Sections on The Description of the World

1.18 The first nation, from the Tanais more or less to the middle of the Pontic littoral, is Scythia (not the one already mentioned). From here Thrace stretches into part of the Aegean, and Macedonia is joined to it. Then Greece protrudes and divides the Aegean from the Ionian Sea. Illyria occupies the coast of the Adriatic. Between the Adriatic itself and the Tuscan sea Italy juts out. In the innermost part of the Tuscan sea is Gaul; on the farther side is Spain.

1.19 Spain stretches, with differently situated coastlines, to the west and also for a long time to the north. Then Gaul again extends for a long way, and it reaches from our shores all the way up to this point. After Gaul the Germans reach as far as the Sarmatae, and they to Asia.

2.72 Gaul, which is divided by Lake Lemannus and the Cebennici Mountains into two parts, and which abuts the Tuscan Sea on one side, the Ocean on the other, reaches all the way to the Pyrenees from the Varum River on this side and from the Rhenus on the far side. The part located beside Our Sea — it was once Gallia Bracata, now it is Gallia Narbonensis — is more cultivated and more plentifully sown and therefore also more productive.

2.75 The wealthiest of the cities are Vasio (belonging to the Vocontii), Vienne (the Allobroges), Avennio (the Cavares), Nemausus (the Arecomici), Tolosa (the Tectosages), Arausio (the veterans of Legion II), Arelate (the veterans of Legion VI), and Beterrae (the veterans of Legion VII). The colony, however, of the Atacini and of the veterans of Legion X (who once brought help to these lands) leads the pack and is now an honored name, Martius Narbo.

2.76 On the littoral there are a number of places with names, but cities are rare, because harbors are rare. The whole strip is exposed to the south wind and to the Southwest wind. Nicaea is immediately next to the Alps; so is the town of the Deciates and also Antipolis.

2.77 Then comes Forum Iulii, a colony of veterans from Legion VIII; and at that point after Athenopolis, Olbia, Taurois , and Citharistes comes Lacydon, the port of Massilia, on which is Massilia itself. This last city originated with Phocaeans, was long ago founded among violent peoples, but now borders on peoples as different as they are peaceful. It is amazing how easily these Phocaeans took up a foreign abode in those days yet still maintain their own tradition.

2.78 Between it and the Rhodanus, Maritima Avaticorum sits beside a marsh, and the Marian Canal empties part of its river into the sea by means of a navigable channel. In general, the shore, Litus Lapideum as they call it, is undistinguished. Here, they report, while Hercules was fighting Alebion and Dercynus, the sons of Neptune, and when his arrows had run out, he was helped by a rain of rocks at the hands of Jupiter, whom he had invoked. You would believe that it had rained rocks — so numerously and so widely do they lie scattered all over!

2.79 The Rhodanus rises not far from the sources of the Ister and the Rhenus. It is then received by Lake Lemannus, retains its force, keeps itself intact through the middle of the lake, and emerges as powerful as it arrived. Then, on the opposite side, heading to the west, the river divides the Gauls for some distance; and later, with its course drawn southward, it enters Gallia Narbonensis. At this point it is voluminous, and it is now and then even more voluminous from the entrance of other rivers; and it debouches between the Volcan and Cavaran peoples.

2.80 Farther on are the marshes of the Volci, the Ledum River, the fort of Latara, and Mesua Hill, which is surrounded almost completely by the sea, an island except where it is tied to the continent by a narrow mound. Then, descending from the Cebennae Mountains, the Arauris flows beside Agatha, the Orbis beside Beterrae.

2.81 The Atax, descending from the Pyrenees, is slight and shallow wherever it comes with its original waters. At this point it retains its otherwise huge bed but is never navigable except when it reaches Narbo. When it is swollen from winter storms, however, this river routinely rises so high that it actually cannot contain itself. Lake Rubraesus, relatively spacious but slight of access where it lets the sea in, becomes the river basin.

2.82 Farther on is Leucata (the name of the coast) and the spring of Salsula, which flows down with waters that are not sweet but saltier than the sea’s. Beside Salsula is a plain that is bright green from a slight and slender marsh grass but supported atop the swamp that passes under it. Its middle section makes that clear, since it is cut off from the surrounding parts, floats like an island, and allows itself to be driven and pulled.

2.83 What is more, indeed, where these surrounding parts are dug all the way through to the bottom, the sea is revealed because it rises up from below. As a result, Greek writers, and even our own, thought it right, either from ignorance of the truth or else from the pleasure of lying (even for sensible writers), to pass on to posterity the story that in this region a fish was pulled from deep within the earth, because after the fish had penetrated from the sea to this place, it was killed by a blow from its captors and brought up through those holes.

2.84 Next is the coast of the Sordones and the small Telis and Ticis Rivers (both quite violent when swollen), the colony of Ruscino, and the village of Eliberrae, which is the slender vestige of a once-great city and its once-great wealth. Then, between spurs of the Pyrenees, come the saltless Port Venus and the district of Cervaria, the boundary of Gaul.

2.124 In Gaul, by contrast, the only islands fit to report are the Stoechades, which are scattered from the coast of Liguria all the way to Massilia. The Balearic Isles, located in Spain across from the coast of Tarraco, are not far from one another and are designated by size; the Greater Balearic Isles, and Lesser. The forts of Iamno are on the Lesser Balearic Isle; on the Greater Balearic are the colonies of Palma and Pollentia.

2.125 Near the promontory they call Ferraria in the Bay of Sucro, the isle of Ebusos has a city by the same name. Only for grain is it unproductive; it is rather bountiful for other crops. The island is so free of all harmful animals that it does not produce even those wild animals that are gentle, nor does it sustain them if they are imported.

2.126 Facing Ebusos is Colubraria, which it comes to mind to mention because, although the island is teeming with many a harmful breed of snake and is uninhabitable for that reason, it is still without danger and safe for anyone who enters within a space demarcated by a circle of dirt from Ebusos. Those same snakes that otherwise habitually attack people they meet stay far away from the sight of that dust — in terror — as if the sight were a kind of poison.

3.16 Gaul’s second coast follows. At first its shoreline does not go out to sea at all, but after a while, proceeding almost as far beyond Spain as Spain had receded, it comes to lie opposite the lands of the Cantabri. The coast then bends in a great curve and tums its flank so that it faces west. Then turning to face north, the coastline unfolds a second time in a long and straight stretch up to the banks of the Rhenus.

3.17 The land is rich, primarily in grain and fodder, and it is lovely with its vast woods. It is conducive to good health and rarely populated with animals of a harmful kind, but it supports — with difficulty, and not everywhere — those plants that are intolerant of the cold.

3.18 The peoples are crude, superstitious, and sometimes even so monstrous that they used to believe that to the gods the best and most pleasing sacrificial victim was a human being. Traces of their savagery remain, even though it has been banned now. Nevertheless, after they have led their consecrated human victims to the altars, they still graze them slightly, although they do hold back from the ultimate bloodshed. And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids.

3.19 These men claim to know the size and shape of the earth and of the universe, the movements of the sky and of the stars, and what the gods intend. In secret, and for a long time (twenty years), they teach many things to the noblest males among their people, and they do it in a cave or in a hidden mountain defile. One of the precepts they teach — obviously to make them better for war — has leaked into common knowledge, namely, that their souls are eternal and that there is a second life for the dead. Therefore they cremate and bury with the dead things that are suitable for the living. Long ago, traders’ accounts and debt collection were deferred until they died, and some individuals happily threw themselves onto the pyres of their loved ones as if they were going to live with them!

3.20 The whole region they inhabit is Gallia Cornata. Its peoples have three very distinguished names, and those peoples are separated by mighty rivers. In fact the Aquitani reach from the Pyrenees to the Garunna River, the Celts from there to the Sequana , and from there to the Rhenus, the Belgae. Of the Aquitani the most famous are the Ausci; of the Celts, the Haedui; of the Belgae, the Treveri. The wealthiest cites are Augusta among the Treveri, Augustodunum among the Haedui, and among the Aquitani, Eliumberrum.

3.21 The Garunna, which descends from the Pyrenees, flows shallow for a long time and is barely navigable except when swollen by winter rain or melted snow. But when it has been increased by the intrusions of the seething Ocean, and while those same waters are receding, the Garunna drives on its own waters and those of Ocean. The river, being considerably fuller, becomes wider the farther it advances, and at the end it is like a strait. It not only carries bigger ships but rises like the raging sea and violently buffets those who sail it, at least if the wind pushes one way and the current another.

3.22 In the river is the island named Antros, which the locals think floats on the surface and is raised up by the rising waves. The reasons they think so are [a] that while the adjacent shore seems more elevated, the river covers it when its level rises, whereas prior to flooding only this island is surrounded by water, and that what the banks and hills had stood opposite (so that it was not seen) is completely visible at that time as if because of being on higher ground.

3.23 From the Garunna’s outlet begins the horizontal stretch of land that runs into the sea, as well as the shore that lies opposite the coast of the Cantabri and that bends from the Santoni all the way to the Ossismi (with other peoples living in between). Indeed, after the Ossismi, the oceanfront again faces back to the north, and it reaches to the farthest people of Gaul, the Morini. And it does not have anything more noteworthy than the port they call Gesoriacum.

3.24 The Rhenus, cascading down from the Alps, makes — more or less at its source — two lakes, Lake Venetus and Lake Acronus. Then solid for a long time and descending in a defined bank, not far from the sea it spreads in two directions. To the left the Rhenus actually remains a river until it reaches its outlet. On the right, however, the river is at first narrow and unchanged, but later its banks recede over a vast expanse. At this point it is no longer called a river but a huge lake — Lake Flevo — where it has flooded the fields. It surrounds an island of the same name , becomes narrower again, and again makes its outlet as a river.

3.48 In the Britannic Sea, opposite the coast of the Ossismi, the isle of Sena belongs to a Gallic divinity and is famous for its Oracle, whose priestesses, sanctified by their perpetual virginity, are reportedly nine in number. They call the priestesses Gallizenae and think that because they have been endowed with unique powers, they stir up the seas and the winds by their magic charms, that they turn into whatever animals they want, that they cure what is incurable among other peoples, that they know and predict the future, but that it is not revealed except to sea-voyagers and then only to those traveling to consult them.

Pomponius Mela, Chorographia Bk II, from Pomponius Mela’s Description of the World, translated by Frank E. Romer, University of Michigan Press, 1998