Physical history of Byzas.- Chalcedon.- Situation, soil, and climate of Byzantium.- Extent of the ancient city.- Situation of its ports.- The haven of Constantinople.- Advantageous position of the Eastern metropolis.- The Bosphorus.- Ancient extent of the Euxine sea.- The Propontis.- The Hellespont.- The island Leuce.- Cursus Achillis.- Establishments of the ancient Greeks on the northern shores of the Euxine sea.Physical history of Byzas.
381 THE foundations of the city of Byzantium, according to Diodorus Siculus, were laid in the time of the Argonauts by Byzas, who then reigned in the neighbouring country. Eustathius says, that Byzas arrived in Thrace before the expedition of the Argonauts, and settled there with a colony from Megara. Some ancient medals indeed bear the name and head of Byzas, with the prow of a ship on the reverse, but Velleius Paterculus ascribes the founding of Byzantium to the Milesians, 382 and Ammianus Marcellinus to the inhabitants of Attica.
As these accounts of the origin of the city are marked with all the inaccuracy of remote tradition, I am tempted to appeal from them to the unerring history of nature.
The inner extremity of the haven of Constantinople is distinguished by the confluence of two little streams, which flow from the north-west and the north. In the present age they take their names from the adjoining villages of Ali Bey keui, and Kiahat khana; but they were anciently called Cydaris and Barbyses, and were revered by the Byzantines as the source of the prosperity, and even of the existence, of their city.
The pagan mythology, where its language can be clearly understood, seems to have been calculated to explain the operations of nature, and to describe the varied phenomena of the heavens and the earth. The first language in use among men was picturesque and metaphorical: every object of nature was endued with individual animation, and the motions of matter were represented as the offspring of passions, similar to those which agitate the human breast. They personified the earth under the name of Iö, and 383 the form of a cow, which was confided to the guardianship of the never-slumbering Argus, the emblem of the starry heaven. Ceroëssa, the daughter of Jupiter and Iö, was nursed by Semystra the neighbour of Bosphorus, in honour of whom the Byzantines erected an altar at the foot of the promontory under which the waters of the Cydaris and Barbyses form one stream. This spot had been the birth-place of the horned Ceroëssa, whose amours with Neptune produced Byzas, the founder of Byzantium. In this beautiful allegory they commemorated the irruption of the Euxine sea into the countries which now form the Propontis and the Egean, and the origin of their celebrated harbour, the Chrysoceras, or golden horn, by the union of fresh and salt water in the valley which had been excavated in the lapse of ages, by the silent but unceasing agency of these humble rivulets1.
1See Petrus Gyllius de Bosporo Thracio, l. ii, c. iii, p. 103-105. 12mo. Lugduni Batavorum, apud Elzevirios 1632.Chalcedon.
The founders of Chalcedon, a city of Asia Minor fronting Constantinople on the east, are censured by the most sacred and respectable authority of ancient times, and by the 384 concurring sentence of modern writers, for having overlooked the site of Byzantium, while in search of a settlement, and having occupied a less advantageous situation on the shore of Asia. When the Megareans consulted the Pythian oracle about building a town on the coasts of the Propontis, they were directed to establish it over against the city of the blind; and "never was a wiser sentence uttered," says Tournefort, in confirmation of the opinion of Megabyzus general of Darius's troops, of Polybius, of Tacitus, and of Pliny, for the Chalcedonians had disregarded the opposite haven, the finest and most commodious in the world, and had chosen a point of land projecting to the south, although it did not possess even the advantage of a sea-port2.
2See Tournefort, v. ii, lett. viii, p. 361. Tacit. annal. l. xii. Polyb. hist. l. iv. Strabo. geogr. l. vii. Plin. nat. hist. l. v, c. xxxii. Gyllius de Bosp. Thrac. l. iii, c. x, p. 357; de topograp. Constant. l. i, c. i, ap. Banduri. Imp. Orient. t. i, p. 349.
