hellenic and Roman ships sailing this way to India.
When Eudoxus was returning from his second voyage to India, the wind forced him south and down the coast of Africa for some distance, where he found the remains of a ship. Due to its appearance and the story told by the natives, he concluded that the ship was from Gades (Cádiz) in Andalusia, sailing south around Africa. He was then inspired to attempt a periplus of Africa. Organizing the expedition on his own, he set sail from Gades, but the difficulties were too great, so he was obliged to go back. He didn’t give up though. He again set out to circumnavigate Africa, but his eventual fate is unknown. Although some, such as Pliny, claimed that Eudoxus did achieve his goal, the most probable conclusion is that he perished on the journey…
● Concerning Hippalus, he is sometimes referred to as Eudoxus’ captain. The writer of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea credited him with discovering the direct route from the Red Sea to India, correcting the map of the area. Greek geographers before him thought that the Indian coast stretched from west to east. Hippalus recognized the north-to-south direction of India’s coastline. Only someone who had this insight would foresee crossing the Indian Ocean might be a faster way to South India than sailing by the coast. Since the 1st century BCE onwards, we witness the prosperity of trade between Egypt and India. Sometimes Hippalus is credited with introducing to Europe the idea of sailing to India aided by the monsoon winds.
● The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (40–70 CE),(i) written by an unknown Alexandrian, gives the shoreline itinerary of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, starting each time at the port of Berenice Troglodytica (also known as Baranis). Beyond the Red Sea, the manuscript describes the coast of India as far as the Ganges River and the east coast of Africa (called Azania).
● The Periplus Ponti Euxini (130–131 CE) described the trade routes along the Euxine (Black Sea). It was written by Arrian in a letter to the emperor Hadrian, and contains an accurate topographical survey of the coastline. It is possibly connected with his instructions, as a legate of Cappadocia, for a march of the Roman army against the Alani. Its purpose was to inform the emperor of the “lay of the land” – the distances between cities and locations that would provide safe harbour, in case of a military expedition to the region.
● The Anaplous Bosporou (Voyage through the Bosporus, or De Bospori navigatione), written by the geographer Dionysius of Byzantium (2nd century CE), describes the Bosporus coastline and ancient Byzantium, before becoming Constantinople in the 4th century. The text has been described as “one of the most remarkable and detailed of ancient geographic texts.”
● The Periplus of the Outer Sea is an original work of the Greek geographer Marcian of Heraclea Pontica (4th century CE). He also prepared some epitomes: The Periplus Inside the Sea, an epitome of Menippus of Pergamon, and Geography, an epitome of Artemidorus Ephesius.
● Finally, a Periplus by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832-1901), a Finn arctic explorer, geologist and mineralogist, most remembered for the expedition along the northern coast of Eurasia in 1878-79. This was the first complete crossing of the Northern Sea Route, or Northeast Passage. It was a great feat as it opened the way to a periplus of Eurasia. Except his monumental Periplus (5 volumes, 1897), and a popular summary (2 volumes), he published the monograph Early History of Cartography (1889), for he was interested in the history of Arctic exploration as evidenced in old maps.
Next Chronicle 17. MINOAN CRETAN THALASSOCRACY ● Minoan Society and Art ● Linear A-B, Phaestos Disc ● Tin Bronze ● Bull-Leaping (Taurocathapsia)