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King Alfred's Description of Europe.


1. Our elders, said Orosius, divided into three parts all the globe of this mid-earth, as it is surrounded by the ocean, which we call Garsecg;* and they named the three parts by three names, Asia and Europe and Africa; though some said there were but two parts, one Asia and the other Europe.

2. ASIA is encompassed by the ocean - the garsecg the south, north, and east; and so, on the east part, contains one half of this mid-earth. Then on the north part of Asia, on the right hand,† in the river Don, there the boundaries of Asia and Europe lie together; and from the same river Don, south along the Mediterranean Sea, towards the west of the city Alexandria, Asia and Africa lie together.

3. EUROPE begins, as I said before, at the river Don, which runs from the north part of the Rhipæan Mountains, which are near the ocean, called Sarmatian. The river Don runs thence right south, on the west side of Alexander's altars to the nation of the Roxolani. It forms the fen which is called Mæotis [Sea of Azov]; and then runs forth, with a great flood, near the city called Theodosia [Kaffa], flowing eastward into the Black Sea; and then, in a long strait, south-easterly, where the Greek city Constantinople lies, and thence out into the Mediterranean Sea. The south-west boundary of Europe is the ocean, on the west


*Mr. Hampson suggests that the myth of an armed man,-a spear-man,- being employed by the Anglo-Saxons as a term to denote the Ocean, has some analogy to the personification of Neptune holding his trident.

↑ In tracing the frontier of Asia from north to south, the Don is on the right hand.

of Spain, and chiefly at the island Cadiz, where the Mediterranean Sea shoots up from the ocean; where, also, the pillars of Hercules stand. On the west end of the same Mediterranean Sea is Scotland [Ireland].*

4. The division between AFRICA and Asia begins at Alexandria, a city of Egypt; and the boundary lies thence south, by the river Nile, and so over the desert of Ethiopia to the southern ocean. The north-west limit of Africa is the Mediterranean Sea, which shoots from the ocean, where the pillars of Hercules stand; and its end, right west, is the mountain which is named Atlas, and the island called Canary.

5. I have already spoken shortly about the three parts of this mid-earth; but I will now, as I promised before, tell the boundaries of these three regions, how they are separated by


6. Over against the middle of Asia, at the east end, there the mouth of the river called Ganges opens into the ocean, which they call the Indian Ocean. South from the river's mouth, by the ocean, is the port they call Calymere. To the south-east of the port is the island of Ceylon; and then to the north of the mouth of the Ganges, where Mount Caucasus ends, near the ocean, there is the port Samera.† To the north of the port is the mouth of the river, named Ottorogorre. They call the ocean Chinese.

7. These are the boundaries of India, where Mount Caucasus is on the north, and the river Indus on the west, and the Red Sea on the south, and the ocean on the east. In the district of India are forty-four nations; and, besides many other

*This last sentence is an addition by Alfred. In early times, Ireland was called Scotland. In paragraph 28, Alfred says, "Ireland we call Scotland." Ireland was exclusively called Scotia or Scotland from the fifth to the tenth or eleventh century. The first we hear of the Scoti, or Scots, is as a people inhabiting Ireland. In the fifth century they contended with the Hiberni, the earlier inhabitants, and soon gained supreme power, and gave their name to the country. About A.D. 503 a colony of these Scoti, having given their name to Ireland, emigrated to North Britain, gained influence there, and also imposed their name on that country. But Ireland is north of Spain. Ancient geographers placed Ireland much more to the south; and Alfred, being guided by them, speaks of it as being on the west of Spain. Orosius erroneously says, Hibernia insula, inter Britanniam et Hispaniam sita. Correct information was not supplied till after the time of Alfred. Though, in most cases, he was in advance of his age, yet in regard to the position of Ireland he appears to have fallen into the error of the time.

†The modern names of places are given in the translation, except where the old name is almost as familiar as the modern designation. When the position or present name cannot be discovered, there is no alternative but to retain the word used in the Anglo-Saxon text.

The Red Sea, in ancient geography, comprehended not only the present Red Sea, but what we now call the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Thus the Tigris, as well as the Indus, are said to run into the Red Sea; and the whole country between the Indus and the Tigris is described as having the Red Sea for its southern boundary.

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inhabited islands, the island of Ceylon, which has in it ten towns. The river Indus lies to the west of the district; between the river Indus and that which lies to the west of it called Tigris, both of which flow south into the Red Sea,- between these two rivers are these countries, Arachosia [Candahor] and Parthia and Assyria and Persia and Media, though writers often name all these countries Media or Assyria; and they are very mountainous, and there are very sharp and stony ways. The northern boundaries of these

countries are the Caucasian Mountains, and on the south side the Red Sea. In these countries are two great rivers, Hydaspes [Jhylum] and Arabis [Pooralee]. In this district are thirty-two nations: now it is all called Parthia.

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8. Then west from the river Tigris to the river Euphrates, between the rivers, are these countries,— Babylonia and Chaldea and Mesopotamia. Within these countries are twentyeight nations. Their northern boundaries are the mountains Taurus and Caucasus, and their southern boundaries lie to the Red Sea. Along the Red Sea the part that shoots to the north-lies the country of Arabia and Saba [Saade], and Eudomane. From the river Euphrates, west to the Mediterranean and north almost to the mountains which are called Taurus, to the country which they call Armenia, and again south to Egypt, there are many nations in these districts; that is, Comagena and Phoenicia and Damascus and Coelle and Moab and Ammon and Idumea and Judea and Palestine and Saracene; though it is all called Syria. Then to the north of Syria are the mountains, called Taurus; and to the north of the mountains are the countries of Cappadocia and Armenia. Armenia is to the east of Cappadocia. To the west of Cappadocia is the country called Asia the Less. Το the north of Cappadocia is the plain of Themiscyra. Then between Cappadocia and Asia the Less is the country of Cilicia and Isauria. This Asia is, on every side, surrounded with salt water, except on the east. On the north side is the Black Sea; and on the west the sea of Marmora, and the Dardanelles; and the Mediterranean Sea on the south. the same Asia the highest mountain is Olympus.


