GERRHOS

The most important point of the geodetic square of Scythia is that called Gerrhos, which is on the meridian of the Eastern Axis of Egypt (32°38’E), the line that divides the square into two parts. This meridian touches the mouth of the Boristhenes (the Dnieper) and the point Gerrhos is considered the source of the Boristhenes. This point is at latitude 55°12’N, on the northern line of the square.

The Eastern Axis of Egypt terminates to the north of the point called in Greek Gerrhon, “swamp of reeds,” which is the most important boundary point of Egypt, as the story of the Hebrew Exodus indicates. Exactly 24° to the north of this point there was in Scythia a Gerrhos which was considered the source of the Boristhenes or Dnieper. In the words of Herodotus (IV.53): As far inland as the place named Gerrhos, which is distant forty days’ voyage from the sea, its course is known, and its direction is from north to south; but above this, no one has traced it, so as to say through what countries it flows. It enters the territory of the Scythian Husbandmen after running for some time through a desert region. . . It is the only river besides the Nile the sources of which are unknown. . .”

Since Herodotus is always careful to distinguish information expressed in the form of mythos from that expressed in the form of logos, he states that Gerrhos is the known source of the Boristhenes, but that the sources of the Boristhenes, like those of the Nile (meaning the mythical Nile) are unknown. This means that in mythical terms the course of the Boristhenes, like that of the Nile, continued beyond its real source.

The point Gerrhos was chosen as the starting point of the Boristhenes or Dnieper because there the river passed through a significant geographical position, but actually the river continues somewhat to the north. Probably in mythology the Boristhenes was conceived as extending all the way to the north following the course of the Volkhov, which ends at Lake Ladoga. This lake at latitude 63°N would be at the northern limit of the Oikoumene, being as far north of the northernmost point of Egypt as the latter is to the north of the Nile at the Equator. Lake Ladoga with Lake Onega may have been considered as the counterpart at the other extreme of the Oikoumene of Lake Albert and Lake Victoria, the sources of the Nile.

The Gerrhos is the area of swamps to the northeast of Smolensk. These swamps are quite extensive, but may have been much more extensive in Herodotus’ time, since it is known that the extention of the bogs and swamps of the upper valley of the Dnieper, which are a continuation of the soil formation of the Pripet Marshes, has steadily decreased in historical times, partly because of the encroachement of vegetation and partly because of the human efforts to extend the cultivated land. Today we assume that the Dnieper continues beyond these swamps and almost up to the Ygra.1 The Ygra flows into the Oka, which below the junction point also runs along the northern side of the geodetic square.

According to Herodotus, the Pantikapes or Desna originates from the Gerrhos but runs parallel to the Boristhenes along a line that is 3 days of 1½° east of the meridian Gerrhos, merging with the Boristhenes at a point that is 11 days north of the base, that is, at about 50°42’N. The real confluence is slightly to the north of the modern city of Kiev which is located at 50°29’N,30°29’E.

Herodotus reports that the Gerrhos or Ygra joins the waters of the river Hypakuris which proves to be the Oka.2 The upper course of the Oka flows in a direction SN through the territory of the Nomadic Scythians. Near the junction of the Oka with the Ygra Herodotus places a city called Karkintis. Possibly early manuscripts made an error in spelling the name of the city, which may have been the same as that of the river; Ptolemy (III 5, 13) places on this river a city called Pakyris. The city was in the area of the present Kaluga which is at the juction of the two rivers. Because the city was called Karkinitis, later geographers confused it with the Greek city of Karkine on the coast of the Black Sea. The geographer Mela (II 4) speaks of Carcine quam duo flumina Gerrhus et Ypacares uno ostio confluentia attingunt, placing Carcine at the junction of the Gerrhos and the Hypakaris; but in Pliny (IV 12, 84) the mention of the Gerrhos is eliminated and the river Pacyris is associated with the sinus Carcinatus which is the bay of the Black Sea called Karkinitski Zaliv, where there was the ancient Greek city of Karkine. But Pliny associates the river Pacyris with the oppida Navarum; these towns of the Navari of Pliny are the Neuroi of Herodotus, and the latter states that some Neuroi were settled near the Boudinoi, who certainly were settled along the Oka. There is no course of water of any importance in the area of the Greek Karkine. In his Geography Ptolemy (loc. cit.) lists a short river as flowing from the city of Navaron to the city of Pakyris and ending at the Karkine on the Black Sea; but in the other part of this work (V 8, 11) he indicates the correct position of this river when he places a city Navaris at latitude 55°N. In conclusion, there were Neuroi (the Nervi of late Roman authors) who had settlements in the area of the junction of the Ygra with the Oka; one of these settlements was called either Karkinitis or Hypakaris and was in the area of the present Kaluga.

Since modern interpreters have accepted the absurd notion that according to Herodotus the Hypakaris flows into the Black Sea, they have placed the Hylaia, “forest area,” mentioned by Herodotus, on the coast of the Black Sea. As a result J. Oliver Thompson, as evidence of the claim that Herodotus’ account of the geography of Russia is not based on any serious information, quotes the fact that “there is no word of a change from the prairie and black earth to thick forest.” On the contrary Herodotus refers repeatedly to the Hylaia and places it north of a line stretching from the vicinity of Kiev to the area around Ryazan, and he could not have been more correct. It is obvious that this datum was of major relevance to the Persian military intelligence.

The upper course of the Tanais or Don runs roughly along the eastern side of the geodetic square. About the source of the Tanais, Herodotus states merely that this river comes “from the top,” meaning the upper part of the square, springing from a great swamp. The Don originates from Lake Ivan at 54°06’N 38°06’E. Herodotus may have made this lake into a swamp because the Don delimits the square to the east as the Dnieper delimits the square to the west and the latter originates from the swamp Gerrhos.

Herodotus (IV 45) reports that the river Tanais, that is, the east side of the square or longitude 39 °50’E was considered by some to be the boundary between Europe and Asia. Others placed this boundary at the river Phasis; this does not mean the course of the Phasis but the longitude of the mouth of the Phasis, 41°38’E. In the same context Herodotus states that the boundary between Asia and Libya is the Nile; this does not mean the course of the Nile as it is currently understood, but the longitude of the eastern mouth of the Nile, the longitude of Gerrhon, the eastern boundary point of Egypt (32°38’E). It is because he is thinking of longitude lines that Herodotus can assert that Europe “is long enough to run alongside both Asia and Libya.”

Within the geodetic square of Scythia there were located also the mouth of the Tyras or Dniester and the confluence of the Hypanis or Bug with the Boristhenes or Dnieper. Herodotus lets the Dniester and the Bug originate from large lakes which seem to be the Pripet Marshes. Ptolemy too links the Hypanis or Bug with the Pripet Marshes called Swamp Amodoke. Herodotus places the source of the Bug 9 days or 4½° to the north of the base, that is, at 49°42’N, which is correct, but is almost a full degree south of the Pripet Marshes.


References

Since we meet with a river called today Ygra and since Herodotus in his description of Skythia mentions rivers called Hyrgis and Syrgis, it may be inferred that the Skythians, who spoke an Indoeuropean language of Iranian type, called rivers by a name derived from the Indoeuropean root from which there were derived the Greek hygros “wet, moist, fluid,” the Latin uvidus, “watery, humid, damp,” and the Sanskrit uksati, “sprinkled.”Spelled Hypakaris in some good manuscripts. The name of this river seems to be the root of the name Ygra and of the Greek hygros, preceded by the preposition which is hypo, “below,” in Greek.