What Plato (and others) said.
The mountains of Atlas, and the people who lived there, were both called the "Atlantes". South of the Atlantes was Atlantia, the old name for Africa. Yellow dots are ancient rock art.
(Picture: my own art, based on Susan Searight's PhD thesis on rock art in the Atlas mountains. Much of the art dates back to the stone age.
In 20,000 BC the Sahara was even drier than today. But the mountains of Atlas were wetter than today, allowing the Atlantes people to flourish.
Between 7500 and 2500 BC the Sahara had a "wet phase" and was more fertile. This explains why the Atlantes sites extend further south. But before that something happened.
The people of the Atlas mountains from this period are usually referred to as Iberomaurusians. In 8,700 BC the Younger Dryas climate event hit the Atlas Mountains (later than other areas: local climate depended on ocean currents, etc). At that point all of the Iberomaurusian settlements suddenly disappeared.
(Picture: adapted from the uncredited Wikipedia timeline)
When a drought hits, people move to more fertile land if they can. And sure enough, a few hundred years later we see signs of a very similar culture, but further east.
(Picture: adapted from the Wikipedia map of Capstan settlements.
THere is a gap in the historical record between the Iberomaurusians disappearing (c.8700 BC) and the very similar Capstan people appearing further east (c.8000 BC). What happened in between? Perhaps they just died out in the drought? But these were mountain people, used to constantly moving in search of food. Would they just sit down and die? If they had to they could travel long distances. But where would they go?
(Picture: own work from satellite photos (enhanced to show mountains and greenery))
Note that in 9,000 BC sea levels were much lower than today. The Aegean islands (such as Crete, which was populated by 12,000 BC) were easily accessible. So if the people of Atlantes wanted to follow the coast to the mountains they would have to defeat not just the Natufeans (ancestors of the Egyptians and Canaanites) but the Aegean tribes as well.
(Picture: adapted from this paper on the Colonization of Islands)
The Iberomaurusians would have followed the coast. We know they did not like to cross water, because in ten thousand years of living in the Atlas mountains they never crossed the ten miles to Spain. The next fertile land was Egypt. Back then it was mainly occupied by the Sebilian and Quadan cultures. Both cultures disappear at the same time that the Atlantes people move east.
Did the Sebilians and Quadans simply die out? Or move because of the Younger Dryas? That makes no sense: In a drought, Egypt is the place to be more than ever, because of the river. So if they didn't starve and they didn't leave of their own accord, that leaves war.
The first war known to history took place in the Nile valley, probably over access to land, in the Younger Dryas era. This is usually dated to 11,000 BC, but the event happened at different times depending on local climate conditions: as noted, for the Atlas Mountains it was 8,700 BC. Precise dating of remains is difficult because bone collagen (the best source) is poorly preserved in dry conditions, and all radiocarbon methods (such as apatite dating, used on the Jebel Sahaba bones) rely on a good understanding of local conditions ()details).
So the Jebel Sahaba massacre is evidence that people fought over the Nile in the Younger Dryas era. This does not prove that these particular bones are Eguptians killed by the Iberomaurusians, but it is possible. All we know is that the victims were Egyptian, not Iberomaurusian: the skulls did not have the distinctive Iberomaurusian post-cranial shape.
It's important to remember that the Iberomaurusians were genetically different from the people of Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. They were not closely related, and looked different (with distinctive skulls). They lived in the mountains on the other side of the Libyan desert and were experts at hunting in harsh conditions. I short, when a large group of Iberomaurusians walk across your land, that is very, very scary. The stuff legends are made of.
(Picture: from Project Gutenberg out-of-copyright books)
A third tribal group was also living in Egypt: the Harifians. They were the last of (or at least related to) a larger and more ancient culture, the Natufians, who roamed across what is now Egypt, Israel and Syria. The Harifians lived around Fayyum, near the mouth of the Nile. When the Sebilian and Quadan cultures were destroyed, the Harifians escaped, and settled in the nearby forests (what later became the Negev desert).
The Harifians were notable in three ways:
I have mentioned rock art. All art communicates something. Maybe just "I was here", maybe "these animals are here" or maybe something more sophisticated. Numerous sites from around 10,000 BC and later show monoliths and towers with images and symbols. The most famous is at Gobekli Tepe.
(Picture: a stone relief from Gobekli Tepe, photo by Guérin Nicolas.)
Another example is Tell Qaramel, from around 10,000 BC. Several large towers were built, each including a hearth and benches inside so they clearly had some communal function. Here are some stone objects found at the site. Clearly they were intended to communicate something:
(Picture: from "Human Palaeoecology in Southwest Asia During the Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic (c. 9700-8500 cal BC): the Plant Story"
The geographical center of the Natufian world was probably Jericho, where they began building structures well before 9000 BC. The Natufians of course, like almost everyone at the time, were semi nomadic, so Jericho was just like Gobekli Tepe or Tell Quaramel: simply a place to gather, tell stories, and record rock art. When the Harifians, the last of the Natufians, fled Egypt, we can be sure they would have gathered at Jericho to tell stories of what happened.
The Harifians knew they would ultimately be safe, because of the Aegean tribes (modern day Crete, Athens, etc). If the terrifying Iberomaurusians ever continued along the coast, they would want green mountains. And that meant the islands around Crete. But the Aegeans had boats, so they were relatively advanced. They probably engaged in trade, so knew more than most. And they were used to defending themselves (you can't run far on an isand). And they were also excellent hunters (they killed all the large animals on Crete soon after arriving). So if the Iberomaurusians fought the Aegeans, the Iberomaurusians would lose.
The Aegeans probably never traded as far south as Egypt in 9000 BC (though they did much later). But they would very likely trade with the coasts of Anatolia, and come up to the borders of Natufian-Harifian lands. So once the Harifians escaped from Egypt, moving further up the coast made them safer. Because the closer the Iberomaurusians came to the Aegeans, the closer they came to defeat.
The archeological record does not tell us whether any Iberomaurusians met any Cretans. But it does hint in that direction: when the Iberomaurusians disappeared from their Atlantes homeland, then completely disappeared from the archaeological record for centuries, then reappeared at the eastern end of their old lands. This is consistent with leaving for the east, being decisively defeated in battle, then limping home to gradually rebuild their civilisation.
What we now call Egypt was previously just a river at the southern end of the Natufian (i.e, Harifian) territories. The river was good for wild plants, but not good as a place to live, because everything flooded once a year. The natural capital (i.e. village and gathering place) was the more centrally located Jericho.
(Picture: from Wikipedia, by "Crates", with the Harifian area added, based on originating in Fayyum, and the Egyptian map by "Andrei nacu")
Until 8000 BC Jericho was simply a village where people often stopped. But in 8,000 BC everything changed. A great wall was built around the settlement, six feet thick and 12-17 feet high. A 28 foot high defensive tower was built. (To defend against whom? Were descendants of the Iberomaurusians wandering around?). At that moment the Natufian-Harifian culture ended: they ceased to be wandering nomads, and became a settled community, with different habits and priorities. Jericho became the world's first city. Or technically, "proto-city", as agriculture was still very simple, so there was no large surplus of wealth and hence no class hierarchy.
The next two thousand years or so, known to archeologists as "Pre-Pottery Neolithic B", saw farming come to dominate everything. More plants were tamed and improved, sheep were first domesticated (probably), and the economic surpluses enabled more division of labour, a class system, and complex religion and art.
6,000 BC: headquarters move to the Nile
By 6,000 BC, farming produced such desirable economic surpluses that it was time to permanently settle the Nile. Previously the flooding and remote location made the Nile a problem. But it was no worthwhile to build walls and dams, to drain some areas, to irrigate others, in order to create a vast network of fields, and houses to serve them, all based on the easy access to fresh water and on rich fertile soil. Thanks to agriculture, Egypt became the bread basket of the ancient world, and its natural heart. The key point to remember is that, while the center of farming moved from Jericho to the Nile, the boundaries stayed the same.
In 8,000 BC this was a culture of semi-nomadic individual tribes who occupied lands from Syria to the Nile. By 1,000 BC this was a highly centralised kingdom with its capital in the Nile, that ruled up to Syria. The same continuous culture, the same boundaries, regardless of what we call it.
3,100 BC: the first Pharaoh
In 3100 BC, Pharaoh Menes grabbed control of the whole Nile. But he was simply a new boss claiming ownership over the same old Natufian territories. The culture he ruled began back in 8,000 BC, when nomads stopped wandering, built great walls and a great tower, and said "we own the land!"
The Harifians and ancient Atlantes would be just a minor detail in some long forgotten Egyptian temple, except for what happened in 600 BC. It was the end of the Pharaohs' great power. Babylon had just defeated Egypt and taken the eastern side of the Mediterranean. Humiliated and desperate to rebuild his lost empire, Pharaoh Necho looked west. Africa was still largely a mystery and thought to be either relatively small...
(Picture: Herodotus' map of the world, from the Wellcome Collection.)
...or was connected to a world-surrounding outer continent, but rivers from both sides of Africa might join at lakes in the middle, allowing a ship to sail from one side to the other.
(Picture: Herodotus' map of the world, The Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by Al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154.)
The "rivers join up" idea taken very seriously. A little after this, In 500 BC, Euthymenes found a river on the west of Africa (probably the Senegal) and believed it was was the other end of the Nile. Even in modern times (the 1500s) The Nile and Senegal were believed to join in the middle (i.e. come from the same inland lake).
(Picture: from Mercator's 1569 map of the world.)
Whatever the truth was, small Africa or Africa in two halves, Necho would find out. He hired a Phoenician ship to circumnavigate Africa. It was to start at the East coat, sail further south than the cataracts (which prevented ships sailing up the Nile itself), and find a way to the Pillars of Hercules.
(Picture: Malachy Postlethwayt map, 1866)
The journey took three years, because every few months it would stop to plant seeds, wait several months for them to grow, and then harvest the seed for food for the journey. A reconstruction of the most likely route suggests the last months-long stop would be at the very fertile Bay of Arguin. The bay is so fertile because it once had a major river that cut right across the Sahara (bringing topsoil with it). Smaller rivers still do. The sailors' job was to find a short cut across Africa, so in the months they had to wait they would have explored any rivers or valleys near the coast.
Around 550 BC the circumnavigation of Africa was followed by an exploration of the west coast by the Phoenician explorer Hanno. Hanno took sixty ships and 30,000 people to establish new colonies for the Phoenicians, so they could trade with the Africans further south. Either Hanno or the colonists would certainly have explored the Bay of Arguin. Soon we'll see why. But first we need to consider the changing view of maps in 600 BC.
The earliest maps showed just one land: the land you lived in. But by the 6th century BC the Greeks knew there were many other nations. They noticed that nations to the north tended to be colder and greener, while nations past modern Turkey tended to be hotter and drier. So they divided the world into two: Europe at the top, and Asia at the bottom. The small parts of Africa that they knew were included as part of the hot half of the world: part of Asia.
(Picture: A reconstruction of Hecataeus' 550 BC map from Cameron McPhail's PhD thesis.)
Note that the two halves are connected by a small piece of land, and mostly separated by rivers.
The new "two continents" view of geography was challenged by people who had travelled in North Africa. They knew it was very large, and that it was separated in the same way as the others at the top of the Nile. As more people visited Egypt they had to agree, so maps began to show three land continents: Europe, Asia and Libya.
(Picture: Herodotus' map of the world, from the Wellcome Collection.)
Meanwhile, many people suspected there might be even more land out there somewhere: a fourth continent? This idea was soon strengthened when Pythagoras (born 570 BC) persuaded people that the earth was a sphere. This implied plenty of space for other land (though most of it was assumed to be too hot or cold for life). For a longer discussion of the topic with references, see Cameron McPhail's PhD thesis (available online) on Eratosthenes' map of the world.)
There was a great debate over continents in ancient Greece. Heroditus thought the idea was pointless, because all land was connected. But others thought Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa) were best thought of as separate islands. Hence Strabo quoted Eratosthenes:
"there has been much deliberation about the continents, and that some divide them by the rivers, the Nile and the Tanais, describing them as islands, but that some divide them by isthmuses, both the isthmus between the Caspian Sea and the Pontic Sea and the isthmus between the Red Sea and the Ecregma, and that the latter call the continents peninsulas"
(Quoted by McPhail on page 86, referencing Strabo 1.4.7, Erat., fragment 33)
This implies an ongoing debate:
"With regard to this passage, Roller 2010: 151 suggests that "The statement that the continents are not islands (made twice), but merely part of the island of the inhabited world, reflects some unknown early theory." (McPhail)
The Egyptian circumnavigation of Africa came right at the start of this debate over whether continents should be called islands.
Imagine what the Phoenicians were thinking when they sailed around Atlantia, which turned out to be far bigger and far different from anything they had imagined or experienced.
Clearly Atlantia was very different from Libya (jungle, not desert) and vastly larger. And it was once separated from Libya by a gigantic river, the Tamanrasett. South of that was still separated by the mighty Senegal river. This was surely a new continent, a new "island".
And what should this new continent be called? By tradition, continents were always named after women. Europe was Europa, the woman who fled from Zeus. Asia was daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Libya was daughter of Epaphus, king of Egypt. As we will see, Atlantia was reached via the Adrar Plateau, a kind of daughter of the Atlas mountains. "Atlas Mountains" in Greek was "Atlantes", and "Daughter of Atlas" was "Atlantis". So "Atlantis", being female, was preferred to "Atlantia".
Before we see how the Egyptians reacted to the explorers' news, let's see what the explorers would have found in their many months at the Bay of Anguin. The answer? A lot of mud in the sea. But also evidence that this region was once a thriving civilisation.
By 7,500 BC the Younger Dryas was over and the Saharan climate entered its wet phase. Great rivers and lakes crossed what was once unpassable desert. This map shows the Sahara in this period, and the mighty Tamanrasett river that flowed until 3000 BC. The grey area around the river is where we would expect smaller feeder rivers: anything in the grey area could be explored without too much difficulty.
Note the area outlined in a box. The Tamanrasett provided easy access from the Atlas Mountains to this vast plain, and from there to the tropical regions of Atlantia. This region would be particularly fertile: the Tamanrasett study shows numerous rivers in that area. Even in today's much drier climate the coastal mud flats are a national park, thanks to the millions of birds that visit there to feed.
Also note the Adrar Plateau ("adrar" is Berber for "mountain"). This looks like a continuation of the Atlas mountains, a sort of "daughter of Atlas". This mini-Atlas range is at the top of the Sahel region, acting as the gateway to Atlantia during the Wet Sahara era.
Now let's focus on the areas that would be explored by Phoenician colonists. They were looking for trade, for new routes across Africa, and signs of natural resources (ancient mining for example). And they had several months to do it while their crops grew. So what would they do?
(Picture: rock art site map based on "Saharan Rock Art: Local Dynamics and Wider Perspectives" by Marina Gallinaro.)
The ancient inhabitants left behind "writing" in the form of rock art. Much of it shows animals (of great interest to hunters!), some of it showed boats, and a great deal of it is about weapons. But a large number of engravings showed chariots.
Across the Sahara as a whole, over 1200 rock art sites feature chariots. The first depictions are dated to around 3000 BC but they seem especially popular from the 600s onward (according to French researcher J.Spruytte). So the Phoenicians were entering a land obsessed with chariots. This was bound to influence how they viewed the great circular tracks in Atlantis' capital.
When the Phoenicians climbed the Adrar Plateau they would for the first time see the gigantic Richat Structure: an ancient geological formation that looks as if it was man made. It had circular walls like a city, circular moats,a dn what looked like a giant circular arena for chariot races.
Of course all of this had long since been abandoned and was half covered by the desert. This was the explorers' experience ever since they arrived at the Bay of Arguin. First, great mud banks in the ocean. Then dried up rivers, with dried mud and sand everywhere. They saw very few people, yet legends and rock art indicated far more people in the past (the Wet Sahara period). Finally, what looks like a gigantic man-made fortress, yet no signs of life. Surely some terrible catastrophe must have affected the land. And the vast quantities of mud suggested a great flood.
