previous next


PYRENAEI MONTES (τὰ Πυρηναῖα ὄρη, Ptol. 1.15.2, 8.4.2; Strab. ii. p.71, iii. p. 161, &c.; Plb. 3.34), called also Pyrenaeus Mons (Mela, 2.5; Plin. Nat. 3.3. s. 4, &c.), Pyrenaeus Saltus (Liv. 21.23, &c.; Plin. Nat. 4.19. s. 33), Pyrenaeum Jugum (Mela, 3.1), and M. Pyrene (Πυρήνη, Strab. ii. p.160, &c.; Sil. Ital. 3.417; Aus. Ep. 25.51), the lofty chain of mountains which divides Spain from Gaul. It was fabled to derive its name from the Greek word πῦρ, fire, from a great conflagration which, through the neglect of some shepherds, destroyed its woods, and melted the ore of its mines, so that the brooks ran with molten silver. (Strab. iii. p.147; Diod. 5.25; Arist. Mir. Ausc. 88; Sen. Q. N. 1.) Silius Italicus (l.c.) derives its name from Pyrene, a daughter of the king of the Bebryces; but its true etymology is probably from the Celtic word byrin or bryn, signifying a mountain. (Cf. Astruc. Mém. de l'Hist. Nat. de Languedoc, 3.2.) Herodotus seems to have had some obscure intelligence respecting the Pyrenees, as he mentions (2.33), a place called Pyrene, near which the Ister had its source. Strabo (iii. pp. 137, 161) erroneously describes the chain as running from S. to N.; but its true direction, namely, from SE. to NW., is given by Pliny (4.20. s. 34), and Marcian (Heracl. p. 38). According to Diodorus (5.35) it is 3000 stadia in length; according to Justin (44.1) 600 Roman miles. After the Alps, and the mountains of Sarmatia, the Pyrenees were esteemed the highest mountains in Europe (Agathem. 2.9, p. 47; Eustath. ad Dionys. 338; Diod. l.c.), whence they are sometimes described by the poets as covered with eternal snow. (Lucan 4.84, seq.) On the side of Gaul they are steep, rugged, and bare; whilst on the Spanish side they descend gradually to the plain, are thickly wooded, and intersected with delicious valleys. (Strab. iii. p.161.) Their western prolongation along the Mare Cantabricum, was called “Saltus Vasconum,” which derived its name from the Vascones, who dwelt there. (Plin. Nat. 4.20. s. 34.) This portion now bears the names of Sierra de Orcamo, S. de Augana and S. Sejos. Still farther W. was Mons Vinnius or Vindius (Οὐίνδιον ὄρος, Ptol. 7.1.21; Flor. 4.12), which formed the boundary between the Cantabri and Astures. The Pyrenees form several promontories, both in the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic ocean. (Strab. ii. p.120, iii. p. 160, iv. p. 176, &c.; Mela, 2.5; Sil. It. 3.417, seq.) They were rich in mines of gold, silver, iron and lead (Strab. iii. p.146; Plin. l.c.), and contained extensive forests, as well as the sources of the Garumna, the Iberus, and a number of smaller rivers. (Strab. l.c., and iv. p 182.) Only three roads over them were known to the Romans; the most westerly, by Carasae (now Garis), not far from the coast of the Cantabrian sea, and which doubtless was the still practicable route over the Bidasoa by Fuenterabia; the most easterly, which was also the most frequented, and is still used, near the coast of the Mediterranean by Juncaria (now Junquera); and one which lay between these two, leading from Caesaraugusta to Benearnum (now Barege). (Itin. Ant. pp. 390, 452, 455; Strab. iii. p.160; Liv. 21.23, &c.) Respecting the present condition of the Pyrenees, the reader may consult Miñano, Diccionario, vii. p. 38, seq.; Huber, Skizzen aus Spanien, Gött. 1833; and Ford, Handbook of Spain, p. 579, seq. From the last authority, it will be perceived, that the character of the Gallic and Spanish sides has been somewhat reversed since the days of Strabo; and that, while “the French slope is full of summer watering-places and sensual, the Spanish side is rude, savage, and Iberian, the lair of the smuggler and wild bird and beast.”


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.34
    • Lucan, Civil War, 4.84
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.3
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.19
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 23
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.25
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.35
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.15
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: