ca. 63/64 BCE - 24 ACE
Strabo wrote the Geography, a description of the 'inhabited world' as researched by him. He wrote in Greek, and was born to a wealthy family from Amaseia in Pontus (modern Amasya Turkey), which had recently become part of the Roman Empire. He studied in Rome and his writings are based on his readings as well as his travels.
Bill Thayer, Books 1-9, 15-17
Perseus, Books 6-14
Perseus, Books 1-17
Strabo's Geography. Book XV, Chapter 3
[Note: The measurement of distance below is in stadia. A stadia is said to be 7,290 inches/18,662 cm or 607.5 feet/186.662 meters. Strabo states the width of Persia 4,400 stadia or about 800 km and its length towards the Caspian to be 8,000 stadia or about 1,500 km.]
1 After Carmania one comes to Persis. A large portion of this country lies on the seaboard of the gulf which is named after it, but a much larger portion of it lies in the interior, particularly in the direction of its length, that is, from the south and Carmania towards the north and the tribes of Media. Persis is of a threefold character, both in its nature and in the temperature of its air. For, in the first place, its seaboard is burning hot, sandy, and stinted of fruits except dates (its length is reckoned at about forty-four, or forty-three, hundred stadia, and it terminates at the largest of the rivers in that part of the world, the Oroatis, as it is called); secondly, the portion above the seaboard produces everything, is level, and is excellent for the rearing of cattle, and also abounds with rivers and lakes; the third portion, that on the north, is wintry and mountainous; and it is on the borders of this portion that the camel-breeders live. Now, according to Eratosthenes, the length of the country towards the north and the Caspian Gates is about eight thousand stadia, if reckoned from certain promontories,138 and the remainder to the Caspian Gates is not more than two thousand stadia;139 and the breadth, in the interior, from Susa to Persepolis, is four thousand two hundred stadia, and thence to the borders of Carmania sixteen hundred more. The tribes which inhabit the country are the Pateischoreis, as they are called, and the Achaemenidae and the Magi. Now the Magi follow with zeal a kind of august life, whereas the Cyrtii and the Mardi are brigands and others are farmers.
2 I might almost say that Susis also is a part of Persis; it lies between Persis and Babylonia and has a most notable city, Susa. For the Persians and Cyrus, after mastering the Medes, saw that their native land was situated rather on the extremities of their empire, and that Susa was farther in and nearer to Babylonia and the other tribes, and therefore established the royal seat of their empire at Susa. At the same time, also, they were pleased with the high standing of the city and with the fact that its territory bordered on Persis, and, better still, with the fact that it had never of itself achieved anything of importance, but always had been subject to others and accounted merely a part of a larger political organisation, except, perhaps, in ancient times, in the times of the heroes. For Susa too is said to have been founded by Tithonus the father of Memnon, with a circuit of one hundred and twenty stadia, and oblong in shape; and its acropolis was called Memnonium; and the Susians are also called Cissians; and Aeschylus140 calls the mother of Memnon Cissia. Memnon is said to have been buried in the neighbourhood of Paltus in Syria, by the river Badas, as Simonides states in his dithyramb entitled Memnon, one of his Delian poems. The wall and the temples and the royal palace were built like those of the Babylonians, of baked brick and asphalt, as some writers state. Polycleitus says that the city is two hundred stadia in circuit and that it has no walls.
3 Although they adorned the palace at Susa more than any other, they esteemed no less highly the palaces at Persepolis and Pasargadae; at any rate, the treasure and the riches and the tombs of the Persians were there, since they were on sites that were at the same time hereditary and more strongly fortified by nature. And there were also other palaces — that at Gabae, somewhere in the upper parts of Persis, and that on the coast near Taocę, as it is called. These were the palaces in the time of the empire of the Persians, but the kings of later times used others, naturally less sumptuous, since Persis had been weakened, not only by the Macedonians, but still more so by the Parthians. For although the Persians are still under the rule of a king, having a king of their own, yet they are most deficient in power and are subject to the king of the Parthians.
4 Now Susa is situated in the interior on the Choaspes River at the far end of the bridge, but its territory extends down to the sea; and its seaboard is about three thousand stadia in length, extending from boundaries of the Persian seaboard approximately to the outlets of the Tigris. The Choaspes River flows through Susis, terminating at the same seaboard, and has its sources in the territory of the Uxii; for a kind of mountainous country intrudes between the Susians and Persis; it is rugged and sheer, and has narrow defiles that are hard to pass, and was inhabited by brigands, who would exact payments even from the kings themselves when they passed from Susis into Persis. Polycleitus says that the Choaspes, the Eulaeus, and also the Tigris meet in a kind of lake, and then empty from that lake into the sea; and that there is an emporium near the lake, since, on account of the cataracts, purposely constructed, the rivers cannot receive the merchandise that comes in from the sea nor bring down any either, and that all traffic is carried on by land; for the distance to Susa is said to be eight hundred141 stadia. Others, however, say that the rivers which flow through Susis meet in one stream, that of the Tigris, oppose the intermediate canals of the Euphrates; and that on this account the Tigris, at its outlets, has the name of Pasitigris.142
5 Nearchus says that the coast of Persis is covered with shoal-waters and that it ends at the Euphrates River; and that at the mouth of this river there is an inhabited village which receives the merchandise from Arabia; for the seaboard of the Arabians borders next on the mouth of the Euphrates and the Pasitigris, the whole of the intervening space being occupied by a lake, that is, the lake that receives the Tigris; and that on sailing up the Pasitigris one hundred and fifty stadia one comes to the raft-bridge that leads from Persis to Susa, being sixty143 stadia distant from Susa; and that the Pasitigris is about two thousand stadia distant from the Oroatis; and that the inland voyage on the lake to the mouth of the Tigris is six hundred stadia; and that near the mouth there is an inhabited Susian village,144 which is five hundred stadia distant from Susa; and that the voyage inland from the mouth of the Euphrates to Babylon, through a very prosperous land, is more than three thousand stadia. Onesicritus says that all the rivers empty into the lake, both the Euphrates and the Tigris; but that the Euphrates, again issuing from the lake, joins with the sea by its own separate mouth.
6 There are also several other narrow defiles as one passes out through the territory of the Uxii in the neighbourhood of Persis itself; and Alexander forced his way through these passes too, both at the Persian Gates and at other places, when he was passing through the country and was eager to spy out the most important parts of the country, and the treasure-holds, which had become filled with treasures in those long periods of time in which the Persians had collected tribute from Asia; and he crossed several rivers that flowed through the country and down into the Persian Gulf. For after the Choaspes, one comes to the Copratas River and the Pasitigris, which latter also flows from the p165country of the Uxii. There is also a river Cyrus, which flows through Coelę145 Persis, as it is called, in the neighbourhood of Pasargadae; and the king assumed the name of this river, changing his name from Agradatus to Cyrus. Alexander crossed the Araxes near Persepolis itself. Persepolis, next to Susa, was the most beautifully constructed city, and the largest, having a palace that was remarkable, particularly in respect to the high value of its treasures. The Araxes flows from the country of the Paraetaci; and this river is joined by the Medus, which has its source in Media. These rivers run through a very productive valley which borders on Carmania and the eastern parts of the country, as does also Persepolis itself. Alexander burnt up the palace at Persepolis, to avenge the Greeks, because the Persians had destroyed both temples and cities of the Greeks by fire and sword.
