When Alexander conque­red Egypt, very lit­tle was known about the Red Sea, and nothing about that part of the ocean that joins that sea, and which washes the coast of Africa on one side and the coast of Arabia on the other ; it was belie­ved even after­wards that it was impos­si­ble to round the Arabian penin­sula. Those who had tried on either side had aban­do­ned their attempts. They used to say : “How would it be pos­si­ble to sail the coasts of Arabia to the south, since the army of Cambyse, which cros­sed it in the north, almost all peri­shed, and that of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, sent help to Seleucus Nicator in Babylon, suf­fe­red unbe­lie­va­ble hard­ship, and owing to the heat could march only at night ?1

The Persians had no kind of navi­ga­tion. When they conque­red Egypt, they brought the same spi­rit that had been theirs at home, and the negli­gence was so extra­or­di­nary that the Greek kings found that not only were they igno­rant of the navi­ga­tions of the Tyrians, the Idumæans, and the Jews in the ocean, but even of those of the Red Sea. I think the des­truc­tion of the first Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar and that of seve­ral small nations and neigh­bo­ring cities of the Red Sea cau­sed the loss of the know­ledge they had acqui­red.

Egypt, in the time of the Persians, did not extend to the Red Sea : it contai­ned only that long, nar­row edge of land which the Nile covers with its floods, and which is contai­ned on each side by moun­tain chains.2 Thus the Red Sea had to be dis­co­ve­red a second time, and the ocean a second time ; and that dis­co­very belon­ged to the curio­sity of the Greek kings.

They went up the Nile, they hun­ted ele­phants in the lands that lie bet­ween the Nile and the sea ; they dis­co­ve­red the banks of that sea by land. And as this dis­co­very was made under the Greeks, their names are Greek, and the tem­ples are dedi­ca­ted to Greek divi­ni­ties.3

The Greeks of Egypt were able to engage in a very exten­sive com­merce : they were mas­ters of the ports on the Red Sea ; Tyre, the rival of every tra­ding nation, was no lon­ger ; they were not hin­de­red by the coun­try’s ancient super­sti­tions4 : Egypt had become the cen­ter of the world.

See the book rerum Indicarum.

Strabo, book XVI.


They made them horrified of strangers.