Reader’s Digest published The World’s Last Mysteries in 1977. The very first article, written by May Veber, was about Atlantis. She reviews the leading Atlantis theories of nearly four decades ago; Azores, Bimini and in greater detail, Minoan Thera. One of her final comments was that “even the impressive body of scientific evidence which supports the Santorini explanation has been challenged. There is a volume of scholarship building up in favour of Heligoland as the site of Atlantis.” This was two years before Spanuth‘s Atlantis of the North was published in English!
Elephants are specifically mentioned by Plato as being indigenous to Atlantis. This must have significance for anyone trying to arrive at a credible location for Atlantis. For example, supporters of the Theran Atlantis School cannot show where such large animals could have lived on the small volcanic island. There are no physical remains, no frescos and no historical references. Rodney Castleden who supports the Minoan Hypothesis admits that “no raw elephant ivory has been found (on Thera) and very little in the way of worked ivory”[225.70]. He later speaks of the importation of ivory into Crete[p.172] having bravely denounced Plato’s description (Critias 115a) of herds of elephants on Atlantis as “false”[p.136].
Similarly, Spanuth’s Heligoland location would have been climatically unsuited to elephants. Spanuth himself admits that the elephant reference “is hard to explain“. Nevertheless, Felice Vinci who champions a Northern European origin for Greek mythology is of the opinion that Plato’s elephant reference may be a lingering memory of the woolly mammoths that inhabited Arctic regions as recently as 1700 BC. In the late 17th century Olof Rudbeck, recognising the problem that Plato’s reference to elephants presented for his Swedish Atlantis, argued that Plato had been speaking figuratively when describing the large voracious animals and had in fact been referring to wolves, the Swedish word for wolf being ‘ulf’, which sounds like the beginning of ‘elephant’!!
Elephants in Western Europe were undoubtedly represented by mammoths, remains of which have been recovered from the North Sea – Doggerland and dated to around 40,000 years ago. Coincidentally, a tool made of mammoth bone, used for making rope, has also been dated to 40,000 years ago(i)(n). Ashley Cowie recently published an interesting book on the history of rope-making. Further information on string, ropes and knots was published in March 2017(o).
Allied to the demise of the Siberian mammoths is the often repeated fib that when the remains were first discovered, their flesh was still fresh enough to eat, has recently been debunked by Jason Colavito(j). He has also unearthed the truth behind that other canard relating to a Siberian mammoth, namely that fresh buttercups were found in its mouth(j). He has now(q) traced back the earliest reference to the frozen mammoths to George Cuvier in 1822 [1586.11].
Eckart Kahlhofer, in a forthcoming book advocates a North-West European location for Atlantis, suggests that where Plato referred to elephants he really meant deer! Kahlhofer offers, as a simple explanation for this seemingly daft contention, the fact that the Greek for elephant, elephas, is very similar to the Greek elaphos which means deer. A simple transcription error by a scribe could have caused the mix-up. The elk was the largest species of deer to be found in the northern hemisphere and are still to be found in Scandinavia. The Great Irish Deer which died out around 5500 BC had an antler span of 11ft and a maximum height of 10ft.
Gene Matlock in an attempt to bolster his Mexican location for Atlantis has suggested that Plato’s elephants were in fact the long-snouted tapirs of Meso-America!(c), an idea ‘borrowed’ from Hyde Clarke
While the elephant issue should not be dealt with in isolation it does serve to illustrate the difficulties involved in analysing Plato’s text. Consider the possibility that the early date of 9600 BC for Atlantis is accepted, then the islands that are too small today to accommodate elephants may have been considerably larger and sometimes connected to each other or a mainland during the Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, and consequently capable of supporting pachyderms. In this regard, Sundaland would have been a most suitable candidate. Not only would to-day’s South China Sea’s archipelagos been a single landmass, but there would have been access to the area from the Asian mainland, home today to large numbers of elephants.
Strangely enough even the Andes, considered by some as the home of Atlantis, reveal the fact that during the last Ice Age a species of elephant called Cuvieronius lived there but became extinct around 8000 BC. These animals are to be found carved on the great Gateway of the Sun in Tiahuanaco suggesting that they were common in the region. Supporters of an Atlantis link with Tiahuanaco have highlighted this fact.
