Historical Library/Book V

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Historical Library by Diodorus Siculus
Book V
Translated by G. Booth (1814); chapter divisions from the French translation by M. l'Abbé Terrason (1865)

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25 - 26 - 27 - 28 - 29 - 30 - 31 - 32 - 33 - 34 - 35 - 36 - 37 - 38 - 39 - 40 - 41 - 42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49 - 50 - 51

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IT ought to be the special care of all historians, not only in their writings to observe whatever may be useful and profitable, but also to keep a due order and method in the several parts of their history. This not only conduces much to direct an caution private persons how to get and keep estates, but is an extraordinary help to writers, in composing of their historical treatises. For some there are that, though they are justly in high esteem for their eloquent stile, and variety of learning discovered in their writings, yet have been too careless in distributing their matter under proper heads; so that, though the readers may easily discern their great pains and industry, yet their manner of writing deserves justly to be censured. Timæus, indeed, was very exact in his chronology, and extraordinarily industrious to abound in variety of relations; but for his unreasonable and immoderate censures of others, may be justly taxed and reprehended himself; who, for his unbounded liberty that he takes in this bitter censuring, is called by some the Detractor.[1]

But Ephorus, on the contrary, in his Universal History, acts the part of an able historian, both as to the elegance of his stile, and his accurate method: for he divides his books according to their several subjects, keeping close in every book to things of one and the same nature; which way and order of writing I approve above all others, and therefore shall endeavour to imitate him as well as I can.

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Since we have gone through the islands lying eastward, on this side within the pillars of Hercules, we shall now launch into the main ocean to those that lie beyond them; for over against Africa, lies a very great island in the vast ocean, of many days sail from Libya, westward. The soil here is very fruitful, a great part whereof is mountainous, but much likewise champaign, which is the most sweet and pleasant part of all the rest; for it is watered with several navigable rivers, beautified with many gardens of pleasure, planted with divers sorts of trees, and abundance of orchards, interlaced with currents of sweet water. The towns are adorned with stately buildings, and banqueting-houses up and down, pleasantly situated in their gardens and orchards. And here they recreate themselves in summertime, as in places accommodated for pleasure and delight.

The mountainous part of the country is cloathed with many large woods, and all manner of fruit-trees; and for the greater delight and diversion of people in these mountains, they ever and anon open themselves into pleasant vales, watered with fountains and refreshing springs: and indeed the whole island abounds with springs of sweet water: whence the inhabitants not only reap pleasure and delight, but improve in health and strength of body.

There you may have game enough in hunting all sorts of wild beasts, of which there is such plenty, that in their feasts there is nothing wanting either as to pomp or delight. The adjoining sea furnishes them plentifully with fish, for the ocean there naturally abounds with all sorts.

The air and climate in this island is very mild and healthful, so that the trees bear fruit (and other things that are produced there are fresh and beautiful) most part of the year; so that this island (for the excellency of it in all respects) seems rather to be the residence of some of the gods than of men.

Antiently, by reason of its remote situation, it was altogether unknown, but afterwards discovered upon this occasion.

The Phoenicians in antient times undertook frequent voyages by sea, in way of traffic as merchants, so that they planted many colonies both in Africa and in these western parts of Europe. These merchants succeeding in their undertaking, and thereupon growing very rich, passed at length beyond the pillars of Hercules, into the sea called the ocean: and first they built a city called Gades, near to Hercules's pillars, at the sea-side, in an isthmus in Europe, in which, among other things proper to the place, they built a stately temple to Hercules, and instituted splendid sacrifices to be offered to him after the rites and customs of the Phoenicians. This temple is in great veneration at this day, as well as in former ages; so that many of the Romans, famous and renowned both for their births and glorious actions, have made their vows to this god, and after success in their affairs, have faithfully performed them. The Phoenicians therefore, upon the account before related, having found out the coasts beyond the pillars, and sailing along by the shore of Africa, were on a sudden driven by a furious storm afar off into the main ocean; and after they had lain under this violent tempest for many days, they at length arrived at this island; and so, coming to the knowledge of the nature and pleasantness of this isle, they were the first that discovered it to others; and therefore the Etrurians (when they were masters at sea, designed to send a colony thither; but the Carthaginians opposed them, both fearing lest most of their own citizens should be allured (through the goodness of the island) to settle there, and likewise intending to keep it as a place of refuge for themselves, in case of any sudden and unexpected blasts of fortune, which might tend to the utter ruin of their government: for, being then potent at sea, they doubted not but they could easily (unknown to the conquerors) transport themselves and their families into that island. Having now spoken sufficiently of the African ocean, and the islands belonging to it, we shall pass over to Europe.

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For over against the French shore, opposite the Hercynian mountains (which are the greatest of any in Europe) there lie in the ocean many islands, the greatest of which is that which they call Britain, which antiently remained untouched, free from all foreign force; for it was never known that either Bacchus, Hercules, or any of the antient heroes or princes, ever made any attempt upon it by force of arms: but Julius Caesar in our time (who by his great achievements gained the title of Divine) was the first (that any author makes mention of) that conquered that island, and compelled the Britons to pay tribute. But these things shall be more particularly treated of in their proper time; we shall now only say something concerning the island, and the tin that is found there.

In form it is triangular, like Sicily, but the sides are unequal. It lies in an oblique line, over against the continent of Europe; so that the promontory called Cantium, next to the continent (they say) is about a hundred furlongs from the land: here the sea ebbs and flows: but the other point, called Belerium, is four days sail from the continent.

The last, called Horcas, or Orcades, runs out far into the sea. The least of the sides facing the whole continent is seven thousand and five hundred furlongs in length; the second, stretching out itself all along the sea to the highest point, is fifteen thousand furlongs; and the last is twenty thousand: so that the whole compass of the island is forty-two thousand five hundred furlongs. The inhabitants are the original people thereof, and live to this time in their own antient manner and custom; for in fights they use chariots, as it is said the old Grecian heroes did in the Trojan war. They dwell in mean cottages, covered for the most part with reeds or sticks. In reaping of their corn, they cut off the ears from the stalk, and so house them up in respositories under ground; thence they take and pluck out the grains of as many of the oldest of them as may serve them for the day, and, after they have bruised the corn, make it into bread. They are of much sincerity and integrity, far from the craft and knavery of men among us; contented with plain and homely fare, strangers to the excess and luxury of rich men. The island is very populous, but of a cold climate, subject to frosts, being under the Arctic pole. They are governed by several kings and princes, who, for the most part, are at peace and amity one with another. But of their laws, and other things peculiar to the island, we shall treat more particularly when we come to Caesar's expeditions into Britain.

Now we shall speak something of the tin that is dug and gotten there. They that inhabit the British promontory of Belerium, by reason of their converse with merchants, are more civilized and courteous to strangers than the rest are. These are the people that make the tin, which with a great deal of care and labour they dig out of the ground; and that being rocky, the metal is mixed with some veins of earth, out of which they melt the metal, and then refine it; then they beat it into four-square pieces like to a dye, and carry it to a British isle near at hand, called Ictis. For at low tide, all being dry between them and the island, they convey over in carts abundance of tin in the mean time. But there is one thing peculiar to these islands which lie between Britain and Europe: for at full sea, they appear to be islands, but at low water for a long way, they look like so many peninsulas. Hence the merchants transport the tin they buy of the inhabitants to France; and for thirty days journey, they carry it in packs upon horses' backs through France, to the mouth of the river Rhone. But thus much concerning tin. Now something remains to be said of amber.

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Over against Scythia above Gaul, in the ocean, lies an island called Basilea, upon which there is cast, by the working of the sea, abundance of amber, not to be found in any other part of the world.

Many of the antient historians have written incredible stories of this amber, which since have been experienced to be false: for many poets and other writers report, that Phaeton the son of Sol, while he was but as yet a young boy, prevailed with his father to give him liberty to drive his chariot for one day: which request obtained, the youth not being able to manage the reins, the horses scorned the charioteer, and forsook their antient course, and ran wildy and disorderly through the heavens, and first set them on fire, and by that means caused that track called the milky way; then burning up a great part of the earth, many countries were laid waste; at which Jupiter was so enraged, that he threw a thunderbolt at Phaeton, and commanded Sol to guide his steeds into their wonted course: and that Phaeton himself fell down into the river Po, antiently called Eridanus; and that his sisters greatly bewailing his death, (through excessive grief) changed their nature, and were transformed into poplar trees, which yearly to this day distil their tears, and by concretion (they say) becomes this electrum or amber, which for beauty and brightness, excels all others of its kind, and is distilled most in that country, when the deaths of young men are solemnly bewailed. But forasmuch as they that have invented this story, have turned theur backs upon truth, and that later ages have disproved it by experience of the contrary, regard is rather to be had to true and faithful historians. For amber is fathered in this island before-mentioned, and transported by the inhabitants into the opposite continent, from whence it is brought over to us in these parts as is before declared.

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After this account given of the western islands, we conceive it not impertinent, if we briefly relate some things which were omitted in the former books concerning the neighbouring nations in Europe.

In Celtica (they say) once ruled a famous man, who had a daughter of a more tall and majestic stature than ordinary, and for beauty far beyond all others of her sex. This lady glorying much both in her strength and beauty, despised all that courted her, as judging none worthy of her bed. It happened that Hercules at the time he was engained in the war against Gallia, marched into Celtica, and there built Alesia. When this young virgin saw him, admiring both his valour and stately proportion, she readily admitted him to her bed; yet not without the consent of her parents. Of this lady he begat Galatae, who, for virtues of mind, and strength of body, far excelled the rest of his nation. When he came to man's estate, and was possessed of his grandfather's kingdom, he subdued many of the neighbouring countries, and performed many notable achievements by his sword. His valour being everywhere noised abroad, he called his subjects after his own name, Galatians, and the country Galatia, Gaul.

Having shewn the original of the name, something is to be said of the country itself. Gaul is inhabited by several nations, but not all alike populous: the greatest of them have in them two hundred thousand men, the least fifty thousand. Of these there is one that has been an antient ally of the Romans, and continues so to this day.

In regard it lies for the greatest part under the Arctic pole, it is very cold, and subject to frosts; for in winter in cloudy days, instead of rain the earth is covered with snow; in clear weather, every place is so full of ice and frost, that the rivers are frozen up to that degree, that they are naturally covered over with bridges of ice. For not only a small company of travellers, but vast armies, with their chariots and loaden carriages, may pass over without any danger or hazard.

There are many great rivers run through Gaul, which by their various windings and turnings cut through and parcel the champaign grounds, some of which have their spring-heads from deep lakes, others issue out from the mountains, and empty themselves either into the ocean, or into our seas.

The greatest that falls into our sea, is the Rhone, which rises out of the Alps, and at five mouths disgorges itself into the sea. Of those that empty themselves into the ocean, the greatest are the Danube and the Rhine; over the last of which Caesar, called Divus, (in our time) to admiration, cast a bridge, and passed over his forces, and subdued the Gauls on the other side.

There are many other navigable rivers in Celtica, to write of which particularly would be tedious: almost all of them are frequently frozen up, as if bridges were cast over their channels. But the ice being naturally smooth, and therefore slippery to the passengers, they throw chaff upon it that they may go there more firmly.

In many places of Gaul, there is something strange and very remarkable, which is not fit to be passed over in silence. For the west and north winds in summer are so fierce and violent, that they fling into the air great stones as big as a man can grasp in his hands, together with a cloud of gravel and dust. Nay, the violence of this whirlwind is such, that it forces men's arms out of their hands, rends their clothes off their backs, and dismounts the rider from his horse.

This excessive cold and immoderate temper of the air, is the cause why the earth in these parts produces neither wine nor oil; and therefore the Gauls, to supply the want of these fruits, make a drink of barley, which they call Xythus: they mix likewise their honeycombs with water, and make use of that for the same purpose. They are so exceedingly given to wine, that they guzzle it down as soon as it is imported by the merchant, and are so eager and inordinate, that making themselves drunk, they either fall dead asleep, or become stark mad. So that many Italian merchants (to gratify their own covetousness) make use of the drunkenness of the Gauls to advance their own profit and gain. For they convey they wine to them both by navigable rivers, and by land in carts, and bring back an incredible price: for in lieu of a hogshead of wine, they receive a boy, giving drink in truck for a servant.

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In Gaul there are no silver mines, but much gold, with which the nature of the place supplies the inhabitants, without the labour or toil of digging in the mines. For the winding course of the river washing with its streams the feet of the mountains, carries away great pieces of golden ore, which those employed in this business gather, and then grind and bruise these clods fo golden earth: and when they have so done, cleanse them from the gross earthy part, by washing them in water, and then melt them in a furnace; and thus get together a vast heap of gold, with which not only the women, but the men deck and adorn themselves. For they wear bracelets of this metal about their wrists and arms, and massy chains of pure and beaten gold upon their breasts. The custom observed by the higher Gauls in the temples of their gods, is admirably remarkable; for in the oratories and sacred temples of this country, in honour of their gods they scatter pieces of gold up and down, which none of the inhabitants (their superstitious devotion is such) will in the least touch or meddle with, though the Gauls are of themselves exceedingly covetous.

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For stature they are tall, but of a sweaty and pale complexion, red-haired, not only naturally, but they endeavour all they can to make it redder by art. They often wash their hair in a water boiled with lime, and turn it backward from the forehead to the crown of the head, and thence to their very necks, that their faces may be more fully seen, so that they look like satyrs and hobgoblins. By this sort of management of themselves, their hair is as hard as a horse's mane. Some of them shave their beards; others let them grow a little. The persons of quality shave their chins close, but their mustachios they let fall so low, that they even cover their mouths; so that when they eat, their meat hangs dangling by their hair; and when they drink, the liquor runs through their mustachios as through a sieve. At meal-time they all sit, not upon seats, but upon the ground, and instead of carpets, spread wolves or dogs skins under them. Young boys and girls attend them, such as are yet but mere children. Near at hand they have their chimnies, with their fires well furnished with pots and spits full of whole joins of flesh meat; and the best and fairest joints (in a way due honour and regard) they set before the persons of best quality: as Homer introduces the Grecian captains entertaining of Ajax, when he returned victor from his single combat with Hector, in this verse—

But Agamemnon as a favouring sign
Before great Ajax set the lusty chine.

They invite likewise strangers to their feasts, and after all is over, they ask who they are, and what is their business. In the very midst of feasting, upon any small occasion, it is ordinary for them in a heat to rise, and without any regard of their lives, to fall to it with their swords. For the opinion of Pythagoras prevails much amongst them, that men's souls are immortal, and that there is a transmigration of them into other bodies, and after a certain time they live again; and therefore in their funerals they write letters to their friends, and throw them into the funeral pile, as if they were to be read by the deceased.

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In their journeys and fights they use chariots drawn with two horses, which carry a charioteer and a soldier, and when they meet horsemen in the battle, they fall upon their enemies with their saunians;[2] then quitting their chariots, they to it with their swords. There are some of them that so despise death, that they will fight naked, with something only about their loins. They carry along with them to war their servants, libertines, chosen out of the poorer sort of people, whom they make use of for waggoners, and pedees. When the army is drawn up in battalia, it is usual for some of them to step our before the army, and to challenge the stoutest of their enemy to a single combat, brandishing their arms to terrify their adversary. If any comes forth to fight with them, then they sing some song in commendation of the valiant acts of their ancestors, and blazon out their own praises: on the contrary they vilify their adversary, and give forth slighting and contemptuous words, as if he had the least courage. When at any time they cut off their enemies' heads, they hang them about their horses' necks.

They deliver their spoils to their servants, all besmeared with blood, to be carried before them in triumph, they themselves in the meantime singing the triumphant paean. And as the chief of their spoils, they fasten those they have killed, over the doors of their houses, as if they were so many wild beasts taken in hunting. The heads of their enemies that were the chiefest persons of quality, they carefully deposit in chests, embalming them with the oil of cedars, and shewing them to strangers, glory and boast how that some of their ancestors, their fathers, or themselves, (though great sums of money have been offered for them), yet have refused to accept them.

Some glory so much on this account, that they refuse to take for one of these heads its weight in gold; in this manner exposing their barbarous magnanimity. For it is brave and generous indeed not to sell the ensigns of true valour; but to fight with the dead bodies of those that were men like ourselves, resembles the cruelty of wild beasts.

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Their garments are very strange; for they wear party coloured coats, interwoven here and there with divers sorts of flowers; and hose which they call Bracae. They make likewise cassocks of basket-work joined together with laces on the inside, and checquered with many pieces of work like flowers; those they wear in winter are thicker, those in summer more slender.

Their defensive arms are a shield, proportionable to the height of a man, garnished with their own ensigns.

Some carry the shapes of beasts in brass, artificially wrought, as well for defence as ornament. Upon their heads they wear helmets of brass, with large pieces of work raised upon them for ostentation sake, to be admired by the beholders; for they have either horns of the same metal joined to them, or the shapes of birds and beasts carved upon them. They have trumpets after the barbarian manner, which in sounding make a horrid noise, to strike a terror fit and proper for the occasion. Some of them wear iron breast-plates, and hooked; but others, content with what arms nature affords them, fight naked. For swords, they use a long and broad weapon called Spatha, which they hang across their right thigh by iron or brazen chains. Some gird themselves over their coats with belts gilt with gold or silver. For darts they cast those they call Lanceus, whose iron shafts are a cubit or more in length, and almost two hands in breadth.

For their swords are as big as the saunians of other people, the points of their saunians are larger than those of their swords; some of them are strait, others bowed and bending backwards, so that they not only cut, but break the flesh; and when the dart is drawn out, it tears and rents the wound most miserably.

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These people are of a most terrible aspect, and have a most dreadful and loud voice. In their converse they are sparing of their words, and speak many things darkly and figuratively. They are high and hyperbolical in trumpeting out their own praises, but speak slightly and comtemptibly of others. They are apt to menace others, self-opinionated, grievously provoking, of sharp wits, and apt to learn.

Among them they have poets that sing melodious songs, whom they call bards, who to their musical instruments like unto harps, chant forth the praises of some, and the dispraises of others.

There are likewise among them philosophers and divines, whom they call Saronidae,[3] and are held in great veneration and esteem. Prophets likewise they have, whom they highly honour, who foretel future events by viewing the entrails of the sacrifices, and to these soothsayers all the people generally are very observant.

When they consult on some great and weighty matter, they observe a most strange and incredible custom; for they sacrifice a man, striking him with a sword near the diaphragm, cross over his breast, who being thus slain, and falling down, they judge of the event from the manner of his fall, the convulsions of his members, and the flux of blood; and this has gained among them (by long and antient usage) a firm credit and belief.

It is not lawful to offer any sacrifice without a philosopher; for they hold that by these, as men acquainted with the nature of the deity, and familiar in their converse with the gods, they ought to present their thank-offerings, and by these ambassadors to desire such things as are good for them. These Druids and Bards are observed and obeyed, not only in times of peace, but war also, both by friends and enemies.

Many times these philosophers and poets, stepping in between two armies near at hand, when they are just ready to engage, with their swords drawn, and spears presented one against another, have pacified them, as if some wild beasts had been tamed by enchantments. Thus rage is mastered by wisdom, even amongst the most savage barbarans, and Mars himself reverences the Muses.

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Notes[edit]

  1. Epitimeus.
  2. A kind of dart.
  3. Druids; for Saronidae, or Saronids, are of the same signification with Druids, the one of an oak, the other of an hollow oak.