“Three years ago, Sulpitius, at which time, leaving this neighborhood, I bade thee farewell, after setting sail from Narbonne, on the fifth day we entered a port of Africa: so prosperous, by the will of God, had been the voyage. I had in my mind a great desire to go to Carthage, to visit those localities connected with the saints, and, above all, to worship at the tomb 84 of the martyr Cyprian. On the fifth day we returned to the harbor, and launched forth into the deep. Our destination was Alexandria; but as the south wind was against us, we were almost driven upon the Syrtis; 85 the cautious sailors, however, guarding against this, stopped the ship by casting anchor. The continent of Africa then lay before our eyes; and, landing on it in boats, when we perceived that the whole country round was destitute of human cultivation, I penetrated farther inland, for the purpose of more carefully exploring the locality. About three miles from the sea-coast, I beheld a small hut in the midst of the sand, the roof of which, to use the expression 86 of Sallust, was like the keel of a ship. It was close to 87 the earth, and was floored with good strong boards, not because any very heavy rains are there feared (for, in fact, such a thing as rain has there never even been heard of), but because, such is the strength of the winds in that district, that, if at any time only a little breath of air begins there to be felt, even when the weather is pretty mild, a greater wreckage takes place in those lands than on any sea. No plants are there, and no seeds ever spring up, since, in such shifting soil, the dry sand is swept along with every motion of the winds. But where some promontories, back from the sea, act as a check to the winds, the soil, being somewhat more firm, produces here and there some prickly grass, and that furnishes fair pasturage for sheep. The inhabitants live on milk, while those of them that are more skillful, or, so to speak, more wealthy, make use of barley bread. That is the only kind of grain which flourishes there, for barley, by the quickness of its growth in that sort of soil, generally escapes the destruction caused by the fierce winds. So rapid is its growth that we are told it is ripe on the thirtieth day after the sowing of the seed. But there is no reason why men should settle there, except that all are free from the payment of taxes. The sea-coast of the Cyrenians is indeed the most remote, bordering upon that desert which lies between Egypt and Africa, 88 and through which Cato formerly, when fleeing from Cæsar, led an army. 89
“Ad sepulchrum Cypriani martyris adorare.”25:85
This was probably the Syrtis Minor, a dangerous sandbank in the sea on the northern coast of Africa; it is now known as the Gulf of Cabes. The Syrtis Major lay farther to the east, and now bears the name of the Gulf of Sidra.25:86
“Ædificia Numidarum agrestium, quæ mapalia illi vocant, oblonga, incurvis lateribus tecta, quasi navium carinæ sunt.”—Sall. Jug. XVIII. 8.25:87
The hut was perhaps built on piles rising slightly above the ground.25:88
The term Africa here used in its more restricted sense to denote the territory of Carthage.25:89
This took place in the spring of the year b.c. 47.