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Chapter 1

CELEBRATED TRAVELLERS BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN ERA.


HANNO, 505; HERODOTUS, 484; PYTHEAS, 340; NEARCHUS, 326; EUDOXUS, 146; CĘSAR, 100; STRABO, 50.

Hanno, the Carthaginian--Herodotus visits Egypt, Lybia, Ethiopia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Babylon, Persia, India, Media, Colchis, the Caspian Sea, Scythia, Thrace, and Greece--Pytheas explores the coasts of Iberia and Gaul, the English Channel, the Isle of Albion, the Orkney Islands, and the land of Thule--Nearchus visits the Asiatic coast, from the Indus to the Persian Gulf--Eudoxus reconnoitres the West Coast of Africa--Cęsar conquers Gaul and Great Britain--Strabo travels over the interior of Asia, and Egypt, Greece, and Italy.


The first traveller of whom we have any account in history, is Hanno, who was sent by the Carthaginian senate to colonize some parts of the Western coast of Africa. The account of this expedition was written in the Carthaginian language and afterwards translated into Greek. It is known to us now by the name of the "Periplus of Hanno." At what period this explorer lived, historians are not agreed, but the most probable account assigns the date B.C. 505 to his exploration of the African coast.

Hanno left Carthage with a fleet of sixty vessels of fifty oars each, carrying 30,000 persons, and provisions for a long voyage. These emigrants, for so we may call them, were destined to people the new towns that the Carthaginians hoped to found on the west coast of Libya, or as we now call it, Africa.

The fleet successfully passed the Pillars of Hercules, the rocks of Gibraltar and Ceuta which command the Strait, and ventured on the Atlantic, taking a southerly course. Two days after passing the Straits, Hanno anchored on the coast, and laid the foundation of the town of Thumiaterion.

Then he put to sea again, and doubling the cape of Soloļs, made fresh discoveries, and advanced to the mouth of a large African river, where he found a tribe of wandering shepherds camping on the banks. He only waited to conclude a treaty of alliance with them, before continuing his voyage southward. He next reached the Island of Cerne, situated in a bay, and measuring five stadia in circumference, or as we should say at the present day, nearly 925 yards. According to Hanno's own account, this island should be placed, with regard to the Pillars of Hercules, at an equal distance to that which separates these Pillars from Carthage.

They set sail again, and Hanno reached the mouth of the river Chretes, which forms a sort of natural harbour, but as they endeavoured to explore this river, they were assailed with showers of stones from the native negro race, inhabiting the surrounding country, and driven back, and after this inhospitable reception they returned to Cerne. We must not omit to add that Hanno mentions finding large numbers of crocodiles and hippopotami in this river. Twelve days after this unsuccessful expedition, the fleet reached a mountainous region, where fragrant trees and shrubs abounded, and it then entered a vast gulf which terminated in a plain. This region appeared quite calm during the day, but after nightfall it was illumined by tongues of flame, which might have proceeded from fires lighted by the natives, or from the natural ignition of the dry grass when the rainy season was over.

In five days, Hanno doubled the Cape, known as the Hespera Keras, there, according to his own account, "he heard the sound of fifes, cymbals, and tambourines, and the clamour of a multitude of people." The soothsayers, who accompanied the party of Carthaginian explorers, counselled flight from this land of terrors, and, in obedience to their advice, they set sail again, still taking a southerly course. They arrived at a cape, which, stretching southwards, formed a gulf, called Notu Keras, and, according to M. D'Avezac, this gulf must have been the mouth of the river Ouro, which falls into the Atlantic almost within the Tropic of Cancer. At the lower end of this gulf, they found an island inhabited by a vast number of gorillas, which the Carthaginians mistook for hairy savages. They contrived to get possession of three female gorillas, but were obliged to kill them on account of their great ferocity.

This Notu Keras must have been the extreme limit reached by the Carthaginian explorers, and though some historians incline to the belief that they only went to Bojador, which is two degrees North of the tropics, it is more probable that the former account is the true one, and that Hanno, finding himself short of provisions, returned northwards to Carthage, where he had the account of his voyage engraved in the temple of Baal Moloch.

After Hanno, the most illustrious of ancient travellers, was Herodotus, who has been called the "Father of History," and who was the nephew of the poet Panyasis, whose poems ranked with those of Homer and Hesiod. It will serve our purpose better if we only speak of Herodotus as a traveller, not an historian, as we wish to follow him so far as possible through the countries that he traversed.

Herodotus was born at Halicarnassus, a town in Asia Minor, in the year B.C. 484. His family were rich, and having large commercial transactions they were able to encourage the taste for explorations which he showed. At this time there were many different opinions as to the shape of the earth: the Pythagorean school having even then begun to teach that it must be round, but Herodotus took no part in this discussion, which was of the deepest interest to learned men of that time, and, still young, he left home with a view of exploring with great care all the then known world, and especially those parts of it of which there were but few and uncertain data.

He left Halicarnassus in 464, being then twenty years of age, and probably directed his steps first to Egypt, visiting Memphis, Heliopolis, and Thebes. He seems to have specially turned his attention to the overflow of the banks of the Nile, and he gives an account of the different opinions held as to the source of this river, which the Egyptians worshipped as one of their deities. "When the Nile overflows its banks," he says, "you can see nothing but the towns rising out of the water, and they appear like the islands in the Ęgean Sea." He tells of the religious ceremonies among the Egyptians, their sacrifices, their ardour in celebrating the feasts in honour of their goddess Isis, which took place principally at Busiris (whose ruins may still be seen near Bushir), and of the veneration paid to both wild and tame animals, which were looked upon almost as sacred, and to whom they even rendered funeral honours at their death. He depicts in the most faithful colours, the Nile crocodile, its form, habits, and the way in which it is caught, and the hippopotamus, the momot, the phoenix, the ibis, and the serpents that were consecrated to the god Jupiter. Nothing can be more life-like than his accounts of Egyptian customs, and the notices of their habits, their games, and their way of embalming the dead, in which the chemists of that period seem to have excelled. Then we have the history of the country from Menes, its first king, downwards to Herodotus' time, and he describes the building of the Pyramids under Cheops, the Labyrinth that was built a little above the Lake Moeris (of which the remains were discovered in A.D. 1799), Lake Moeris itself, whose origin he ascribes to the hand of man, and the two Pyramids which are situated a little above the lake. He seems to have admired many of the Egyptian temples, and especially that of Minerva at Sais, and of Vulcan and Isis at Memphis, and the colossal monolith that was three years in course of transportation from Elephantina to Sais, though 2000 men were employed on the gigantic work.

After having carefully inspected everything of interest in Egypt, Herodotus went into Lybia, little thinking that the continent he was exploring, extended thence to the tropic of Cancer. He made special inquiries in Lybia as to the number of its inhabitants, who were a simple nomadic race principally living near the sea-coast, and he speaks of the Ammonians, who possessed the celebrated temple of Jupiter Ammon, the remains of which have been discovered on the north-east side of the Lybian desert, about 300 miles from Cairo. Herodotus furnishes us with some very valuable information on Lybian customs; he describes their habits; speaks of the animals that infest the country, serpents of a prodigious size, lions, elephants, bears, asps, horned asses (probably the rhinoceros of the present day), and cynocephali, "animals with no heads, and whose eyes are placed on their chest," to use his own expression; foxes, hyenas, porcupines, wild zarus, panthers, etc. He winds up his description by saying that the only two aboriginal nations that inhabit this region are the Lybians and Ethiopians.

According to Herodotus the Ethiopians were at that time to be found above Elephantina, but commentators are induced to doubt if this learned explorer ever really visited Ethiopia, and if he did not, he may easily have learnt from the Egyptians the details that he gives of its capital, Meroe, of the worship of Jupiter and Bacchus, and the longevity of the natives. There can be no doubt, however, that he set sail for Tyre in Phoenicia, and that he was much struck with the beauty of the two magnificent temples of Hercules. He next visited Tarsus and took advantage of the information gathered on the spot, to write a short history of Phoenicia, Syria, and Palestine.

We next find that he went southward to Arabia, and he calls it the Ethiopia of Asia, for he thought the southern parts of Arabia were the limits of human habitation. He tells us of the remarkable way in which the Arabs kept any vow that they might have made; that their two deities were Uranius and Bacchus, and of the abundant growth of myrrh, cinnamon and other spices, and he gives a very interesting account of their culture and preparation.

We cannot be quite sure which country he next visited, as he calls it both Assyria and Babylonia, but he gives a most minute account of the splendid city of Babylon (which was the home of the monarchs of that country, after the destruction of Nineveh), and whose ruins are now only in scattered heaps on either side of the Euphrates, which flowed a broad, deep, rapid river, dividing the city into two parts. On one side of the river the fortified palace of the king stood, and on the other the temple of Jupiter Belus, which may have been built on the site of the Tower of Babel. Herodotus next speaks of the two queens, Semiramis and Nitocris, telling us of all the means taken by the latter to increase the prosperity and safety of her capital, and passing on to speak of the natural products of the country, the wheat, barley, millet, sesame, the vine, fig-tree and palm-tree. He winds up with a description of the costume of the Babylonians, and their customs, especially that of celebrating their marriages by the public crier.

After exploring Babylonia he went to Persia, and as the express purpose of his travels was to collect all the information he could relating to the lengthy wars that had taken place between the Persians and Grecians, he was most anxious to visit the spots where the battles had been fought. He sets out by remarking upon the custom prevalent in Persia, of not clothing their deities in any human form, nor erecting temples nor altars where they might be worshipped, but contenting themselves with adoring them on the tops of the mountains. He notes their domestic habits, their disdain of animal food, their taste for delicacies, their passion for wine, and their custom of transacting business of the utmost importance when they had been drinking to excess; their curiosity as to the habits of other nations, their love of pleasure, their warlike qualities, their anxiety for the education of their children, their respect for the lives of all their fellow-creatures, even of their slaves, their horror both of debt and lying, and their repugnance to the disease of leprosy which they thought proved that the sufferer "had sinned in some way against the sun." The India of Herodotus, according to M. Vivien de St. Martin, only consisted of that part of the country that is watered by the five rivers of the Punjaub, adjoining Afghanistan, and this was the region where the young traveller turned his steps on leaving Persia. He thought that the population of India was larger than that of any other country, and he divided it into two classes, the first having settled habitations, the second leading a nomadic life. Those who lived in the eastern part of the country killed their sick and aged people, and ate them, while those in the north, who were a finer, braver, and more industrious race, employed themselves in collecting the auriferous sands. India was then the most easterly extremity of the inhabited world, as he thought, and he observes, "that the two extremities of the world seem to have shared nature's best gifts, as Greece enjoyed the most agreeable temperature possible," and that was his idea of the western limits of the world.

Media is the next country visited by this indefatigable traveller, and he gives the history of the Medes, the nation which was the first to shake off the Assyrian yoke. They founded the great city of Ecbatana, and surrounded it with seven concentric walls. They became a separate nation in the reign of Deioces. After crossing the mountains that separate Media from Colchis, the Greek traveller entered the country, made famous by the valour of Jason, and studied its manners and customs with the care and attention that were among his most striking characteristics.

Herodotus seems to have been well acquainted with the geography of the Caspian Sea, for he speaks of it as a Sea "quite by itself" and having no communication with any other. He considered that it was bounded on the west by the Caucasian Mountains and on the east by a great plain inhabited by the Massagetę, who, both Arian and Diodorus Siculus think, may have been Scythians. These Massagetę worshipped the Sun as their only deity, and sacrificed horses in its honour. He speaks here of two large rivers, one of which, the Araxes, would be the Volga, and the other, that he calls the Ista, must be the Danube. The traveller then went into Scythia, and he thought that the Scythians were the different tribes inhabiting the country that lay between the Danube and the Don, in fact a considerable portion of European Russia. He found the barbarous custom of putting out the eyes of their prisoners was practised among them, and he notices that they only wandered from place to place without caring to cultivate their land. Herodotus relates many of the fables that make the origin of the Scythian nation so obscure, and in which Hercules plays a prominent part. He adds a list of the different tribes that composed the Scythian nation, but he does not seem to have visited the country lying to the north of the Euxine, or Black Sea. He gives a minute description of the habits of these people, and expresses his admiration for the Pontus Euxinus. The dimensions that he gives of the Black Sea, the Bosphorus, of the Propontis, the Palus Męotis and of the Ęgean Sea, are almost exactly the same as those given by geographers of the present day. He also names the large rivers that flow into these seas. The Ister or Danube, the Borysthenes or Dnieper, the Tanais, or Don; and he finishes by relating how the alliance, and afterwards the union between the Scythians and Amazons took place, which explains the reason why the young women of that country are not allowed to marry before they have killed an enemy and established their character for valour.

After a short stay in Thrace, during which he was convinced that the Getę were the bravest portion of this race, Herodotus arrived in Greece, which was to be the termination of his travels, to the country where he hoped to collect the only documents still wanting to complete his history, and he visited all the spots that had become illustrious by the great battles fought between the Greeks and Persians. He gives a minute description of the Pass of Thermopylę, and of his visit to the plain of Marathon, the battlefield of Platęa, and his return to Asia Minor, whence he passed along the coast on which the Greeks had established several colonies. Herodotus can only have been twenty-eight years of age when he returned to Halicarnassus in Caria, for it was in B.C. 456 that he read the history of his travels at the Olympic Games. His country was at that time oppressed by Lygdamis, and he was exiled to Samos; but though he soon after rose in arms to overthrow the tyrant, the ingratitude of his fellow-citizens obliged him to return into exile. In 444 he took part in the games at the Pantheon, and there he read his completed work, which was received with enthusiasm, and towards the end of his life he retired to Thurium in Italy, where he died, B.C. 406, leaving behind him the reputation of being the greatest traveller and the most celebrated historian of antiquity.

After Herodotus we must pass over a century and a half, and only note, in passing, the Physician Ctesias, a contemporary of Xenophon, who published the account of a voyage to India that he really never made; and we shall come in chronological order to Pytheas, who was at once a traveller, geographer, and historian, one of the most celebrated men of his time. It was about the year B.C. 340 that Pytheas set out from the columns of Hercules with a single vessel, but instead of taking a southerly course like his Carthaginian predecessors, he went northwards, passing by the coasts of Iberia and Gaul to the furthest points which now form the Cape of Finisterre, and then he entered the English Channel and came upon the English coast--the British Isles--of which he was to be the first explorer. He disembarked at various points on the coast and made friends with the simple, honest, sober, industrious inhabitants, who traded largely in tin.

