After Rome: The Ends of the World
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter addresses the question of primitivism in the Natural History by examining Pliny's account of the primitive Chauci, inhabitants of the north-west German coast. The rather hostile description of this tribe draws on a long-established discourse concerning the watery chaos beyond the limits of the known world. In this way, the text equates the cosmos as it is ordered by nature with the world as it is ordered by the Romans, with their genius for imposing stability on chaos — a talent exemplified in the story of how the Cloaca Maxima was built.
Savages are a staple of ancient ethnography. They make convenient vehicles not only for escapist evocations of the Golden Age, but also for satire at the expense of more civilized societies—in the mouths of primitives, criticism of one's own community can take on a sudden pointedness unavailable to a sophisticated speaker. But the savages of Pliny's Natural History more often serve a different purpose. Savages embody various kinds of lack—lack of names, lack of dreams, lack of institutional virtues like shame, continuity, and stability, or a simple and final lack of humanity. From this comes their strangeness and power to excite wonder. By means of their various absent qualities savages mark out the margins between us and the animals, between order and chaos. The Cynocephali, Monocoli, and Struthopodes—the Dogheads, the One‐Eyes, the Sparrowfeet—all the half‐animal tribes of India and Ethiopia, mouthless, noseless, forty or two hundred years in life‐span, five cubits or twenty‐seven inches tall, demarcate in their deformities the limits of the body and the biological confines of the human species in the continuum of Natura. 1 But Pliny's most detailed account of a primitive society is more complicated. His representation in 16.2–4 of the Chauci, two tribes of north‐west Germany, locates them on the border between Roman power and the primeval disorder of Ocean, and in doing so raises political and philosophical questions about Rome's own limits and stability. How far does Rome's power to possess extend? How long can it continue to exist? What comes after Rome?
(p. 166 ) the chauci in pliny and the historians
As a prelude to book 16, which is about forest trees, Pliny describes by way of contrast life in a place without any trees at all. His reason for doing this is wonder: ‘I am compelled to turn aside by a sense of wonder learned through experience (admiratio usu conperta) to the question of what sort of life they live who inhabit lands devoid even of shrubs’ (16.1). He has acquired this sense of wonder from experience of the Greater and Lesser Chauci of northern Germany, and his description of them differs strikingly from representations of them by less wondering authors, the historians who record these tribes' wars with Rome. 2
From these historians (and the geographer Ptolemy) we find that the Chauci live on Europe's north‐west fringe, bordered by the Saltus Teutoburgiensis on the south, the river Amisia (Ems) on the west, which parts them from the Frisii, by the Albis (Elbe) on the east, and that the river Visurgis (Weser) divides them into two tribes, Lesser and Greater. 3 They first appear in history in 12 bc, when Tiberius' brother Drusus invaded their territory at the start of three years of campaigning in north‐western Germany (Dio 54.32). 4 Here his fleet was stranded by an ebb‐tide (a detail which will assume some importance when (p. 167 ) we come to Pliny's account of the Chauci) and he had to retreat at winter's coming. Their reconquest in ad 5 by Tiberius is noted by Velleius Paterculus (2.106), who dwells on their remoteness, placing them among ‘tribes almost unknown even by name’ (gentes paene nominibus incognitae), and who emphasizes their ‘warriors of boundless number, enormous in stature, very well protected by their inaccessibility’ (iuventus infinita numero, immensa corporibus, situ locorum tutissima), all these details serving to exalt the achievement of Tiberius. No source represents the Chauci as having taken part in Arminius' uprising against the Romans and his massacre of Quinctilius Varus' three legions in the Saltus Teutoburgiensis (ad 9; Dio 56.18–24 mentions only Arminius' tribe the Cherusci, neighbours of the Chauci). Most of the tribes west of the Elbe that Drusus had conquered between 12 and 9 bc were lost to Rome in the aftermath of this disaster, with the known exception of the Frisii and the Chauci (Tacitus, Annales 1.38, 60). Although they remained Rome's allies in this period, Tacitus makes clear that their loyalty was dubious—Chaucian auxiliaries are said to have deliberately allowed Arminius to escape after Germanicus' victory at Idistaviso (Annales 2.17)—and their posture toward other German tribes aggressive (Annales 13.55, where they eject the Ampsivarii from their homeland). It is likely that the Chauci finally rebelled against Rome in ad 28 along with their neighbours the Frisii (Tacitus, Annales 4.72–4). They were at any rate in open conflict with Rome by 41, when they fought with Publius Gabinius (Suetonius, Claudius 24), who won a battle against them and recovered from their territory one of Varus' legionary eagles (Dio 60.8.7), earning the cognomen ‘Cauchius’. Unsuppressed, they made raids on Germania Inferior in 47 (Tacitus, Annales 11.18), in reply to which Domitius Corbulo as legatus pro praetore launched a punitive campaign against them and the Frisii. Although Tacitus praises Corbulo's military discipline and bravery, after the assassination of the commander of the Chauci this campaign ended in failure, with the complete withdrawal of Roman garrisons to the west side of the Rhine. Left to their own devices, the next generation of Chauci supported Civilis in the revolt of 69–70 (Tacitus, Histories 5.19). It is strange to read an account from the same author (Germania 35) of the Chauci as a secluded and (p. 168 ) populous nation ‘noblest of the Germani’, brave but never doing violence to their neighbours, respected for their just dealing and lack of aggression.
As the historians portray them, then, the Chauci are tall, numerous, and live in a remote and inaccessible land from which they periodically emerge to go raiding, to evict other tribes, or to aid their neighbours in rebellions. Once subject, now free, they are both an embarrassment and a threat. With the exception of the account in Tacitus' Germania, when they appear it is always either as enemies of Rome or as bellicose, untrustworthy subjects. As Eduard Norden has demonstrated, 5 some of the raw material for these historical representations derives from Pliny himself, the twenty books of whose lost Bella Germaniae (Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.5) were a source for Tacitus' accounts of events on the empire's northern frontiers. Whatever use Tacitus made of the Bella Germaniae, it is clear that none of these historians has used the description of the Chauci in book 16 of Pliny's Natural History. The contrast between the historical accounts and this representation is much too great.
Here is Pliny's description of the Chauci, their treeless country made the introduction to a book about trees. Moved by wonder to depart from the topic at hand (a rhetorical stance of which the entire Natural History can be seen as a series of variations following upon each other in seemingly infinite permutation), 6 he extends his gaze to the edges of the earth (16.1–4):
My next task would be an account of the nut‐bearing trees, mankind's primordial foster‐mothers, givers of food in our helpless and wild state, were I not compelled to turn aside by a sense of wonder learned through experience to the question of what sort of life they live who inhabit lands devoid even of shrubs. I have already said that in the East, for example, several tribes near the Ocean live in such a state of destitution; 7 in the North too I myself have seen the tribes of the Chauci, who are called the Greater and the Lesser. There, twice in (p. 169 ) every twenty‐four hours, the Ocean sweeps with a boundless compass, rushing back and forth over an immeasurable extent and covering a space forever debated by Nature as to whether it belongs to the sea or to the land.
In the indeterminate quality of this region and the eternal war between sea and land for its possession we can recognize one of the Natural History's characteristic rhetorical turns, the ‘battle of nature’ (dimicatio naturae), another example of which we have seen before in the account of the formation of the Bosporus and the Black Sea at 6.1–2 (pp. 46–48). 8 Pliny continues with a description of how the Chauci themselves live:
In that quarter, wretched tribe, the Chauci inhabit elevated hillocks or mounds like platforms, raised up by their own labour above the level of the highest tide they know. Setting up their huts on these, when the tide covers the surrounding region they ride out the waters like sailors; when the sea withdraws they look like shipwrecked men, catching the fish that escape around their cottages in the receding tide. It is not their lot to own flocks or cattle, nor to subsist on milk as the neighbouring tribes do, nor even to do battle with wild animals, for all woodland growth is far removed. From sedge and marsh‐rushes they twist ropes to make nets for catching fish. With their hands they dig up mire, drying it not so much by the sun as by the wind, and by burning earth, for want of fuel, they warm their food and their guts, numb from the North Wind's gusts. For drink they have nothing other than the rainwater saved in a ditch at the entrance of their house. And these tribes, if they are conquered nowadays by the Roman nation, say they are enslaved! To be sure, this is in fact the case: many are they whom Fortune spares as a punishment.
The Chauci are primitives lacking not only agriculture, but even the acorn‐bearing trees that nursed mankind in its savage pre‐agricultural infancy. Living in a treeless landscape, the Chauci are actually a step below Pliny's normative savages, who in their ‘helpless and wild state’ take from trees their food, clothing, and furniture for their caves, considering forests the greatest gift of Natura (12.1). The phrase ‘wonder learned from experience’ (admiratio usu conperta) means that Pliny has come to know the Chauci at first hand (they are ‘peoples I have seen in the North’, gentes in septentrione visae nobis, 16.2), spe (p. 170 ) cifically, as Norden demonstrates, while serving in the campaign of Domitius Corbulo, legatus pro praetore of Germania Inferior, against them in ad 47. 9 This explains why Pliny caps his description by saying that despite the primitive misery of their life, ‘these tribes, if they are conquered nowadays by the Roman nation, say they are enslaved’ (16.4). Liberty is in fact their punishment; it would be far better for them to submit to Rome and become part of civilization. ‘Surely this is in fact the case: many are they whom Fortune spares as a punishment’ (16.4), Pliny sarcastically concludes.
Quite unlike the historical writers who make the Chauci the ‘most noble nation among the Germans’ (so Tacitus) or at least a formidable foe of Rome, Pliny goes to great rhetorical length to demonstrate their utter wretchedness. 10 His account also goes against the conclusions of the modern German archaeolo (p. 171 ) gists (as reported by Klaus Sallmann) who have excavated Chaucian tumuli at the mouth of the Weser to find that in the first centuries ad they supported large, prosperous‐looking settlements displaying ‘a relatively high standard of civilization, compared with inland excavations’. 11 Pliny's Chauci, on the contrary, own nothing. Their only drink is rain‐water, and they collect it in ditches. Their only food is fish, and their only nets are what they can weave from rushes and sedge. 12 For fuel they have to use soil, the mud they dig with their own hands and dry ‘not so much by the sun as by the wind’—the same north wind that has frozen their guts in the first place (16.4). They are below even their neighbours, who are nomadic pastoralists and at least have property in the form of herds and milk (16.3). They cannot be said to own even the land they live in, because what they live on is not land at all, but a paradoxical region neither earth nor sea (‘a space forever debated by Nature as to whether it belongs to the sea or to the land’, aeternam rerum naturae controversiam dubiamque terrae an partem maris). 13 Twice a day the outer sea, Oceanus himself, sweeps over this debated place (Pliny carefully avoids using the word terra) and the Chauci ride out the floods in huts perched on mounds or on platforms built above the highest point of the tide, ‘like seafarers when the waters are covering their surroundings, like shipwrecked men when they have receded’, but in either case, as Pliny's metaphor makes clear, quite landless. They are not colonists, settlers, or farmers, but castaways and exiles. The Romans would do them a favour by conquering them.
(p. 172 ) If we look at Pliny's representation of the Chauci in this way, we can see that the point of it is not simply that it is a terrible thing to have to live without trees. The only hardship that a lack of trees per se imposes on the Chauci is the necessity of peat fires. Rather, the terrible thing about the Chauci, the source of their wretchedness as well as of Pliny's wonder (admiratio), is the place they live in, the edge of the world, the line between the ordered world of Natura and the chaos of Ocean. 14 Humans can live no farther from the centre—to go on in this direction is to enter Ocean and the uninhabitable Arctic zone (2.172), where the cold and the wet are unmitigated by any of the other elements. For Pliny, elemental extremes produce monstrosities; 15 in northern Germany it is not the people who are deformed, but the place that is unformed. The region is an eternal battlefield contested between the land and Oceanus, a half‐solid, half‐liquid mass which rejects the shaping order of Natura just as the Chauci reject the imperium of Rome. Natura and Rome are in fact closely connected. For Pliny the centre of the world, ‘equally far from sunrise and sunset’ (inter ortus occasusque media), is of course Italy, ‘the world's second governess and mother’ (rectrix parensque mundi altera) (second, that is, after Natura; 37.201) where land and sea are in perfect balance. In Italy, ‘life's necessities are more easily available than in any other place’ (quidquid est quo carere vita non debeat, nusquam est praesentius, 37.202). Rome's centrality allows a harmonious blending of the elements, which in turn guarantees a mild climate and material prosperity. 16 For the Chauci, on the other hand, the extremity of the northern environment leaves only fish, mud, and sedge. To live on the margin, in a place (p. 173 ) daily reclaimed by chaos, is to live without stable property, without land, crops, cattle, and cloth, as well as without trees. Such a life precludes possession of almost anything.
The Chauci are the least enviable people on earth, to judge from Pliny's account, their home a barren and wretched place, and certainly they seem too miserable to pose a threat to anyone—why does Pliny want to conquer them, then? What do they have that Rome wants? Should they be conquered for their own good? Or because their preference for poverty and freedom over comfortable subjugation, a choice embodied in the destruction of Varus, a preference still made manifest in Civilis' revolt of ad 69–70, is an insult to Rome? Or is it somehow that the idea of such a people—out on the edge of things, dispossessed—is somehow linked to the anxiety of those who live at the stable centre?
A life without owning the place one lives in, life without a fixed, solid territory, without cattle or crops: this is the strange prospect that Pliny's imagination of the Chauci represents. That people can live without life's necessities, quidquid est quo carere vita non debeat, is a thought wholly foreign to Pliny's imagination of Rome. At Pliny's Rome, ‘living’ means ‘having’, if not ‘getting’. From Pliny's Rome, as we have seen in the last chapter, military expeditions continuously set out towards the world's perimeter: Augustus' fleet goes to the northern Ocean (2.167), Claudius' troops to Mauretania (5.11), Domitius Corbulo to Asia (6.23 ff.), Aelius Gallus to Arabia (6.160 ff.), acquiring new territories, extending imperial rule, and bringing back reliable news about Natura. 17 How can Rome make sure of its centrality without acquiring a perimeter? You cannot occupy the centre until you acquire something to surround you. Acquiring territory means visiting a new land, fixing it securely in place with an entry in map or gazetteer, and renaming it as a part of your own outskirts. Above all, what you acquire must be solid and immobile—your outskirts must not run away from you twice a day. The land of the Chauci is an inverted Rome. (p. 174 ) Had they remained subject to the empire the Romans would have fixed them in place by now, secured the country with a network of dikes and roads. To acquire and control this place, this reminder of primeval confusion, would be to efface all possibility that Rome, despite so many outlying territories, may once have been like this, or one day return to something similar. Pliny's description of the Chauci is a dream of what it is like not to possess, a foreboding of the impermanence of possessing and the instability of the thing possessed. For this reason it has power to excite both contempt and wonder.
