The Interior of Africa
Ptolemy deals with Africa west of Egypt and below latitude 30°N in chapter 6 of Book IV: he calls this area Interior Libya. As its eastern limit he sets a line that runs to the south from the coast of the Mediterranean to 3°10’ S along his meridian 51°15’ P (= 23°33’E of Greenwich). The extreme limit to the south is the southernmost limit of Lake Victoria. Apparently a horizontal line was drawn along the southern limit of Lake Victoria, the main source of the Nile. In this section called Interior Libya, Ptolemy describes the part of Africa that goes from Kerne to the Theon Ochema, the Seat of the Gods. This part has been considered totally confused with errors of latitude of as much as 20°, whereas Ptolemy tends to be substantially correct in matters of latitude—and even his apparent errors of longitude have an explanation.
Ptolemy’s calculation of longitudes for Interior Libya is distorted because he confused the Atlas-Pillar of the Sky with the Great Atlas. This is an error that occurs in Pliny, who criticizes Polybius for having placed the inner part of the Gulf of Guinea in line with the Atlas.
The data about the internal points of what Ptolemy calls Interior Libya were convincingly explained by ~~~. I have only to modify the starting point because this author did not follow a correct interpretation of the voyage of Hanno and hence the position along the coast. In describing the inland parts of the area that Ptolemy calls Interior Libya, he follows what must have been the lines that were of interest to Kerne. Ptolemy describes a trade route that begins in the land of the Autolalai that is, just east of Kerne, proceeds to the south, reaching the upper course of the Senegal, and then moves to the Niger. The position of Timbuktu (16°50’N, 3°00’ W) which is called Thamoudakana, is given as 17°N, 23° P = 3°11’E. There is a certain displacement in longitude because Promontory Rhysadion as Cape Sierra Leone, which is near the source of the Niger, was confused with Cape St. Paul. The first part of the route begins in the land of the Autolalai at 23°50’N, 10° P, which must be the salt mine of Jyil. It reaches the Senegal at a place called Magura, 15°N 12°30’P, and ascends its course through Ubrix, 13°20’N, 14°20’P, and Iarzitta, 12°15’N, 16°20’P. Another route moves to the Niger.
Cape Hesperion is placed at about 3°33’ W of Greenwich, whereas it is at 7°50’. Pliny places the Gulf called Hesperion or Great in the external sea (our Atlantic, in opposition to the Mediterranean) at 14° P 4’ ( = 3°10’ W).
For the stretch between Cape Verde and Mount Cameroon, Ptolemy followed two sources of information. The first source of information provided the data between Cape Verde and Cape Palmas.
The description of the coast to the north of Cape Palmas is hopelessly distorted, because Ptolemy confused the Islands of Cape Verde with the Canary Islands. Ptolemy enters at 17°30’ W, (= 9°30’P) a Cape Soloention which proves to be Cape Verde (17°30’ W, 14°43’N). As Vivien de Saint-Martin observed, this is the Cape Surrentium of Pliny. But Ptolemy confused Cape Soloention with Cape Soleis. He mentions Cape Soleis as the Mountain of Helios (this is based on Latin sources that interpret Soleis as Mons Solis, Mountain of the Sun) and places it at 31°15’N, 6°45’ P (= 8°32’ W). This is the location of Cape Cantin 32°37’N 9°19’ W. Ptolemy placed to the north and south of Cape Soloention localities that belong to the north and south of Cape Soleis. But one can identify also locations that were really related to Cape Verde. To the south of Cape Soloention, Ptolemy mentions a Great Harbor (Magnus Portus) at 14°N 10° P which proves to be the Great Opening of Hanno and the Palsum of Pliny (Geba Estuary, 14°43’N 12°09’ W), 2_° east of Cape Verde, which is correct. Then he mentions a Baba City at 13°N 10°30’ P which is to be identified with the River Bambotum of Pliny (Shebar Entrance 7°23’N 12°32’ W). Apparently he had an accurate datum for the latitude of Cape Verde, but he had to guess the latitude of the Palsum and Baba City, which he knew were to the south of it.
