Gerd von Hassler (1928-1989) was a German author of radio plays for children, who also had an interest in music and ancient history. In 1976 he published Noahs Weg zum Amazonas (Noah’s way to the Amazon), which was translated into English by Martin Ebon and republished as Lost Survivors of the Deluge. In it he links the biblical deluge with the destruction of Atlantis. He also identifies Sumerian flood of Gilgamesh with that of Noah. In fact he suggests that Gilgamesh voyaged from Lixus to South America . However, overall he seems happy to follow the ideas of Otto Muck who placed Atlantis in the Atlantic and destroyed by an asteroid impact. Von Hassler further identifies Atlantis with the Garden of Eden. His idea that Noah sailed the Atlantic is to say the least wildly speculative, but no doubt broadly welcomed by the Mormons.
The Sahara Desert and in particular its northern regions have attracted its share of attention from Atlantis investigators. However unlikely it may appear as a possible location for Atlantis it must be kept in mind that the Sahara of prehistory was very different from what we see today. Not only was it wetter at various periods in the past, but also there is clear evidence for the existence of a large inland sea extending across the borders of modern Algeria and Tunisia. This evidence is in the form of the chottsor salt flats in both countries. This proposed sea is considered by some to have been the Lake Tritonis referred to by classical writers. It is suggested that some form of tectonic/seismic activity, common in the region, was responsible for isolating this body of seawater from the Mediterranean and eventually turning it into the salt flats we see today.
An even more extensive inland sea, further south, was proposed by Ali Bey el Abbassi and based on his theory a map was published in 1802 which can be viewed online(c).
More recently, Riaan Booysen has published an illustrated paper on the ancient inland Saharan seas as indicated on the 16th century maps of Mercator and Ortelius(i). King’s College London runs The Sahara Megalakes Project which studies the Megalakes and the Saharan Palaeoclimate record(m).
A 2013 report in New Scientist magazine(d) revealed that 100,000 years ago the Sahara had been home to three large rivers that flowed northward, which probably provided migration routes for our ancestors.
Other studies(h) have shown the previous existence of a huge river system in the Western Sahara, which flowed into the Atlantic on the Mauritanian coast.
An article in the Sept. 2008 edition of National Geographic pointed out that the Saharan climate has been similar for the past 70,000 years except for a period beginning 12,000 years ago when a number of factors combined to alter this fact. A northerly shift by seasonal monsoons brought additional rain to an area the size of contiguous USA. This period of a greener Sahara lasted until around 4,500 years ago. Henri Lhote contributed an article to the Reader’s Digest’s, The World’s Last Mysteries, regarding the ‘green’ Sahara that existed prior to 2500 BC.
An interesting question might be; what happened circa 2500 BC to cause this reversal? Some have suggested a connection between the aridification of the Sahara and the destruction of Atlantis!
More recently, human activity has been blamed as a major contributory factor for the desertification of the Sahara region less than 10,000 years ago.(n)
Related to the above is a recent study of sediments off the west coast of Africa, which resulted in the discovery of what was “primarily a new “beat,” in which the Sahara vacillated between wet and dry climates every 20,000 years, in sync with the region’s monsoon activity and the periodic tilting of the Earth.” (o)
In 1868, it was proposed by D.A. Godron, the French botanist, that the Sahara was the location of Atlantis. In 2003, the non-existent archaeologist Dr.Carla Sage announced that she was hoping to lead an international expedition to the Sahara in search of Atlantis. Her contention was that “Atlantis was the capital of a vast North African empire with ports on the Gulf of Sidra”. This report is now confirmed to have been a hoax! I am indebted to Stel Pavlou for uncovering the origin of this story(e).
Gary Gilligan, the well-known catastrophist, wrote a thought-provoking article(k) on the origin of the Saharan sands, which he claims are extraterrestrial in origin and expands on the idea in his 2016 book Extraterrestrial Sands.
David Mattingly, an archaeologist at Leicester University has found that an ancient people known as the Garamantes had an extensive civilisation in the Sahara(l). He has evidence of at least three cities and twenty other settlements. The Garamantes reached their peak around 100 BC and then gradually diminished in influence as fossil water supplies reduced until in the 7th century AD they were subjected to Islamic domination. Some researchers such as Frank Joseph have identified the Garamantes as being linked with the Sea Peoples. Bob Idjennaden has published short but informative Kindle books about both the Garamantes and the Sea Peoples,*without a suggestion of any connection between the two.*
The discovery of the megalithic structures discovered at Nabta Playa (Nabta Lake) in the Egyptian Sahara has provided evidence for the existence of a sophisticated society in that area around 5000 BC. In the same region, near the Dakhleh Oasis, archaeologists have produced data that supports the idea that pre-Pharaonic Egypt had Desert Origins rather than being an importation from Mesopotamia or elsewhere(a).
Nabta Playa is not unique, in fact the largest megalithic ellipse in the world is to be found at Mzorah, 27 km from Lixus in Morocco(b). It appears that the construction methods employed at both Mezorah and Nabta Playa are both similar to that used in the British Isles. An even more impressive site is Adam’s Calendar in South Africa which has been claimed as 75,000-250,000 years old.
West of Cairo near the border with Libya is the Siwa Oasis, where it has now been demonstrated that “it is in fact home to one of Ancient Egypt’s astounding solar-calendar technologies– the solar equinox alignment between the Timasirayn Temple and the Temple of Amun Oracle in Aghurmi.”(j).
I think we can expect further exciting discoveries in the Sahara leading to a clearer picture of the prehistoric cultures of the region and what connections there are, if any, with Plato’s Atlantis. In the meanwhile in the Eastern Egyptian Desert, Douglas Brewer, a professor of archaeology at the University of Illinois, has discovered over 1,000 examples of rock art, including numerous depictions of boats although the sites, so far undisclosed, are remote from water.
Even more remarkable is the report(e) of March 2015 that a survey of the Messak Settafet escarpment in the central Sahara revealed that there were enough discarded stone tools in the region “to build more than one Great Pyramid for every square kilometre of land on the continent”! Coincidentally, around the same time it was reported that over a thousand stone tools had been found in the Northern Utah Desert(g). What the Utah discovery lacked in quantity was made up for in quality with the finding of the largest known Haskett point spear head, measuring around nine inches in length.
(a) Saudi Aramco World(2006, Vol. 57, No.5 p.2-11)
(d) NewScientist.com, 16 September 2013, http://tinyurl.com/mg9vcoz
(l) See: Archive 3268
Aimé-Louis Rutot (1847-1933) was a Belgian archaeologist who wrote extensively on prehistoric civilisation. In 1920 he identified Agadir on the Atlantic coast of Morocco as the location of the capital city of Atlantis. He suggested that Lake Tritonis was a large inland sea where the chotts are today. He also proposed a further large ‘Inner Lake’ existed across Hauts Plateau in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. Rutot further identified the island of Hesperides as a large section of what is now mainland Africa, opposite the Canaries, and formerly the site of the ancient city of Lixus.
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.*
Melqart was the son of El the supreme deity of the Phoenicians. He was the principal god of the city of Tyre and was sometimes known as Baal. As Tyre gained supremacy throughout the Phoenician world, Melqart also gained prominence. Melqart is the only Phoenician god mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The Temple of Melqart in Tyre was similar to that built for Solomon in Jerusalem. This is understandable as craftsmen from Tyre built the temple in Jerusalem and there would have had a natural exchange of religious ideas, as they were neighbours. Herodotus describes the main entrance to the sanctuary as being flanked by two columns or pillars known as ‘betyls’, one made of gold and the other of ‘smaragdus’— often translated as ‘emerald.’
The cult of Melqart was brought to Carthage, the most successful Tyrian colony, and temples dedicated to Melqart are found in at least three sites in Spain; Gades (modern Cadiz), Ebusus, and Carthago Nova. Near to Gades, at the Strait of Gibraltar, the mountains on either side were first known as the Pillars of Melqart, and then later changed to the Pillars of Heracles. Across the Strait of Gibraltar, at the Atlantic coast of Morocco was the Phoenician colony of Lixus, where there was another temple of Melqart.
In classical literature Melqart and Heracles have been referred to interchangeably, by many historians such as Josephus Flavius.
It is thought that the city of Cadiz was originally founded as Gadir (walled city) by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC, although hard evidence does not prove a date earlier than the 9th century BC. In his 2011 book, Ancient Phoenicia, Mark Woolmer has claimed [1053.46] that the archaeological evidence indicates a date around the middle of the 8th century BC.
It is regarded as the most ancient functioning city in Western Europe. Gadir had a temple that was dedicated to the Phoenician god Melqart. Some consider that the columns of this temple were the origin of the reference of the Columns of Heracles. Commentators on Plato’s Atlantis story have linked Cadiz (formerly Gades) with the second son of Poseidon, Gadirus.
Lixus is an ancient site on a hilltop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, north of the port of Larache on the Loukkos River between Rabat and Tangier in Morocco. Its topography has led some to favour it as a possible location for Atlantis. Jonas Bergman was a leading exponent of this idea but has recently(a) opted for a site further south between Rabat and Casablanca.*Unsurprisingly, Frank Joseph has also claimed [108.111] an Atlantean connection for Lixus as well as Mogador, another ancient Moroccan port city situated further south.*
It is generally accepted that it was a prehistoric seaport that the Carthaginian occupied around 800 BC, when they built on top of more ancient structures, so that its ruins today show three distinct cultural styles. On top are the most recent Roman remains, underneath which are Carthaginian and below that again a type reminiscent of the pre-Incan masonry in Peru. This lower style incorporates huge massive stones and the peculiar polygonal design found at Sacsahuaman and Andalusia in Spain. The explorer Thor Heyerdahl and the writer R. Cedric Leonard(b) have both remarked upon this feature. The question of how such unusual but similar types of masonry can be found on both sides of the Atlantic instantly leaps to mind.
Understandably, some have interpreted this as evidence of a transatlantic civilisation – Atlantis. If not, what are these strangely similar masonry styles doing on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean?
According to Dr. Gerald S. Hawkins(1928-2003), formerly of the Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory, these lower megalithic walls are carefully aligned with the sun, noting that the earlier name for the city was Maqom Shemesh, or “City of the Sun” (Hawkins, 1973).
*(b) http://www.atlantisquest.com/Archeology.html (Offline March 2018)*
Jonas Bergman is a Swedish Atlantologist living in Uppsala, who actively promotes his theory that Plato’s Atlantis was located in Morocco (PAiM). His excellent website(a) concentrates on matching the topography of Morocco with Plato’s description, together with a detailed re-appraisal of Plato’s original text.
(He presented a paper at the 2005 Atlantis Conference on Melos in which he outlined the evidence for linking Atlantis with the Phoenicians. Bergman contends that while Plato never used the Greek word for continent, epiros, his statement that Atlantis was greater than Asia and Libya combined was a reference to its size rather than its military might. He supports this contention with a quotation from Strabo (Geography 2.3.6) who employs the term epiros in a similar manner.
Although he originally favoured the ancient city of Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, Bergman later modified his views and has now opted for Chellah, a site on the river Bou Regreg near the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
Bergman also presented a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in which he quoted from fourteen classical authors a “range of parallels between Plato’s primeval Athenians and those of the Heroic tradition. The idea that Plato invented the whole thing seem highly unlikely.”[0750.103]
In December 2016, Bergman published the first of a series of Kindle books with the title of The Foundations of Plato’s Atlantic Tale. In it he focuses on the credibility of Plato’s account and some of the apparent contradictions in the text. This is a short 36-page offering and in my opinion somewhat overpriced.
(a) http://www.paim.net/morocco/ (offline Sept.2016)
Atlantides, in Greek mythology was the collective name given to the seven beautiful daughters of Atlas, the founder of Atlantis. They were also known as Pleiades or Hesperides, after their mother Hesperis. As the Hesperides they were considered the protectors of the Seven Isles of the Blest, which contained the Gardens of Atlas, their father. The Garden of the Hesperides was located, according to Eustatius in the field of Atlas.
Hercules had to locate ‘the golden apples’ in the Garden of the Hesperides. Jonas Bergman has identified the ‘golden apples’ as the oranges of Morocco, with a site near Lixus providing the Garden of the Hesperides. *[The late Michael Hübner who was also an advocate for a Moroccan site for Atlantis proposed that the fruit of the Argan tree found in the Souss-Massa region were the ‘golden apples.]*
If these interpretations are is correct, it implies that Hercules was familiar with apples but not oranges and hence he must have come from a more northerly climate; which raises a series of other questions not pertinent to this work.