Having conjured up this prospect Pliny dismisses these far‐off nations, and cuts off any possibility of recognizing in them some reflection of Rome itself. Unlike Tacitus, he authorizes no channel for moral communication from his depicted Germans to his Roman readers. 18 He will not make the Chauci speak to the Roman misuse of wealth, and his primitives will not assume the role, familiar to us from many ethnographies, of satiric commentators on civilized failings.
the turning‐posts of the world
So Pliny's representation of the Chauci has nothing in common with their traditional representation in the historians. His sarcastic treatment of what the Chauci call freedom has something to do with his own military experience, but something also to do with a sense of unease. Beyond Rome's borders exist peoples who assert themselves to be free, peoples that, ideally, ought not to exist at all. As Vergil has Jupiter promise at Aeneid 1.278–9, the necessary starting point for any discussion about representations of Rome's borders: ‘For them I assign neither turning‐posts of power nor periods: I have given them power to command without limit’ (his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono: | (p. 175 ) imperium sine fine dedi). To the power of Rome there will be limits neither in time (tempora) nor in space (metas). This is a noble vindication not only of Rome's imperial expansion but also of her permanence and stability.
Interestingly, one of the meanings of the Latin word meta is the pillar where chariots turn in a race‐track. As the terminus at which one turns back, and by extension as a symbolic marker of geographical dominion, the meta was a familiar feature of the Roman imagination. Nicholas Purcell describes in detail how commonly arches, altars, gates, lighthouses, and other monuments were used by Romans to mark the termini of the great roads that bound their empire together. 19 The empire's parts were articulated by the great roads (for example, the province of Cilicia in southern Asia Minor took its existence and shape from the road from Asia through the mountain passes of the Taurus to Antioch). In legend, Hercules and Alexander were great builders of terminal monuments, each having set up pillars or altars to mark the furthest limit of his conquests. Similarly, the Roman builder, setting a monumental meta to express the completion of a journey, expressed as well the steps prior to the building of the road: that is, the unification of territories and the subjugation of landscape and people. In this sense, these terminal monuments covered the same expressive field as triumphal arches.
So, to revert to Jupiter's prophecy, the world and the Roman empire are coextensive—their interests and limits, the same. The note is one Pliny himself sounds more than once. 20 In the face of earthly reality, however, the sentiment runs into some obvious difficulties. To reconcile it with the pragmatic necessity of borders is difficult, let alone with the spectres of instability raised by the ugly recurrence of civil war in 69. Vergil is himself aware of some of these difficulties: he qualifies his prophecy almost immediately with the clever equivocation we find in Jupiter's prophecy of Augustus' dominion at Aeneid 1.286–7: ‘A Trojan Caesar will be born…who will bound his power with the Ocean, his fame with the stars.’ Rome's power is more exactly coextensive with the habitable world, the orbis (p. 176 ) terrarum, than with the world per se. Of course, not all of the world is habitable: much of it is occupied, for instance, by Ocean. So Rome will be bordered, not by walls, mountains, or rivers, but by Ocean. By means of this equivocation Vergil shifts the question from Will the empire of Rome have limits? to Will it have the right limits? If, in accordance with the second part of Jupiter's prophecy, we find that Rome's border is Ocean, then the answer is yes. There is nothing on the other side from which Ocean separates Rome—at least the possibility of Antipodean countries is not conceded, no more than is the existence of the Parthian empire, of the Sarmatians, the Ethiopians, or any other inconvenient facts. To Ocean, then, as an admission of the necessity of a limit, Vergil concedes the privilege of limitation.
In accommodating reality as far as possible to this ideological picture, Pliny follows Vergil, but with an added degree of scientific sophistication. To Vergil's Ocean he adds other categories of uninhabitable place, going to great length to show how much of the world Natura has stolen from man in creating mountains, seas, and the polar and torrid zones (2.172). But it is to Ocean that he assimilates the Chauci. A nation that resists incorporation into Rome, inconveniently persisting in living between Rome and Ocean, he pushes off the map and into the water. He assimilates them to a traditional picture of Earth's outer waters, to the primitive and the chaotic state where the order of Natura is suspended. They were never really meant to be brought inside the empire, because they live beyond what are the empire's right limits. So the rather embarrassing history of the Chauci—once subjects, now forever lost to Roman power—can be understood as both logical and inevitable. Ocean is quite properly beyond the control of Rome, for Ocean is by tradition outside the control of nature, and the Chauci are under the control of Ocean.
The surviving fragment of Albinovanus Pedo's epic about Germanicus' expedition on the North Sea (in ad 12, described by Tacitus at Annales 2.23) is a reply to and an amplification of Vergil's lines:
They [Germanicus' marines] think daylight and the sun had been long since left behind, and that they themselves, exiles from the earth's (p. 177 ) known borders, have long since been daring to cross shades forbidden, to the turning‐posts of the universe and the world's last shores. 21 (Albinovanus Pedo, fragment 1, 1–4)
Pedo took the words ‘metas rerum’, the Latin phrase that I have translated as ‘turning‐posts of the universe’, directly from Vergil. As it exists, the fragment is hardly more than a rhapsody on the theme of transgression: as one of the sailors says at lines 20–3 of the fragment, ‘The gods summon us back and forbid mortal eyes to see the world's end. Why do we defile with oars alien seas and holy waters, and trouble the peaceful homes of the gods?’ 22 The echo of Vergil here measures just how far Germanicus has travelled from the centre of the orbis terrarum: there are such things as boundaries designated for Rome's power, and the expedition has advanced beyond it. As Tacitus says (Annales 2.23), describing the disastrous end of Germanicus' fleet, Ocean is more savage than any other sea, so great and deep in fact that it is believed to be the last of all seas. The progress of Germanicus' fleet violates divine law, 23 crossing the limit ordained for Roman dominance.
Pedo was not the only other writer to mark out Oceanus as a field not to be transgressed. Tacitus' Germania also preserves the idea of ‘turning‐posts’ (metae) in the north, that is to say a meta in the literal sense of a pillar marking the point on the course where the chariot turns round. In Germania 34 these turning‐posts take the concrete form of the Pillars of Hercules rumoured to exist somewhere off the north coast of Germany, just out of the range of Drusus' naval expeditions: (p. 178 )
In fact we have even made attempts on Oceanus itself in that direction; according to rumour there remain Pillars of Hercules to be explored, either because Hercules travelled there, or because we are in the habit of ascribing noble things everywhere to his renown. Drusus Germanicus did not lack the daring to make an investigation, but Oceanus prevented him from exploring either itself or Hercules. Soon no one made the venture, and it was seen as more in accordance with religion and piety to have faith in the exploits of the gods than to know them.
As the point at which Drusus turned back, Tacitus may have in mind the coast of the land of the Chauci where his fleet was stranded (Dio 54.32); it is also possible that Tacitus may be referring to the intervention of some divine voice warning Drusus away from the wild lands of the interior, like the inhumanly tall vision of a woman said by Suetonius to have been encountered by Drusus: ‘He did not give up chasing the enemy, whom he had often slaughtered and driven deep into the inmost wastes, until the phantom of a barbarian woman greater than human form, speaking in Latin, prohibited him from extending his conquests further’ (Suetonius, Claudius 1). This apparition may be classified as a genius of Germania, like the female spectre of Africa that accosted Curtius Rufus and prophesied his proconsulate (Pliny the Younger, Letters 7.27; Tacitus, Annales 11.21).
Drusus remained the Germanicus par excellence, a hero, the man whose audacity marked out the first and farthest points of Roman penetration into the north. Since his time no one has had the daring to take up the quest, and not without reason. Hercules set up his pillars in the west to mark the limit of his progress, and indeed of the inhabitable world. 24 His pillars in the north must mark a similar point, if they exist, and who would think to exceed that? So Drusus, the man who almost saw the ‘turning‐posts’, is represented as something of a god, his career a story fit for saga, and remained an object of fascination for the Romans.