Imagine what the Richat Structure would have been like if it was man made! A fortress 200 stadia (25 miles) across! Wide circular moats suggest the need for great defenses, and also a huge navy. The large circular path suggests chariot races. What a city!
There can be no doubt that when Plato described Atlantis he was describing the Richat Structure. Because the design is so unusual, and he not only described it in detail but also its exact size (50 stadia from outer edge to main harbour, another 50 to the middle, makes 100 stadia radius, or 200 stadia (25 miles) across. Beyond that he correctly describes the size of the plain stretching down to the sea (3000 by 2000 stadia, or 330 x 250 miles). He correctly describes the mountain ridge, the size of the continent (larger than Libya and Asia combined - what other land mass could match?), the occupants (the Atlantes or Atlantia people) and every other detail. All he got wrong was assuming it was man made, because it looks so artificial.
Clearly such a huge city would be surrounded by farmland and bustling trade to provide their daily needs. And capital city of such an enormous size must surely have ruled the whole continent of Atlantis.
(Picture: Atlantis by Rocío Espín Piñar)
In hindsight we know this was all false. Modern science reveals that the Richat structure is made by nature, not man. But given the evidence available, "man made" was the most logical explanation. And this therefore implied a very large and very advanced society.
When the Phoenician explorers returned to Egypt, their discoveries would be the main topic of conversation among educated people. And a couple of years later Solon visited Egypt.
Solon was "the father of democracy". After laying down the laws of Athens he left the city to tour the world for ten years. Why? To make it impossible for the Athenians to make him change those laws. While in Egypt he happened to be discussing ancient history. The Greeks only knew history back to 1500 BC. A local priest overheard Solon talking of 1500 BC as ancient history, and decided Solon needed to know the history from before that time.
The priest knew how the Atlantes people had invaded the Mediterranean 9,000 years earlier. It was only natural to conclude that they were based at Atlantis. So he praised Athens for their role in that ancient war (or rather the role of their Aegean ancestors).
Solon and the priest discussed the political organisation of Atlantis, because Solon was a politician. The organisation of Atlantis could be inferred from the physical remains: such a large city would imply an extreme division of labour (as opposed to hunting and gathering), and also a large degree of stability, which in turn implies some kind of priesthood to instill rules. So they were able to discuss the artisans and priests of Atlantis: this was just logical deduction.
The priest and Solon discussed how nations can suddenly end, destroying all their records. For example, the Athenians could only remember as far as 1500 BC, when all previous records were destroyed in Deucalion's great flood. This probably referred to the tsunamis that followed the volcano that destroyed everything on the island of Thera. Note the massive hole in the middle of the island. Only the top of the volcano remains.
(Picture: John Martin, "The Destruction of Tyre")
More recently, around 1000 BC, the civilisation of Pavlopetri sank beneath the sea.
(Picture: adapted from the Wikimedia graphic by user Spiridon Ion Cepleanu.)
Back in 5600 BC, a vast area of the Black Sea was flooded. The Strait of Bosphorus burst, allowing the Mediterranean Sea to flood in. (Experts disagree over how quickly this happened, or its precise cause. But sea levels were definitely rising, flooding coastal cities.)
(Picture: my own work, based on ISS and SeaWiFS images.)
Archaeologists are always finding new evidence of ancient earthquakes or ancient sunken cities. And those are just the catastrophes near Athens. There would be many more in other parts of the world.
(Picture: Yonaguni Ruins by "Jpatokal", Creative Commons)
So in 9,000 years it was almost certain that some catastrophe would destroy your civilisation. Floods and earthquakes happen too quickly to save your historical records: they typically take place "in a night and a day" of terror.
(Picture: John Martin. "The Great Day of his Wrath")
Given that floods were to be expected, and given that the Bay of Arguin is surrounded by so much mud, and given that Atlantis did not have time to recover, a sudden flood was the only explanation:
"But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men [i.e. in Athens] in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island."
 "Afterwards" does not imply that these earthquakes happened on any particular date.
 "In like manner" does not imply that both are the same event.
The conclusion may be wrong in hindsight, but it was logical given the limited evidence available.
Note the emphasis on mud: "the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way". The priest's topic was mudslides and topsoil erosion. The reference to Atlantis sinking was merely a footnote at the end. Here is just some of the discussion on and soil erosion, from Plato's Critias:
Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left. But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, as they are termed by us, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to bees, not so very long ago there were still to be seen roofs of timber cut from trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, cultivated by man and bearing abundance of food for cattle. Moreover, the land reaped the benefit of the annual rainfall, not as now losing the water which flows off the bare earth into the sea, but, having an abundant supply in all places, and receiving it into herself and treasuring it up in the close clay soil, it let off into the hollows the streams which it absorbed from the heights, providing everywhere abundant fountains and rivers, of which there may still be observed sacred memorials in places where fountains once existed; and this proves the truth of what I am saying."
Scientists and historians should recognise this: this is not some fantasy about a global flood. It's a sobre, considered discussion of the long term problems of soil erosion.
(Picture: Washington State mudslide, public domain image from the White House website.)
And that is exactly what they saw in Atlantis. it was the first thing they experienced: "the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way". The mud banks surrounding the Bay of Arguin are very large, due to ancient soil washed down by the Tamanrasett. The coast at that point also has several small islands, just as Plato described.
Incidentally, notice on this 1743 map the village called "Caragoli Maurorum Pagus". That's Latin for "Caragoli Moorish village". "Moorish" just meant "from Mauritania - as in "Othello the Moor of Venice". This is a European map, intended for slave traders looking for new conquests. Calling it "Moorish Village" suggests this is an outsider's name for the region. "Caragoli" is Latin for spiral shape: when you stand on the ridge of the Adrar Plateau you would see gigantic concentric rock circles, twenty five miles across. When half covered by sand and seen from a shallow angle, they would easily appear to be spiral shaped. This village is positioned just where explorers saw their first dramatic view of Atlantis.
On the topic of mud and the location of Atlantis, Plato said the remains of the flood "became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean." For the mud to block the ocean beyond that point, voyagers must be sticking to the coast. Otherwise they could just sail around it.
(Picture: my work, adapted from the Wellcome Herodotus map)
Practically all ancient sea travel was by the coastline. Hence when someone says "opposite the Pillars of Hercules" they mean as "opposite, but still along the coast. Hence in Hanno's account:
"When we had got interpreters from the Lixites, we sailed along the desert shore for two days to the south. After sailing eastward for one day, we found in the recess of a bay a small island which had a circumference of five stades. We left settlers there and called it Kerne. We calculated from the journey that this island lay opposite Carthage, for the time sailing from Carthage to the Pillars and from there to Kerne was the same."
Plato says he heard the story of Atlantis when he was about ten years old. That is, around 417 BC. This date is crucial to understanding how he remembered the story. Consider the order of events:
(Picture: Gutav Dore and an old Bible)
(Picture: "Youth and Age" by Sir John Lavery, 1882)
This explains the emphasis on divine judgement, The priest spent most of his time speaking of topsoil erosion, the process they saw in the Bay of Anguin. But Plato's account emphasises the role of flooding as divine judgement.
Plato wrote his accounts of Atlantis late in his life. We can see that Plato added his own spin to events, and not just because we can check the archaeological record. Here are six ways that we can see Plato has either changed the history of Atlantis or at least changed its emphasis:
Plato intended this story for oratory at the theatre. This does not imply it is fictional, as ancient Greek theatres served many roles. But Plato had to keep the audience's attention. So less topsoil erosion, more dramatic floods.
