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Ancient Africa primary sources
Ancient Africa primary sources

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Published by: nsafranek on Jun 28, 2011
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, c. 22 A.D.
 The writers who have divided the habitable world according tocontinents divide it unequally. Africa wants so much of being a thirdpart of the habitable world that, even if it were united to Europe, itwould not be equal to Asia; perhaps it is even less than Europe; inresources it is very much inferior, for a great part of the inland andmaritime country is desert. It is spotted over with small habitableparts, which are scattered about, and mostly belonging to nomadtribes. Besides the desert state of the country, its being a nursery of wild beasts is a hindrance to settlement in parts which could beinhabited. It comprises also a large part of the torrid zone. All the seacoast in our quarter, situated between the Nile and the Pillars (of Hercules), particularly that which belonged to the Carthaginians, isfertile and inhabited. And even in this tract, some spots destitute of water intervene, as those about the Syrtes, the Marmaridae, and theCatabathmus. The shape of Africa is that of a right-angled triangle, if we imagine itsfigure to be drawn on a plane surface. Its base is the coast opposite tous, extending from Egypt and the Nile to Mauretania and the Pillars; atright angles to this is a side formed by the Nile to Ethiopia, which sidewe continue to the ocean; the hypotenuse of the right angle is thewhole tract of sea-coast lying between Ethiopia and Mauretania. . ..Here dwell a people called by the Greeks Maurusii, and by the Romansand the natives Mauretanii, a populous and flourishing African nation,situated opposite to Spain, on the other side of the strait, at the Pillarsof Hercules, which we have frequently mentioned before. Onproceeding beyond the strait at the Pillars, with Africa on the left hand,we come to a mountain which the Greeks call Atlas, and the barbariansDyris. Thence projects into the sea a point formed by the foot of themountain towards the west of Mauretania, and called the Coteis[modern Cape Espartel]. Near it is a small town, a little above the sea,which the barbarians call "Trinx"; Artemidorus, "Lynx"; andEratosthenes, "Lixus" [modern Tangiers]. It lies on the side of the straitopposite to Gades [modern Cádiz], from which it is separated by apassage of 800
, the width of the strait at the Pillars betweenboth places. To the south, near Lixus and the Coteis, is a bay calledEmporicus [situated between modern Salee and el-Harâch], havingupon it Phoenician mercantile settlements. The whole coast continuouswith this bay abounds with them. Subtracting these bays, and theprojections of land in the triangular figure which I have described, thecontinent may rather be considered as increasing in magnitude in the
direction of south and east. The mountain which extends through themiddle of Mauretania, from the Coteis to the Syrtes, is itself inhabited,as well as others running parallel to it, first by the Mauretanii, but deepin the interior of the country by the largest of the African tribes, calledGaetuli.Historians, beginning with the voyage of Ophelas (Apellas?), haveinvented a great number of fables respecting the sea-coast of Africabeyond the Pillars. We have mentioned them before, and mentionthem now, requesting our readers to pardon the introduction of marvelous stories, whenever we may be compelled to relate anythingof the kind, being unwilling to pass them over entirely in silence, andso in a manner to mutilate our account of the country. It is said thatthe Sinus Emporicus (or merchants' bay) was a cave which admits thesea at high tide to the distance even of seven
and in front of this bay was a low and level tract with an altar of Hercules upon it,which, they say, is not covered by the tide. This I, of course, considerto be one of the fictitious stories. Like this is the tale that on other baysin the succeeding coast there were ancient settlements of Tyrians, nowabandoned, which consisted of not less than three hundred cities, andwere destroyed by the Pharusii and the Nigritae. These people, theysay, are distant thirty days' journey from Lixus.Writers in general are agreed that Mauretania is a fertile country,except a small part which is desert, and is supplied with water byrivers and lakes. It has forests of trees of vast size, and the soilproduces everything. It is this country which furnishes the Romans withtables formed of one piece of wood, of the largest dimensions, andmost beautifully variegated. The rivers are said to contain crocodilesand other kinds of animals similar to those in the Nile. Some supposethat even the sources of the Nile are near the extremities of Mauretania. In a certain river leeches are bred seven cubits in length,with gills, pierced through with holes, through which they respire. Thiscountry is also said to produce a vine, the girth of which two men canscarcely compass, and bearing bunches of grapes of about a cubit insize. All plants and pot-herbs are tall, as the arum and dracontium[snake-weed]; the stalks of the staphylinus [parsnip?], thehippomarathum [fennel], and the scolymus [artichoke] are twelvecubits in height, and four palms in thickness. The country is the fruitfulnurse of large serpents, elephants, antelopes, buffaloes, and similaranimals; of lions also and panthers. It produces weasels (jerboas?)equal in size and similar to cats, except that their noses are moreprominent, and multitudes of apes, of which Poseidonius relates thatwhen he was sailing from Gades to Italy, and approached the coast of 
Africa, he saw a forest low upon the sea-shore full of these animals,some on the trees, others on the ground, and some giving suck to theiryoung. He was amused also with seeing some with large dugs, somebald, others with ruptures and exhibiting to view various effects of disease.Above Mauretania, on the exterior sea (the Atlantic), is the country of the western Ethiopians, as they are called, which for the most part isbadly inhabited. Iphicrates says that camel-leopards are bred here, andelephants, and the animals called rhizeis [the rhinoceros], which inshape are like bulls, but in manner of living, in size, and strength infighting resemble elephants He speaks also of large serpents, and saysthat even grass grows upon their backs; that lions attack the young of the elephants and that when they have wounded them, they fly on theapproach of the dams; that the latter, when they see their youngbesmeared with blood, kill them; and that the lions return to the deadbodies, and devour them; that Bogus king of the Mauretanii, during hisexpedition against the western Ethiopians, sent, as a present to hiswife, canes similar to the Indian canes, each joint of which containedeight
[about six quarts], and asparagus of similarmagnitude.On sailing into the interior sea, from Lynx, there are Zelis [modernArzila], a city, and Tingis [modern Tangiers], then the monuments of the Seven Brothers [the Septem-Fratres of Pliny], and the mountainlying below, of the name of Abyle [modern Jebel-el-Mina or Ximiera,near Ceuta], abounding with wild animals and trees of a great size. They say that the length of the strait at the pillars is 120
, andthe least breadth at Elephas [Gibraltar] 60
. On sailing furtheralong the coast, we find cities and many rivers, as far as the riverMolochath [the modern Moulouya], which is the boundary between theterritories of the Mauretanii and of the Masaesyli. Near the river is alarge promontory, and Metagonium [modern Mostaganem in Algeria], aplace without water and barren. The mountain extends along thecoast, from the Coteis nearly to this place. Its length from the Coteis tothe borders of the Masaesylii is 5000
. Metagonium is nearlyopposite to Nova Carthago [modern Cartagena]. Timosthenes ismistaken in saying that it is opposite to Massillia [modern Marseilles]. The passage across from Novo Carthago to Metagonium is 3000
,but the voyage along the coast to Massillia is above 6000
Although the Mauretanii inhabit a country, the greatest part of which isvery fertile, yet the people in general continue even to this time to livelike nomads. They bestow care to improve their looks by plaiting their

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