The feeling of veneration for the sacred oracles, or an unwillingness to contradict the Pythian Apollo, induces me, however, to suspect, that the rich and haughty merchants of Byzantium either usurped the 385 sanction of a deity as a cover for their insolence, or that they insulted their neighbours by an arbitrary interpretation of the oracular enigma: For it is impiety to believe, that the disapprobation of heaven was expressed against the humble, but rational, choice of the Chalcedonians, who did not perhaps overlook the advantages of the haven of Byzantium; but preferred the permanent advantages of agriculture before the transitory prosperity of commerce.
The promontory of Thrace, which stretches into the Propontis and is placed between two seas, was unquestionably the most eligible situation in Europe for founding a city which might aspire to universal dominion. If, however, a small colony of outcast Megareans could possibly have been influenced in their choice of a settlement by such considerations, their vanity must have been despised, rather than encouraged, by Apollo. The prudent deity, who, from a love of consistency, condescended to admonish the shepherd to adapt his strains to the humbleness of his station, would have checked such turgid and extravagant ambition. But neither the Megareans, nor even Apollo, whose prescience was necessarily limited by the 386 duration of polytheism, could possibly conjecture, that, in after ages, a Christian emperor would be led, by superior inspiration, to confirm the censure which is implied in the oracle3.
3It is somewhat extraordinary, that the local advantages of Byzantium were not obvious either to the founders of the old, or the modern, city. Constantine the Great has been careful to instruct posterity, in one of his laws, that he laid the everlasting foundations of Constantinople in obedience to the commands of God. (See Gibbon, v. iii, p. 14.) The error of the Byzantines, who purposed to build their city at the inner extremity of the harbour (See Gyllius, de Bosp. Thrac. l. ii, c. iii, p. 104), and that of Constantine, who fixed upon the plain which lies between the Sigean, and the Rhœtean promontories, for the seat of his new metropolis (See Gyllius, de Bosp. Thrac. l. i, p. 12. Gibbon, v. iii, p. 11, note 21), both of which were prevented only by miracles, justify, or excuse, the blindness of the Chalcedonians. Doctor Gillies is so far from considering the advantages of the situation of Byzantium to be evident, at least to Barbarian observers, that he says (History of ancient Greece, c. 12, p. 55), "It is not probable, that Xerxes, or his ministers, perceived the peculiar security of Byzantium, situated between the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, two straits, which it might occasionally shut to an hostile navy, or open to the fleets of commerce."
The town of Chalcedon is most agreeably situated. Its territory is extensive, and, being well-watered by the rivulet which anciently gave its name to the city, is exceedingly fertile. Its distance from Constantinople 387 is inconsiderable, but, being screened by its position from the nipping winds which rush from the north through the straits of the Bosphorus, it enjoys a more genial climate. In the spring, vegetation seems several weeks more advanced on the Asiatic, than on the European, side of the Bosphorus, and the productions of the soil are of more vigorous and larger growth. The coast abounds with fish, and the harbours which were constructed by the ancient inhabitants on both sides of the isthmus, the jetties of which are still to be distinguished4, afforded sufficient protection to such vessels as were required for the fisheries, or for a contracted commerce; from the southern storms. The gallies or larger vessels, which were afterwards constructed from vanity or necessity, were hauled up on the beach and secured under porticoes during the winter months. 388 They might, however, ride at anchor with perfect safety in their own roads during the summer season, when the north winds generally prevail, or find shelter in the friendly port of Chrysopolis, when strong blasts occasionally issue from the south5.
4"Portuum aliquot ruinæ cernuntur."- "Nunc portus obrutus, et moles quotidie exportantur: atque ubi olim portus magnis navibus patebat, nunc alicubi non patet scaphis, ob syrtes et brevia."- "Chalcedonem habuisse portum catena clausum, capientem amplius sexaginta naves, patet ex Appiano: is enim ait, classem Mithridatis in portum Chalcedoniorum vi irrupisse, catenasque, quibus ostium portus claudebatur, rupisse, et quatuor naves exussisse; sexagintaque ex portu captas secum abduxisse." Gyllius de Bosp. Thrac. l. iii, c. x, p. 361, 364.