Advanced Technology is regularly claimed by ‘fringe’ writers to have existed in ancient times. Technology can be defined as techniques, skills, methods and processes, usually intended to improve human lifestyle. ‘Advanced’ is a relative term implying superiority over what had previously existed – wheeled vehicles were an improvement on sleds or bronze tools were better than copper ones.
When such writers refer to advanced technology, they really mean apparent anachronistic technology, which is frequently inferred from the existence of structures that cannot be duplicated with today’s technology. It is argued by proponents of ancient advanced technology that many ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge, Lixus, Baalbek or the Pyramids, could not have been built without some unknown power source, frequently attributing the existence of such technologies to extraterrestrials from the planet ‘Zog’.
Also from Egypt is the claim that there is compelling evidence of powered stone cutting ‘machinery’. Similar evidence is also found in South America. A one hour Russian video with English dialogue, relating to this, is quite thought provoking(g) . While the evidence is strong, we cannot rule out the possible existence of long forgotten techniques rather than mechanical technologies, of which nothing has been found. In the case of ancient Egypt, we have the remains of their primitive tools as well as tomb walls decorated with the same implements. If they had possessed some advanced technology, why did they need those simple tools, which are still available to us, or depict such technology on their tomb walls.
For me it is also remarkable that cultures such as that of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest managed to “create architectural complexes using advanced geometry — with incredible mathematical accuracy”(o) despite having no written language or system of numerical notation.
Chris Dunn, famous for his belief that the Great Pyramid was in fact built as a power generator, has also claimed that the ancient Egyptians were capable of advanced machining(k) . Margaret Morris, a respected Egyptologist, took issue with Dunn, challenging him to a debate, which, as far as I can ascertain, never materialised. Morris encapsulated her objections thus(l) : “In short, Chris Dunn’s methodology is so poor that he has resorted to inventing a cataclysm that cannot be scientifically substantiated and he elevates the pyramid builders to the technological level of space travelers, with no physical evidence at all for either assertion.”
For my part, if the 2.9m high red granite head of Amenhotep III was carved by the Egyptians, without alien intervention, Dunn’s claims are pretty shallow.
However, I think it only fair that readers should have access to Dunn’s side of the dispute(m).
Sometimes the process is reversed and a simple technology is discovered today, which could have been known in the past, but since lost, which might explain the megalithic structures that still fill us with awe. An example of this is the discovery by W.T. Wallington(j), he calls it a ‘rediscovery’, of a simple method using a lever and a couple of pivots, for moving concrete blocks weighing many thousands of pounds.
While Wallington’s ‘rediscovery’ may not answer all the mysteries of the past it does raise the real possibility that future discoveries may provide unexpected explanations for some of today’s ‘mysteries’.
Another or comparable technology may have been used by Edward Leedskainin when he single-handedly built Coral Castle in Florida City(n). What is certain is that Leedskainin had no help from intergalactic visitors.
The idea that advanced technology existed in Atlantis has been regularly claimed by various writers since the latter part of the 19th century. In 1886, Frederick S. Oliver (1866-1899) wrote a channelled book entitled A Dweller on Two Planets in which he attributed a number of technologies to the Atlanteans including anti-gravity and flying machines. This book has been the source of much more recent New Age drivel. Edgar Cayce also spoke of Atlantis having flying machines, but more entertainingly, he had them made of elephant skins!
However, leaving all that speculative nonsense aside, is it not strange that this ‘technologically advanced’ civilisation was defeated by the Athenians and that such a culturally sophisticated society was referred to by Plato as barbarians? Even more important is the fact that Plato, who provided such a detailed description of Atlantis, never gave the slightest hint that the Atlanteans had anything more technologically advanced than the chariot.
Technology worldwide, circa 9600 BC, is generally accepted as having been greatly inferior to that described by Plato in Atlantis. The reconciliation of this conflict is the greatest challenge facing supporters of such an early date for Atlantis. Their stance is quite understandable given that Plato refers to the war with Atlantis occurring 9,000 years before Solon’s visit to Egypt around 600 BC and that Atlantis was destroyed ‘afterwards’.
Plato’s description is totally consistent with a Late Bronze Age society. Not only does Plato’s Atlantis appear to be technologically advanced, in Bronze Age terms, but also their military might implies the existence of equally powerful potential enemies supported by similar technology. Consequently, it is not sufficient to claim that Atlantis disappeared along with its superior skills. It would be reasonable to expect that archaeology would uncover comparable technologies in various locations existing around the same time particularly since imperial Atlantis is supposed to have occupied or at least heavily influenced both north and south of the Mediterranean as far as Tyrrhenia and Libya respectively.
Some authors in an effort to verify Solon’s date have highlighted a number of controversial instances of apparently anachronistic advanced technology to support the possibility of an early Atlantis date. Artefacts such as the Antikythera Mechanism, the Baghdad Battery(a) and even the Ark of the Covenant(b) have all been adduced to give credence to such an idea. Even more daring are the independent claims that both the lighthouses at Pharos in Egypt and Faro in Portugal were powered by electricity. The claim of ancient Egyptian electricity is regularly trotted out(f) and was the subject of a recent book, edited by Larry Brian Radka. In all these instances hard proof is clearly lacking, with the sole exception of the Antikythera Mechanism, which, however, cannot be dated earlier than the 2nd century BC. The ingenuity of our ancestors was often underrated until something such as the Antikythera Mechanism was found and we were forced to modify our view of the past, but not necessarily abandon the accepted view that technology has evolved gradually, even if there are a few ‘missing links’ in the chain.
Even more worrying is the recurrent claim that atomic warfare was engaged in on the Indian sub-continent thousands of years ago. The late Philip Coppens wrote a short paper on this possibility in 2005(c). Equally persistent are claims of flying machines in ancient India which were given impetus by the publication of Aeronautics, a Manuscript From the Prehistoric Past, a translation of the 3,000 year old Vymanika Shastra by G.R.Joyser.
Casey Terry notes[1542.36] that Pavel Smutny, a Slovakian researcher has proposed that “maybe it is unusual and surprising, but in ornaments in old carpets are woven-in schemes, and principle plans of advanced technologies, which come from vanished cultures and thousands-year-old civilizations. These residues are probably the last ones, which can help revive forgotten, very sophisticated technologies and methods for exploitation of natural electrostatic energy sources.”
Smutny goes on to claim that the layouts of Egyptian temples “to a person familiar with the basics of computer technologies or even better to a person experienced with the construction of microwave circuits in bands above 1 gigahertz (GHz), he will tell you that these plans (of the temples) are schemes of PCB’s (boards for electronic circuits).”
Commenting on the Maltese temples Smutny proposes that the complexes “were used probably as generators of high frequency acoustic waves. Purpose were (maybe) to arrange a communication channel between various islands.”
Although the idea of electricity in ancient Egypt is a recurrent speculation, the possibility of electricity in ancient India is somewhat more credible. However, James Hartman refers(p) to another Sanskrit text which supports this belief, telling us that “In another amazing Indian text, the Agastrya Samhita, gives the precise directions for constructing electrical batteries:
‘Place a well-cleaned copper plate in an earthenware vessel. Cover it first by copper sulfate and then moist sawdust. After that put a mercury-amalgamated-zinc sheet on top of an energy known by the twin name of Mitra-Varuna. Water will be split by this current into Pranavayu and Udanavayu. A chain of one hundred jars is said to give a very active and effective force.’
Agastya Samhita (Indian Princes’ Library)
By the way, MITRA-VARUNA is now called cathode-anode, and Pranavayu and Udanavayu are to us oxygen and hydrogen. This document again demonstrates the presence of electricity in the East, long, long ago. In the not so distant past strange events are recorded in Europe’s past.”
A sceptical view of these claims is presented by Jason Colavito(d)(e)(q) who points out that, according to some sources, the passage quoted above is not to be found in the original text!
*(h) http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/trades/tools.htm (link broken April 2019) See: https://web.archive.org/web/20181226050814/http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/trades/tools.htm
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 Vieni 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)
*(d) http://www.gunnzone.org/constructs/endsjo.htm (Link broken 2019)*