The confusion between the Canary Islands and the Islands of Cape Verde cause Ptolemy to miss the data about longitude for the stretch between Kerne and the Theon Okhema: he presents the coast as moving in a more or less straight north-south direction from Kerne to Cape St. Paul, the beginning of the Bight of Benin or Horn of Hesperos. Cape St. Paul is merged with Cape Sierra Leone (8°30’N, 13°18’ W); it is called Promontory Rhysadion and placed at 11°30’N, 8°30’ P (= 7°18’E). Ptolemy states that Mount Rhysadion out of which there originates the Stachiris or Volta river, is near the mountain from which there originates the Nia or Niger river. By the error of 10° in longitude he merged into one the chain of mountains that ends at Cape St. Paul and from which there originates the Stachir or Volta river with the mountains of Sierra Leone from which there originates the Nia or Niger river. But he started with data that were accurate: Cape Sierra Leone, since it is most close to latitude 0° P = 13°22’ W, must have been an anchor point in the geographical system that Ptolemy followed. It is near the sources of the Niger. From Cape Rhysadion to the Support of the Gods, Ptolemy’s data about longitude are substantially correct, granted the correction of 10°.
In the description of the coast between Kerne and Cape Rhysadion there can be recognized the mouth of the Nuios River (18°20’N, 10° P) which is the Senegal. Since it was conceived that the Senegal and the Niger were a continuation of each other, the latter is called Nia. Possibly both names are derived from that of the Nile, since it was assumed that through the river Oceanus the Nile continued through the Niger and the Senegal. The mouth of the Nuios or Senegal is placed at 18°20’N 10° P.
After Kerne and the Island of Hera, Ptolemy describes the Islands of the Blessed, which are obviously the group of Cape Verde. They are placed between latitude 16° and latitude 10°30’ and between longitude 0° and 0°1’. The names are those of the Canary Islands, and longitude 0° of Ptolemy corresponds to Isla Alegranza.
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As far as longitudes are concerned, Ptolemy started with the datum of 5° for the north-east corner of the rectangle of Atlantis and imagined that the coast moved steadily in a WNW direction. Cape St. John is at 0°58’E. The difference of about 8° is caused by the confusion of the Canary Islands with the Islands of Cape Verde. The river Gambia is called Stachiris. The mouth of the Niger, called Nia, is placed at 13°30’P, that is, 5°30’ (= 4°06’) east of Cape Rhysadion, whereas the mouth of the Niger at Forcados (5°20’E) is 4°16’ east of Cape St. John. Under the name of Promontory of the Horn of Hesperos he mentions Cape Formoso (4°15’N, 4°58’E) which separates the Bight of Benin from the Bight of Biafra; since it is a promontory, Ptolemy made it extend to the west as far as 13° P. Next he mentions the Hippodromos of Ethiopia at 5°15’ 14° P. As I have said the source used by Ptolemy
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Ptolemy places the Seat of the Gods 5° north of the Equator at longitude 19° P (0°15’ W). The interval of 5° corresponds to the 300 stadia of Plato. He places the Hippodromos of Ethiopia at 5°N, 15’ 14° P. Here we find the same error that occurs in Plato’s source—hippodromos for hypodromos. This is the Great Island of Hanno between the Sombrero River and New Calabar River. The longitude 14° P (=3°20’ W) can be corrected by adding the 10° caused by the confusion between the Canary Islands and the Islands of Cape Verde. The Hippodromos is placed 5° (=3°36’) west of the Seat of the Gods; the figure is the same as that of Plato, that is, 2000 stadia = 3°20’, but Ptolemy counts by the extreme northern and western limit of the Hippodromos which has a radius of 12’, rounded by Ptolemy to 15’.
Ptolemy states that a river Masitholos begins at the Seat of the Gods (Mount Cameroon) and ends at 6°40’N 14° P. Apparently he took the line along the northern side of the rectangle of Atlantis as a river, one that goes to the point where the mentioned branch separated from the main course of the Nile. Plato says that it was a canal and that it received the water of the rivers. Ptolemy continued with that branch of the Nile that goes to the Hippodromos. He took the beginning of this branch as the mouth of the Masitholos.
Next, Ptolemy mentions the mouth of the Nia River at 6°40’N 14° P; this proves to be the mouth of the Niger at Forcados (5°22’N 5°26’E). He places it 5°30’ = 3°57’ W of the Seat of the Gods, which is correct. By the Horn Hesperon he means the Bight of Benin. Having mentioned the mouth of the Niger, that closes it to the east, he places its innermost place at 8°N 13° P. This means that the deep end of the Gulf that begins at Cape Palmas is 1°20’ north of the mouth of the Nia river and 1° (actually _ ° or 43’) west of the mouth of the Niger. This indicates that he correctly placed the deep end of the Gulf at Benin. But he did not understand that Hesperon Horn refers to a gulf and not to a cape and hence wrote Promontory of the Gulf of Hesperos. Finally, he lists a Rhysaion Cape, at 11°30’N, 8°30’ P., specifying that the Hesperon Horn begins there. He must be referring to Cape Saint Paul (5°50’N 0°58’E), which may be taken as the beginning of the Gulf of Benin. He places it 5° = 3°35’ west of the mouth of the Nia—Cape St. Paul is 4° west of the Niger at Forcados.
