Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 28

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Pliny the Elder, The Natural History

John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed. London, 1855.

Chap. 28. — The Persian And The Arabian Gulfs.

Wikified by Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

The sea then makes a two-fold indentations1 in the land upon these coasts, under the name of Rubrum2 or "Red," given to it by our countrymen; while the Greeks have called it Erythrum, from king Erythras3, or, according to some writers, from its red colour, which they think is produced by the reflection of the sun's rays; others again are of opinion that it arises from the sand and the complexion of the soil, others from some peculiarity in the nature of the water. (24.) Be this as it may, this body of water is divided into two gulfs. The one which lies to the east is called the Persian Gulf, and is two thousand five hundred miles in circumference, according to Eratosthenes. Opposite to it lies Arabia, the length of which is fifteen hundred miles. On the other side again, Arabia is bounded by the Arabian Gulf. The sea as it enters this gulf is called the Azanian Sea4 . The Persian Gulf, at the entrance, is only five5 miles wide; some writers make it four. From the entrance to the very bottom of the gulf, in a straight line, has been ascertained to be nearly eleven hundred and twenty-five miles: in outline it strongly resembles6 the human head. Onesicritus and Nearchus have stated in their works that from the river Indus to the Persian Gulf, and from thence to Babylon, situate in the marshes of the Euphrates, is a distance of seventeen hundred miles.

In the angle of Carmania are the Chelonophagi,7 who cover their cabins with the shells of turtles, and live upon their flesh; these people inhabit the next promontory that is seen after leaving the river Arbis8; with the exception of the head, they are covered all over with long hair, and are clothed in the skins of fishes.

(25.) Beyond their district, in the direction of India, is said to be the desert island of Caicandrus, fifty miles out at sea; near to which, with a strait flowing between them, is Stoidis, celebrated for its valuable pearls.

After passing the promontory9 are the Armozei10, joining up to the Carmani; some writers, however, place between them the Arbii11, extending along the shore a distance of four hundred and twenty-one miles.

Here is a place called Portus Macedonum12, and the Altars of Alexander, situate on a promontory, besides the rivers Saganos, Daras, and Salsa. Beyond the last river we come to the promontory of Themisteas, and the island of Aphrodisias, which is peopled.

Here Persis begins, at the river Oratis13, which separates it from Elymais.14 Opposite to the coast of Persis, are the islands of Psilos, Cassandra, and Aracia, the last sacred to Neptune15, and containing a mountain of great height. Persis16 itself, looking towards the west, has a line of coast five hundred and fifty miles in length; it is a country opulent even to luxury, but has long since changed its name for that of "Parthia."17 I shall now devote a few words to the Parthian empire.

Foot Notes

1 Forms two bays or gulfs in succession.

2 He gives this name to the whole expanse of sea that lies between Arabia and Africa on the west, and India on the east, including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

3 Or Erythrus. In all probability entirely a mythical personage. The sea having been called in Greek ἐρυθραῖα, or "red"—the legend most probably thence took its rise. No very satisfactory reason has vet been given for its being so called. The Hebrew name of it signifies the "Sedgy Sea."

4 From Azania in Æthiopia, mentioned again in c. 34 of the present Book.

5 The maps appear to make it considerably more.

6 The only feature of resemblance appears to be its comparative narrowness at the neck.

7 Or "turtle-eaters."

8 Different probably from the Cophis mentioned in c. 25, which was also called Arabius or Arbis, and probably represented by the modern Purali.

9 Of Harmozon, probably the modern Bombareek.

10 Their district is supposed to denote the vicinity of the modern Ormuz, an island off this coast, which is now known as Moghostan.

11 Taking their name probably from the river Arbis, previously mentioned.

12 The "Port of the Macedonians."

13 Now the Tab, falling into the Persian Gulf.

14 A district of Susiana, extending from the river Euleus on the west, to the Oratis on the east, deriving its name perhaps from the Elymæi, or Elymi, a warlike people found in the mountains of Greater Media. In the Old Testament this country is called Elam.

15 Ptolemy says that this last bore the name of "Alexander's Island."

16 Persis was more properly a portion only or province of the ancient kingdom of Persia. It gave name to the extensive Medo-Persian kingdom under Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, B.C. B.C. 559.

17 The Parthi originally inhabited the country south-east of the Caspian, now Khorassan. Under Arsaces and his descendants, Persis and the other provinces of ancient Persia became absorbed in the great Parthian empire. Parthia, with the Chorasmii, Sogdii, and Arii, formed the sixteenth satrapy under the Persian empire. See c. 16 of this Book.