(p. 179 ) That Pliny himself was fascinated by Drusus, and saw him as parallel to himself, we may infer from a story of his nephew's: Pliny, as a young soldier in Germany, was inspired to write his Bella Germaniae by a vision of Drusus, who commanded him not to allow him to be forgotten (Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.5). So Drusus the heroic soldier found his monument in Pliny the heroic author, subjugating the Germans to his history.
the torpid sea
Pliny's description of the Chauci, though drawn from personal experience and ‘anschaulich und durchaus individuell’ as Norden, Germanische Urgeschichte (p. 295) says, is part of a classical tradition of depictions of Ocean, particularly northern Ocean. At 16.2–4 Pliny contradicts the historical representations of the Chauci at almost every point, but these contradictions are entirely comprehensible in terms of this tradition, and in this respect Pliny's emphasis on the mixture or confusion of land and water is entirely typical. Such depictions, particularly of northern seas, speak as a matter of course of waters either strangely thick and sluggish, 25 or of tides that travel far inland, changing or obliterating the boundaries between the dry and the wet, an idea that James Romm 26 assigns a place in the ancient perception of Ocean as the home of primal chaos.
In the earliest description of the northern ocean known to us, Pytheas describes a ‘congealed sea’ (thalatta pepeguia), near Thule (Pytheas, fragment 6a Mette = Strabo 1.4.2). Another fragment of Pytheas reports that the sea near Thule is neither land nor water nor air but a substance intermediate and compounded from them all:
He [Pytheas] adds information about Thule and those parts in which there exists neither earth in itself nor sea nor air, but a compound of them all like the ‘sea lung’, and in this he says that earth and sea and everything is suspended, and this is so to speak the binding of the (p. 180 ) whole, and one can neither walk nor sail upon it. 27 (Pytheas, fragment 7a Mette = Strabo 2.4.1)
Through the geographers Timaeus and Eratosthenes, Pytheas' book On the Ocean influenced all subsequent descriptions of northern Europe by classical authors in the four centuries after his time. 28 It is not surprising that from Lucan, who describes the Black Sea in winter as a simile for the calm that immobilizes Caesar's fleet at The Civil War 5.431 ff., the conception of the northern seas elicits a similar picture. Nature has abandoned her rule over these regions:
That the stillness of remotest Ocean corresponds to a paralysis of Nature, or that in Ocean Nature's power to maintain the regularity of the tides somehow fails, is clearly a topos: we find the idea again in the declamations addressed to Alexander as he contemplates extending his conquests across the Indian Ocean in the elder Seneca 29 and Curtius. 30 The idea comes up again in Pliny, who alludes to it briefly at 27.2 (‘beyond the Pillars of Hercules, from the very place where Nature ceases’) and refers to it as a phenomenon specifically of the north: describing the expedition of Tiberius in ad 4–6 from the (p. 181 ) Rhine to the promontory of the Cimbri (probably Jutland), he says that the Roman expedition saw a sea ‘stiff with excessive moisture’ (2.167). 31 Tacitus adheres to the tradition in Agricola 10, where he describes Ocean in the region of Britain as ‘sluggish and heavy to the oar, and even to the wind’, and in Germania 45 he writes of the torpidity of Earth's outermost sea near the tribe of the Swedes: ‘Beyond the Suiones they say there is another sea, sluggish and almost unmoving, and hence it is believed to encircle and close off the inhabited world.’
Frost roofs the enormous sea; the wave holds tight whatever vessel it has grasped, the horseman goes crunching over levels no sail can cross, and the wheel‐track of the Bessian nomad splits creaking Lake Maeotis, its billows now in hiding. The stillness of the sea is grim, the pools of the gloomy deep are motionless, the water torpid. The ocean rests, as if the rule of nature has abandoned it. The sea has forgotten its old turnings: it does not come and go with the tide, does not tremble with ripples, does not shine with the reflected sun. (Lucan, Civil War 5.438–46)
In contrast to these accounts of the sluggishness of the outer sea, some writers ascribe to it an opposite propensity: a tendency to violent floods (or more regular but no less violent tides) that overrun coastal regions and erase all distinctions between land and water. Of these, Pliny's description of the Chauci is the most detailed and circumstantial, but it has marked similarities with the accounts of certain Hellenistic historians attacked by Posidonius of Apamea, whose criticisms Strabo repeats at 7.2.1 (= Posidonius F272 Edelstein–Kidd). There the geographer rejects the following explanation of why the Cimbri started on the wanderings that brought them up against Rome at the end of the second century bc: ‘One might give some such explanation of their having become a migratory and piratical nation as that, inhabiting a peninsula, a great flood‐tide drove them from their homeland.’ Precisely whose theory this is Strabo does not say, but it seems to have been widely held by the Romans, and survives in Florus (1.38.1) 32 and Festus. 33 Strabo (and presumably his authority Posidonius) goes on to impugn other tales his (p. 182 ) predecessors have told about the Cimbri: that they take up weapons to make war on the tides (an ethnographic detail that Aristotle also mentions in discussions of bravery in the Nicomachean Ethics 1115b25 and Eudemian Ethics 1229b28, attributing it to the Celts); that they allow the water to destroy their homes as a way of inculcating bravery, 34 a tale he attributes to the fourth‐century bc historian Ephorus; and that the speed of the flood‐tide is such that it once almost overtook Cimbrian horsemen at full gallop, a story he takes from Cleitarchus, a historian of the third century bc. These stories, no matter how unbelievable they may have seemed to Strabo, show how old and pervasive was the conception in Greek geography of Europe's northern edge as a watery territory subject to enormous floods. The tradition endured among the Romans, despite (or because of ?) their far more specific knowledge of northern Europe. Not long before Pliny, the chorographer Pomponius Mela (3.55) describes the islands of the northern sea near ‘Scadinavia’ (with only one n) 35 as a confusion of earth and water hardly more distinct than in the compound (in Greek, syncrima) of Pytheas:
Because of the alternating advances and retreats of the sea, and since the spaces between them are now covered by waves and now left bare, the regions opposite Sarmatia sometimes seem islands, sometimes a single uninterrupted land.
If land can be classified as neither continent nor island, the waters of the north also escape classification, their seas indistinguishable from rivers (Mela 3.31):
Above the Elbe is the Codanus Gulf [the Kattegat?] packed with islands large and small. Therefore the sea, received into a pocket of coastlines, nowhere spreads out wide, nor does it resemble the sea; rather it wanders and divides in all directions, in appearance like a multitude of rivers, and everywhere its waters flow between and pass across the land. Where it touches the shores, it is confined by the coasts of islands that are not far from each other, and everywhere (p. 183 ) almost equidistant; it moves like a narrow strait, and curving repeatedly bends in a long bank.
In a passage already quoted for its depiction of the torpid Ocean, Tacitus (Agricola 10) describes how sea and land interpenetrate paradoxically in Scotland as the tide rushes far inland among the hills and mountains; the effect is a confusion of land and water similar to the descriptions of Mela. Mela creates a picture of Ocean dispersed among a maze of islands until it loses all resemblance to the sea; Tacitus describes a land so invaded by water as to become a territory of Ocean:
Nowhere does the sea have wider rule. It carries much of its tidal current to and fro, and it does not rise only as far as the shore and then recede, but even streams far inland and flows circuitously, penetrating among ridges and mountains as if in its own domain.
The land receives the rushing sea into its inmost recesses, while the open Ocean takes on the immobility of land. From Pytheas to Tacitus, these writers represent the North as a place where distinguishing sea from land or river from sea with Mediterranean clarity, confining each element to its proper place, is almost impossible. Land and sea trade places or take on each other's characteristics. Boundaries shift uneasily, are concealed or destroyed by the invasive waves. The natural order cannot be maintained here. The waters of the north either will not stay in place, but roam freely into land's domain, or else they usurp land's essence, being all too stable and locked in an unnatural solidity. The dominion of Nature, coextensive with that of Rome, has ceased to apply, and the boast of Aeneid 1.278–9 stands qualified. This qualification, however, gives the Chauci a place within a grander scheme. Their home as Pliny represents it fits neatly into this traditional picture of the North's confusion and instability. The conclusion follows that they do not belong, and cannot be made to belong, in the borders of empire.
This leaves another issue unresolved. If such savages embody anxieties about what is outside the ordered city, may they not also pose the question of what the city may one day turn into?
(p. 184 ) Like the pictures of watery instability we have just examined, the Chauci are a reminder of the primordial confusion from which we have come, and a warning of to what a primitive state the social order we have made for ourselves may someday return. The savagery of their lives bears a strong resemblance to philosophical depictions of the end of the world, in particular to Seneca's representation of cosmic destruction at Natural Questions 3.27–30. Here Seneca concludes his survey of the qualities of terrestrial waters with an unorthodox treatment of a standard Stoic theme, the ecpyrosis or in Latin conflagratio, the recurrent conflagration that punctuates the aeons of the universe. Seneca departs from Stoic tradition by giving the starring role in this rhapsody of mayhem to water rather than to fire, quite contrary to the usual picture of the ecpyrosis in which ‘the present world order will end in a total conflagration, activated by the sun’. 36 The cosmic disaster of these pages also differs substantially from Seneca's own more orthodox depiction of conflagratio at Ad Marciam 26.6, where the real agents of destruction are the fiery stars, and floods are merely one entry in a catalogue of subsidiary terrestrial disasters that includes flattened mountains, earthquakes, dried‐up seas, diverted rivers, cities swallowed by chasms, and poisonous gases. Instead, the conflagration of the Natural Questions invites comparison (quite literally: Seneca quotes the passage at length, and criticizes its occasional touches of levity, at 3.27.13–15) with the deluge of Ovid's Metamorphoses 1.262–312. Like Ovid, and with no small force, Seneca constructs a fragile world in which houses, cities, herds, and forests are all swept away as if in a dream of disequilibrium. Unlike Ovid, who handles the subject with a lightness quite foreign to Seneca, he gives little space to either the divine rationale behind the calamity or to the world's subsequent renewal (mentioned only in 3.28.7), and his unvarying tone will not accommodate any of the touches of pathos or incongruity allowed by Ovid. In its insistent, high‐strung tone Seneca's account resembles rather the flood depicted by his nephew Lucan at The Civil War 4.76–120, a passage that also emphasizes the elimination of boundaries, the (p. 185 ) idea of shipwreck on land (l. 87), northern rivers spilling into southern countries, and also magnifies the flood to cosmic proportions. 37 Like Lucan (and perhaps with more justification, considering the magnitude of his subject), Seneca's interest is in amplifying the violence of the destruction, and in erasing the distinctions between land and sea, between north and south, high and low, and civilized men and barbarians.
Even now, says Seneca, water defines the limits of human achievement. On the day of the creation of the world nature decided when all things would be submerged in a great flood, and the evidence is all around us that Earth's waters are now in training for it (3.30.1–2). In preparation for the final deluge, nature has set water all around us, even under us. 38 Water already sets a boundary in every direction to human ability to penetrate into or across the earth. With the coming of the flood, these boundaries will contract, and the distinctions of human geography will dissolve.
The first boundary to be lost will be a climatic one. Constant rain and cloud will make the entire world like the distant north (3.27.4):
At first rains fall unrestrained, and in the absence of the sun the sky is grim with clouds; from the moisture rise unending mist and thick fog, and there are no winds to dry them.
One has only to compare this with Pytheas' description of the weather of the far north (F6G Mette = Strabo 4.5.5) 39 or with Tacitus' accounts of the weather in Germany (Germania 2 and 4–5) 40 and Britain (Agricola 12: ‘a sky disfigured by clouds and (p. 186 ) heavy rain’) to recognize here the darkness, cloud, damp, and rain that are the stock‐in‐trade of all the geographers and ethnographers of transalpine Europe. More alarmingly, the Rhône, Rhine, and Danube, the great rivers and frontier‐lines of the north, will overflow and submerge the lands and cities of the whole continent (NQ 3.27.8), a disastrous incursion of the barbarian into civilized space. The deluge will dissolve other boundaries: what used to be high mountains become new islands or shallows (3.27.13); the demarcation of sea and land is submerged, and the waves will break ‘far from the sight of the old coastline’ (3.28.3); at last even the names of the seas and the human associations attached to them disappear as the waters close over the lands that kept them distinct:
There will be no Adriatic, no strait of the Sicilian sea, no Charybdis, no Scylla. A new sea will bury all the stories, and this world‐embracing Ocean that was allotted the edges of the earth will invade the middle…So many names will die, the Caspian and the Red seas, the gulfs of Ambracia and of Crete, the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea. Every line of division will be erased. Whatever Nature has divided into parts will be mingled in disorder. (Natural Questions 3.29.7–8)
An even more interesting point of comparison with Pliny is the fact that, before utterly annihilating mankind, the deluge will reduce it to the most primitive level of civilization. Not only will the world's weather become northern, but we will all come to live in the straitened circumstances of northern savages. One by one, the flood will make the most basic cultural activities impossible. The civilized forms of shelter will become untenable (3.27.6):
Houses buckle and are soaked through, water accumulates at the lowest level and the foundations settle, and pools form in the soil. They try to support their tottering houses to no effect: for every prop is fixed in slippery and muddy soil, and nothing is firm.
(p. 187 ) From the final undermining of architectural stability to the destruction of whole kingdoms (what is a kingdom if not city walls, temples, and towers?) is a small step. The water will sweep away the higher forms of social organization (3.29.9):
No one will find protection in either walls or towers. Temples will be no help to their suppliants, nor will the high citadels of cities; to be sure, the billows will anticipate the refugees and sweep them away from the very citadels. From west and east the floods will rush together: a single day will bury the human race. All that the indulgence of Fortune has nurtured for so very long, all that it has elevated above the rest, even the celebrated and brilliant dominions of the great nations—Fortune will bring them to destruction.
Note that Seneca refrains from stating a conclusion that follows logically from this frightening premiss, one that must be in the reader's mind. The passing of ‘the dominions of great nations’, and of the human race itself, will necessarily include that of Rome too. 41
Like shelter and political organization, agriculture will become impossible (3.27.5). Its absence will bring all humanity to the level of Pliny's primeval forest‐dwellers, who survived by shaking acorns from trees:
The ground, which is soft and fluid, will not hold vines or bushes. Now it will not sustain either grasses or pasturage fertilized by water: people suffer from famine and stretch out hands to ancient foodstuffs. Wherever there is an ilex or an oak, food is shaken down from it, and wherever a tree stands held fast by a rock crevice on a hillside.
Like the Chauci, the refugees of the flood have gone through a shipwreck without leaving home (3.27.7); they are victims of shipwreck, naufragii (28.2). These refugees flee to the tops of (p. 188 ) mountains, where they are cut off from all human communication or exchange (3.27.11) and, beyond fear or sorrow, lapse into a stupor (3.27.12). In the end, whoever has survived the previous stages of the cataclysm will have mentally degenerated from mere acorn‐eating savagery to an animal existence. This return of nature in its most primal and chaotic state will take from us even our capacity for reason, ‘when the destruction of the human race has been completed and the wild beasts, to whose mental level humanity will have descended, are equally extinct’.
The cultural level, then, of the last wretched refugees of the Senecan deluge is roughly equivalent to that now inhabited by the Chauci. If we may reverse the terms of the parallel, the Chauci live not only at the end of the world, geographically speaking, but also during it. They inhabit a space so utterly primitive as to be a dress‐rehearsal for what we shall all live through in the last stage of the current aeon, a mud‐flat world of interminable rain, rising rivers, and seas invading land. Ocean assigns to empire, to our power of possessing, not only geographical boundaries but a temporal limit too.
the cloaca maxima
In ethnography, what the savage lacks is not significant in itself, but only in contrast with what the civilized man possesses; together, the two complete a relation that expresses an identity for the ethnographer and his audience. If the primeval confusion of NH 16.2–4 is Pliny's dream of the impermanence of possessing and a warning of the instability of the thing possessed, its complement is his mythopoetic account of Rome's greatest sewer, the Cloaca Maxima (36.104–8). In this description the uneasy prospect of life without fixed territory, without cattle or crops, finds its opposing term. Here Pliny expresses the fears of dissolution that we have traced in representations of the Chauci and of the ecpyrosis in order to resolve them into a mythic affirmation of Rome's permanence.
In book 36 of the Natural History, the subject of which is stones, Pliny surveys marvellous feats of architecture in foreign countries, and to surpass them all catalogues the wonderful achievements of Roman engineering. In the first of seven extended descriptions of Roman constructions and edifices, (p. 189 ) Pliny, setting out to correct the negligence of Livy and other historians, and in sublime defiance of the archaeological facts as we now perceive them, describes the magnificence of Rome's present drainage system and traces it back to an episode of legendary history. 42 The Cloaca comes first in this series of descriptions not only because it was built the earliest, but especially because it alone supports all the other buildings of Rome, which Pliny has just envisioned piled together into a huge mass equal to another world. 43 As if retelling a creation‐myth—which in one sense is just what he is doing—Pliny describes the making of a typically Roman kind of order out of a chaos represented by the flood‐waters known to us from narratives of dissolution:
But in those days [the late Republic] old men used to marvel at the huge expanse of the Rampart and the foundations of the Capitol, and in particular at the Cloaca, the most remarkable work of all these, for in its making hills were tunnelled through and Rome was made, as I said a little while ago, 44 a hanging city, beneath which people travelled in boats when Marcus Agrippa served as aedile after his consulship. Through the Cloaca seven rivers pass, collecting in a single channel. Like mountain streams in a headlong race these rivers are compelled to seize and carry off everything in their path. Moreover, when they are spurred on by the heavy power of the rains, they shake the bottom and the sides of the sewer. Sometimes the backwash of the flooding Tiber flows up into the sewers, and the onrushing powers of opposing currents clash within the tunnels; nevertheless the resolute strength of the construction resists their onset.
This picture of the watery chaos below the city streets reminds one of the watery chaos feared by Seneca in the descriptions of (p. 190 ) the conflagratio recently quoted. But the sewers of Rome are imperilled from above as well:
Above the Cloaca huge blocks of stone are dragged along, but the hollowed channels do not yield; they are battered by the sudden collapse of buildings falling spontaneously or under the assault of fire; the ground is shaken by earthquakes, and all the same they have endured unconquerable for nearly 700 years since the time of Tarquinius Priscus.
And here comes one of Pliny's digressions: a historical note this time, that takes him back to the very foundation of the physical fabric of the city. Although in Plautus' time the Cloaca was apparently still an open channel, 45 Pliny, like Livy (1.38.6; 1.56.2), assumes that the sewer was completed, underground tunnels and all, in the period of the kings:
I must not pass over the following example, all the more so because the famous historians have neglected it. When Tarquinius Priscus was constructing the Cloaca, he used the common people to do the work, which seemed to them as interminable as it was heavy. Seeking relief from their toil, the Romans began to commit suicide en masse. The king devised a strange countermeasure for this, one imagined neither before nor since: he crucified the bodies of all his dead workers, at once putting them on display to their fellow citizens and exposing them to be torn by birds and beasts. As a result the sense of shame characteristic of the Roman nation, which has in battles so often rescued us when our cause seemed lost, came to our aid at this time too. On that occasion it deceived the Romans, who were already blushing, into the belief that, since they felt such shame while living, they would feel equally ashamed after their deaths. Tarquinius is said to have made the channels so large that he could send a wagon plentifully loaded with hay through them. (36.104–8)
As history, this story has its share of impossibilities. As we have seen, the Natural History reports that the Cloaca existed as a covered tunnel much earlier than it really did. 46 Unlike Livy, who assigns the completion of the sewer to Tarquinius (p. 191 ) Superbus, Pliny gives the job to Tarquinius Priscus, who has assumed for the occasion the tyrannical cruelty for which Superbus was famous. 47
The story must be treated as myth, a myth of Rome's founding, as well as of its foundation. The story of a mass suicide prevented by a shameful display of corpses is also told about the virgins of Miletus by Aulus Gellius (15.10), so we may conclude that the plot of what Pliny has just reported comes from a traditional fund of story‐structures. Gellius' anecdote, however, lacks the political and patriotic overtones Pliny gives to this myth. It shares many elements with the story of Tarquin and Lucretia, which in Livy immediately follows the Cloaca's construction (1.56.2). From tyranny and chaos, in both stories, the Roman sense of shame creates a new order of things, a marvel of permanence and stability. In Pliny, it is the prospect of a servile death, crucified like slaves, that shames the Romans back to their work. Livy has the people of Rome reject the job of sewer‐building as servile; his Lucretia only gives in to Tarquin after he has threatened to disgrace her by shamefully exposing her body next to that of a servile ‘adulterer’. 48 The myth of Lucretia uses the motifs of foreign tyranny, pride, shame, and suicide to lend the creation of the new Republic pathetic force and dramatic inevitability, and gives the overthrowers of the Tarquinii the justification of insulted freedom. In Pliny these motifs, played against anxieties associated with the destructive force of water, impart to Rome's physical fabric the emotive associations of a civic disaster or a war. Pliny calls this legend an example (exemplum), and so it is, in the sense of a precedent or model for later action. Pliny does not report the sewer's making; he dramatizes it as a historian might dramatize the battle of Cannae. The Roman sense of shame, the pivot on which the story's resolution turns, is here elevated and assimilated to the Roman sense of duty, the traditional backbone of military success. As the story of Lucretia punctuates Roman history into Regnal and Republican eras, so (p. 192 ) the building of Priscus' Cloaca is a national ordeal that puts ‘the sense of shame characteristic of the Roman nation’ (pudor Romani nominis) to the test, and surviving it implies initiation into a new phase of collective life. As the material token of this rite of passage, the Cloaca assumes the power of an icon, which accounts for the rapturous tone of the passage.
Pliny's rehearsal of the pressures that the Cloaca can withstand is a charm: the spell evokes the possibility of civic collapse, only to transform them into elements of pride. We should not underestimate the pride of his tone, for all that his fastidiousness strikes us as slightly ridiculous. That a description of a sewer might evoke in his audience emotions other than an exalted feeling of respect for the engineering of their ancestors Pliny will not concede, although less edifying ideas certainly did occur to other Romans, 49 and a modern reader cannot help but feel that something—the function of the Cloaca in discharging Rome's waste—is missing. What is remarkable is that Pliny can find material for admiration even in a construction of such ignoble function. More precisely, he has suppressed the ignoble function in favour of a more dignified one. The miscellaneous contents of the Cloaca do not matter when resting above it is the Forum, with all the greatness that its edifices express.
The shame of what the sewer carries, as well as the fear of dissolution, are present in Pliny's narrative, but transposed into myth, dramatized, and so resolved into a consoling patriotism. The shame of the Cloaca's unappetizing function becomes the shame that compels the Roman labourers, transfixed by the sight of the humiliated corpses of their companions, to keep working despite the difficulty rather than be made into parts of (p. 193 ) such a spectacle. The fear of chaos and instability is represented, as before, as unruly, swirling water, but here it is only one leaf of a diptych of which the buildings of the Forum and the hills are the other. The frame of Pliny's myth, the wonderful strength of the fabric created from the Roman workers' shame, keeps the two leaves securely apart. So secure is the structure, so complete the transformation of anxiety into patriotism, that we can savour the contrast with delight as Pliny poises above the Cloaca the weight of all Rome's architectural marvels, below it the frustrated power of the flood‐waters: ‘the onrushing powers of opposing currents clash within the tunnels; nevertheless the resolute strength of the construction resists their onset’. The Cloaca is the foundation upon which the greatness of Rome is (literally) built, an expression of the qualities that make Rome the geographic centre of empire and the opposite pole of the watery chaos at the edge of the world. 50 Because of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome is not just a city built on clay. It is a ‘hanging city’ (urbs pensilis) suspended above the roar and chaos of the floods, a marvel in itself of permanence, order, and beauty rescued from turbulent water by the Roman sense of shame. The conflict of permanence and instability, and the anxiety that this permanence may not after all be so enduring, are here crystallized into the single image of the stone city hanging above the flood.
