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Ecbatana,1 the capital of Media, was built2 by king Seleucus, at a distance from Great Seleucia of seven hundred and fifty miles, and twenty miles from the Caspian Gates. The remaining towns of the Medians are Phazaca, Aganzaga, and Apamea,3 surnamed Rhagiane. The reason of these passes receiving the name of "Gates," is the same that has been stated above.4 The chain of mountains is suddenly broken by a passage of such extreme narrowness that, for a distance of eight miles, a single chariot can barely find room to move along: the whole of this pass has been formed by artificial means. Both on the right hand and the left are overhanging rocks, which look as though they had been exposed to the action of fire; and there is a tract of country, quite destitute of water, twenty-eight miles in extent. This narrow pass, too, is rendered still more difficult by a liquid salt which oozes from the rocks, and uniting in a single stream, makes its way along the pass. Besides this, it is frequented by such multitudes of serpents, that the passage is quite impracticable except in winter.

(15.) Joining up to Adiabene are the people formerly known as the 'Carduchi,' now the Cordueni,5 in front of whom the river Tigris flows: and next to them are the Pratitæ, entitled the Par Odon,6 who hold possession of the Caspian Gates.7 On the other side8 of these gates we come to the deserts9 of Parthia and the mountain chain of Cithenus; and after that, the most pleasant locality of all Parthia, Choara10 by name. Here were two cities of the Parthians, built in former times for their protection against the people of Media, Calliope,11 and Issatis, the last of which stood formerly12 on a rock. Hecatompylos,13 the capital of Parthia, is distant from the Caspian Gates one hundred and thirty-three miles. In such an effectual manner is the kingdom of Parthia shut out by these passes. After leaving these gates we find the nation of the Caspii, extending as far as the shores of the Caspian, a race which has given its name to these gates as well as to the sea: on the left there is a mountainous district. Turning back14 from this nation to the river Cyrus, the distance is said to be two hundred and twenty miles; but if we go from that river as far down as the Caspian Gates, the distance is seven hundreds15 miles. In the itineraries of Alexander the Great these gates were made the central or turning point in his expeditions; the distance from the Caspian Gates to the frontier of India being there set down as fifteen thousand six hundred and eighty16 stadia, to the city of Bactra,17 commonly called Zariaspa, three thousand seven hundred, and thence to the river Jaxartes18 five thousand stadia.

1 A city of great magnitude, pleasantly situate near the foot of Mount Orontes, in the northern part of Greater Media. Its original foundation was attributed by Diodorus Siculus to Semiramis, and by Herodotus to Deioces. It was the capital of the Median kingdom, and afterwards the summer residence of the Persian and Parthian kings. The genuine orthography of the name seems to be Agbatana. The ruins seen at the modern Hamadan are generally supposed to represent those of the ancient Ecbatana; but it is most probable that at different times, if not contemporaneously, there were several cities of this name in Media.

2 Pliny in this statement, as also in the distances which he here assigns to Ecbatana, is supposed to have confounded Ecbatana with Europus, now Veramin, rebuilt by Seleucus Nicator.

3 This was a city in the vicinity of Rhagæ, which was distant about 500 stadia from the Caspian Gates. It was built by the Greeks after the Macedonian conquest of Asia. The other places here mentioned do not appear to have been identified.

4 See the beginning of c. 12, p. 21.

5 This was the name of the wild tribes which occupied the high mountainous district between the great upland of Persia and the low plains of Mesopotamia. In addition to the name mentioned by Pliny, they were called Gordyæ, Cardaces, and Curtii. The present Kurds, inhabiting Kurdistan, are supposed to be descended from them.

6 The Greek παρ᾽ ὁδὸν, "on the road"—meaning, probably, to the Caspian Gates. Hardouin says that the Pratitæ were so called from the Greek πρατῖται, "merchants."

7 Although dwelling at a considerable distance, the custody of these gates was delivered to them, Hardouin says, by the kings of Media.

8 To the south-east of them.

9 Mentioned in c. 29 of the present Book.

10 Or Choarene.

11 Its site is unknown; but it is mentioned by Appian as one of the many towns erected by Seleucus.

12 By the use of the word "quondam," he implies that in his time it was in ruins.

13 A place of considerable importance, which seems to have derived its name from its "hundred gates." It was one of the capitals of the Arsacidan princes; but, extensive though it may have been, there is great doubt where it was situate, the distance recorded by ancient writers not corresponding with any known ruins.

14 In a northern direction, along the western shores of the Caspian.

15 According to Hardouin, Eratosthenes, as quoted by Strabo, makes the distance 5060 stadia, or about 633 miles. He has, however, mistranslated the passage, which gives 5600 stadia, or 700 miles exactly, as stated by Pliny.

16 Or 1960 miles.

17 Bactra, Bactrum, or Bactrium, was one of the chief cities, if not the capital, of the province of Bactriana. It was one of the most ancient cities in the world, and the modern Balkh is generally supposed to occupy its site. Strabo, as well as Pliny, evidently considers that Bactra and Zareispa were the same place, while Appian distinguishes between the two, though he does not clearly state their relative positions.

18 The modern Syr-Daria, mentioned in c. 15. See p. 25.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 11
  • Cross-references to this page (25):
    • The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, ECBATANA (Hamadan) Iran.
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ALEXANDREIA
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    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), JOMANES
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), LACO´NIA
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    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ORTOSPANA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), PAROPAMISUS
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    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ZARADRUS
    • Smith's Bio, Amome'tus
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