5Tournefort (lett viii, p. 365) says, that the port of Seutari served as a retreat to the gallies of Chalcedon.Situation, soil, and climate of Byzantium.
The cities in the vicinity of Chalcedon were flourishing and hospitable, and the adjacent territory was inhabited by a civilized people. The Byzantines, on the contrary, were exposed to the incursions of the Thracian barbarians: and the city, which was impregnable to their rude attacks, served as a place of refuge from their desolating hostilities6. The neighbouring country is rugged and mountainous, the soil is ungrateful, and the weather in the winter season, which is unusually long for such a southern latitude, partakes of the asperity of the interior climate of Thrace7. No wood grows in the immediate neighbourhood of Byzantium; but the want of fresh water is a far greater 389 convenience8. The harbour alone constituted its opulence, and occasioned its envied superiority; but if we may credit the assertion, that ancient Byzantium was contained within the circuit of the modern Seraglio, even the advantages of the harbour must have been so restricted as, in a great degree, to become nugatory to the Byzantines9.
6See Gyllius de topograp. Constant. l. i, c. i, p. 349.
7The Thracian shore of the Bosphorus does not produce the olive. Doctor Gillies is incorrect when he says, that "its climate vies with the delicious softness of the Asiatic plains."
8I have not forgotten the ayiasma, or holy well, near the Seraglio point. (See Tournefort, lett. v.) But it is too inconsiderable to form an exception to the assertion in the text. This scarcity of fresh water within the territory of Byzantium, was probably the cause that the first colonists projected to found their settlement in the neighbourhood of the streams at the head of the harbour. Lord Sandwich mentions (Travels, p. 246), that, in the insurrection at Constantinople in the year 1730, Sultan Ahmed collected a number of troops within the walls of the Seraglio, and attempted to defend it against the rebels, but they compelled him to abandon the design by cutting off the water. I know not what means were employed by the Byzantines, during the three years siege of their city by the emperor Severus (See Gibbon, v. i, p. 193), to obtain a constant supply of this indispensable article.
9De Tott even asserts (Memoirs, v. i), that the walls of the ancient Byzantium serve at present for the boundaries to the seraglio of the grand signor, and as he piques himself on not having perused the writings of preceding travellers, he probably believed it to be so. But though we may suppose the name of Byzantium to have reached him, unaccompanied by the information of its having been one of the best fortified cities of ancient times (see Pausanias, l. iv, c. 31), yet surely the Baron de Tott could have needed no inscription to enable him to discriminate between the masonry of antiquity (see Gyllius, de topograp. Constant. l. i, c. i, p. 350), and the unskilfulness of Turkish construction.Extent of the ancient city.
390 Barbié du Bocage, in the critical analysis of the maps and plans illustrative of Barthelemi's travels of the younger Anacharsis, delivers it as his opinion, that the present extent of the Seraglio corresponds with that of the ancient city of Byzantium, except that the spot on which the mosque of Sancta Sophia now stands was comprehended in it. His reasons for assigning this boundary to the city are no doubt well founded, but even this, if confined to the higher and inland part of the hill, which is the situation of Sancta Sophia, as it could afford no additional protection to the harbour, by no means removes the difficulty. It appears certain, that Byzantium did not exceed the extent of the first hill, since, during the siege of it by Constantine the Great, that emperor pitched his tent on the commanding eminence of the second hill, where he afterwards erected his forum. "But it may be supposed," says Gibbon, "that the Byzantines were tempted by the conveniency of the harbour to extend their habitations on 391 that side beyond the modern limits of the Seraglio10." I cannot pretend to determine how far this could be done, so as to preserve its character of the best fortified city of ancient times, while a considerable district, in which the warehouses of the merchants were situated, was left at the mercy of an enemy, who might possess himself of the unguarded position of the second hill. It is inconsistent with the customs of antiquity to suppose, that this extension should have consisted only of suburbs, which, from being without walls, were exposed to the attacks of the Thracians, and could not consequently ensure the command of the harbour. A great extension cannot, however, be allowed to them on any hypothesis, as they could not have been carried with safety, in a narrow line along the shore, further than across the bottom of the bay which lies between the first and the second hill.
10Roman hist. v. iii, p. 16.Situation of its ports.
Barbié du Bocage places the three ports of Byzantium on the north side of the city, about the spot where the yaly keosk of the grand signor now stands, for, on the side of the Propontis, there is no shelter for large 392 vessels; and none even for boats, much below the utmost extent of Byzantium. But the nature of the shore invalidates the supposition of ports in such a situation, and barely admits the possibility of an artificial basin, or quai, for the landing of merchandize11. On the side of the harbour, Byzantium does not appear to have extended more than four hundred fathoms from the extreme promontory. The waves of the Thracian Bosphorus, which run impetuously from the north-east, dash with violence against this obtuse point of the triangle; and the waters, being divided by the interposition of the promontory, recoil towards the west, in such a mighty volume as to sweep the harbour through its whole extent. It is evident therefore, that a current, which becomes so violent almost in the point where it first meets resistance, and where Nature has made no indentations in a steep and rocky shore, could not have afforded a safe retreat for 393 shipping. But, even if it were possible for vessels to lie there without danger, another considerable inconvenience must have been felt, as they could not get under way from such a situation with the wind at north-east or at north. If we suppose the merchant ships of Byzantium to have been protected by walls and fortifications, we must extend the line of the city beyond the situation of the present custom-house, which is at the foot of the second hill. If we limit the ancient city to the boundary of the modern Seraglio, the Byzantines themselves would justly have incurred the reproach of blindness, as the harbour, to which alone they were indebted for their superiority, would have been left defenceless; whereas, by fixing their settlement on the northern side of the haven, the site of the modern Galata, they might have enjoyed a situation equally safe and accessible to commerce, and have completely sheltered their trade and shipping, both from the rapacity of enemies, and from the violence of tempests. There is, however, reason to believe, that the commodious and commanding situation of Galata was not neglected by the Byzantines. It appears to have been a fortified suburb, if 394 we are to trust the quotation from Dion Cassius, by Xiphilin, who, in describing the siege of Byzantium by Severus, makes mention of the chain by which the harbour was barricadoed, and which reached from the modern Seraglio to Galata, where the Byzantines must consequently have had fortifications and a garrison12. When Constantine transferred the Imperial residence from Italy to the East, the plan which he traced out for his new metropolis extended the protection of the walls of Byzantium from the Cape of the Bosphorus to the inner extremity of the harbour, almost as far as the confluence of the small streams, which, by tempering the salt waters of the Black Sea, render them less destructive of shipping, while they assist in cleansing the harbour, and filling it with fish.
11Gyllius (de Bosporo Thracio, l. ii, c. 2, p. 85) describes from Dionysius the situation of the three ports of Byzantium. "At ex maris parte erat navigatio in sinum Ceras leniter fluens, primam promontorii Bosporii conversionem, circumflexionem, quæ excipiebat tres portus, quorum medius satis profundus à cæteris ventis tegebatur, ab Africo tutus omnino non erat: deinde turris bene magna rotunda continenti jungebat urbis mœnia."
12See Tournefort, lett. v. "Illius (sinus) similiter latitudo varia est. In faucibus plus minus sex stadiis patet: deinde paulatim stringitur, usque ad mediam Galatam, ubi in stadia paulo plus tria coarctatur: quæ arctiori catena claudi possint, quam latior ejus alveus inter Acropolim et Galatam situs, contra hostium naves olim constringi catenis solitus. Neque modo tormentis bellicis saxa emittentibus ex utroque littore, sed etiam machinis ignem liquidum profundentibus, hostiles naves ab his aditu arceri, atque etiam exuri igne speculari posse, demonstravit Proclus." Gyllius de Bosporo Thracio, l. i, c. v, p. 74.The haven of Constantinople.
395 The haven is a basin, curving towards the west and north-west, of seven or eight miles in circuit13. It was formerly compared by Strabo to a stag's horn, but at present, in consequence of many of the inlets being designedly filled up, or gradually encumbered with the rubbish of the city, it may perhaps, on a general view, be better compared to the horn of an ox14: The bendings of the shore, from the position of the surrounding mountains, form bays or recesses, eight of which are described by Gyllius, and may still be distinguished15. The entrance of the harbour opens to the east and faces Scutari: it is sheltered from all winds, and is ruffled 396 only by a tempest from the south-east. In most places, its shores are so steep as to admit the largest merchant ships to discharge their cargoes on the beach.- Even vessels of war, of the greatest draught of water, may lie close to the shore, or find anchorage in any part of the harbour.
13Olivier (p. 41) calculates the line from the Seraglio point to the mosque of Ayub to be 3000 toises (of which 2500 are equal to a league), the breadth of the harbour, at the entrance, opposite to Tophana, to be 500 toises, and 300 toises in the narrowest part.
14It appears from Dionysius and from Zosimus, as quoted by Gyllius (de topograp. Constant. l. iii, c. 9, in Imp. Orient. t. i, p. 406, 407), that the increase of population compelled the inhabitants of Constantinople to build without the walls of the city, on the shore of the harbour, and to encroach on the sea by driving piles as a foundation for their houses; but the small gulfs, the ancient antlers of the stags-horn, are the only parts of the shore which have undergone any sensible alteration from this cause.
15See Gyllius, de Bosporo Thracio, l. i, c. v, p. 71.Advantageous position of the Eastern metropolis.
While the city of Byzantium continued an independent republic, it derived from its situation the command of the sea. When the Roman emperors made it the seat of government, it might reflect with conscious pride on having attained the rank for which Nature had adapted it. Sovereign of two seas and two continents, it restrained the Barbarians of the north by its impenetrable barrier, and invited commerce, by its wonderful facilities, from every region of the known world.The Bosphorus.
If Byzantium acknowledged, that its comparative superiority over the neighbouring cities was owing to the excellence of its harbour, with equal justice may Constantinople attribute its supremacy over the surrounding countries to the advantages of its position. The Bosphorus may be denominated, in strict propriety, the creative and tutelar genius of the Imperial city. The praises which 397 are bestowed on Constantinople, are ultimately and immediately referable to the Bosphorus alone16. Majestic in its course, it resembles a river winding through an extensive garden, rather than a sea which divides Europe from Asia. It is difficult even to imagine a more beautiful prospect than that of the valley through which it flows, which is bounded on either side by gently swelling hills, adorned with luxuriant and variegated verdure, or by mountains broken into romantic precipices and opening into vallies, fertile and watered with fountains and rivulets17. Its sinuosities, which are deep even to the edge of the shore, afford a refuge to mariners, and a retreat to tribes of fishes, which, fattened during the winter in the tempered waters of the Euxine, swarm in its 398 stream, whence they proceed to distribute plenty round the Mediterranean.
16"Sed quid plura de Bosporo? sine quo Byzantium nunquam extitisset, aut vulgaris urbs remansisset: cujus conditor et genius Agathodæmon Bosporus jure dici potest et debet; sine quo non modo virere cum dignitate, sed ne nasci quidem potuisset. Et ne habeam inculcare, quæ postea dicam de Byzantio, id fere omne Bosporo acceptum referre oportet, quod laudis tribui potest Byzantio." Gyllius, de Bosporo Thracio, l. i, p. 24.
17"O nympharum domos! o sedes Musarum! o loca literatis apta secessibus!" Busbeq. epist. i, p. 43.
The length of the Bosphorus, from the promontory of Byzantium to the Cyanean rocks, is about twenty miles: its extreme breadth does not exceed two miles, and in most places, during the stillness of the night, the noises of animals may be heard, and even the articulations of the human voice be distinguished. In its whole extent it may he considered as a spacious haven, for, from its first entrance, it affords anchorage to the largest vessels, and security to the frailest bark. Its navigation is free from hidden danger. Its current is rapid and invariable in its course, except that it is superficially affected by the long continuance of a wind from the south18. The eddies 399 remount from cape to cape almost along the whole line of the shore: during the calm of a summer evening they assist the small trading vessels in reaching the entrance of the Euxine. The winds have a periodical constancy from the beginning of summer to the equinox of autumn: they blow, through the day, from the north and north-east, and temper the heat of the sun and the climate by their delicious freshness19.
