Where are the “Pillars Of Hercules”?

In the search for Atlantis, the writings about the visit of Solon to ancient Egypt are key. They talk about it being outside “The Pillars of Hercules”. A lot of time has been spent by a lot of folks trying to assert these are the rocks each side of the Strait of Gibraltar, or not; with a vocal group advocating for it being some rocks over near Greece to support the notion that Santorini was Atlantis (ancient Thera or Thira that ‘went poof’ in a volcanic blast that destroyed the Minoan civilization about 3500 ya or about 1500 B.C.)

But that’s just silly. Even the Wiki gets it right:


The Pillars of Hercules (Latin: Columnae Herculis, Greek: Ἡράκλειοι Στῆλαι, Arabic: أعمدة هرقل‎, Spanish: Columnas de Hércules) was the phrase that was applied in Antiquity to the promontories that flank the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. The northern Pillar is the Rock of Gibraltar (now part of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar). A corresponding North African peak not being predominant, the identity of the southern Pillar has been disputed through history, with the two most likely candidates being Monte Hacho in Ceuta and Jebel Musa in Morocco.

And they note a connection to the Phoenicians:

Phoenician connection

Beyond Gades, several important Mauritanian colonies (in modern-day Morocco) were founded by the Phoenicians as the Phoenician merchant navy pushed through the Pillars of Hercules and began constructing a series of bases along the Atlantic coast starting with Lixus in the north, then Chellah and finally Mogador.

Near the eastern shore of the island of Gades/Gadeira (modern Cádiz, just beyond the strait) Strabo describes the westernmost temple of Tyrian Heracles, the god with whom Greeks associated the Phoenician and Punic Melqart, by interpretatio graeca. Strabo notes that the two bronze pillars within the temple, each eight cubits high, were widely proclaimed to be the true Pillars of Hercules by many who had visited the place and had sacrificed to Heracles there. But Strabo believes the account to be fraudulent, in part noting that the inscriptions on those pillars mentioned nothing about Heracles, speaking only of the expenses incurred by the Phoenicians in their making. The columns of the Melqart temple at Tyre were also of religious significance.

So folks “back then” were comfortable saying that ‘beyond the pillars of Hercules’ was out in the Atlantic Ocean.

But is there more? Perhaps a direct reference to some land out in the Atlantic that is a distinct reference, even if not connected to the name Atlantis and the myth of it sinking?

How about Diodorus Siculus


This webpage reproduces a section of
The Library of History
Diodorus Siculus
published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

The wiki on him says:

Diodorus Siculus (/ˌdaɪəˈdɔːrəs ˈsɪkjʊləs/; Greek: Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης Diodoros Sikeliotes) or Diodorus of Sicily was a Greek historian. He is known for writing the monumental universal history Bibliotheca historica, much of which survives, between 60 and 30 BC. It is arranged in three parts. The first covers mythic history up to the destruction of Troy, arranged geographically, describing regions around the world from Egypt, India and Arabia to Greece and Europe. The second covers the Trojan War to the death of Alexander the Great. The third covers the period to about 60BC. The title Bibliotheca, meaning ‘library’, acknowledges that he was drawing on the work of many other authors.

So an old Greek, focused on history, with a load of his work surviving. Much of it reflected in other works (like, oh, Troy and Alexander The Great. What does he have to say?


(Book V, continued)

But now that we have discussed what relates to the islands which lie within the Pillars of Heracles, we shall give an account of those which are in the ocean. For there lies out in the deep off Libya an island of considerable size, and situated as it is in the ocean it is distant from Libya a voyage of a number of days to the west.

Libya, then, meant Africa. So they are specifically saying that the lands in question are outside the Pillars of Heracles (Hercules) and ‘in the deep’ off of Africa. Also that they are not the same as the islands “within”, so clearly not talking about Islands north of Africa in the Mediterranean. A “number of days to the west” is not a short sail in the Med.

