CELT document T090000-001

Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae


Having composed my letter on ten questions of the art of grammar, I considered that a book might follow on the measurement of the provinces of the earth, according to the authority of the men whom the holy emperor Theodosius had sent to measure the said provinces; and I desire to indicate their dimensions, supplementing this information on the high authority of Plinius Secundus.
But I have two reasons for prefixing the account of the envoys of Theodosius to the words of Plinius Secundus in the order of my writing, as against the chronological order, one that the former, in their last twelve lines, assert that their work has been done more carefully than that of the ancients, and the other, that I saw beforehand that the volumes of the Natural History of Plinius Secundus which I had examined, were very much jumbled up by the scribes of recent times.
I shall, indeed, devote my attention to correcting, in so far as I can, the reports of the above-mentioned envoys, as they have been composed with fewer mistakes.
But where in the books of Plinius Secundus I find figures which I realize to be undoubtedly corrupt, I shall leave their places vacant for the moment, so that if I do not find trusty copies whoever does find them may emend them. Where I am in doubt as to whether the figures are correct or not, I shall write them down as correct, so that, as I have said, whoever finds the true figures may make the appropriate correction.
Discrepancies in the number of miles between Plinius Secundus and the emperor's envoys should occasion no surprise to anyone, since the latter truly testify, as I have said, that they accomplished their work with more care than did the ancients.

  1. I. Europe.
  2. II. Asia.
  3. III. Africa.
  4. IV. Egypt and Ethiopia with its islands.
  5. V. Longitude and latitude of the earth and the verses of the envoys.
  6. VI. The five rivers and others.
  7. VII. Some islands in particular.
  8. VIII. Latitude and longitude of the Tuscan sea.
  9. IX. The six mountains.


Edited by James J. Tierney

Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae


[1] In the fifteenth year of his reign the emperor Theodosius ordered his envoys to measure the longitude and latitude of the provinces of the earth.

[2] The earth is divided into three sections, named Europe, Asia, and Libya; and this the deified Augustus was first to exhibit by means of his world map.

[3] All my work takes its beginning then from the strait of Europe, which place the Greeks name the Columns of Hercules. The three Spanish provinces therefore stretch from there to the Pyrenees over a  p.47 distance of nine hundred miles in longitude. There is the same distance in latitude in the south, but at its narrowest, close to the Pyrenees on this side, the latitude is given as three hundred miles.

[4] The first province, then, that of Cordova, called Baetica, is bounded on the east by the mountains of Cartagena and by Oretania, on the west by the ocean, on the north by the Guadiana, and on the south by the Celtiberian sea.

[5] The province of Lusitania, together with Asturia and Galicia, is bounded on the east by Noeca Asturum, which is on the ocean, and thence in a straight line to the south, on the west by the Atlantic, on the north by the ocean, and on the south by the Guadiana. It extends four hundred and eighty miles in longitude and four hundred and fifty in latitude.
Hither Spain is bounded on the east by the Pyrenees, on the west by Noeca, which is towards the ocean, and from there in a straight line to Cartagena, on the north by the ocean, and on the south by the Celtiberian sea. Its longitude extends five hundred miles, its latitude two hundred.

[6] Gallia Comata, together with the Brittanic islands, is bounded on the east by the Rhine, on the west by the Pyrenees, on the north by the ocean, on the south by the Rhône and the Cevennes. Its longitude is nine hundred and twenty-eight miles, its latitude three hundred and sixty-three. According to Plinius Secundus in his fourth book, the longitude is nine hundred and twenty, the latitude three hundred and eight miles.

[7] The province of Narbonensis is bounded on the east by the Alps, on the west by the Pyrenees, on the north by the territory of Vienne and the Cevennes, on the south by the Gallic sea. Its longitude is three hundred and thirty-four, its latitude one hundred and eighty-nine miles. According to Plinius Secundus in the same book, Agrippa gave the longitude of the Narbonese province as three hundred and seventy, the latitude as three hundred and forty-eight miles.


[8] Italy is bounded on the east by the Ionian sea, on the west by the Alps and the river Varus, on the north by the Adriatic and the river Arsia, on the south by the Tyrrhenian sea. Its longitude is one thousand miles, its latitude four hundred and twenty, but only sixty at the narrowest point.

[9] According to Plinius Secundus in the same book: Italy then, and first in it Liguria, then Etruria, Umbria, and Latium; there are the Tiber mouths and Rome, the head of the world, distant sixteen miles from the sea. Then comes the Volscian coast and Campania; then the land of the Picentini, Lucania, and Bruttium, where Italy projects furthest into the sea towards the south from the nearly moon-shaped ridges of the Alps. Then come the Greek coastal towns, and afterwards the Salentini, Peduculi, Apulii, Peligni, Frentani, Marrucini, Vestini, Sabini, Picentes, Galli, Umbri, Tusci, Veneti, Carni, Iapudes, Histri, and Liburni.

[10] Plinius, shortly afterwards: The longitude of Italy is one thousand and twenty miles. The distance would be much greater as far as Lacinium, only that the line would seem to go obliquely to one side. The latitude varies, being four hundred and ten miles between the two seas, lower and upper, that is, between the rivers Varus and Arsia.

[11] Rhaetia minor, Noricum, Pannonia, Illyricum, Dalmatia, Liburnia are bounded on the east by Dardania, on the west by the Rhine, on the north by the Danube, on the south by the Adriatic. Their longitude is six hundred and thirty-three miles, their latitude three hundred and twenty-one.

[12] Epirus, Achaia, Attica, Thessalia are bounded on the east by the Aegaean, on the west by the Adriatic, on the north by Mts. Cercetius, Olympus, and Pelion, on the south by the Aegaeotuscan sea. Their longitude extends four hundred and ten miles, their latitude three hundred and seventy-five. According to Plinius Secundus in his fifth book the longitude is four hundred and thirty miles, the latitude three hundred and eighty-seven.


[13] Macedonia, Thrace, the Hellespont and the left side of the Black Sea are bounded on the east by the Black Sea, on the west by the deserts of Dardania, on the north by the river Danube. Their longitude is seven hundred and twenty miles, their latitude three hundred and eighty-one.

[14] According to Plinius Secundus in the same book: The gulf of the Golden Horn, on which stands the free city of Byzantium, previously called Lygos, is seven hundred and eleven miles distant from Durazzo. This is the longitude of the lands between the Adriatic and the Sea of Marmara.

[15] Germany as a whole and Gothia are bounded on the east by the river Vistula, on the west by the Rhine, on the north by the ocean, on the south by the Danube. The longitude is about eight hundred miles, the latitude three hundred and eighty-four.

[16] Dacia and Alania are bounded on the east by the deserts of Sarmatia, on the west by the river Vistula, on the north by the ocean, on the south by the Danube. The longitude is one thousand miles, the latitude, so far as it is known, three hundred and eighty-six.

[17] According to Plinius Secundus in his second book: Agrippa gave the whole distance from the Danube to the ocean as twelve hundred miles in longitude, and three hundred and ninety-six in latitude, from the deserts of Sarmatia to the river Vistula.

[18] Sarmatia and Scythia Taurica are bounded on the east by the ranges of the Caucasus and the Caspian sea, on the west by the river Dnieper, on the north by the ocean, on the south by the province of Pontus. The longitude is nine hundred and eighty miles, the latitude seven hundred and fifteen.

[19] Greater Armenia and the peoples which are about the Caspian sea towards the ocean are bounded on the east by the ocean of China, on the west by the range of the Caucasus and the Caspian sea, on the north by the ocean, and on the south by the Taurus mountains. The longitude is four hundred and eighty miles, the latitude two hundred and eighty.



[1] II. The nearer part of Asia is bounded on the east by the shores of Asia, on the west by Greece, on the north by the Aegaean sea, on the south by the seas of Crete and Carpathus. The longitude is seven hundred, the latitude four hundred miles.

[2] Upper Asia is bounded on the east by lesser Armenia, on the west by the borders of Phrygia, Lycaonia, and Pamphylia, on the north by the province of Pontus, on the south by the Pamphylian sea, which lies between Cyprus and Cilicia. The longitude is five hundred and thirty miles, the latitude three hundred and twenty.

[3] According to Plinius Secundus, in his fifth book: Agrippa divided Asia, properly so called, into two parts. One he bounded on the east by Phrygia and Lycaonia, on the west by the Aegaean sea. He gave its longitude as four hundred and seventy miles, its latitude as three hundred and twenty. The other he bounded on the east by lesser Armenia, on the west by Phrygia, Lycaonia, and Pamphylia, on the north by the province of Pontus, on the south by the Pamphylian sea; longitude five hundred and seventy-five miles, latitude three hundred and twenty-five.

