Fundamentalist Atlantology is a term that I use to describe the idea that everything written about Atlantis by Plato, must be taken at face value. In other words when he refers to 9,000 years, this along with all the other numbers he uses in relation to the dimensions of the plain of Atlantis, its structures or its military manpower should be accepted literally! Such an acceptance flies in the face of both common sense and science, particularly in the case of Plato’s dating of Atlantis, while the dimensions he has for the ditch surrounding the plain of Atlantis were deemed incredible (his word) by Plato himself (Crit.118c), he felt obliged out of deference to Solon’s reputation he recorded the details as he received them.
Without wishing to offend anyone, I believe that acceptance, for example, of Plato’s/Solon’s numbers is comparable with the belief of religious fundamentalists who hold that creation’took just six days.
Although it is understandable that researchers have accepted Plato’s details without question, there has been extensive research over the past century into seeking more rational explanations for many of those more difficult passages in the Atlantis narrative which has produced alternative explanations that are compatible with both science and common sense.
While Plato’s 9,000 years were initially, rather glibly dismissed as a transcription error and that hundreds and not thousands had been intended, it has been demonstrated that the ancient Egyptian priesthood used a lunar calendar so that the ‘ýears’ were in fact months, which was noted in the 4th century BC by Eudoxus of Cnidos and repeated by Manetho and Diodorus Siculus. This would reduce the timeline by a factor of twelve. Another explanation was put forward by Rosario Vieni who proposed that the ‘years’ actually referred to seasons of which there are three in the Egyptian solar year. These, as far as I am aware, are the principal alternatives suggested in place of a literal reading of 9,000 years. After all, neither Athens or Egypt was home to anything more than primitive societies 9,000 years before Solon’s visit.
A further example concerns the size of Atlantis, which Plato consistently referred to as an island and never a continent and is described by him as greater than Libya and Asia combined. Irrespective of how extensive in size the Libya and Asia in question were, the Greek word for greater – meizon, actually relates to greater in strength, power or influence not extent. A few years ago Thorwald C. Franke pointed out that the traditional enemies of Egypt came from Libya and Asia, so that to describe the threat from Atlantis as greater than Libya and Asia combined indicates how great the threat from Atlantis was.
The more contentious issue of the actual location of the Pillars of Heracles, I will not go into here, suffice it to say that a number of valid competing arguments have been put forward in favour of locations other than the Strait of Gibraltar. In fact all of them could have been correct at different times, changing their position as the Greek colonists and traders gradually moved westward. Eventually, I believe that at some point in time the term simply became a metaphor for the limits of the world as generally known to the Greeks.
My point is that understandable difficulties exist in the Atlantis texts and that a number of sensible alternative explanations have been put forward, which will be individually tried and tested until a consensus emerges, in the same way that the idea of a geocentric universe was gradually replaced by the simple fact that our little planet revolves around the sun.
The Egyptian Calendar is central to the debate regarding the date of the Alantean war. At first sight it appears that Plato dated that event to 9,000 years prior to Solon’s visit to Egypt. However, since such a date conflicts with both archaeology and common sense, commentators have striven to reconcile the differences. Either the number is exaggerated, the unit of measurement is wrong, or both require revision. I’m inclined towards the latter.
The ancient Egyptians had three types of ‘years’, solar, lunar or seasonal(a). The first was based on the heliacal rising(b) of the star Sirius, the second was a count of the annual lunar cycles and the last was the number of seasons of which there were three in the Egyptian year. The lunar cycles or months were the means by which the Egyptian priesthood calculated the passage of time and since Solon received the story of Atlantis from Egyptian priests it is assumed by many that the 9,000 ‘years’ were in fact months. Apart from modern authorities, the use of lunar cycles by the Egyptians for calculating time was noted by Eudoxus of Cnidos (410- 355 BC) and also by Plutarch, Manetho, Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus.
Some others, such as Radek Brychta and Rosario Vieni, have proposed that the number of seasons were used in a similar manner. Even more extreme was the contention of André de Paniagua who claimed that the date of Atlantis was recorded in Sothic cycles of 1,460 solar years each, which would push its time back 13 million years!
Nevertheless, there are many who still maintain that Plato’s 9,000 should be taken literally, even though neither Egypt nor Athens existed as structured societies at such an early date!
Seasons are sub-divisions of the year usually based on changes in ecology, weather or hours of daylight. The number of seasons varies between two (Polar) and six (India). My native Ireland has been described by cynics as now having only three seasons, as recent weather changes seem to have removed summer from our calendar.
The Egyptian year is divided into three seasons as they also did in the Indus civilisation. In an effort to make Plato’s 9,000 years more credible, commentators as early Giovanni Carli in the 18th century and Rafinesque in the 19th have suggested that Plato’s years were in fact ‘seasons’. The idea has gained further traction in more recent years with support from Axel Hausmann and Radek Brychta and most recently Rosario Vieni. Both Hausmann and Vieni presented papers to the 2005 Atlantis Conference, where Hausmann proposed that the ‘years’ be treated as seasons and so concluded that the demise of Atlantis took place in 3522 BC[629.359]. However, at the same conference Vieni presented his paper entitled “11,500 years ago…..” [629.337], obviously at that stage accepting Plato’s 9,000 years at face value. Three years later, he presented a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference which he entitled “About 5600 years ago….” [750.347], in which he had changed his understanding of Plato’s ‘years’ to be now seasons. While his intellectual honesty is to be applauded, I must point out that because a person changes their opinion, there is no guarantee that their second choice is any more correct than the first.
I am not convinced by the ‘seasons’ explanation, as it just seems to be a rather feeble attempt to explain away Plato’s 9,000 being a reference to solar years. Supporters of this ‘seasons’ explanation appear to be forced to look for an alternative to a literal 9,000 years as that figure conflicts dramatically with the Bronze Age setting of the Atlantis narrative and runs counter to the archaeological evidence for dating the foundation of both Athens and the Egyptian civilisation.
The more popular alternative suggestion of treating the ‘years’ as lunar cycles makes much more sense, as it brings the Atlantis story into the end of the Greek Bronze Age. It also matches the time of the destruction of the spring on the Acropolis (Crit.112d) and conforms to details on the Parian Marble. But perhaps most important of all is that the use of lunar cycles by the Egyptians for calculating time was noted by Eudoxus of Cnidos (410-355 BC) and also by Plutarch, Manetho, Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus.
The Expanding Earth Hypothesis.
For thousands of years it was accepted that the surface of the earth was in a static state. This belief persisted until the discovery of America in 1492 and the cartographic improvements during the following century before Abraham Ortelius in his 1596 Thesaurus Geographicus proposed that the Americas had once been joined to Europe and Africa. It is often claimed that in 1620 Francis Bacon commented on the close fit of the eastern South America with the west coast of Africa, however, this, according to G.L. Herries Davies, is an exaggerated interpretation of what he actually said(o).
A number of others concurred with the jig-saw suggestion until 1858 when the French geographer Antonio Snider-Pellegrini offered a theory of crustal movement that was more fully developed in 1912 by Alfred Wegener, which he came to label ‘continental drift’(e). Snider-Pellegrini also thought that the Earth had been much smaller at the time of the biblical Genesis(ac)! The big objection to the theory was a lack of a convincing mechanism to explain it(f).
A number of writers have attempted to bring the theory of Continental Drift (CD) into the Atlantis debate. They seem to overlook the fact CD was proposed as a very very slow process, while Plato describes the demise of Atlantis as occurring in a single day and a night.
Wegener’s theory was debated until the late 1950’s when it morphed into the theory of Plate Tectonics (PT) following new developments in earth sciences in particular the recognition of seafloor spreading at mid-ocean ridges.* However, PT as we know it demands subduction(z), which in itself has created new problems(aa)(ab).*
The theory divides the lithosphere into a number of plates which are constantly moving in various directions at rates of a few centimetres a year. Competing with PT in the early years was the theory of Earth Crustal Displacement advocated by Charles Hapgood which claims that the entire crust of the earth moved as a unit. Endorsed by Albert Einstein it is fundamental to the theory of an Antarctic location for Atlantis proposed by Rose & Rand Flem-Ath.
Unfortunately, Plate Tectonics does not explain everything and ever since it gained the pre-eminence it currently enjoys, various writers have questioned what they perceive as its shortcomings(g)(h)(i).
A totally different proposal is that the earth is expanding. Although the concept did not get much attention until the 1980’s there are antecedents stretching back to 1888(a), when the earliest suggestion was made by the Russian, Ivan Yarkovsky(1844-1902). A year later the Italian geologist (and violinist) Roberto Montovani(1854-1933) proposed(I) a similar mechanism. In 1933, Ott Christoph
Hilgenberg(t) published Vom wachsenden Erdbal (The Expanding Earth).
The leading proponent of the theory today is arguably the geologist Dr. James Maxlow(b). A detailed outline of the theory is also offered on his website(c). For laymen like myself a series of YouTube clips(d) are probably more informative. I have stated elsewhere that I am sympathetic towards the idea of earth expansion finding it somewhat more credible than plate tectonics. The truth of the matter is that since Ortelius first suggested that the continents of our planet had moved, all that has emerged since is a refinement of that basic idea leading to CD which became PT and as the latter still does not answer all the questions it raises, it is clear that further modification will be required. The Expanding Earth Hypothesis may, as its proponents claim, supply all those answers. Others do not think so, which brings me to J. Marvin Herndon who has ‘married’ the theory of an expanding earth with the idea of crustal plates(j) , naming his 2005 concept Whole-Earth Decompression Dynamics (WEDD).
The Thunderbolts.info website has a three-part article seeking to offer “an alternative to plate and extension tectonics”. The anonymous author suggests than an electrical element is involved in the development of our planet. An extensive look at mountain building is also included(y).
Keith Wilson, an American researcher, has also developed a website(k) devoted to the EEH and linking it to Pole Shift. However, he goes further and introduces Mayan prophecies into the subject, which in my view is unwise in the light of recent events or rather non-events!
In the meanwhile a number of Atlantis researchers have endorsed the EEH including, Stan Deyo, Georg Lohle and Rosario Vieni. Nicolai Zhirov referred to the growing support both in Russia and elsewhere for the EEH citing a number of its supporters, adding that “the idea of the Earth expanding (within reasonable limits) cannot be ruled out altogether as absurd.”[458.126]
A number of websites have dismissed EEH as pseudoscience, which is confirmed by satellite measurements.(m)(n).
There is also a variation of the standard expansion theory which proposes(q) that expansion may have occurred in fits and starts. There also seems to be evidence that the Earth is not alone with Venus expanding(r) and Mercury contracting(s).
Another matter that may be related to the claim of an expanding Earth is the question of the size of dinosaurs and other creatures and plants millions of years ago, which is claimed to have been impossible if gravity then was the same as today. A book by Stephen Hurrell has expanded on this idea. There is an interesting website(p) that deals with the enormous size of the dinosaurs as well as other creatures at the same period and the support it may offer EEH.
Neal Adams, a respected graphic artist(u), is a vocal supporter of EEH(v), but, he has gone further and has also proposed a growing Moon as well(w). Not content with that, he has extended his expansion investigations to other bodies in our Solar System, such as, Mars, Ganymede & Europa(x).*Adams considers the term “Expanding Earth” a misnomer and has named his proposed expansion process ‘pair production’.(ad)*
Finally, I cannot help thinking about those Victorians who thought that they had reached the pinnacle of scientific understanding. They were wrong and, I believe, that so are we, although we are slowly, very slowly, edging towards the truth, which may or may not involve the vindication of the Expanding Earth Hypothesis.
Diego Silvio Novo is an Italian researcher who has joined the ‘Atlantis in Sardinia ’ club(a)(b). He follows the work of Sergio Frau in placing the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ at Strait of Sicily, which he claims was much narrower at the time of Atlantis.
The first link below tells of Novo’s support for Frau but also ends with an angry response from Rosario Vieni, who claims that he had proposed the Strait of Messina as the location of the Pillars of Heracles before Sergio Frau and that his (Vieni’s) work had been plagiarised!
(a) http://www.edicolaweb.net/stren06a.htm (offline) (see Archive 2353) (Italian)
(b) http://www.ilportaledelmistero.net/articolo0264.html (Offline Sept.2017)
Atlantis Conference 2008 – Athens had a wide range of papers presented to it. The proceedings were eventually made available in early 2011. This 750-page volume is rather expensive but is also a ‘must have’ addition to the library of any serious student of the subject.
Rosario Vieni (1941- ) is an Italian Professor of History who was born in Messina, Sicily and currently lives in Pistoia in Northern Italy. He has studied the Phaistos Disk and published a calendrical interpretation of that artefact(e)(f).
Vieni also presented a paper(a) to the 2005 Atlantis Conference on Melos entitled “11,500 years ago….” He proposes that prior to the ending of the last Ice Age; the Mediterranean was 150-200 metres lower than at present. He also suggests that the Strait of Messina was closed and that a landmass extended south to encompass the Maltese Islands.
He was greatly annoyed that Sergio Frau has claimed to have been the first to make this assertion a couple of years after he did(g). Which explains why, when Vieni subsequently published his theories in book form in 2011, he entitled it Atlantide e le Colonne d’Ercole (Atlantis and the Pillars of Hercules).
Although Vieni does not opt for any particular location for Atlantis, the focus of his paper is on the matching of Plato’s description with the Central Mediterranean. The title of his 2005 paper clearly indicates his support for the very early date for Plato’s Atlantis.
Not content with the Atlantis controversy, Vieni ventured into even more heretical territory when he indicated support for the Expanding Earth Hypothesis. James Maxlow, a leading proponent of this theory claims that the concept, sometimes referred to as Earth Expansion Tectonics, explains all existing physical geological data better than Plate Tectonics(b).
Obviously Vieni came to realise that Plato’s mention of 9,000 years could not be taken as a reference to solar years and therefore to suggest that Atlantis was destroyed 11,500 years ago was no longer tenable. Consequently, when he addressed the 2008 Atlantis Conference he revised the title of his paper to “about 5,600 years ago….” in which he offered strong arguments in support of the idea that when Plato wrote of 9,000 years he was referring to ‘seasons’ of which there were three in the Egyptian solar year. This idea is not new having been suggested by the naturalist C. S. Rafinesque in 1836, referring to even earlier sources[896.231]. These included Giovanni Carli who dated Atlantis at 3890 BC.
He also suggests volcanic activity as the probable cause of Atlantis’ demise, pointing to the ongoing volcanic activity in the Central Mediterranean.
(a) http://www.world-mysteries.com/11500yearsago.pdf#search=’Rosario%20Vieni’ (offline Nov. 2017) See Archive 3424
(e) http://www.world-mysteries.com/LeDisquedePhaestos.pdf (French)
(f) http://www.antikitera.net/articoli.asp?ID=85 (Italian)
(g) http://www.antikitera.net/articoli.asp?ID=28 (Italian)
Stephen E. Franklin offers a wide-ranging website(a) which includes a book, as yet unpublished, that ambitiously aims to reconcile the chronologies of the ancient Hebrews, Assyrians and Egyptians. This has been an area of great contention ever since the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky were published in the 1950’s. David Rohl has published a series of books on the subject in recent years with further contributions from Peter James and Emmet J. Sweeney.
Franklin’s book has chapter 8(c) devoted to the Garden of Eden and Atlantis where he maintains that the 9,000 ‘years’ of Plato refer to the three ‘seasons’ in the Egyptian year, an idea that seems to be gaining acceptance (see Radek Brychta, Rosario Vieni and Axel Hausmann).
*Franklin has claimed that the Phaistos Disk is a king-list of Cretan rulers and also that it has a calendrical function(d) .*
Some years ago Franklin published a book on the origins of the Tarot deck. Its subtitle was A Study of the Astronomical Substructure of Game and Divining Boards. This can be downloaded for free from his website(b).
Radek Brychta is a Czech writer who has written about the transmission of the Atlantis story from the Indus civilisation city of Dholavira, which he claims was the legendary island of Dilmun recorded by the Sumerians and from them, transferred to Egypt and eventually related to Solon.
John Sassoon has suggested, based on Genesis 11.2 that the Sumerians had in fact migrated from the east with the Indus Valley as a possible point of origin. He suggests further that the Sumerians were in fact the progenitors of the Jews. This theory would also offer a line of transmission from the Indus valley to the Nile delta.
An abbreviated version of Brychta’s book in seven sections(a) with an extensive bibliography(b) is available on the internet and is worth a read.
He includes a rational explanation for the 9,000 year age of Atlantis by noting that the Egyptians, as well as the Indus civilisation, counted time in seasons of which there were three annually. Dividing 9,000 by three and adding the probable date of Solon’s Egyptian sojourn, 590 BC, gives us a more credible date of 3590 BC. This idea has also been proposed by Rosario Vieni.
A further possible link between the Atlantis story and the Indus civilisation is strengthened by such matters as the existence of elephants.
(a) http://atlantis.brychta.org/en1.htm (offline Feb. 2016) see Archive 2905
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)*