18"Like to the Pontic sea, "Whose icy current and compulsive course "Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on "To the Proponsic, and the Hellespont." (Othello, act 3, scene 3.)It is curious to observe, that this simile is not in the first edition (see Mr. Pope's notes), which, as appears by the entries of the stationers' company (vol. D, p. 21) was registered October 6, 1621, though it was not printed till the following year. (See Mr. Malone's Chronology.) Mr. Steevens says, that Shakspere took the earliest opportunity of displaying his knowledge of these particulars, which he might have acquired from Holland's translation of Pliny's Nat. Hist. I, however, suspect, that this knowledge is combined, in the foregoing passage, with information of an event which did not take place till after the death of Shakspere. Cantemir (p. 241) says, that, in the year 1621, "the frost was so great that the inhabitants of Constantinople safely went to and from Scutari on foot." I can scarcely reconcile myself to the belief of this fact, though some such extraordinary instance of the severity of the climate of Constantinople, can alone justify the application of the epithet icy to the current of the Bosphorus.
19It is owing to this disadvantage of the wind blowing through so long a period in the same direction as the currents, that Constantinople is frequently inaccessible to ships coming from the Mediterranean sea, or the Archipelago. It is not therefore a commercial city. Its trade is almost wholly confined to the importation of articles necessary for the consumption of the inhabitants.
The elegant devotion of antiquity had consecrated both the shores of the Bosphorus 400 to the deities who presided over the various departments of nature: their temples were enriched with the votive offerings of the grateful adventurer and the storm-beaten mariner, and their altars smoked with incessant sacrifices for the purpose of deprecating their anger, or soliciting their protection.
The Bosphorus, according to the ancient opinion, was the son of Neptune. "If it be not rather," says Gyllius, "the primary creation of the Supreme Architect, who opened its passage to the Euxine waters from the instant when in his eternal mind he conceived the system of the world20." Gyllius seems to have been led into this opinion from an apprehension, that to suppose the Bosphorus to be a work of subsequent formation, would he to acknowledge the agency of chance in the works of the deity. The admission, however, of secondary causes can never imply a denial of the first; and no imputation of Manicheism or materialism need be feared by those who think, that the Bosphorus, considered as an arm of the sea, is of posterior creation.
20De Bosporo Thracio, l. i, p. 23.Ancient extent of the Euxine sea.
401 The names of Pontus and Axenus indicate the wide diffusion, and secluded position of the Euxine sea in the earlier ages of the world. Its shores, in many parts, show evident proofs of having lain for ages immersed in its bosom; but naturalists have not yet determined, by actual researches, the height to which its waters had formerly risen; nor have they ascertained what vestiges of marine depositions are yet discoverable in the surrounding countries. I regret, that my knowledge was too imperfect for me to avail myself of the opportunities which my travels have afforded. I have observed, however, that the plain of Little Tartary, which is elevated considerably above the level of the sea, has for its basis a mass of calcareous matter, of so recent a composition as not yet to have assumed the hardness and compactness of stone. The deep ravins which form the only exception to the uniformity of this extensive plain, descend from a great distance in right lines towards the sea-coast without intersecting each other, as though their channels had been originally traced by torrents discharged from the lakes and great bodies of water which were separated from the sea on the sudden contraction 402 of its surface, and have since been enlarged by the gradual operation of time and the elements. The borders of the Danube, even as high as Buda, exhibit strong indications, that the plains of Hungary were once the bottom of a marsh, while the water of the river was prevented from flowing off by the height of the Euxine sea. The inland parts of the Hœmus and the Carpathian mountains resemble head-lands and bays of the sea, and some modern