9. To the north of the nearer Egypt is the country of Palestine, and to the east of it the district of the Saracens, and to the west the country of Libya, and to the south the mountain called Climax. The spring of the river Nile is near the

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cliff of the Red Sea; though some say that its spring is in the west end of Africa, near the mountain Atlas, and then, soon running on sand to the east, it sinks into the sand. Nigh there, it flows up again from the sand, and there forms a great sea. Where it first springs up, the men of the country call it Nuchul, and some Dara. Then, from the sea, where it shoots up from the sand, it runs easterly through the desert of Ethiopia, and there it is called Ion, as far as the east part; and there it becomes a great sea. It then sinks again into the earth; and, north of that, afterwards springs up, near the cliff by the Red Sea, which I formerly mentioned. Then, from this source, the water is called the river Nile. Running thence onward to the west, it separates into two, about an island which is called Meroe; and thence, bending northward, flows out into the Mediterranean Sea. In the winter time the river at the mouth is so driven back by the northern winds that it flows over all the land of Egypt; and by this flooding very thick crops are produced in the land of Egypt. The farther Egypt lies east along the Red Sea, on the south side. On the east and south parts of the country lies the ocean; and on its west side is the nearer Egypt. In the two Egypts are twenty-four nations.

10. We have already written about the south part of Asia; now we will take the north part of it,—that is from the mountains called Caucasus, of which we have before spoken, and which are to the north of India. They begin first on the east from the ocean, and then lie right west to the mountains of Armenia, which the people of the country call Parachoathras. There, from the south of these mountains, springs the river Euphrates; and from the mountains called Parachoathras extend the mountains of Taurus right west, to the country of the Cilicians. Then to the north of the mountains, along the ocean to the north-east of this mid-earth, there the river Bore shoots out into the ocean; and thence westerly along the ocean to the Caspian Sea, which there shoots up to the mountains of Caucasus. That district they call Old Scythia and Hyrcania. In this district are forty-three nations widely settled, because of the barrenness of the country. Then, from the west of the

*This is a description of the north and east of Asia, or rather, as Orosius states, "ab oriente ad septentrionem." Alfred has so much abridged this description, and included so large a space, in few words, that it is not easy, from the Anglo-Saxon text alone, to ascertain the locality of the places which he mentions. The original Latin of Orosius is more full and satisfactory.

Caspian Sea unto the river Don, and to the fen called Mæotis [Sea of Azov], and then south to the Mediterranean Sea and to Mount Taurus, and north to the ocean is all the country of Scythia within; though it is separated into thirty-two nations. But the countries, that are near, on the east side of the Don are named Albani in Latin, and we now call them Liobene. have thus spoken shortly about the boundaries of Asia.


II. Now we will speak, as much as we know, about the boundaries of EUROPE. From the river Don westward to the river Rhine (which springs from the Alps, and then runs right north into the arm of the ocean that lies around the country called Britain); and again south to the river Danube (whose spring is near the river Rhine, and which afterwards runs east, by the country north of Greece, into the Mediterranean * Sea); and north to the ocean which is called the White Sea: within these are many nations, but they call it all Germania.

12. Then to the north, from the spring of the Danube, and to the east of the Rhine are the East Franks; and to the south of them are the Suabians, on the other side of the river Danube. To the south and to the east are the Bavarians, that part which is called Ratisbon. Right to the east of them are the Bohemians; and north-east are the Thuringians. To the north of them are the Old Saxons, § and to the north-west of them are the Friesians. To the west of the Old Saxons is the mouth of the river Elbe and Friesland. From thence north-west is the country called Anglen,|| and Zealand ¶ and some part of Den

Into what is now called the Black Sea, which Alfred considered a part of the Mediterranean. Snorre calls it a gulf of the Mediterranean in the first chapter of his Heimskringla. In other places, Alfred mentions the Black Sea under the name Euxinus.

+ From this place to the end of $23, Alfred leaves Orosius, and gives the best information that he could collect. It is the king's own account of Europe in his time. It is not only interesting, as the composition of Alfred, but invaluable as an historical document, being the only authentic record of the Germanic nations, written by a contemporary, so early as the ninth century.

The Cwen-saé of Alfred. The plain detail which Ohthere gave to King Alfred [§ 13] can scarcely be read by any unprejudiced person without coming to the conclusion that Ohthere sailed from Halgoland, on the coast of Norway, into the White Sea. See § 13. The Germania of Alfred, therefore, extended from the Don on the east to the Rhine and the German Ocean on the west; and from the Danube on the south to the White Sea on the north.

§A. S. Eald-Seaxe, and Eald-Seaxan, THE OLD SAXONS, inhabiting the country between the Eyder and the Weser, the parent stock of the Anglo or English-Saxons, and therefore of great importance in the mind of Alfred; for he speaks of other countries, as they are located in regard to the Old Saxons. They were a very warlike and powerful people, who once occupied the whole north-west corner of Germany.

Anglen, the country between Flensburg and the Schley, whence the Angles came to


¶ In A. S. Sillende ZEALAND, or SEELAND, in Danish Sjalland, the largest island in the Danish monarchy, on the eastern shores of which Copenhagen is built.

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