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 Asphaltus is found in great abundance in Babylonia. Eratosthenes describes it as follows. The liquid asphaltus, which is called naphtha, is found in Susiana; the dry kind, which can be made solid, in Babylonia. There is a spring of it near the Euphrates. When this river overflows at the time of the melting of the snow, the spring also of asphaltus is filled, and overflows into the river, where large clods are consolidated, fit for buildings constructed of baked bricks. Others say that the liquid kind also is found in Babylonia. With respect to the solid kind, I have described its great utility in the construction of buildings. They say that boats (of reeds) are woven,1 which, when besmeared with asphaltus, are firmly compacted. The liquid kind, called naphtha, is of a singular nature. When it is brought near the fire, the fire catches it; and if a body smeared over with it is brought near the fire, it burns with a flame, which it is impossible to extinguish, except with a large quantity of water; with a small quantity it burns more violently, but it may be smothered and extinguished by mud, vinegar, alum, and glue. It is said that Alexander, as an experiment, ordered naphtha to be poured over a boy in a bath, and a lamp to be brought near his body. The boy became enveloped in flames, and would have perished if the bystanders had not mastered the fire by pouring upon him a great quantity of water, and thus saved his life. Poseidonius says that there are springs of naphtha in Babylonia, some of which produce white, others black, naphtha; the first of these, I mean the white naphtha, which attracts flame, is liquid sulphur; the second, or black naphtha, is liquid asphaltus, and is burnt in lamps instead of oil.
1 Herod. i. 194.
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