Gulf of Gabes
Charles A. Rogers is the author of a fully illustrated paper(a) in which he locates the city of Atlantis on the Tunisian River Triton, which led from Chott el Jerid (formerly Lake Tritonis?) to the Gulf of Gabes. He dates the demise of Atlantis to 1404 BC based on a possible connection with a close encounter with Phäeton, which in turn he identifies as what was later to be known as Halley’s Comet. He also combines all this with the eruption of Thera that generated a tsunami, which ran across the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Gabes and destroyed the city of Atlantis and in Egypt wiped out the Pharoah and his men during the biblical Exodus. There seems to be too many coincidences required here.
With regard to the location of Atlantis, the satellite imagery used by Rogers is, in my view, not very convincing and although I am sympathetic to the existence of Atlantis in that region, I think only investigation on the ground will offer real evidence.
Late Bronze Age Collapse of civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC has been variously attributed to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and severe climate change. It is extremely unlikely that all these occurred around the same time through coincidence. Unfortunately, it is not clear to what extent these events were interrelated. As I see it, political upheavals do not lead to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or drought and so can be safely viewed as an effect rather than a cause. Similarly, climate change is just as unlikely to have caused eruptions or seismic activity and so can also be classified as an effect. Consequently, we are left with earthquakes and volcanoes as the prime suspects for the catastrophic turmoil that took place in the Middle East between the 15th and 12th centuries BC. Nevertheless, August 2013 saw further evidence published which blamed climate change for demise of civilisations in the region.
Robert Drews dismisses any suggestion that Greece suffered a critical drought around 1200 BC, citing the absence of any supporting reference by Homer or Hesiod as evidence. He proposes that “the transition from chariot to infantry warfare as the primary cause of the Great Kingdoms’ downfall.”
This extended period of chaos began around 1450 BC when the eruptions on Thera took place. These caused the well-documented devastation in the region including the ending of the Minoan civilisation and probably the Exodus of the Bible and the Plagues of Egypt as well. According to the Parian Marble, the Flood of Deucalion probably took place around the same time.
Professor Stavros Papamarinopoulos has written of the ‘seismic storm’ that beset the Eastern Mediterranean between 1225 and 1175 BC(a). Similar ideas have been expressed by Amos Nur & Eric H.Cline(b)(c). The invasion of the Sea Peoples recorded by the Egyptians, and parts of Plato’s Atlantis story all appear to have taken place around this period. Plato refers to a spring on the Athenian acropolis (Crit.112d) that was destroyed during an earthquake. Rainer Kühne notes that this spring only existed for about 25 years but was rediscovered by the Swedish archaeologist, Oscar Broneer, who excavated there from 1959 to 1967. The destruction of the spring and barracks, by an earthquake, was confirmed as having occurring at the end of the 12th century BC.
(this is a shorter version of (c) below)
Rhelissia is a small settlement in the Kebili region of Tunisia on the south east edge of Chott el Jerid(a). It is situated at the mouth of what was considered the old River Tritonis, which once flowed into the Gulf of Gabes. Albert Herrmann identified it as the location of Atlantis based on his interpretation of Plato’s text. He was particularly impressed by the traces of ancient irrigation works in the vicinity, which were on a scale and of a style which Herrmann considered beyond the capabilities of the local inhabitants of his time.
The Voyage of Hanno, the Carthaginian navigator, was undertaken around 500 BC. The general consensus is that his journey took him through the Strait of Gibraltar and along part of the west coast of Africa. A record, or periplus, of the voyage was inscribed on tablets and displayed in the Temple of Baal at Carthage. Richard Hennig speculated that the contents of the periplus were copied by the Greek historian, Polybius, after the Romans captured Carthage. It did not surface again until the 10th century when a copy, in Greek, was discovered (Codex Heildelbergensis 398) and was not widely published until the 16th century.
The 1797 English translation of the periplus by Thomas Falconer along with the original Greek text can be downloaded or read online(h).
Edmund Marsden Goldsmid (1849-?) published a translation of A Treatise On Foreign Languages and Unknown Islands by Peter Albinus. In footnotes on page 39 he describes Hanno’s periplus as ‘apocryphal’. A number of other commentators(c)(d) have also cast doubts on the authenticity of the Hanno text.
Three years after Ignatius Donnelly published Atlantis, Lord Arundell of Wardour published The Secret of Plato’s Atlantis intended as a rebuttal of Donnelly’s groundbreaking book. The ‘secret’ referred to in the title is that Plato’s Atlantis story is based on the account we have of the Voyage of Hanno.
Nicolai Zhirov speculated that Hanno may have witnessed ‘the destruction of the southern remnants of Atlantis’, based on some of his descriptions.
Rhys Carpenter commented that ”The modern literature about his (Hanno’s) voyage is unexpectedly large. But it is so filled with disagreement that to summarize it with any thoroughness would be to annul its effectiveness, as the variant opinions would cancel each other out”[221.86].
Further discussion of the text and topography encountered by Hanno can be read in a paper by Duane W. Roller.
What I find interesting is that so much attention was given to Hanno’s voyage as if it was unique and not what you would expect if Atlantic travel was as commonplace at that time, as many ‘alternative’ history writers claim.
However, even more questionable is the description of Hanno sailing off “with a fleet of sixty fifty-oared ships, and a large number of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.” The problem with this is that the 50-oared ships would have been penteconters, which had limited room for much more than the oarsmen. If we include the crew, an additional 450 persons per ship would have been impossible, in fact it, is unlikely that even the provisions for 500 hundred people could have been accommodated!
Lionel Casson, the author of The Ancient Mariners commented that “if the whole expedition had been put aboard sixty penteconters, the ships would have quietly settled on the harbour bottom instead of leaving Carthage: a penteconter barely had room to carry a few days’ provisions for its crew, to say nothing of a load of passengers with all the equipment they needed to start a life in a colony.“
The American writer, William H. Russeth, commented(f) on the various interpretations of Hanno’s route, noting that “It is hard for modern scholars to figure out exactly where Hanno traveled, because descriptions changed with each version of the original document and place names change as different cultures exert their influence over the various regions. Even Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman Historian, complained of writers committing errors and adding their own descriptions concerning Hanno’s journey, a bit ironic considering that Romans leveled the temple of Ba’al losing the famous plaque forever.”
George Sarantitis has a more radical interpretation of Hanno’s journey, proposing
(e) that instead of taking a route along the North African coast and then out into the Atlantic, he proposes that Hanno travelled inland along waterways that no longer exist. He insists that the location of the Pillars of Heracles, as referred to in the narrative, matches the Gulf of Gabes.
The most recent commentary on Hanno’s voyage is on offer from Antonio Usai in his 2014 The Pillars of Hercules in Aristotle’s Ecumene. He also has a controversial view of Hanno’s account, claiming that in the “second part, Hanno makes up everything because he does not want to continue that voyage.” (p.24) However, the main objective of Usai’s essays is to demonstrate that the Pillars of Hercules were originally situated in the Central Mediterranean between eastern Tunisia and its Kerkennah Islands.
A 1912 English translation of the text can be read online(a).
Another Carthaginian voyager, Himilco, is also thought to have travelled northward in the Atlantic and possibly reached Ireland, referred to as ‘isola sacra’. Unfortunately, his account is no longer available(g).
The livius.org website offers three articles(i) on the text, history and credibility of the surviving periplus together with a commentary.
*(i) http://www.livius.org/articles/person/hanno-1-the-navigator/ (link broken Jan 2019) See: https://web.archive.org/web/20180323080221/http://www.livius.org/articles/person/hanno-1-the-navigator/*
Syrtis was the name given by the Romans to two gulfs off the North African coast; Syrtis Major which is now known as the Gulf of Sidra off Libya and Syrtis Minor, known today as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisian waters. They are both shallow sandy gulfs that have been feared from ancient times by mariners. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27.13-18) it is described how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on ‘Syrtis sands.’
The earliest modern reference to these gulfs that I can find in connection with Atlantis was by Nicolas Fréret in the 18th century when he proposed that Atlantis may have been situated in Syrtis Major. Giorgio Grongnet de Vasse expressed a similar view around the same time. Since then there has been little support for the idea until recent times when Winfried Huf designated Syrtis Major as one of his five divisions of the Atlantean Empire.
However, the region around the Gulf of Gabes has been more persistently associated with aspects of the Atlantis story. Inland from Gabes are the chotts, which were at one time connected to the Mediterranean and considered to have been part of the legendary Lake Tritonis, sometimes suggested as the actual location of Atlantis.
In the Gulf itself, Apollonius of Rhodes placed the Pillars of Herakles(a) , while Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (c. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkennah at the western end of Syrtis Minor. Lucanus, the Latin poet, located the Strait of Heracles in Syrtis Minor. Mifsud has pointed out that this reference has been omitted from modern translations of Lucanus’ work!
Férréol Butavand was one of the first modern commentators to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf, while more recently Alberto Arecchi placed Atlantis in the Gulf when sea levels were lower. George Sarantitis places the ‘Pillars’ near Gabes and Atlantis itself inland, further west in Mauritania, south of the Atlas Mountains. Antonio Usai also places the ‘Pillars’ in the Gulf of Gabes.
(a) Argonautica Book IV ii 1230
George Sarantitis (1954- ) was born in Athens and is by profession an electronics engineer. He is also a serious student of Ancient Greek history and literature whose research(a) enabled him to present three papers to the 2008 Atlantis Conference. These included a revised translation of many of the key words and phrases in Plato’s Atlantis texts. He quotes Strabo’s Geographica (220.127.116.11) to demonstrate the multiplicity of locations on offer for the Pillars of Heracles. He places Atlantis in North Africa at the Richat Structure, with the Pillars of Heracles situated in the Gulf of Gabes which formerly led to an inland sea where the chotts of Tunisia and Algeria are today, as well as a number of other lakes and rivers in what is now the Sahara.
He posits a number of large inland seas in Africa including a much larger Lake Chad. The 2014 May/June edition of Saudi Aramco World has an article(c) on the remnants of the ‘Green Sahara’, during what is known technically as the African Humid Period (9000-3000 BC). Sarantitis also claims that at one stage in the distant past Libya had been a peninsula. In a June 2015 report the University of Royal Holloway in London revealed that the size of Lake Chad was dramatically reduced in just a few hundred years(d). A similar map showing enormous inland Norh African lakes 13,000 years ago are included in Taylor Hansen’s The Ancient Atlantic[0527.36].
Sarantitis offers details of his theories on his extensively illustrated Plato Project website(a), which I wholeheartedly recommend readers to visit. He includes a rather technical forensic analysis of Plato’s use of myth. Sarantitis also suggests that the ‘unfinished’ Critias is in fact continued at the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey (1.32-34).
Some of Sarantitis’ section on Methodology of Mythology will be difficult for non-academic readers, such as myself, to fully comprehend. For me his proposal that there were two Atlantean Wars, which took place in 9600 BC and 8600 BC(e) is extremely difficult to accept, since those wars were with an Athens and Egypt that did not even exist at those dates! I find it difficult to accept this apparent abandonment of commonsense and the science of archaeology.
*In 2010, Sarantitis published his theories in The Apocalypse of a Myth in Greek. Now (2017) that work has been translated into English and is currently being prepared for publication with a new title of Plato’s Atlantis: Decoding the Most Famous Myth.*
There is now an extensive video clip Q & A session available on Sarantitis’ website(b).
(e) Proceedings of the 2008 Atlantis Conference[750.389](editor S.Papamarinopoulos)
Jules Gabriel Verne (1828-1905) was the French novelist credited with ‘inventing’ science fiction. It is claimed that his 1870 classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in which the lost city of Atlantis is featured, is said to have inspired Ignatius Donnelly to undertake his researches that led to the publication, in 1882, of his own foundational work, Atlantis:The Antediluvian World. It is also suggested that Donnelly’s second catastrophist work, Ragnarok, was also prompted by another of Verne’s novels – Off on a Comet.
The last book published before his death was L’Invasion de la mer, only recently translated into English as Invasion of the Sea. It was based on an actual suggestion by a French geographer that the chotts of Algeria and Tunisia should be reconnected with the Mediterranean at the Gulf of Gabes. These chotts or salt lakes are reputed to have been the location of the legendary Lake Tritonis and considered by some to have included the port of Atlantis. Alberto Arecchi has proposed that Lake Tritonis was the original ‘Atlantic Sea’.
Tunisia has now offered evidence of human activity dated to nearly 100,000 years ago(d) at a site near Tozeur, in the south west of the country, where the chotts are today.
Tunisia was proposed in the 1920’s, by Albert Herrmann, as holding the location of Plato’s Atlantis, at a dried up saltwater lake known today as Chott el Djerid and was, according to Herrmann, previously called Lake Tritonis. Around this same period Dr Paul Borchardt, a German geologist, also favoured a site near the Gulf of Gabés, off Tunisia, as the location of Atlantis. He informed us that Shott el Jerid had also been known locally as Bahr Atala or Sea of Atlas.
More recently Alberto Arecchi has developed a theory that places Atlantis off the present Tunisian coast with a large inland sea, that he identifies as the original ‘Atlantic Sea’, straddling what is now the Tunisian Algerian border. Arecchi claims that this was nearly entirely emptied into the Mediterranean as a result of seismic or tectonic activity in the distant past.
*In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(f) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!*
There is clear evidence(b) that Tunisia had been home to the last wild elephants in the Mediterranean region until the demise of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, North Africa and Tunisia in particular has been considered the breadbasket of imperial Rome supplying much of its wheat and olive oil. Roman Carthage became the second city of the western empire. Although the climate has deteriorated somewhat since then, it is still possible to produced two crops a year in low lying irrigated plains of Tunisia. These details echo Plato’s description of Atlantis and justify consideration of Tunisia as being at least part of the Atlantean confederation.
It is worth noting that Mago, was the Carthaginian author of a 28-volume work on the agricultural practices of North Africa. After the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC his books were brought to Rome, where they were translated from Punic into Latin and Greek and were widely quoted thereafter. Unfortunately, the original texts did not survive, so that today we only have a few fragments quoted by later writers. However, it is clear that Mago’s work was a reflection of a highly developed agricultural society in that region, a description that could also be applied to Plato’s Atlantis!
In 2017, the sunken city of Neapolis was located off the coast of Nabeul, southeast of Tunis. This city was reportedly submerged by a tsunami ”on July 21 in 365 AD that badly damaged Alexandria in Egypt and the Greek island of Crete, as recorded by historian Ammianus Marcellinus.” However, water from a tsunami eventually drains back into the sea, but the demise of Neapolis might be better explained by liquefaction, in the same way that Herakleion, near Alexandria, was destroyed, possibly by the same event. Neapolis and Herakleion are around 1,900 km apart, which suggests an astounding seismic event if both were destroyed at the same time!(e)
In addition to all that, in winter the northern coast of Tunisia is assailed with cold winds from the north bringing snow to the Kroumirie Mountains in the northwest(c).
Interestingly, in summer 2014, a completely new lake was discovered at Gafsa, just north of Shott el Jerid and quickly became a tourist attraction(a), but its existence was rather short-lived.
Lake Tritonis is frequently referred to by the classical writers.* Ian Wilson refers to Scylax of Caryanda as having “specifically described Lake Tritonis extending in his time over an area of 2,300 km2.” He also cites Herodotus as confirming it as still partly extant in his time, a century later, describing it as a ‘great lagoon’, with a ‘large river’ (the Triton) flowing into it.[185.185]*
Lake Tritonis was considered the birthplace of Athene, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, after whom Athens is named. The exact location of the lake is disputed but there is some consensus that the salty marshes or chotts of central Tunisia and North-East Algeria are the most likely candidates. It appears that these marshes were originally formed a large inland sea connected to the Mediterranean but due to seismic activity in the area were cut off from the sea. Diodorus Siculus records this event in his third book.
*I should also mention that Lake Tritonis along with the Greek island of Lemnos and the river Thermodon in northern Turkey, now known as Terme Çay, have all been associated with the Amazons(d).*
Edward Herbert Bunbury, a former British MP, included a chapter(a) on Lake Tritonis in his 1879 book on the history of ancient geography[1531.v1.316].
In 1883, Edward Dumergue, published a brief study of the Tunisian chotts, which he concluded were the remnants of an ancient inland sea that had been connected to the Mediterranean Sea at the Gulf of Gabes.
Lucile Taylor Hansen in The Ancient Atlantic, has included a speculative map taken from the Reader’s Digest showing Lake Tritonis, around 11.000 BC, as a megalake covering much of today’s Sahara, with the Ahaggar Mountains turned into an island. Atlantis is shown to the west in the Atlantic.
In modern times, Alberto Arecchi has taken the idea further and suggested that the inland sea, where the chotts are now, was the original ‘Atlantic Sea’ and that the city of Atlantis was situated on an extended landmass to the east of Tunisia and connected to Sicily due to a lower sea level. Arecchi’s identification of the chotts with Lake Tritonis has now been adopted by Lu Paradise in a May 2015 blog(c). The Qattara Depression of Northern Egypt also contains a series of salt lakes and marshes and is believed by others to have been Lake Tritonis.
Cindy Clendenon is the author of a book on hydromythology in which she concludes that “the now-extinct Lake Tritonis once was a Cyrenaican lagoon-sabkha complex near today’s Sabkha Ghuzayyil and Marsa Brega, Libya.”(b).
North Africa has received considerable attention as a possible location for Atlantis since the beginning of the 19th century. Gattefosse and Butavand are names associated with early 20th century North African theorists. They, along with Borchardt, Herrmann and others have proposed locations as far west as Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, on through Tunisia and Libya and even as far east as the Nile delta.
One of the earliest writers was Ali Bey El Abbassi who discussed Atlantis and an ancient inland sea in the Sahara. The concept of such an inland sea, usually linked with Lake Tritonis, has persisted with the Chotts of Tunisia and Algeria as prime suspects. There is acceptance that a seismic/tectonic convulsion in the vicinity of the Gulf of Gabés cut off this inland sea from the Mediterranean. Diodorus Siculus records this event in his third book dating it to around 1250 BC. If such an event did not occur, how do we explain the salt laden chotts? However, proving a connection with Atlantis is another matter.
Whether this particular geological upheaval was related to the episode that destroyed parts of ancient Malta is questionable as the Maltese event was one of massive subsidence.
It should be kept in mind that Plato described the southern part of the Atlantean confederation as occupying North Africa as far eastward as Egypt (Tim.25b & Crit.114c). This of course conflicts with the idea of the Atlanteans invading from beyond ‘Pillars of Heracles’ situated at Gibraltar since they apparently already controlled at least part of the Western Mediterranean as far as Italy and Egypt.
*One of the principal arguments against Atlantis being located in North Africa is that Plato clearly referred to Atlantis as an island. However, as Papamarinopoulos has pointed out that regarding the Greek word for island, ‘nesos’ “a literary differentiation between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ did not exist in alphabetic Greek before Herodotus’ in the 5th century BC. Similarly, there was not any distinction between a coast and an island in Egyptian writing systems, up to the 5th century BC.” In conversation with Mark Adams[1070.198] Papamarinopoulos explains that in the sixth century BC, when Solon lived, nesos had five geographic meanings. “One, an island as we know it. Two, a promontory. Three, a peninsula. Four, a coast. Five, a land within a continent, surrounded by lakes, rivers or springs.”
Personally, from the context, I am quite happy to accept that the principal city of the Atlantean alliance existed on an island as we understand the word. This was probably north of Tunisia, where a number of possible candidates exist. However, it may be unwise to rule out a North African city just yet!
Another argument put forward that appears to exclude at least part of North Africa is that Plato, according to many translations, he refers to Atlantis as ‘greater’ than ‘Libya’ and ‘Asia‘ combined, using the Greek word, ‘meizon‘, which had a primary meaning of ‘more powerful’ not greater in size. Atlantis could not have been situated in either Libya or Asia because ‘a part cannot be greater than the whole’. However, if Plato was referring to military might rather than geographical extent, as seems quite likely, North Africa may indeed have been part of the Atlantean alliance, particularly as Plato describes the control of Atlantis in the Mediterranean as far Tyrrhenia and Egypt.*