previous next


The country of the Sabæi,1 a very populous nation, is contiguous, and is the most fertile of all, producing myrrh, frank- incense, and cinnamon. On the coast is found balsamum and another kind of herb of a very fragrant smell, but which is soon dissipated. There are also sweet-smelling palms and the calamus. There are snakes also of a dark red colour, a span in length, which spring up as high as a man's waist, and whose bite is incurable.

On account of the abundance which the soil produces, the people are lazy and indolent in their mode of life. The lower class of people live on roots, and sleep on the trees.

The people who live near each other receive, in continued succession, the loads [of perfumes] and deliver them to others, who convey them as far as Syria and Mesopotamia. When the carriers become drowsy by the odour of the aromatics, the drowsiness is removed by the fumes of asphaltus and of goat's beard.

Mariaba,2 the capital of the Sabæans, is situated upon a mountain, well wooded. A king resides there, who determines absolutely all disputes and other matters ; but he is forbidden to leave his palace, or if he does so, the rabble immediately assail him with stones, according to the direction of an oracle. He himself, and those about his person, pass their lives in effeminate voluptuousness.

The people cultivate the ground, or follow the trade of dealing in aromatics, both the indigenous sort and those brought from Ethiopia; in order to procure them, they sail through the straits in vessels covered with skins. There is such an abundance of these aromatics, that cinnamon, cassia, and other spices are used by them instead of sticks and firewood.

In the country of the Sabæans is found the larimnum, a most fragrant perfume.

By the trade [in these aromatics] both the Sabæans and the Gerrhæi have become the richest of all the tribes, and possess a great quantity of wrought articles in gold and silver, as couches, tripods, basins, drinking-vessels, to which we must add the costly magnificence of their houses; for the doors, walls, and roofs are variegated with inlaid ivory, gold, silver, and precious stones.

This is the account of Artemidorus.3 The rest of the description is partly similar to that of Eratosthenes, and partly derived from other historians.

1 The precise boundaries of Sabæa it is impossible to ascertain. The area we have presumed is comprised within the Arabian Sea W., the Persian Gulf E., the Indian Ocean S., and an irregular line skirting the desert, and running up in a narrow point to Idumæa N. See Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Geography, art. Saba. Milton appears to have been acquainted with the following passage from Diodorus Siculus, b. iii. 46, descriptive of Sabæa : ‘It is impossible to enumerate the peculiarities and nature of all these trees and plants, on account of the surpassing variety and body of perfume which fall upon and excite the senses, in a manner divine and beyond description. The mariner, as he sails even at a distance along the coast, has his share of enjoyment; for when the breezes of spring blow from off the land, the fragrance of the trees and shrubs is carried down to the shore; nor is it of the kind with which we are acquainted, proceeding from old and stored aromatics, but fresh and in full perfection from new-blown flowers, striking the inmost sense.’

2 The same as Saba; see c. iv. § 2.

3 The above details derived from Artemidorus, and by him from Agatharchides, would not be found in Eratosthenes, who lived before the time of Agatharchides.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1877)
hide References (7 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: