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After we have passed the Caspian Sea and the Scythian Ocean, our course takes an easterly direction, such being the turn here taken by the line of the coast. The first portion1 of these shores, after we pass the Scythian Promontory, is totally uninhabitable, owing to the snow, and the regions adjoining are uncultivated, in consequence of the savage state of the nations which dwell there. Here are the abodes of the Scythian Anthropophagi,2 who feed on human flesh. Hence it is that all around them consists of vast deserts, inhabited by multitudes of wild beasts, which are continually lying in wait, ready to fall upon human beings just as savage as themselves. After leaving these, we again come to a nation of the Scythians, and then again to desert tracts tenanted by wild beasts, until we reach a chain of mountains which runs up to the sea, and bears the name of Tabis.3 It is not, however, before we have traversed very nearly one half of the coast that looks towards the north-east, that we find it occupied by inhabitants.

The first people that are known of here are the Seres,4 so famous for the wool that is found in their forests.5 After steeping it in water, they comb off a white down that adheres to the leaves; and then to the females of our part of the world they give the twofold task6 of unravelling their textures, and of weav- ing the threads afresh. So manifold is the labour, and so distant are the regions which are thus ransacked to supply a dress through which our ladies may in public display7 their charms. The Seres are of inoffensive manners, but, bearing a strong resemblance therein to all savage nations, they shun all intercourse with the rest of mankind, and await the approach8 of those who wish to traffic with them. The first river that is known in their territory is the Psitharas,9 next to that the Cambari, and the third the Laros; after which we come to the Promontory of Chryse,10 the Gulf of Cynaba, the river Atianos, and the nation of the Attacori on the gulf of that name, a people protected by their sunny hills from all noxious blasts, and living in a climate of the same temperature as that of the Hyperborei. Amometus has written a work entirely devoted to the history of these people, just as Hecatæus has done in his treatise on the Hyperborei. After the Attacori, we find the nations of the Phruri and the Tochari, and, in the interior, the Casiri, a people of India, who look toward the Scythians, and feed on human flesh. Here are also numerous wandering Nomad tribes of India. There are some authors who state that in a north-easterly direction these nations touch upon the Cicones11 and the Brysari.

1 This would apply to the north-eastern coasts of Siberia, if Pliny had had any idea of land situate in such high latitudes; but, on the contrary, as already remarked, he appears to have supposed that the continent of Asia terminated a little above the northern extremity of the Caspian. It would be a loss of time to guess what locality is meant by the Scythian Promontory.

2 Or "man-eaters."

3 This, it would appear, he looks upon as the extreme north-eastern point of Asia. Parisot suggests that the word Tabis is allied to the Mongol Daba, which signifies "mountain;" or else that it may have some affinity with Thibet."

4 The people of Serica, which country with Ptolemy corresponds to the north-western part of China, and the adjacent portions of Tibet and Chinese Tartary. The capital, Sera, is by most supposed to be Singan, on the Hoang-ho, but by some Peking. Pliny evidently refers to the same people, and has some notion of the locality of their country.

5 This is generally supposed to bear reference to the cloths exported by the Seres, as Serica, and corresponding to our silks. On examination, however, it will appear that he rather refers to some textures of cotton, such as calicos or muslins; it being not unknown to Pliny that silks or bombycina were the produce of the bombyx or silk-worm; see B. xi. c. 22. The use of the word "canities" points strongly to cotton as being the substance meant.

6 Whether it is silk or cotton that is here referred to, Pliny seems in this passage to allude to some peculiarity in the texture, which was perhaps so close, that when brought to the Western world it was the custom to draw out a portion of tie threads. In such case it perhaps strongly resembled the Chinese crapes of the present day. Speaking of Cleopatra in B. x. 141, of the Pharsalia, Lucan says, "Her white breasts are resplendent through the Sidonian fabric, which, wrought in close texture by the sley of the Seres, the needle of the workman of the Nile has separated, and has loosened the warp by stretching out the web."

7 He either refers to dresses consisting of nothing but open work, or what we may call fine lace, and made from the closely woven material imported from China, or else to the 'Coan vestments' which were so much worn by the Roman women, especially those of light character, in the Augustan age. This Coan tissue was remarkable for its extreme transparency. It has been supposed that these dresses were made of silk, as in the island of Cos silk was spun and woven at an early period, so much so as to obtain a high celebrity for the manufactures of that island. Seneca, B. vii. De Benef. severely censures the practice of wearing these thin garments. For further information on this subject, see B. xi. c. 26, 27, and B. xii. c. 22.

8 Meaning that they do not actively seek intercourse with the rest of the world, but do not refuse to trade with those who will take the trouble of resorting to them. This coincides wonderfully with the character of the Chinese even at the present day.

9 Ptolemy speaks of it as the Œchordas.

10 The headland of Malacca, in the Aurea Chersonnesns, was also called by this name, but it is hardly probable that that is the place here meant.

11 See B. iv. c. 18.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 4.86
  • Cross-references to this page (12):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CALINGAE
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CANTABRAS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), COLIS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), DANDAGUDA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), GEDRO´SIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), HYDASPES
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), INDUS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), OTTOROCORRAS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), PANDAE
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), PATTALE´NE
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SORA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SYRASTRE
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