The History, 22.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8The time is now appropriate, in my opinion, since in treating of this mighty prince we are come to speak of these districts, to explain perspicuously what we have learnt by our own eyesight or by reading, about the frontiers of Thrace and the situation of the Black Sea.

2The lofty mountains of Athos in Macedonia, once made passable for ships by the Persians, and the Eubœan rocky promontory of Caphareus, where Nauplius the father of Palamedes wrecked the Grecian fleet, though far distant from one another, separate the Ægean from the Thessalian Sea, which, extending as it proceeds, on the right, where it is widest, is full of the Sporades and Cyclades islands, which latter are so called because they lie round Delos, an island celebrated as the birthplace of the gods; on the left it washes Imbros, Tenedos, Lemnos, and Thasos; and when agitated by any gale it beats violently on Lesbos.

3From thence, with a receding current, it flows past the temple of Apollo Sminthius, and Troas, and Troy, renowned for the adventures of heroes; and on the west it forms the Gulf of Melas, near the head of which is seen Abdera, the abode of Protagoras and Democritus; and the blood-stained seat of the Thracian Diomede; and the valleys through which the Maritza flows on its way to its waves; and Maronea, and Ænus, founded under sad auspices and soon deserted by Æneas, when under the guidance of the gods he hastened onwards to ancient Italy.

4After this it narrows gradually, and, as if by a kind of natural wish to mingle with its waters, it rushes towards the Black Sea; and taking a portion of it forms a figure like the Greek φ. Then separating the Hellespont from Mount Rhodope, it passes by Cynossema, where Hecuba is supposed to be buried, and Cæla, and Sestos, and Callipolis, and passing by the tombs of Ajax and Achilles, it touches Dardanus and Abydos (where Xerxes, throwing a bridge across, passed over the waters on foot), and Lampsacus, given to Themistocles by the king of Persia; and Parion, founded by Parius the son of Jason.

5Then curving round in a semicircle and separating the opposite lands more widely in the round gulf of the sea of Marmora, it washes on the east Cyzicus, and Dindyma, the holy seat of the mighty mother Cybele, and Apamia, and Cius, and Astacus afterwards called Nicomedia from the King Nicomedes.

6On the west it beats against the Chersonese, Ægospotami where Anaxagoras predicted that stones would fall from heaven, and Lysimachia, and the city which Hercules founded and consecrated to the memory of his comrade Perinthus. And in order to preserve the full and complete figure of the letter φ, in the very centre of the circular gulf lies the oblong island of Proconnesus, and also Besbicus.

7Beyond the upper end of this island the sea again becomes very narrow where it separates Bithynia from Europe, passing by Chalcedon and Chrysopolis, and some other places of no importance.

8Its left shore is looked down upon by Port Athyras and Selymbria, and Constantinople, formerly called Byzantium, a colony of the Athenians, and Cape Ceras, having at its extremity a lofty tower to serve as a lighthouse to ships—from which cape also a very cold wind which often arises from that point is called Ceratas.

9The sea thus broken, and terminated by mingling with the seas at each end, and now becoming very calm, spreads out into wider waters, as far as the eye can reach both in length and breadth. Its entire circuit, if one should measure it as one would measure an island, sailing along its shores, is 23,000 furlongs according to Eratosthenes, Hecatæus, and Ptolemy, and other accurate investigators of subjects of this kind, resembling, by the consent of all geographers, a Scythian bow, held at both ends by its string.

10When the sun rises from the eastern ocean, it is shut in by the marshes of the Sea of Azov. On the west it is bounded by the Roman provinces. On the north lie many tribes differing in language and manners; its southern side describes a gentle curve.

11Over this extended space are dispersed many Greek cities, which have for the most part been founded by the people of Miletus, an Athenian colony, long since established in Asia among the other Ionians by Nileus, the son of the famous Codrus, who is said to have devoted himself to his country in the Doric war.

