The End of the World

The ancients thought that Spain was as big as a continent and no one even knew its shape. They said it was full of strange tribes of uncivilized peoples who loved bulls and war, and also that it was so rich in precious metals that in some places the gold flowed right out of the ground. But few Greeks and no Roman had ever set foot there. Not even the best-informed knew more about it than its legends.

hecataeus_map.gif It was thought to be at the end of the world. The god-hero Hercules had set up pillars at its southern tip to mark the end of the Mediterranean and the gateway to Nowhere. Beyond those pillars or promontories (Gibraltar and Dschebel Musa) was the vast ocean, bigger than a thousand Mediterraneans and full of sea-monsters. Any ship that sailed there ended up falling off the earth.

None had ever come back.

This entry was posted in art, books, Greek, history, Romans, Spain. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The End of the World

  1. apostatepakistanigirl says:

    hi, it’s the rather annoying Paki woman again. Roman geography, here are some personal mysteries.
    1) Roman coins washed up in Sri Lanka and supposedly even Australia.
    2) A Roman ‘legion’ supposedly got to China.
    3) Why didn’t the Romans land in Ireland, I mean, it seems odd they didn’t. Though i guess it was Augustus’ decision not to expand the borders?
    4) The extent of Roman trade links- India, China….?
    Ancient geography, if we could crack exactly how much they really knew, I think we would have a magical key to understanding their perceptions of the world.
    Hi, apostatepakistanigirl (you do come on strong).
    Rome traded with India. During the Empire, the capelli Indici—black hair used for wigs—was listed among the commodities that had to pay customs duty. And with China (I think). At least silk came in to the empire from the “Far East”. That a Roman coin “washed up” in India or Sri Lanka is not surprising. But you’d have to tell an archaeologist exactly where it was found. I know one that turned up in the top drawer of my night-table in Ohio.

    Also: “a Roman coin”. From what period? One from the days of Theodosius, when “Rome” was in Constantinople would be less curious than one from the early days of the Republic, though even that shouldn’t puzzle you much. The Romans must have exploited the old Persian and Egyptian trade links with India and China, starting when Egypt became part of the empire, if not before. Persian influence was there almost from the beginning. And what about all those eastern religions that reached as far as Spain here. There are aras in little Segóbriga dedicated to eight or ten different oriental dieties.
    But basically you got me, apostatepakistanigirl. I know so little about your world there—past and present. I’ll bet you are tired of people like me with such a big terra incognita on their mental map in this day and age. Sorry. Get in touch with those experts at
    As to why the Romans didn’t invade Ireland, I don’t know. Ask those guys.

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