7 Alexander then went to Pasargadae; and this too was an ancient royal residence. Here he saw also, in a park, the tomb of Cyrus; it was a small tower and was concealed within the dense growth of trees. The tomb was solid below, but had a roof and sepulchre above, which latter had an extremely narrow entrance. Aristobulus says that at the behest of the king he passed through this entrance and decorated the tomb; and that he saw a golden couch, a table with cups, a golden coffin, and numerous garments and ornaments set with precious stones; and that he saw all these things on his first visit, but that on a later visit the place had been robbed and everything had been carried off except the couch and the coffin, which had only been broken to pieces, and that the robbers had removed the corpse to another place, a fact which plainly proved that it was an act of plunderers, not of the satrap, since they left behind only what could not easily be carried off; and that the robbery took place even though the tomb was surrounded by a guard of Magi, who received for their maintenance a sheep every day and a horse every month.146 But just as the remoteness of the countries to which Alexander's army advanced, Bactra and India, had led to numerous other revolutionary acts, so too this was one of the revolutionary acts. Now Aristobulus so states it, and he goes to record the following inscription on the tomb: "O man, I am Cyrus, who acquired the empire for the Persians and was king of Asia; grudge me not, therefore, my monument." Onesicritus, however, states that the tower had ten stories and that Cyrus lay in the uppermost story, and that there was one inscription in Greek, carved in Persian letters, "Here I lie, Cyrus, king of kings," and another written in the Persian language with the same meaning.
8 Onesicritus records also the following inscription on the tomb of Dareius: "I was friend to my friends; as horseman and bowman I proved myself superior to all others; as hunter I prevailed; I could do everything." Aristus of Salamis is indeed a much later writer than these, but he says that the tower has only two stories and is large; that it was built at the time of the succession of the Persians,147 and that the tomb was kept under guard; and that there was one inscription written in Greek, that quoted above, and another written in the Persian language with the same meaning. Cyrus held Pasargadae in honour, because he there conquered Astyages the Mede in his last battle, transferred to himself the empire of Asia, founded a city, and constructed a palace as a memorial of his victory.
9 Alexander carried off with him all the wealth in Persis to Susa, which was also full of treasures and equipment; and neither did he regard Susa as the royal residence, but rather Babylon, which he intend to build up still further; and there too treasures lay stored. They say that, apart from the treasures in Babylon and in the camp, which were not included in the total, the value of those in Susa and Persis alone was reckoned at forty thousand talents, though some say fifty; and others have reported that all treasures from all sources were brought together at Ecbatana and that they were valued at one hundred and eighty thousand talents; and the treasures which were carried along with Dareius in his flight from Media, eight thousand talents in value, were taken as booty by those who slew him.
10 At all events, Alexander preferred Babylon, since he saw that it far surpassed the others, not only in its size, but also in all other respects. Although Susis is fertile, it has a hot and scorching atmosphere, and particularly in the neighbourhood of the city, according to that writer.148 At any rate, he says that when the sun is hottest, at noon, the lizards and the snakes could not cross the streets in the city quickly enough to prevent their being burnt to death in the middle of the streets. He says that this is the case nowhere in Persis, although Persis lies more to the south; and that cold water for baths is put out in the sun and immediately heated, and that barley spread out in the sun bounces like parched barley in ovens; and that on this account earth is put on the roofs of the houses to the depth of two cubits, and that by reason of this weight the inhabitants are forced to build their houses both narrow and long; and that, although they are in want of long beams, yet they need large houses on account of the suffocating heat; and that the palm-tree beam has a peculiar property, for, although it is rigid, it does not, when aged, give way downwards, but curves upwards because of the weight and better supports the roof. a It is said that the cause of the heat is the fact that lofty mountains lie above the country on the north and that these mountains intercept all the northern winds. Accordingly, these winds, blowing aloft from the tops of the mountains and high above the plains, do not touch the plains, although they blow on the more southerly parts of Susis. But calm prevails here, particularly at the time when the Etesian winds cool the rest of the land that is scorched by heat.
11 Susis abounds so exceedingly in grain that both barley and wheat regularly produce one hundred-fold, sometimes even two hundred; on this account, also, the people do not cut the furrows close together, for the crowding of the roots hinders the sprouting. The vine did not grow there until the Macedonians planted it, both there and at Babylon; however, they did not dig trenches, but only thrust into the ground iron-pointed stakes, and then pulled them out and replaced them at once with the plants. Such, then, is the interior; but the seaboard is full of shallows and without harbours. On this account, at any rate, Nearchus goes on to say that he met with no native guides when he was sailing along the coast with his fleet from India to Babylonia; that the coast had no mooring-places, and that he was also unable to find any experienced people to guide him.
12 Neighbouring Susis is the part of Babylonia which was formerly called Sitacenę, but is now called Apolloniatis. Above both, on the north and towards the east, lie the countries of the Elymaei and the Paraetaceni, who are predatory peoples and rely on the ruggedness of their mountains. But the Paraetaceni are situated closer to the Apolloniatae, and therefore treat them worse. The Elymaei carry on war against both that people and the Susians, whereas the Uxii too carry on war against the Elymaei; but less so at the present time, in all probability, because of the might of the Parthians, to whom all the peoples in that part of the world are subject. Now when the Parthians fare well, all their subjects fare well too, but when there is an insurrection, as is often the case, even indeed in our own times, the results are different at different times and not the same for all; for some have benefited by disturbances, whereas others have been disappointed in their expectations. Such, then, are the countries of Persis and Susis.
13 But the Persian customs are the same as those of these peoples and the Medes and several other peoples; and while several writers have made statements about all these peoples, I too must tell what is suitable to my purpose. Now the Persians do not erect statues or altars, but offer sacrifice on a high place, regarding the heavens as Zeus; and they also worship Helius,149 whom they call Mithras, and Selenę150 and Aphroditę, and fire and earth and winds and water;151 and with earnest prayer they offer sacrifice in a purified place, presenting the victim crowned;152 and when the Magus, who directs the sacrifice, has divided the meat the people go away with their shares, without setting apart a portion for the gods, for they say that the god requires only the soul of the victim and nothing else; but still, according to some writers, they place a small portion of the caul upon the fire.
14 But it is especially to fire and water that they offer sacrifice. To fire they offer sacrifice by adding dry wood without the bark and by placing fat on top of it; and then they pour oil upon it and light it below, not blowing with their breath, but fanning it; and those who blow the fire with their breath or put anything dead or filthy upon it are put to death. And to water they offer sacrifice by going to a lake or river or spring, where, having dug a trench leading thereto, they slaughter a victim, being on their guard lest any of the water near by should be made bloody, believing that the blood would pollute the water; and then, placing pieces of meat on myrtle or laurel branches, the Magi touch them with slender wands and make incantations, pouring oil mixed with both milk and honey, though not into fire or water, but upon the ground; and they carry on their incantations for a long time, holding in their hands a bundle of slender myrtle wands.
15 In Cappadocia (for there the sect of the Magi, who are also called Pyraethi,153 is large, and in that country are also many temples of the Persian gods), the people do not sacrifice victims with a sword either, but with a kind of tree-trunk, beating them to death as with a cudgel. They also have Pyraetheia, noteworthy enclosures; and in the midst of these there is an altar, on which there is a large quantity of ashes and where the Magi keep the fire ever burning. And there, entering daily, they make incantations for about an hour, holding before the fire their bundles of rods and wearing round their heads high turbans of felt, which reach down over their cheeks far enough to cover their lips. The same customs are observed in the temples of Anaďtis and Omanus; and these temples also have sacred enclosures; and the people carry in procession a wooden statue of Omanus. Now I have seen this myself; but those other things, as also what follows, are recorded in the histories.
16 For the Persians neither urinate, nor wash themselves, in a river; nor yet bathe therein nor cast therein anything dead or any other thing that is considered unclean. And to whatever god they offer sacrifice, to him they first offer prayer with fire.
17 They are governed by hereditary kings. And he who is disobedient has his head and arms cut off and his body cast forth. The men marry many wives, and at the same time maintain several concubines, for the sake of having many children. The kings set forth prizes annually for those who have the most children; but the children are not brought into the presence of their parents until they are four years old. Marriages are consummated at the beginning of the vernal equinox; and the bridegroom passes to the bridal chamber, having first eaten an apple or a camel's marrow, but nothing else during that day.
18 From five years of age to twenty-four they are trained to use the bow, to throw the javelin, to ride horseback, and to speak the truth; and they use as teachers of science their wisest men, who also interweave their teachings with the mythical element, thus reducing that element to a useful purpose, and rehearse both with song and without song the deeds both of the gods and of the noblest men. And these teachers wake the boys up before dawn by the sound of brazen instruments, and assemble them in one place, as though for arming themselves or for a hunt; and then they divide the boys into companies of fifty, appoint one of the sons of the king or of a satrap as leader of each company, and order them to follow their leader in a race, having marked off a distance of thirty or forty stadia. They require them also to give an account of each lesson, at the same time training them in loud speaking and in breathing, and in the use of their lungs, and also training them to endure heat and cold and rains, and to cross torrential streams in such a way as to keep both armour and clothing dry, and also to tend flocks and live outdoors all night and eat wild fruits, such as pistachio nuts,154 acorns, and wild pears. These are called Cardaces, since they live on thievery, for "carda" means the manly and warlike spirit.155 Their daily food after their gymnastic exercises consists of bread, barley-cake, cardamum,156 grains of salt, and roasted or boiled meat; but their drink is water. They hunt by throwing spears from horseback, and with bows and slings; and late in the afternoon they are trained in the planting of trees and in the cutting and gathering of roots157 and in making weapons and in the art of making linen cloths and hunters' nets. The boys do not touch the meat of wild animals, though it is the custom to bring them home. Prizes are offered by the king for victory in running and in the four other contests of the pentathla.158 The boys are adorned with gold, since the people hold in honour the fiery appearance of that metal; and on this account, in honour of its fiery appearance, they do not apply gold, just as they do not apply fire, to a dead body.
19 They serve in the army and hold commands from twenty to fifty years of age, both as foot-soldiers and as horsemen; and they do not approach a market-place, for they neither sell nor buy. They arm themselves with a rhomboidal wicker-shield; and besides quivers they have swords and knives; and on their heads they wear a tower-like hat; and their breastplates are made of scales of iron. The garb of the commanders consists of three-ply trousers, and of a double tunic, with sleeves, that reaches to the knees, the under garment being white and the upper vari-coloured. In summer they wear a purple or vari-coloured cloak, in winter a vari-coloured one only; and their turbans are similar to those of the Magi; and they wear a deep double shoe. Most of the people wear a double tunic that reaches to the middle of the shin, and a piece of linen cloth round the head; and each man has a bow and sling. Persians dine in an extravagant manner, serving whole animals in great numbers and of various kinds; and their couches, as also their drinking-cups and everything else, are so brilliantly ornamented that they gleam with gold and silver.
20 They carry on their most important deliberations when drinking wine; and they regard decisions then made as more lasting than those made when they are sober. When they meet people on the streets, they approach and kiss those with whom they are acquainted and who are of equal rank, and to those of lower rank they offer the cheek and in that way receive the kiss; but those of still lower rank merely make obeisance. They smear the bodies of the dead with wax before they bury them, though they do not bury the Magi but leave their bodies to be eaten by birds; and these Magi, by ancestral custom, consort even with their mothers. Such are the customs of the Persians.
21 Perhaps also the following, mentioned by Polycritus,159 is one of their customs. He says that in Susa each one of the kings built for himself on the acropolis a separate habitation, treasure-houses, and storage places for what tributes they each exacted, as memorials of his administration; and that they exacted silver from the people on the seaboard, and from the people in the interior such things as each country produced, so that they also received dyes, drugs, hair, or wool, or something else of the kind, and likewise cattle; and that the king who arranged the separate tributes was Dareius, called the Long-armed, and the most handsome of men, except for the length of his arms, for they reached even to his knees;160 and that most of the gold and silver is used in articles of equipment, but not much in money; and that they consider those metals as better adapted for presents and for depositing in storehouses; and that so much coined money as suffices their needs is enough; and that they coin only what money is commensurate with their expenditures.