James Bailey who supports the idea of Atlantis in America believes that Plato’s mention of elephants could be a reference to the American mammoth, generally believed to have died out circa 10,000 BC, although Victor von Hagen, the American explorer, contentiously maintained that they survived as late 2000 BC. A similar idea was presented to the 2005 Atlantis Conference by American researcher, Monique Petersen.
The Schoppes, in support of their theory of Atlantis in the Black Sea region, contend(l) that Indian elephants existed there until 800 BC and support this with a reference to the Egyptian pharoah Thutmosis III who killed 120 elephants ‘there’ around 1200 BC, which is a strange claim as Thutmosis did not venture beyond Syria and he died circa 1426 BC!
Elephas Antiquus (Palaeoloxodon), is a dwarf species whose remains have been found throughout the islands of the Mediterranean from Sardinia to Cyprus. All those found were dated 200,000 BC or earlier! In sharp contrast, Simon Davis, in an article in New Scientist (3 Jan.1985), dated Mediterranean dwarf elephants to as recent as 6000 BC(p). A number of writers, such as Roger Coghill, have tried to use the pygmy elephant as an explanation for Plato’s text (Crit. 114e & 115a) where we find that he describes the elephants as being ‘of its nature the largest and most voracious’. This is not a description of pygmy elephants.
However, Ghar Hasan or Hasan’s Cave in southeast Malta has paleolithic cave paintings that depict elephants, indicating more recent contact with the animals. Whether these represented full-sized or the pygmy variety is unclear. A small booklet by Dr. Anton Mifsud and Dr. Charles Savona-Ventura describes this cave system.
In Dossier Malta – Neanderthal  Mifsud has drawn attention to another cavern, not far away, formerly known as Ghar Dulam, now Ghar Dalam, where thousands of dwarf elephant bones were discovered. Dulam means ‘small elephant’ in Arabic. This is one of the mainstays of his ‘Atlantis in Malta’ theory. Whether these diminutive creatures justify Plato’s description that they were the “largest and most voracious” of animals (Crit.115a) is clearly debatable. For me this is not a description of pygmy elephants and so in all probability is an indication of a North African location or, as some claim, an Asian one!
The Atlanteans had control in Europe as far as Tyrrhenia and Egypt, which would have included what is now modern Tunisia, the home of the last recorded wild elephants in that region!
Readers should be aware that there is general acceptance that the North African Elephant inhabited the Atlas Mountains until they became extinct in Roman times(e)(h). In fact the New Scientist magazine of 7th February 1985(d) outlined the evidence that Tunisia had native elephants until at least the end of the Roman Empire.
In Elephant Destiny Martin Meredith records that one of the earliest references to the African elephant came from Hanno, the 5th century BC Carthaginian explorer, who related how he came across marshes at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, which “were haunted by elephants and multitudes of other grazing beasts.” Meredith also mentions that stables for as many as 300 elephants were to be found within the city of Carthage itself.
Nevertheless, the species of elephant used by Hannibal has been a source of debate for years(f). The Numidians of North Africa (202 BC–46 BC) also used local elephants in warfare(g). It would seem to me that the North African Elephant, rather than the Asian or African species, would have been more suited to the trek across the Alps. Needless to say, the Atlas Mountains were part of the Atlantean sphere of control (Timaeus 25a-b) and so may be the reason that Plato mentioned them.*It is also reported that during the reign of the Ptolemies in Egypt (323 BC-30 BC), they imported war elephants from Eritrea in East Africa(r). *
The latter half of 2010 saw a new piece of nonsense hit the blogosophere when a claim that the Atlanteans had flying machines made of elephant skins suddenly appeared and before you could say “cut and paste” it was ‘adopted’ by a variety of websites(a)(b). So Dumbo was not the first flying elephant! In fact this daft idea was just a recycling of one of Edgar Cayce’s ‘revelations’ (Reading 364-6)(m).