Its land is fruitful, much of it being mountainous and not a little being a level plain of surpassing beauty. Through it flow navigable rivers which are used for irrigation, and the island contains many parks planted with trees of every variety and gardens in great multitudes which are traversed by streams of sweet water; on it also are private villas of costly construction, and throughout the gardens banqueting houses have been constructed in a setting of flowers, and in them the inhabitants pass their time during the summer season, since the land supplies in abundance everything which contributes to enjoyment and luxury. The mountainous part of the island is covered with dense thickets of great extent and with fruit-trees of every variety, and, inviting men to life among the mountains, it has cozy glens and springs in great number. In a word, this island is well supplied with springs of sweet water which not only makes the use of it enjoyable for those who pass their life there but also contribute to the health and vigour of their bodies. There is also excellent hunting of every manner of beast and wild animal, and the inhabitants, being well supplied with this game at their feasts, lack of nothing which pertains to luxury and extravagance; for in fact the sea which washes the shore of the island contains a multitude of fish, since the character of the ocean is such that it abounds throughout its extent with fish of every variety. And, speaking generally, the climate of the island is so altogether mild that it produces in abundance the fruits of the trees and the other seasonal fruits for the larger part of the year, so that it would appear that the island, because of its exceptional felicity, were a dwelling-place of a race of gods and not of men.

This sounds more like a description of a continent, and is far from what you would say of an Island inside the Mediterranean. To me, it sounds rather a lot like The Americas, though perhaps with a bit of South America bias; what with the “private villas of costly construction” sounding more like ancient Maya than North American tribes.

The emphasis on many varieties of both land and sea creatures along with both mountains and plains, and both seasonal and mild climate fruits does sound a bit like a broad description of a very large land, too.

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

Now we know that the Phoenicians were outside the Straits of Gibraltar, as they founded cities out there (some still around today and with a known history). This is very clearly saying that the Phoenicians headed out into the Atlantic, sailed for several / many days, and found a very large land with mountains, plains, loads of fish and game, and a population that built large structures, and were wealthy. That sure sounds like the Maya to me. (Later the Aztec have similar characteristics, but are of a different time).

And, first of all, upon the Strait itself by the Pillars they founded a city on the shores of Europe, and since the land formed a peninsula they called the city Gadeira; in the city they built many works appropriate to the nature of the region, and among them a costly temple of Heracles, and they instituted magnificent sacrifices which were conducted after the manner of the Phoenicians. And it has come to pass that this shrine has been held in an honour beyond the ordinary, both at the time of its building and in comparatively recent days down even to our own lifetime. Also many Romans, distinguished men who have performed great deeds, have offered vows to this god, and these vows they have performed after the completion of their successes.

That is the present day Cádiz, Spain, and the wiki on it has some interesting background:

Very little remains of the Phoenician language, but numismatic inscriptions record that they knew the site as a Gadir or Agadir (𐤀𐤂𐤃𐤓), meaning “The Wall”, “The Compound”, or (by metonymy) “The Stronghold”. Borrowed by the Berber languages, this became the agadir (Tamazight: “wall”; Shilha: “fortified granary”) common in North African place names. (The Israeli town Gedera shares a similar etymology.) The Carthaginians continued to use this name and all subsequent names have derived from it.

Attic Greek sources hellenized Gadir as tà Gádeira (Ancient Greek: τὰ Γάδειρα). Herodotus, using Ionic Greek, transcribed it a little differently, as Gḗdeira (Γήδειρα). Rarely, as in Stephanus of Byzantium’s notes on the writings of Eratosthenes, the name is given as è Gadeíra (ἡ Γαδείρα).

In Latin, the city was known as Gādēs and its Roman colony as Augusta Urbs Iulia Gaditana (“The August City of Julia of Cádiz”).

Cadiz is clearly outside the Straits of Gibraltar… so that is where we ought to find Atlantis. Across the Atlantic, in the Americas.

The Phoenicians, then, while exploring the coast outside the Pillars for the reasons we have stated and while sailing along the shore of Libya, were driven by strong winds a great distance out into the ocean. And after being storm-tossed for many days they were carried ashore on the island we mentioned above, and when they had observed its felicity and nature they caused it to be known to all men. Consequently the Tyrrhenians, at the time when they were masters of the sea, purposed to dispatch a colony to it; but the Carthaginians prevented their doing so, partly out of concern lest many inhabitants of Carthage should remove there because of the excellence of the island, and partly in order to have ready in it a place in which to seek refuge against an incalculable turn of fortune, in case some total disaster should overtake Carthage. For it was their thought that, since they were masters of the sea, they would thus be able to move, households and all, to an island which was unknown to their conquerors.

Unfortunately for the Phoenicians, they didn’t have time to ‘remove there’ and eventually got pounded by the Romans. (There is a thesis that the Phoenicians mined a literal boatload or perhaps fleet load of copper out of North America and that this wealth funded them, their fleet, and the bulk of the Bronze Age. It would be vital to them to keep the location of that kind of money mine a secret known to but a few. Fine in good times, not so fine if a catastrophe kills off a significant part of your population and with it the secret knowledge…)

But to the main point of this posting: It is very clear that ancient folks knew about a very large and rich land across a large ocean after many days sailing. They knew it had mountains, plains, lots of fish and game, and had a thriving population with large ‘villas’. Sure sounds a lot like The Americas to me. Then some catastrophe happened and the directions got lost, leading to a myth of the land ‘sinking’ (or perhaps some Caribbean Island did have a large volcano go off and that got reported as the whole place sinking…)

From here, the history goes on to other places. But even that confirms where the Pillars of Hercules were located, as it places Britain outside of them:

But since we have set forth the facts concerning the ocean lying off Libya and its islands, we shall now turn our discussion to Europe. Opposite that part of Gaul which lies on the ocean and directly across from the Hercynian Forest, as it is called, which is the largest of any in Europe of which tradition tells us, there are many islands out in the ocean of which the largest is that known as Britain. In ancient times this island remained unvisited by foreign armies; for neither Dionysus, tradition tells us, nor Heracles, nor any other hero or leader made a campaign against it; in our day, however, Gaius Caesar, who has been called a god because of his deeds, was the first man of whom we have record to have conquered the island, and after subduing the Britons he compelled them to pay fixed tributes. But we shall give a detailed account of the events of this conquest in connection with the appropriate period of time, and at present we shall discuss the island and the tin which is found in it.

So I think that’s pretty much a slam dunk proof that “outside the Pillars of Hercules” puts Britain out in the Atlantic, and thus Atlantis too. Then this description of the Phoenicians pretty much confirms folks made it to the Americas in very ancient times. That there are matching mythologies of a visit from white men in boats on the American natives side serves as confirmation from a separate source.

Now I know the Aztec are quite a bit later (about 1500 years or more), but the description of their city is interesting. It is surrounded by alternating bands of dirt and water. Rather like the description of Atlantis having concentric circles of land and water. That kind of construction does not arise overnight, so IMHO it is not that long a reach to think that earlier cities might have had something similar in their technology / city plan. The Aztec wiki has:

City-building and architecture

The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco, the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campans. The city was interlaced with canals which were useful for transportation.

Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. Houses were made of wood and loam, roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone.

Around the island, chinampa beds were used to grow foods as well as, over time, to increase the size of the island. Chinampas, misnamed “floating gardens”, were long raised plant beds set upon the shallow lake bottom. They were a very efficient agricultural system and could provide up to seven crops a year. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that 1 hectare of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares of chinampas could feed 180,000.

Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimates the population at 200,000 based in the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants.

Sounds not that different from the Atlantis descriptions in many ways. Certainly within the accuracy / precision of the ancient reports.

So that’s my thesis / speculation for this posting. Atlantis was clearly large, wealthy, and on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. That makes it the Americas. The Phoenicians made it there, and quite likely other folks before them. The folks in The Americas recorded the visit in their myths / legends (for at least one group). Then Something Very Bad happened and the way there was lost, perhaps in the context of a volcanic event on one or both sides of the Atlantic. A long time passed on both sides of the ocean. The knowledge of the ancient past became the stuff of myths and legends, and reality faded from understanding.

During The Dark Ages, more knowledge was lost. New plagues, likely from Asia, killed a large percentage of the folks of Europe. New diseases that were not around when the Phoenicians (and earlier?) made crossings to the Americas. The next visit (just as the Islamic Muslim invasion of Spain was being beaten back, and long after it had removed the last remnants of Phoenicians) brought those new plagues and diseases with it, and those destroyed most of the large populations of The Americas. The violent European culture of the day killed, captured, or dominated most of those not killed by new diseases. The Maya wisdom was lost, along with almost all of their books being burned; reminiscent of the repeated burning of the Library Of Alexandria and the Muslim penchant for burning libraries they captured.

Now, from left over scraps, we can find only a distorted hint that yes, folks from The Old World had found The New World, and perhaps several times in history. But just didn’t invade and capture it all, as it was already occupied by a large and capable population. Without firearms and killer diseases, a few Phoenician boats were in no position to do much but trade for materials and take home stories.

The interesting conclusion from this speculative knitting is that right now I am living in Atlantis. Just not with the Atlanteans.

The final interesting conclusion from this history work, is that asserting the works of Plato (Timaeus and Critias) contain a fictional Atlantis, when this history work describes a real land in the same location and with similar size and placement, and when we find exactly that kind of continent scale land in just that kind of place, well, it seems to me that calling reality reality does fit better. From Timaeus:

For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot. For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean. For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent

Larger than Libya and Asia together. The Americas are clearly larger than the north half of Africa and the west Asian lands that this Plato quote talks of. No Mediterranean islands can even be dreamed of fitting the description. Not even remotely. Heck, even Britain is too small.

The are talking of something far larger than the Mediterranean and ‘a real continent’.

Sure sounds like an empire like the Maya, as seen from ships on the Atlantic side, and with the lack of clarity of just where a continent ends and islands begin. All the various barrier Islands over here don’t help with that, nor do all those Caribbean islands. So send a couple of ships over, and what do you get? A description of a lot of Islands, maybe a long continent but you didn’t get to find the edges, and a lot of folks and foods present.

IMHO, both these stories / histories are describing the same thing. The Americas. As seen and visited by different ancient cultures at different times.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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10 Responses to Where are the “Pillars Of Hercules”?

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    From the Gulf coast of the U.S. to the Amazon there were old civilizations, as old as any around the Mediterranean. The Sea People carried out trade with all, to great profit for themselves. The Aztec and Inca were Johnny come lately rulers of people that had histories of thousands of years. The Ptolemy’s did not create Egypt. The Caesar’s did not create Rome. The empire of Atlantis, the Sea People, as large as Europe and Africa combined. An Empire of trade and transport. That kind of requires that the pillars of Hercules be the gateway of the Mediterranean. pg

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    Wonder what the Sea Peoples of the Southern Ocean, or Indian Ocean were called? After all they existed at the same time and traded with those civilizations from Africa to Australia and China. pg

  3. Ralph B says:

    If the Polynesians can navigate to Hawaii surely the Phoneticians could find the Americas. Getting there would be easier than returning though…without the ability to tack it is a mighty long row.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ralph B:

    I’m fairly certain they figured out the “trades over, polar back” circle. Once you are at Florida, it’s pretty hard for a set of Master Seamen to not notice the Gulf Stream headed north east, back toward Europe. And they knew that Britain was at the other end of just such an arriving current of warmer water. No rowing needed once you know it’s a gyre…

    The north Atlantic one is one of the smaller, and easier to notice. We know they had knowledge from up near Britain and down the north coast of Africa. All that’s needed is a bit of ‘headed west from Africa’ then landing at Brazil / Caribbean. Once you explore that area, even just a little, you find a nice fat current headed back north and east where you want to go… You can even hang along view of land much of the way until clearly turning due east at the latitude of the Cadiz (and it is not hard to know your latitude).

    It would take a bit of courage to make the outgoing voyage, but it’s been done. It’s what Columbus did. IMHO the Phoenicians were better sailors than he was and had better information, so for them it would be an even easier decision. Though even there the “story” says it was an accidental voyage under duress of wind and storms. But once on the other side, finding home isn’t that hard. Head to your desired latitude, notice winds and currents headed ever more in your desired direction, go for it.


    Your comment on other Sea Peoples has me wondering who they are / were… but I don’t have time to “Dig Here!” right now. Dealing with moving and getting the spouse on a plane and all this week…

  5. handjive says:

    Greetings Chiefio.
    Here are some links from Australia.

    During the early months of 2000 the media was alive with reports that residents of the Mid North Queensland coastal town of Sarina, had identified a massive stone causeway jutting out from the shore into Sarina Inlet as an ancient wharf, constructed by Phoenician colonists in Bronze-Age times [ie 2000-1400 BC], and that it was built to transport minerals mined around the foreshores of Sarina Inlet, onto triremes for shipment home to Red Sea ports.