After this Ptolemy lists the Mouth of the Stachiris River at 9°30’P, followed at 11°P by the Port of the Perorsoi (the completely-burned Aiethiopians), which may be Lagos. Cape Formoso at 4°15’N, 4°58’E, which is the separation between the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra, is called Promontory of the Gulf of Hesperos and placed at 13° P = 5°56’E. The mouth of the Nia or Niger River is placed at 13°30’P = 6°39’ W; up to recently the main mouth of the Niger was at ~~~. After this there is mentioned the Hippodromos of Ethiopia which I have already discussed.
I have listed the only data for the area below latitude 30°N that reveal any semblance of accuracy. But the data about the Bight of Biafra and the Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea prove much more accurate. Here Ptolemy used the same data that were available to Plato. Apparently, Ptolemy had access to a detailed description of the Bight of Biafra, the source of information that was available to Plato. It may have been concerned with revealing the achievements of the Benin culture and hence may have been the source of Plato’s detailed anthropological information. This source gave also the latitude of Kerne, called Island of Hera, and the latitude of Cape Verde, and mentioned the Great Opening and the Bambotum. The only accurate description of Western Africa concerns points significant in the Periplus of Hanno.
Ptolemy placed the Island of Kerne at 25°40’N, 5° P (=10°58’ W), but mentioned next to it also an Island of Hera at 23°50’N, 8° P (=5°57’ W). Apparently the two data concern the same place; it may be that the Carthaginians dedicated Kerne to their chief goddess Tanit (Hera). The Island of Hera is described as being against the Autolalai, that is, at the latitude of the Atlas; the name of the Atlantes, inhabitants of Atlas-Pillar of the Sky, is interpreted into Greek as Autolalai, those who babble to themselves. Ptolemy had a correct datum, 23°50’N, for the latitude of Kerne and Atlas-Pillar of the Sky in the Ahaggar.
After the voyage of Hanno it was no longer possible to take the Canary Islands as the westernmost point in the Oikoumene, so that the name of the Islands of the Blessed shifted to the Islands of Cape Verde.
Pliny states that the geography of the Islands of the Hesperides is most confused. The reason for this is that they could be placed either at the south in correspondence with the southern end of the Nile, or to the extreme West. Statius Sebosus gave the name of islands of the Gorgones to the Canary Islands, placed against the Atlas, meaning the Chain of the Atlas, and called Island of the Hesperides the islands of the Bight of Biafra, which he called Horn of Hesperos. But others placed the Islands of the Blessed near some islands of Mauretania that were discovered by Juba against the coast of the Autolalai. Pliny mentions that in these islands, called Purpuriae, Juba established a dyeing industry that used Gaetulian purple, but that he is not certain as to their whereabouts. Ptolemy places the Autolalai at the latitude of Kerne.
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Early Greek writers speak of the Islands of the Blessed which are at the limit of the world, to the extreme west, beyond the Atlas. It is agreed by many that they are speaking of the Canary Islands. The question is that of knowing whether the Atlas in question is the Chain of the Atlas or Atlas-Pillar of the Sky.
Pliny continues by providing some very specific numerical data that have been considered most obscure because scholars have refused to accept as possible that the ancients had any knowledge of the Islands of Cape Verde. It is stated that from Gades or Cadiz (36°26’N) to the island of Iunonia (it is usually identified with Isla Ferteventura 29°24’N in the group of Canary Islands, but I identify it with Isla Alegranza for reasons that I shall explain) there are 750 Roman miles, that is, 10°. From there, it is just as far westward to the islands Pluvialia and Capraria, says Pliny, and I understand him to mean that one must count 10° (or 750 miles) more to the south, making a total of 20°, (or 1500 miles from Gades) and also 10° (or 750 miles) to the west. The islands are Ilha Sal (16°35’N 22°54’ W) and Ilha Boa Vista, the easternmost ones (16°13’N 22°56’ W) of the Windward group of the Islands of Cape Verde, 10° to the west of the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary group. In Pluvialia there is no water except rain water, reports Pliny (VI 202); Ilha Sal is described as esteril e seca. . . Toda a alimentaçao é importada, inclusivamente a agua.
