The Æthyopians

The Historie of the World.


Translated into English by PHILEMON HOLLAND Doctor in Physic. 1601

Withen the inner compasse and hollow of Affricke toward the South, and above the Gætulians, where the desarts come betweene, the first people that inhabite those parts, bee the Libij Ægyptij, and then the Leucæthiopes. Above them are the Æthyopian nations, to wit the Nigritæ, of whom the river tooke name: The Gymnetes, Pharusi, and those which now reach to the Ocean, whome wee spake of in the marches of Mauritania, namely, the Perorsi. The coast are the Æthyiopian Daratites, the river Bambotus, full of Crocodiles & Hippopotames [i. Water-horses.] From which, he saith, That there is nothing but mountains all the way as farre as to that, which we call Theon-Ochea [The gods chariot.]

From all these, it is nothing but a wildernesse Eastward, till you come to the Garamantes, Augylæ, and Troglodites, according to the most true opinion of them, who place two Æthyiopiaes above the deserts of Affricke: and especially of Homer, who saith, that the Æthyopians are divided two waies, namely, East and West. The river Nyger is of the same nature that Nilus. It bringeth forth Reed and Papyr, breedeeth the same living creatures, and riseth or swelleth at the same season. It springeth betweene the Tareleia Æthyopians and the Oecalicæ. The towne Mavin belonging to this people, some have set upon the wildernesse: as also, neere unto them, the Atlantes, the Ægipanes, halfe wild beasts, the Blemmyi, the Gamphasants, Satyres, & Himantapodes.


Those Atlantes, if we will beleeve it, degenerate from the rites and manners of all other men: for neither call they one another by any name: and they looke wistly upon the sunne, rising and setting, with most dreadfull curses, as being pernicious to them and their fields: neither dreame they in their sleepe, as other men. The Troglodites dig hollow caves, and these serve them for dwelling houses: they feed upon the flesh of serpents. They make a gnashing noise rather than utter any voice, so little use have they of speech one to another. The Garamants live out of wedlocke, and converse with their women in common. The Augylæ do no worship but to the devils beneath. The Gamphasantes be all naked, and know no warres, and sort themselves with no forrainer. The Blemmyi, by report, have no heads, but mouth and eies both in their breast. The Satyres besides their shape onely, have no properties nor fashions of men. The Ægipanes are shaped, as you see them commonly painted. The Himantopodes bee some of them limberlegged and tender, who naturally goe creeping by the ground. The Pharusi, sometime Persæ, are said to have been the companions of Hercules, as he went to the Hesperides. More of Affricke the noting, I have not to say.

The river Nilus arising from unknowne springs, passeth through desarts and hote burning countries: and going thus a mightie way in length, is knowne by fame onely, without armes, without warres which have discovered and found out all other lands. It hath his beginning, so farre forth as Iuba was able to search and find out, in a hill of the lower Mauritania, not far from the Ocean, where a lake presently is seene to stand with water, which they call Nilides. In it are found these fishes, called Alabetæ, Coracini, Siluri, and the Crocodile. Upon this argument and presumption Nilus is thought to spring from hence, for that the pourtraict of this source is consecrated by the said prince at Cæsarea, in Iseum, and is there at this day seene.

When it is run out of this lake, it scornth to run through the sandie and overgrown places, and hideth himselfe for certaine daies journey. And then soone after out of a greater lake, it breaketh forth in the countrey of the Massæsyli, with Mauritania Cæsariensis, and looketh about viewing mens companie, carrying the same argument still of living creatures bred within it. Then, once againe being received within the sands, it is hidden a second time for twentie daies journey, in the desarts as farre as to the next Æthyopes: and so soone as hee hath once againe espied a man, forth hee starteth (as it should seeme) out of that Spring, which they called Nigris. And then deviding Affricke from Æthyopia, being acquainted, if not presently with people, yet with the frequent companie of wild and savage beasts, and making shade of woods as he goeth, he cutteth through the middest of the Æthyopians: there surnamed Astapus, which in the language of those nations signifieth a water flowing out of darknesse.