12The thin extremities of the bow at each end are commanded by the two Bospori, the Thracian and Cimmerian, placed opposite to one another; and they are called Bospori because through them the daughter of Inachus, who was changed (as the poets relate) into a cow, passed into the Ionian sea.

13The right curve of the Thracian Bosphorus is covered by a side of Bithynia, formerly called Mygdonia, of which province Thynia and Mariandena are districts; as also is Bebrycia, the inhabitants of which were delivered from the cruelty of Amycus by the valour of Pollux; and also the remote spot in which the soothsayer Phineus was terrified by the threatening flight of the Harpies.

14The shores are curved into several long bays, into which fall the rivers Sangarius, and Phyllis, and Bizes, and Rebas; and opposite to them at the lower end are the Symplegades, two rocks which rise into abrupt peaks, and which in former times were accustomed to dash against one another with a fearful crash, and then rebounding with a sharp spring, to recoil once more against the object already struck. Even a bird could by no speed of its wings pass between these rocks as they pass and meet again without being crushed to death.

15These rocks, when the Argo, the first of all ships, hastening to Colchis to carry off the golden fleece, had passed unhurt by them, stood immovable for the future, the power of the whirlwind which used to agitate them being broken; and are now so firmly united that no one who saw them now would believe that they had ever been separated; if all the poems of the ancients did not agree on the point.

16After this portion of Bithynia, the next provinces are Pontus and Paphlagonia, in which are the noble cities of Heraclea, and Sinope, and Polemonium, and Amisus, and Tios, and Amastris, all originally founded by the energy of the Greeks; and Cerasus, from which Lucullus brought the cherry, and two lofty islands which contain the famous cities of Trapezus and Pityus.

17Beyond these places is the Acherusian cave, which the natives call Μυχοπόντιον; and the harbour of Acone, and several rivers, the Acheron, the Arcadius, the Iris, the Tibris, and near to that the Parthenius, all of which proceed with a rapid stream into the sea. Close to them is the Thermodon, which rises in Mount Armonius, and flows through the forest of Themiscyra, to which necessity formerly compelled the Amazons to migrate.

18The Amazons, as may be here explained, after having ravaged their neighbours by bloody inroads, and overpowered them by repeated defeats, began to entertain greater projects; and perceiving their own strength to be superior to their neighbours’, and being continually covetous of their possessions, they forced their way through many nations, and attacked the Athenians. But they were routed in a fierce battle, and their flanks being uncovered by cavalry, they all perished.

19When their destruction became known, the rest, who had been left at home as unwarlike, were reduced to the last extremities; and fearing the attacks of their neighbours, who would now retaliate on them, they removed to the more quiet district of the Thermodon. And after a long time, their posterity again becoming numerous, returned in great force to their native regions, and became in later ages formidable to the people of many nations.

20Not far from hence is the gentle hill Carambis, on the north, opposite to which, at a distance of 2,500 furlongs, is the Criu-Metopon, a promontory of Taurica. From this spot the whole of the sea-coast, beginning at the river Halys, is like the chord of an arc fastened at both ends.

21On the frontiers of this district are the Dahæ, the fiercest of all warriors; and the Chalybes, the first people who dug up iron, and wrought it to the use of man. Next to them lies a large plain occupied by the Byzares, the Saqires, the Tibareni, the Mosynæci, the Macrones and the Philyres, tribes with which we have no intercourse.

22And at a small distance from them are some monuments of heroes, where Sthenelus, Idmon, and Tiphys are buried, the first being that one of Hercules’s comrades who was mortally wounded in the war with the Amazons; the second the soothsayer of the Argonauts; the third the skilful pilot of the crew.

23After passing by the aforesaid districts, we come to the cave Aulon, and the river of Callichorus, which derives its name from the fact that when Bacchus, having subdued the nations of India in a three years’ war, came into those countries, he chose the green and shady banks of this river for the re-establishment of his ancient orgies and dances; and some think that such festivals as these were those called Trieterica.

24Next to these frontiers come the famous cantons of the Camaritæ, and the Phasis, which with its roaring streams reaches the Colchi, a race descended from the Egyptians; among whom, besides other cities, is one called Phasis from the name of the river; and Dioscurias, still famous, which is said to have been founded by the Spartans Amphitus and Cercius, the charioteers of Castor and Pollux; from whom the nation of Heniochi derives its origin.

25At a little distance from these are the Achæi, who after some earlier Trojan war, and not that which began about Helen, as some authors have affirmed, were driven into Pontus by foul winds, and, as all around was hostile, so that they could nowhere find a settled abode, they always stationed themselves on the tops of snowy mountains; and, under the pressure of an unfavourable climate they contracted a habit of living on plunder in contempt of all danger; and thus became the most ferocious of all nations. Of the Cercetæ, who lie next to them, nothing is known worth speaking of.

26Behind them lie the inhabitants of the Cimmerian Bosphorus, living in cities founded by the Milesiani, the chief of which is Panticapæum, which is on the Bog a river of great size, both from its natural waters and the streams which fall into it.

27Then for a great distance the Amazons stretch as far as the Caspian sea; occupying the banks of the Don, which rises in Mount Caucasus, and proceeds in a winding course, separating Asia from Europe, and falls into the swampy sea of Azov.

28Near to this is the Rha, on the banks of which grows a vegetable of the same name, which is useful as a remedy for many diseases.

29Beyond the Don, taking the plain in its width, lie the Sauromatæ, whose land is watered by the never-failing rivers Maræcus, Rhombites, Theophanes, and Totordanes. And there is at a vast distance another nation also known as Sauromatæ, touching the shore at the point where the river Corax falls into the sea.

30Near to this is the sea of Azov, of great extent, from the abundant sources of which a great body of water pours through the straits of Patares, near the Black Sea; on the right are the islands Phanagorus and Hermonassa, which have been settled by the industry of the Greeks.

31Round the furthest extremity of this gulf dwell many tribes differing from one another in language and habits; the Jaxamatæ, the Mæotæ, the Jazyges, the Roxolani, the Alani, the Melanchlænæ, the Geloni, and the Agathyrsi, whose land abounds in adamant.

32And there are others beyond, who are the most remote people of the whole world. On the left side of this gulf lies the Crimea, full of Greek colonies; the people of which are quiet and steady: they practise agriculture, and live on the produce of the land.

33From them the Tauri, though at no great distance, are separated by several kingdoms, among which are the Arinchi, a most savage tribe, the Sinchi, and the Napæi, whose cruelty, being aggravated by continual licence, is the reason why the sea is called the Inhospitable, from which by the rule of contrary it gets the name of the Euxine, just as the Greeks call a fool εὐήθης, and night εὐθρόνη, and the furies, the Εὐμενίδες.

34For they propitiated the gods with human victims, sacrificing strangers to Diana, whom they call Oreiloche, and fix the heads of the slain on the walls of their temples, as perpetual monuments of their deeds.

35In this kingdom of the Tauri lies the uninhabited island of Leuce, which is consecrated to Achilles; and if any ever visit it, as soon as they have examined the traces of antiquity, and the temple and offerings dedicated to the hero, they return the same evening to their ships, as it is said that no one can pass the night there without danger to his life.

36There is water there, and white birds like kingfishers, the origin of which, and the battles of the Hellespont, we will discuss at a proper time. And there are some cities in this region of which the most eminent are Eupatoria, Dandaca, and Theodosia, and several others which are free from the wickedness of human sacrifices.

37Up to this we reckon that one of the extremities of the arc extends. We will now follow, as order suggests, the rest of the curve which extends towards the north, along the left side of the Thracian Bosphorus, just reminding the reader that while the bows of all other nations bend along the whole of their material, those of the Scythians and Parthians have a straight rounded line in the centre, from which they curve their spreading horns so as to present the figure of the waning moon.

38At the very beginning then of this district, where the Rhipæan mountains end, lie the Arimphæi, a just people known for their quiet character, whose land is watered by the rivers Chronius and Bisula; and next to them are the Massagetæ, the Alani, and the Sargetæ, and several other tribes of little note, of whom we know neither the names nor the customs.

39Then, a long way off, is the bay Carcinites, and a river of the same name, and a grove of Diana, frequented by many votaries in those countries.

40After that we come to the Dnieper (Borysthenes), which rises in the mountains of the Neuri; a river very large at its first beginning, and which increases by the influx of many other streams, till it falls into the sea with great violence; on its woody banks is the town of Borysthenes, and Cephalonesus, and some altars consecrated to Alexander the Great and Augustus Cæsar.

41Next, at a great distance, is an island inhabited by the Sindi, a tribe of low-born persons, who upon the overthrow of their lords and masters in Asia, took possession of their wives and properties. Below them is a narrow strip of coast called by the natives the Course of Achilles, having been made memorable in olden time by the exercises of the Thessalian chief, and next to that is the city of Tyros, a colony of the Phœnicians, watered by the river Dniester.

42But in the middle of the arc which we have described as being of an extended roundness, and which takes an active traveller fifteen days to traverse, are the Europæan Alani, the Costoboci, and the countless tribes of the Scythians, who extend over territories which have no ascertained limit; a small part of whom live on grain. But the rest wander over vast deserts, knowing neither ploughtime nor seedtime; but living in cold and frost, and feeding like great beasts. They place their relations, their homes, and their wretched furniture on waggons covered with bark, and, whenever they choose, they migrate without hindrance, driving off these waggons wherever they like.

43When one arrives at another point of the circuit where there is a harbour, which bounds the figure of the arc at that extremity, the island Peuce is conspicuous, inhabited by the Troglodytæ, and Peuci, and other inferior tribes, and we come also to Histros, formerly a city of great power, and to Tomi, Apollonia, Anchialos, Odissos, and many others on the Thracian coast.

44But the Danube, rising near Basle on the borders of the Tyrol, extending over a wider space, and receiving on his way nearly sixty navigable rivers, pours through the Scythian territory by seven mouths into the Black Sea.

45The first mouth (according to the Greek interpretation of the names) is at the island of Peuce, which we have mentioned; the second is at Naracustoma, the third at Calonstoma, the fourth at Pseudostoma. The Boreonstoma and the Sthenostoma, are much smaller, and the seventh is large and black-looking like a bog.

46But the whole sea, all around, is full of mists and shoals, and is sweeter than seas in general, because by the evaporation of moisture the air is often thick and dense, and its waters are tempered by the immensity of the rivers which fall into it; and it is full of shifting shallows, because the number of the streams which surround it pour in mud and lumps of soil.

47And it is well known that fish flock in large shoals to its most remote extremities that they may spawn and rear their young more healthfully, in consequence of the salubrity of the water; while the hollow caverns, which are very numerous there, protect them from voracious monsters. For nothing of the kind is ever seen in this sea, except some small dolphins, and they do no harm.

48Now the portions of the Black Sea which are exposed to the north wind are so thoroughly frozen that, while the rivers, as it is believed, cannot continue their course beneath the ice, yet neither can the foot of beast or man proceed firmly over the treacherous and shifting ground; a fault which is never found in a pure sea, but only in one of which the waters are mingled with those of rivers. We have digressed more than we had intended, so now let us turn back to what remains to be told.

49Another circumstance came to raise Julian’s present joy, one which indeed had been long expected, but which had been deferred by all manner of delays. For intelligence was brought by Agilo and Jovius, who was afterwards quæstor, that the garrison of Aquileia, weary of the length of the siege, and having heard of the death of Constantius, had opened their gates and come forth, delivering up the authors of the revolt; and that, after they had been burnt alive, as has been related, the rest had obtained pardon for their offences.

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