Pliny continues by reporting that beyond these islands are the Islands of the Blessed. According to Statius Sebosus, to reach these islands one had to sail 250 miles further. This is the correct distance WNW to the two westernmost of the Windward islands, counting from Boa Vista. The Islands of the Blessed are São Vicente (16°53’N 25°00’N) and Santo Antao (17°04’N 25°22’ W). Santo Antao was called Invallis because of its convexity ; in fact, there the mountains form deep enclosed areas which are unusually fertile for the barren and dry islands of Cape Verde: On it trees grow to a height of 140 feet. The statement that the island has a circuit of 300 miles is exaggerated, since the circuit is about 120 km. The other island, called Planasia, is São Vicente which does not have high mountains and in which a large plateau slopes down towards the excellent harbor of Porto Grande. Pliny then proceeds to explain the position of the Island of the Blessed in relation to the islands of the Purpurariae, after having stated earlier that the position of the latter was obscure to him. The Purpurariae are the two Leeward islands in the group of Cape Verde, Ilha do Fogo (14°50’N, 24°19’ W) and Ilha de São Tiago (14°55’N, 23°32’ W). Juba said that starting from the Purpuriae and going 250 miles to the north of west and then 375 miles east, one reaches Ombrios, Rain Island, which obviously is Pluvialia, called by a Greek name. This statement has been considered an impossible riddle, but it is comprehensible when one considers that the Islands of Cape Verde are usually described as forming a sort of semicircle. Today we divide the Islands of Cape Verde into two groups, the Leeward ones to the south of which São Tiago is the most important, and the Windward group to the north. In the description quoted by Pliny a distinction is made between the two of the Windward islands to the extreme east, which are Ilha Boa Vista with the smaller Ilha Sal, and the two at the extreme west, which are Ilha São Antão and Ilha São Vicente. Starting from São Tiago, the most important of of the Leeward group, one goes 375 miles NW to Ilha São Antão and then 250 miles east to Ilha Sal, thereby covering the entire expanse of the archipelago.
At this point Pliny, or better, his source, introduces the real element of confusion: Since the last island mentioned was Ombrios or Pluvialia and there was a Pluvialia in the Canary Islands, to the mention of Ombrios Pliny introduces, without giving distances, a listing and description of the Canary Islands. This confusion is a consequence of the earlier conception by which the Islands of the Blessed were the Canary Islands.
Actually the only element of confusion is the merging into one entity of the Canary Islands with the Islands of Cape Verde. Ptolemy made use among others of the source followed by Pliny. He has the following entry:
Islands that are near Libya in the Occidental Oceanus:
Ptolemy lists six islands called Islands of the Blessed which he arranges on a line between his longitude 0° and 1°
Inaccessible Island 16°0°P
Longitude 0° P = 13°22’ W is that of the easternmost of the Canary Islands (Isla Lanzarote 13°29’ W), but the latitude is that of the Islands of Cape Verde. As a result there is a shift of about 10° in the longitude of the coast between Kerne and the Support of the Gods. The latter is placed at 5°N,19°P = 0°18’E, whereas Mount Cameroon is at 4°13’N,9°10’E.
Apparently Ptolemy could not decide whether Kerne was to the south or to the north of the Island of Hera, since this could be either in the Canary Islands or in the Islands of Cape Verde. He assigned the latitude of Kerne Island 23°50’N to the Island of Hera, and placed Kerne at 25°40’N. The latitude 25°40’N is obtained by following the reckoning mentioned by Pliny, 750 miles or 10° south of Gades or Cadiz. To Kerne there is assigned a longitude 8° P=5°45’ W, whereas the correct longitude is 15°48’ W, with the difference of 10° I have mentioned earlier. Ptolemy apparently had a source that gave the position of Kerne and the island of Hera together and gave their respective positions, with the result that he exchanged their latitudes.
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Ptolemy mentions a line drawn from the Congo point to the External Sea, that is, our Atlantic, to a gulf that is called Great or Hesperion; he refers to the Gulf of Guinea which is so called by Hanno.
The line goes almost horizontally from the Congo point to Cape Hesperion or Cape Palmas placed at 4°N,14°E. The latitude of Cape Palmas is 4°27’N.
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The geodetic point known as Island of the Gorgones is obtained by counting 23°51’ from the Main Axis of Egypt: 31°14’E - 23°51’ = 7°23’E. The corresponding point to the north is 47°42’N 8°23’E. It appears that this point was identified with the Rheinfall which is at 47°42’N 8°36’E. Ptolemy places the origin of the Rhine River at 46°N 29°20’P.
Quem procul a patria diverso maximus orbe
Excipit Eridanus fumantiaque abluit ora.
On the same meridian in Africa there was the geodetic point Chariot of the Gods which may have received that name for the same reason, because it is the western point at which the chariot of the Sun comes to the end of its course. .cp .fb dump