[4] Syria is bounded on the east by the river Euphrates, on the west by the Egyptian sea, on the north by the sea which lies between Cyprus and Syria, on the south by Arabia lying between the Red Sea and the gulf of Persia. The longitude of this area is four hundred and seventy, the latitude one hundred and seventy-five miles.

[5] Arabia Felix Phlegmaea lies between the Arabic and Persian gulfs, and on this side of the Arabian gulf lies Troglodytic Arabia, adjacent to Egypt. They are bounded on the east by the Persian gulf, on the west by the Nile, on the north by Pharan and Nabataean Arabia, on the south by the Red Sea. Their longitude is one thousand and sixty miles, their latitude nine hundred and thirty.

[6] Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Chaldaea are bounded on the east by the Tigris, on the west by the Euphrates, on the north by Mount Taurus, on the south by the Persian sea. Their longitude is nine hundred, their latitude three hundred and sixty miles: Plinius Secundus has the same measurements.


[7] Media, Parthia, and Persis are bounded on the east by the river Indus, on the west by the Tigris, on the north by Mount Taurus, on the south by the Red Sea. Their longitude is nine hundred and twenty miles, their latitude four hundred and twenty-one: Plinius Secundus has the same measurements.

[8] Farther India is bounded on the east by the river Ganges and the Chinese ocean, on the west by the river Indus, on the north by Mount Taurus, on the south by the Indian ocean. Its longitude is one thousand miles, its latitude three thousand and thirty.


[1] III. Gaetulia and Mauretania are bounded on the east by the river Ampsaga, on the west by the Atlantic ocean, on the north by the sea of Africa, on the south by the ocean of Ethiopia. Their longitude is four hundred and sixty-two, their latitude twelve hundred and thirty miles. According to Plinius Secundus in his third book the longitude of both Mauretanias is four hundred and eighty, their latitude three hundred and sixty-eight miles.

[2] Numidia and Carthaginian Africa are bounded on the east by the lesser Syrtis, on the west by the river Ampsaga, on the north by the sea of Africa, on the south by the ocean. The longitude is five hundred and eighty miles, the latitude two hundred: Plinius Secundus gives the same figures.

[3] He also says in his sixth book: The longitude of Africa (to give an average reckoning out of all the various accounts) amounts to three thousand four hundred and seventy-eight miles, the latitude of the inhabited region nowhere exceeds two hundred and fifty.

[4] I have found as yet no written account, according to the envoys of Theodosius, of the dimensions of the province of Tripolis between the two Syrtes, nor of Cyrenaic Libya with its province of Pentapolis.


[1] IV. Lower Egypt is bounded on the east by Arabia of the Tented Arabs, on the west by the Libyan desert, on the north by the Egyptian sea, on the south by Ethiopia. Its longitude is three hundred and sixtyfour, its latitude one hundred and sixty-seven miles.

[2] According to Plinius Secundus in the same book, Agrippa estimated the longitude of upper Egypt, including Ethiopia, as one thousand four hundred and seventy miles, and the latitude of the same as nine hundred and fifty-seven miles.


[3] Ethiopia is situated between the winter rising and the winter setting of the sun. It has rich forests, mainly of ebony trees, on its main axis running from north to south. At the middle of its coast a high mountain overhangs the sea, and glows with never-dying fires; it is called the Chariot of the Gods by the Greeks. Four days' sail from it is a cape called Horn of Hesperus. It borders on Africa, beside the western Ethiopians. Some authors also relate that in this area there are low hills pleasantly shaded with trees, inhabited by Goat-Pans and Satyrs. Ephorus, and also Eudoxus and Timosthenes, state that there are many islands throughout all of the Eastern sea, while Clitarchus says that it was reported to king Alexander . . .


[1] V. The same author states in his third book: The part of our earth, of which I speak, floating, as it were, on the surrounding ocean, as has been stated, has its longest dimension running from east to west, that is from India to the columns of Hercules consecrated at Cadiz, six thousand six hundred and thirty miles, as is held by Artemidorus .

[2] The same author states shortly afterwards: The latitude of the earth from south to north makes up less by nearly a half, being three thousand three hundred and forty-eight miles. This shows how much the heat has removed on the one hand, and the sea on the other. For I do not think that the earth ceases to be spherical (i.e. at the extreme north and south), or is not spherical at all, but that it is uninhabitable at both extremes and is therefore unknown.

[3] If we measure the longitude given above from the eastern part of India as far as the islands of Cadiz by means of the mile-signs, for example by means of the milestones, each marking the end of a mile, the extent will be six thousand six hundred and thirty miles, and the latitude from north to south will be three thousand three hundred and forty-eight, omitting the aforesaid areas where the cold or the heat is unbearable. Here ends the survey of the earth.

[4] The twelve verses of the men already mentioned, concerning the orders of Theodosius to carry out this work, begin as follows : The emperor Theodosius, that noble and ever-dutiful scion of gentle stock, whom all the world scarce holds, on opening his fifteenth consulate year gave order from his august lips that this noble work be accomplished, wherein the sum of all the world is held, wherein are marked oceans and mountains, rivers and harbours, gulfs and cities, so that all men may know with ease whate'er is secret everywhere. We, your humble  p.59 servants, one writing and one drawing, within a few months, using the material of earlier scholars have improved this work, have removed existing faults, and included the whole world in brief space; yet this your wisdom taught us, emperor.

[5] It should not cause surprise that a cretic is used in the first foot of their seventh and eighth lines. This was done, I think, not through lack of skill, but rather on the authority of other poets, and particularly Virgil (whom in such matters our own Sedulius imitated), for in their epic verse they do use feet unused by them, but rarely.


[1] VI. The places for figures which I said in my prologue that I would leave vacant, I, having found the figures, have filled up according to Plinius Secundus. But whoever finds a better copy, let him not be slow, please, to correct them.

[2] Plinius Secundus makes these statements about the Nile in his fifth book: Egypt is situated next to Africa, extending inwards towards the south to where Ethiopia stretches out behind it. The Nile, dividing into a right-hand and left-hand channel, embraces and forms the bounds of its more low-lying part, the Canopic mouth lying towards Africa, the Pelusiac towards Asia, at an interval of two hundred and seventy miles. Hence some authors have regarded Egypt as an island, this division of the Nile giving the country the shape of a triangle; and therefore many people have called Egypt Delta by the name of the Greek letter.

[3] The distance from the point where the unified river first divides into its side-channels down to the Canopic mouth is one hundred and sixty-six miles, and to the Pelusiac one hundred and sixty-six miles. The uplands bordering on Ethiopia are called the Thebaid.

[4] The Nile begins to rise from the time of the new moon which follows the summer solstice. The rise is gradual and moderate while the sun is moving through the Crab, and strongest as it passes through the Lion, and while in the Virgin it subsides at the same rate as that at which it rose. It withdraws, however, entirely within its banks, as Herodotus states, on the hundredth day, when the sun is in the Scales.

[5] It is regarded as a religious offence for kings or for those in authority to sail on the Nile while it is rising. The rising is observed by means of wells which have measuring-marks. The regular rise is one of sixteen cubits. A less amount of water does not irrigate the whole area, while a larger amount recedes more slowly and so delays operations; the latter takes up the time for sowing because the soil remains wet, the former does not allow sufficient time since the soil is parched; both of these things are carefully reckoned by the province. With a rise of twelve  p.61 cubits it feels famine, with thirteen it feels hungry; fourteen cubits bring joy, fifteen security, and sixteen delight. The greatest rise to date was one of seventeen cubits in the reign of Claudius, and the smallest one of five during the war of Pharsalus, as though the river were expressing its disgust at Pompey's murder by some portent. When the rise reaches its height the dams are opened and the water is let in, and when it has flowed off the lands are sown. The Nile is unique among rivers in breathing forth no exhalations.

[6] Iulius Solinus states the following about the Nile in his Collectanea: Egypt extends inwards towards the south to where Ethiopia touches it at the rear. Its lower part is washed by the Nile, which divides at the place called the Delta and surrounds the area between its channels as though it were an island, and is said to flow down from a nearly unknown source, as I shall relate.

[7] It rises in a mountain in lower Mauretania, near the ocean. This is asserted by Carthaginian sources, this, we are told, was stated by King Iuba. At its beginning then it forms a lake, which they call the Lake of the Nile. They presume that it is already the Nile for the reason that this lake produces herbs, fish, and animals just as we see in the Nile.

[8] When Mauretania, where the river rises, is irrigated by deeper snow or more copious rains, this causes increased flooding in Egypt. But the river as it flows forth from this lake is absorbed by the sands and vanishes in secret channels.

[9] Then bursting forth from the earth in greater volume in (Mauretania) Caesariensis it displays the same characteristics as we noted at its source, then once more goes underground and does not appear again until it reaches Ethiopia after a lengthy journey, where it appears aboveground and forms the Black river, which I have mentioned above as the frontier of Africa. The tribes there call it the Astapus, which means water flowing forth out of darkness.

[10] It encircles many large islands, of which most are so scattered and huge in size that the current scarcely passes them in five days although it flows rapidly there. The best-known of these is Meroe, about which the river divides, the right-hand bed being called the Astisapes, the left-hand the Astabores. Then once more it passes over great distances and when first its waters are ruffled by opposing rocks, its massed volume is reared so high amid the hindering crags that it is thought  p.63 rather to fall sheer than to flow; only after the last cataract does it become safe.

[11] This is the name which the Egyptians give to its barriers. Leaving this further name behind it, the name Gyris (Whirlpool), it soon flows unhindered. It flows into the sea by seven mouths, and its northwardflowing volume is received by the Egyptian sea.

[12] Although we read in no authority that a branch of the Nile flows into the Red Sea, yet brother Fidelis asserted this and related it, in my presence, to my teacher Suibne (to whom, under God, I owe any progress that I may have made), saying that, for purposes of worship, in the city of Jerusalem, both clerics and laymen .. . sailed in a . . . as far as the Nile.

[13] Then, after a long sail on the Nile, they saw, like mountains, and admired from a distance, the seven barns built by holy Joseph, according to the number of the years of abundance, four in one place, and three in another.

[14] From here they went to the three barns to admire them and found beside them a lion and eight people, men and women, lying dead. The lion had killed them in his strength, and they had killed him with spears and swords; both places in which the seven barns are built are desert.

[15] After this he carefully examined the three barns and again was filled with amazement that they were entirely made of stone from their very base to the summit. The barns were square at the base, but rounded at the top; at the very apex they have, as it were, a slender point.

[16] Then the brother whom I have mentioned measured one side of one barn, from corner to corner, as four hundred feet.

[17] Next, embarking on their boats, they sailed along the Nile as far as the entrance of the Red Sea. From this harbour it is a small distance eastwards to the passage of Moses across the Red Sea. He who measured the side of the barn wished to go as far as the harbour where Moses with his people entered the sea, not only to enter the harbour, but in order to see in it the tracks of the chariots and the ruts of Pharaoh's wheels; but the sailors would not oblige. The width of the sea at that place seemed to him to be about six miles.

[18] From thence they made a fast voyage in the western part of the Red Sea, that is, in the gulf which extends far towards the north. That is the sea which prevented the people of Israel, when murmuring in the desert, from being able to return to the land of Egypt.

[19] It is not surprising that one river should be divided into various branches, whose width, particularly in Egypt, is compared to a great sea, as Priscian in his thirteenth book has it, making the comparison: As though, when looking at the sea, we were to say that the Nile is like that.


[20] Today, in the Cosmography which was made in the consulate of Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius, I have found a branch of the Nile described as flowing into the Red Sea beside the town Oliva and the camp of Moses.

[21] He who would know the length of the Nile must first know how many miles are reckoned from the western part of Africa as far as the eastern side of Egypt, and from there again as far as the mouth by which its branch flows into the Red Sea near the camp of Moses and the town called Oliva: or, if he wishes a greater length, as far as the Pelusiac mouth, by which a second branch enters the Tyrrhenian sea, or, if he reckons it nearly to the end of its full length, he will stop at the Canopic mouth, but it is farther to the Pelusiac mouth. I have been unable to find out how many miles wide this river is.

[22] Iulius Solinus in the same volume aforesaid states this of the Euphrates: The Euphrates rises in greater Armenia. It rises above Zima in the foothills of the mountain which the inhabitants call Catotes, near Scythia. Receiving into itself several tributaries it grows strong, and swollen with a concourse of waters it struggles against the barrier of Mount Taurus, which it cuts through at Elegea, although the mountain holds it back for a distance of twelve miles. Indeed eight hundred and sixty-two . . . .

[23] Plinius Secundus on the same Euphrates states in his fifth book: The Euphrates also rises like the Nile on fixed days with little variation, and inundates Mesopotamia when the sun is in the twentieth degree of the Crab. It begins to diminish when the sun has passed from the Lion into the Virgin. It returns entirely to its channel when the sun is in the twenty-ninth degree of the Virgin.

[24] Iulius again in the same book states: It is right that I should speak here also of the Tigris. It rises in Armenia in wonderfully shining waters from a remarkable spring at a lofty point called Egelos, but does not attain its full volume at the beginning. At first it flows slothfully under another name, but when it reaches the borders of Media it is immediately called the Tigris: this is the Median name for arrow.

[25] It flows into lake Arethusa, which can bear any weight. Its fish never approach the bed of the Tigris, and the river fish never pass into lake Arethusa through which the river runs very different in colour and at a swift pace.

[26] Soon at the Taurus barrier it sinks into a deep cave, and flowing  p.67 beneath it, shoots forth on the other side at Azoma, carrying with it sedge and large quantities of refuse. Then it vanishes beneath the earth again at intervals and again reappears. Flowing past the Adiabeni and the Arabs it encircles Mesopotamia and receives the noble river Choaspes. Its length is eight hundred and ninety-five miles; I have not read an account of its breadth.

[27] But Plinius Secundus gives another name to the lake mentioned, which I now forget, and says that its waters are bitter, while those of the river are sweet; this being the reason why the river fish avoid entering the lake, even as the lake fish avoid entering the river.

[28] Iulius again, at a much later point in his work, states this: The largest rivers in India are the Ganges and the Indus. Some authors maintain that the sources of the Ganges are unknown and that it inundates after the manner of the Nile, while others state that it rises in the mountains of Scythia. There is also the Hypasis (Vyasa), a very noble river, which was the farthest point of the expedition of Alexander the Great, as the altars placed on its bank indicate. The least width of the Ganges is eight miles, and the greatest width twenty. Its length is four hundred and fifty-three miles, and its depth, at the shallowest part, swallows up a hundred-foot measure.

[29] The same author says shortly afterwards: In the Ganges there is a most populous island, containing a most numerous tribe, whose king has under arms fifty thousand infantry and fifty-four thousand cavalry. Indeed all those who possess kingly power carry out their military exercises with large numbers of elephants, cavalry and infantry.

[30] The same author says shortly afterwards: The Ganges produces eels up to thirty feet long. And Statius Sebosus says that among its chief wonders is an abundance of worms, cerulean in name and in colour. They have two arms not less than six cubits long, of such great strength that when elephants come to drink they grip them with a snapping hand and drag them off into the depths.

[31] In India there are also cattle with one horn; but the most terrible is the unicorn, a monster who bellows dreadfully, with the body of a horse, the feet of an elephant, a pig's tail, and the head of a deer. The horn projects from the middle of its forehead, shines beautifully, and is four feet in length; it is so sharp that whatever it attacks is easily bored through by the stroke. It does not come alive into the power of man, and may be killed but cannot be captured.

[32] There is a rhinoceros in Ethiopia of this or another similar kind, of which Iulius Solinus in a much earlier passage says this: The Roman  p.69 spectacles did not know of the rhinoceros before the games of Gnaeus Pompeius. This beast is of boxwood colour, with a single upturned horn on its nose, which it continually rubs on the rocks and sharpens like a dagger, with which it wars against the elephants, being equal to them in length but with shorter legs, and naturally attacking the belly which it knows can alone be pierced by its blows.

[33] There is another animal in Cyrenaic Africa, which we do not read of as found elsewhere. Of it the same author in a much earlier passage writes: Africa produces the hyena also, whose neck and spine form a rigid continuous unit: he can turn only by moving all his body around. Many strange things are told of it: first that it follows the abodes of shepherds and by listening continually it learns their names so as to be able to express an imitation of the human voice, so that it can savage by night men who have been lured out (of doors) by its cunning. It also imitates human vomiting and by pretending to belch it devours dogs who are attracted in this way. If perchance dogs, when hunting, touch its shadow in their pursuit, they lose their voice and are unable to bark.

[34] The hyena also roots up grave-mounds searching for buried bodies. Moreover it is easier to catch the male; the females have a greater inborn cunning. There is great variety in their eyes and many changes of colour. In their pupils is found a stone, called hyena-stone, possessing such a power that if it is placed beneath a man's tongue he can foretell the future. Indeed any animal which the hyena circles three times cannot move; therefore people have maintained that it possesses a knowledge of magic.

[35] In part of Ethiopia it breeds with the lioness and from their union is born a monster called the corocotta. This animal also imitates human voices. It never restrains its sharpness of glance, but maintains its gaze without winking. It has no gums in its mouth, but a single and continuous tooth, which is covered over naturally, like a capsule, so that it may never be blunted.

[36] The same author in a much earlier passage states of the river Danube: The Hister rises in the mountains of Germany, flowing from the mountain which overlooks the Rauraci in Gaul. It receives the waters of sixty rivers, nearly all of them navigable. It flows into the Black Sea by seven mouths: of which the first is Peuce (Pine-mouth), the second the Naracus-mouth, the third Fair-mouth, the fourth False-mouth; North-mouth, and then Smooth-mouth move their waters more slowly than the others, while the seventh, being slothful and like a marsh, has nothing to liken to a river. The first four rivers are so large  p.71 that they do not mingle with the sea for a distance of four hundred miles and retain their sweet taste without loss of flavour. Its length is nine hundred and twenty-three miles.

[37] I have brought together the above information on the five rivers already mentioned. I shall make shorter excerpts on the following rivers from the Cosmography just mentioned, which has recently come into my hands.

[38] The river Jordan rises under the Lebanon, and circling around it turns towards Lake Tiberias, and on leaving it flows towards Scythopolis (Beisan), and cutting through the centre of the town and leaving it flows into the Dead Sea. Its length is seven hundred and twenty-two miles.

[39] The Hermus (Gediz Cay) rises in the plains of Asia, and flows into the sea of the Cyclades. Its length is six hundred and nine miles.

[40] The Maeander (Menderes) rises in two branches in the Asiatic plains, and runs, as it were, in a circle, joining itself into one. It flows into the sea of the Cyclades. Its length is eight hundred and ninetyseven miles.

[41] The river Eurotas rises in the plains of Phrygia. It flows into the Tyrrhenian sea. Its length is eight hundred and twenty-five miles.

[42] The river Don rises in mount Ripheus of the Hyperboreans, and flows through the Maeotic marshes (the sea of Azov) into the Black Sea. Its length is six hundred and fifty-three miles.

[43] The river Dnieper rises in the Hyperborean mountain and flows into the Black Sea. Its length is two hundred and ten miles.

[44] The Spercheius rises in the mountain of Macedonia and flows into the Aegaean Sea. Its length is six hundred and two miles.

[45] The Alpheus rises in the plains of Achaea and flows into the Tyrrhenian sea. Its length is four hundred and seventy miles.

[46] The Achelous rises in the plains of Epirus and flows into the Ionian sea. Its length is seven hundred and fifteen miles.

[47] The Tiber rises in the Apennines and falls into the Tyrrhenian sea. Its length is four hundred and ninety-five miles.

[48] The Rhine rises in the Apennine Alps and falls into the western ocean. Its length is five hundred and fifty-two miles.

[49] The Rhône rises in the Cottian Alps and flows into the Tyrrhenian sea. Its length is . . . miles.

[50] The Garonne rises in the plains of Aquitania and flows into the western ocean. Its length is two hundred and nine miles.


[51] The Guadalquivir rises in the plains of Spain, and falls into the western ocean. Its length is four hundred and ten miles.

[52] The Tajo rises in the plains of Spain and falls into the western ocean. Its length is three hundred and two miles.

[53] The Minho rises beside the Pyrenees. It flows round in a circle so as to enclose the town of Corunna on the sea and then directs itself towards the western ocean. Its length is three hundred and ten miles.

[54] The Ebro rises in the foothills of the Pyrenees and traverses the near-by parts of Spain. It flows into the sea near Tarragona. Its length is two hundred and four miles. All my statements on the length of these rivers I have taken from the Cosmography.


[1] VII. In writing of Ethiopia in Africa, I spoke briefly of its many islands, using Plinius Secundus, but I mentioned none by name. And so I shall mention by name some few whose names I have read.

[2] The same Plinius Secundus in his sixth book states that there are islands near the Ploughmen Ethiopians, and also Bacchias and Antibacchias and the Isle of Soldiers.

[3] Priscian in the book which in Greek is called Periegesis, that is, description of the earth, which he wrote in very good metre, tells us that the island Erithrea will be found beside Ethiopia on the Atlantic, saying: The just-souled Ethiopians dwell in Erithrea beside the Atlantic, and live to a great age, from whose territories once . . . .

[4] The island of Gaulea lies in the southern ocean of western Ethiopia, and Isidorus makes known its name in the ninth book of his Etymologiae.

[5] There are the Fortunatae islands, and the Gorgodes, and the Hesperides, and many authors state that these islands lie in the sea west of Africa. The Gorgodes are farther from Africa than the Fortunatae, and the Hesperides farther than the Gorgodes. Since in the Cosmography the river Malva is said to rise near the Fortunatae islands, from this it is reckoned to be close to Africa. The Gorgodes are distant a two days' journey by ship from the continent, as Isidorus says in the fourteenth book of his Etymologiae.

[6] We do not read of islands being found in the sea west or north of Spain. There are islands around our own island Hibernia, some small and some very small. Near the island Britannia are many islands, some large, some small, and some medium-sized. Some are in the sea to her south and some in the sea to her west, but they abound mostly to the north-west and north. Among these I have lived in some, and have visited others; some I have only glimpsed, while others I have read about.


[7] Plinius Secundus in his fourth book informs us that Pytheas of Marseilles states that Thule lies six days' sail to the north of Britain.

[8] About the same island, which was always uninhabited, Isidorus says in the same fourteenth book of his Etymologiae: Thule is the farthest island of the ocean, lying between north and west beyond Britain, getting its name from the sun, since at it the sun reaches its summer solstice.

[9] Priscian speaks about the same island in his Periegesis more clearly than Isidorus, saying: Here crossing in boats the open waters of the ocean, and coming to Thule, which shines both by day and by night under the rays of the sun, when he ascends in his chariot to the axes of the zodiac, lighting up the north with his torch.

[10] Iulius Solinus treats of the same island more clearly and fully than Priscian, and, speaking of Britannia, he writes thus in his Collectanea: Farthest Thule, in which, at the summer solstice, there is no night, when the sun passes out of the Crab: and in like manner no day at the winter solstice.

[11] It is now thirty years since clerics, who had lived on the island from the first of February to the first of August, told me that not only at the summer solstice, but in the days round about it, the sun setting in the evening hides itself as though behind a small hill in such a way that there was no darkness in that very small space of time, and a man could do whatever he wished as though the sun were there, even remove lice from his shirt, and if they had been on a mountain-top perhaps the sun would never have been hidden from them.

[12] In the middle of that moment of time it is midnight at the equator, and thus, on the contrary, I think that at the winter solstice and for a few days about it dawn appears only for the smallest space at Thule, when it is noon at the equator.

[13] Therefore those authors are wrong and give wrong information, who have written that the sea will be solid about Thule, and that day without night continues right through from the vernal to the autumnal equinox, and that vice versa night continues uninterrupted from the autumnal to the vernal equinox, since these men voyaged at the natural time of great cold, and entered the island and remaining on it had day and night alternately except for the period of the solstice. But one day's sail north of that they did find the sea frozen over.

[14] There are many other islands in the ocean to the north of Britain which can be reached from the northern islands of Britain in a direct voyage of two days and nights with sails filled with a continuously favourable wind. A devout priest told me that in two summer days and the intervening night he sailed in a two-benched boat and entered one of them.


[15] There is another set of small islands, nearly all separated by narrow stretches of water; in these for nearly a hundred years hermits sailing from our country, Ireland, have lived. But just as they were always deserted from the beginning of the world, so now because of the Northman pirates they are emptied of anchorites, and filled with countless sheep and very many diverse kinds of sea-birds. I have never found these islands mentioned in the authorities.

[16] Iulius Solinus in his Collectanea says about Germany and its islands: In this region and in all the area of the north there are numerous bisons, which are like wild cattle, with shaggy necks and bristling manes. They can run faster than bulls; when captured they cannot be tamed. There are also wild oxen, popularly called buffaloes, but buffaloes have nearly the appearance of deer and are found in Africa. Those, however, which we call wild oxen have bull's horns of such large dimensions, that because of their great capacity they are removed and used as drinking vessels at royal banquets.

[17] There is also the elk which may be likened to the mule, whose upper lip hangs down so much that it can feed only by walking backwards. The island Gravia in the Germanic region produces an animal like the elk, but whose houghs cannot bend; for this reason they cannot lie down to sleep, but a tree supports them while sleeping. This is cut to the point of falling, so that the beast topples over when it leans on its accustomed support. In that way it is captured; otherwise it is difficult to catch it, as despite its stiff houghs it can run so fast that it cannot be overtaken.

[18] Of the Germanic islands Scandinavia is the greatest, but there is nothing great in it beyond itself.

[19] Plinius Secundus in his book about the ocean north of Scythia and its islands says: Hecataeus calls the northern ocean Amalchius beyond the river Parapanisus, which forms the (western) boundary of Scythia, the name Amalchius signifying “frozen” μαλκιος in the language of that people: Philemon says it is named Morimarusa, that is, “Dead Sea”, from the Cimbri to Cape Rusbeae, and beyond that the Cronian sea.

[20] Xenophon of Lampsacus states that three days' sail from the Scythian coast there is an island of immense size called Balcia, which Pytheas calls Basilia.

[21] The islands of Oeonae are also said to be near by, whose inhabitants  p.79 live on sea-birds' eggs and wild oats. Others on which men are born with horses' feet are called Hippopodes (Horses' Feet). In others they have very large ears, which cover completely their naked bodies.

[22] Plinius Secundus, again speaking on the islands of Germany, says: We then begin to get clearer information with the tribe of the Ingueones, which is the first in Germany. Here is the unmeasured Mount Saevo, as large as the Riphaean mountains, which makes a great bay reaching to the Cimbrian promontory; it is called Codanus and is filled with islands. The most famous is Scadinavia, of unknown size. Even the portion of it which is known, because the Hilleviones dwell there in five hundred cantons, is called a second world. And it is thought that Aeningia is just as large. Some authors relate that the region as far as the river Vistula is inhabited by the Sarmatae, Venedi, and Sciri.

[23] In the Cosmography before-mentioned we read of an island of the Sun, called Burned, where the Ganges enters the sea. And in the same eastern ocean are located Hippopodes, Elephantine, and Ptolemais Epitheras.

[24] Plinius Secundus in his sixth book tells of the following islands found in the Indian ocean: Four satrapies a little later, since my mind hastens forwards to the island of Ceylon. But first comes Aliopatale, which I have mentioned as being at the very mouth of the Indus, of triangular shape, and two hundred and twenty miles across. Outside the mouth of the Indus are Golden and Silvery, rich in mines, as I understand it. For what some authors have stated, that their soil is made of gold and silver, I can scarcely credit. Crocala is twenty miles from these, and twelve from it is Bibaga, rich in oysters and shell-fish, then eight miles from this is Coralliba, and many islands of no importance.

[25] Iulius Solinus wrote at the end of the book mentioned: Tylos is an Indian island. It produces palms and olive-trees, it abounds in vines, and surpasses all lands in this wonder, that the trees which grow there never lose their leaves. Somewhat earlier Iulius also said: The Indian seas have whales beyond four acres in length, which they call 'blowers', which raise their immense size, higher than tall columns, above the sail-yards of ships, and sucking up the waves with their blow-holes they so spew them forth that they often sink the ships of voyagers with the stormy spray.


[26] Shortly after this Iulius again says: People for long thought that the island of Ceylon was another world, before human daring, by an extensive exploration of the sea, made the truth widely known; indeed the Antipodes were thought to live there. But the enterprising spirit of Alexander the Great did not allow this ignorance and public error to remain any longer, and even to these remote parts he spread the glory of his name.

[27] So Onesicritus, the admiral of the Macedonian fleet, was sent out and provided for our information a detailed investigation of this land, of its size, its products, and its condition. It is seven thousand stadia in length and five thousand stadia in breadth, and is divided by a river flowing through; for part is filled with beasts and elephants much larger than the Indian, and humans inhabit the other part. It is rich in pearls and every kind of gem. It lies from east to west.

[28] Beginning from the eastern sea it lies stretched before India. From Prasia, the Indian tribe, it was a journey of twenty days to it at first, when the trip was made with Nile boats of papyrus, but soon the speed of our ships made it a seven days' journey. Between there lies a shallow sea, not deeper than six paces, but with certain channels so deep that no anchor has ever found bottom in their depths.

[29] They do not observe the stars while sailing, since indeed the Bears are never seen, the Pleiades never appear. They see the moon above the horizon only from the eighth to the sixteenth hour. Canopus shines there, bright and strong. They have the rising sun on the right, the setting sun on the left.

[30] Since therefore they can make no observations while sailing, in order to make port at a destined goal they carry birds, whose course, as they make for land, they use to direct their voyage. They sail for not more than four months in the year.

[31] Priscian in his Periegesis says the following of the same island of Ceylon and of two other islands: From here turning your ship's prow to the warm south winds you will come to Ceylon, the great island which produces elephants at the border of Asia. It lies under the Crab. About its shores leap numerous whales as large as mountains, fed by the vast Red Sea. Over their backs and shoulders runs a terrible spine, bringing death and fate beneath their savage mouths. They are wont to suck down  p.83 both ship and crew alike, for sea as well as land may bring destruction to those who deserve it. If you go further beyond the border of Carmania you meet Ogyris, where they say is the grave of King Erythraeus, who gave his name to the sea. We then enter the Persian gulf and come to Icaron, the island which is said to placate, only too well, Diana.

[32] Just as beforehand Iulius Solinus gave the length and breadth of the island of Ceylon, in thousands of stadia, as follows: It extends seven thousand stadia in length, and five thousand in breadth; so later Isidorus gave the same length and breadth in miles, in the fourteenth book of the Etymologiae, saying: Extent in length eight hundred and seventy-five miles, in breadth six hundred and twenty-five.

[33] And just as the same Iulius reported that the elephants of the said island were much larger than the elephants of India, he also said that the elephants of Mauretania were smaller than the elephants of India when speaking of Mauretania and its elephants.

[34] The same Iulius speaks in these words of Cyrenaic Africa and its lions: Lions have intercourse back-to-back, and not only lions but also lynxes, camels, elephants, rhinoceroses, and tigers. Lionesses bring forth at their first litter five whelps, and then decrease the number by one at each birth in the following years, and finally when their fertility has come down to one they remain sterile for ever. The lion's forehead and tail indicate his temper, just as a horse's emotions are understood from his ears.

[35] But the same Iulius in speaking of Germany and its islands makes one mistake about elephants when he says that the elephant never lies down, for he certainly does lie down like an ox, as the people at large of the Frankish kingdom saw the elephant at the time of Emperor Charles. But perhaps the reason for this false statement being written about the elephant was that his knees and houghs cannot be clearly seen except when he lies down.

[36] Iulius again tells us of India that six thousand four hundred and fifty-three years passed from the time of Dionysus down to the time of Alexander the Great. The same author wrote something else which is incredible: That the men who live at the source of the Ganges have no need of any food, but live solely on the odour of wild apples, and when going on a long journey they bring the same with them as a stand-by to sustain themselves on the odour; but if perchance they draw a breath less sweet, they indubitably die. I have doubts about the width of the Ganges and the Euphrates which he gave in that book, and omit them.


[37] Iulius again, speaking of Egypt and the Nile, describes the nature of the crocodile, mingling truth with falsehood, in these words: The crocodile, an evil four-footer, has equal powers both on land and in the river; he has no tongue and can move his upper jaw; and shortly afterwards: He lays eggs like those of the goose; he measures out the place with a foresight bestowed by nature, and only produces his young where the waters of the rising Nile cannot reach them.

[38] And shortly afterwards: They see rather dimly in the water, but very clearly on land. In winter they take no food; indeed, counting from the beginning of winter, they spend four months without eating. The rest of his description of the nature of the crocodile I here omit, since whoever wishes may find it in the twelfth book of Etymologiae.

[39] In other points which follow I do not believe him; when, that is, he makes this statement a little earlier: On an island in the Nile there live men of small stature, but so skilled in daring as to put themselves deliberately in the way of crocodiles; for these monsters pursue those who flee but fear those who stand their ground; so they are captured, subdued, and enslaved even within their own waters, and, overcome by fear, they are so submissive as to forget their savage nature, and carry their victors riding on their backs. The crocodiles therefore flee afar from this island and its people whenever they scent them by their odour.

[40] Iulius again, nearly at the end of the volume mentioned, describes by name some of the islands of the Red Sea, saying: In the sea west of Persia is the reddish-coloured island of the Sun, which cannot be approached by any living thing, since it is fatal to all animals introduced there.

[41] The same author shortly afterwards at the end of his book says this: Among the islands of Arabia, where the Ascite (Cow-hide) Arabs dwell, they say there is an island appropriately named; for they construct stories of wicker-work on top of buffalo hides, and travelling on this kind of raft they attack those who pass with poisoned arrows.

[42] The remote, sun-scorched parts of Ethiopia are also said to be inhabited by (the tribes of) Troglodytae (Cave-dwellers) and Ichthyophagi (Fish-eaters) . . . ; . . . the fennel-giant grows as high as trees; those of a black colour, when squeezed out, give a very bitter liquid, the white ones produce water even fit for drinking.

[43] Another island they say is called the island of Iuno, with a small  p.87 temple meanly roofed to the ridge. A third of the same name is near this, but completely bare. A fourth is called Goat-island, overcrowded with huge lizards.

[44] There follows Snow-island, where the air is cloudy and dense, and therefore it is always covered with snow. Then Dog-island, full of most beautiful dogs, from which indeed two were procured for King Iuba. In it there are remains of buildings. There are numerous birds, groves of fruit-trees, palm-groves bearing dates, plenty of pine-nuts, abundant honey, and rivers full of the silurus fish.

[45] They say that when the sea is rough great monsters are cast up on shore; when they decay and rot, the whole island is filled with a foul odour; therefore the nature of the islands does not entirely correspond to their name.

[46] Isidorus in the twelfth book of his Etymologiae wrote of the phoenix, the bird of Arabia: The Arabian bird, phoenix, is so called, either because it has a purple-red colour, or because it is singular and unique in the whole world; for the Arabs call the singular and unique 'phoenix'. It lives for more than five hundred years, and when it sees that it has grown old it gathers spicy twigs and builds its own funeralpyre, and turning towards the sun's rays it beats its wings and voluntarily feeds the fire for itself; and so it rises again from its ashes.

[47] Iulius Solinus, speaking of Arabia, wrote the following about the said bird: The phoenix is found in Arabia, a bird the size of an eagle, with a cone of projecting feathers adorning its head, with a tufted throat and a gleam of gold about its neck, and purple at the back apart from its tail, on which a dark-blue sheen is traced amid the rosy feathers. It has been shown that it lives for five hundred and forty years. It makes its pyre of cinnamon twigs, which it gets beside Panchaea, the city of the Sun, and places on top of an altar.

[48] In the sixteenth book of Etymologiae Opazion is described as an island off Arabia, covered with clouds. As we read of no islands in the ocean east of Egypt, nor south of their Ethiopia, nor in the Caspian sea, (49) I have seen fit to speak here of the few small islands of the Tyrrhenian sea, which many have omitted to mention. Isidorus in the ninth book of Etymologiae wrote that the island of Sardus (perhaps: Pharus) is separated by a narrow strait from the Phoenician shore of the phoenix.

[50] Priscian in his Periegesis composed the following lines: From here the ocean widens, and boils up to the north in the swelling Sea of Marmara, where rocky Proconnesos flourishes. There is also an island  p.89 to the left side of the Black Sea, opposite the river Dnieper, which they call White island, since it feeds many birds of snow-white colour. Here, they say, the souls of famous heroes live free from care, a fair reward of virtue. And if one travels straight to the Straits of Kerch, one may see on the right in the waters of the great Sea of Azov the broad and strongbased island of Alopecea, behind which the descendants of the famed Ionian race founded Phenagore and Hermonassa.

[51] lulius on the Scythian islands: The island of the Apollonitae is situated near the Danube, eighty miles distant from the Thracian Bosporus. From it Lucullus carried off for us the Apollo of the Capitol. Before the Dnieper is the island of Achilles with its temple. No bird enters it, and if one flies up by chance, it hastily takes to flight.

[52] Iulius too had spoken shortly before of the river Dnieper: The Dnieper rises among the Neuri; in it are fish of fine flavour, with no bones, nothing but tender cartilage. Tradition says that the Neuri become wolves during the summer, and then, having fulfilled the period assigned to this fate, return to their previous shape.


[1] VIII. It is fitting after this to describe here the width in miles of the Tyrrhenian sea. According to the envoys of Theodosius, the length of Syria begins at the south of Asia Minor, and ends where it touches Arabia and lower Egypt. They have given this distance as four hundred and seventy miles. This is the width of the Tyrrhenian sea beside Syria; its length from the islands of Cadiz as far as Syria is greater than the length of Europe or of Africa.

[2] In the Cosmography the island of Cyprus is said to be one hundred and seventy-five miles in length, and one hundred and twenty-five miles in breadth, and Crete is said to be one hundred and seventy-two miles in length from east to west, and fifty miles in width.

[3] Plinius Secundus says this of Sicily and of the width of the Tyrrhenian sea in his fourth book: But most famous of all is Sicily, called Sicania by Thucydides, and Trinacria by many writers from its triangular shape. Agrippa gives its circumference as six hundred and eighteen miles. Once it was attached to the territory of Bruttium, but was wrenched away by the pouring through of the sea, the strait being fifteen miles long, and one and a half wide at the Royal Column.


[4] It was from this evidence of the yawning of the earth that the Greeks named the town on the Italian side Rhegium (Reggio di Calabria). In the strait is the rock Scylla, and also Charybdis amid the whirlpools, both famed for their ferocity.

[5] In Sicily itself, which, as I have said, is triangular in shape, the cape facing Italy, opposite Scylla, is called Pelorum (Punta del Faro); that facing Greece is called Pachynum (Capo Passero), four hundred and forty miles distant from the Peloponnese; Lilybaeum (Capo Lilibeo) faces Africa, at a distance of one hundred and eighty miles from Cape Mercury (Cap Bon), and one hundred and ninety miles from Cape Caralis (Capo Carbonara) in Sardinia.

[6] The following are the distances by land of the capes from one another and the lengths of the sides of the island; from Pelorum to Pachynum, one hundred and eighty-six miles; from there to Lilybaeum, two hundred miles, and from there to Pelorum, one hundred and fortytwo. In Sicily there are colonies and sixty-three cities and towns. Beginning from Pelorum, on the shore looking towards the Ionian sea is the town of Messina, whose inhabitants are Roman citizens, and called Mamertini; then Cape Drepanum (Sickle), the colony of Taormina, formerly called Naxos, the river Acesines (Alcantara), and Mount Etna, wondered at for its nightly fires. Its crater is twenty stadia in circumference, while the hot ash reaches as far as Taormina and Catania, and the noise to Le Madonie and the Twin Hills. Then come the three rocks of the Cyclopes (Scogli dei Ciclopi), the harbour of Ulysses (Ognina) and the colony of Catania.

[7] So the distance from Cape Mercury to the town of Rhegium on the coast of Italy is found to be three hundred and twenty-three miles and over. But from Lilybaeum to Rhegium one does not sail directly northwards, since the line of measurement inclines towards the north-east; for I have not found a record of the mileage north to Italy.

[8] In the fourteenth book of the Etymologiae I am surprised to find this statement on the circumference of Sicily: Its complete circumference amounts to three thousand stadia, which certainly is only three hundred and seventy-five miles. This, I think, was not the error of the author, but that of later scribes. I would say that Isidorus wrote five thousand stadia, which makes six hundred and twenty-five miles.

[9] Iulius Solinus on Mount Etna: There are two openings in Mount Etna, called craters, through which vapour is vomited forth, after a preliminary roaring, which rolls with long bellowings through burning dark caverns within the bowels of the earth. The balls of flame do not shoot up without being preceded by the interior rumblings.

[10] Servius, in his commentary on Virgil, where the poet relates in  p.93 the third book of the Aeneid: 'The harbour is huge and untouched by the winds, but near by thunders Etna, amid a dreadful lava-flow', remarks as follows: It is well known that Etna, on its south-east and south-west sides has caves full of sulphur which reach down to the sea. These caves receive the waves and create a blast of wind, whose violence fires the sulphur, which causes the fire which is visible. The following reason shows that this is correct, because when other winds blow there is no discharge, and in accordance with the degree of violence of the south-east and south-west winds it sends forth now smoke, now burning ash, and sometimes fire.

[11] Priscian, in his Periegesis, after his account of Sicily, speaks as follows about the two islands beside Africa, that is, beside the lesser Syrtis (Sand-bank): To the south is the Libyan sea and the sand-banks of the greater Syrtis, but if you go farther you may see the lesser Syrtis to the west; beside it shines the island of Meninx, and Cernina also, both clear to see on the Libyan station.

[12] Iulius Solinus, speaking of the capes of Africa, and Cyrenaica in Libya, tells us the following: All Africa begins with the territory of Zeugitana, where Cape Apollo (Ras Sidi Ali el-Mekki) faces Sardinia, and Cape Mercury projects towards the coast of Sicily; then it extends towards two promontories, of which one is called White Cape (Ras elabiad, Capo Bianco), while the other, which is in the district of Cyrenaica, they call Red Cape.

[13] Plinius Secundus, after writing on Italy in the fourth book of his Natural History, shortly afterwards writes this of Corsica: Corsica, which the Greeks called Cyrnos, lies in the Ligurian sea, but nearer the Tuscan sea, its line running from north to south. It is one hundred and sixty miles in length, fifty miles broad for most of its length, and three hundred and twenty-five miles in circumference; it is sixty-two miles from the shallows of Volaterrae. It has thirty-two towns, and also colonies.

[14] The same author shortly afterwards says: Sardinia is less than eight miles from the end of Corsica. And again, shortly afterwards: The length of the east side of Sardinia is one hundred and eighty-two miles, of the west side one hundred and seventy-five. Its circumference is five hundred and sixty-five miles. Elsewhere: From Africa to Capo Carbonara is two hundred miles.

[15] In the fourteenth book of the Etymologiae the following is written of the island of Sardinia: Sardus, son of Hercules, set out from Libya with a large band, occupied Sardinia and named the island after himself.  p.95 The island, lying in the African sea, is shaped like a human footprint, bulging out more to the east than to the west, with nearly equal sides running north and south. From this it was called Ichnos (Footprint) by the sailors of Greece before trading began. It is one hundred and forty miles long and forty miles broad.

[16] Therefore from Italy, that is from the shallows of Volaterrae, to Corsica is sixty-two miles; the length of Corsica is one hundred and sixty; from the end, that is the cape, of Corsica to Sardinia is less than eight; the breadth of Sardinia from north to south is forty; from Sardinia to Africa is two hundred. The addition of all these makes up a tale of four hundred and seventy miles. This is the width of the Tyrrhenian sea at that point.

[17] The measure given by Plinius Secundus is correct, that it is less than eight miles from the end of Corsica to Sardinia, from the Corsican cape extending towards Sardinia; since the twenty miles given in the first book of Orosius and in the fourteenth of the Etymologiae refers, not to the capes, but to the common sides of both islands; the width of Corsica itself extends thirty-six miles, as we read in the first book of Orosius .

[18] Iulius Solinus, when speaking of Spain, says the following of the gulf of Cadiz: The strait of Cadiz, named from the isles of Cadiz, sends the Atlantic swell into the Mediterranean by a splitting apart of the earth. For the ocean, which the Greeks name thus from its speed, breaking in from the west, brushes Europe on the left and Africa on the right, and splitting apart Mounts Calpe and Abinna, which they call the Columns of Hercules, flows between Mauretania and Spain, and to this gulf, whose length is fifteen miles and breadth scarcely seven, opens by a sort of door the threshold of the inner sea. The strait of Cadiz and that of Sicily have the same length.

[19] On the width of the latter the following is written in the thirteenth book of the Etymologiae: The strait of Sicily is very narrow, dividing Sicily from Italy by the space of three miles, but beside the Column of Rhegium, as Plinius Secundus wrote, it is only one and a half miles wide, that is, exactly one league, or twelve stadia, since one stadium equals one hundred and twenty-five paces, and one pace is five feet.

[20] Having measured the width of the Tyrrhenian sea four times, I shall try to turn my pen to the measurement of Britannia. Of it Iulius Solinus wrote as follows: The Gallic shore would have been the end of the world, only that the island Britannia, of whatever size it be, nearly deserved the name of another world, for it is eight hundred miles and more in length, and two hundred in breadth.


[21] The same author, shortly afterwards: It has about it many islands, which are not unimportant, of which Hibernia is nearest to it in size, which otherwise is so rich in pastures as to endanger the cattle unless they are now and then removed from their feeding-grounds.

[22] The same author, shortly afterwards: The sea between it and Britannia is rough and stormy all the year round, and is only navigable for a few days, and is one hundred and twenty miles wide. The sea is fifty miles wide between Britannia, where the town of Richborough is, and the Morini in Gallia Belgica, from where is the nearest and shortest crossing to Britannia; or, as some have written, it narrows down to four hundred and fifty stadia.

[23] Iulius, again, a little later, says: The circumference of Britannia is four thousand, eight hundred and seventy-five miles. If anyone wishes to follow more easily the figure for the circumference given by Iulius, let him take it as four miles nine hundred times, or nine hundred times four miles. But if this reckoning does not satisfy any slow-minded person, let him visualize the mile-marks at the end of each mile, the mile-stones that is to say, and then who will doubt that a tale of thirty thousand six hundred stones is made up ?

[24] Plinius Secundus in his third book says: Pytheas of Marseilles relates that the tide rises above Britannia by eighty cubits. In the Cosmography we read that Lake Salinae (Saltpans) in Africa, which is in the province of Tripolis and in the district of Bezatium, increases and decreases with the lunar month.

[25] Plinius Secundus in his third book: Fabianus gives the deepest sea as of fifteen stadia. But who will believe that Fabianus could know the depth of all the oceans ?

[26] The following is written in the Cosmography on the seven following matters: The eastern part has eight seas, nine islands, seven mountains, seven provinces, seventy-five towns, seventeen rivers, forty-four peoples.

[27] The southern part has two seas, sixteen islands, six mountains, seventeen provinces, sixty-two towns, six rivers, twenty-four peoples.

[28] The western part has eight seas, fifteen islands, fifteen mountains, twenty-five provinces, seventy-six towns, thirteen rivers, twenty-four peoples.

[29] The northern part has eleven seas, thirty-one islands, twelve mountains, sixteen provinces, fifty-seven towns, nineteen rivers, twenty-four peoples.

[30] The whole earth has twenty-nine seas, seventy-two islands, forty mountains, sixty-five provinces, two hundred and eighty-one towns, fifty-five rivers, one hundred and sixteen peoples.

[31] But lest some schoolmaster reading this may object that I have spoken here of corporeal and visible things, let him accept the evidence  p.99 of Priscian in the book which he wrote on the twelve first lines of the twelve books of the Aeneid. For in discussing the first verse of the third book he treats of this matter, saying: Some grammarians call only incorporeal matters things, but by true reasoning all corporeal and incorporeal matters alike can be called things, just as Virgil here said 'things of Asia' for 'the wealth of Asia', and we use the word to express 'state', 'family property', and 'dowry'. And this the word of God confirms, by Christian usage, in Exodus, where it says: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods.


[1] IX. After this, last of all, I shall ascend to the mountain summits. Iulius Solinus, speaking of Thessaly, reports this of Mount Olympus: The sights of Olympus teach us that it was not rashly celebrated by Homer. First, its noble heights are so lofty that the neighbouring inhabitants call its peaks heaven. There is an altar on the summit dedicated to Jupiter, and if sacrificial offerings are placed on the altar, they are not blown away by the strong winds nor dissolved by the rain, but after the lapse of a year they are found as they were left; and whatever is once consecrated there to the god is kept safe from all storms and the corruption of the winds.

[2] In the fourteenth volume of the Etymologiae this is said: Athos is a mountain of Macedonia, higher than the clouds and so lofty that its shadow stretches to the island of Lemnos, which is seventy-seven miles distant.

[3] Iulius Solinus in the Collectanea tells us this of Mount Atlas: Mount Atlas rises from the midst of a waste of sands, and ascending to near the circle of the moon hides its head beyond the clouds; on the side extending towards the ocean, to which it gives its name, it has flowing waters, bristling woods, rugged rocks, and desert, bare and grassless wastes; on the side which faces Africa it is rich in wild fruits, and shaded by tall trees, heavily scented, whose foliage is like that of the cypress, and clothed in a down as fine as Chinese silk.

[4] On this side grows abundant euphorbia, whose sap improves the eyesight, and is an excellent antidote to poison. The summit is always snow-clad. Quadrupeds, serpents, wild beasts and elephants have their home on the heights. In the day the whole mountain is silent and frightening in its remoteness; at night it gleams with fires and everywhere resounds with choirs of Goat-Pans; the sounds of the flute and the beat of cymbals are also heard.

[5] Of this mountain Isidorus wrote in the fourteenth book of his  p.101 Etymologiae: The mountain is called Atlas, which on account of its altitude is thought to hold up the frame of heaven and the stars.

[6] Iulius Solinus pointed out here two contrary things, as it were, of Atlas: That it raises its head beyond the clouds on the ocean side, and that the summit is always covered with snow. If the summit is always snowcovered it cannot always be higher than the clouds, while, if its altitude always exceeds that of the clouds, not only can it not be hidden but not even touched by the snow. For snow, hail, rain, thunder, and thunderbolts do not rise from the clouds but always descend from the clouds.

[7] In hinting that the mountain rises to the vicinity of the circle of the moon, and raises its head beyond the clouds on the ocean side, he is clearly informing us that with some pinnacles Atlas rises over the clouds, around whose sides I believe the snow lies like a wreath.

[8] And since Isidorus did not say that it rises quite high above the clouds, I believe that it hardly goes beyond them. And while Iulius wrote that its summit is always snow-covered, yet it is shown that in some regions below the peaks, lower than those mentioned, it is always covered with snow.

[9] And these two regions Virgil indicates in the fourth book of the Aeneid, in these words: With the aid of this (wand), he (Hermes) drives on the winds and flies across the wild clouds, and in his flight he sees the crest and lofty sides of grim Atlas, who holds up heaven on his peak; Atlas, whose pine-clad head is ever ringed by gloomy clouds and beaten on by wind and rain. The old man's shoulders are cloaked in snow, streams too pour headlong down his chin, and his beard bristles, stiff with ice.

[10] I believe that in the third line of the above passage he was speaking of the highest summits, while in the succeeding lines I think he was referring to the lower peaks.

[11] Plinius Secundus gives an account of the highest mountain in Thessaly in the second book of his Natural History. The most learned Dicaearchus measured the mountains by royal commission, and among these he described Pelion as the highest, being a mile and a quarter in height. I have read that the Alps are fifty miles in height, but I do not remember in what book I found it.

[12] Although Priscian in his Periegesis teaches us that the Pyrenees in Spain are very high indeed in this verse: The Pyrenees whose topmost peak touches the sky; yet the Spanish bishop Isidorus in the fourteenth book mentioned shows in these words that Mount Solurius is higher than the Pyrenees: Solurius is so called from its singularity, because it alone is thought to be higher than all the mountains of Spain.


[13] I, Dicuil, having made my excerpts from these authorities, shall now write a few hexameters on the six high mountains. Lofty Athos, Atlas, and Olympus tower above the clouds, and so their three high summits are parched with dust. But Olympus is higher than the other two mountains, while Atlas is lower than the other two; that is why a wreath of snow surrounds its lofty head. The middle mountain holds its head aloft to heaven, and throws a shadow of seven miles eleven times. Olympus guards its offerings for the god for a whole year, keeping them unspotted on its highest peak. We do not read of other mountains being higher than the winds. The burning southern sun scorches high Atlas; it is the northern cold which burns both the others. The Africans own Atlas, the Argives Athos, the Greeks Olympus. High Atlas guards the sands of the west, the ancestral land of Alexander the Great keeps the others. They are cold at the summit, burned by the sun at the base, a serene air bathes all the middle space, where Atlas with its triple range pours forth its winding rivers, to east and west, to north and south. Mount Pelion, raising its head a mile and a quarter, hides it among the clouds. The Alps pierce fifty miles aloft. Though Solurius rises to heaven with its topmost peak, I have not read how many miles make its measure. These mountains are respectively in Thessaly, Italy, and Spain.

After eight hundred and twenty-five years finished of the high lord of earth, and heaven, and the dark prison, when the wheaten seed has been sown in the country earth, at night on ending their labours the oxen are granted rest.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae

Title (additional): English translation

Author: Dicuil

Editor: James J. Tierney

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English translation by: James J. Tierney

Electronic edition compiled by: Liam Owen O'Driscoll and Beatrix Färber

Proof corrections by: Liam Owen O'Driscoll

Funded by: University College, Cork

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1. First draft.

Extent: 14330 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland —http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2018

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T090000-001

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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This book was made available online on CELT as part of a work placement for the MA in Medieval History, UCC.

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Editions and literature

  1. Charles Athanase Walckenaer, Dicuili Liber de mensura orbis terrae e duobus Codd. mss. Biblotecae imperialis nunc primum in lucem editus. (Paris 1807). (Available online at https://archive.org/stream/liberdemensurao00walcgoog#page/n6/mode/2up).
  2. Jean Antoine Letronne: Recherches géographiques et critiques sur le livre De mensura orbis terrae, suivies du texte restitué. (Paris 1814). (Available online at Universitaetsbibliothek Eichstätt-Ingolstadt at http://digital.bib-bvb.de/publish/viewer/14/1267902.html).
  3. Gustav Parthey, Dicuili Liber de mensura orbis terrae, published by Friedrich Nicolai, (Berlin 1870). (Available online at http://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/fs1/object/display/bsb10621818_00005.html.)
  4. Mario Esposito: An Irish Teacher at the Carolingian Court: Dicuil. In: Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, 3 (1914) 651–676.
  5. Max Ludwig Wolfram Laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe A.D. 500–900, Cornell University Press (New York, 2nd ed. 1957).
  6. J.F. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland, Columbia University Press (New York, 1929, repr. 1966).
  7. Ludwig Bieler, Ireland: Harbinger of the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1963).
  8. Ludwig Bieler, "The Text tradition of Dicuil's Liber de mensura orbis terrae", in: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy vol. 64 (1965/66) Section C 1–31.
  9. Dicuil, Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae, ed. James J. Tierney, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae vol. 6 (Dublin 1967).
  10. O.A.W. Dilke, "Geographical Perceptions of the North in Pomponius Mela and Ptolemy", Arctic 37 No. 4 (1984).
  11. Mario Esposito, Irish Books and Learning in Mediaeval Europe, ed. Michael Lapidge, Variorum (Aldershot 1990).
  12. Werner Bermann: "Dicuils De mensura orbis terrae", in: Paul Leo Butzer, Dietrich Lohrmann (eds): Science in western and eastern civilization in Carolingian times. Birkhäuser, (Basel 1993) 527–537.
  13. David Howlett, The Celtic Latin tradition of biblical style (Dublin, 1995), 124–129 (edition of the closing 31 hexa­meter verses, with translation and commentary).
  14. Evelyn Edson, Mapping Time and Space: how Medieval mapmakers viewed their world, British Library (London 1997).
  15. David Howlett, (ed. & trans.), 'Dicuill on the islands of the north', Peritia, 13 (1999), 127–134 (VII 6–15, with translation and commentary).
  16. Natalia Lozovsky, The Earth is Our Book: Geographical Knowledge in the Latin West ca. 400–1000, University of Michigan Press (Michigan 2000).
  17. John J. Contreni, Dicuil (fl. c. 795–825), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford 2004).
  18. Natalia Lozovsky, "Roman Geography and Ethnography in the Carolingian Empire", Speculum 81 (2006).
  19. Richard A. J. Talbert, Richard W. Unger (eds.), Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Fresh Perspectives, New Methods (Leiden 2008).
  20. Matthew Boyd Goldie, The Idea of the Antipodes: Place, People, and Voices, Routledge (New York 2010).
  21. Elizabeth Mullins and Diarmuid Scully (eds.), Listen, O Isles, unto Me: Studies in Medieval World and Image, Cork University Press (Cork 2011).
  22. Robert W. Rix, The Barbarian North in the Medieval Imagination Ethnicity, Legend, and Literature, Routledge (New York 2015).
  23. Roy Flechner, Sven Meeder, The Irish in early medieval Europe: identity, culture and religion, Palgrave (London 2016).

The edition used in the digital edition

Dicuil (1967). Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae‍. 1st ed. 103 pages. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {Liber De Mensura Orbis Terrae},
  author 	 = {Dicuil},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {103 pages},
  publisher 	 = {Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies },
  address 	 = {Dublin },
  date 	 = {1967 },
  UNKNOWN 	 = {seriesStmt}


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The present text covers odd pages 45–103. The Latin version is available online at the University of Chicago [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dicuil/De_mensura_orbis_terrae/text*.html].

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Creation: Latin text by Dicuil (around AD 825); English translation by James J. Tierney

Date: 1967

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  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • Some text titles are in Latin. (la)
  • Some words are in Greek. (gr)

Keywords: prose; 9c; Christianity; Geography; Europe; Islands; Empire; Latin; translation

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2019-06-19: Additions made to TEI header and to bibliographical items; file re-parsed and validated, wordcount made, new SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2018-07-18: Header and text structure in opening section modified; bibliographical items re-organized and additions incorporated; file re-parsed and validated, wordcount made, SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2018-06-12: TEI Header created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2018-06-12: File converted to XML; file parsed and validated using TEI-Emacs. Bibliography compiled. (ed. Liam O'Driscoll)
  5. 2018-05: File proofed (2) and encoded. (ed. Liam O'Driscoll)
  6. 2018-04: File proofed (1) and encoded. (ed. Liam O'Driscoll)
  7. 2018-03-14: Text scanned. (text capture Liam O'Driscoll)
  8. 2018-02-21: Text scanned, and text proofed in MS word format. (text capture Liam O'Driscoll)

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