Talk:Baltia

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TLG search reveals that there is no island called Baltia in Xenophon, nor in the rest of the ancient Greek literature. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by 213.164.109.214 (talkcontribs).

Baltia or Baltea?[edit]

It is true that it's not easy to confirm this piece of information (Xenophon mentioning a Baltea island). However, it seems that Pliny mentioned an island named Baltea in the Baltic Sea. The following fragment from "Historical sketch of the progress of discovery, navigation, and commerce, from the earliest records to the beginning of the nineteenth century" by William Stevenson (1824) (the author is probably none of the persons listed on William Stevenson page unless he is the father of Elizabeth Gaskell) says:

"That Pythias visited the Baltic, though perhaps the Thule he mentions did not lie in this sea, is evident from the following extract from his journal, given by Pliny:--"On the shores of a certain bay called Mentonomon, live a people called Guttoni: and at the distance of a day's voyage from them, is the island Abalus (called by Timæus, Baltea). Upon this the waves threw the amber, which is a coagulated matter cast up by the sea: they use it for firing, instead of wood, and also sell it to the neighbouring Teutones." The inhabitants on the coast of the Baltic, near the Frish or Curish Sea (which is probably the bay Pytheas describes) are called in the Lithuanian language, Guddai: and so late as the period of the Crusades, the spot where amber is found was called Wittland, or Whiteland; in Lithuanian, Baltika. From these circumstances, as well as from the name Baltea given by Timaeus to the island mentioned by Pytheas, as the place where amber is cast up by the waves, there appears no doubt that Pytheas was in the Baltic Sea, though his island of Thule might not be there. As amber was in great repute, even so early as the time of Homer, who describes it as being used to adorn the golden collars, it is highly probable that Pytheas was induced to enter the Baltic for the purpose of obtaining it: in what manner, or through whose means, the Greeks obtained it in Homer's time, is not known."

The geography given by Stevenson seems sound. The "Frish or Curish Sea" is the Curonian Lagoon in present day Lithuania. Lithuania is one of the few places in Europe where population has not changed from the ancient times making it possible that a tribal/territotial name could be still be recogniable in the 14th century. The "Teutones" (a name used sometimes in reference to all of the Germanic peoples, not only the actual Teutons) would in this case most probably be the Goths living at the time in nearby Gothiscandza, a territory streaching from the shores of present day Bay of Gdansk along Vistula and Bug (a river tract which comprises of both Western Bug and Southern Bug) rivers in the South-Eastern direction. So it is possible that it is not Xenophon but Pliny (rather Pliny the Elder than Pliny the Younger?) who mentions the island and that the name is Baltea, not Baltia (though the difference may come simply from different phonetics of Latin and Ancient Greek) languages. Friendly Neighbour 14:41, 19 May 2006 (UTC)

I am aware that alternatively Gutones might have been not the Balt Galindians but the Germanic Goths, themselves. If so, in my opinion, they may have simply invented the island talking to visitors hiding the true source of the amber which was the Galindian held Sambia and Curonian Lagoon shores. Or Pytheas simply misunderstood: Baltia was not an island but Sambia, a peninsula where Balts (!) lived and which is is about one sailing day from the mouth of Vistula where Goths lived. But this is original research, so I will not make it a part of the article. Friendly Neighbour 18:31, 19 May 2006 (UTC)

OK, it's Baltia[edit]

The island is mentioned in "The Natural History" by Pliny the Elder (Book IV, chapter 27). The English translation of the fragment is:

"Xenophon of Lampsacus tells us that at a distance of three days' sail from the shores of Scythia, there is an island of immense size called Baltia, which by Pytheas is called Basilia".

Therefore it's true that Xenophon mentioned a Baltia but we know this from Pliny. The preffred link to his "The Natural History" in English is this and the origial Latin text is here. My only source used in this research was Google :-) Friendly Neighbour 16:28, 19 May 2006 (UTC)

In Book 37, Chapter 11 of "The Natural History" Pliny adds the following:

"Pytheas says that the Gutones, a people of Germany, inhabit the shores of an æstuary of the Ocean called Mentonomon, their territory extending a distance of six thousand stadia; that, at one day's sail from this territory, is the Isle of Abalus, upon the shores of which, amber is thrown up by the waves in spring, it being an excretion of the sea in a concrete form; as, also, that the inhabitants use this amber by way of fuel, and sell it to their neighbours, the Teutones. Timæus, too, is of the same belief, but he has given to the island the name of Basilia."

So this is the source of the amber story Stevenson wrote about. The vast amounts of Amber make it impossible that this is southern Scandinavia or Helgoland as some suggested (which could be an amber trading place but the North Sea does not contain any big sources of amber). Friendly Neighbour 17:07, 19 May 2006 (UTC)

Not necessarily. Helgoland was much larger in ancient times (it was landbound until about 3000 BC - see Schmidt-Thomé (1987): Helgoland. Geologischer Führer 82) and though there is not as much amber in the North Sea region as in the eastern Baltic, it is not actually scarce (more plentiful, if anything, than in the western Baltic). Today, most North Sea amber gets washed to the Eiderstedt peninsula (Sankt Peter-Ording actually has an amber museum), which quite conveniently was the place to which Helgoland was once connected. The currents in the region go generally WSW-ENE, so in Pliny's time, the then-larger Helgoland would indeed have received quite a lot of amber; more probably than any other place in the North Sea region (besides, the middle-southern Jutland Peninsula coast was barely inhabitable and not a place fit for amber collecting back then).
The main problems of a Baltic location for "Baltia" are the huge geographical gap between the Teutones and the Balts (IIRC Pliny has no information that would correspond to such remarkable places as Cape Arkona), and the fact that the Balts were not known to Classical scholars except by hearsay and conjecture (cf. the "Aesti" in Tacitus). OTOH, the Teutones lived on Jutland and thus were indeed the "neighbors" of the Helgoland inhabitants.
(It may actually be possible to determine it more accurately. The North Sea amber is, if I'm not mistaken, not from Pseudolarix, while the Baltic amber is. North Sea vs Baltic origin of amber can be determined even in ancient artefacts. Hasn't been done yet though, methinks.) Dysmorodrepanis (talk) 13:21, 14 September 2009 (UTC)


It seems Pliny the Elder calls the island alternatively Baltia, Basilia and Abalus. So part of the story may be errors in copying :-( Friendly Neighbour 17:25, 19 May 2006 (UTC)