Thus dasheth hee upon such an infinite number of Islands, and some of them so mightie great, that albeit he beareth a swift streame, yet is he not able to passe beyond them in lesse space than five daies. About the goodliest and fairest of them all Meroe, the channell going on the left hand is call Astabores, that is to say, the branch of a water comming forth of darkenesse: but that on the right hand Astusapes, which is as much as, Lying hid, to the former signification. And never taketh the name of Nilus, before his waters meet againe and accord all whole together. And even so was he aforetime named Siris, for many miles space: and of Homer altogether Ægyptis; and of others, Triton here and there, and ever and anon hitting upon Islands, and stirred as it were with so many provocations: and at the last enclosed and shut within mountaines, and in no place carrieth he a rougher and swifter streame, whiles the water that he beareth, hasteneth to a place of the Æthyopians called Catadupi, where in the last fall amongst the rockes that stand in his way, hee is supposed not to runne, but to rush downe with a mightie noise. But afterwards he becommeth more mild and gentle, as the course of his streame is broken, and his violence tamed and abated, yea, and partly wearied with his long way: and so through many moths of his, he dischargeth himselfe into the Ægyptian sea. Howbeit, at certaine set daies he swelleth to a great heigth: and when he hath travailed all over Ægypt, hee overfloweth the land, to the great fertilitie and plentie thereof.

Many and divers causes of this rising and increase of his, men have given: but those which carrie the most probabilitie, are either the rebouding of the water, driven backe by the winds of Etesiæ, at that time blowing against it, and driving the sea withall upon the mouths of Nilus: or else the Summer raine in Æthyopia, by reason that the same Etesiæ bring clodus thither from other parts of the world. Timæus the Mathematician, alledged an hidden reason thereof, to wit, that the head and source of Nilus is named Phiala, and the river it selfe is hidden, as it were drowned within certaine secret trenches within the ground, breathing forth vapours out of reeking rockes, where it thus lieth in secret. But so soone as the Sunne during those daies, commeth neere, drawne up it is by force of heat, and so all the while he hangeth aloft, overfloweth: and then againe for feare he should bee wholly devoured and consumed, putteth in his head againe, and lieth hid. 

And this happeneth from the rising of the Dog starre Sicinus, in the sunnes entrance into Leo, while the Planet standeth plumbe over the fountaine aforesaid: for as much as in that climate there are no shadowes to be seene. Many againe were of a different opinion, that a river floweth more abundantly, when the Sunne is departed toward the North pole, which happeneth in Cancer and Leo: and therefore at that time is not so easily dried: but when he is returend once againe backe toward Capricorn and the South pole, it is drunke up, and therefore floweth more sparily. But if according to Timæus a man would thinke it possible that the water should be drawne up, the want of shaddowes during those daies, and in those quarters, continueth still without end. 

For the river beginneth to rise and swell at the next change of the Moone after the Sunnesteed, by little and little gently, so long as he passeth through the signe Cancer, but most abundantly when he is in Leo. And when he is in Virgo, he falleth and settleth low againe, in the same measure as he rose before. And is cleane brought within his bankes in Libra, which is, as Herodotus thinketh, by the hundreth day. All the whiles it riseth, it hath beene thought unlawfull for kings or governours to saile or passe in any vessell upon it, and they make conscience to do so. How high it riseth, is knowne by markes and measures taken of certaine pits. The ordinarie heigth of it is sixteene cubites. Under that gage the waters overflow not all. Above that stint, there are a let and hinderance, by reason that the later it is ere they bee fallen, and downe againe.

By these, the seed time is much of it spent, for that the earth is too wet. By the other there is none at all, by reason that the ground is drie and thirstie. The province taketh good keepe and reckoning of both, the one as well as the other. For when it is no higher than 12 cubites, it findeth extreame famine: yea, and at 13 it feeleth hunger still, 14 cubites comforts their hearts, 15 bids them take no care, but 16 affoordeth them plentie and delicious dainties. The greatest floud that ever was knowne untill these daies, was 18 cubites, in the time of prince Claudius Emperor: and the least, in the Pharsalian warre against the death of Pompey:  as if the very river by that prodigious token abhorred to see the same.

When at any time the waters seeme to stand and cover the ground still, they are let out at certaine sluces or floud-gates drawne up and set open. And so soone as any part of the land is freed from the water, streight waies it is sowed. This is the onely river of all others that breatheth out no wind from it. The Seignorie and dominion of Ægypt beginneth at Syene, the frontier town of Æthyopia. For that is the name of a demie Island a hundred miles in compasse, wherin are the Cerastæ upon the side of Arabia: and overagainst it the foure Islands Philæ, 600 miles from the partition of Nilus, where it began to be called Delta, as we have said. This space of ground hath Artemidorus delivered, and withall, that within it were 250 townes. Iuba setteth down 400 miles. Aristocreon saith, That from Elephantis to the sea is 750 miles. This Elephantis being an Island, is inhabited beneath the lowest cataract or fall of water three miles, and above Syene 16: and it is the utmost point that the Ægyptians saile unto and is from Alexandria 586 miles. See how farre the authors above written, have erred and gone out of the way: there meet the Æthyopian ships, for they are made to fold up together, and carrie them upon their shoulders, so often as they come to those cataracts or downefals aforesaid.

Source University of Chicago