(a) http://www.articledashboard.com/Article/Speaking-of-Atlantis/1872335 (Offline October 2017)
Dr Jürgen Spanuth (1907-1998) was born in Austria and studied theology and archaeology at university. He became pastor of Bordelum in Northern Germany. His first book Das Entraselte Atlantis was published in 1953, following excavations near Heligoland. It was later published in English and is now available on the Internet(a). His basic thesis was that following a major catastrophe in the North Sea around 1250 BC, the Mediterranean experienced an invasion of Scandinavians, whom he referred to as the ‘North Sea Peoples’. Part of the physical evidence he produced was the horn-helmeted Sea Peoples depicted at Medinet Habu. Since we are all used to seeing Vikings depicted with horned helmets, many are surprised to find that it is a late 19th century invention(e)(f).
Spanuth theory implies that such helmets had been standard army issue in the region for over a millennium. In fact the Vikings used rather plain helmets which they did not manufacture themselves but traded for them from other Germanic peoples on mainland Europe(d). However, one of the Sea Peoples, the Shardana, generally believed to have come from Sardinia, did use horn-helmets. However, there are aspects of this claim that are the subject of continuing debate, but the matter of a North Sea connection has weakened considerably.
Spanuth considered Basileia, the royal island of Atlantis, to have been located near Heligoland. He produced a mass of evidence to support his views but found his book under severe attack by many academics, which, in general, had the support of the public. After being publicly labelled, among other things, a liar, Spanuth was forced to challenge his detractors in the courts. After some six years he was vindicated when ten professors withdrew their plea, admitting that their arguments against the pastor were untenable.Felix R. Paturi has more information[1339.215] on this disgraceful episode, as well as a note of scientists who supported Spanuth.
A study of Spanuth’s references would suggest that he had access to the prehistoric research archives of the Ahnenerbe and has successfully collated and analysed a lot of this extensive material in his books. Vidal-Naquet bluntly labels him a Nazi[580.124], although his publisher, Wolfram Zeller, denied it. The German Wikipedia claims that he was a member of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) from 1933 until 1945. Similar claims that he had been in the SS have also been refuted(c). In 2002, Frank Doenenburg, on his website language(b)discussed Spanuth’s politics at length. In my view, all these matters risk distracting us today from discussing dispassionately the merits or otherwise of Spanuth’s Atlantis theories.
Spanuth’s second book had a much better reception. His final offering was Die Atlanter(1976), which was also published in English, however this is really just a revised and expanded version of his 1965 book.
Spanuth has still a lot of supporters and is constantly referred to, particularly by German investigators such as Arn Strohmeyer and Gerhard Herm. Felice Vinci, who strongly favours a Northern European origin for Homer’s epic tales, also places Atlantis in a northern context. The Danish writer, Kirsten Bang, published a short book in which she also placed Atlantis in the Wadden Sea where Helgoland is located. She also supports a date of 1300 BC for its destruction.
Another recent supporter of Spanuth’s Atlantis theory is Holger Kalweit who has written a trilogy, the first of which is Irrstern über Atlantis. This initial volume is concerned with the destruction of Atlantis by a comet (Phaeton) in 1222 BC, leaving Helgoland as a remnant. Refugees fled south to the Eastern Mediterranean leaving their cultural imprint on the region. Unfortunately. this huge 700-page book is to be followed by two more in which the author moves on to expand on the subject of ‘lizard people’, which for me has him as a fully paid-up member of the lunatic fringe.
*(b) http://www.fdoernenburg.de/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=1213 (page closed, July 2017)*
The North Sea has been advocated by a variety of writers as the original site of Atlantis. Jürgen Spanuth specified his native Heligoland as its location in his well-researched work, Atlantis of the North.
Georg Lohle in his book on world history identifies a location between England and Denmark that was inundated about 2000 BC. He also makes extensive use of the Oera Linda Book. His German language website(a) has a wide range of photos and diagrams. Lohle daringly resurrects the old idea of the Earth being hollow and then combines it with another controversial concept, namely that it is still expanding(b).
