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Eth. LAPIDEI CAMPI or LAPIDEUS CAMPUS (πεδίον λιθῶδες, λίθινον πεδίον), in Gallia Narbonensis. Strabo (p. 182) says: “Between Massalia and the mouths of the Rhone there is a plain, about 100 stadia from the sea, and as much in diameter, being of a circular form ; and it is called the Stony, from its character; for it is full of stones, of the size of a man's fist, which have grass growing among them, which furnishes abundant food for animals: and in the middle there is standing water, and salt springs, and salt. Now all the country that lies above is windy, but on this plain especially the Melamborian (La Bise) comes down in squalls,--a violent and chilling wind: accordingly, they say that some of the stones are moved and rolled about, and that men are thrown down from vehicles, and stripped both of arms and clothing by the blast.” This is the plain called La Crau, near the east side of the east branch of the delta of the Rhone, and near the Etang de Berre. It is described by Arthur Young (Travels, &c. vol. i. p. 379, 2nd ed.), who visited and saw part of the plain. He supposed that there might be about 136,780 English acres. “It is composed entirely of shingle--being so uniform a mass of round stones, some to the size of a man's head, but of all sizes less, that the newly thrown up shingle of a seashore is hardly less free from soil. Beneath these surface-stones is not so much a sand as a kind of cemented rubble, a small mixture of loam with fragments of stone. Vegetation is rare and miserable.” The only use that the uncultivated part is turned to, he says, is to feed, in winter, an immense number of sheep, which in summer feed in the Alps towards Barcelonette and Piedmont. When he saw the place, in August, it was very bare. The number of sheep said to be fed there is evidently an exaggeration. Some large tracts of the Crau had been broken up when he was there, and planted with vines, olives, and mulberries, and converted into corn and meadow. Corn had not succeeded; but the meadows, covered richly with “clover, chicory, rib-grass, and avena elatior,” presented an extraordinary contrast to the soil in its natural state. The name Crau is probably a Celtic word. In the Statistique du Départ. des Bouches du Rhone (tom. ii. p. 190, quoted in Ukert's Gallien, 425) it is supposed that Craou, as it is there written, is a Ligurian word; which may be true, or it may not. What is added is more valuable information: “There is in Provence a number of places which have this name; and one may even say that there is not a village which has not in its territory a Craou.

Aristotle (Strabo, p. 182) supposed that earthquakes, of the kind named Brastae threw up these stones to the earth's surface, and that they rolled down together to the hollow places in these parts. Posidonius, who, having travelled in Gallia, had probably seen the Crau, supposed that the place was once a lake. Here the text in Strabo is obscure, and perhaps corrupt; but he seems to mean that the action of water rounded the stones, for he adds, after certain words not easy to explain, that (owing to this motion of the water?) “it was divided into many stones, like the pebbles in rivers and the shingle on the sea-shore.” Strabo (whose text is here again somewhat corrupted) considers both explanations so far true, that stones of this kind could not have been so made of themselves, but must have come from great rocks being repeatedly broken. Another hypothesis, not worth mentioning, is recorded in the notes of Eustathius (ad Dionys. Perieg. 5.76).

It is a proof of the early communication between the Phocaean colony of Massalia and other parts of Greece, that Aeschylus, whose geography is neither extensive nor exact, was acquainted with the existence of this stony plain; for in the Prometheus Unbound (quoted by Strabo) he makes Prometheus tell Hercules that when he comes into the country of the Ligyes, Zeus will send him a shower of round stones, to defeat the Ligurian army with. This stony plain was a good ground for mythological figments. (The following passages of ancient authors refer to this plain: Mela, 2.5; Plin. Nat. 3.4, 21.10; Gellius, 2.22, and Seneca, Nat. Quaest. 5.17, who speak of the violent wind in this part of Gallia; and Dionys. Halicarn. 1.41, who quotes part of the passage from the Prometheus Unbound.

This plain of stones probably owes its origin to the floods of the Rhone and the Durance, at some remote epoch when the lower part of the delta of the Rhone was covered by the sea.


hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 21.10
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.22
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