Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, February 25, 2011

Phoenicians in Patagonia - Part 6

Ancient historians and geographers (Strabo and Diodorus) mention Phoenician colonies across the Atlantic: America perhaps?
See Index on all my posts on Phoenicians in America.
The notion that the Phoenicians reached America is not at all new. In 1652, a distinguished German historian, George Horn also known as Hornius (in those days they preferred to Latinize their surnames to dignify them) published a book in Hague “De originibus americanis libris IV”, where he expounds that America had been peopled by successive waves of immigrants among which he placed the Phoenicians.

This notion was quite accepted at that time, and we see it again in several books, such as the one published in 1785, which said that not only the Phoenicians but also the Carthaginians or even navigators from their Spanish colonies could have reached America: [1]

A 1785 book suggesting Phoenician migration to America. From: [1]

In today’s post we will look into some ancient sources that may prove that the
Phoenicians actually sailed to America.

I have already mentioned two voyages of exploration, one around Africa, and the other along its Atlantic seaboard. For those interested in more information, these two links are excellent:

Hannos voyage. And Necco's voyage.

Strabo and colonies beyond the Atlantic Ocean

Strabo (63 BC – 24 AD), a Greek historian and geographer wrote about the Phoenicians navigation skills in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that after the Trojan War (approx. 1200 BC), they sailed beyond Gibraltar and established colonies in those regions and in the central parts of the Libyan sea-board. So, if Libya is Africa, then where were the other colonies established along the Atlantic? Below is Strabo’s text : [2]

Strabo Phoenicians in America
Strabo's text on Phoenicians crossing the Atlantic towards America. From: [2]

Diodorus and the island across the Atlantic

But, much more interesting is a story jotted down by Diodorus of Siclily (historian), who in 56 BC wrote about a strange island in the Atlantic Ocean, which resembles a continent (America). First he mentions the islands within the Mediterranean, and then others beyond Gibraltar (Pillars of Hercules). As the text is very interesting, so I will quote it extensively even though you may find it boring: [3] (in bold I will include some comments)

We shall give an account of those which are in the ocean. [The islands in the Atlantic] For there lies out in the deep off Libya an island of considerable size, and situated as it is in the ocean it is distant from Libya a voyage of a number of days to the west.

[west of Africa: this excludes the British Isles or Western Europe, which could have been mistaken for an island.]

Its land is fruitful, much of it being mountainous and not a little being a level plain of surpassing beauty. Through it flow navigable rivers [None of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean have navigable rivers. He is evidently talking about a continent: America]. which are used for irrigation, and the island contains many parks planted with trees of every variety and gardens in great multitudes which are traversed by streams of sweet water; on it also are private villas of costly construction, and throughout the gardens banqueting houses have been constructed in a setting of flowers, and in them the inhabitants pass their time during the summer season, since the land supplies in abundance everything which contributes to enjoyment and luxury.

[The costly villas are either Mesoamerican (Mayan, Aztec) buildings or, as we will see further down, the buildings of expat Phoenicians. They aren’t the straw huts of Brazilian natives or the leather tepees of Patagonian Indians].

The mountainous part of the island is covered with dense thickets of great extent and with fruit-trees of every variety, and, inviting men to life among the mountains, it has cozy glens and springs in great number. In a word, this island is well supplied with springs of sweet water which not only makes the use of it enjoyable for those who pass their life there but also contribute to the health and vigour of their bodies. There is also excellent hunting of every manner of beast and wild animal, and the inhabitants, being well supplied with this game at their feasts, lack of nothing which pertains to luxury and extravagance; for in fact the sea which washes the shore of the island contains a multitude of fish, since the character of the ocean is such that it abounds throughout its extent with fish of every variety.

And, speaking generally, the climate of this island is so altogether mild that it produces in abundance the fruits of the trees and the other seasonal fruits for the larger part of the year, so that it would appear that the island, because of its exceptional felicity, were a dwelling-place of a race of gods and not of men.

[Sounds like the “very best” Hy-Brazil Island mentioned in my previous post].

In ancient times this island remained undiscovered because of its distance from the entire inhabited world, but it was discovered at a later period for the following reason. The Phoenicians, who from ancient times on made voyages continually for purposes of trade, planted many colonies throughout Libya and not a few as well in the western parts of Europe. And since their ventures turned out according to their expectations, they amassed great wealth and essayed to voyage beyond the Pillars of Heracles into the sea which men call the ocean. […]

The Phoenicians, then, while exploring the coast outside the Pillars for the reasons we have stated and while sailing along the shore of Libya, were driven by strong winds a great distance out into the ocean. And after being storm-tossed for many days they were carried ashore on the island we mentioned above, and when they had observed its felicity and nature they caused it to be known to all men.

[So, a storm pushed them across the Atlantic. Just like it did to Cabral in 1500s, when he discovered Brazil –see previous post.].

Consequently the Tyrrhenians, at the time when they were masters of the sea, purposed to dispatch a colony to it, but the Carthaginians prevented their doing so, partly out of concern lest many inhabitants of Carthage should remove there because of the excellence of the island, and partly in order to have ready in it a place in which to seek refuge against an incalculable turn of fortune, in case some total disaster should overtake Carthage. For it was their thought that, since they were masters of the sea, they would thus be able to move, households and all, to an island which was unknown to their Conquerors. [1]

This last paragraph, is very interesting, as we have skipped from the ancient Phoenicians to their colony, Carthage and to the Tyrrhenians, which is the name that Diodorus applies to the Etruscans.

The Etruscans lived in Italy, north of Rome, in Etruria – Tuscany, and gradually declined until around 500 BC, when they became part of the growing Roman “empire”.
It seems that the Carthaginians had other schemes regarding the “island”, perhaps they wanted to keep it all for themselves. Or, as Diodorus mentions, they decided to keep it as an ace up their sleeves as a escape route from the growing Roman influence (which, actually let to the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage and to the ultimate destruction of Carthage).

Did they manage to flee to America before their final destruction?

Finding them

If we were to seriously look for a Phoenician settlement we would have to take into account their typical colonizing pattern: they chose a coastal island, close to the shore, or a headland by the mouth of a river with a protected harbor. These were easy to defend and unassailable from the land by eventually hostile locals. This is what they did at Tyre in their homeland (until Alexander the Greate joined the island to the mainland with a causeway and then stormed it at will), Mogador in Morocco, Gades (modern Cadiz) in Spain.

Perhaps some island along the coast of Brazil may have been used as a base by the Phoenicians.

In Patagonia it is an easier matter, the lack of freshwater would have led them to settle near the mouth of one of the Patagonian rivers: Colorado, Negro, Chubut, Deseado, Santa Cruz, Coig or Gallegos. Let’s look into this in a future post on the Phoenicians in Patagonia.

Survival of a Phoenician Colony in America

What impact would a boatload of Phoenicians or a small commercial establishment peopled by a few hundreds of Phoenicians have on the native Americans? Would they leave a permanent mark? Would their lore be absorbed by the onlooking locals and blended with their own?

Regarding the first question, there is the pessimist point of view:

"... with primitive means of migration, there seems small chance of the arrival of wayfarers in any considerable numbers on the American shores, and the evidence of such arrivals must be far to seek and difficult of evaluation. A primitive boat's crew reaching the western continent as voluntary voyagers or as wayfarers brought unwillingly by the winds and currents, even if hospitably received by the resident population, would leave no physical trace of their presence that would last beyond a few generations, and the culture they happened to represent might not find even a temporary foothold..."[4]

Not very supportive of our Phoenicians in America theory!

But, genetic data may give us some evidence, as well as archaeological remains. But this, will be the subject of another post.


[1] Joan Francesc de Masdéu, (1785). Historia critica de España y de la cultura española: obra compuesta y publicada en italiano. Publ. don Antonio de Sancha pp.118
[2] Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. Eds. Jones, Horace Leonard, Sterrett, J. R. Sitlington (John Robert Sitlington), London Heinemann , vol 1. pp. 177 (1:3-2)
[3] Diodorus of Sicily. Bibliotheca historica , Harvard University Press (Loeb), Cambridge 1968. Book V, 18. 2-19 pp. 145+
[4] American anthropology, 1888-1920: papers from the American anthropologist The problems of the unity or plurality and the probable place of origin of the American aborigines: A symposium. Vol. 14, 1912 1- 59. Univ. of Nebraska press.(2002) pp. 189

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
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