In the middle of the 20th century we find Robert Graves and Rachel Carson were probably the first to suggest the Dogger Bank as the location of Atlantis. More recently Jean Deruelle(e), Sylvain Tristan(c) and Guy Gervis(d) have all opted for a location on the Dogger Bank, now more popularly known as Doggerland.
The most recent challenger for the Atlantis title is located in the vicinity of Rockall, an uninhabited islet north west of Ireland.
*(a) http://www.erdexpansion.de/atlantis.htm (offline Dec. 2017) See: https://web.archive.org/web/20161113122829/http://www.erdexpansion.de/atlantis.htm*
*(b) http://www.grisda.org/origins/15053.htm (link broken Oct. 2018) See: https://web.archive.org/web/20180307141731/http://www.grisda.org/origins/15053.htm*
(c) http://www.visionary-knowledge.com/Atlantis/Atlantis%20the%20First%20European%20Empire.pdf (link broken Sept. 2018) See: http://spcov.free.fr/site_nicoulaud/en/empire.php
(d) http://www.nwepexplore.com (Link broken Sept. 2018) See: Archive 3606
Walter Winston Baucum (1938-2012) was a retired American teacher with a passion for ancient history. He is probably best known for his book The History and Future of Israelite America, which promotes the idea of America having been settled in pre-Columbian times by some of the lost tribes of Israel. He also wrote a number of articles on the same subject(a)(b).
He believed that Britain and the other nations of Europe are also descendants of these ‘lost tribes’. These ideas have been around for a couple of centuries and are usually supported by Christian groups. Baucum however was a member of the United Hebrew Congregation.
More recently he has ventured into the realms of Atlantology publishing his Bronze Age Atlantis in which he follows some of the ideas of Jürgen Spanuth who placed Atlantis in the North Sea and identified the Sea Peoples who invaded Egypt as the ‘North Sea Peoples’. Baucum introduced a number of hard-to-accept ideas such as the Picts of Scotland and the Irish leprechauns (little people) were Minoan!
He concluded that Atlantis was basically “a seafaring, metal-gathering empire”, while with regard to the location of Atlantis, the capital city, he followed Spanuth and opted for the vicinity of Heligoland, where sandbanks existed to the east as late as the 17th century (p.297).
*(a) http://www.uhcg.org/Lost-10-Tribes/AreWeIsrael.html (offline Dec. 2017)*
The Pillars of Heracles is the name given by Plato to describe a maritime boundary marker of the ancient Greek world. According to his text, Atlantis lay just beyond or just before this boundary. However, strictly speaking, Plato does not call them ‘pillars’ but refers to them as stelai (pronounced “stee-lie”) and its singular Stele (pronounced “stee-lee”) which are the Greek words for stone slabs used as boundary or commemorative markers, not a reference to supportive columns. Rhys Carpenter favours the idea that the term when applied to the Strait of Gibraltar was used with the sense of boundary markers, indicating ”the limits of the Inner Sea that, for the Greeks, was the navigable world.”[221.156]
According to Aristotle, the Pillars of Heracles were also known by the earlier name of ‘Pillars of Briareus’. Plutarch places Briareus near Ogygia, from which we can assume that the Pillars of Heracles are close to Ogygia. Since Malta has been identified as Ogygia, it was not unreasonable, to conclude, as some do, that the Pillars were probably in the region of the Maltese Islands.
However, Ogygia has also been identified with one of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic by Felice Vinci[019.3], who then proposed that the Pillars of Heracles had also been located in that archipelago. John Larsen has made similar suggestions.
Furthermore, Aristotle also wrote that “outside the pillars of Heracles the sea is shallow owing to the mud, but calm, for it lies in a hollow.” This is not a description of the Atlantic that we know, which is not shallow, calm or lying in a hollow and which he refers to as a sea not an ocean.
Classical writers frequently refer to the Pillars without being in anyway specific regarding their location. Rosario Vieni has suggested that the Symplegades, at the Bosporus, encountered by Homer’s Argonauts were precursors of the Pillars of Heracles, although he settled on the Strait of Sicily as their location, before Sergio Frau adopted the same location.