    Yet it can be demonstrated that the wharf is of pre-British origin, and that it was the centrepiece of a huge Egypto-Phoenician mining colony, which covered the present town area extending some distance inland to the mineral-bearing hills and mountains west of the coast.


    Ancient Egyptians lived near Woy Woy: fact or fantasy?
    Located beyond the golf course on the rocks at Williams Park, North Bond, above the ocean is an Aboriginal rock carving site which features a number of Aboriginal engravings, including sharks, fish, men and women.
    To their north-east is another group (right), which today are quite worn, and appear to be of non-Aboriginal origin. One carving in this group is of a Spanish sailing ship.

    The discovery of a Portuguese manuscript purporting to include an illustration of a kangaroo has been used to question which European power was first to “discover” Australia.

    The drawing is included in a pocket-sized religious manuscript, dated at between 1580 and 1620 …

    The 107cm bronze swivel cannon found at Dundee Beach southwest of Darwin in 2010 was recently determined to have sat on the seabed for some 250 years.

    Metal analysis tests are being undertaken in Australia and North America to try to determine the source of the bronze used to cast the gun.
    The cannon isn’t the only indication of such an event.
    Five 1000-year old coins from the ancient African kingdom of Kilwa were recently identified after being found in the Northern Territory in 1944.

    Scientists left scratching their heads over the origin of a 1000-year-old skull and matching jawbone washed up on Mona Vale beach in Sydney

    Adding to the mystery: the bones are not Aboriginal.


  6. handjive says:

    Re-reading the 2nd link, “Ancient Egyptians lived near Woy Woy: fact or fantasy?”, it refers to a movie being made.
    A quick ‘oogle led to this link to the trailer, which has further vision of the heiroglyphs:

  7. Ralph B says:

    At first I didn’t think the N Atlantic would be very kind to that type of construction. The vikings did it, so I guess it’s not very much of a stretch and when you think of it, long boats and the Phoenician craft have a lot in common.

  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    The Portuguese almost certainly knew of Brazil very early. They protested that Columbus had trespassed on their territory. Subsequent negotiations pushed the line of demarcation west so they got Brazil, even though they didn’t land (officially) until 1500.

    There was a claim that Columbus didn’t sail on the direct route but took a more southern line which happened to have more favourable currents, because he knew of that way.

    The portuguese ships weren’t that larger or more advanced than earlier ships. And there is the still unexplained ability of Basque fishermen in the fifteenth century to land large quantities of dried, salted cod on their return. Newfoundland depot?

  9. Jason Calley says:

    Hey E.M.! You make a good argument that Atlantis existed somewhere in Central America. You might be interested in http://www.amazon.com/Atlantis-America-Navigators-Ancient-World/dp/0932813526/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424372582&sr=1-2 where the author makes a much more detailed and documented argument for the same premise. Excellent book, in my opinion.

    My wife and I have discussed more than once how the Nahuatl language is so absolutely chock full of “atl” sounds. In fact “atl” means “water.”

    I think though, that “Atlantis” was more than just Central America; I think that Atlantis was the name used in referring to a collection (confederation?) of nations that ranged from Central America (with perhaps outposts in North America proper) down through South America. Did you ever wonder where the Andes Mountains got their name? I am told that the Andes were named after the extraordinary complex of terraces that cover the mountains all through the occupied areas. The terraces are called “andenes”. My suspicion is that “Atlantis” was originally “Atl-Andes”.

    One of the more unusual theories of Atlantis is that it was on the Altiplano. http://atlantisbolivia.org/ I admit, when I first heard of it my initial reaction was “NO! That is crazy… The Altiplano?! That is as far from sinking into the Atlantic as you can get!” After thinking about it a couple of years, it sounds better and better. The fact that some of the ruins on the Altiplano and nearby are suspected of being enormously ancient (10,000 years or so…) points toward Atlantis also. Throw in the Royal Valley near Cuzco, famous for having perhaps the best climate in the world, as well.

    The simple fact is, we know that the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean does not show signs of a lost continent. If there is truth to the Atlantis story, it must be a distorted truth, or a mixture of truth and imagination. We cannot justify thinking that the story of Atlantis — as it is recorded! — is all the truth and nothing but the truth. Something, either interpretation or details, has to be discarded. I think you are mostly right about Central America — but I think it has a South American mix to it as well!

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