, sc. γἠ;
, Aesch. Pers
. 763, Ἀσὶς αἴη
, Dion. Perieg. 20, Ἀσίδος ἠπείρολο;
ASIS, Ov. Met. 5.648
and Adj. Ἀσιανός
, Ion. Ἀσιήτης
frequent in Homer as a proper name; Ἀσιαἰος
, Steph.; Ἀσιατικός
, Strab.; Ἀσιατογενής
, Aesch. Pers
. 12; Ἀσιαγενής
, Dio Chrysost., Lob. Phryn
. 646: Fem. Ἀσιανή
, and Ἀσιήτις
, with χθών, γῆ, γαῖα,
ap. Trag.; Ἀσίς, Ἀσιάς, _άδος,
ap. Trag., with φωνή,
and especially with κιγάρα,
for the three-stringed lyre of the Lydians, called simply ἡ Ἀσιάς
by Aristoph. Thes. 120
, comp. Schol., Suid., Hesch., Etym. Mag., s. v.:
Asiānus; Asius, Poets and Varr. ap. Non. 466. 3; Asiaticus, adj. Asiagenes, not only in poets, but in old Latin, for Asiaticus, applied to Scipio, Liv. 37.58
, Inser., and to Sulla, Sidon. Carm.
7.80, see [p. 1.233]
Forcellini, s.v. Gronov. Obs.
4.391, p. 531, Frotsch; lastly, the form Asiacus, Ov. Met. 12.588
, rests only on a false reading. On the quantity of the A, see Jahn, ad Ov. Met. 5.648
This most important geographical name has the following significations. 1.
The continent of Asia.--2. ASIA MINOR (see below).--3.
The kingdom of Troy (Poet. e. g. Ov. Met. 13.484
The kingdom of PERGAMUS
--5. The Roman province of Asia (see the Article).--6.
A city of Lydia (see below, No. 1.).--7.
An island of Aethiopia, according to Steph. B. sub voce
who gives Ἀσιάτης
for a citizen, and Eth. Ἀσιεύς.
This article is on the continent of Asia.
I. Origin and Applications of the Name.
The origin of the names, both of Europe and Asia, is lost in antiquity, but perhaps not irrecoverably. The Greek writers give two derivations. First, on their system of referring the names of tribes and countries to a person as eponymus, they tell us of a nymph Asia as one of the Oceanids, daughters of Oceanus and Tethys (Hes. Th. 359
), the wife of Iapetus, and mother of Prometheus (Apollod. 1.2.2
; Eustath. ad Dion. Per.
270, 620; Etym. Mag. s.v. Schol. Lycophr. 1412), or, according to others, the wife of Prometheus. (Hdt. 4.25
; Schol. Apollon. 1.444
; Steph. B. sub voce
In this mythical genealogy, it should be noticed that Asia is connected with the Titanic deities, and Europe with the race of Zeus. (Ritter, Vorhalle,
The other class of derivations connects Asia, in the first instance, with Lydia, which some of the grammarians distinctly state to have been at first called Asia; an opinion which Strabo ascribes to the school of Demetrius of Scepsis. (Strab. xiii. p.627
; Schol. Aristoph. Thes. 120
; Schol. Apollon. 2.779
.) We are told of a city called Asia, near M. Tmolus, where the Lydian lyre was invented (Etym. May s. v.; Steph. B. sub voce
and to which Eckhel (vol. iii. p. 93) refers the Lydian coins bearing the inscription ΑΣΙΕΩΝ.
Herodotus says that the Lydians themselves derived the name of Asia from one of their ancient kings, Asias, the son of Cotys, the son of Manes, whose name continued to be borne by the φυλὴ Ἀσιάς
in the city of Sardis (Hdt. 4.45
; Eustath. ad Dion. Perieg.
270, 620), and whose chapel near the Cayster was still shown in Strabo's time. (Strab. xiv. p.650
A similar account is given by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in his discussion respecting the Etruscans, the supposed emigrants from Lydia (i. p. 21, ed. Sylburg). Another instance of the connection of the name with Lydia is furnished by the passage of Homer, in which we have also the first example of the word Asia in a Greek writer (Il. 2.461
):--Ἀσίω ἐν λειμῶνι, Καϋστρίου ἀμφὶ ῥέεθρα.
(Comp. Dion. Perieg. 836--838.)
In this passage, the ancient grammarians read Ἀσίω
as the genitive of Ἀσίας,
the dative of Ἄσιος.
(Schol. Aristoph. Ach. 68
; Strab. xiv. p.650
, comp. xiii. p. 627; Steph. B. sub voce
Eustath. ad Dion. Perieg.
620, ad Hom.
pp. 204. 10; Etym. Mag. s. v.)
But even if, with some of the best modern scholars, we adopt the reading thus rejected by the ancients, Ἀσίῳ
should still be taken as the adjective connected with Ἀσιάς,
i. e. the meadow sacred to the hero Asias.
(Hermann, ad Hymn. in Apoll.
250; Thiersch, Gramm.
§ 178, No. 26; Spitzner, ad loc.:
of course, no argument can be drawn from Virgil's Asia prata Caystri, Georg.
1.383, 384, which is a mere imitation; comp. Aen.
7.701, Asia palus.
The explanation of ἀσίῳ
as the adjective of ῎ασις, mud
barely requires mention, Steph. B. sub voce
Eustath. ad Dion. Perieg.
The text of Homer confirms the statement of ancient writers, that Homer knows nothing of Asia,
as one of the divisions of the world, any more than of Europa or Libya,
and that such a system of division, among the Greeks at least, was probably subsequent to the Homeric poems. (Strab. xii. p.554
; Steph. B. sub voce
He also uses Ἄσιος
as a proper name of more than one hero among the Trojan allies (see Dict. of Biog.
), and it deserves notice that one tradition derived the name of the continent from the sage and seer Asius, who presented the palladium to Tros (Eustath. ad Dion. Perieg.
620; Suid. s. v. Παλλάδιον
); indications that the root was known in other parts of W. Asia besides Lydia. Another tradition of considerable importance is preserved by Strabo from the poet Callinus; namely, that when the Cimmerians invaded Asia, and took Sardis, the people whom they drove out of the city were called Ἠσιονῆες,
which the grammarians of the school of Demetrius of Scepsis interpreted as the Ionic form of Ἀσιονεῖς.
(Strab. xiii. p.627
.) Neither should we altogether overlook the frequency of the syllable As in Trojan and other Asiatic names, such as Ἀσσάρακος, Ἁσκάνιος,
and several others.
Scholars who are accustomed to regard antiquity only from a Grecian point of view, are content to draw from these premises the conclusion, that Asia was the name first applied by the Greeks, whether borrowed from the natives or not, to that part of the region east of the Aegean Sea with which they first became acquainted, namely, the plains of Lydia; that the Greek colonists, who settled on the coasts of that region, were naturally distinguished from those of the mother country, as the Greeks of Asia ;
and that the name, having thus become common, was extended with their extending knowledge of the country, first to the regions within the Halys and the Taurus, and ultimately to the whole continent.
It is important to observe that this is confessedly a mere hypothesis;
for the expression of an opinion
on such a subject by an ancient writer, who could not
possess the means of certain knowledge,
must not be taken as positive evidence,
simply because it comes to us in the form of a statement made by one whom we accept as an authority on matters within the range of his knowledge; nay more, such statements, when reduced to their true value, as opinions, are often deserving of much less regard than the speculations of modern scholars, based on a wider foundation, and guided by a sounder criticism.
There is a science
of ancient history, even as to its facts,
which is ever advancing, like all other sciences, and for similar reasons. Least of all can it be permitted to the inquirer, wilfully to restrict himself to one kind of evidence; as, for example, to take the assertions and hints of classical writers at their utmost value, while rejecting the results of Oriental and other learning.
If the primeval history of Asia is ever to be settled on a basis of probability (and few objects of learning yield in interest to this), it must be by a comprehensive and patient criticism, cautious but not timid, of all the existing sources of information, in history, ethnography, philology, mythology, and antiquities; whether derived from the West, the East, or the North; from direct testimony, indirect evidence, or well conducted speculation; from sacred or secular [p. 1.234]
authorities; from ancient records, or from modern scholarship.
The choice is between the use of this method by competent inquirers,, and its abuse by sciolists; for the third course, of keeping within the imaginary
confines (for certain limits there are none) of “positive
” knowledge, is not likely to be followed till men forget their natural thirst for information concerning past ages.
In such a spirit, the question of the origin of the name of Asia
has been discussed by various writers, especially by Carl Ritter, in his Vorhalle Europäischer Völkergeschichten vor Herodotus,
Berlin, 1820, 8vo. Even an outline of the discussion, as thus conducted, is impossible within the limits of this article.
It must suffice to indicate the result.
In the first place, the statements of the Greek writers already quoted point to a wider use of the name in the West of Asia Minor than the limits of Lydia Proper; and moreover, they clearly indicate that the name was in use among the Asiatics themselves. Going from one extreme to another, some Orientalists seek for a purely Phoenician origin of the name; a view as narrow as that which would make it purely Greek. (See, for both views, Pott, Etymol. Forschungen,
vol. ii. pp. 190, 191.)
But a wider inquiry shows us the root AS, among various peoples whose origin may be traced to Asia, from India, through Scythia, round the shores of the Euxine, up to Scandinavia, and among the Etruscans and other peoples of Southern Europe, as well as in W. Asia, in such connections as leads to the strong presumption that its primary reference is to the Sun,
especially as an object of religious worship; that the Asians
are the people of the Sun,
or, in the secondary form of the notion, the people from the East;
and that of Asia itself, it is as good etymology as poetry to say:--
‘Tis the clime of the East,
‘tis the land of the Sun.
The correlative derivation of EUROPA, from the Phoenician and Hebrew root Ereb, Oreb
(not unknown also to the Indo-European languages), signifying the evening, sunset,
and hence the West,
is admitted even by philologists who are cautious of orientalisms.
At all events, be the etymology
sound or not, the fact
seems to be beyond doubt, that the earliest distinction between the two continents made by the Greeks was expressed with reference to the relative positions of the known parts of each, as to the East,
and to the West.
pp. 300, foll., 456, foil.; Pott, l.c.;
Sprengel, Gesch. d. Geogr. Entdeck.
p. 59; Sickler, Alte Geogr.
pp. 58, 61; Bernhardy, ad Dion. Perieg.
836, p. 754; Ukert, vol. i. pt. ii. pp. 207--211.)
Proceeding now to the use of the word by Greek writers, as the name of the continent, we find the applications of it very different.
As already stated, Homer knows nothing of the division of the world into Europe, Asia, and Africa (Libya).
The earliest allusions to this division are found in the writers of the first half of the fifth century B.C., namely Pindar, Aeschylus, and the logographers Hecataeus and Pherecydes. Pindar merely refers to the part of the continent opposite to Rhodes as a “promontory of Asia” (Ἀσίας ἐμβόλῳ, Ol.
7.33. s. 18); but, in several passages, he speaks of Libya in a manner which clearly shows a knowledge of the tripartite division. (Pyth.
4.6, 42, 259, 5.52, 9.57, 71, 109, 121, Isth.
3.72.) Aeschylus speaks of “the abode of pure Asia” as adjacent to the place where Prometheus suffers (Prom.
412; ῎εποικον ἁγνᾶς Ἀσίας ἕδος,
where the epithet inclines us to think that Ἀσίας
is the nymph Asia, and the Ἀσίας ἕδος
the country named from her).
In vv. 730--735, he distinguishes between the land of Europe
and the continent Asia,
as divided by the Cimmerian Bosporus; but elsewhere he makes the river Phasis the boundary (Fr.
He also mentions Libya (Supp.
292). Hecataeus and Pherecydes seem to have regarded the whole earth as divided into two equal parts-Europe on the N., and Asia with Libya on the S.--by the strait of the Pillars of Hercules in the W., and the Phasis (or Araxes) and Caucasus on the E., the subdivision of the southern half into Asia and Libya being made by the Nile; and they keep to the old notion of the poets, that the earth was enclosed by the ocean, as a river circulating round it (Fray.
ed. Didot; Ukert, Untersuch. über die Geogr. des Hekatäus u. Damastes,
Weimar, 1814; Id. Geogr.
vol. i. pt.i. p. 213; Forbiger, vol. i. pp. 49--63): and this, with some variation as to the boundaries, appears to have been the common view down to the time of Herodotus, who complains of the division as altogether arbitrary. “I wonder,” he says (4.42), “at those who distingush and divide Libya and Asia and Europe [i.e. as if they were equal or nearly so], for there is no small difference between them. For, in length, Europe extends along both the others; but, as to its breadth, it does not seem to me worth while to compare it with the others.” He seems to mean that they are so much narrower, which he illustrates by relating the circumnavigation of LIBYA, and the voyage of Scylax, under Dareius I., from the Indus to the head of the Arabian gulf.
He proceeds: “But, as for Europe, it does not appear that any have discovered whether it is surrounded by water, either on the E. or towards the N., but it is ascertained to extend in length all along both the other parts (i. e. Libya and Asia). Nor am I able to conjecture who gave to the earth, which is one, three different names, derived from the names of women, and assigned as their boundaries the Egyptian river Nile and the Colchian river Phasis; but others say they are the Maeotic river Tanais and the Cimmerian Straits” (4.45).
He rejects with ridicule the idea of the river Ocean flowing round the earth, and laughs at those who drew maps showing the earth rounder than if it had been struck out with a pair of compasses, and making Asia equal to Europe (4.36, comp. 4.8, 2.21, 23). His notion of Asia is somewhat as follows:--The central part of the continent extends from the Southern Sea, also called the Red Sea (Ἐρυθρὴν
: Indian Ocean
), to the Northern Sea (i. e. the Mediterranean, with the Euxine), into which the river Phasis falls, forming the N. boundary of Asia (4.37).
