and MINOR (Σύρτις μεγάλη καὶ μικρά, Ptol. 4.3
), two broad and deep gulfs in the Libyan sea on the N. coast of Africa, and in the district called after them Regio Syrtica.
The name is derived from the Arabic, Sert,
a desert from the desolate and sandy shore by which the neighbourhood of the Syrtes is still characterised.
The navigation of them was very dangerous because of their shallow and sunken rocks, so that the smaller Syrtis was considered in ancient times as altogether unnavigable, and even into the larger one only small ships ventured. (Strab. xvii. p.835
; Scylax, p. 48
; Plb. 1.39
; Mela, 1.7; Plin. Nat. 5.4. s. 4
; Procop. de Aed.
The reports of modern travellers, however, do not tend to establish these dangers. (Lauthier, Relazione
in Della Cella's Viaggio,
p. 214, sqq.) The Greater Syrtis, which was the eastern one, now the Gulf of Sidra,
extended from the promontory of Boreum on the E. side to that of Cephalae on the W. (Scyl. 46, sq.; Plb. 3.29
; Strab. l.c.
and ii. p. 123; Mela and Plin. ll. cc.
) According to Strabo it was from 4000 to 5000 stadia in circumference (l.c.
); but in another place (xvii. p. 835) he puts down the measure more accurately at 3930 stadia. Its depth, or landward recess, was from 1500 to 1800 stadia, and its diameter 1500 stadia. (Comp. Agathem. 1.3, and 2.14).
The smaller, or more western Syrtis (now Gulf of Cabes
), was formed on the E. by the promontory of Zeitha and on the W. by that of Brachodes. (Scyl. p. 48; Plb. 1.39
; Strab. ii. p.123
, iii. p. 157, xvii. p. 834, &c.)
According to Strabo it had a circumference of 1600 stadia and a diameter of 600 (comp. Agathem. l.c.
). Particulars respecting the size of both will likewise be found in Mela 1.7; and Itin. Ant.
p. 64, sqq.
The shores of both were inhospitable, and sandy to such a degree that men and even ships were often overwhelmed by the huge cloud-like masses lifted by the wind (Diod. 20.41
; Sal. Jug. 79
; Hdt. 3.25
; Lucan 9.294
, sqq.); and it is affirmed by modern travellers that these descriptions of the ancients are not exaggerated. (See Browne's Travels,
p. 282; Bruce, Travels,
iv. p. 458; Beechey, Expedition, &c.
ch. 10; Ritter, Erdkunde,
i. p. 1030.)