Pliny the Elder
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 levelled 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.
Thérêse Ghembaza is a French researcher who has a website, in French and English, entitled The Great Enigmas of Antiquity(a) in which she discusses matters such as the Hyksos, the identity of Moses and the Kushites. The site also deals with her theory that Atlantis had been situated in Meroë on the Upper Nile, a theory that she developed in another paper(c), which is certainly worth a read.
While at first sight this might be seen as a wild claim, Ghembaza offers a well reasoned theory which was presented to the 2nd Atlantis Conference held in Athens in 2008. She has imaginatively linked aspects of Meroitic geography and history with Plato’s story of Atlantis. For example, she identifies Tyrrhenia with Tyre in Lebanon and claims that Tyrrhenia in Italy was a later colony of Tyre! While some of her ideas are convincing I found others a little threadbare. Nevertheless Ghembaza must be applauded for her efforts to construct a scientific explanation for the Atlantis narrative.
Ghembaza has kindly drawn my attention to two quotations from Pliny the Elder and Ovid that offer possible explanations for Plato’s orichalcum (see Document 091011). The former refers to a Cypriot copper mixed with gold which gave a fiery colour and called pyropus, while Ovid also refers to a cladding of pyropus, a term often translated as bronze. She also mentions auricupride(Cu3Au), an alloy that may be connected with orichalcum.
(d) See: Archive 2526
The Strait of Gibraltar according to Greek mythology was created by Herakles. Neville Chipulina explains that “it seems that the person responsible for the myths about Hercules was Peisander of Rhodes, a 7th century BC Greek epic poet who apparently got the story from an unknown Pisinus of Lindus who almost certainly plagiarised it from somebody else. In other words it’s a pretty old story.”(c)
The Strait is very much a part of many current Atlantis theories. Primarily, it is contended that the region itself held the location of Atlantis. This is based on Plato’s statement that Eumelos, also known as Gadeirus, the twin brother of Atlas the first king of Atlantis gave his name to Gades, known today as Cadiz. Andalusia in Southern Spain has been the focus of attention for over a hundred years. In recent years Georgeos Diaz-Montexano and his rival Jacques Colina- Girard have been investigating the waters of the Strait itself while south of the Strait Jonas Bergman has advanced his theory that Atlantis was located just across the Strait in Morocco.
Although there is general acceptance that the Pillars of Heracles had their final resting place in the vicinity of the Strait of Gibraltar, it must be noted that there have been others candidates at different times with equally valid claims. The location of the ‘Pillars’ referred to by Plato at the time of Atlantis is the subject of continuing debate.
Strato, the philosopher, quoted by Strabo, spoke of a dam separating the Atlantic and the Mediterranean being breached by a cataclysm. This idea was reinforced by comment of Seneca. Furthermore, a number of Arabic writers, including Al-Mas’udi, Al-Biruni and Al-Idrisi, have all concurred with this idea of a Gibraltar land bridge in late prehistory.
A more radical theory is that of Paulino Zamarro who contends that the Strait was in fact closed by a landbridge during the last Ice Age because of the lower sea levels together with silting. When the waters rose and breached the landbridge, he believes that, the flood submerged Atlantis, which he situates in the Aegean. Others support Zamarro’s idea of a Gibraltar Dam amongst whom are Constantin Benetatos and Joseph S. Ellul.
Terry Westerman on his heavily illustrated website surveys impact craters globally. He suggests that “The Strait of Gibraltar was formed by two meteor impacts. The first blasted the round area in the western Mediterranean Sea to form a land bridge between Spain and Morocco.” He maintains that a second impact broke the landbridge around 5.33 million years ago, creating what is called the Zanclean Flood which refilled the then desiccated Mediterranean(d).
>A German language website(a) presented some of the following data+, apparently recording the dramatic widening of the Strait of Gibraltar between 400 BC and 400 AD. The same list was included in the ‘Strait of Gibraltar’ entry of the German Wikipedia(b) until a few years ago. It has since been removed.
+Damastes of Sigeum, circa 400 BC. – about 1.3 km
+Pseudo-Skylax, probably fourth Century BC – about 1.3 km
*Turiano Greslio? 300BC – 8.0 km
*+Titus Livius (Livy) 59 BC- 17 AD – 10.5 km
+Strabo 63 BC- 24 AD – from 9.5 to 13.0 km
+Pomponius Mela , 50 AD – about the 15.0 km
+Pliny the Elder , 50 AD – about 15.0 km
*+Victor Vicensa (*Vitensa?), 400 AD – about 18 km
The above figures suggest that in the latter half of the first millennium BC, the Strait of Gibraltar was gradually widened. Nevertheless, until the methods used and all the data on offer have been verified, the idea must be treated with great caution.
My list had orignally included Euctemon, the 5th century BC Athenian astronomer, however, Werner E. Friedrich notes that Euctemon was referring to the Sea of Marmara near the entrance to the Black Sea [0695.38].<
However, more recently, John Jensen Jnr. has offered a comparable, if shorter, numbers of dates showing the reducing width of the strait the further back you go until 3450 YBP, when he believes that a landbridge there was breached(e).
Georgeos Diaz-Montexano has also referred to the descriptions by ancient writers of the Strait of Gibraltar indicating a width of around two kilometres. Unfortunately, he does not cite references(f). He also is sympathetic to the existence an earlier landbridge at Gibraltar.
The Scilly Isles are located south west of Cornwall’s Land’s End in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands were more extensive before the ending of the last Ice Age and their inundation following the melting of the glaciers undoubtedly produced the numerous legends in the region of sunken cities and lost civilisations. Apparently there was once a paved causeway joining some of the islands and according to an 18th century report, it was then under 8 feet of water. Even earlier in the 3rd century AD, Solinus referred to the Scillies in the singular as insulam Siluram.
O.G.S. Crawford, who was the first Archaeology Officer with the British Ordnance Survey, was also the founder in 1927 of Antiquity which continues today. In its first edition(c) he wrote of the earlier Scillies as a single landmass and its relationship to the legend of Lyonesse(b).
Some writers have identified the Scillies as the Cassiterides (Isles of Tin) referred to by Pliny the Elder. However, there are no known tin deposits on the islands, although it is possible that before the ocean levels rose ore deposits were accessible, similar to those in nearby Devon and Cornwall, but this inundation probably occurred before the technology existed to exploit its use.
In more recent times the Russian Scientist Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev was convinced that Atlantis was located on the Celtic Shelf near the Scilly Isles. He specifically identified an underwater feature know as the Little Sole Bank, whose highest point is just 75 metres beneath the ocean’s surface. He had been promoting his theory since 1995 and eventually obtained official government permission to carry out explorations in the area, but he was unable to raise the necessary funds to carry out the operation.
In 2009, excavations on St. Agnes in the Scillies revealed a remarkable Bronze Age pottery sherd which seems to depict the earliest know image of a sailing boat ever found in the United Kingdom(a).
In 1651, the Netherlands declared war on the Scillies, a little detail that was forgotten until 1986, when a peace treaty was finally signed(d) !
(c) http://antiquity.ac.uk/archive (Jan. 2019 access restricted)
São Tomé and Príncipe are two islands in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of the West African state of Gabon. The website(a) dedicated to the work of Livio Stecchini unequivocally identifies São Tomé as the island of Atlantis referred to by Pliny the Elder (VI 36, 199).
Pliny the Elder (23 -79 AD), or more correctly Gaius Plinius Secundus, was a Roman writer and naturalist whose only extant work is the 37 volume Historia Naturalis, considered to be the first encyclopaedia. It was Pliny the Elder who was credited with saying “that the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”
Pliny makes a number of references to Atlantis that give us small clues to add to the writings of Plato. Jürgen Spanuth quotes Pliny where he recorded (vi.49) how in Sogdiana, in today’s Uzbekistan, there was reputed to have been an altar and ‘Pillars of Heracles’. Pliny also describes (vii.56) the encounter between the Athenians and Atlanteans as the first recorded battle. Interestingly he also refers to this conflict being fought with wooden sticks hardened by fire since they did not have iron. We can also infer from this comment that they did not have bronze either, thus setting the war in the Stone Age. Pliny’s comment would therefore place this event somewhere between 4000 BC and 2000 BC.
Anton Mifsud notes how over the centuries various versions of Pliny’s text have been guilty of omissions and amendments. Pliny refers to Atlantis on a number of occasions but individual translations have omitted different references to ‘Atlantis’, ‘the islands of Atlantis’ and the Atlantic Sea. While it is accepted that Pliny’s writings do contain errors such arbitrary meddling with the text by translators does little to inspire confidence in the average reader!
Pliny in his remarks on the islands off the west coast of Africa notes that there was an island ‘off Mount Atlas’ called Atlantis (vi.36).
Intriguingly, Pliny describes Italy as being shaped like an oak leaf (iii.43), an image that inspired Camillo Ravioli to produce a matching speculative map of ancient Italy.
According to Pliny, Atlantians was the name that was applied to all Ethiopians including some known as White Ethiopians. In turn Ethiopians was a term applied to all Africans.
Pliny died, after being overcome by fumes, while trying to study the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius.
Ethiopia as a geographical area had very different meanings depending on the period in which it was used. Frank Joseph stated that until the 1st century BC. Ethiopia referred to the Atlantic coast of North Africa.*[Zhirov claimed that ‘Ethiopia’ simply meant a land inhabited by dark-skinned people[0458.98].]*
Pliny the Elder stated that Aethiopia was formerly called Atlantia (p. 116). Proclus, the Greek philosopher, was convinced that Atlantis existed and was connected with ancient Ethiopia, quoting The Ethiopian History of Marcellus.
Col. Alexander Braghine believed in a connection between the ancient Ethiopians and Atlantis. The map above dating from 1650 and published in a book by J.A. Rogers shows the South Atlantic as ‘The Ethiopic Ocean’, while the entire central Africa is named Ethiopia. We can only conclude that the location of the original Ethiopia is nearly as difficult to pinpoint as the location of Atlantis itself.
Avalon is the legendary resting place of Britain’s King Arthur. Tradition has it that it was also famous for its apples and this feature led some to link it with the legend of the Hesperides considered another name for Atlantis. This linkage of Avalon with Atlantis is extremely tenuous. The apple connection is also suggested by the Welsh for Avalon which is Ynys Afallon, posibly derived from afal, the Welsh for apple.
Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historiae (xxxvii.35) named Helgoland as ‘insulam Abalum’, which has been suggested as a variant of Avalon. Other locations such as Sicily and Avallon in Burgundy have been also been proposed. A series of YouTube clips(a) bravely links Avalon, Mt.Meru and Atlantis, which is supposedly situated in the Arctic!
*[The isle of Lundy in Britain’s Bristol Channel has been speculatively identified as Avalon(b).]*
The Atlantic Ocean as defined by modern geography stretches between the Poles and is bounded on the west by the Americas and on the east by Europe and Africa. The word ocean is taken from the Greek ‘okeanos’ which in turn has been suggested to have a Phoenician origin. Okeanos or ‘ocean river’ is first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, a term that was employed by many ancient writers to refer to an ocean that they believed encircled the then known world.
*It seems that ‘Atlantic sea’ was a term first used by the poet Stesichorus (630-555 BC)(h) , about two hundred years before Timaeus was composed by Plato and coinciding with the time of Solon’s famous visit to Egypt*, to describe the seas beyond the Pillars of Heracles (Histories I. 202). If this is correct, then we must ask what term was used prior to Herodotus? If it was Okeanos, what body of water, if any, did the term ‘Atlantic’ apply to at the earlier period?. There have been suggestions that the word referred to the western Mediterranean.
George Sarantitis has proposed that the term used by Plato, Atlantikos Pelagos, can be more legitimately interpreted as ‘Atlantean archipelago’!(d)
However, some researchers, such as Alberto Arecchi(f), have asserted that the name was given to a very large inland sea in what is now North Africa bound by the Atlas Mountains. Jean Gattefosse was a leading exponent of this during the first half of the 20th century.Sarantitis has expanded on this idea, proposing(c) a vast network of huge inland lakes and waterways in what is now the Sahara, which has, in his view, allows a more acceptable interpretation of Hanno’s voyage. Others such as Diodorus (3.38), as late as the 3rd century BC, used the term ‘Atlantic’ to describe the Indian Ocean. It is quite clear that ancient geographical names did not always have the same meanings that they do today.
The confusion does not end there as some ancient writers have identified the Strait of Sicily as the location of the Pillars of Heracles and the waters of the Western Mediterranean as the Atlantic, with some identifying Tyrrhenia as being in the Atlantic.
Most important of all are the comments of Plato himself who refers to the Atlantic in Timaeus (24e) when Atlantis existed noting that ‘in those days the Atlantic was navigable’, implying that in his own time it was not. Consequently, he could not have been referring to the body of water that we know today as the Atlantic. Furthermore, Aristotle seemed to echo Plato when he wrote(e) 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 also refers to as a sea not an ocean. So, what sea was he referring to?
Since other seas have been called Atlantic, we are therefore forced to consider possible alternatives that are also compatible with the other known features of Atlantis. The three leading candidates are
(i) the Western Mediterranean,
(ii) the Tyrrhenian Sea (which is part of the Western Mediterranean) and
(iii) the inland sea in North Africa, sometimes referred to as Lake Tritonis, favoured by Arecchi, Sarantitis and others.
I am personally inclined towards the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Pliny the Elder writing in the first century AD mentions a number of islands in what we now accept as the Atlantic Ocean. These include the Cassiterides (Britain), the Fortunate Isles (the Canaries), the Hesperides, the Gorgades and an island ‘off Mount Atlas’ named Atlantis. Understandably, Pliny’s comments have led to extensive controversy, particularly the identification of the island off Mount Atlas.
In fact, there is even some dispute about the location of the Mount Atlas in question, as there were a number of peaks known by that name in ancient times. Richard Hennig is cited by Zhirov[458.58] as describing the ‘utter confusion’ among ancient authors regarding the location of Mount Atlas.
Ignatius Donnelly was convinced that Atlantis had been situated in the Atlantic opposite the entrance to the Mediterranean. His theories were to predominate for over half a century and are still popular today. The late Gerry Forster, a British writer, has a 50-page paper supporting Donnelly’s contention posted on his website entitled The Lost Continent Rediscovered(a) .
In order to add scientific credibility to Donnelly’s views the discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was offered as confirmation of the existence of Atlantis as parts of the ‘ridge’ would have been exposed when ocean levels were hundreds of feet lower during the last Ice Age. Today, the Canaries and the Azores are just remnants of what were once larger landmasses.
When Alfred Wegener advanced the theory of Continental Drift, later replaced by that of Plate Tectonics, was first presented, some atlantologists assumed that a mechanism for the disappearance of Atlantis in the Atlantic had been found. However, when the slow rate of movement was fully realised, the theory also sank as an explanation for the demise of Atlantis.
In April 2009 the media burst into one of its occasional ‘Atlantis found’ phases, when it was reported that evidence of an underwater city had been identified 600 miles west of the Canary Islands using Google Earth. The co-ordinates were given as 31 15’15.53N and 24 15’30.53W.
The site appeared to show a grid-like street system, which was estimated to be the size of Wales – a highly improbable, if not impossible size for a Bronze Age city. Apart from which, what appeared to be ‘streets’ would have been kilometers in width. Google responded with the following explanatory statement:
“what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (sea-floor) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea-floor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data.” It did not take long before one commentator suggested that this statement was a cover-up.
By early February 2012 Google had corrected what they called ‘blunders’ contained in the original data, which in turn removed the anomalous image(b). No doubt conspiracy theorists will have their appetites whetted by this development.
*Nine years later, on April 3, 2018(g), the UK’s Express regurgitated the same story!*
As usual people will believe what they want to believe.
The Canary Islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco. They were (re)discovered in 1402 by Jean de Béthencourt (1362-1425). He found the fair skinned Guanches living on some of the islands. He described them as cave-dwellers. After overthrowing the local chiefs, de Béthancourt became King of the Canaries under King Henry III of Castile.
However, there has been widespread acceptance of the idea that the Berbers of North Africa has established the first populations on the islands. Recently (2019) published DNA studies have reinforced this concept, putting the arrival of the Berbers at around 1000 AD(h).
Pliny the Elder is frequently quoted to provide the etymology of the name, where he claims that it is derived from a species of large dog – canis in Latin – found there in ancient times. This derivation is disputed by the historian and arabist, Paul Lunde, who prefers the idea that the islands were named after an ancient people who lived on the opposite mainland and who now inhabit north-eastern Nigeria and are known today as the Kanuri. Pliny also records that the islands were uninhabited but had ancient ruined buildings when visited by the Carthaginians. Centuries later they were inhabited by a Berber people known as the Guanches who were finally conquered by the Spanish in the 15th century. When sea levels were lower during the last Ice Age, the land area of the islands would have been more extensive and possible claimant as the location of some or part of Plato’s empire of Atlantis.
Frank Joseph noted how the islands conform in many ways to Plato’s description of Atlantis. Natural hot and cold springs are to be found there, as are red, white and black rock, a combination also observed on the Azores and elsewhere. In the past the Canaries have been densely forested and also contain rivers and fertile plains that produce a variety of fruit.
In 1939 the Ahnenerbe, led by theologian turned archaeologist Otto Huth, planned to visit the Canaries to study Guanche mummies as part of their efforts to find the Aryan homeland and locate Atlantis. However, the outbreak of war postponed the trip, but the Spanish dictator, General Franco, at the behest of his Nazi mentors appointed his archaeologist friend Julio Martinez Santa Olalla to carry out investigations on their behalf. A paper(c) by Professor Francisco Gracia Alonso and a recent book by author and journalist Jaime Rubio Rosales explore the whole subject of the Spanish links with the Ahnenerbe.
In the 2nd century AD, the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy suggested that the prime meridian should be located through the Canaries, then known as the Fortunate Islands.
The earliest suggestion of a connection between the Canaries and Atlantis was proposed by Athanasius Kircher in 1664, referring to the Guanches as the last Atlanteans and the islands as the remains of Plato’s lost land.
Ignatius Donnelly, who did so much to kick-start modern interest in Atlantis, considered that the Canaries, Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde Islands were its remnants. However, a newspaper report from 1899(g) refers back to a local cleric and historian, José Viera y Claviejo, who proposed around the beginning of 19th century that the Canaries, the Azores and Madeira were remnants of Atlantis, nearly a century before Donnelly.
Gilbert De Jong is a Dutch landscape designer with an interest in investigating the mysteries of our ancient past. His contention is that Atlantis was located at El Fuerte – in the Canary Islands.
A website dealing with a variety of British and World mysteries(d) has a series of papers on Atlantis and reluctantly considers the Canaries as the most likely location of Plato’s lost land.
Thor Heyerdahl inspected the pyramids at Guimar and was convinced of their ceremonial use in ancient times(b). The late Philip Coppens also wrote an article(e) on these structures. A 2015 article(f) can now be added to this list.
(e) http://www.philipcoppens.com/nap_art12.html (offline March 2018) See Archive 2142)