This central portion is inhabited by four peoples: namely, from S. to N., the Persians, the Medes, the Saspeirians, and the Colchians. (See the articles.) On the W. of this central portion, two peninsulas (ἀκταί
) run out into the sea.
The first begins on the N. at the Phasis, and extends along the Pontus and the Hellespont, as far as Sigeum in Troas, and, on the S. side, from the Myriandrian gulf, adjacent to Phoenice, to the Triopian promontory (4.38); namely, it is the peninsula of Asia Minor: he adds that it is inhabited by thirty peoples.
The other peninsula extends into the Southern Sea, including Persis, Assyria, and Arabia, and ending at Egypt and the Arabian gulf, according to the common notion of it (100.39; comp. [p. 1.235]
ARANIA, p. 180, col. 1); but Libya really forms a part of this same peninsula (100.41).
As to the boundary between Asia and Libya, he himself would place it on the W. border of Egypt; but he tells us that the boundary recognized by the Greeks was, the Nile: the lonians, however, regarded the Delta of Egypt as belonging neither to Asia nor to Libya (2.16, 17). On the other side of the central portion, the parts beyond the Persians, Medes, Saspeirians, and Colchians, extend eastward along the Red Sea (Indian Ocean
), and northward as far as the Caspian Sea and the river Araxes (by which he seems to mean the Oxus). Asia is inhabited as far as India, to the east of which the earth is desert and unknown (100.40). For this reason he does not attempt to define the boundary between Europe and Asia on the east; but he does not, at least commonly, extend the latter name beyond India.
From the time of Herodotus to that of Strabo, various opinions prevailed as to the distinction of the three continents.
These opinions Eratosthenes divided into two classes: namely, some made rivers
the boundaries, namely the Nile and the Tanais, thus making the continents islands;
while others placed the boundaries across isthmuses,
namely, that between the Euxine and the Caspian, and that between the Arabian gulf and the Serbonian lake,--thus making the continents peninsulas.
Eratosthenes, like Herodotus, made light of the whole distinction, and cited this disagreement as an argument against it; but Strabo maintains its utility. (Strab. i. pp. 65--67.)
The boundaries adopted by Strabo himself, and generally received from his time, and finally settled by the authority of Ptolemy, were, on the side of Europe, the Tanais (Don
), Maeotis (Sea of Azov
), Cimmerian Bosporus (Straits of Kaffa
), the Pontus or Euxine (Black Sea
), the Thracian Bosporus (Channel of Constantinople
), Propontis (Sea of Marmora
), Hellespont (Dardanelles
), Aegean (Archipelago
), and Mediterranean; and, on the side of Libya, the Arabicus Sinus (Red Sea
) and the isthmus of Arsinoe (Suez).
The opinion had also become established, in Strabo's time, that the E. and N. parts of Asia were surrounded by an ocean, which also surrounded the outer parts of Libya and Europe; but some, and even Ptolemy, reverted to the old notion, which we find in the early poets, that the south-eastern parts of Asia and of Libya were united by continuous land, enclosing the Indian Ocean on the E. and S.: this “unknown land” extends from Cattigara, the southmost city of the Sinae, to the promontory Prasum, his southmost point on the E. coast of Libya, in about the parallel of 20° S. lat. (Ptol. 7.3.6
. § § 2, 5--8.)
II. Particular Knowledge of Asia among the Greeks and Romans.
Such were the general notions attached by the Greeks and Romans at different times, to the word Asia, as one of the three great divisions of the then-known world.
In proceeding to give a brief account of the more particular knowledge which they possessed of the continent, it will be necessary to revert to the history of their intercourse with its inhabitants, and the gradual extension of their sources of information respecting its geography.
The first knowledge which the Greeks possessed of the opposite shores of the Aegean Sea dates before the earliest historical records.
The legends respecting the Argonautic and Trojan expeditions and other mythical stories, on the one hand, and the allusions to commercial and other intercourse with the peoples of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, on the other hand, indicate a certain degree of knowledge of the coast, from the mouth of the Phasis, at the E. extremity of the Black Sea, to the mouth of the Nile. The Homeric poems show a familiar acquaintance with the W. coast of Asia Minor, and a vaguer knowledge of its N. and S. shores, and of the SE. coasts of the Mediterranean; as far as Colchis and the land of the Amazons on the former side, and Phoenicia and Lower Egypt on the latter. Hesiod had heard of the river Phasis, and of the Nile, which was known to Homer under the name of Aegyptus (Theog.
The cyclic poets indicate a gradually increasing knowledge of the shores of western Asia. (For the details, see Ukert, vol. i., and Forbiger, vol. i.)
This knowledge was improved and increased by the colonization of the W., N., and S. coasts of Asia Minor, and by the relations into which these Greek colonies were brought, first with the Lydian, and then with the Persian Empires. Under the former, their knowledge does not seem to have been extended beyond the W. parts of Asia Minor, as far as the Halys,--and that not in any accurate detail; but the overthrow of the Lydian empire by Cyrus, in B.C. 546, and the conquest of the Asiatic Greeks by the Persians, opened up to their inquiries all Asia, as far at least as the Caspian on the N. and the Indus on the E.; and their collision with the Persian Empire made it their interest to gain information of its extent and resources.
The court of Persia was visited by Greeks, who there found, not only means of satisfying their curiosity, but of obtaining employment, as in the case of the physician Democedes. (Hdt. 3.129
.) In B.C. 501--500 Aristagoras of Miletus was able to exhibit at Sparta a map, on copper, of the countries between Ionia and Susa. (Hdt. 5.49
The settlement of the Persian Empire under Dareius, the son of Hystaspes, was accompanied by the compilation of records, of which the still extant cuneiform inscriptions of Behistun
may serve as an example.
It must have been by the aid of such records that Herodotus composed his full account of the twenty satrapies of the Persian Empire (3.89, 7.61); and his personal inquiries in Egypt and Phoenicia enabled him to add further details respecting the SW. parts of Asia; while, at the opposite extremity of the civilized world, he heard from the Greek colonists on the N. shores of the Euxine marvellous stories of the wandering tribes of Northern Asia. His knowledge, more or less imperfect, extends as far as the Caucasus and Caspian, the Sauromatae (Sarmatians), the Massagetae. and other northern peoples, the Oxus (probably), Bactria, W. India, and Arabia.
The care which Herodotus takes to distinguish between the facts he learnt from records and from personal observation, and the vague accounts which he obtained from travellers and traders, entitles him to the appellation of Father of Geography, as well as History.
The expedition of Cyrus and the retreat of the Ten Thousand added little in the way of direct
knowledge, except with respect to the regions actually traversed; but that enterprise involved, in its indirect consequences, all the fruits of Alexander's conquests. Meanwhile, the Greek physician Ctesias was collecting at the court of Artaxerxes the materials of his two works on Persia and India, of which we have, unfortunately, only fragments.
A new epoch of geographical discovery in Asia was introduced by the conquests of Alexander. Besides the personal acquaintance which they enabled the Greeks to form with those provinces of [p. 1.236]
the Persian Empire hitherto only known to them by report, his campaigns extended their knowledge over the regions watered by the Indus and its five great tributaries (the Panjab and Scinde
), and, even further than his arms actually penetrated, to the banks of the Ganges.
The lower course of the Indus, and the shores between its mouth and the head of the Persian Gulf, were explored by Nearchus; and some further knowledge was gained of the nomad tribes which roamed (as they still do) over the vast steppes of Central Asia by the attempt of Alexander to penetrate on the NE. beyond the Jaxartes (Sihon
); while, on all points, the Greeks were placed in advanced positions from which to acquire further information, especially at Alexandreia, whither voyagers constantly brought accounts of the shores of Arabia and India, as far as the island of Taprobane, and even beyond this, to the Malay peninsula and the coasts of Cochin-China.
The knowledge acquired in the campaigns of Alexander was embodied in a map by Dicaearchus, a disciple of Aristotle.
On the E. and N. the wars and commerce of the Greek kingdom of Syria carried Greek knowledge of Asia no further, except to a small extent in the direction of India, where Seleucus Nicator (B.. 314) led an expedition as far as the Ganges, and sent ambassadors to PALIBOTHRA, where their prolonged residence enabled them to learn much of the peninsula of India.
The voyage of Patrocles round the shores of the Indian Ocean also deserves mention. (Dict. of Biog.
) Of course more acquaintance was gained with the countries already subdued, until the conquests of the Parthians shut out the Greeks from the country E. of the Tigris-valley; a limit which the Romans, in their turn, were never able to pass.
Meanwhile, in the other great seat of his Eastern Empire, Alexander's genius was bearing fruits which we are still reaping. Whatever judgment may be formed of the conqueror of Greece and Persia, the founder of Alexandreia
demands an exalted place among those who have benefited mankind by the extension of their knowledge.
There, in a position accessible by sea from all the coasts of the east and of the west, commerce was maintained and extended by the advance of science, whose aid she rewarded by contributions of fresh knowledge from remote countries; and, under the protection of the first Ptolemies, mathematical and physical theories, and the observations of travellers and merchants, advanced hand in hand, and laid the first foundation of a real system
of geographical science. Whatever aid the records of past inquiries could furnish was provided for by the foundation of the celebrated library, which we may safely assume to have contained accounts of Phoenician voyages, which the conquest of Tyre transferred to the Macedonians. Aristotle had already established the globular figure of the earth, and now Eratosthenes (about B.C. 270--240) made the great stride forwards in mathematical geography, of drawing lines upon its surface, to which to refer the positions of places, namely, from E. to W. the Aequator and Tropic of Cancer, and seven other parallels of latitude through important places; and from N. to S., two boundary lines, marking the limits of the known world, and, between these, seven meridians through important places. (See )Dict. of Biog.
) Instruments having been invented for taking latitudes, and those latitudes being compared with the standard parallels, the positions of places were now laid down with an accuracy previously unattainable. Still, however, the geographer was dependent, for the determination of longitudes,
on computations by days' journeys, and so forth. During the same period the means of information were increased, not only by the increase of commerce in the Indian Ocean, but by the establishment of the Greek kingdom of Bactria in Central Asia. Accordingly we find that the knowledge of Eratosthenes and his followers embraces the great mountain-chains N. of India, the PAROPAMISUS, EMODUS, and IMAUS
and extends E. as far as the SERES.
The mathematical geography of Eratosthenes was greatly improved by Hipparchus, B.C. 150. (See art. in Dict. of Biog.)
The extension of the Roman empire over Asia Minor and Syria, and their wars with Mithridates and the Parthians, not only added greatly to the accuracy of their information respecting Western Asia, but extended it, on the N., into the heart of the Caucasian countries, a region of which the Greeks had scarcely any knowledge; while, at the opposite extremity, the expedition of Aelius Gallus made them far better acquainted with the peninsula of Arabia. [ARABIA
] The fruits of these discoveries were stored up by the administrative ability of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Agrippa, who caused measurements and observations to be taken, and recorded in maps and itineraries; and by the literary labours of the great geographer Strabo, whose immortal work is founded on an extensive knowledge and diligent criticism of the writings of the Greek geographers, on the further discoveries made up to his time, and on his own personal observations in extensive travels. (See the art. in the Dict. of Biog.
) The brief epitome of Pomponius Mela, who wrote under Claudius, and the elaborate compilation of the elder Pliny, complete the exhibition of Greek and Roman knowledge of Asia (as of the other continents), under the first Caesars.
Meanwhile, though the Tigris and Euphrates had become the final limit of the Roman empire to the E., further advances were made in Armenia and the Caucasus; the Caspian Sea, and the nomad tribes of the North became better known; and information was obtained of a great caravan route between India and the shores of the Caspian, through Bactria, and of another commercial track, leading over the high table-land of Central Asia to the distant regions of the SERES.
The wealth and luxury of Rome and her chief provinces were making continually new demands on the energies of commerce, which led to constant accessions of knowledge, especially in the extreme regions of SE. Asia. Meanwhile, a fresh step in the scientific part of geography was made by Marinus of Tyre, under Antoninus Pius, A.D. 150. (See art. in Dict. of Biog.)
Under M. Aurelius, the geography of the ancients reached its highest point, in the celebrated work of Ptolemy, A.D. 160, which remained the text-book of the science down to the Middle Ages. (See art. in Dict. of Biog.
) He improved the system of Marinus; constructed a map of the world on a new projection; and tabulated the results of all the geographical knowledge of his time in a list of countries, and the chief places in them, with the longitude and latitude of each appended to its name. His diligence and judgment have received continual confirmation from new discoveries; the greatest defect of his work being that which resulted necessarily from the want of a method for fixing the longitude [p. 1.237]
of places. His chief extension of the knowledge of Asia refers to the peninsula of India beyond the Ganges, and a small portion of the adjacent part of China [THINAE
], and some of the islands of the Eastern Archipelago; to the large rivers and great commercial cities in the N. of China [SERES
]; to some of the mountain ranges of the table-land of Central Asia [IMAUS, &c.]; and to the names
of Scythian tribes in the North. [SCYTHIA.]
Some further discoveries were made in parts of Asia, of which we have the records in the works of Agathemerus, Dionysius Periegetes, Marcian of Heracleia, and other Greek and Roman writers, various Περίπλοι,
and especially in the geographical lexicon of Stephanus Byzantinus; but the only additions to the knowledge of Asia worth mentioning, are the embassy of Justinian II. to the Turks in the steppes W. and S. of the Altai mountains, A.D. 569, and in the increased knowledge of India, Ceylon, and China, gained by the visits of Cosmas Indicopleustes. (See art. in Dict. of Biog.
On many points there was a positive retrogression from knowledge previously secured; and this may be traced more or less through the whole history of ancient geography. Thus, Herodotus had a better knowledge of the Arabian Gulf than some later writers, who took it for a lake; and he knew the Caspian to be a lake, while Strabo and Mela make it a Gulf of the Northern Ocean. Herodotus, Eratosthenes and Strabo, knew that the Great Southern Ocean surrounded the continent of Africa, and yet many eminent writers, both before and after Strabo, Hipparchus, Polybius, and Marinus, for example, fall into the error of connecting India and Africa by a Southern Continent, which was at last perpetuated by the authority of Ptolemy in the Middle Ages, and only dispelled by the circumnavigation of Africa.
The notions of the ancients respecting the size and form of Asia were such as might be inferred from what has been stated. Distances computed from the accounts of travellers are always exaggerated; and hence the S. part of the continent was supposed to extend much further to the E. than it really does (about 60° of long. too much, according to Ptolemy), while to the N. and NE. parts, which were quite unknown, much too small an extent was assigned. However, all the ancient geographers, subsequent to Herodotus, except Pliny, agreed in considering it the largest of the three divisions of the world.
Pliny believed Europe to contain 11-24ths, Asia 9-28ths, and Africa 13-60ths of the land of the earth.
Eratosthenes reckoned the distance from the Canopic mouth of the Nile to the E. point of India, 49,300 stadia. (Strab. i. p.64
.) Strabo makes the chain of Taurus from Issus to the E. extremity of Asia, 45,000 stadia (xi. p. 490); Pliny gives the length of the continent as 5375 M.P., or 43,000 stadia (5.27. s. 28); and Ptolemy assigns to it above 120° of longitude, or, measuring along the parallel of Rhodes, above 48,000 stadia. Ptolemy makes its greatest breadth 60°, or 30,000 stadia; Eratosthenes and Strabo, 28,000 stadia; while Artemidorus and Isidorus calculated the breadth from the S. frontier of Egypt to the Tanais, at 6375 M. P., or 51,000 stadia. (Plin. Nat. 5.9
III. Subdivisions of the Continent.
The most general division of Asia was into two parts, which were different at different times, and known by different names. To the earliest Greek colonists, the river Halys, the E. boundary of the Lydian kingdom, formed a natural division between Upper
and Lower Asia
(ἡ ἄνω Ἀσία,
or τὰ ἄνω Ἀσίης,
and ἡ κάτω Ἀσία,
or τὰ κάτω τῆς Ἀσίης,
or Ἀσία ἐντὸς Ἅλυος ποταμοῦ;
and afterwards the Euphrates was adopted as a more natural boundary. Another division was made by the Taurus into Asia intra Taurum,
i. e. the part of W. Asia N. and NW. of the Taurus, and Asia extra Taurum,
all the rest of the continent. (Ἀσία ἐντὸς τοῦ Ταύρου,
and Ἀσία ἐκτὸς τοῦ Ταύρου.
) The division ultimately adopted, but apparently not till the 4th century of our era, was that of A. Major
and A. Minor.
--(1.) ASIA MAJOR (Ἀ. ἡ μεγάλη
) was the part of the continent E. of the Tanais, the Euxine, an imaginary line drawn from the Euxine at Trapezus (Trebizond
) to the Gulf of Issus, and the Mediterranean : thus it included the countries of Sarmatia Asiatica, with all the Scythian tribes to the E., Colchis, Iberia, Albania, Armenia, Syria, Arabia, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Media Susiana, Persis, Ariana, Hyrcania, Margiana, Bactriana, Sogdiana, India, the land of the Sinae, and Serica; respecting which, see the several articles.--(2.) ASIA MINOR (Ἀσία ἡ μικρά
), was the peninsula on the extreme W. of Asia, bounded by the Euxine, Aegean, and Mediterranean, on the N., W., and S.; and on the E. by the mountains on the W. of the upper course of the Euphrates.
It was, for the most part, a fertile country, intersected with mountains and rivers, abounding in minerals, possessing excellent harbours, and peopled, from the earliest known period, by a variety of tribes from Asia and from Europe. For particulars respecting the country, the reader is referred to the separate articles upon the parts into which it was divided by the later Greeks, namely, Mysia, Lydia, and Caria, on the W.; Lycia, Pamphylia, and Cilicia, on the S.; Bithynia, Paphlagonia, and Pontus, on the E.; and Phrygia, Pisidia, Galatia, and Cappadocia, in the centre; see also the articles ASIA
(the Roman Province), TROAS, AEOLIA, IONIA, DORIS, LYCAONIA, PERGAMUS, HALYS, SANGARIUS, TAURUS, &c.
IV. General Form and Structure of Asia.
The description of the outlines and internal structure of the several countries of Asia is given in the respective articles upon them.
As a kind of index to the whole, we now give a description of the continent in its most striking general features.
The boundaries of the continent are defined on all sides by its coast line, except at the narrow isthmus (of Suez
) where it touches Africa, and the far wider track on the NW., which unites it to Europe. On this side the boundary has varied. Among the ancients, it was the river Tanais (Don
); it is now formed by the Oural
mountains and the river Oural,
from the Arctic Ocean to the Caspian, and by the Caucasus between the Caspian and the Euxine; two boundaries across two different isthmuses.
On looking at a map of the eastern hemisphere, and comparing the three continents, two things will strike an intelligent observer ; their inequality of size, and their difference of form. Asia is nearly five times the size of Europe, and one-third greater than Africa: their estimated areas being: Europe, 3,595,000 sq. miles; Africa, 12,000,000 sq. miles; Asia, 16,000,000 sq. miles.
In comparing their forms, we may adopt the obvious resemblance of a great mass of land, with its peninsulas and promontories, to a body and its limbs.
In this view, Africa is a body without limbs; Europe has numerous [p. 1.238]
limbs, its E. part forming only a small body, which is in fact a part of that of Asia; while Asia forms a huge body, from which limbs project E., S., and SW., the body forming about 4-5ths of the whole. Of course the outlying islands must be regarded as detached limbs, and with these Asia is far more abundantly provided than either of the other continents. To trace in detail the features thus indicated is the province of a more general work than the present; but, in connection with ancient geography, it is important to observe the vast influence on the history and civilization of the world, which has resulted from the manner in which the adjacent parts of W. Asia, S. Europe, and N. Africa, with their projecting members and intersecting seas, are related to one another.
The structure of the great mass of the Asiatic continent is peculiarly interesting. Its form is that of a four-sided figure, extending in length E. and W., and in breadth N. and S., but much wider on the eastern than on the western side.
The reason of this is soon made evident.
The map shows that the continent may be roughly divided into three portions, by two great mountain chains, running from W. to E., and continually diverging from each other. Both may be regarded, in a first rough view, as beginning from the N. and S. extremities of the Caspian. The N. chain, which we may call the Altai
from the name of its chief portion, at first interrupted by extensive plains, follows a general, though irregular, direction, not far from the parallel of 50° N. lat., till about 110° E. long., where it strikes off NE. towards the extremity of the continent at Behring Strait.
The other (which, for a like reason, we may call the Himalaya
chain) diverges more steadily to the southward of its eastern course, till it reaches 100° E. long., where it meets a transverse chain running down from a still more easterly point of the N. chain, and extending southwards till it runs out into the ocean in the form of the Malay peninsula.
These two great chains and the one which unites them on the east, are the margins or walls of a vast elevated plateau or table-land, attaining in some places a height of 10,000 feet, for the most part desert, included under the general name of Tartary, outside of which the other portions of the continent slope down to the surrounding seas, but in different modes. The Northern portion descends gradually in a wide and nearly unbroken tract of land to the Arctic Ocean; on the E., the masses of land, though more broken, are large, and round in their outlines; but on the south, where the mountain wall is highest, the descent from it is also the most sudden, and the tract of intervening land would be exceedingly narrow, were it not prolonged in the vast peninsula of India. How much of the natural advantages and political importance of India results from this formation, it is not our province to do more than hint at.
But, westward of India, the descent from the great central plateau needs particular attention. Instead of falling in a gradual slope to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, the land forms a distinct and much lower plateau (about 4000 feet high), called that of Iran,
bordered on the S. by the mountains of Beloochistan
and Persia, whence the range skirts the E. margin of the Tigris and Euphrates valley, to the mountains of Armenia.
This lower table-land (of Iran
) is separated on the E. from the valley of the Indus and the great plain of NW. India (the Panjab
), by a range of mountains (the Soliman M.
), which run N., meeting that part of the Himalaya range, which is called the Indian Cauicasus or Hindoo Koosh,
at the NW. corner of the Panjab,
NE. of Cabool, whence it continues towards the Altai range, cutting the plateau of Tartary into the two unequal parts of Independent
and Chinese Tartary.
The plateau of Iran is continued on the SW. in the highlands of Arabia, where it is terminated (for the present: for it ascends again in Africa) by the range of mountains which run parallel to the Red Sea, and are continued, in the Lebanon range, along the E. coast of the Mediterranean, till they join the Taurus and Amanus, which belong to the chain which borders the plateau of Iran on the south. Finally the peninsula of Asia Minor is formed by the western prolongations of the last-named chain, and of that of the Himalaya, under the names respectively of Taurus, for the chain along the S. side of the peninsula, and Antitaurus, Olympus, and other names, for the more broken portions of the northern chain.
In fact the peninsula, from the Caucasus and Caspian to the Aegean, may be regarded as an almost continuous highland, formed by the union of the two chains. To what extent the ancients were acquainted with this mountain system, and by what names they designated its several parts, will be seen by reference to the articles TAURUS, ANTITAURUS, CAUCASUS, IMAUS, EMODUS, &c.
The general view now given will suffice to indicate the reasons why the history of Asiatic civilization has always been confined to so small a portion of the continent.
The seas, lakes, and rivers of Asia are described under the respective countries. [P.S