22 For their customs are in general temperate; but on account of their wealth the kings fell into such luxury that they sent for wheat from Assus in Aeolis, for Chalymonian wine from Syria, and for water from the Euphrates, which is so far the lightest of all waters that an Attic cotyle161 of it weights a drachm less than other waters.
23 The Persians, of all the barbarians, became the most famous among the Greeks, because none of the other barbarians who ruled Asia ruled Greeks; neither were these people acquainted with the Greeks nor yet the Greeks with the barbarians, except for a short time by distant hearsay. Homer, at any rate, knows neither of the empire of the Syrians nor of that of the Medes; for otherwise, since he names Aegyptian Thebes and mentions the wealth there and the wealth in Phoenicia, he would not have passed by in silence that in Babylon and Ninus and Ecbatana. The Persians were the first people to rule over Greeks. The Lydians had indeed ruled over Greeks, but not also over the whole of Asia — only over a small part of it, that inside the Halys River, and that too for only a short time, in the time of Croesus and Alyattes. But the Lydians were mastered by the Persians and deprived by them of whatever glory they had. The Persians, as soon as they broke up the power of the Medes, immediately mastered the Lydians and also got as their subjects the Greeks in Asia; and later they even crossed over into Greece; and, though often defeated in many battles, still they continued to hold Asia as far as the places on the sea until they were subdued by the Macedonians.
24 Now the man who established the Persians in their hegemony was Cyrus.162 Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses, who was deposed by the Magi. The Magi were slain by the Seven Persians, who then gave over the empire to Dareius, the son of Hystaspes. And then the successors of Dareius came to an end with Arses. Arses was slain by Bagoüs the eunuch, who set up as king another Dareius, who was not of the royal family. Him Alexander deposed, and reigned himself for ten or eleven years. And then the hegemony of Asia was divided amongst his several successors and their descendants, and then dissolved. The hegemony of the Persians over Asia lasted about two hundred and fifty years. But now, though again organised into a state of their own, the Persians have kings that are subject to other kings, formerly to the kings of Macedonia, but now to those of the Parthians.
138 The text seems to be corrupt. A clearer statement of this same dimension, as quoted from Eratosthenes, is given in 2.1.26.
139 In 2.1.26 the text reads "about three thousand stadia."
140 Persae 17.118.
141 Apparently an error for eighteen hundred.
142 The Pasitigris, properly so called, is one of the rivers which flow from Susis (see Arrian, Anab. 3.17.1, Ind. 42.4, and Pliny, 6.129 and 145).
143 Apparently an error for six hundred.
144 The name of this village, according to Arrian (Indica 42), was Aginis.
146 The horse, of course, was sacrificed to Cyrus (cf. Arrian 6.29).
147 i.e. when the empire passed from the Medes to the Persians.
148 Whether Aristobulus or Nearchus or Onesicritus, the translator does not know.
149 The Sun.
150 The Moon.
151 So Herodotus 1.131.
152 Herodotus (1.132) says that he who offers the sacrifice wears a crown.
154 The tree is the Pistacia terebinthus.
155 This statement appears to be an interpolation (see critical note).
156 The Nasturtium orientale, also called Tropaeolum majus. The plant, a kind of cress, contains a pungent juice; and its seeds are prepared and eaten like our mustard.
157 i.e. for medicinal purposes.
158 The pentathla were (1) jumping, (2) discus-throwing, (3) running, (4) wrestling, and (5) javelin-throwing (if not boxing).
159 An error, apparently, for Polycleitus
160 This is thought by various editors to be an interpolation (see critical note). Plutarch (Artaxerxes 1) refers to Artaxerxes as having been surnamed "Long-armed" because his right arm was longer than his left; but the above statement in regard to Dareius lacks corroboration.
161 Nearly half a pint.
162 Cyrus the Elder.