The Celtic Literature Collective

Strabo's Geography

Book III, Chapter 1: Iberia

1. Now that I have given the first general outline of geography, it is proper for me to discuss next the several parts of the inhabited world; indeed, I have promised to do so, and I think that thus far my treatise has been correctly apportioned. But I must begin again with Europe and with those parts of Europe with which I began at first, and for the same reasons.

2. As I was saying, the first part of Europe is the western, namely, Iberia. Now of Iberia the larger part affords but poor means of livelihood; for most of the inhabited country consists of mountains, forests, and plains whose soil is thin and even that not uniformly well-watered. And Northern Iberia, in addition to its ruggedness, not only is extremely cold, but lies next to the ocean, and thus has acquired its characteristic of inhospitality and aversion to intercourse with other countries; consequently, it is an exceedingly wretched place to live in. Such, then, is the character of the northern parts; but almost the whole of Southern Iberia is fertile, particularly the region outside the Pillars. This will become clear in the course of my detailed description of Iberia. But first I must briefly describe its shape and give its dimensions.

3. Iberia is like an ox-hide extending in length from west to east, its fore-parts toward the east, and in breadth from north to south. It is six thousand stadia in length all told, and five thousand stadia in its greatest breadth; though in some places it is much less than three thousand stadia in breadth, particularly near the Pyrenees, which form its eastern side. That is, an unbroken chain of mountains, stretching from north to south, forms the boundary line between Celtica and Iberia; and since Celtica, as well as Iberia, varies in breadth, the part of each country that is narrowest in breadth between Our Sea and the ocean is that which lies nearest to the Pyrenees, on either side of those mountains, and forms gulfs both at the ocean and at Our Sea. The Celtic gulfs, however, which are also called Galatic, are larger, and the isthmus which they form is narrower as compared with that of Iberia. So the eastern side of Iberia is formed by the Pyrenees; the southern side is formed in part by Our Sea, from the Pyrenees to the Pillars, and from that point on by the ocean, up to what is called the Sacred Cape; the third is the western side, which is approximately parallel to the Pyrenees and extends from the Sacred Cape to that Cape of the Artabrians which is called Nerium; and the fourth side extends from Cape Nerium up to the northern headlands of the Pyrenees.

4. But, to resume, let me describe Iberia in detail, beginning with the Sacred Cape. This cape is the most westerly point, not only of Europe, but of the whole inhabited world; for, whereas the inhabited world comes to an end in the west with the two continents (in the one hand, at the headlands of Europe, and in the other, at the extremities of Libya, of which regions the Iberians occupy the one, and the Maurusians the other), the headlands of Iberia project at the aforementioned cape about fifteen hundred stadia beyond those of Libya. Moreover, the country adjacent to this cape they call in the Latin language "Cuneus," meaning thereby to indicate its wedge-shape. But as for the cape itself, which projects into the sea, Artemidorus (who visited the place, as he says) likens it to a ship; and he says that three little islands help to give it this shape, one of these islands occupying the position of a ship's beak, and the other two, which have fairly good places of anchorage, occupying the position of cat-heads. But as for Heracles, he says, there is neither a temple of his to be seen on the cape (as Ephorus wrongly states), nor an altar to him, or to any other god either, but only stones in many spots, lying in groups of three or four, which in accordance with a native custom are turned round by those who visit the place, and then, after the pouring of a libation, are moved back again. And it is not lawful, he adds, to offer sacrifice there, nor, at night, even to set foot on the place, because the gods, the people say, occupy it at that time; but those who come to see the place spend the night in a neighbouring village, and then enter the place by day, taking water with them, for there is no water there.

5. Now these assertions of Artemidorus are allowable, and we should believe them; but the stories which he has told in agreement with the common crowd of people are by no means to be believed. For example, it is a general saying among the people, according to Poseidonius, that in the regions along the coast of the ocean the sun is larger when it sets, and that it sets with a noise much as if the sea were sizzling to extinguish it because of its falling into the depths. But, says Poseidonius, this is false, as also the statement that night follows instantly upon sunset; for night does not come on instantly, but after a slight interval, just as it does on the coasts of the other large seas. For in regions where the sun sets behind mountains, he says, the daylight lasts a longer time after sunset, as a result of the indirect light; but on the sea-coasts no considerable interval ensues, albeit the darkness does not come on instantly, either, any more than it does on the great plains. And, he says, the visual impression of the size of the sun increases alike both at sunset and sunrise on the seas, because at those times a greater amount of vapour rises from the water; that is, the visual rays, in passing through this vapour as through a lens, are broken, and therefore the visual impression is magnified, just as it is when the setting or the rising sun, or moon, is seen through a dry, thin cloud, at which time the heavenly body also appears somewhat ruddy. He convinced himself, he says, of the falsity of the above assertions during his stay of thirty days in Gades [Cadiz--MJ], when he observed the settings of the sun. Nevertheless, Artemidorus says that the sun sets a hundred times larger than usual, and that night comes on immediately! However, if we look closely at his declaration, we are obliged to assume that he did not himself see this phenomenon at the Sacred Cape, for he states that no one sets foot on the place by night; and hence no one could set foot on it while the sun was setting, either, if it be true that night comes on immediately. Neither, in fact, did he see it at any other point on the ocean-coast, for Gades is also on the ocean, and Poseidonius and several others bear witness against him.

6. The coastline adjacent to the Sacred Cape, on the west, is the beginning of the western side of Iberia as far as the mouth of the Tagus River, and, on the south, the beginning of the southern side as far as another river, the Anas, and its mouth. Both rivers flow from the eastern regions; the Tagus, which is a much larger stream than the other, flows straight westward to its mouth, whereas the Anas turns south, and marks off a boundary of the interfluvial region, which is inhabited for the most part by Celtic peoples, and by certain of the Lusitanians who were transplanted thither by the Romans from the other side of the Tagus. But in the regions farther inland dwell Carpetanians, Oretanians, and large numbers of Vettonians. This country, to be sure, has only a moderately happy lot, but that which lies next to it on the east and south takes pre-eminence in comparison with the entire inhabited world in respect of fertility and of the goodly products of land and sea. This is the country through which the Baetis flows, which rises in the same districts as both the Anas and the Tagus, and in size is about midway between the other two rivers. Like the Anas, however, it at first flows towards the west, and then turns south, and empties on the same coast as the Anas. They call the country Baetica for the river, and also Turdetania after the inhabitants; yet they call the inhabitants both Turdetanians and Turdulians, some believing that they are the same people, others that they are different. Among the latter is Polybius, for he states that the Turdulians are neighbours of the Turdetanians on the north; but at the present time there is no distinction to be seen among them. The Turdetanians are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems, and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert. And also the other Iberians use an alphabet, though not letters of one and the same character, for their speech is not one and the same, either. Now Turdetania, the country this side the Anas, stretches eastward as far as Oretania, and southward as far as the coastline that extends from the mouths of the Anas to the Pillars. But I must describe it and the regions that are close to it at greater length, telling all that contributes to our knowledge of their natural advantages and happy lot.

7. Between this stretch of coastline, on which both the Baetis and the Anas empty, and the limits of Maurusia, the Atlantic Ocean breaks in and thus forms the strait at the Pillars, and by this strait the interior sea connects with the exterior sea. Now at this strait there is a mountain belonging to those Iberians that are called Bastetanians, who are also called Bastulians; I mean Calpe, which, although its circumference is not great, rises to so great a height and is so steep that from a distance it looks like an island. So when you sail from Our Sea into the exterior sea, you have this mountain on your right hand; and near it, within a distance of forty stadia, is the city Calpe, an important and ancient city, which was once a naval station of the Iberians. And some further say that it was founded by Heracles, among whom is Timosthenes, who says that in ancient times it was also called Heracleia, and that its great city-walls and its docks are still to be seen.

8. Then comes Menlaria, with its establishments for salting fish; and next, the city and river of Belon. It is from Belon that people generally take ship for the passage across to Tingis in Maurusia; and at Belon there are trading-places and establishments for salting fish. There used to be a city of Zelis, also, a neighbour of Tingis, but the Romans transplanted it to the opposite coast of Iberia, taking along some of the inhabitants of Tingis; and they also sent some of their own people thither as colonists and named the city "Julia Ioza." Then comes Gades, an island separated from Turdetania by a narrow strait, and distant from Calpe about seven hundred and fifty stadia (though some say eight hundred). This island does not differ at all from the others except that, because of the daring of its inhabitants as sailors, and because of their friendship for the Romans, it has made such advances in every kind of prosperity that, although situated at the extremity of the earth, it is the most famous of them all. But I shall tell about Gades when I discuss the other islands.

9. Next in order comes what is called the Port of Menestheus, and then the estuary at Asta and Nabrissa. (The name of estuaries is given to hollows that are covered by the sea at the high tides, and, like rivers, afford waterways into the interior and to the cities on their shores.) Then immediately comes the outlet of the Baetis, which has a twofold division; and the island that is enclosed by the two mouths has a coastal boundary of one hundred stadia, or, as some say, still more than that. Hereabouts is the oracle of Menestheus; and also the tower of Caepio, which is situated upon a rock that is washed on all sides by the waves, and, like the Pharos tower, is a marvellous structure built for the sake of the safety of mariners; for not only do the alluvial deposits that are discharged by the river form shallows, but the region in front of it is full of reefs, so that there is need of a conspicuous beacon. Thence is the waterway up the Baetis, and the city of Ebura, and the shrine of Phosphorus, which they call "Lux Dubia." Then come the waterways up to the estuaries; and after that the Anas River, which also has two mouths, and the waterway from both mouths into the interior. Then, finally, comes the Sacred Cape, which is less than two thousand stadia distant from Gades. Some, however, say that the distance from the Sacred Cape to the mouth of the Anas is sixty miles, and thence to the mouth of the Baetis, a hundred, and then, to Gades, seventy.

Onto Chapter 2