However, there is little doubt that during the last centuries BC ‘the Pillars’ referred almost exclusively to the Strait of Gibraltar. The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia notes that Pillars were, in earlier times, identified with the Strait of Sicily, but from the time of Erastosthenes (c. 250 BC) the term was used to refer to the Strait of Gibraltar, reflecting the expansion of Greek maritime knowledge.
I consider it highly relevant that no writer prior to Eratosthenes had referred to the Pillars of Heracles being located at Gibraltar. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this silence reflects the lack of knowledge possessed by the ancient Greeks regarding the western Mediterranean, which only improved gradually, as their colonising and trading expanded westward.
Alessio Toscano has suggested that the Pillars were situated at the Strait of Otranto and that Plato’s ‘Atlantic’ was in fact the Adriatic Sea. A more distant location was proposed by Chechelnitsky who placed the ‘Pillars’ at the Bering Strait between the Chukchi and Seward peninsulas in Russia and the USA respectively.
It always seemed to me that when the Greeks began their expansion westward, they did so hugging the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Understandably, they would have taken the shortest route from the Greek mainland to the heel of Italy and later on to Sicily. As they progressed with their colonisation, new limits were set, and in time, exceeded. I suggest that these limits were each in turn designated the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ as they expanded further. I speculate that Capo Colonna (Cape of the Column) in Calabria may have been one of those boundaries. Interestingly, 18th century maps shown up to five islands near the cape that are no longer visible(g), suggesting the possibility that in ancient times they could have been even more extensive, creating a strait that might have matched Plato’s description. On the other hand, the Strait of Messina was one of the locations recorded as the site of the ‘Pillars’ and considering that mariners at that time preferred to stay close to the coast, I would opt for the Strait of Messina rather than the more frequently proposed Strait of Sicily.
An extensive collection of classical references to the ‘Pillars’ is to be found on the Internet(j).
However, the poet Pindar in the Third Nemean Ode would appear to have treated the Pillars as a metaphor for the limit of established Greek geographical knowledge (Olympian 3.43-45), a boundary that was never static. In 1778, Jean-Silvain Bailly was certain that the Pillars of Hercules were just “a name that denotes limits or boundaries.” [926.v2/293]
Dag Øistein Endsjø, a Norweigan professor, has added the use of the ‘Pillars’ as a metaphor to include the limits of human endeavour(d) and quotes the classicist, James S. Romm in support(e). My own view is that where the term may have initially referred to physical pillars, over time a metaphorical usage became the norm.
Paulino Zamarro has mapped 13 locations(f) identified as the ‘Pillars’ by classical authors (see map below) and expands on this further in his book. He identified Pori, a rocky islet north of the Greek island of Antikythera, as the location of the Pillars of Herakles.
The Pillars are assumed by some to refer to the Rock of Gibraltar in Europe and to Mt. Acha or Jebel Musain, which are near Ceuta in Morocco. Others prefer to accept them as a physical pair of pillars set up outside a temple.
The idea that geographical terms can radically change their location over time is illustrated by the name (H)esperia, which means ‘evening land’ or as we might say ‘land of the setting sun’, was originally used by Greeks to indicate Italy and later employed by Roman writers as a designation for Spain. It could be argued that the Greek use of this appellation could be an indication that when introduced they were not too sure what lay beyond Italy.
Herodotus (Hist. Bk II.44) refers to Heracles as a god of the Egyptians ‘from time immemorial’. He also visited a temple of Heracles in Tyre with two pillars, one of gold and the other emerald. According to the priests there it had stood for two thousand three hundred years or from approximately 2700 BC.
Heracles is clearly the Greek counterpart of the Phoenician god Melqart, who was the principal god of the Phoenician city of Tyre. Melqart was brought to the most successful Tyrian colony, Carthage and subsequently further west, where at least three temples dedicated to Melqart have been identified in ancient Spain, Gades, Ebusus, and Carthago Nova. Across the Strait in Morocco, the ancient Phoenician city of Lixus also has a temple to Melqart.
Gades (Cadiz) was originally named Gadir (walled city). It has been generally accepted that it was founded around 1100 BC, although hard evidence does not prove a date earlier than the 9th century BC. It is today regarded as the most ancient functioning city in Western Europe.