(1) The tribes of India and Ethiopia: 7.21–32; the deformed peoples of southern Ethiopia: 6.189–95. See my discussion above, pp. 88–92.
(2) For an extended analysis of Pliny's treatment of the Chauci in the light of Roman imperialism that differs from my own, see also Klaus Sallmann, ‘Reserved for Eternal Punishment: The Elder Pliny's View of Free Germania (HN. 16.1–6)’, American Journal of Philology, 108 (1987), 108–28.
(3) Tacitus, Annales 11.19, Germania 35; Ptolemy 184.108.40.206.
(4) In one passage, Bellum Civile 1.463–5: et vos, crinigeros Belgis arcere Caycos | oppositi, petitis Roman Rhenique feroces | deseritis ripas et apertem gentibus orbem (Belgis is Bentley's conjecture for the MSS bellis) Lucan implies that the Chauci were a threat to Rome in 49 bc and that legions were stationed on the Rhine as a safeguard against them: but there is no historical evidence for this undoubtedly anachronistic statement. The Chauci do not appear in Caesar. No one else testifies to the existence or the activity of the Chauci before the reign of Augustus. As we shall see, Velleius can say that their existence was a positive novelty in ad 5. Moreover, their homes, on both sides of the mouth of the Weser, were quite distant from the Rhine, and many tribes (according to Tacitus' Germania, the Frisii, Chasuarii, Chamavi, Bructeri, and Tencteri) inhabited the land between. Lucan's statement is, as W. E. Heitland said (CR 15 (1901), 79), a poetic and ‘rather ill‐chosen pars pro toto’, the Chauci standing for all the Germani.
(5) Norden, Germanische Urgeschichte, 207–311.
(6) In the view of Conte, it is Pliny's ‘capacity to be astonished and the will to astonish’ that constitutes the only unity (and that an ‘involuntary’ one) of the Naturalis Historia; see Conte, ‘The Inventory of the World’, 104.
(7) 13.139: ‘But in the East it is wonderful that from the immediate border of Coptos throughout the wastes nothing grows except the thorn called “thirsty”.’
(8) For more instances of the ‘battle of nature’ (dimicatio naturae) in Pliny, see Beagon, Roman Nature, 159.
(9) Norden assembles the following evidence: in the NH Pliny describes many natural phenomena and cultural institutions of Germany (e.g. 10.72, 132; 11.33, 126; 15.103; 17.26; 18.149; 19.8–9), sometimes specifying first‐hand knowledge of them (e.g. 22.8). He is known (Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.5) to have been in the army in Germany and to have written a biography of his commanding officer P. Pomponius Secundus, known from epigraphic evidence (CIL xiii. 5200, 5201) as Legatus of Germania Superior, quartered in ad 51 on the Raeto‐German border, of which Pliny shows topographic knowledge in NH 31.20 (Norden, Germanische Urgeschichte, 207–9). Pliny shows miscellaneous first‐hand knowledge also of the North Sea coast in descriptions (37.42; 10.53; 11.126) of amber, goose‐down cushions, and how the Germans use aurochs‐hides and horns (Norden, Germanische Urgeschichte, 283–91). Norden's source‐criticism shows that Pliny must have displayed these bits of information in his Bella Germaniae too, from which Tacitus took them for various parts of the Annales which display verbal reminiscences of Pliny. In particular, Pliny's story that in Germany prefects of auxiliary troops are often disciplined for sending their soldiers away from their sentry‐posts in order to capture geese for goose‐down bedding (10.53) is so similar to Tacitus' account (Annales 11.18) of how Domitius Corbulo disciplined his troops in preparation for war against the Frisii and Chauci in ad 47 that Norden assigns Pliny a place in this campaign (Germanische Urgeschichte, 288–91). However, Tacitus nowhere used the NH itself as a source, and seems unaware of NH 16.2–4.
(10) Norden (Germanische Urgeschichte, 297–8) attempts to account for the contradiction between the miserable Chauci of NH 16.2–4 and the warlike Chauci represented in the historians by dividing them into two groups, corresponding to the names Chauci Minores and Chauci Maiores known from Pliny (16.2), Tacitus (Annales 11.19), and Ptolemy (220.127.116.11): these would be respectively the wretched inhabitants of the coastal fringes and the more robust inland dwellers. This interpretation reconciles Pliny with the other representations of the tribe, but runs into the objection that in Tacitus and Ptolemy the Minores and Maiores clearly correspond with two tribes on opposite banks of the river Visurgis, not to any coast/inland distinction.
(11) Sallmann, ‘Eternal Punishment’, 116.
(12) Norden, Germanische Urgeschichte, 295–7, found in this description of the life of the Chauci a vivid individuality that sets it off from more routine ethnographic accounts of the wretched life of savages. In an interesting personal note, he testifies from the experience of his own East Frisian childhood to the authenticity of many of Pliny's details, such as periodic deluges, ropes braided out of sedge, rainwater collected in holes in the ground, and peat fires.
(13) It is worth noting that on the subject of the ownership of land, the Digest (41.14) considers seashores in their natural condition to belong to no one.
(14) For Ocean as the limit of Natura, see the opinions expressed below by the elder Seneca, Suasoriae 1.1–16; Pliny, NH 27.2; Tacitus, Germania 45, on the northern Ocean.
(15) 6.187, on southern Ethiopia: ‘It is no wonder that monstrous forms of animals and humans arise in the most distant reaches of that land, because of the ingenious quickness of fire in crafting their bodies and carving their forms.’ Also on the monstrous fecundity of the sea, 9.2: ‘But a great many monstrosities are found in the sea, that lies so widely outspread and is so yielding and productive of nutriment, because the element receives generative causes from above and is always producing offspring.’
(16) Compare this conception with the Hippocratic description of Asia in Airs, Waters, Places 12, and with Vitruvius' description of Italy (6.1).
(17) The source of the Nile has not been located, for instance, because ‘it has only been explored by unarmed investigators, without the wars that have discovered all countries’. See Beagon, Roman Nature, 188, for ‘expeditions as the prime means of exploration in Pliny’.
(18) See Klaus Müller, Geschichte der Antiken Ethnographie, 147. The use of the primitive as satirist of civilized mores (as Anacharsis the Scythian is in Lucian) is not applicable to Pliny, who never permits his primitives to adopt a tone of moral superiority to Romans. This is a prerogative that Pliny reserves for himself. Occasionally primitives are allowed to criticize the vices of other barbarians, as a Scythian criticizes the drunkenness of the Parthians at NH 14.148. Beagon, Roman Nature, 78 adduces the Chauci to prove that Pliny, despite his criticisms of luxury, does not admire primitives.
(19) Purcell, ‘Provincial Landscape’, 22.
(21) I translate the text of E. Courtney (ed.), The Fragmentary Latin Poets (Oxford, 1993), following the reading of Charles Murgia, CP 79 (1984), 325–6, in which the infinitives and participles of 1–4 depend on credunt (line 10). iam pridem post terga diem solemque relictum, | iam pridem, notis extorres finibus orbis, | per non concessas audaces ire tenebras, | ad rerum metas extremaque litora mundi…
(22) di revocant rerumque vetant cognoscere finem | mortales oculos. aliena quid aequora remis | et sacras violamus aquas divumque quietas | turbamus sedes?
(23) Not to mention imperial policy, if we can trust what Tacitus says about Augustus' posthumous veto on expanding the frontiers: in the breviarium totius imperii which he left along with his will and the Res Gestae (Suetonius, Augustus 101.4), Augustus enjoined his successors not to enlarge the bounds of empire as he had left them, as Tacitus reports in Annales 1.11.
(24) Strabo 3.5.5: ‘It is in fact the sensible thing to deny that the islands and the mountains [that some claim to be the Pillars of Hercules] resemble pillars, and to seek out the limits of the world or the expedition of Hercules at the Pillars that are properly named; for it was the ancient custom to set up such landmarks.’ Pseudo‐Scymnus ll. 188–9 (GGM 196–237) speaks of a ‘Pillar of the North’.
(25) This tradition goes back at least as far as Plato (Timaeus 25d, Critias 108e6–109a2), and is also found in Plutarch (De Facie 941 b), both of whom describe the Ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules as impassable because of its muddiness. Plato attributes the mud to the sinking of Atlantis, Plutarch to the silt discharged into the sea by the many rivers of a fabulous western continent.
(26) James Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought, 22.
(27) Commentators are in disagreement about precisely what a ‘sea lung’ is. Whether this is some kind of mollusc (the usual Greek meaning of pleumon thalattios, which would suggest the object of Pytheas' simile is floe‐ice) or a jellyfish (the meaning of the Latin pleumon thalattios, which would suggest mud, slush‐ice, or ‘frazil’) is disputed. J. O. Thomson, History of Ancient Geography (Cambridge, 1947), 149, has a good discussion of the problem.
(28) J. J. Tierney, ‘The Celtic Ethnography of Posidonius’, 196.
(29) For example, Suasoriae 1.1: ‘There stands a motionless sea like a sluggish mass of nature dying on its own border.’
(30) Curtius 9.4.18: If he goes further Alexander will encounter ‘darkness and shadow and unending night brooding upon the deep sea, waters full of herds of monstrous beasts, unmoving waves, where nature dying has reached an end’.
(31) Pliny also refers to a ‘solid sea’ (mare concretum) at 4.104 and 37.35. At 4.94–5, he reports that the northern sea is called by the Scythians ‘Amalchium’ and by the Cimbri ‘Morimarusa’, meaning respectively ‘frozen’ and ‘the Dead Sea’ (mare mortuum).
(32) ‘The Cimbri, the Teutoni, and the Tigurini, made homeless when the Ocean flooded their lands, began to seek new dwelling‐places across the whole world.’
(33) Paulus Festi p. 15 ed. Lindsay: ‘Ambrones: the Ambrones were a certain Gallic tribe who, when they had lost their homes because of a sudden deluge from the sea, took to raiding and plunder to support themselves and their families. Gaius Marius destroyed them and the Cimbri and the Teotoni [sic].’
(34) This is a form of the common topos that disdain for settled comforts makes one warlike and brave, which goes back to Herodotus (9.122) and Hippocrates (Airs, Waters, Places 23). Caesar invokes this idea to explain why the Suebi migrate so often: ‘it is not permitted to stay in one place for more than a year for purpose of habitation’ (Gallic War 4.1).
(35) Probably a Latinized form of the ancestor of the Swedish place‐name Skåne; see Thomson, History of Ancient Geography, 241.
(36) A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, i (Cambridge, 1987), 278.
(37) See the testimonia of Gerke's 1907 edition of the Naturales Quaestiones for a listing of the verbal parallels with Lucan.
(38) ‘Where has nature not placed water in readiness so that she may attack us from every side when she wishes? I lie, if water does not come up to meet those who dig the earth and, every time greed buries us in soil or some other reason forces us to penetrate too deep, there comes at some point an end of excavation’ (Naturales Quaestiones 3.30.3).
(39) A description of Thule: ‘But their grain they thresh inside big houses, since they have no pure sun, when they have brought the ears of grain indoors; for threshing‐floors are useless for them because of the lack of sun and the darkness.’ Cf. Diodorus Siculus 5.21.
(40) Germania 4–5: ‘The Germani do not endure thirst or heat well, but they are used to cold temperatures and hunger because of their weather and soil. Although the land's appearance differs somewhat from place to place, it is as a whole either bristling with forest or disfigured by marsh, rainier where it faces Gaul, windier towards Noricum and Pannonia, fertile with respect to sown crops, not permitting fruit‐bearing trees, productive for herds, but these are for the most part undersized.’
(41) For whatever reason—perhaps it is simply too painful to contemplate—Seneca does not make this plain. The omission is served by the complete impersonality of the narrative. By describing events only on the level of the human race as a whole and concerning himself with civilizations on the most generic of terms, he avoids facing the political implications of what he has written. Seneca does not take into account what he and other Romans must all necessarily have at stake in such a future: that the conflagratio sets a temporal limit to Rome. For similar forebodings in Cicero, see De Re Publica fragment Z. 3.34b: ‘when a state, however, is destroyed, abolished, annihilated, it is so to speak as if, to compare small things with great, all this universe of ours were to perish and fail’.
(42) A fascinating survey of the place in the Roman imagination occupied by the idea of the Cloaca is provided by Emily Gowers, ‘The Anatomy of Rome from Capitol to Cloaca’, JRS 85 (1995), 23–32.
(43) 36.101: ‘But let us take this opportunity to pass over to the wonder of Our City and examine the docile power of eight hundred years and prove that we have mastered the world in this way too…If the whole number [of the buildings of Rome] were heaped up and accumulated into a single mass, its greatness would strike the eye just as if some other universe were being described, all collected into one place.’
(44) 36.94: ‘We read also of the hanging garden, or more correctly, entire town, of Egyptian Thebes, under which the kings used to lead entire armies without the residents being aware of a thing. Even so, this is less wonderful than a river flowing [undetected] through the centre of a town.’ (The last clause refers to the sewers of Rome.)
(45) Plautus, Curculio 475–6.
(46) The Cloaca was first enclosed in the 3rd cent.: R. M. Ogilvie, Commentary on Livy, Books I–V (Oxford, 1965), 214. For the archaeological evidence see L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1992), 91–2; H. Bauer s.v. ‘Cloaca, Cloaca Maxima’, Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, ed. Eva Margareta Steinby, i (Rome, 1993), 288–90.
(47) Contra Ogilvie, Commentary on Livy, 214, who unaccountably cites Pliny, NH 36.104 to support his contention that the building of the Cloaca Maxima was ‘ascribed unanimously by ancient authors to Superbus’.
(48) I owe this observation to Elaine Fantham.
(49) On the sordid aspects of the Cloaca, particularly its availability as a metaphorical excretory duct for the civic body, see Gowers, ‘Anatomy of Rome’, 26–30. Compare Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 3 praef. 16: ‘I remember going to Cestius' school when he was about to recite a speech against Milo. Cestius, with his usual admiration for himself, was saying, “Were I a gladiator, I would be Fusius; were I a mime, I would be Bathyllus; were I a horse, I would be Melissio.” I could not hold back my scorn and cried out, “Were you a sewer, you'd be the Cloaca Maxima.” ’ See also Juvenal 5.103–6: ‘An eel is waiting for you, close relative of the long snake | or Tiber's own pike, ice‐spotted, himself bred by the river‐banks too, | fattened on the outpourings of the sewer (cloaca) | who habitually creeps as far as the drains of mid‐Subura.’
(50) Compare Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.431–4: ‘The tale tells that Dardanian Rome is rising | which, next to the waters of Apennine‐born Tiber | lays the foundations of its power beneath an enormous burden.’ The foundations of Rome support not only the city's architecture but also the metaphoric weight of its future.