travellers have observed vestiges of labour in the higher part of the mountains of the Crimea, the object of which appears to have been the security of shipping21. We have besides the testimony of ancient authors: Diodorus Siculus relates, that the inundation of the Propontis, when it burst through the straits of the Hellespont, ascended even to the higher part of the mountains of Samothrace: the effect of the deluge may probably be exaggerated in this instance, yet the foundation of the tradition, corroborated as it is by the physical and geographical state of the country, cannot reasonably be questioned. Future inquiries may tend to establish the hypothesis, 403 and to determine, whether the waters gradually prepared their new passage, or whether they suddenly overwhelmed the intervening country, and afterwards subsided to their present level. If such were their progress, the traces of their violence must still be perceptible to the scrutinizing eyes of a scientific and experienced observer. The channel of the Bosphorus was perhaps prepared by the rivulets which flow front both the ranges of its hills, the streams of which were probably more copious when their sources were sunk beneath the level of the Euxine sea, and received in greater profusion the filterings of its waters. The basin of the Propontis must have been previously a lake, as it was the receptacle of the streams of the Granicus, the Esepus, the Rhyndacus, and the other rivers which descend from Ida and Olympus. The shores which surround the northern extremity of the Bosphorus are said to exhibit volcanic appearances, and demonstrations of the operation of fire22. If this be clearly ascertained, the process of Nature in the formation of these seas may in a great degree be traced.
21See De Tott's Memoirs, v. ii, p. 103.
22See Olivier's Travels, v. i, p. 77.The Propontis.
404 The lake of the Propontis, secure within the barriers of the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, laid open to the wants and wishes of Constantinople an uninterrupted communication with the fertile shores of Asia Minor, and the rich commerce of its harvests and vintages. The straits of the Hellespont protected the Imperial dignity from foreign insult, and extended the Imperial sway to the Pillars of Hercules, and the remotest regions of the Mediterranean sea.The Hellespont.
The Hellespont is longer and wider than the Bosphorus, and exhibits the bolder character of a sea in its course between the hills of Ida and the Thracian Chersonesus. Its shores, and those of the neighbouring Ægean sea, were illustrated by the achievements of the earliest heroes; and were adorned by the taste and munificence of Alexander of Macedon. They contended for superiority with Rome and Byzantium in the minds of Augustus and Constantine. The Asiatic promontories preserved the ashes and the memory of Achilles and Ajax, which were protected by the veneration of antiquity, but have not escaped the violation of modern curiosity. The mortal existence of Achilles has been denied, and the repose of his 405 earthly relics has been disturbed by profane researches; but his immortality is secured in the Elysium of Homer's numbers23.
23See note B. at the end of the volume.The island Leuce.
The mighty shade of the hero dwelt in the vast solitude of the Euxine, and beguiled the insipidity of an immortal existence by mimicking the actions of human life, and renewing the memory of past celebrity. His mysterious abode eluded the search of an ancient circumnavigator, and its existence has even been questioned by modern geographers24. But the sacred island Leuce still remains, a frightful solitude, beaten by the currents of the Ister and the billows of the Euxine, where sea-birds ministered in the temple of the hero, while his ghost murmured out oracles25.
24See Arrian. peripl. Pont. Eux. p. 23, ap. Geogr. min. Græc. t. i, p. 21-23. Oxon. 1698. See also the dissertation of Barbié du Bocage on the travels of Anacharsis, p. 62.
25Strabo (geogr. l. vii) says, that the island Leuce is at the distance of 500 stadia from the mouth of the Tyras, and 600 from that of the Borysthenes. This situation nearly corresponds with that of the small rocky island which the Turkish and Greek mariners distinguish by the name of Serpents island - Ilan adase, or Phidonisi. See also Pliny, l. iv, sec. 26, 27. Ptol. l. iii, c. 10. Mela, l. ii, c. 7. Pausanias, l. iii, c. 19.Cursus Achillis.