Pairs of free standing columns were apparently important in Phoenician temples and are also to be found in Egyptian temples as well as being part of Solomon’s temple (built by Phoenician craftsmen). Consequently the pillars of Melqart temple in Gades are considered by some to be the origin of the reference to the Pillars of Melqart and later of Heracles (by the Greeks) and Hercules (by the Romans) as applied to the Strait of Gibraltar.
*Spanuth dismisses those who have identified the red and white cliffs of Heligoland as the Pillars of Heracles, decrying the idea as a fallacy. He explains that “Natural rock formations were not what was originally meant by the Pillars of Heracles. Those at the Straits of Gibraltar were not, as one so often reads, the rocks to the north and south of the Straits, but two man-made pillars which stood before the temple of Heracles at Gades (present-day Cádiz) about 100 km north of the Straits.”*
The Pillars of Heracles usually play a critical part in the construction of any theory relating to the location of Atlantis. Even the authors of theories that have placed Plato’s island civilisation in such diverse locations as Antarctica, the North Sea or the South China Sea, have felt obliged to include an explanation for the ’Pillars’ within the framework of their particular hypothesis.
There is one location clue in Plato’s text (Tim.24e) that is often overlooked, namely, that the island of Atlantis was situated close to the Pillars of Heracles. Although it can be argued that Plato’s island was immediately before or after the Pillars, the text clearly implies proximity. This was pointed out by W.K.C. Guthrie in volume 5 of A History of Greek Philosophy [946.245] and independently endorsed by Joseph Warren Wells in The Book on Atlantis.
A number of alternative locations have been identified as being referred to in ancient times as the Pillars of Heracles. Robert Schoch writes “This distinctive name, taken from the most powerful hero of Greek mythology, was given to a number of ancient sites known in modern times by quite different appellations”. The Greeks, however, used the name Pillars of Heracles to mark other sites besides Gibraltar, some outside the Mediterranean – namely, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Strait of Kerch dividing the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov – and even more inside – specifically, the Strait of Bonafaccio between Corsica and Sardinia, the Strait of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily, the Greek Peleponnese, the mountainous coast of Tunisia, and the Nile Delta.
Arguably the most unusual suggestion this year has come fro Marco Goti in his book, The Island of Plato in which he identified the ‘Pillars’ in the Atlantic, being the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland in the west and their counterpart in Scotland’s Isle of Staffa in the east! However, this idea is not original, having been first mooted nearly seventy years ago by W.C. Beaumont(n).
Perhaps the first ‘modern’ writer to propose the eastern Mediterranean as the location for the ‘Pillars’ was Russian, Avraam Norov. He considered them to have been shrines drawing on both Greek and Arabic sources for his ideas.
G. Galanopoulos and E. Bacon suggest that the Pillars of Heracles were possibly associated with Melos, one of the Cyclades or Cape Maléa, the eastern promontory of the Gulf of Laconia. Both James Mavor and Rodney Castleden defend this view, which continues to have some support(p).?
Tacitus, the renowned Latin historian, in chapter 34 of Germania, clearly states that it was believed that the Pillars of Hercules were located near the Rhine in the territory of the Frisians.
Olof Rudbeck opted for a location further east in the Baltic at the Øresund strait between Sweden and Denmark.
Strabo, the Greek historian and geographer, records that Alexander the Great built an altar and ‘Pillars of Heracles’ at the eastern limit of his Empire. Pliny the Elder noted that in Sogdiana in modern Uzbekistan there was reputed to be an altar and ‘Pillars of Heracles’. Aristotle in de Mundo describes the north coast of Europe on the edge of a vast sea, beyond the Celts and the Scythians up to Sinus Gallicus and the Pillars of Heracles!
Ulrich Hofmann combines the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax with the writings of Herodotus to build a credible argument for placing Atlantis in North Africa in Lake Tritonis, now occupied by the Chotts of modern Algeria and Tunisia. Consequently, Hoffmann places the Pillars at the Gulf of Gabés, which would put Malta to the east of them. He also argues that the Pillars were part of Atlantis rather than separate from it.
