The War with Jugurtha, 17–19

Sallust  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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17My subject seems to call for a brief account of the geography of Africa and some description of the nations there with which the people of Rome has had wars or alliances. 2Of those regions and peoples, however, which are seldom visited because of the heat, the difficulty of access, or the stretches of desert, I could not easily give an account based upon certain information. The rest I shall dispatch in the fewest possible words.

3In their division of the earth’s surface geographers commonly regard Africa as a third part, a few recognize only Asia and Europe, including Africa in the latter. 4Africa is bounded on the west by the strait between our sea and the Ocean, on the east by a broad sloping tract which the natives call Catabathmos. 5The sea is rough and without harbours, the soil fertile in grain, and favourable to flocks and herds but unproductive of trees; heaven and earth are niggardly of water. 6The natives are healthy, swift of foot, and of great endurance. They commonly die of old age, unless they fall victims to the steel or to wild beasts; for disease seldom gets the better of any of them. Moreover the country abounds in dangerous wild animals.

7What men inhabited Africa originally, and who came later, or how the races mingled, I shall tell as briefly as possible. Although my account varies from the prevailing tradition, I give it as it was translated to me from the Punic books said to have been written by king Hiempsal, and in accordance with what the dwellers in that land believe. But the responsibility for its truth will rest with my authorities.

18In the beginning Africa was inhabited by the Gaetulians and Libyans, rude and uncivilized folk, who fed like beasts on the flesh of wild animals and the fruits of the earth. 2They were governed neither by institutions nor law, nor were they subject to anyone’s rule. A restless, roving people, they had their abodes wherever night compelled a halt.

3But when Hercules died in Spain, as the Africans believe, the men of divers nationalities who formed his army, now that their leader was gone and since there were many on every hand who aspired to succeed him, soon dispersed. 4Of those who made up the army, the Medes, Persians and Armenians crossed by ships into Africa 5and settled in the regions nearest to our sea, the Persians closer to the Ocean; and these used as huts the inverted hulls of their ships; for there was no timber in the land, and there was no opportunity to obtain it from the Spaniards by purchase or barter, 6since the wide expanse of sea and ignorance of the language were a bar to intercourse. 7The Persians intermarried with the Gaetulians and were gradually merged with them, and because they often moved from place to place trying the soil, they called themselves Nomads. 8It is an interesting fact, that even to the present day the dwellings of the rustic Numidians, which they call mapalia, are oblong and have roofs with curved sides, like the hulls of ships.

9But the Medes and the Armenians had the Libyans as their nearest neighbours; for that people lived closer to the Afric sea, while the Gaetulians were farther to the south, not far from the regions of heat. These three peoples soon had towns; for being separated from the Spaniards only by the strait, they began to exchange wares with them. 10The Libyans gradually altered the name of the Medes, calling them in their barbarian tongue Mauri (Moors).

11Now the commonwealth of the Persians soon increased and finally the younger generation, under the name of Numidians, separated from their parents because of the excess of population and took possession of the region next to Carthage, which is called Numidia. 12Then both peoples, relying upon each other’s aid, brought their neighbours under their sway by arms or by fear and acquired renown and glory, especially those who had come near to our sea, because the Libyans are less warlike than the Gaetulians. Finally, the greater part of northern Africa fell into the hands of the Numidians, and all the vanquished were merged in the race and name of their rulers.

19Later the Phoenicians, sometimes for the sake of ridding themselves of the superfluous population at home, sometimes from desire for dominion tempting away the commons and others who were desirous of a change, founded Hippo, Hadrumetum, Leptis, and other cities on the coast. These soon became very powerful and were in some cases a defence and in others a glory to the mother city. 2As to Carthage, I think it better to be silent rather than say too little, since time warns me to hasten on to other topics.

3In the neighbourhood, then, of the Catabathmos, the region which separates Egypt from Africa, the first city as you follow the coast is Cyrene, a colony of Thera, and then come the two Syrtes with Leptis between them. Next we come to the altars of the Philaeni, the point which the Carthaginians regarded as marking the boundary between their empire and Egypt; then other Punic cities. 4The rest of the region as far as Mauretania is held by the Numidians, while the people nearest Spain are the Moors. 5South of Numidia, we are told, are the Gaetulians, some of whom live in huts, while others lead a less civilized nomadic life. 6Still farther to the south are the Aethiopians, and then come the regions parched by the sun’s heat.

7Now at the time of the war with Jugurtha the Romans were governing through their officials nearly all the Punic cities, as well as the territory which in their latter days had belonged to the Carthaginians. The greater number of the Gaetulians, and Numidia as far as the river Muluccha, were subject to Jugurtha. All the Moors were ruled by king Bocchus, who knew nothing of the Roman people save their name and was in turn unknown to us before that time either in peace or in war.

8This account of Africa and its peoples is enough for my purpose.

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