A narrow slip of land at the entrance 406 of the bay formed by the Hypanis and the Borysthenes, was appropriated to the pedestrian exercises of Achilles. Its ancient name is still preserved almost literally in the barbarous translation of Kil-bournou26. It was in the Cimmerian obscurity of this inaccessible ocean, that the ancients placed their gloomy Elysium27. It was in these retirements, that the manes of Harmodius and Aristogiton, the restorers of liberty to Athens and the objects of popular devotion, obtained the recompense of patriotism, were admitted into the society of heroes, and enjoyed the conversation of Diomedes and the swift-footed Achilles28.
26Kil-burn, or Kil-bournou, signifies literally Achilles's ness: its ancient name was Dromos Achilleos, or Cursus Achillis. (See Pliny, l. iv, sec. 26. Mela, l. i, c. i.)
27This epithet is justified by the speech which the shade of Achilles addresses to Ulysses, (Odyssey xi, Cowper's translation)" Renown'd Ulysses! think not death a theme " Of consolation; I had rather live " The servile hind for hire, and eat the bread " Of some man scantily himself sustain'd, " Than sov'reign empire hold o'er all the shades."
28Athenæus, lib. xv, cap. 15, p. 695.Establishments of the ancient Greeks on the northern shores of the Euxine sea.
The whole circuit of the shores of the Euxine sea was not subjected to the dominion 407 of Constantinople until the reign of the Ottoman emperors. The Ister, or at the furthest the Tyras, had bounded the Roman empire and the conquests of Trajan29; but the ancient Greek republics had penetrated beyond these limits, and had established cities and colonies on the banks of the Hypanis and the Borysthenes. Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, navigated the Euxine sea, and left a colony of Thessalians at Tomi, near the mouths of the Ister. He erected a tower at the entrance of the Tyras, and occupied the straits of the Borysthenes. There he constructed a cenotaph30, and founded games, in honour of his father, to whose name he consecrated the peninsula on the south, and an adjoining island. Olbia, which 408 is celebrated by Strabo for its extensive inland commerce, its caravans, its fairs, and its fisheries, was founded by the Milesians on the headland which is on the right bank of the Hypanis: its situation may be conjectured from the Greek and Roman medals which are still found among its ancient foundations31. I have seen also beautiful fragments of Grecian sculpture and statuary, which had been dragged from the bed of the river near the modern city of Nicolaef32. The cities of Niconia and Ophiusa were built on opposite sides of the æstuary which is formed by the Tyras, about fifteen miles from its mouth, near the spot where the Russians have founded the city of Ovidiopol, 409 and where some modern travellers, with equal ignorance and credulity, have fixed the tomb of the exiled poets33.
29 See Gibbon, v. i, p. 4, 9. See also the note in p. 84 of this volume.
30Pliny (l. iv, sec. 26) says, that this tumulus was constructed on the island which was named Insula Achillis; and indeed if there be any remains of it on the peninsula, they must be on the spot which is occupied by the fortress of Kilburn. I was in a Greek vessel, in the year 1798, which was driven by stress of weather into the liman, or æstuary of the Borysthenes; and I perfectly recollect, that the flat line of the coast on the left was unbroken by any other eminence. There are many tumuli (which the Russians call kourghan) on the side of Oczacow.
31Mention is made of the city of Olbia by Strabo (l. vii), Pliny (l. iv, sec. 26), Pomponius Mela (l. ii, c. i), Ptolemy (l. c), and, last of all, by Dion Chrysostome (Orat. Borysthen. xxxvi, p. 437, fol. Paris 1604). In the tenth century the Venetians appear to have rebuilt a city on the site of Olbia, which they called Porto di Bo, from Bogh, the Scythian, or modern, name of the river. Its ruins were employed by the Turks for the construction of the fortress of Oczacow.
32Nicolaef was founded by Prince Potemkin at the confluence of the Bogh and the Ingul. The antiquities mentioned in the text, were in the possession of Admiral Mordwinoff, who commanded on the Black Sea station in the year 1797.
33See Guthrie's Tour through the countries on the north shore of the Euxine.
Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents