Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Κυριακή, 5 Αυγούστου 2018

The Roman exploration of Arabian peninsula and Nile river spring

The Roman province of Egypt as established in 30 BC after Octavian (Roman emperor Augustus) defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed Pharaoah Cleopatra, and annexed the Ptolemaic Kingdom to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula (be conquered by Trajan). Aegyptus was bordered by the provinces of Crete and Cyrenaica to the west and Judea (Arabia Petraea) to the East. The province came to serve as a major producer of grain for the empire and had a highly developed urban economy. Aegyptus was by far the wealthiest Eastern Roman province, and by far the wealthiest Roman province outside of Italia. In Alexandria, its capital, it possessed the largest port, and the second largest city of the Roman Empire. As a key province, but also the 'crown domain' where the emperors succeeded the divine Pharaohs, roman Egypt was ruled by a uniquely styled Praefectus augustalis ('Augustal prefect'), instead of the traditional senatorial governor of other Roman provinces. The prefect was a man of equestrian rank and was appointed by the Emperor. The second prefect, Aelius Gallus, made an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Arabia Petraea and even Arabia Felix. Gaius Aelius Gallus was a Roman prefect of Egypt from 26 to 24 BC. He is primarily known for a disastrous expedition he undertook to Arabia Felix under orders of Augustus. Aelius Gallus was the 2nd praefect of Roman Egypt (Aegyptus) in the reign of Augustus during the years 26–24 BC. He replaced Cornelius Gallus, with whom he has often been confused. Aelius Gallus was also known to be an intimate friend of the Greek geographer Strabo and has been identified with the Aelius Gallus frequently quoted by Galen, whose remedies are stated to have been used with success in his Arabian expedition. The expedition to Arabia Felix, of which an account is given by his friend Strabo, as well as by Cassius Dio and Pliny the Elder turned out to be a complete failure. In this expedition, Strabo mentioned Ilasaros as the controller of Hadhramaut at that time. Gallus undertook the expedition from Egypt by the command of Augustus, partly with a view to explore the country and its inhabitants, and partly to conclude treaties of friendship with the people, or to subdue them if they should oppose the Romans, for it was believed at the time that Arabia was full of all kinds of treasures. When Aelius Gallus set out with his army, he trusted to the guidance of a Nabataean called Syllaeus, who deceived and misled him. A long account of this expedition through the desert is given by Strabo who derived most of his information about Arabia from his friend Aelius Gallus. The burning heat of the sun, the bad water, and the want of every thing necessary to support life, produced a disease among the soldiers which was altogether unknown to the Romans, and destroyed the greater part of the army; so that the Arabs were not only not subdued, but succeeded in driving the Romans even from those parts of the country which they had possessed before. Aelius Gallus spent six months on his march into the country, on account of his treacherous guide, while he effected his retreat in sixty days, obliged to return to Alexandria, having lost the greater part of his force. Aelius Gallus was recalled by Augustus for failure to pacify the Kushites and was succeeded as praefect by Gaius Petronius, a military commander and close friend of Augustus.
Mountains of the Moon is an ancient term referring to a legendary mountain or mountain range in east Africa at the source of the Nile River. Various identifications have been made in modern times, the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda being the most celebrated. People of the ancient world were long curious about the source of the Nile, especially Ancient Greek geographers. A number of expeditions up the Nile failed to find the source. Eventually, a Greek merchant named Diogenes reported that he had traveled inland from Rhapta in East Africa for twenty-five days and had found the source of the Nile. He reported it flowed from a group of massive mountains into a series of large lakes. He reported the natives called this range the Mountains of the Moon because of their snowcapped whiteness. According to him, the source of the Nile was a group of mountains which were surrounded by many large lakes. Diogenes further reported that the local people called the source of the Nile the Mountains of the Moon. He figured that the name had originated from the whiteness of the snowcapped mountains. Ptolemy, the Roman, Arab, and Greek geographers all accepted Diogenes’ remarks as true. These reports were accepted as true by Ptolemy and other Greek and Roman geographers, and maps he produced indicated the reported location of the mountains. Nero exploration of Nile river is a Roman tentative to reach the sources of the Nile river. It was organized by emperor Nero in 60/61 AD. Emperor Nero around 61 AD sent a small group of praetorian guards to explore the sources of the Nile River in Africa. He did this in order to obtain information for a possible conquest of Ethiopia, as was called Equatorial Africa (and everything south of Egypt) by the Romans. The Roman legionaries navigating the Nile- from southern Egypt initially reached the city of Meroe and later moved to the Sudd, where they found huge difficulties to go further. Seneca wrote about this exploration and detailed that the sources were from a big lake in central Africa, south of the swamp region now called "the Sudd" in Southern Sudan. But other Roman historians like Pliny suggest that the exploration was done in order to prepare a conquest of Ethiopia by Nero legions. However the death of Nero prevented further explorations of the Nile as well as a possible Roman conquest south of their Roman Egypt. Some historians suggest that the Roman legionaries of Nero probably reached the Murchison Falls in Uganda (but there it is a huge controversy about this very difficult achievement).
Nero’s Nile expedition of 62 AD was a small affair, part geographic philanthropy part Reconnaissance for conquest. Lead by two Praetorian Centurions it had travelled down the Nile through Egypt into modern Sudan, which was as war torn then as it is now, and reached the prosperous capitol of the Kingdom of Kush, Meroe. It was a time of stabilising relations between Rome and Meroe. After sporadic conflicts, it is known that trade was already beginning to flourish again between the province of Egypt and Kush. The Romans were well treated by Kandake Amanikhatashan, who had only recently ascended the throne and wished friendly relations with her powerful Roman neighbour in Egypt. This was fortuitous for Nero had sent the mission not just to find the source of the Nile but to suss out Kush for conquest. The centurions gathered supplies and information and were once more on their way into the unknown. Once they left Meroe, continuing by boat, the land became less prosperous again. The landscape ahead was split by the strong wide waters of the river showed little sign of life save that of the animals and plants. Towns and villages were scarce from then on however they must have been in contact with some people, otherwise Amanikhatashan wouldn’t have bothered giving them passes and introductions, also Seneca suggests they spoke with locals in remote areas. When they came up with modern Khartoum, they discovered that the Nile broke in two, and that the water changed colour from brown to a dark blue, this is of course the Blue Nile, that flows into the highlands of Ethiopia (real Ethiopia not the Roman generic term for everything south of Egypt). Choosing to continue down the White Nile they approached southern Sudan. In doing so they became first Europeans to officially penetrate so far south into the African interior. The knowledge of these parts was scanty, and came second hand from traders, merchants, possibly from the intrepid boatmen that Pliny talks about that shot rapids south of Egypt in two man boats, who seemed to provide him with his information about the Nile, and older explorers. This was a land of mystery and fable where amongst the bushy tangle of papyrus, tribes of Pygmy’s battled with migrating cranes. The Egyptians called the tribes of these lands “burnt faced tribes” (Aethiopes) who lived to the east and west on the border of the Ocean River. These two people’s may actually have been real, the Pygmy’s could be the Akka of inner Africa and the Aethiopes possibly tribes from Somalia. But no one reported that the Roman’s encountered any of them as they travelled south, maybe hunting for extra food on the shore to supplement their supplies. As they progressed the landscape they travelled through became increasingly wet, watered and green, bringing with it added dangers. The Romans must have negotiated the territory of Hippo’s with their spears clutched tightly, and they doubtless had to camp ashore, in the tough military contibernum tents they had drawn as supplies back in Egypt. It was either that or brave the unknown currents, tributaries and unseen curves of the river in the dark, which in other words committing suicide. As they pushed on no other human sound greeted them for many miles at a time, only the splash and wash of the river, and the sounds of animals in the dark, the wingbeat of birds that they scared from the marshy banks, and their high repeating calls as flocks of sacred Ibis rose in their hundreds out of the tall grasses into the brilliant blue sky. For every familiar sight, most urban Romans knew what a crocodile, lion or elephant looked like but was the strange and unusual for them too. Like the prehistoric looking Egyptian shoebill. Drifting down the river it might be seen standing tall and perfectly still on it’s long legs amongst the stands of reeds and Papyrus. Like a creature from mythology, it appears as the guardian or minion of some malevolent river-god from the lush vegetation. Deathly grey, amongst the green, with it’s giant, unblinking eye watching knowingly from it’s oversized head, the thin sinister smile curving along it’s beak silently watching them pass. That is if they didn’t shoot it for dinner. From Meroe they travelled some 600 miles down what was becoming a seemingly unending river. The monotony was broken however when it began to widen and break off into many root like tributaries. Islands emerged magically out of the path of the stream, high and towering tangles of feather headed papyrus swaying like the tail of a peacock. Landing on them, perhaps for the night, they would have found the roots were so matted together that they formed floating platforms and that their tops rose high above their heads, some twice the size of a man. Indeed these Islands are habitable and often support small communities. Very soon progress would have slowly started grinding to a halt as their boats began to drag and catch on thick rope like tendrils of water hyacinths. Now the expedition was suddenly threatened with becoming lost in the swampy maze of floating islands, byways and tangled roots. Seneca quotes one of the expedition as saying: “And indeed we came to immense marshes, the outcome of which, neither the inhabitants knew nor anyone hope to know, in such a way are the plants entangled with the waters, not to be struggled through on foot or in a boat, because, Because the marsh, muddy and and blocked up, does not admit any unless it is small and holding one person” Seneca’s witness, apart from tacitly acknowledging that their boats were fairly heavy and large, and that there were people around to ask, can only be describing the mighty marshes of the Bahr El Jebel. The Sudd in modern southern Sudan. A great swathe of swampy floodwater, that due to the soft, wet, makeup of its bottom forms a complex and ever shifting mass of islands. From the air it is a giant green patch in the Middle of the baked desert, dotted with dark pools of water. This vast network of unknown swamps and thick vegetation, was what stopped the expedition. Despite their best efforts to fight through the Sudd, they could not make it in their boats or on foot. The ancient guardian of the source of the Nile, the ram headed Khnum, was not ready to give up the secret of the origin of its sacred headwaters. Though some say that they crossed the Sudd during the dry season and got as far as Murchison Falls, which they seem to have vaguely described: “We saw two rocks from which a great force of river water came falling”. Which gave Seneca to think this was the source of the Nile itself bubbling up from the depths of the earth.
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