Roman Provincias > Provincia Syria

Provincia Syria

Roman History - Pax Romana Decoration


Syria is bounded on the north by Cilicia and Mt. Amanus; and the distance from the sea to the bridge of the Euphrates (from the Gulf of Issus to the bridge at Commagene), which forms the boundary of that side, is not less than fourteen hundred stadia. It is bounded on the east by the Euphrates and by the Arabian Scenitae this side the Euphrates; and on the south by Arabia Felix and Aegypt; and on the west by the Aegyptian and Syrian Seas as far as Issus.

We set down as parts of Syria, beginning at Cilicia and Mt. Amanus, both Commagene and the Seleucis of Syria, as the latter is called; and then Coele-Syria, and last, on the seaboard, Phoenicia, and in the interior, Judaea. Some writers divide Syria as a whole into Coelo-Syriansº and Syrians and Phoenicians, and say that four other tribes are mixed up with these, namely, Judaeans, Idumaeans, Gazaeans, and Azotians, and that they are partly farmers, as the Syrians and Coelo-Syrians, and partly merchants, as the Phoenicians.

So much for Syria in general. But in detail: p241Commagene is rather a small country; and it has a city fortified by nature, Samosata, where the royal residence used to be; but it has now become a province;39 and the city is surrounded by an exceedingly fertile, though small, territory. Here is now the bridge of the Euphrates; and near the bridge is situated Seleuceia, a fortress of Mesopotamia, which was included within the boundaries of Commagene by Pompey; and it was here that Tigranes slew Selene, surnamed Cleopatra, after imprisoning her for a time, when she had been banished from Syria.

Seleucis is not only the best of the above-mentioned portions of Syria, but also is called, and is, a Tetrapolis, owing to the outstanding cities in it, for it has several. But the largest are four: Antiocheia near Daphne, Seleuceia in Pieria, and also Apameia and Laodiceia; and these cities, all founded by Seleucus Nicator, used to be called sisters, because of their concord with one another.

Now the largest of these cities was named after his father and the one most strongly fortified by nature after himself, and one of the other two, Apameia, after his wife Apama, and the other, Laodiceia, after his mother. Appropriately to the Tetrapolis, Seleucis was also divided into four satrapies, as Poseidonius says, the same number into which Coele-Syria was divided, though Mesopotamia formed only one satrapy. Antiocheia is likewise a Tetrapolis, since it consisted of four parts; and each of the four settlements is fortified both by a common wall and by a wall of its own.

Now Nicator founded the first of the settlements, transferring thither the settlers from Antigonia, which had been built near it a short time before by Antigonus; the second was founded by the multitude of settlers; the third by Seleucus Callinicus; and the fourth by Antiochus Epiphanes.

Furthermore, Antiocheia is the metropolis of Syria; and here was established the royal residence for the rulers of the country. And it does not fall much short, either in power or in size, of Seleuceia on the Tigris or Alexandria in Aegypt. Nicator also settled here the descendants of Triptolemus, whom I mentioned a little before. And it is on this account that the Antiocheians worship him as a hero and celebrate a festival in his honour on Mt. Casius in the neighbourhood of Seleuceia.

It is said that he was sent by the Argives in search of Io, who disappeared first in Tyre, and that he wandered through Cilicia; and that there some of his Argive companions left him and founded Tarsus, but the others accompanied him into the next stretch of seaboard, gave up the search in despair, and remained with him in the river-country of the Orontes; and that Gordys, the son of Triptolemus, along with some of the peoples who had accompanied his father, emigrated to Gordyaea, whereas the descendants of the rest became fellow-inhabitants with the Antiocheians.

Lying above Antiocheia, at a distance of forty stadia, is Daphne, a settlement of moderate size; and also a large, thickly-shaded grove intersected by fountain-streams, in the midst of which there is an asylum-precinct and a temple of Apollo and Artemis. Here it is the custom for the Antiocheians and the neighbouring peoples to hold a general festival. The grove is eighty stadia in circuit.

The Orontes River flows near the city. This river has its sources in Coele-Syria; and then, after flowing underground, issues forth again; and then, proceeding through the territory of the Apameians into that of Antiocheia, closely approaches the latter city and flows down to the sea near Seleuceia. Though formerly called Typhon, its name was changed to that of Orontes, the man who built a bridge across it. Here, somewhere, is the setting of the mythical story of the Arimi, of whom I have already spoken.

They say that Typhon (who, they add, was a dragon), when struck by the bolts of lightning, fled in search of a descent underground; that he not only cut the earth with furrows and formed the bed of the river, but also descended underground and caused the fountain to break forth to the surface; and that the river got its name from this fact. Now on the west, below Antiocheia and Seleuceia, lies the sea; and it is near Seleuceia that the Orontes forms its outlets, this city being forty stadia distant from the outlets, and one hundred and twenty from Antiocheia. Inland voyages from the sea to Antiocheia are made on the same day one starts. To the east of Antiocheia are the Euphrates, as also Bambyce and Beroea and Heracleia, small towns once ruled by the tyrant Dionysius, the son of Heracleon. Heracleia is twenty stadia distant from the temple of Athena Cyrrhestis.

Then one comes to Cyrrhestice, which extends as far as the territory of Antiocheia.a On the north, near it, lie both Mt. Amanus and Commagene. Cyrrhestice borders on these, extending as far as that. Here is Gindarus, a city, which is the acropolis of Cyrrhestice and a natural stronghold for robbers; and near it is a place called Heracleium. It was in the neighbourhood of these places that Pacorus, the eldest of the sons of the Parthian king, was killed by Ventidius, when he made an expedition against Syria.

On the borders of Gindarus lies Pagrae, which is in the territory of Antiocheia and is a natural stronghold situated near the top of the pass over Mt. Amanus, which leads from the Gates of Amanus into Syria. Now below Pagrae lies the plain of the Antiocheians, through which flow the Arecuthus and Orontes and Labotas Rivers; and in this plain is the palisade of Meleager,º as also the Oenoparas River, on the banks of which Ptolemy Philometor conquered Alexander Balas but died from a wound.

Above these places lies a hill which, from its similarity, is called Trapezon, whereon Ventidius had the fight with Phranicates, the Parthian general. Near the sea in this region lies Seleuceia, and Pieria, a mountain continuous with Mt. Amanus, and Rhosus, which is situated between Issus and Seleuceia. Seleuceia was in earlier times called Hydatos-Potamoi.

The city is a notable fortress and is too strong to be taken by force; and for this reason Pompey, after shutting Tigranes off from it, adjudged it a free city. To the south of the Antiocheians is Apameia, which is situated in the interior; and to the south of the Seleuceians are Mts. Casius and Anticasius; and still further after Seleuceia one comes to the outlets of the Orontes; and then to the Nymphaeum, a kind of sacred cave; and then to Casium; and next to Poseidium, a small town, and to Heracleia.

Then one comes to Laodiceia, situated on the sea. It is a city most beautifully built, has a good harbour, and has territory which, besides its other good crops, abounds in wine. Now this city furnishes the most of the wine to the Alexandreians, since the whole of the mountain that lies above the city and is possessed by it is covered with vines almost as far as the summits.

And while the summits are at a considerable distance from Laodiceia, sloping up gently and gradually from it, they tower above Apameia, extending up to a perpendicular height. Laodiceia was afflicted in no moderate degree by Dolabella, when he fled to it for refuge, was besieged in it by Cassius till death, and destroyed, along with himself, many parts of the city.

Apameia also has a city that is in general well fortified; for it is a beautifully fortified hill in a hollow plain, and this hill is formed into a peninsula by the Orontes and by a large lake which lies near by and spreads into the broad marshes and exceedingly large cattle-pasturing and horse-pasturing meadows. So the city is thus secretly situated; and so, too, it was called Cherronesus, because of the fact in the case; and it is well supplied with a very large and fertile territory, through which the Orontes flows; and in this territory there are numerous dependent towns.

Here, too, Seleucus Nicator kept the five hundred elephants and the greater part of the army, as did also the later kings. It was also called Pella at one time, by the first Macedonians, because the majority of the Macedonians who made the expedition took up their abode there, and because Pella, the native city of Philip and Alexander, had become, as it were, the metropolis of the Macedonians.

Here, too, were the war-office and the royal stud. The royal stud consisted of more than thirty thousand mares and three hundred stallions. Here, too, were colt-breakers and instructors who were paid to teach the arts of war. The power of this city is clearly shown by the ascendancy of Tryphon, surnamed Diodotus, and by his attack upon the kingdom of the Syrians, when he made this city the base of his operations.

For he was born at Casiana, a fortress of the Apameian country, and, having been reared at Apameia and closely associated with the king and the king's court, when he set out to effect a revolution, he got his resources from this city and also from its dependencies, I mean Larisa and Casiana and Megara and Apollonia and other places like them, all of which were tributary to Apameia.

So Tryphon was proclaimed king of this country and held out for a long time. Cecilius Bassus, with two cohorts, caused Apameia to revolt and, though besieged by two large Roman armies, strongly resisted them for so long a time that he did not come under their power until he voluntarily put himself in their hands upon his own terms; for the country supplied his army with provisions, and he had plenty of allies, I mean the neighbouring chieftains, who possessed strongholds; and among these places was Lysias, which is situated above the lake that lies near Apameia, as also Arethusa, belonging to Sampsiceramus and his son Iamblichus, chieftains of the tribe of the Emeseni; and at no great distance, also, were Heliupolis and Chalcis, which latter was subject to Ptolemaeus the son of Mennaeus, who possessed Massyas and the mountainous country of the Ituraeans.

Among the allies of Bassus was also Alchaedamnus, king of the Rhambaeans, who were nomads this side the Euphrates River; and he was a friend of the Romans, but upon the belief that he was being treated unjustly by the Roman governors p255he retired to Mesopotamia and then went into the service of Bassus as a mercenary. Poseidonius, the Stoic, the most learned of all philosophers of my time, was a native of Apameia.

Bordering on the country of the Apameians, on the east, is the Paropotamia, as it is called, of the Arabian chieftains, as also Chalcidice, which extends down from Massyas, and all the country to the south of the Apameians, which belongs for the most part to Scenitae. These Scenitae are similar to the nomads in Mesopotamia. And it is always the case that the peoples are more civilised in proportion to their proximity to the Syrians, and that the Arabians and Scenitae are less so, the former having governments that are better organised, as, for example, that of Arethusa under Sampsiceramus, and that of Gambarus, and that of Themellas, and those of other chieftains like them.

Such is the interior of the territory of Seleuceia. But the remainder of the coast from Laodiceia is as follows: near Laodiceia are three towns, Poseidium and Heracleium and Gabala; and then forthwith one comes to the seaboard of the Aradians, where are Paltus and Balanaea and Carnus, this last being the naval station of Aradus and having a harbour; and then to Enydra and Marathus, the latter an ancient city of the Phoenicians, now in ruins. Aradians divided up this country among themselves, as also Simyra, the place that comes next thereafter; and continuous with these places is Orthosia, as also Eleutherus, the river near by, which some writers make the boundary of the territory of Seleuceia on the side towards Phoenicia and Coele-Syria.

Aradus lies off a surfy and harbourless seaboard; it lies approximately between its naval station and Marathus, and is twenty stadia distant from the mainland. It consists of a rock washed all round by the sea, is about seven stadia in circuit, and is full of dwellings; and it has had such a large population, even down to the present time, that the people live in houses with many stories. It was founded, as they say, by exiles from Sidon. They get their water-supply partly from the rains and cisterns and partly from their territory on the mainland. In war-times they get water from the channel at a short distance in front of the city.

This channel has an abundant spring; and into this spring the people let down from the water-fetching boat an inverted, wide-mouthed funnel made of lead, the upper part of which contracts into a stem with a moderate-sized hole through it; and round this stem they fasten a leathern tube (unless I should call it bellows), which receives the water that is forced up from the spring through the funnel. Now the first water that is forced up is sea-water, but the boatmen wait for the flow of pure and potable water and catch all that is needed in vessels prepared for the purpose and carry it to the city.

Now in ancient times the Aradians were governed independently by kings, as was also the case with each of the other Phoenician cities; but afterwards the Persians, and then the Macedonians, and to‑day the Romans, have reduced them to their present order of government. The Aradians, however, together with the other Phoenicians, subjected p259themselves to the Syrian kings as friends of theirs; and then, when a quarrel broke out between two brothers, Callinicus Seleucus and Antiochus Hierax, as he was called, the Aradians joined with Callinicus and made an agreement with him whereby they were to be permitted to receive refugees from the kingdom and not to give them up against their will; they were not, however, to permit refugees to sail from the island without permission from the king.

From this agreement they got great advantages; for those who fled for refuge to their country were not ordinary people, but men who had held the highest trusts and were in fear of the direst consequences; and, being received as guests, they regarded their hosts as their benefactors and saviours, and requited the favour, in particular when they went back to their homeland; and it is from this fact, therefore, that the Aradians got possession of a considerable territory on the mainland, most of which they hold even at present, and otherwise have prospered. To this good fortune they added both prudence and industry in their maritime affairs; and when they she said that the neighbouring Cilicians were organising piratical adventures they would not even once take part with them in a business of that kind.

After Orthosia and the Eleutherus River one comes to Tripolis, which has taken its name from what is the fact in the case, for it is a foundation consisting of three cities, Tyre and Sidon and Aradus. Contiguous to Tripolis is Theuprosopon, where Mt. Libanus terminates; and between the two lies Trieres, a kind of stronghold.

Here are two mountains, Libanus and Antilibanus, which form Coele-Syria, as it is called, and are approximately parallel to each other. They both begin slightly above the sea — Libanus above the sea near Tripolis and nearest to Theuprosopon, and Antilibanus above the sea near Sidon; and somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Arabian mountains above Damascene and the Trachones, as they are called, the two mountains terminate in other mountains that are hilly and fruitful.

They leave a hollow plain between them, the breadth of which, near the sea, is two hundred stadia, and the length, from the sea into the interior, is about twice that number. It is intersected by rivers, the Jordan being the largest, which water a country that is fertile and all-productive. It also contains a lake, which produces the aromatic rush and reed; and likewise marshes. The lake is called Gennesaritis. The plain also produces balsam. Among the rivers is the Chrysorrhoas, which begins at the city and country of the Damasceni and is almost wholly used up in the conduits, for it irrigates a large territory that has a very deep soil; but the Lycus and the Jordan are navigated inland with vessels of burden, mostly by the Aradians.

As for the plains, the first, beginning at the sea, is called Macras, or Macra-Plain. Here, as reported by Poseidonius, was seen the fallen dragon, the corpse of which was about a plethrum in length, and so bulky that horsemen standing by it on either side could not see one another; and its jaws were large enough to admit a man on horseback, and each flake of its horny scales exceeded an oblong shield in length.

After Macras one comes to the Massyas Plain, which contains also some mountainous parts, among which is Chalcis, the acropolis, as it were, of the Massyas. The beginning of this plain is the Laodiceia near Libanus. Now all the mountainous parts are held by Ituraeans and Arabians, all of whom are robbers, but the people in the plains are farmers; and when the latter are harassed by the robbers at different times they require different kinds of help.

These robbers use strongholds as bases of operation; those, for example, who hold Libanus possess, high up on the mountain, Sinna and Borrama and other fortresses like them, and, down below, Botrys and Gigartus and the caves by the sea and the castle that was erected on Theuprosopon. Pompey destroyed both these places; and from them the robbers overran both Byblus and the city that comes next after Byblus, I mean the city Berytus, which lie between Sidon and Theuprosopon. Now Byblus, the royal residence of Cinyras,b is sacred to Adonis; but Pompey freed it from tyranny by beheading its tyrant with an axe; and it is situated on a height only a slight distance from the sea.

Then, after Byblus, one comes to the Adonis River and to Mt. Climax and to Palaebyblus; and then to the Lycus River and Berytus. But though Berytus was razed to the ground by Tryphon, it has now been restored by the Romans; and it received two legions, which were settled there by Agrippa, who also added to it much of the territory of Massyas, as far as the sources of the Orontes River. These sources are near Mt. Libanus and Paradeisus and the Aegyptian fortress situated in the neighbourhood of the land of the Apameians. So much, then, for the places on the sea.

Above Massyas lies the Royal Valley, as it is called, and also the Damascene country, which is accorded exceptional praise. The city Damascus is also a noteworthy city, having been, I might almost say, even the most famous of the cities in that part of the world in the time of the Persian empire; and above it are situated two Trachones, as they are called. And then, towards the parts inhabited promiscuously by Arabians and Ituraeans, are mountains hard to pass, in which there are deep-mouthed caves, one of which can admit as many as four thousand people in times of incursions, such as are made against the Damasceni from many places. For the most part, indeed, the barbarians have been robbing the merchants from Arabia Felix, but this is less the case now that the band of robbers under Zenodorus has been broken up through the good government established by the Romans and through the security established by the Roman soldiers that are kept in Syria.

Now the whole of the country above the territory of Seleuceia, extending approximately to Aegypt and Arabia, is called Coele-Syria; but the country marked off by the Libanus and the Antilibanus is called by that name in a special sense. Of the remainder66 the seaboard from Orthosia to Pelusium is called Phoenicia, which is a narrow country and lies flat along the sea, whereas the interior above Phoenicia, as far as the Arabians, between Gaza and Antilibanus, is called Judaea.

Since, then, I have traversed Coele-Syria in the special sense of that name, I shall pass on to Phoenicia. Of this country, I have already described the parts extending from Orthosia to Berytus; and after Berytus one comes to Sidon, at a distance of about four hundred stadia; but between the two places are the Tamyras River and the grove of Asclepius and a city of Leones.


See Tyre

Ptolemais in Phoenicia

See Ptolemais in Phoenicia

After Ace one comes to the Tower of Strato, which has a landing-place for vessels. Between the two places is Mt. Carmel, as also towns of which nothing more than the names remain — I mean Sycaminopolis, Bucolopolis, Crocodeilopolis, and others like them. And then one comes to a large forest.

Then one comes to Iope, where the seaboard from Aegypt, though at first stretching towards the east, makes a significant bend towards the north. Here it was, according to certain writers of myths, that Andromeda was exposed to the sea-monster; for the place is situated at a rather high elevation — so high, it is said, that Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Judaeans, is visible from it; and indeed the Judaeans have used this place as a seaport when they have gone down as far as the sea; but the seaports of robbers are obviously only robbers' dens.

To these people belonged, not only Carmel, but also the forest; and indeed this place was so well supplied with men that it could muster forty thousand men from the neighbouring village Iamneia and the settlements all round. Thence to Mt. Casius near Pelusium the distance is a little more than one thousand stadia; and, three hundred stadia farther, one comes to Pelusium itself.

But in the interval one comes to Gadaris, which the Judaeans appropriated to themselves; and then to Azotus and Ascalon. The distance from Iamneia to Azotus and Ascalon is about two hundred stadia. The country of the Ascalonitae is a good onion-market, though the town is small. Antiochus the philosopher, who was born a little before my time, was a native of this place. Philodemus, the Epicurean, and Meleager and Menippus, the satirist, and Theodorus, the rhetorician of my own time, were natives of Gadaris.

Then, near Ascalon, one comes to the harbour of the Gazaeans. The city of the Gazaeans is situated inland at a distance of seven stadia; it became famous at one time, but was rased to the ground by Alexander and remains uninhabited. Thence there is said to be an overland passage of one thousand two hundred and sixty stadia to Aela, a city situated near the head of the Arabian Gulf. This head consists of two recesses: one extending into the region near Arabia and Gaza, which is called Aelanites, after the city situated on it, and there, extending to the region near Aegypt in the neighbourhood of the City of Heroes,86 to which the overland passage from Pelusium is shorter; and the overland journeys are made on camels through desert and sandy places; and on these journeys there are also many reptiles to be seen.

After Gaza one comes to Rhaphia, where a battle was fought between Ptolemaeus the Fourth and Antiochus the Great. Then to Rhinocolura, so called from the people with mutilated noses that had been settled there in early times; for some Aethiopian invaded Aegypt and, instead of killing the wrongdoers, cut off their noses and settled them at that place, assuming that on account of their disgraceful faces they would no longer dare to do people wrong.

Now the whole of this country from Gaza is barren and sandy, but still more so is the country that lies next above it, which contains Lake Sirbonis, a lake which lies approximately parallel to the sea and, in the interval, leaves a short passage as far as the Ecregma, as it is called; the lake is about two hundred stadia in length and its maximum breadth is about sixty stadia; but the Ecregma his become filled up with earth. Then follows another continuous tract of this kind as far as Casius; and then one comes to Pelusium.

Casius is a sandy hill without water and forms a promontory; the body of Pompey the Great is buried there; and on it is a temple of Zeus Casius. Near this place Pompey the Great was slain, being treacherously murdered by the Aegyptians. Then comes the road to Pelusium, on which lie Gerrha and the Palisade of Chabrias, as it is called, and the pits near Pelusium.

These pits are formed by side-flows from the Nile, the region being by nature hollow and marshy. Such is Phoenicia. Artemidorus says that the distance to Pelusium from Orthosia is three thousand six hundred and fifty stadia, including the sinuosities of the gulfs; and from Melaenae, or Melaniae, in Cilicia, near Celenderis, to the common boundaries of Cilicia and Syria, one thousand nine hundred; and thence to the Orontes River, five hundred and twenty; and then to Orthosia one thousand one hundred and thirty.

As for Judaea, its western extremities towards Casius are occupied by the Idumaeans and by the lake. The Idumaeans are Nabataeans, but owing to a sedition they were banished from there, joined the Judaeans, and shared in the same customs with them. The greater part of the region near the sea is occupied by Lake Sirbonis and by the country continuous with the lake as far as Jerusalem; for this city is also near the sea; for, as I have already said,93 it is visible from the seaport of Iope.

This region lies towards the north; and it is inhabited in general, as is each place in particular, by mixed stocks of people from Aegyptian and Arabian and Phoenician tribes; for such are those who occupy Galilee and Hiericus and Philadelphia and Samaria, which last Herod surnamed Sebaste. But though the inhabitants are mixed up thus, the most prevalent of the accredited reports in regard to the temple at Jerusalem represents the ancestors of the present Judaeans, as they are called, as Aegyptians.

Moses, namely, was one of the Aegyptian priests, and held a part of Lower Aegypt, as it is called, but he went away from there to Judaea, since he was displeased with the state of affairs there, and was accompanied by many people who worshipped the Divine Being. For he says, and taught, that the Aegyptians were mistaken in representing the Divine Being by the images of beasts and cattle, as were also the Libyans; and that the Greeks were also wrong in modeling gods in human form; for, according to him, God is this one thing alone that encompasses us all and encompasses land and sea — the thing which we call heaven, or universe, or the nature of all that exists.

What man, then, if he has sense, could be bold enough to fabricate an image of God resembling any creature amongst us? Nay, people should leave off all image-carving, and, setting apart a sacred precinct and a worthy sanctuary, should worship God without an image; and people who have good dreams should sleep in the sanctuary, not only themselves on their own behalf, but also others for the rest of the people; and those who live self-restrained and righteous lives should always expect some blessing or gift or sign from God, but no other should expect them.

Now Moses, saying things of this kind, persuaded not a few thoughtful men and led them away to this place where the settlement of Jerusalem now is; and he easily took possession of the place, since it was not a place that would be looked on with envy, nor yet one for which anyone would make a serious fight; for it is rocky, and, although it itself is well supplied with water, its surrounding territory is barren and waterless, and the part of the territory within a radius of sixty stadia is also rocky beneath the surface.

At the same time Moses, instead of using arms, put forward as defense his sacrifices and his Divine Being, being resolved to seek a seat of worship for Him and promising to deliver to the people a kind of worship and a kind of ritual which would not oppress those who adopted them either with expenses or with divine obsessions or with other absurd troubles. Now Moses enjoyed fair repute with these people, and organized no ordinary kind of government, since the peoples all round, one and all, came over to him, because of his dealings with them and of the prospects he held out to them.

His successors for some time abided by the same course, acting righteously and being truly pious towards God; but afterwards, in the first place, superstitious men were appointed to the priesthood, and then tyrannical people; and from superstition arose abstinence from flesh, from which it is their custom to abstain even to‑day, and circumcisions and excisions and other observances of the kind.

And from the tyrannies arose the bands of robbers; for some revolted and harassed the country, both their own country and that of their neighbors, whereas others, co-operating with the rulers, seized the property of others and subdued much of Syria and Phoenicia. But still they had respect for their acropolis, since they did not loathe it as the seat of tyranny, but honored and revered it as a holy place.

For this is natural; and it is common to the Greeks and to the barbarians; for, being members of states, they live under common mandates; for otherwise it would be impossible for the mass of people in any country to do one and the same thing in harmony with one another, which is precisely what life in a free state means, or in any other way to live a common life.

And the mandates are twofold; for they come either from gods or from men; and the ancients, at least, held those from the gods in greater honour and veneration; and on this account men who consulted oracles were much in evidence at that time — men who ran to Dodona "to hear the will of Zeus from the high-tressed oak," thus using Zeus as their counsellor, and also to Delphi, "seeking to learn whether the child which had been exposed to die was no longer alive;" but the child himself "was on his way to the home of Phoebus, wishing to discover his parents."

And among the Cretans Minos "reigned as king, who held converse with great Zeus every ninth year," every nine years, as Plato says, when he would go up to the cave of Zeus and receive decrees from him and carry them to the people. And Lycurgus, his emulator, did likewise; for oftentimes, as it appears, he would go abroad to inquire of the Pythian priestess what ordinances it was proper for him to report to the Lacedaemonians.

For these things, whatever truth there may be in them, have at least been believed and sanctioned among men; and for this reason the prophets too were held in so much honour that they were deemed worthy to be kings, on the ground that they promulgated to us ordinances and amendments from the gods, not only when they were alive, but also when they were dead, as, for example, Teiresias, "to whom even in death Persephone granted reason, that he alone should have understanding, whereas the others flit about as shadows."

Such, also, were Amphiaraüs, Trophonius, Orpheus, Musaeus, and the god among the Getae, who in ancient times was Zamolxis, a Pythagoreian, and in my time was Decaeneus, the diviner of Byrebistas; and, among the Bosporeni, Achaecarus; and, among the Indians, the Gymnosophists; and, among the Persians, the Magi and the necromancers, as also the dish-diviners and water-diviners, as they are called; and, among the Assyrians, the Chaldaeans; and, among the Romans, the Tyrrhenian nativity-casters. Moses was such a person as these, as also his successors, who, with no bad beginning, turned out for the worse.

At any rate, when now Judaea was under the rule of tyrants, Alexander was first to declare himself king instead of priest; and both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus were sons of his; and when they were at variance about the empire, Pompey went over and overthrew them and rased their fortifications, and in particular took Jerusalem itself by force; for it was a rocky and well-watered fortress; and though well supplied with water inside, its outside territory was wholly without water; and it had a trench cut in rock, sixty feet in depth and two hundred and sixty feet in breadth; and, from the stone that had been hewn out, the wall of the temple was fenced with towers.

Pompey seized the city, it is said, after watching for the day of fasting, when the Judaeans were abstaining from all work; he filled up the trench and threw ladders across it; moreover, he gave orders to rase all the walls and, so far as he could, destroyed the haunts of robbers and the treasure-holds of the tyrants. Two of these were situated on the passes leading to Hiericus, I mean Threx and Taurus, and others were Alexandrium and Hyrcanium and Machaerus and Lysias and those in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia and Scythopolis in the neighbourhood of Galilaea.

Hiericus is a plain surrounded by a kind of mountainous country, which, in a way, slopes towards it like a theatre. Here is the Phoenicon, which is mixed also with other kinds of cultivated and fruitful trees, though it consists mostly of palm trees; it is one hundred stadia in length, and is everywhere watered with streams and full of dwellings. Here are also the palace and the balsam park. The balsam is of the shrub kind, resembling cytisus and terminthus, and has a spicy flavour. The people make incisions in the bark and catch the juice in vessels.

This juice is a glutinous, milk-white substance; and when it is put up in small quantities it solidifies; and it is remarkable for its cure of headache and of incipient cataracts and of dimness of sight. Accordingly, it is costly; and also for the reason that it is produced nowhere else. Such is also the case with the Phoenicon, which alone has the caryotic palm, excepting the Babylonian and that beyond Babylonia towards the east. Accordingly, the revenue derived from it is great. And they use the xylo-balsam115 as spice.