Plato had to spend all night trying to reconstruct what he heard many decades earlier. So minor changes are inevitable:
"For a long time had elapsed, and I had forgotten too much; I thought that I must first of all run over the narrative in my own mind, and then I would speak. And so I readily assented to your request yesterday, considering that in all such cases the chief difficulty is to find a tale suitable to our purpose, and that with such a tale we should be fairly well provided. And therefore, as Hermocrates has told you, on my way home yesterday I at once communicated the tale to my companions as I remembered it; and after I left them, during the night by thinking I recovered nearly the whole it. Truly, as is often said, the lessons of our childhood make wonderful impression on our memories; for I am not sure that I could remember all the discourse of yesterday, but I should be much surprised if I forgot any of these things which I have heard very long ago."
Plato had to fill some gaps. For example, at ne point Plato explains "this I infer". That is, he says some things that were not in the text but he thought were implied.
Plato said the Egyptians translated the ancient names into Egyptian, and Solon translated them from Egyptian into Greek, based on what he understood them to mean. Take the reference to ships for example. The Egyptians used hieroglyphs. These are the Egyptian hieroglyphs for "boat" or "ship":
(Picture: from egyptianhieroglyphs.net
But in Plato's time, and for hundreds of years before, a fighting boat meant a three storey trireme.
(Picture: Greek Galleys from EDSITEment (public domain))
So a reference to reed boats became "The docks were full of triremes"!
Some of the numbers are so neat that it appears Plato (or somebody else) has taken the original numbers and analysed them very badly, creating nonsense. For example, Plato correctly notes that the Atlantis plain is 3,000 x 2,000 stadia (330 x 250 miles). He also observes that each family group needs an area of 10 x 10 stadia (about 1.5 square miles). These numbers can be checked, and are correct. The plan between the Bay of Arguin and the Richat Structure is indeed 330 x 250 miles. And studies of hunter gatherers indicate that, in a large hunter gatherer population, a typical family of 4 or 5 will need about 1.5 square miles.
However, Plato (or somebody) simply divides the area of the plain by the size needed per family, assuming the plan is packed with a solid grid of families, and comes up with 6,000 families. And it gets worse. Because Plato thinks they were building galleons and chariots, these families have to be whole villages. Suddenly Plato is imagining millions of people!
Plato spends a surprising amount of space discussing chariots. This makes sense when we remember his age and personality at the time. The name "Plato" was a wrestling name, given to him by his coach, Ariston of Argos. It means "mountain plateau", referring to his broad shoulders. Plato was the Dwayne Johnson ("The Rock") of his day. And the Atlantis story comes from when he was ten years old. So there's a very high chance that young Plato liked excitement! So when he heard of the ancient chariots (from the rock art) and the great circular path around the Richat Structure, there was only one logical conclusion!
"there was set apart a race-course of a stadium in width, and in length allowed to extend all round the island, for horses to race in"
Plato is generally considered the greatest philosopher of all time. He loved logic, and his history of Atlantis proves it. Plato (and Solon and Critias and the Egyuptian priest) looked at the evidence and simply applied logic. They knew of no natural processes that would create the Richat Structure. Therefore logic says it must be man made. And therefore the civilisation must be extremely large and advanced. Yet it disappeared. So lok at the evidence of the large quantities of mud and sand, and the numerous great floods in history, and a sudden flood was the most logical explanation. And so on. Everything was logical. But logic depends on evidence, and after Plato the evidecne took a different direction.
Plato died in 347 BC. Then in 334, Alexander the Great invaded Persia, and continued along toward India. For the first time, Greeks had a very good idea of how Europe joined to Asia. The idea that continents should be seen as islands, separated by wide rivers, became absurd. And as war technology improved, rivers were less and less of a barrier. From that moment nobody could think of Asia, or sub-saharan Africa as an island. The idea became absurd.
Around 330 BC, Pseudo-Scylax was published. This document was a guide to the world's coasts. Regarding west Africa, it summarised what had been discovered by the Phoenician colonies. People now knew of more than just the Bay of Anguin. Pseudo-Scylax does mention the coastal mud at the island of Kerne, but that was just one of many different coastal areas. Most areas were not dominated by mud. Africa was not covered in mud: there was no sign of a continent-wide flood.
Around 325 BC, Herodotus published his great works on history and geography. They included so many different tribes and stories, mainly what he had heard in his own travels. Clearly he knew nothng of the Younger Dryas or how the ancient Atlantes people moved east. To Herodotus and all subsequent generations, the Atlantes were just one of many different tribes. And the west Africans were referred to by their new name, Ethiopia, so nobody would make the link with Atlantia.
For two thousand years Atlantis remained a mystery. People thought it could not be west Africa, because West Africa was not an island, nor did it sink. Then in 1816 a French scholar made a tiny error that changed everything. He mistakenly linked two completely unrelated quotes and made it look like Aristotle did not believe in Atlantis.
Ever since Delambre, scholars have confused these two quotations and wrongly believed that Aristotle rejected Atlantis. For example, Wikipedia states that "Aristotle believed that Plato, his teacher, had invented the island to teach philosophy."
Wikipedia quotes "Galaxy Science Fiction" as its source. Apparently Aristotle did not read Galaxy Science Fiction, and didn't know he was supposed to reject Atlantis, because all his own works indcate that he considered Atlantis to be historical. For a thorough examination of all the evidence see "Aristotle and Atlantis" by Thorwald C. Franke. Or watch his video for an overview.
And so we come to today. Most scholars are in the same position as medieval peasants they have heard that "Aristotle says so and so" and they take it as gospel, having never checked for themselves. But luckily we can check if we want to:
All the evidence is there if we only bother to look. And that wraps up the history of Atlantis. It turns out that Plato was right, mostly. According to archaeology, Atlantes probably did attack Egypt in 9000 BC. According to archaeology the empire of Egypt really did begin in 8,000 BC. And anybody who cares to look can see the 25 mile wide city and its surrounding lands exactly as Plato described them. As for the less important details where Plato was wrong he was merely examining the available evidence and applying logic. Which is more than can be said for his modern critics.
I will leave the last word to Solon's unnamed Egyptian Priest. What he said to Solon still applies to modern historians.
Thank you for reading.
Such are the tribes of wandering Libyans dwelling upon the sea-coast. Above them inland is the wild-beast tract: and beyond that, a ridge of sand, reaching from Egyptian Thebes to the Pillars of Hercules. Throughout this ridge, at the distance of about ten days' journey from one another, heaps of salt in large lumps lie upon hills. [...]
Of these nations the first is that of the Ammonians, who dwell at a distance of ten days' from Thebes [...]
Next to the Ammonians, at the distance of ten days' journey along the ridge of sand, there is a second salt-hill like the Ammonian, and a second spring. The country round is inhabited, and the place bears the name of Augila. Hither it is that the Nasamonians come to gather in the dates.
Ten days' journey from Augila there is again a salt-hill and a spring; palms of the fruitful kind grow here abundantly, as they do also at the other salt-hills. This region is inhabited by a nation called the Garamantians, a very powerful people, who cover the salt with mould, and then sow their crops. [...]
At the distance of ten days' journey from the Garamantians there is again another salt-hill and spring of water; around which dwell a people, called the Atarantians, who alone of all known nations are destitute of names.[...]
Once more at the distance of ten days' there is a salt-hill, a spring, and an inhabited tract. Near the salt is a mountain called Atlas, very taper and round; so lofty, moreover, that the top (it is said) cannot be seen, the clouds never quitting it either summer or winter. The natives call this mountain "the Pillar of Heaven"; and they themselves take their name from it, being called Atlantes. They are reported not to eat any living thing, and never to have any dreams.
As far as the Atlantes the names of the nations inhabiting the sandy ridge are known to me; but beyond them my knowledge fails. The ridge itself extends as far as the Pillars of Hercules, and even further than these; and throughout the whole distance, at the end of every ten days' there is a salt-mine, with people dwelling round it who all of them build their houses with blocks of the salt. No rain falls in these parts of Libya; if it were otherwise, the walls of these houses could not stand. The salt quarried is of two colours, white and purple. Beyond the ridge, southwards, in the direction of the interior, the country is a desert, with no springs, no beasts, no rain, no wood, and altogether destitute of moisture.
(Herodotus: The Histories, Book IV.)
