Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa: Ancient Atlantic Island

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–1592) was a Spanish explorer, author, historian, mathematician, astronomer, and scientist. His birthplace is not certain and may have been Pontevedra, in Galicia, where his paternal family originated, or Alcalá de Henares in Castile, where he later is known to have studied. After the age of eighteen, he ventured from home eventually settling in Nueva Hispania for the balance of his life. He was accused by the Inquisition of being a secret follower of Moses (a secret Jew), in the guise of a nominal Catholic, a not unusual situation at the time.

The History of the Incas, written in Cuzco (Peru), the capital of the Inca Empire, just forty years after the arrival of the first Spaniards in the city is a precious record of the transition from Inca to colonial culture. At the time, framing the Islands of the Americas, which became the continents of the Americas, in the context of world history naturally brought forth Plato’s Atlantis as possible stepping stone between the old and the new worlds. The account that follows is Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa’s attempt at connecting the Americas to the lost Atlantean Civilization.

Translated from the original spanish by Sir Clements Markham, K.C.B. then President of the Hakluyt Society, Chapters III and IV are here reproduced.
— Orly


When historians wish to write, in an orderly way, of the world or some part of it, they generally first describe the situation containing it, which is the land, before they deal with what it contains, which is the population, to avoid the former in the historical part. If this is so in ancient and well known works, it is still more desirable that in treating of new and strange lands, like these, of such vast extent, a task which I have undertaken, the same order should be preserved. This will not only supply interesting information but also, which is more to be desired, it will be useful for navigation and new discoveries, by which God our Lord may be served, the territories of the crown of Spain extended, and Spaniards enriched and respected. As I have not yet finished the particular description of this land, which will contain everything relating to geography and the works of nature minutely dealt with, in this volume I shall only offer a general summary, following the most ancient authors, to recall the remains of those lands which are now held to be new and previously unknown, and of their inhabitants.

The land, which we read of as having existed in the first and second age of the world, was divided into five parts. The three continents, of which geographers usually write, Asia, Africa, and Europe, are divided by the river Tanais, the river Nile, and the Mediterranean Sea, which Pomponius calls "our" sea. Asia is divided from Europe by the river Tanais, now called Silin, and from Africa by the Nile, though Ptolemy divides it by the Red Sea and isthmus of the desert of Arabia Deserta. Africa is divided from Europe by "our" sea, commencing at the strait of Gibraltar and ending with the Lake of Meotis. The other two parts are thus divided. One was called, and still ought to be called, Catigara [1] in the Indian Sea, a very extensive land now distinct from Asia. Ptolemy describes it as being, in his time and in the time of Alexander the Great, joined on to Asia in the direction of Malacca. I shall treat of this in its place, for it contains many and very precious secrets, and an infinity of souls, to whom the King our Lord may announce the holy catholic faith that they may be saved, for this is the object of his Majesty in these new lands of barbarous idolatry. The fifth part is or was called the Atlantic Island, as famous as extensive, and which exceeded all the others, each one by itself, and even some joined together. The inhabitants of it and their description will be treated of, because this is the land, or at least part of it, of these western Indies of Castille.

[Note 1: Marinus of Tyre, quoted by Ptolemy, gave an enormous extension to eastern Asia, and placed the region he called Catigara far to the S.E. of it. Catigara was described by Marinus of Tyre as an emporium and important place of trade. It is not mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythræan Sea.]



The cosmographers do not write of this ancient Atlantic Island because there was no memory, when they wrote, of its very rich commercial prosperity in the second, and perhaps in the first age. But from what the divine Plato tells us and from the vestiges we see which agree with what we read, we can not only say where it was and where parts of it were, as seen in our time, but we can describe it almost exactly, its grandeur and position. This is the truth, and the same Plato affirms it as true, in the Timæus, where he gives its truthful and marvellous history.

We will speak first of its situation, and then of its inhabitants. It is desirable that the reader should give his attention because, although it is very ancient history, it is so new to the ordinary teaching of cosmography that it may cause such surprise as to raise doubts of the story, whence may arise a want of appreciation.

From the words which Plato refers to Solon, the wisest of the seven of Greece, and which Solon had heard with attention from the most learned Egyptian priest in the city called Delta, we learn that this Atlantic Island was larger than Asia and Africa together, and that the eastern end of this immense island was near the strait which we now call of Gibraltar. In front of the mouth of the said strait, the island had a port with a narrow entrance; and Plato says that the island was truly continental. From it there was a passage by the sea, which surrounded it, to many other neighbouring islands, and to the main land of Europe and Africa. In this island there were kings of great and admirable power who ruled over that and many adjacent islands as well as the greater part of Europe and Africa, up to the confines of Egypt, of which I shall treat presently. The extent of the island was from the south, where were the highest mountains, to the north. The mountains exceeded in extent any that now exist, as well in their forests, as in height, and in beauty. These are the words of Plato in describing the situation of this most richly endowed and delightful Atlantic Island. It now remains for me to do my duty, which is to explain what has been said more clearly and from it to deduce the situation of the island.

From what Plato says that this island had a port near the mouth of the strait of the pillars of Hercules, that it was larger than Asia and Africa together, and that it extended to the south, I gather three things clearly towards the understanding of all that invites attention. The first is that the Atlantic Island began less than two leagues from the mouth of the strait, if more it was only a little more. The coast of the island then turned north close to that of Spain, and was joined to the island of Cadiz or Gadiz, or Caliz, as it is now called. I affirm this for two reasons, one by authority and the other by conjectural demonstration. The authority is that Plato in his Critias, telling how Neptune distributed the sovereignty of the island among his ten sons, said that the second son was called in the mother tongue "Gadirum," which in Greek we call "Eumelo." To this son he gave the extreme parts of the island near the columns of Hercules, and from his name the place was called Gadiricum which is Caliz. By demonstration we see, and I have seen with my own eyes, more than a league out at sea and in the neighbourhood of the island of Caliz, under the water, the remains of very large edifices of a cement which is almost imperishable[2], an evident sign that this island was once much larger, which corroborates the narrative of Critias in Plato. The second point is that the Atlantic Island was larger than Asia and Africa. From this I deduce its size, which is incredible or at least immense. It would give the island 2300 leagues of longitude, that is from east to west. For Asia has 1500 leagues in a straight line from Malacca which is on its eastern front, to the boundary of Egypt; and Africa has 800 leagues from Egypt to the end of the Atlantic mountains or "Montes Claros" facing the Canary Islands; which together make 2300 leagues of longitude. If the island was larger it would be more in circuit. Round the coast it would have 7100 leagues, for Asia is 5300 and Africa 2700 leagues in circuit, a little more or less, which together makes 7100 leagues, and it is even said that it was more.

[Note 2: Dr Peitschmann quotes from Juan Bautista Suarez de Salazar, Grandezas y antigüedades de la isla y ciudad de Cadiz (Cadiz, 1610)—-"That which all those who traverse the sea affirm was that to the south, the water being clear, there is seen beneath it at a distance of a league, ruins of edifices which are good evidence that the ocean has gained upon the land in this part." He refers also to a more recent history of Cadiz and its province by Adolfo de Castro (1858), and to the five first books of the General Chronicle of Spain of Florian de Ocampo, 1552 (lib. ii. cap. II).]

Having considered the measurement of its great size we come to the third point, which is the true position over which this great island extended. Plato says that the position of the island extended to the south; opposite to the north. From this we should understand that, the front conterminous with Spain from the strait of Gibraltar to Cadiz thence extended westward, making a curve along the coast of Barbary or Africa, but very close to it, between west and south, which is what sailors call south-west. For if it was opposite to north, which is between east and north, called north-east, it must necessarily have its direction in the said south-west, west-south-west, or south-south-west. It would include and incorporate the Canary Islands which, according to this calculation, would be part of it, and from thence the land trended south-west. As regards the south, it would extend rather more to the south and south-south-west, finally following the route by which we go when we sail from Spain to the Indies, forming a continent or main land with these western Indies of Castille, joining on to them by the parts stretching south-west, and west-south-west, a little more or less from the Canaries. Thus there was sea on one side and on the other of this land, that is on the north and south, and the Indies united with it, and they were all one. The proof of this is that if the Atlantic Island had 2300 leagues of longitude, and the distance of Cadiz to the mouth of the river Marañon or Orellana and Trinidad, on the coast of Brazil, is, not more than 1000, 900, or 1100 leagues, being the part where this land joined to America, it clearly appears that, to complete the complement of 2300 leagues, we have to include in the computation all the rest of the land from the mouth of the Marañon and Brazil to the South Sea, which is what they now call America. Following this course it would come to Coquimbo. Counting what is still wanting, this would be much less than 2300 leagues. Measuring the circumference, the island was more than 7100 leagues round, because that is about the circumference of Asia and Africa by their coasts. If this land is joined to the other, which in fact it was in conformity with the description, it would have a much greater circuit, for even now these parts of the western Indies, measured by compass, and latitude, have more than 7100 leagues.

From all this it may be inferred that the Indies of Castille formed a continent with the Atlantic Island, and consequently that the same Atlantic Island, which extended from Cadiz over the sea we traverse to the Indies, and which all cosmographers call the Atlantic Ocean because the Atlantic Island was in it, over which we now navigate, was land in ancient times. Finally we shall relate the sequel, first giving an account of the sphere at that time and of the inhabitants.



Having described the four parts of the world, for of Catigara, which is the fifth, we shall not speak except in its place which the ancients assigned to it, it will be right to come to the races which peopled them. All of which I have to treat has to be personal and heathen history. The chief value and perfection of history consists in its accuracy, thoroughly sifting each event, verifying the times and periods of what happened so that no doubt may remain of what passed. It is in this way that I desire to write the truth in so far as my ability enables me to do so respecting a thing so ancient as the first peopling of these new lands. I wish, for the better illustration of the present history, to precede it with the foundations that cannot be denied, counting the time in conformity with the chronology of the Hebrews in the days before our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the times after his most holy nativity according to the counting used by our mother the holy church, not making account of the calculations of Chaldean or Egyptian interpreters.

Thus, passing over the first age from Adam to the Deluge, which covers 1656 years, we will begin from the second age, which is that of the patriarch Noah, second universal father of mortals. The divine scriptures show us that eight persons were saved from the flood, in the ark. Noah and his wife Terra or Vesta, named from the first fire lighted by crystal for the first sacrifice as Berosus would have; and his three sons to wit, Cam and his wife Cataflua, Sem and his wife Prusia or Persia, Japhet and his wife Fun a, as we read in the register of the chronicles. The names of some of these people remain, and to this day we can see clearly whence they were derived, as the Hebrews from Heber, the Assyrians from Amur, but most of them have been so changed that human intelligence is insufficient to investigate by this way. Besides the three sons, Noah had others after the flood.

The descendants of these men having multiplied and become very numerous, Noah divided the world among his first sons that they might people it, and then embarked on the Euxine Sea as we gather from Xenophon. The giant Noah then navigated along the Mediterranean Sea, as Filon says and Annius repeats, dividing the whole land among his sons. He gave it in charge to Sem to people Asia from the Nile to the eastern Indies, with some of the sons he got after the flood. To Cam he gave Africa from the Rinocoruras to the straits of Gibraltar with some more of the sons. Europe was chosen for Japhet to people with the rest of the sons begotten after the flood, who were all the sons of Tuscan, whence descend the Tadescos, Alemanes, and the nations adjacent to them.

In this voyage Noah founded some towns and colonies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and remained in them for ten years, until 112 years after the universal deluge. He ordered his daughter Araxa to remain in Armenia where the ark rested, with her husband and children, to people that country. Then he, with the rest of his companions, went to Mesopotamia and settled. There Nembrot was raised up for king, of the descendants of Cam. This Nembrot, says Berosus, built Babylon 130 years after the flood. The sons of Sem elected for their king, Jektan, son of Heber. Those of Japhet chose Fenec for their king, called Assenes by Moses. There were 300,000 men under him only 310 years after the deluge. Each king, with his companions, set out to people the part of the world chosen for them by the patriarch Noah. It is to be noted that, although Noah divided the parts of the world among his three sons and their descendants, many of them did not keep to the boundaries. For some of one lineage settled on the lands of another brother. Nembrot, being of the line of Cam, remained in the parts of Sem, and many others were mixed together in the same way.

Thus the three parts of the world were peopled by these and their descendants, of whom I do not propose to treat in detail, for our plan is to proceed in our narrative until we come to the inhabitants of the Atlantic Island, the subject of this history. This was so near Spain that, according to the common fame, Caliz used to be so close to the main land in the direction of the port of Santa Maria, that a plank would serve as a bridge to pass from the island to Spain. So that no one can doubt that the inhabitants of Spain, Jubal and his descendants, peopled that land, as well as the inhabitants of Africa which was also near. Hence it was called the Atlantic Island from having been peopled by Atlas, the giant and very wise astrologer who first settled Mauritania now called Barbary, as Godefridus and all the chronicles teach us. This Atlas was the son of Japhet by the nymph Asia, and grandson of Noah. For this there is no authority except the above, corroborated by the divine Plato as I began by explaining, and it will be necessary to seek his help to give the reader such evidence as merits belief respecting the inhabitants of this Atlantic Island.



We have indicated the situation of the Atlantic Island and those who, in conformity with the general peopling of the world, were probably its first inhabitants, namely the early Spaniards and the first Mauritanian vassals of the King Atlas. This wonderful history was almost forgotten in ancient times, Plato alone having preserved it, as has already been related in its place, and which should again be consulted for what remains. Plato, in Critias, says that to Neptune's share came the Atlantic Island, and that he had ten sons. He divided the whole island amongst them, which before and in his time was called the empire of the floating islands, as Volaterranius tells us. It was divided by Neptune into ten regions or kingdoms. The chief one, called Venus, he gave to his eldest son named Atlantis, and appointed him sovereign of the whole island; which consequently took the name of Atlantica, and the sea Atlantic, a name which it retains to this day. The second son, named Gadirun, received the part which lies nearest to Spain and which is now Caliz. To the third son Neptune gave a share. His name was Amferes, the fourth's Eutoctenes, the seventh's Alusipo, the eighth's Mestores, the ninth's Azaen, the tenth's Diaprepem. These and their descendants reigned for many ages, holding the lordships, by the sea, of many other islands, which could not have been other than Hayti, which we call Santo Domingo, Cuba and others, also peopled by emigrants from the Atlantic Island. They also held sway over Africa as far as Egypt, and over Europe to Tirrenia and Italy.

The lineage of Atlas extended in a grand succession of generations, and his kingdom was ruled in succession by the firstborns. They possessed such a copious supply of riches that none of the natives had seen it all, and that no new comers could realise it. This land abounded in all that is necessary for sustaining human life, pasture, timber, drugs, metals, wild beasts and birds, domestic animals including a great number of elephants, most fragrant perfumes, liquors, flowers, fruits, wine, and all the vegetables used for food, many dates, and other things for presents. That island produced all things in great profusion. In ancient times it was sacred, beautiful, admirable and fertile, as well as of vast extent. In it were extensive kingdoms, sumptuous temples, palaces calling forth great admiration, as is seen from the relation of Plato respecting the metropolis of the island which exceeded Babylon, Troy, or Rome, with all their rich buildings, curious and well-constructed forts, and even the seven wonders of the world concerning which the ancients sing so much. In the chief city of this empire there was a port to which so many ships and merchants resorted from all parts, that owing to the vast concourse a great and continual noise caused the residents to be thunderstruck. The number of these Atlantics ready for war was so great that in the capital city alone they had an ordinary garrison of 60,000 soldiers, always distributed among farms, each farm measuring 100 furlongs. The rest inhabited the woods and other places, and were innumerable. They took to war 10,000 two-horse chariots each containing eight armed men, with six slingers and stone throwers on either side. For the sea they had 200,000 boats with four men in each, making 800,000 men for the sea-service alone. This was quite necessary owing to the great number of subject nations which had to be governed and kept in obedience.

The rest which Plato relates on this subject will be discussed in the sequel, for I now proceed to our principal point, which is to establish the conclusion that as these people carried their banners and trophies into Europe and Africa which are not contiguous, they must have overrun the Indies of Castille and peopled them, being part of the same main land. They used much policy in their rule. But at the end of many ages, by divine permission, and perhaps owing to their sins, it happened that a great and continuous earthquake, with an unceasing deluge, perpetual by day and night, opened the earth and swallowed up those warlike and ambitious Atlantic men. The Atlantic Island remained absorbed beneath that great sea, which from that cause continued to be unnavigable owing to the mud of the absorbed island in solution, a wonderful thing.

This special flood may be added to the five floods recorded by the ancients. These are the general one of Moses, the second in Egypt of which Xenophon makes mention, the third flood in Achaia of Greece in the time of Ogyges Atticus, described by Isidore as happening in the days of Jacob, the fourth in Thessaly in the time of Deucalion and Pyrrha, in the days of Moses according to Isidore, in 782 as given by Juan Annius. The fifth flood is mentioned by Xenophon as happening in Egypt in the time of Proteus. The sixth was this which destroyed so great a part of the Atlantic Island and sufficed so to separate the part that was left unsubmerged, that all mortals in Asia, Africa and Europe believed that all were drowned. Thus was lost the intercourse and commerce of the people of these parts with those of Europe and Africa, in such sort that all memory of them would have been lost, if it had not been for the Egyptians, preservers of the most ancient deeds of men and of nature. The destruction of the Atlantic Island, over at least 1000 leagues of longitude, was in the time when Aod[3] governed the people of Israel, 1320 years before Christ and 2162 years after the Creation, according to the Hebrews. I deduce this calculation from what Plato relates of the conversation between Solon and the Egyptian priest. For, according to all the chronicles, Solon lived in the time of Tarquinius Priscus the King of Rome, Josiah being King of Israel at Jerusalem, before Christ 610 years. From this period until the time when the Atlantics had put a blockade over the Athenians 9000 lunar years had passed which, referred to solar years, make 869. All added together make the total given above. Very soon afterwards the deluge must have come, as it is said to have been in the time of Aod or 748 years after the general deluge of Noah. This being so it is to be noted that the isle of Caliz, the Canaries, the Salvages, and Trinidad must have been parts of the absorbed land.

[Note 3: Ehud. Ehud ben‑Gera is described in the biblical Book of Judges as a judge who was sent by God to deliver the Israelites from Moabite domination. He is described as being left-handed and a member of the Tribe of Benjamin.]

It may be assumed that these very numerous nations of Atlantis were sufficient to people those other lands of the Western Indies of Castille. Other nations also came to them, and peopled some provinces after the above destruction. Strabo and Solinus say that Ulysses, after the fall of Troy, navigated westward to Lusitania, founded Lisbon, and, after it had been built, desired to try his fortune on the Atlantic Ocean by the way we now go to the Indies. He disappeared, and it was never afterwards known what had become of him. This is stated by Pero Anton Beuter, a noble Valencian historian and, as he mentions, this was the opinion of Dante Aligheri, the illustrious Florentine poet. Assuming this to be correct we may follow Ulysses from island to island until he came to Yucatan and Campeachy, part of the territory of New Spain. For those of that land have the Grecian bearing and dress of the nation of Ulysses, they have many Grecian words, and use Grecian letters. Of this I have myself seen many signs and proofs. Their name for God is "Teos" which is Greek, and even throughout New Spain they use the word "Teos" for God. I have also to say that in passing that way, I found that they anciently preserved an anchor of a ship, venerating it as an idol, and had a certain genesis in Greek, which should not be dismissed as absurd at first sight. Indeed there are a sufficient number of indications to support my conjecture concerning Ulysses. From thence all those provinces of Mexico, Tabasco, Xalisco, and to the north the Capotecas, Chiapas, Guatemalas, Honduras, Lasandones, Nicaraguas, Tlaguzgalpas, as far as Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Veragua.

Moreover Esdras recounts that those nations which went from Persia by the river Euphrates came to a land never before inhabited by the human race. Going down this river there was no way but by the Indian Sea to reach a land where there was no habitation. This could only have been Catigara, placed in 90° S. by Ptolemy, and according to the navigators sent by Alexander the Great, 40 days of navigation from Asia. This is the land which the describers of maps call the unknown land of the south, whence it is possible to go on settling people as far as the Strait of Magellan to the west of Catigara, and the Javas, New Guinea, and the islands of the archipelago of Nombre de Jesus which I, our Lord permitting, discovered in the South Sea in the year 1568, the unconquered Felipe II reigning as King of Spain and its dependencies by the demarcation of 180° of longitude.

It may thus be deduced that New Spain and its provinces were peopled by the Greeks, those of Catigara by the Jews, and those of the rich and most powerful kingdoms of Peru and adjacent provinces by the Atlantics who were descended from the primeval Mesopotamians and Chaldæans, peoplers of the world.

These, and other points with them, which cannot be discussed with brevity, are true historical reasons, of a quality worthy of belief, such as men of reason and letters may adopt respecting the peopling of these lands. When we come to consider attentively what these barbarians of Peru relate of their origin and of the tyrannical rule of the Incas Ccapacs, and the fables and extravagances they recount, the truth may be distinguished from what is false, and how in some of their fables they allude to true facts which are admitted and held by us as such. Therefore the reader should peruse with attention and read the most strange and racy history of barbarians that has, until now, been read of any political nation in the world.



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