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Σύρτις) and Syrtes. The two great gulfs in the eastern half of the northern coast of Africa. The name is derived by the ancients from σύρω, “to draw” or “to suck,” but is possibly cognate with the Arabic sert, “a desert,” a term at present applied to the whole coast as bordering upon the Great Desert. Both gulfs were proverbially dangerous, the Greater Syrtis from its sandbanks and quicksands, and its unbroken exposure to the north winds, the Less from its shelving rocky shores, its exposure to the northeast winds, and the consequent variableness of the tides in it.


Syrtis Maior ( μεγάλη Σύρτις, Gulf of Sidra), the easternmost of the two, a wide and deep gulf on the shores of Tripolitana and Cyrenaïca, exactly opposite to the Ionic Sea. The Great Desert comes down close to its shores, forming a sandy coast, called by the ancients Syrtĭca Regio. The terror of being driven on shore in it is referred to in the narrative of St. Paul's voyage to Italy (Acts, xxvii. 17, “fearing lest they should fall into the Syrtis”); and the dangers of a march through the loose sand on its shores, sometimes of a burning heat, and sometimes saturated with sea-water, were scarcely less formidable.


Syrtis Minor ( μικρὰ Σύρτις, Gulf of Khabs) lies in the southwestern angle of the great bend formed by the northern coast of Africa as it drops down to the south from the neighbourhood of Carthage, and then bears again to the east; in other words, in the angle between the eastern coast of Zeugitana and Byzacena (Tunis) and the northern coast of Tripolitana (Tripoli). In its mouth, near the northern extremity, lie the islands of Cercina and Cercinitis. In Herodotus, the word Syrtis occurs in a few passages, without any distinction between the Greater and the Less. It seems most probable that he means to denote by this term the Greater Syrtis, and that he included the Less in the lake Tritonis.

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