In ancient times, "Ethiopia" referred to the whole of Africa south of Libya and Egypt. Pliny states that it was previously called Atlantia:
"The whole of this country has successively had the names of Ætheria, Atlantia, and last of all, Æthiopia"
(Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, chapter 35, "Ethopia".)
Recall that Plato's Atlantis was west, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with temples dedicated to Poseidon.
"But now Poseidon had gone to visit the Ethiopians worlds away, Ethiopians off at the farthest limits of mankind, a people split in two, one part where the Sungod sets and part where the Sungod rises."
(Homer, Odyssey 1.21-25)
"But now Poseidon, god of the earthquake, saw him just returning home from his Ethiopian friends, from miles away on the Solymi mountain-range he spied Odysseus sailing down the sea and it made his fury boil even more. He shook his head and rumbled to himself, Outrageous! Look how the gods have changed their minds about Odysseus "while I was off with my Ethiopians"
(Homer, Odyssey 5.281-287)
"Only yesterday Zeus went off to the Ocean River to feast with the Aethiopians, loyal, lordly men, and all of the gods went with him."
(Homer, Iliad 1.423-4)
This ancient summary of Homer's Odyssey shows that "Atlantis" simply means "daughter of Atlantis", no more, no less:
"After brief pleasure in wedlock with Atlantis (Daughter of Atlas) [i.e. Kalypso], he [Odysseus] dares set foot in his offhand vessel."
(Lycophron, Alexandra 743) (Translated by Mair.
The translator, Mair (Gilbert Robinson Mair? Alexander William Mair?) left in the Greek word "Atlantis". But in other translations the word is translated into "daughter of Atlas". Clearly there is no distinction between the two. With that in mind, this is from the introduction to the Odyssey: it explains how Odysseus was a captive in the land of Calypso, i.e. the land of the daughter of Atlas. In other words, he was in Atlantis. This daughter of Atlas (Atlantis) no doubt had many islands, and this one is called Ogygia.
"The tale begins when all those who had escaped the pit of destruction [the war at Troy] were safe in their own lands, spared by the wars and seas. Only Odysseus was held elsewhere, pining for home and wife; the Nymphe Kalypso (Calypso), a goddess of strange power and beauty, had kept him captive within her arching caverns, yearning for him to be her husband. And when there came with revolving seasons the year that the gods had set for his journey home to Ithaka, not even then was he past his troubles, not even then was he with his own people. For though all the gods beside had compassion on him, Poseidon's anger was unabated against the hero until he returned to his own land . . .
The other gods were gathered together [in council] in the palace of Olympian Zeus . . . Athene, goddess of gleaming eyes made answer : ‘. . . It is for Odysseus my heart is wrung--so subtle a man and so ill-starred; he has long been far from everything that he loves, desolate in a wave-washed island, a wooded island, the navel of all the seas. A goddess has made her dwelling there whose father is Atlas the magician; he knows the depths of all the seas, and he, no other, guards the tall pillars that keep the sky and the earth apart. His daughter it is who keeps poor Odysseus pining there, and who seeks continually with her soft and coaxing words to beguile him into forgetting Ithaka; but he--he would be well content to see even the smoke rising up from his own land, and he longs to die . . . O son of Kronos (Cronus), father of us and sovereign ruler, if indeed the blessed gods now wish that shrewd Odysseus should come to his own land again, then let us instruct the radiant Hermes, the Messenger, to go to the island of Ogygia and without delay to tell the Nymphe of the braided tresses our firm decree that staunch Odysseus is to depart and journey home.’"
(Homer, Odyssey 1, 14)
"[After leaving Calypso] For seventeen days then he sailed over the sea, and on the eighteenth appeared the shadowy mountains of the land of the Phaeacians."
(Homer, Odyssey V, 277-281)
Diodorus Siculus and other ancient writers also refer to Atlantis. But they are probably just restating what they understand (or misunderstand) from Plato. I prefer the earliest sources, such as Homer, or those with original information, such as Herodotus.
Libya is washed on all sides by the sea except where it joins Asia, as was first demonstrated, so far as our knowledge goes, by the Egyptian king Necho, who, after calling off the construction of the canal between the Nile and the Arabian Gulf, sent out a fleet manned by a Phoenician crew with orders to sail west about and return to Egypt and the Mediterranean by way of the Straits of Gibraltar. The Phoenicians sailed from the Arabian Gulf into the southern ocean, and every autumn put in at some convenient spot on the Libyan coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for next year's harvest. Then, having got in their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Heracles in the course of the third, and returned to Egypt. These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya, they had the sun on their right - to northward of them. This is how Libya was first discovered by sea."
(Herodotus, Histories 4.42; translated by Aubrey de Solincourt.)
In ancient timees, ships were dug-out canoes that did not venture out into the ocean. So oceans and rivers were thought to be very similar. This has three implications for locating Atlantis. First, the ocean itself was just a wide river, so it only had space for small islands, not islands "bigger than Libya and Asia combined." Second, all land (including undiscovered lands) must be in a circle in the middle of the ocean river. Third, all rivers come from underground springs that originate in the ocean (the ocean further out was assumed to be fresh water). So rivers were part of the ocean. If a river cut Africa in two it was like the iocena cutting Africa in two, making Africa into two islands.
"[The] streams are many and great and of all sorts, but among the many are four streams, the greatest and outermost of which is that called Okeanos, which flows round in a circle, and opposite this, flowing in the opposite direction, is [the underworld river] Akheron (Acheron), which flows through various desert places and, passing under the earth, comes to the Akherousian (Acherusian) Lake."
(Plato, Phaedo 112e)
"The enormous strength of Okeanos (Okeanus) with his deep-running waters, Okeanos,
from whom all rivers are and the entire sea and all springs and all deep wells have their waters of him."
(Homer, Iliad 21. 194)
"Okeanos the completely encircling river."
(Hesiod, Theogony 241)
"It [the Styx] is one horn of the Okeanos stream, and travels off that holy river a great course through night's blackness under the wide-wayed earth, and this water is a tenth part of all, for in nine loops of silver-swirling waters, around the earth and the sea's wide ridges he [Okeanos] tumbles into the salt water [i.e. the sea], but this stream [the Styx] greatly vexing the gods runs off the precipice."
(Hesiod, Theogony 787)
"Okeanos whose nature ever flows, from whom at first both gods and men arose; sire incorruptible, whose waves surround, and earth's all-terminating circle bound : hence every river, hence the spreading sea, and earth's pure bubbling fountains spring from thee. Hear, mighty sire, for boundless bliss is thine, greatest cathartic of the powers divine : earth's friendly limit, fountain of the pole, whose waves wide spreading and circumfluent roll. Approach benevolent, with placid mind, and be forever to thy mystics kind."
(Orphic Hymn 83 to Okeanus)
Listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages. He was a relative and a dear friend of my great-grandfather, Dropides, as he himself says in many passages of his poems; and he told the story to Critias, my grandfather, who remembered and repeated it to us. There were of old, he said, great and marvellous actions of the Athenian city, which have passed into oblivion through lapse of time and the destruction of mankind, and one in particular, greater than all the rest. This we will now rehearse. It will be a fitting monument of our gratitude to you, and a hymn of praise true and worthy of the goddess, on this her day of festival.
Soc. Very good. And what is this ancient famous action of the Athenians, which Critias declared, on the authority of Solon, to be not a mere legend, but an actual fact?
Crit. I will tell an old-world story which I heard from an aged man; for Critias, at the time of telling it, was as he said, nearly ninety years of age, and I was about ten. Now the day was that day of the Apaturia which is called the Registration of Youth, at which, according to custom, our parents gave prizes for recitations, and the poems of several poets were recited by us boys, and many of us sang the poems of Solon, which at that time had not gone out of fashion. One of our tribe, either because he thought so or to please Critias, said that in his judgment Solon was not only the wisest of men, but also the noblest of poets. The old man, as I very well remember, brightened up at hearing this and said, smiling: Yes, Amynander, if Solon had only, like other poets, made poetry the business of his life, and had completed the tale which he brought with him from Egypt, and had not been compelled, by reason of the factions and troubles which he found stirring in his own country when he came home, to attend to other matters, in my opinion he would have been as famous as Homer or Hesiod, or any poet.
And what was the tale about, Critias? said Amynander.
About the greatest action which the Athenians ever did, and which ought to have been the most famous, but, through the lapse of time and the destruction of the actors, it has not come down to us.
Tell us, said the other, the whole story, and how and from whom Solon heard this veritable tradition.
He replied:-In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the river Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis came. The citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same whom the Hellenes call Athene; they are great lovers of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them. To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour; he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world-about Phoroneus, who is called "the first man"; and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha; [Deucalion is , about 1500 BC, that is, the time when the volcanic destruction of Thera caused massive waves to devastate Greece.] and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.
The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or of summer does not prevent, mankind exist, sometimes in greater, sometimes in lesser numbers. And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed-if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children. In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones; in the next place, you do not know that there formerly dwelt in your land the fairest and noblest race of men which ever lived, and that you and your whole city are descended from a small seed or remnant of them which survived. And this was unknown to you, because, for many generations, the survivors of that destruction died, leaving no written word. For there was a time, Solon, before the great deluge of all, when the city which now is Athens was first in war and in every way the best governed of all cities, is said to have performed the noblest deeds and to have had the fairest constitution of any of which tradition tells, under the face of heaven.
Solon marvelled at his words, and earnestly requested the priests to inform him exactly and in order about these former citizens. You are welcome to hear about them, Solon, said the priest, both for your own sake and for that of your city, and above all, for the sake of the goddess who is the common patron and parent and educator of both our cities. She founded your city a thousand years before ours, receiving from the Earth and Hephaestus the seed of your race, and afterwards she founded ours, of which the constitution is recorded in our sacred registers to be eight thousand years old. As touching your citizens of nine thousand years ago, I will briefly inform you of their laws and of their most famous action; the exact particulars of the whole we will hereafter go through at our leisure in the sacred registers themselves. If you compare these very laws with ours you will find that many of ours are the counterpart of yours as they were in the olden time. In the first place, there is the caste of priests, which is separated from all the others; next, there are the artificers, who ply their several crafts by themselves and do not intermix; and also there is the class of shepherds and of hunters, as well as that of husbandmen; and you will observe, too, that the warriors in Egypt are distinct from all the other classes, and are commanded by the law to devote themselves solely to military pursuits; moreover, the weapons which they carry are shields and spears, a style of equipment which the goddess taught of Asiatics first to us, as in your part of the world first to you. Then as to wisdom, do you observe how our law from the very first made a study of the whole order of things, extending even to prophecy and medicine which gives health, out of these divine elements deriving what was needful for human life, and adding every sort of knowledge which was akin to them. All this order and arrangement the goddess first imparted to you when establishing your city; and she chose the spot of earth in which you were born, because she saw that the happy temperament of the seasons in that land would produce the wisest of men. Wherefore the goddess, who was a lover both of war and of wisdom, selected and first of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men likest herself. And there you dwelt, having such laws as these and still better ones, and excelled all mankind in all virtue, as became the children and disciples of the gods.
Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of [other translations say "opposite"] the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
I have told you briefly, Socrates, what the aged Critias heard from Solon and related to us. And when you were speaking yesterday about your city and citizens, the tale which I have just been repeating to you came into my mind, and I remarked with astonishment how, by some mysterious coincidence, you agreed in almost every particular with the narrative of Solon; but I did not like to speak at the moment. For a long time had elapsed, and I had forgotten too much; I thought that I must first of all run over the narrative in my own mind, and then I would speak. And so I readily assented to your request yesterday, considering that in all such cases the chief difficulty is to find a tale suitable to our purpose, and that with such a tale we should be fairly well provided.
And therefore, as Hermocrates has told you, on my way home yesterday I at once communicated the tale to my companions as I remembered it; and after I left them, during the night by thinking I recovered nearly the whole it. Truly, as is often said, the lessons of our childhood make wonderful impression on our memories; for I am not sure that I could remember all the discourse of yesterday, but I should be much surprised if I forgot any of these things which I have heard very long ago.
Let me begin by observing first of all, that nine thousand was the sum of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them; this war I am going to describe. Of the combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying [implying that this dialgue comes after Timaeus], was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean. The progress of the history will unfold the various nations of barbarians and families of Hellenes which then existed, as they successively appear on the scene; but I must describe first of all Athenians of that day, and their enemies who fought with them, and then the respective powers and governments of the two kingdoms. Let us give the precedence to Athens.
In the days of old the gods had the whole earth distributed among them by allotment. There was no quarrelling; for you cannot rightly suppose that the gods did not know what was proper for each of them to have, or, knowing this, that they would seek to procure for themselves by contention that which more properly belonged to others. They all of them by just apportionment obtained what they wanted, and peopled their own districts; and when they had peopled them they tended us, their nurselings and possessions, as shepherds tend their flocks, excepting only that they did not use blows or bodily force, as shepherds do, but governed us like pilots from the stern of the vessel, which is an easy way of guiding animals, holding our souls by the rudder of persuasion according to their own pleasure;-thus did they guide all mortal creatures. Now different gods had their allotments in different places which they set in order. Hephaestus and Athene, who were brother and sister, and sprang from the same father, having a common nature, and being united also in the love of philosophy and art, both obtained as their common portion this land, which was naturally adapted for wisdom and virtue; and there they implanted brave children of the soil, and put into their minds the order of government; their names are preserved, but their actions have disappeared by reason of the destruction of those who received the tradition, and the lapse of ages. For when there were any survivors, as I have already said, they were men who dwelt in the mountains; and they were ignorant of the art of writing, and had heard only the names of the chiefs of the land, but very little about their actions. The names they were willing enough to give to their children; but the virtues and the laws of their predecessors, they knew only by obscure traditions; and as they themselves and their children lacked for many generations the necessaries of life, they directed their attention to the supply of their wants, and of them they conversed, to the neglect of events that had happened in times long past; for mythology and the enquiry into antiquity are first introduced into cities when they begin to have leisure, and when they see that the necessaries of life have already been provided, but not before. And this is reason why the names of the ancients have been preserved to us and not their actions. This I infer because Solon said that the priests in their narrative of that war mentioned most of the names which are recorded prior to the time of Theseus, such as Cecrops, and Erechtheus, and Erichthonius, and Erysichthon, and the names of the women in like manner. Moreover, since military pursuits were then common to men and women, the men of those days in accordance with the custom of the time set up a figure and image of the goddess in full armour, to be a testimony that all animals which associate together, male as well as female, may, if they please, practise in common the virtue which belongs to them without distinction of sex.
Now the country was inhabited in those days by various classes of citizens;-there were artisans, and there were husbandmen, and there was also a warrior class originally set apart by divine men. The latter dwelt by themselves, and had all things suitable for nurture and education; neither had any of them anything of their own, but they regarded all that they had as common property; nor did they claim to receive of the other citizens anything more than their necessary food. And they practised all the pursuits which we yesterday described as those of our imaginary guardians. Concerning the country the Egyptian priests said what is not only probable but manifestly true, that the boundaries were in those days fixed by the Isthmus, and that in the direction of the continent they extended as far as the heights of Cithaeron and Parnes; the boundary line came down in the direction of the sea, having the district of Oropus on the right, and with the river Asopus as the limit on the left. The land was the best in the world, and was therefore able in those days to support a vast army, raised from the surrounding people. Even the remnant of Attica which now exists may compare with any region in the world for the variety and excellence of its fruits and the suitableness of its pastures to every sort of animal, which proves what I am saying; but in those days the country was fair as now and yielded far more abundant produce. How shall I establish my words? and what part of it can be truly called a remnant of the land that then was? The whole country is only a long promontory extending far into the sea away from the rest of the continent, while the surrounding basin of the sea is everywhere deep in the neighbourhood of the shore. Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left. But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, as they are termed by us, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to bees, not so very long ago there were still to be seen roofs of timber cut from trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, cultivated by man and bearing abundance of food for cattle. Moreover, the land reaped the benefit of the annual rainfall, not as now losing the water which flows off the bare earth into the sea, but, having an abundant supply in all places, and receiving it into herself and treasuring it up in the close clay soil, it let off into the hollows the streams which it absorbed from the heights, providing everywhere abundant fountains and rivers, of which there may still be observed sacred memorials in places where fountains once existed; and this proves the truth of what I am saying.
Such was the natural state of the country, which was cultivated, as we may well believe, by true husbandmen, who made husbandry their business, and were lovers of honour, and of a noble nature, and had a soil the best in the world, and abundance of water, and in the heaven above an excellently attempered climate. Now the city in those days was arranged on this wise. In the first place the Acropolis was not as now. For the fact is that a single night of excessive rain washed away the earth and laid bare the rock; at the same time there were earthquakes, and then occurred the extraordinary inundation, which was the third before the great destruction of Deucalion. But in primitive times the hill of the Acropolis extended to the Eridanus and Ilissus, and included the Pnyx on one side, and the Lycabettus as a boundary on the opposite side to the Pnyx, and was all well covered with soil, and level at the top, except in one or two places. Outside the Acropolis and under the sides of the hill there dwelt artisans, and such of the husbandmen as were tilling the ground near; the warrior class dwelt by themselves around the temples of Athene and Hephaestus at the summit, which moreover they had enclosed with a single fence like the garden of a single house. On the north side they had dwellings in common and had erected halls for dining in winter, and had all the buildings which they needed for their common life, besides temples, but there was no adorning of them with gold and silver, for they made no use of these for any purpose; they took a middle course between meanness and ostentation, and built modest houses in which they and their children's children grew old, and they handed them down to others who were like themselves, always the same. But in summer-time they left their gardens and gymnasia and dining halls, and then the southern side of the hill was made use of by them for the same purpose. Where the Acropolis now is there was a fountain, which was choked by the earthquake, and has left only the few small streams which still exist in the vicinity, but in those days the fountain gave an abundant supply of water for all and of suitable temperature in summer and in winter. This is how they dwelt, being the guardians of their own citizens and the leaders of the Hellenes, who were their willing followers. And they took care to preserve the same number of men and women through all time, being so many as were required for warlike purposes, then as now-that is to say, about twenty thousand. Such were the ancient Athenians, and after this manner they righteously administered their own land and the rest of Hellas; they were renowned all over Europe and Asia for the beauty of their persons and for the many virtues of their souls, and of all men who lived in those days they were the most illustrious. And next, if I have not forgotten what I heard when I was a child, I will impart to you the character and origin of their adversaries. For friends should not keep their stories to themselves, but have them in common.
Yet, before proceeding further in the narrative, I ought to warn you, that you must not be surprised if you should perhaps hear Hellenic names given to foreigners. I will tell you the reason of this: Solon, who was intending to use the tale for his poem, enquired into the meaning of the names, and found that the early Egyptians in writing them down had translated them into their own language, and he recovered the meaning of the several names and when copying them out again translated them into our language. My great-grandfather, Dropides, had the original writing, which is still in my possession, and was carefully studied by me when I was a child. Therefore if you hear names such as are used in this country, you must not be surprised, for I have told how they came to be introduced. The tale, which was of great length, began as follows:-
I have before remarked in speaking of the allotments of the gods, that they distributed the whole earth into portions differing in extent, and made for themselves temples and instituted sacrifices. And Poseidon, receiving for his lot the island of Atlantis, begat children by a mortal woman, and settled them in a part of the island, which I will describe. Looking towards the sea, but in the centre of the whole island, there was a plain which is said to have been the fairest of all plains and very fertile. Near the plain again, and also in the centre of the island at a distance of about fifty stadia, there was a mountain not very high on any side.
In this mountain there dwelt one of the earth born primeval men of that country, whose name was Evenor, and he had a wife named Leucippe, and they had an only daughter who was called Cleito. The maiden had already reached womanhood, when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in love with her and had intercourse with her, and breaking the ground, inclosed the hill in which she dwelt all round, making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre, so that no man could get to the island, for ships and voyages were not as yet. He himself, being a god, found no difficulty in making special arrangements for the centre island, bringing up two springs of water from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold, and making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil. He also begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children; and dividing the island of Atlantis into ten portions, he gave to the first-born of the eldest pair his mother's dwelling and the surrounding allotment, which was the largest and best, and made him king over the rest; the others he made princes, and gave them rule over many men, and a large territory. And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he named Atlas, and after him the whole island and the ocean were called Atlantic. To his twin brother, who was born after him, and obtained as his lot the extremity of the island towards the Pillars of Heracles, facing the country which is now called the region of Gades in that part of the world, he gave the name which in the Hellenic language is Eumelus, in the language of the country which is named after him, Gadeirus. Of the second pair of twins he called one Ampheres, and the other Evaemon. To the elder of the third pair of twins he gave the name Mneseus, and Autochthon to the one who followed him. Of the fourth pair of twins he called the elder Elasippus, and the younger Mestor. And of the fifth pair he gave to the elder the name of Azaes, and to the younger that of Diaprepes. All these and their descendants for many generations were the inhabitants and rulers of divers islands in the open sea; and also, as has been already said, they held sway in our direction over the country within the Pillars as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia.
Now Atlas had a numerous and honourable family, and they retained the kingdom, the eldest son handing it on to his eldest for many generations; and they had such an amount of wealth as was never before possessed by kings and potentates, and is not likely ever to be again, and they were furnished with everything which they needed, both in the city and country. For because of the greatness of their empire many things were brought to them from foreign countries, and the island itself provided most of what was required by them for the uses of life. In the first place, they dug out of the earth whatever was to be found there, solid as well as fusile, and that which is now only a name and was then something more than a name, orichalcum, was dug out of the earth in many parts of the island, being more precious in those days than anything except gold. There was an abundance of wood for carpenter's work, and sufficient maintenance for tame and wild animals. Moreover, there were a great number of elephants in the island; for as there was provision for all other sorts of animals, both for those which live in lakes and marshes and rivers, and also for those which live in mountains and on plains, so there was for the animal which is the largest and most voracious of all. Also whatever fragrant things there now are in the earth, whether roots, or herbage, or woods, or essences which distil from fruit and flower, grew and thrived in that land; also the fruit which admits of cultivation, both the dry sort, which is given us for nourishment and any other which we use for food-we call them all by the common name pulse, and the fruits having a hard rind, affording drinks and meats and ointments, and good store of chestnuts and the like, which furnish pleasure and amusement, and are fruits which spoil with keeping, and the pleasant kinds of dessert, with which we console ourselves after dinner, when we are tired of eating-all these that sacred island which then beheld the light of the sun, brought forth fair and wondrous and in infinite abundance. With such blessings the earth freely furnished them; meanwhile they went on constructing their temples and palaces and harbours and docks. And they arranged the whole country in the following manner:
First of all they bridged over the zones of sea which surrounded the ancient metropolis, making a road to and from the royal palace. And at the very beginning they built the palace in the habitation of the god and of their ancestors, which they continued to ornament in successive generations, every king surpassing the one who went before him to the utmost of his power, until they made the building a marvel to behold for size and for beauty. And beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone, making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find ingress. Moreover, they divided at the bridges the zones of land which parted the zones of sea, leaving room for a single trireme to pass out of one zone into another, and they covered over the channels so as to leave a way underneath for the ships; for the banks were raised considerably above the water. Now the largest of the zones into which a passage was cut from the sea was three stadia in breadth, and the zone of land which came next of equal breadth; but the next two zones, the one of water, the other of land, were two stadia, and the one which surrounded the central island was a stadium only in width. The island in which the palace was situated had a diameter of five stadia. All this including the zones and the bridge, which was the sixth part of a stadium in width, they surrounded by a stone wall on every side, placing towers and gates on the bridges where the sea passed in. The stone which was used in the work they quarried from underneath the centre island, and from underneath the zones, on the outer as well as the inner side. One kind was white, another black, and a third red, and as they quarried, they at the same time hollowed out double docks, having roofs formed out of the native rock. Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, varying the colour to please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum.
The palaces in the interior of the citadel were constructed on this wise:-in the centre was a holy temple dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon, which remained inaccessible, and was surrounded by an enclosure of gold; this was the spot where the family of the ten princes first saw the light, and thither the people annually brought the fruits of the earth in their season from all the ten portions, to be an offering to each of the ten. Here was Poseidon's own temple which was a stadium in length, and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height, having a strange barbaric appearance. All the outside of the temple, with the exception of the pinnacles, they covered with silver, and the pinnacles with gold. In the interior of the temple the roof was of ivory, curiously wrought everywhere with gold and silver and orichalcum; and all the other parts, the walls and pillars and floor, they coated with orichalcum. In the temple they placed statues of gold: there was the god himself standing in a chariot-the charioteer of six winged horses-and of such a size that he touched the roof of the building with his head; around him there were a hundred Nereids riding on dolphins, for such was thought to be the number of them by the men of those days. There were also in the interior of the temple other images which had been dedicated by private persons. And around the temple on the outside were placed statues of gold of all the descendants of the ten kings and of their wives, and there were many other great offerings of kings and of private persons, coming both from the city itself and from the foreign cities over which they held sway. There was an altar too, which in size and workmanship corresponded to this magnificence, and the palaces, in like manner, answered to the greatness of the kingdom and the glory of the temple.
In the next place, they had fountains, one of cold and another of hot water, in gracious plenty flowing; and they were wonderfully adapted for use by reason of the pleasantness and excellence of their waters. They constructed buildings about them and planted suitable trees, also they made cisterns, some open to the heavens, others roofed over, to be used in winter as warm baths; there were the kings' baths, and the baths of private persons, which were kept apart; and there were separate baths for women, and for horses and cattle, and to each of them they gave as much adornment as was suitable. Of the water which ran off they carried some to the grove of Poseidon, where were growing all manner of trees of wonderful height and beauty, owing to the excellence of the soil, while the remainder was conveyed by aqueducts along the bridges to the outer circles; and there were many temples built and dedicated to many gods; also gardens and places of exercise, some for men, and others for horses in both of the two islands formed by the zones; and in the centre of the larger of the two there was set apart a race-course of a stadium in width, and in length allowed to extend all round the island, for horses to race in. Also there were guardhouses at intervals for the guards, the more trusted of whom were appointed-to keep watch in the lesser zone, which was nearer the Acropolis while the most trusted of all had houses given them within the citadel, near the persons of the kings. The docks were full of triremes and naval stores, and all things were quite ready for use. Enough of the plan of the royal palace.
Leaving the palace and passing out across the three you came to a wall which began at the sea and went all round: this was everywhere distant fifty stadia from the largest zone or harbour, and enclosed the whole, the ends meeting at the mouth of the channel which led to the sea. The entire area was densely crowded with habitations; and the canal and the largest of the harbours were full of vessels and merchants coming from all parts, who, from their numbers, kept up a multitudinous sound of human voices, and din and clatter of all sorts night and day.
I have described the city and the environs of the ancient palace nearly in the words of Solon, and now I must endeavour to represent the nature and arrangement of the rest of the land. The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia, but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north. The surrounding mountains were celebrated for their number and size and beauty, far beyond any which still exist, having in them also many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers, and lakes, and meadows supplying food enough for every animal, wild or tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind of work.
I will now describe the plain, as it was fashioned by nature and by the labours of many generations of kings through long ages. It was for the most part rectangular and oblong, and where falling out of the straight line followed the circular ditch. The depth, and width, and length of this ditch were incredible, and gave the impression that a work of such extent, in addition to so many others, could never have been artificial. Nevertheless I must say what I was told. It was excavated to the depth of a hundred, feet, and its breadth was a stadium everywhere; it was carried round the whole of the plain, and was ten thousand stadia in length. It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea. Further inland, likewise, straight canals of a hundred feet in width were cut from it through the plain, and again let off into the ditch leading to the sea: these canals were at intervals of a hundred stadia, and by them they brought down the wood from the mountains to the city, and conveyed the fruits of the earth in ships, cutting transverse passages from one canal into another, and to the city. Twice in the year they gathered the fruits of the earth-in winter having the benefit of the rains of heaven, and in summer the water which the land supplied by introducing streams from the canals.
As to the population, each of the lots in the plain had to find a leader for the men who were fit for military service, and the size of a lot was a square of ten stadia each way, and the total number of all the lots was sixty thousand. And of the inhabitants of the mountains and of the rest of the country there was also a vast multitude, which was distributed among the lots and had leaders assigned to them according to their districts and villages. The leader was required to furnish for the war the sixth portion of a war-chariot, so as to make up a total of ten thousand chariots; also two horses and riders for them, and a pair of chariot-horses without a seat, accompanied by a horseman who could fight on foot carrying a small shield, and having a charioteer who stood behind the man-at-arms to guide the two horses; also, he was bound to furnish two heavy armed soldiers, two slingers, three stone-shooters and three javelin-men, who were light-armed, and four sailors to make up the complement of twelve hundred ships. Such was the military order of the royal city-the order of the other nine governments varied, and it would be wearisome to recount their several differences.
As to offices and honours, the following was the arrangement from the first. Each of the ten kings in his own division and in his own city had the absolute control of the citizens, and, in most cases, of the laws, punishing and slaying whomsoever he would. Now the order of precedence among them and their mutual relations were regulated by the commands of Poseidon which the law had handed down. These were inscribed by the first kings on a pillar of orichalcum, which was situated in the middle of the island, at the temple of Poseidon, whither the kings were gathered together every fifth and every sixth year alternately, thus giving equal honour to the odd and to the even number. And when they were gathered together they consulted about their common interests, and enquired if any one had transgressed in anything and passed judgment and before they passed judgment they gave their pledges to one another on this wise:-There were bulls who had the range of the temple of Poseidon; and the ten kings, being left alone in the temple, after they had offered prayers to the god that they might capture the victim which was acceptable to him, hunted the bulls, without weapons but with staves and nooses; and the bull which they caught they led up to the pillar and cut its throat over the top of it so that the blood fell upon the sacred inscription. Now on the pillar, besides the laws, there was inscribed an oath invoking mighty curses on the disobedient. When therefore, after slaying the bull in the accustomed manner, they had burnt its limbs, they filled a bowl of wine and cast in a clot of blood for each of them; the rest of the victim they put in the fire, after having purified the column all round. Then they drew from the bowl in golden cups and pouring a libation on the fire, they swore that they would judge according to the laws on the pillar, and would punish him who in any point had already transgressed them, and that for the future they would not, if they could help, offend against the writing on the pillar, and would neither command others, nor obey any ruler who commanded them, to act otherwise than according to the laws of their father Poseidon. This was the prayer which each of them-offered up for himself and for his descendants, at the same time drinking and dedicating the cup out of which he drank in the temple of the god; and after they had supped and satisfied their needs, when darkness came on, and the fire about the sacrifice was cool, all of them put on most beautiful azure robes, and, sitting on the ground, at night, over the embers of the sacrifices by which they had sworn, and extinguishing all the fire about the temple, they received and gave judgment, if any of them had an accusation to bring against any one; and when they given judgment, at daybreak they wrote down their sentences on a golden tablet, and dedicated it together with their robes to be a memorial.
There were many special laws affecting the several kings inscribed about the temples, but the most important was the following: They were not to take up arms against one another, and they were all to come to the rescue if any one in any of their cities attempted to overthrow the royal house; like their ancestors, they were to deliberate in common about war and other matters, giving the supremacy to the descendants of Atlas. And the king was not to have the power of life and death over any of his kinsmen unless he had the assent of the majority of the ten.
Such was the vast power which the god settled in the lost island of Atlantis; and this he afterwards directed against our land for the following reasons, as tradition tells: For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them. By such reflections and by the continuance in them of a divine nature, the qualities which we have described grew and increased among them; but when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased, for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous power. Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows-*
[The rest of the Dialogue of Critias has been lost.]