The Greek kings of Egypt dis­co­ve­red first, in the Red Sea, that part of the African coast that goes from the bot­tom of the gulf where the city of Heroum is loca­ted to Deidre, in other words up to the strait today cal­led Bab-el-Mandeb. From there to the pro­mon­tory of Aromatum situa­ted at the entrance of the Red Sea1 the coast had not been explo­red by navi­ga­tors ; and this is clear from what Artemidorus tells us : that the pla­ces on this coast were known, but the dis­tan­ces were not,2 which was because they had suc­ces­si­vely gai­ned know­ledge of the ports by land, and without tra­vel­ling from one to the other.

Beyond this pro­mon­tory where the ocean coast begins, nothing was known, as we learn from Eratosthenes and Artemidorus.3

Such was the state of know­ledge they had of the African coasts in the time of Strabo, in other words at the time of Augustus. But since Augustus, the Romans dis­co­ve­red the Raptum pro­mon­tory and the Prassum pro­mon­tory, which Strabo does not men­tion because they were as yet unk­nown. Obviously these two names are Roman.

Ptolemy the geo­gra­pher lived under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, and the author of the Periplus of the Erythræan Sea, whoe­ver he was, lived soon the­reaf­ter. Yet the for­mer bounds the known Africa at the Prassum pro­mon­tory,4 which is at about four­teen degrees south lati­tude ; and the author of the Periplus at the Raptum pro­mon­tory,5 which is about the tenth degree of that lati­tude. It is likely that the lat­ter took as his limit a place where peo­ple went, and Ptolemy a place where no one went any lon­ger.

What confirms me in this thought is that the peo­ples around the Prassum were can­ni­bals. Ptolemy, who men­tions a great num­ber of pla­ces bet­ween the port of Aromatus and the Raptum pro­mon­tory,6 lea­ves a com­plete void from the Raptum to the Prassum.7 The great pro­fits of the Indian navi­ga­tion must have cau­sed that of Africa to be neglec­ted. In short, the Romans never had any regu­lar navi­ga­tion on this coast ; they had dis­co­ve­red these ports over land, and by ships cast up by storms. And as today we know the coast of Africa rather well, and very lit­tle about the inte­rior,8 the Ancients knew the inte­rior rather well, and very lit­tle about the coasts.

I have said that Phoenicians sent by Necho and Eudoxus under Ptolemy Lathyrus had cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ted Africa ; in the time of Ptolemy the geo­gra­pher, these two voya­ges must surely have been regar­ded as fables, since he pla­ces from Sinus Magnus,9 which is, I believe, the Gulf of Siam, an unk­nown land that runs from Asia to Africa, to end at the Prassum pro­mon­tory, such that the Indian Sea would only have been a lake. The Ancients, who explo­red the Indies from the north, after pro­gres­sing east­ward, pla­ced this unk­nown land to the south.

This gulf, which today we call by this name, was called by the Ancients the Arabic Gulf ; what they called the Red Sea was the part of the ocean near this gulf.

Strabo, book XVI.


Book I, ch. vii ; book IV, ch. ix ; table IV of Africa.

This Periplus has been attributed to Arian.

Book IV, ch. vii–viii.

Ptolemy, book IV, ch. ix.

See with what precision Strabo and Ptolemy describe for us the various parts of Africa. This knowledge comes from the various wars which the two most powerful nations in the world, the Carthaginians and the Romans, had had with the peoples of Africa, the alliances they had contracted, and the trade they had engaged in inland.

Book VII, ch. iii.