George Sarantitis presented a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in which he also argued that the Pillars had been situated in the Gulf of Gabes[750.403]. He cites Strabo among others to highlight the multiplicity of locations that have been attributed to Pillars in ancient times.
Scylax of Caryanda describes(a) in his Periplus, a guide to the Mediterranean, the Maltese Islands as lying to the east of the Pillars of Heracles. The opinions of Hofmann and Sarantitis would certainly support this view.
Anton Mifsud argues that had the Pillars been located at Gibraltar the islands to the east would have been the Balearics. Mifsud also points out that the 1st century BC writer, Apollonius Rhodius, located the Strait of Heracles in ancient Syrtis Minor, now the Gulf of Gabés. Delisle de Sales placed the ‘Pillars’ not too far away at the Gulf of Tunis, the gateway to Carthage. Mifsud has now revised his opinion and in a December 2017 illustrated article(o) has identified the Maltese promontory of Ras ir-Raheb near Rabat, with its two enormous limestone columns as the Pillars of Herakles. This headland had originally been topped by a Temple of Herakles, confirmed by archaeologist, Professor Nicholas Vella.
Sergio Frau, in his recent book, published in Italy, insists that the Pillars were in fact located in the Strait of Sicily. He sees this location as according with the writings of Homer and Hesiod. He discusses in detail the reference by Herodotus to an island to the west of the Pillars, suggesting that the world ‘ocean’ had a different meaning than today and pointing out that elsewhere Herodotus refers to Sardinia as the largest island in the world. Following this lead Frau concluded that Atlantis was in fact located in Sardinia. Frau commented that Eratosthenes, circa 200 BC, was the first geographer to place the Pillars of Heracles at Gibraltar. He also quotes the earlier geographer Dicaearchus whose comments appear to also support a location near Malta. Antonio Usai , in his critique of Frau’s book has opted for the Pillars having been between the coast of Tunisia and the islands of Kerkennah.
It should be noted that many of the other known ‘Pillars of Heracles’ existed in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. This is possibly because until the middle of the 1st millennium BC the Greeks were, generally speaking, restricted to this region. It would appear that for the ancient Greeks, the Pillars of Heracles marked straits or promontories at the limits of their known world. These boundaries were extended further and further as their maritime capabilities improved. In the Late Bronze Age the Bosporus in the east and probably the Strait of Sicily in the west confined the Greeks. It was only shortly before Solon’s trip to Egypt that the Greek colony of Massilia (modern Marseilles) was founded and so, at last, the western limit of the Mediterranean was brought within the reach of Greek ships. Obviously as their range extended so too did the location of new Pillars and possibly led to the decline in the usage of the title at former boundaries, leaving us today with only the Strait of Gibraltar to carry the name.
Nevertheless, Thorwald C. Franke maintains that the westward shift of the ‘Pillars’ to Gibraltar occurred hundreds of years before Solon. He expanded on this at the 2008 Atlantis Conference and in his 2006 book on Herodotus.
Even Arthur C. Clarke suggested that there was evidence that the early Greeks did not originally refer to the Strait of Gibraltar as the Pillars of Heracles. Clarke did not cite his sources, but expressed a personal preference for the Strait of Messina.
Fundamentalist Atlantology, as proclaimed by the ‘prophet’ Donnelly in the 19th century, will accept no explanation other than that Plato was referring to ‘Pillars’ near Gibraltar. Certainly, it is perfectly clear that Plato MAY have been referring to the Strait of Gibraltar, but it is also clear that this was not the only location with that designation in ancient times. Consequently, if any of the alternatives mentioned above enable the construction of a new credible Atlantis location hypothesis, then it deserves careful rational consideration.
In 1913, Nicolae Densusianu proposed a location for the Pillars on the Danube, in ancient Dacia, modern Romania. Ranko Jakovljevic has recently expressed the view that the nearby Iron Gates section of the Danube in Serbia was the location of Atlantis. A paper presented to the 2008 Atlantis Conference by Ticleanu, Constantin & Nicolescu[750.375] has the ‘Pillars’ at the Iron Gates but place Atlantis a little further west on what is now the Pannonian Plain.