Lake Sirbonis is large; in fact some state that it is one thousand stadia in circuit; however, it extends parallel to the coast to a length of slightly more than two hundred stadia, is deep to the very shore, and has water so very heavy that there is no use for divers, and any person who walks into it and proceeds no farther than up to his navel is immediately raised afloat. It is full of asphalt. The asphalt is blown to the surface at irregular intervals from the midst of the deep, and with it rise bubbles, as though the water were boiling; and the surface of the lake, being convex, presents the appearance of a hill.

With the asphalt there arises also much soot, which, though smoky, is imperceptible to the eye; and it tarnishes copper and silver and anything that glistens, even gold; and when their vessels are becoming tarnished the people who live round the lake know that the asphalt is beginning to rise; and they prepare to collect it by means of rafts made of reed.

The asphalt is a clod of earth, which at first is liquefied by heat, and is blown up to the surface and spreads out; and then again, by reason of the cold water, the kind of water the lake in question has, it changes to a firm, solidified substance, and therefore requires cutting and chopping; and then it floats, because of the nature of the water, owing to which, as I was saying, there is no use for divers; and no person who walks into it can immerse himself either, but is raised afloat. They reach the asphalt on rafts and chop it and carry off as much as they each can.

Such, then, is the fact in the case; but according to Poseidonius the people are sorcerers and pretend to use incantations, as also urine and other malodorous liquids, which they first pour all over the solidified substance, and squeeze out the asphalt and harden it, and then cut it into pieces; unless there is some suitable element of this kind in urine, such, for example, as chrysocolla, which forms in the bladder of people who have bladder-stones and is derived from the urine of children.

It is reasonable that this behavior should occur in the middle of the lake, because the source of the fire and also the greater part of the asphalt is at the middle of it; but the bubbling up is irregular, because the movement of the fire, like that of many other subterranean blasts, follows no order known to us. Such, also, are the phenomena at Apollonia in Epirus.

Many other evidences are produced to show that the country is fiery; for near Moasada are to be seen rugged rocks that have been scorched, as also, in many places, fissures and ashy soil, and drops of pitch that emit foul odours to a great distance, and ruined settlements here and there; and therefore people believe the oft-repeated assertions of the local inhabitants, that there were once thirteen inhabited cities in that region of which Sodom was the metropolis, but that a circuit of about sixty stadia of that city escaped unharmed; and that by reason of earthquakes and of eruptions of fire and of hot waters containing asphalt and sulphur, the lake burst its bounds, and rocks were enveloped with fire; and, as for the cities, some were swallowed up and others were abandoned by such as were able to escape. But Eratosthenes says, on the contrary, that the country was a lake, and that most of it was uncovered by outbreaks, as was the case with the sea.

In Gadaris, also, there is noxious lake water; and when animals taste it they lose hair and hoofs and horns. At the place called Taricheae the lake supplies excellent fish for pickling; and on its banks grow fruit-bearing trees resembling apple trees. The Aegyptians use the asphalt for embalming the bodies of the dead.

Now Pompey clipped off some of the territory that had been forcibly appropriated by the Judaeans, and appointed Herod to the priesthood; but later a certain Herod, a descendant of his and a native of the country, who slinked into the priesthood, was so superior to his predecessors, particularly in his intercourse with the Romans and in his administration of affairs of state, that he received the title of king, being given that authority first by Antony and later by Augustus Caesar.

As for his sons, he himself put some of them to death, on the ground that they had plotted against him; and at his death left others as his successors, having assigned to them portions of his kingdom. Caesar also honoured the sons of Herod and his sister Salome and her daughter Berenice. However, his sons were not successful, but became involved in accusations; and one of them spent the rest of his life in exile, having taken up his abode among the Allobrogian Gauls, whereas the others, by much obsequiousness, but with difficulty, found leave to return home, with a tetrarchy assigned to each.

Roman Provincias

Roman Provincias List


Primary Sources

History Archive: Strabo, Geographica Book XVI Chapter II

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