a lake which was formed by two very large rivers, the Araxates (Jaxartes) and Dymas (probably the Demus of Ptolemy, 6.12.3
), at the foot of the Sogdii Montes. (Amm. Marc. 23.6.59
This has been supposed to intimate, though very vaguely, the formation of the Sea of Aral;
but there seems to be more reason for identifying it with the lake of Karakoul
to the SSE. of Bokhara,
formed by the Zar-afshan
or “gold-scattering” river of Samarcand,
called also the Kohik,
or more correctly the river of the Kohak
or “hillock.” This river is the Polytimetus, which, according to Aristobulus (ap. Strab. xi. p.518
), traversed Sogdiarna, and was lost in the sands; while Q. Curtius (7.37
) describes it as entering a cavern and continuing its course under ground, though it really discharges itself into this lake, which the Uzbeks call Denghiz,
the Turkish word for “sea.” The Greeks translated the indigenous name Soghd
--the valley of which is one of the four Paradises of the Persian poets-into that of Polytimetus, “the very precious,” --an epithet which it well deserves from the benefits it showers upon this region, the plain of Bokhara,
famed for its gigantic melons. Ptolemy (6.12.3
), if a correction be made in his latitudes, which are uniformly put too far forward to the N., gives the OXIANA PALUS (Ὠξειανὴ λιμ.
) its true position between Zariaspa and Tribactra (Balkh
). “From the mountains of the Sogdii,” says that geographer, “descend several rivers with no name, but which are confluents; one of these forms the Oxiana Palus.” The Sogdii Montes of Ptolemy are the Asferah
mountains, by which the volcanic chain of the Thian-Schan
is prolonged to the W. beyond the N. and S. break of Bolor,
It is singular that Ptolemy does not connect the Polytimetus with his Oxian lake, but mentions it (6.14.2) as one of the rivers discharging itself into the Caspian between the Oxus and Jaxartes. Pliny knows nothing of the Polytimetus; and his OXUS LACUS (6.18, 31.39; Solin. 49
) is either the crescent-shaped lake of Sirikol,
on the Bami Dunyá,
or “terraced roof of the world,” near the pass of Pamir,
from which the infant Amú
] issues, or some other Alpine lake in the Bolor
chain, from which this river derives most of its waters.
The marshes of the Massagetae, into which the Araxes of Herodotus (1.202
) flows, with the exception of one of its 40 channels, indicate some vague notion of the Sea of Aral.
Strabo (xi. p.531
), when he blames the opinion of Herodotus and Callisthenes, about the 40 channels of the Araxes, also (p. 512) asserts that some of the Massagetae live in marshes formed by rivers and in islands; adding (p. 573) that this district is flooded by the Araxes, which is divided into many channels, of which only one discharges itself into the sea of Hyrcania, while the others reach the Northern Ocean.
It is surprising that Strabo does not give to this river of the country of the Massagetae (which is undoubtedly the same as that of which Herodotus speaks) the name of Jaxartes, which he mentions so often (pp. 507, 509, 51,1, 517, 518), and carefully distinguishes (pp. 527--529) from the Araxes of the Matieni, or Armenian river, which was known to Hecataeus (Fr.
170). Strabo (p. 513) as well as Herodotus (1.202
) allude to the seals, with the skins of which the natives clothe themselves; and it is well known that these animals are found in the Sea of Aral
as well as in the Caspian, and the lakes Baikal
for these and other reasons it would seem that both Herodotus and Strabo were acquainted with that series of lagoons from which the Sea of Aral
has been formed.
This was the opinion of Bayer (Acta Petrop.
vol. i. p. 398) and of D'Anville, who (Carte du Monde des Grecs et des Romains,
1763) designates the Aral
by these words, “Paludes recipientes Araxen apud Herodotum.” With Herodotus all this network of lagoons forms a basin of the interior, while Strabo connects it with the N. Ocean, directly, and not through the medium of the Hyrcanian sea, and the channel by which, according to the systematic cosmographers of Alexandreia, this sea was united to the Ocean.
It must be observed that Strabo distinguishes clearly between the single mouth of the Araxes of the Massagetae (Jaxartes) and the numerous channels which go directly to the N. Ocean.
This statement acquires great importance as implying traditions of a channel of communication between the waters of the Aral
and the Icy Sea; a communication which probably took place along that remarkable depression of 5° of longitude in length, [p. 2.506]
in a direction from SW. to NE., from the Aral
to the “embouchure” of the Obi.
The characteristic feature of this depression is an immense number of chains of small lakes, communicating with each other, arranged in a circular form, or like a necklace.
These lakes are probably the traces of Strabo's channel.
The first distinct statement of the Sea of Aral,
described as a vast and broad lake, situated to the E. of the river Ural
occurs in Menander of Constannople, surnamed the “Protector,” who lived in the time of the emperor Maurice. (Menand. Hist. Legat. Barbarorum ad Romanos,
pp. 300, 301, 619, 623, 628, ed. Bonn, 1829).
But it is only with the series of Arab geographers, at the head of whom must be placed El-Istachry, that any positive information upon the topography of these regions commences. (Humboldt, Asie Centrale,
vol. ii. pp. 121--364.)