The Ethiopians who dwell beyond Libya and their antiquities (chaps. 1‑11).
The gold mines on the farthest borders of Egypt and the working of the gold (chaps. 12‑14).
Chapter 1 Introduction
Of the two preceding Books the First embraces the deeds in Egypt of the early kings and the accounts, as found in their myths, of the gods of the Egyptians; there is also a discussion of the Nile and of the products of the land, and also of its animals, which are of every kind, and a description of the topography of Egypt, of the customs prevailing among its inhabitants, and of its courts of law. The Second Book embraces the deeds performed by the Assyrians in Asia in early times, connected with which are both the birth and the rise to power of Semiramis, in the course of which she founded Babylon and many other cities and made a campaign against India with great forces; and after this is an account of the Chaldean and of their practice of observing the stars, of Arabia and the marvels of that land, of the kingdom of the Scythian’s, of the Amazons, and finally of the Hyperboreans. In this present Book we shall add the matters which are connected with what I have already narrated, and shall describe the Ethiopians and the Libyans and the people known as the Atlantians.
Chapter 2: The Autochthones
Now the Ethiopians, as historians relate, were the first of all men and the proofs of this statement, they say, are manifest. For that they did not come into their land as immigrants from abroad but were p91 natives of it and so justly bear the name of “autochthones” is, they maintain, conceded by practically all men; furthermore, that those who dwell beneath the noon-day sun were, in all likelihood, the first to be generated by the earth, is clear to all; since, inasmuch as it was the warmth of the sun which, at the generation of the universe, dried up the earth when it was still wet and impregnated it with life, it is reasonable to suppose that the region which was nearest the sun was the first to bring forth living creatures. And they says
They were the first to be taught to honor the gods and to hold sacrifices and processions and festivals and the other rites by which men honor the deity; and that in consequence their piety has been published abroad among all men, and it is generally held that the sacrifices practiced among the Ethiopians are those which are the most pleasing to heaven.
As witness to this they call upon the poet who is perhaps the oldest and certainly the most venerated among the Greeks; for in the Iliadhe represents both Zeus and the rest of the gods with him as absent on a visit to Ethiopia to share in the sacrifices and the banquet which were given annually by the Ethiopians for all the gods together:
For Zeus had yesterday to Ocean’s bounds
Set forth to feast with Ethiop’s faultless men,
And he was followed there by all the gods.
And they state that, by reason of their piety towards the deity, they manifestly enjoy the favor of the gods, in as much as they have never experienced the rule of an invader from abroad; for from all time they have enjoyed a state of freedom and of peace one with another, and although many and powerful rulers have made war upon them, not one of these has succeeded in his undertaking.
Chapter 3: The land of Egypt created from the Nile silt deposit
Cambyses, for instance, they say, who made war upon them with a great force, both lost all his army and was himself exposed to the greatest peril; Semiramis also, who through the magnitude of her undertakings and achievements has become renowned, after advancing a short distance into Ethiopia gave up her campaign against the whole nation; and Heracles and Dionysus, although they visited all the inhabited earth, failed to subdue the Ethiopians alone who dwell above Egypt, both because of the piety of these men and because of the insurmountable difficulties involved in the attempt.
They say also that the Egyptians are colonists sent out by the Ethiopians, Osiris having been the leader of the colony. For, speaking generally, what is now Egypt, they maintain, was not land but sea when in the beginning the universe was being formed; afterwards, however, as the Nile during the times of its inundation carried down the mud from Ethiopia, land was gradually built up from the deposit. Also the statement that all the land of the Egyptians is alluvial silt deposited by the river receives the clearest proof, in their opinion, from what takes place at the outlets of the Nile; for as each year new mud is continually gathered together at the mouths of the river, the sea is observed being thrust back by the deposited silt and the land receiving the increase. And the larger part of the customs of the Egyptians are, they hold, Ethiopian, the colonists still preserving their ancient manners.
For instance, the belief that their kings are gods, the very special attention which they pay to their burials, and many other matters of a similar nature are Ethiopian practices, while the shapes of their statues and the forms of their letters are Ethiopian; for of the two kinds of writing which the Egyptians have, that which is known as “popular” (demotic) is learned by everyone, while that which is called “sacred” is understood only by the priests of the Egyptians, who learn it from their fathers as one of the things which are not divulged, but among the Ethiopians everyone uses these forms of letters. Furthermore, the orders of the priests, they maintain, have much the same position among both peoples; for all are clean7 who are engaged in the service of the gods, keeping themselves shaven, like the Egyptian priests, and having the same dress and form of staff, which is shaped like a plough and is carried by their kings, who wear high felt hats which end in a knob at the top and are circled by the serpents which they call asps; and this symbol appears to carry the thought that it will be the lot of those who shall dare to attack the king to encounter death-carrying stings. Many other things are also told by them concerning their own antiquity and the colony which they sent out that became the Egyptians, but about this there is no special need of our writing anything.
Chapter 4: Ethiopian writing “Hieroglyphic”
We must now speak about the Ethiopian writing which is called hieroglyphic among the Egyptians, in order that we may omit nothing in our discussion of their antiquities. Now it is found that the forms of their letters take the shape of animals of every kind, and of the members of the human body, and of implements and especially carpenters’ tools; for their writing does not express the intended concept by means of syllables joined one to another, but by means of the significance of the objects which have been copied and by its figurative meaning which has been impressed upon the memory by practice.
For instance, they draw the picture of a hawk, a crocodile, a snake, and of the members of the human body — an eye, a hand, a face, and the like. Now the hawk signifies to them everything which happens swiftly, since this animal is practically the swiftest of winged creatures. And the concept portrayed is then transferred, by the appropriate metaphorical transfer, to all swift things and to everything to which swiftness is appropriate, very much as if they had been named. And the crocodile is a symbol of all that is evil, and the eye is the warder of justice and the guardian of the entire body. And as for the members of the body, the right hand with fingers extended signifies a procuring of livelihood, and the left with the fingers closed, a keeping and guarding of property. The same way of reasoning applies also to the remaining characters, which represent parts of the body and implements and all other things; for by paying close attention to the significance which is inherent in each object and by training their minds through drill and exercise of the memory over a long period, they read from habit everything which has been written.
Chapter 5: The Ethiopians customs
As for the customs of the Ethiopians, not a few of them are thought to differ greatly from those of the rest of mankind, this being especially true of those which concern the selection of their kings. The priests, for instance, first choose out the noblest men from their own number, and whichever one from this group the god may select, as he is borne about in a procession in accordance with a certain practice of theirs, him the multitude take for their king; and straightway it both worships and honors him like a god, believing that the sovereignty has been entrusted to him by Divine Providence. And the king who has been thus chosen both follows a regimen which has been fixed in accordance with the laws and performs all his other deeds in accordance with the ancestral custom, according neither favor nor punishment to anyone contrary to the usage which has been approved among them from the beginning.
It is also a custom of theirs that the king shall put no one of his subjects to death, not even if a man shall have been condemned to death and is considered deserving of punishment, but that he shall send to the transgressor one of his attendants bearing a token of death; and the guilty person, on seeing the warning, immediately retires to his home and removes himself from life. Moreover, for a man to flee from his own into a neighboring country and thus by moving away from his native land to pay the penalty of his transgression, as is the custom among the Greeks, is permissible under no circumstances. Consequently, they say, when a man to whom the token of death had been sent by the king once undertook to flee from Ethiopia, and his mother, on learning of this, bound his neck about with her girdle, he dared not so much as raise his p101 hands against her in any way but submitted to be strangled until he died, that he might not leave a greater disgrace to his kinsmen.
Chapter 6: The worshiping of the gods
Of all their customs the most astonishing is that which obtains in connection with the death of their kings. For the priests at Meroë who spend their time in the worship of the gods and the rites which do them honor, being the greatest and most powerful order, whenever the idea comes to them, dispatch a messenger to the king with orders that he die. For the gods, they add, have revealed this to them, and it must be that the command of the immortals should in no wise be disregarded by one of mortal frame. And this order they accompany with other arguments, such as are accepted by a simple-minded nature, which has been bred in a custom that is both ancient and difficult to eradicate and which knows no argument that can be set in opposition to commands enforced by no compulsion.
Now in former times the kings would obey the priests, having been overcome, not by arms nor by force, but because their reasoning powers had been put under a constraint by their very superstition; but during the reign of the second Ptolemy the king of the Ethiopians, Ergamenes, who had had a Greek education and had studied philosophy, was the first to have the courage to disdain the command. For assuming a spirit which became the position of a king he entered with his soldiers into the unapproachable place where stood, as it turned out, the golden shrine of the Ethiopians, put the priests to the sword, and after abolishing this custom thereafter ordered affairs after his own will.
Chapter 7: Loyalty
As for the custom touching the friends of the king, strange as it is, it persists, they said, down to our own time. For the Ethiopians have the custom, they say, that if their king has been maimed in some part of his body through any cause whatever, all his companions suffer the same loss of their own choice; because they consider that it would be a disgraceful thing if, when the king had been maimed in his leg, his friends should be sound of limb, and if in their goings forth from the palace they should not all follow the king limping as he did; for it would be strange that steadfast friendship should share sorrow and grief and bear equally all other things both good and evil, but should have no part in the suffering of the body.
They say also that it is customary for the comrades of the kings even to die with them of their own accord and that such a death is an honorable one and a proof of true friendship. And it is for this reason, they add, that a conspiracy against the king is not easily raised among the Ethiopians, all his friends being equally concerned both for his safety and their own. These, then, are the customs which prevail among the Ethiopians who dwell in their capital and those who inhabit both the island of Meroë and the land adjoining Egypt.
Chapter 8: The tribes of the Ethiopians
But there are also a great many other tribes of the Ethiopians, some of them dwelling in the land lying on both banks of the Nile and on the islands in the river, others inhabiting the neighboring country of Arabia, and still others residing in the interior of Libya. The majority of them, and especially those who dwell along the river, are black in color and have flat noses and woolly hair. As for their spirit they are entirely savage and display the nature of a wild beast, not so much, however, in their temper as in their ways of living; for they are squalid all over their bodies, they keep their nails very long like the wild beasts, and are as far removed as possible from human kindness to one another; and speaking as they do with a shrill voice and cultivating none of the practices of civilized life as these are found among the rest of mankind, they present a striking contrast when considered in the light of our own customs.
As for their arms, some of them use shields of raw ox-hide and short spears, others javelins without a slinging-thong and sometimes bows of wood, four cubits in length, with which they shoot by putting their foot against them, and after their arrows are exhausted they finish the fight with wooden clubs. They also arm their women, setting an age limit for their service, and most of these observe the custom of wearing a bronze ring in the lip. As for clothing, certain of them wear none whatsoever, going naked all their life long and making for themselves of whatever comes to hand a rude protection from the heat alone; others, cutting off the tails and the ends of the hides of their sheep, cover their loins with them, putting the tail before them to screen, after a manner, the shameful part; and some make use of the skins of their domestic animals, while there are those who cover their bodies as far as the waist with shirts, which they weave of hair, since their sheep do not produce wool by reason of the peculiar nature of the land.
For food some gather the fruits which are generated in their waters and which grow wild in both the lakes and marshy places, certain of them pluck off the foliage of a very tender kind of tree, with which they also cover their bodies in the midday and cool them in this way, some sow sesame and lotus, and there are those who are nourished by the most tender roots of the reeds. Not a few of them are also well trained in the use of the bow and bring down with good aim many birds, with which they satisfy their physical needs; but the greater number live for their entire life on the meat and milk and cheese of their herds.
Chapter 9: The gods
With regard to the gods, the Ethiopians who dwell above Meroë entertain two opinions: they believe that some of them, such as the sun and the moon and the universe as a whole, have a nature which is eternal and imperishable, but others of them, they think, share a mortal nature and have come to receive immortal honors because of their virtue and the benefactions which they have bestowed upon all mankind; for instance, they revere Isis and Pan, and also Heracles and Zeus, considering that these deities in particular have been benefactors of the race of men. But a few of the Ethiopians do not believe in the existence of any gods at all; consequently at the rising of the sun they utter imprecations against it as being most hostile to them, and flee to the marshes of those parts.
Different also from those of other peoples are the customs they observe with respect to their dead; for some dispose of them by casting them into the river, thinking this to be the best burial; others, after pouring glass about the bodies, keep them in their houses, since they feel that the countenances of the dead should not be unknown to their kinsmen and that those who are united by ties of blood should not forget their near relations; and some put them in coffins made of baked clay and bury them in the ground in a ring about their temples, and they consider that the oath taken by them is the strongest possible.
The kingship some of them bestow upon the most comely, believing both supreme power and comeliness to be gifts of fortune, while others entrust the rule to the most careful keepers of cattle, as being the only men who would give the best thought to their subjects; some assign this honor to the wealthiest, since they feel that these alone can come to the aid of the masses because they have the means ready at hand; and there are those who choose for their kings men of unusual valor, judging that the most efficient in war are alone worthy to receive the meed of honor.
Chapter 10: Libya
In that part of the country which lies along the Nile in Libya there is a section which is remarkable for its beauty; for it bears food in great abundance and of every variety and provides convenient places of retreat in its marshes where one finds protection against the excessive heat; consequently this region is a bone of contention between the Libyans and the Ethiopians, who wage unceasing warfare with each other for its possession. It is also a gathering-place for a multitude of elephants from the country lying above it because, as some say, the pasturage is abundant and sweet; for marvelous marshes stretch along the banks of the river and in them grows food in great plenty and of every kind. Consequently, whenever they taste of the rush and the reed, they remain there because of the sweetness of the food and destroy the means of subsistence of the human beings; and because of this the inhabitants are compelled to flee from these regions, and to live as nomads and dwellers in tents — in a word, to fix the bounds of their country by their advantage. The herds of the wild beasts which we have mentioned leave the interior of the country because of the lack of food, since every growing thing in the ground quickly dries up; for as a result of the excessive heat and the lack of water from springs and rivers it comes to pass that the plants for food are rough and scanty.
There are also, as some say, in the country of the wild beasts, as it is called, serpents which are marvelous for their size and multitude; these attack the elephants at the water-holes, pit their strength against them, and winding themselves in coils about their legs continue squeezing them tighter and tighter in their bands until at last the beasts, covered with foam, fall to the ground from their weight. Thereupon the serpents gather and devour the flesh of the fallen elephant, overcoming the beast with ease because it moves only with difficulty. But since it still remains a puzzle why, in pursuit of their accustomed food, they do not follow the elephants into the region along the river, which I have mentioned, they say that the serpents of such great size avoid the level part of the country and continually make their homes at the foot of mountains in ravines which are suitable to their length and in deep caves; consequently they never leave the regions which are suitable to them and to which they are accustomed, Nature herself being the instructor of all the animals in such matters.
As for the Ethiopians, then, and their land, this is as much as we have to say.
Chapter 11: For the Historians
Concerning the historians, we must distinguish among them, to the effect that many have composed works on both Egypt and Ethiopia, of whom some have given credence to false report and others have invented many tales out of their own minds for the delectation of their readers, and so may justly be distrusted. For example, Agatharchides of Cnidus in the second Book of his work on Asia, and the compiler of geographies, Artemidorus of Ephesus, in his eighth Book, and certain others whose homes were in Egypt, have recounted most of what I have set forth above and are, on the contrary, accurate in all they have written. Since, to bear witness ourselves, during the time of our visit to Egypt, we associated with many of its priests and conversed with not a few ambassadors from Ethiopia as well who were then in Egypt; and after inquiring carefully of them about each matter and testing the stories of the historians, we have composed our account so as to accord with the opinions on which they most fully agree.
Now as for the Ethiopians who dwell in the west, we shall be satisfied with what has been said, and we shall discuss in turn the peoples who live to the South and about the Red Sea. However, we feel that it is appropriate first to tell of the working of the gold as it is carried on in these regions.
At the extremity of Egypt and in the contiguous territory of both Arabia and Ethiopia there lies a region which contains many large gold mines, where the gold is secured in great quantities with much suffering and at great expense. For the earth is naturally black and contains seams and veins of a marble which is unusually white and in brilliancy surpasses everything else which shines brightly by its nature, and here the overseers of the labor in the mines work recover the gold with the aid of a multitude of workers. For the kings of Egypt gather together and condemn to the mining of the gold such as have been found guilty of some crime and captives of war, as well as those who have been accused unjustly and thrown into prison because of their anger, and not only such persons but occasionally all their relatives as well, by this means not only inflicting punishment upon those found guilty but also securing at the same time great revenues from their labors. And those who have been condemned in this way — and they are a great multitude and are all bound in chains — work at their task unceasingly both by day and throughout the entire night, enjoying no respite and being carefully cut off from any means of escape; since guards of foreign soldiers who speak a language different from theirs stand watch over them, so that not a man, either by conversation or by some contact of a friendly nature, is able to corrupt one of his keepers.
The gold-bearing earth which is hardest they first burn with a hot fire, and when they have crumbled it in this way they continue the working of it by hand; and the soft rock which can yield to moderate effort is crushed with a sledge by myriads of unfortunate wretches. And the entire operations are in charge of a skilled worker who distinguishes the stone and points it out to the laborers; and of those who are assigned to this unfortunate task the physically strongest break the quartz-rock with iron hammers, applying no skill to the task, but only force, and cutting tunnels through the stone, not in a straight line but wherever the seam of gleaming rock may lead. Now these men, working in darkness as they do because of the bending and winding of the passages, carry lamps bound on their foreheads; and since much of the time they change the position of their bodies to follow the particular character of the stone they throw the blocks, as they cut them out, on the ground; and at this task they labor without ceasing beneath the sternness and blows of an overseer.
The boys there who have not yet come to maturity, entering through the tunnels into the galleries formed by the removal of the rock, laboriously gather up the rock as it is cast down piece by piece and carry it out into the open to the place outside the entrance. Then those who are above thirty years of age take this quarried stone from them and with iron pestles pound a specified amount of it in stone mortars, until they have worked it down to the size of a vetch. Thereupon the women and older men receive from them the rock of this size and cast it into mills of which a number stand there in a row, and taking their places in groups of two or three at the spoke or handle of each mill they grind it until they have worked down the amount given them to the consistency of the finest flour. And since no opportunity is afforded any of them to care for his body and they have no garment to cover their shame, no man can look upon unfortunate wretches without feeling pity for them because of the exceeding hardships they suffer. For no leniency or respite of any kind is given to any man who is sick, or maimed, or aged, or in the case of a woman for her weakness, but all without exception are compelled by blows to persevere in their labors, until through ill-treatment they die in the midst of their tortures. Consequently the poor unfortunates believe, because their punishment is so excessively severe, that the future will always be more terrible than the present and therefore look forward to death as more to be desired than life.
Chapter 14: The skilled workmen
In the last steps the skilled workmen receive the stone which has been ground to powder and take it off for its complete and final working; for they rub the marble which has been worked down upon a broad board which is slightly inclined, pouring water over it all the while; whereupon the earthy matter in it, melted away by the action of the water, runs down the inclined board, while that which contains the gold remains on the wood because of its weight. And repeating this a number of times, they first of all rub it gently with their hands, and then lightly pressing it with sponges of loose texture they remove in this way whatever is porous and earthy, until there remains only the pure gold-dust. Then at last other skilled workmen take what has been recovered and put it by fixed measure and weight into earthen jars, mixing with it a lump of lead proportionate to the mass, lumps of salt and a little tin, and adding thereto barley bran; thereupon they put on it a close-fitting lid, and smearing it over carefully with mud they bake it in a kiln for five successive days and as many nights; 4 and at the end of this period, when they have let the jars cool off, of the other matter they find no remains in the jars, but the gold they recover in pure form, there being but little waste. This working of the gold, as it is carried on at the farthermost borders of Egypt, is effected through all the extensive labors here described; for Nature herself, in my opinion, makes it clear that whereas the production of gold is laborious, the guarding of it is difficult, the zest for it is very great, and that its use is half-way between pleasure and pain.
Now the discovery of these mines is very ancient, having been made by the early kings. But we shall undertake to discuss the peoples which inhabit the coast of the Arabian Gulf and that of the Trogodytes and the part of Ethiopia that faces the noon-day sun and the south wind.