The late Arysio dos Santos claims claimed that “there was only one real pair of pillars: the ones that flank Sunda Strait in Indonesia”, in keeping with his Indonesian location for Atlantis. However, he does list (p.130) nine sites designated by ancient authorities as having been locations of ‘Pillars’, reinforcing the idea that the term was not exclusively applied to just one site.
Even more exotic locations such as Chott-el-Djerid in Tunisia, Bab-el-Mandeb(b) at the mouth of the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz(i) at the entrance to the Persian Gulf and even the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India have all been suggested at some stage as the ‘Pillars’.
George H. Cooper offered an even more outrageous solution when he wrote that Stonehenge in England were the original Pillars of Heracles.*In 2018, David L. Hildebrandt published Atlantis – The Awakening , in which he has endeavoured to do just that with a mass of material that he claims supports the idea of Atlantis in Britain and Stonehenge as the remnants of the Temple of Poseidon. He suggests that the the five trilithons represent the five sets of male twins, an idea voiced by Jürgen Spanuth and more recently by Dieter Braasch.*
Sometimes, in ancient Greek literature, this phrase refers to the strait between Sicily and the southern tip of Italy (a place which the Greeks did know well, having established colonies in Sicily and southern Italy). An indication of the level of confusion that existed in early geography and cartography is the fact that some ancient maps & texts mark the Mediterranean region west of the Strait of Sicily as “the Atlantic Ocean” and even state that Tyrrhenia is in the ‘Atlantic’!
Finally, my own conclusion regarding the location of the ‘Pillars’ referred to by Plato/Solon, is that a careful reading of Plato’s text shows clearly that they were located in the Central or Western Mediterranean. I base this view on (i) Critias 108 which states that the Atlantean war was between those that lived outside the Pillars of Heracles and those that lived within them and (ii) Critias 114 which declares that Atlantis held sway over the Western Mediterranean as far as Tyrrhenia in the north and up to the borders of Egypt in the south. Consequently, we can assume that west of Tyrrhenia and of Egypt were beyond the Pillars of Heracles. Depending on the exact location of the ancient borders of Tyrrhenia and Egypt, the Pillars could have been situated between Malta and Crete. This interpretation opens up the possibility of Malta, Sicily or Sardinia as prime candidates for the location of Atlantis.
Plato’s comments make little sense, if he was describing an attack by people outside the Pillars located at Gibraltar on those inside the Pillars, since at least half of the coastal territory, in both Europe and Africa, east of Gibraltar was already conquered. However, if the Pillars were located somewhere much further east, his comments make greater sense.
The Schoppes, in support of their Black Sea location for Atlantis, maintain that the Pillars were situated at the Bosporus and not Gibraltar. They contend “the maintained misinterpretation results from the fact that Herakles went to Iberia. At late Hellenistic and at Roman times Iberia was Spain. However, this leads to inconsistencies: After putting up the Pillars (supposed to be Gibraltar) Herakles put together a fleet to go to Iberia, he was still there!” The Schoppes point out that in the distant past ‘Iberia related to the land of an ethnic group to the east of the Black Sea.
Luana Monte, a supporter of the Minoan Hypothesis has also proposed a location at the mouth of the Nile Delta where the recently rediscovered sunken city of Herakleoin was situated. This identification appears to have been made in order to keep the Minoan Empire west of the ‘Pillars’.
Even more bizarre is the suggestion(c) that the ‘Pillars’ were in fact two bright stars in the western sky at the end of the last Age of Libra around 12,500 BC.
What is clear from all of the above is that the term Pillars of Heracles was, without doubt, applied to a variety of locations but Plato’s reference MIGHT relate to Gibraltar although equally strong if not stronger cases can be made for other sites at earlier dates. It is also plausible that at some point it also became a metaphor for any geographical limit.
Neville Chipulina, a Gibraltarian, has an interesting article(m) on the ‘history’ of the Pillars of Hercules and its association with Gibraltar.
Apart from any connection with Atlantis, it has been suggested that the vertical lines in the US dollar $ign represent the Pillars of Heracles!(l)