Pytheas ventured still further north, and went beyond the Orcades Islands to the furthest point of Scotland, and he must have reached a very high latitude, for during the summer the night only lasted two hours. After six days further sailing, he came to lands which he calls Thule, probably the Jutland or Norway of the present day, beyond which he could not pass, for he says, "there was neither land, sea, nor air there." He retraced his course, and changing it slightly, he came to the mouth of the Rhine, to the country of the Ostians, and, further inland, to Germany. Thence he visited the mouth of the Tanais, that is supposed to be the Elbe or the Oder, and he retuned to Marseilles, just a year after leaving his native town. Pytheas, besides being such a brave sailor, was a remarkably scientific man: he was the first to discover the influence that the moon exercises on the tides, and to notice that the polar star is not situated at the exact spot at which the axis of the globe is supposed to be. Some years after the time of Pytheas, about B.C. 326 a Greek traveller made his name famous. This was Nearchus, a native of Crete, one of Alexander's admirals, and he was charged to visit all the coast of Asia from the mouth of the Indus to that of the Euphrates. When Alexander first resolved that this expedition should take place, which had for its object the opening up of a communication between India and Egypt, he was at the upper part of the Indus. He furnished Nearchus with a fleet of thirty-three galleys, of some vessels with two decks, and a great number of transport ships, and 2000 men. Nearchus came down the Indus in about four months, escorted on either bank of the river by Alexander's armies, and after spending seven months in exploring the Delta, he set sail and followed the west line of what we call Beloochistan in the present day.

He put to sea on the second of October, a month before the winter storms had taken a direction that was favourable to his purpose, so that the commencement of his voyage was disastrous, and in forty days he had scarcely made eighty miles in a westerly direction. He touched first at Stura and at Corestis, which do not seem to answer to any of the now-existing villages on the coast; then at the Island of Crocala, which forms the bay of Caranthia. Beaten back by contrary winds, after doubling the cape of Monze, the fleet took refuge in a natural harbour that its commander thought that he could fortify as a defence against the attacks of the barbarous natives, who, even at the present day, keep up their character as pirates.

After spending twenty-four days in this harbour, Nearchus put to sea again on the 3rd of November. Severe gales often obliged him to keep very near the coast, and when this was the case he was obliged to take all possible precautions to defend himself from the attacks of the ferocious Beloochees, who are described by eastern historians "as a barbarous nation, with long dishevelled hair, and long flowing beards, who are more like bears or satyrs than human beings." Up to this time, however, no serious disaster had happened to the fleet, but on the 10th of November in a heavy gale two galleys and a ship sank. Nearchus then anchored at Crocala, and there he was met by a ship laden with corn that Alexander had sent out to him, and he was able to supply each vessel with provisions for ten days.

After many disasters and a skirmish with some of the natives, Nearchus reached the extreme point of the land of the Orites, which is marked in modern geography by Cape Morant. Here, he states in his narrative that the rays of the sun at mid-day are vertical, and therefore there are no shadows of any kind; but this is surely a mistake, for at this time in the Southern hemisphere the sun is in the Tropic of Capricorn; and, beyond this, his vessels were always some degrees distant from the Tropic of Cancer, therefore even in the height of summer this phenomenon could not have taken place, and we know that his voyage was in winter.

Circumstances seemed now rather more in his favour; for the time of the eastern monsoon was over, when he sailed along the coast which is inhabited by a tribe called Ichthyophagi, who subsist solely on fish, and from the failure of all vegetation are obliged to feed even their sheep upon the same food. The fleet was now becoming very short of provisions; so after doubling Cape Posmi Nearchus took a pilot from those shores on board his own vessel, and with the wind in their favour they made rapid progress, finding the country less bare as they advanced, a few scattered trees and shrubs being visible from the shore. They reached a little town, of the name of which we have no record, and as they were almost without food Nearchus surprised and took possession of it, the inhabitants making but little resistance. Canasida, or Churbar as we call it, was their next resting-place, and at the present day the ruins of a town are still visible in the bay. But their corn was now entirely exhausted, and though they tried successively at Canate, Trois, and Dagasira for further supplies, it was all in vain, these miserable little towns not being able to furnish more than enough for their own consumption. The fleet had neither corn nor meat, and they could not make up their minds to feed upon the tortoises that abound in that part of the coast.

Just as they entered the Persian Gulf they encountered an immense number of whales, and the sailors were so terrified by their size and number, that they wished to fly; it was not without much difficulty that Nearchus at last prevailed upon them to advance boldly, and they soon scattered their formidable enemies.

Having changed their westerly course for a north-easterly one, they soon came upon fertile shores, and their eyes were refreshed by the sight of corn-fields and pasture-lands, interspersed with all kinds of fruit-trees except the olive. They put into Badis or Jask, and after leaving it and passing Maceta or Mussendon, they came in sight of the Persian Gulf, to which Nearchus, following the geography of the Arabs, gave the misnomer of the Red Sea.

They sailed up the gulf, and after one halt reached Harmozia, which has since given its name to the little island of Ormuz. There he learnt that Alexander's army was only five days' march from him, and he disembarked at once, and hastened to meet it. No news of the fleet having reached the army for twenty-one weeks, they had given up all hope of seeing it again, and great was Alexander's joy when Nearchus appeared before him, though the hardships he had endured had altered him almost beyond recognition. Alexander ordered games to be celebrated and sacrifices offered up to the gods; then Nearchus returned to Harmozia, as he wished to go as far as Susa with the fleet, and set sail again, having invoked Jupiter the Deliverer.

He touched at some of the neighbouring islands, probably those of Arek and Kismis, and soon afterwards the vessels ran aground, but the advancing tide floated them again, and after passing Bestion, they arrived at the island of Keish, that is sacred to Mercury and Venus. This was the boundary-line between Karmania and Persia. As they advanced along the Persian coast, they visited different places, Gillam, Indarabia, Shevou, &c., and at the last-named was found a quantity of wheat which Alexander had sent for the use of the explorers.

Some days after this they came to the mouth of the river Araxes, that separates Persia from Susiana, and thence they reached a large lake situated in the country now called Dorghestan, and finally anchored near the village of Degela, at the source of the Euphrates, having accomplished their project of visiting all the coast lying between the Euphrates and Indus. Nearchus returned a second time to Alexander, who rewarded him magnificently, and placed him in command of his fleet. Alexander's wish, that the whole of the Arabian coast should be explored as far as the Red Sea, was never fulfilled, as he died before the expedition was arranged.

It is said that Nearchus became governor of Lysia and Pamphylia, but in his leisure time he wrote an account of his travels, which has unfortunately perished, though not before Arian had made a complete analysis of it in his Historia Indica. It seems probable that Nearchus fell in the battle of Ipsu, leaving behind him the reputation of being a very able commander; his voyage may be looked upon as an event of no small importance in the history of navigation.

We must not omit to mention a most hazardous attempt made in B.C. 146, by Eudoxus of Cyzicus, a geographer living at the court of Euergetes II, to sail round Africa. He had visited Egypt and the coast of India, when this far greater project occurred to him, one which was only accomplished sixteen hundred years later by Vasco da Gama. Eudoxus fitted out a large vessel and two smaller ones, and set sail upon the unknown waters of the Atlantic. How far he took these vessels we do not know, but after having had communication with some natives, whom he thought were Ethiopians, he returned to Mauritania. Thence he went to Tiberia, and made preparations for another attempt to circumnavigate Africa, but whether he ever set out upon this voyage is not known; in fact some learned men are even inclined to consider Eudoxus an impostor.

We have still to mention two names of illustrious travellers, living before the Christian era; those of Cęsar and Strabo. Cęsar, born B.C. 100, was pre-eminently a conqueror, not an explorer, but we must remember, that in the year B.C. 58, he undertook the conquest of Gaul, and during the ten years that were occupied in this vast enterprise, he led his victorious Legions to the shores of Great Britain, where the inhabitants were of German extraction.

As to Strabo, who was born in Cappadocia B.C. 50, he distinguished himself more as a geographer than a traveller, but he travelled through the interior of Asia, and visited Egypt, Greece, and Italy, living many years in Rome, and dying there in the latter part of the reign of Tiberius. Strabo wrote a Geography in seventeen Books, of which the greater part has come down to us, and this work, with that of Ptolemy, are the two most valuable legacies of ancient to modern Geographers.


Jules Verne

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