De Zuilen van Hercules Gibraltar en Ceuta

The European Pillar of Hercules: the Rock of Gibraltar (foreground), with the North African shore in the background.

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,[1] with the two most likely candidates being Monte Hacho in Ceuta and Jebel Musa in Morocco.


Modern conjectural depiction of the lost western section of the Tabula Peutingeriana, showing a representation of the Pillars of Hercules (Columne Ercole).

Tarifa, Estrecho de Gibraltar. Strait of Gibraltar

Jebel Musa, the North African Pillar of Hercules, as seen from Tarifa, at the other shore of the Strait of Gibraltar.


According to Greek mythology adopted by the Etruscans and Romans, when Hercules had to perform twelve labours, one of them (the tenth) was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon of the far West and bring them to Eurystheus; this marked the westward extent of his travels. A lost passage of Pindar quoted by Strabo was the earliest traceable reference in this context: "the pillars which Pindar calls the 'gates of Gades' when he asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles."[2] There is one to one association between Herakles and Melqart since Herodotus, thus "Pillars of Melqart" in the temple near Gades/Gádeira (modern Cádiz) were widely proclaimed to be the true Pillars of Hercules.[3]

According to Plato's account, the lost realm of Atlantis was situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules, in effect placing it in the realm of the Unknown. Renaissance tradition says the pillars bore the warning Nec plus ultra (also Non plus ultra, "nothing further beyond"), serving as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further.

According to some Roman sources,[4] while on his way to the garden of the Hesperides on the island of Erytheia, Hercules had to cross the mountain that was once Atlas. Instead of climbing the great mountain, Hercules used his superhuman strength to smash through it. By doing so, he connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and formed the Strait of Gibraltar. One part of the split mountain is Gibraltar and the other is either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa. These two mountains taken together have since then been known as the Pillars of Hercules, though other natural features have been associated with the name.[5] Diodorus Siculus,[6] however, held that instead of smashing through an isthmus to create the Straits of Gibraltar, Hercules narrowed an already existing strait to prevent monsters from the Atlantic Ocean from entering the Mediterranean Sea.

Pillars as portals

The Pillars appear as supporters of the coat of arms of Spain, originating from the famous impresa of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who was King of Spain in the years following the discovery of the Americas. It bears the motto Plus Ultra (Latin for further beyond), encouraging him to ignore the ancient warning, to take risks and go further beyond. It indicates the desire to see the Pillars as an entrance to the rest of the world rather than as a gate to the Mediterranean Sea. It also indicates the overseas possessions that Spain had.

One of the commonly held theories about the origin of the dollar sign derives it from the above personal device, which appeared on the Spanish dollar from which the American one was derived. Thus, the two vertical lines on the dollar sign ultimately represent the Pillars of Hercules.

Escudo de Cádiz (oval)

Coat of arms of Cádiz.

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.[7]

Near the eastern shore of the island of Gades/Gadeira (modern Cádiz, just beyond the strait) Strabo describes[8] the westernmost temple of Tyrian Heracles, the god with whom Greeks associated the Phoenician and Punic Melqart, by interpretatio graeca. Strabo notes[9] 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.

Couly Nouailher - Hercules Carries the Two Columns - Walters 44265

Limoges enamel depicting Hercules carrying the two columns, by Couly Nouailher, mid-16th century (Walters Art Museum).

The Pillars in Syriac geography

Syriac scholars were aware of the Pillars through their efforts to translate Greek scientific works into their language as well as into Arabic. The Syriac compendium of knowledge known as Ktaba d'ellat koll 'ellan. "The Cause of all Causes", is unusual in asserting that there were three, not two, columns[10]

Dante's Inferno

In Inferno XXVI Dante Alighieri mentions Ulysses in the pit of the Fraudulent Counsellors and his voyage past the Pillars of Hercules. Ulysses justifies endangering his sailors by the fact that his goal is to gain knowledge of the unknown. After five months of navigation in the ocean, Ulysses sights the mountain of Purgatory but encounters a whirlwind from it that sinks his ship and all on it for their daring to approach Purgatory while alive, by their strength and wits alone.

Instauratio Magna

The title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna, 1620.

Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum

The Pillars appear prominently on the engraved title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna ("Great Renewal"), 1620, the foreword to his Novum Organum. The motto along the base says Multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia ("Many will pass through and knowledge will be the greater").

In architecture

On the Spanish coast at Los Barrios are  the Torres de Hercules, twin towers that were inspired by the Pillars of Hercules. These towers are the tallest buildings in Andalusia.[11]

Black Sea

Schwarzes Meer und Umgebung(Dacia)

The rectangle has dimensions of approximately 555 km by 370 km (3000 to 2000 stadia - plain of Atlantis[12]). Circle held around Snake Island (potential candidate for the Capital of Atlantis[13]), located 35 km east of the Danube Delta.

German researchers Siegfried and Christian Schoppe locate Atlantis in the Black Sea. Before 5500 BCE, a great plain lay in the northwest at a former freshwater-lake. In 5510 BCE, rising sea level topped the barrier at today's Bosporus. They identify the Pillars of Hercules with the Strait of Bosporus.[13] They gave no explanation how the ships of the merchants coming from all over the world had arrived at the harbour of Atlantis when it was 350 feet below global sea-level.

They claim Oreichalcos means the obsidian stone that used to be a cash-equivalent at that time and was replaced by the spondylus shell around 5500 BCE, which would suit the red, white, black motif. The geocatastrophic event led to the neolithic diaspora in Europe, also beginning 5500 BCE.

In 2000, The Guardian reported that Robert Ballard, in a small submarine, found remains of human habitation around 300 feet underwater in the Black Sea off the north coast of Turkey. The area flooded around 5000 BCE. This flood is also believed to have inspired the Biblical story of Noah's Ark known as the Black Sea deluge theory.

Another candidate bordering the Black Sea, suggested by Hasan Umur in the 1940s, would be Ancomah, a legendary place near Trabzon.[14]


  1. Strabo summarizes the dispute in Geographia 3.5.5.
  2. Strabo, 3.5.5; the passage in Pindar has not been traced.
  3. Walter Burkert (1985). Greek Religion. Harvard University Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-674-36281-9. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  4. Seneca, Hercules Furens 235ff.; Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus 1240; Pliny, Nat. Hist. iii.4.
  5. "Close to the Pillars there are two isles, one of which they call Hera's Island; moreover, there are some who call also these isles the Pillars." (Strabo, 3.5.3.); see also H. L. Jones' gloss on this line in the Loeb Classical Library.
  6. Diodorus 4.18.5.
  7. C. Michael Hogan, Mogador, Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, 2007
  8. (Strabo 3.5.2–3
  9. Strabo 3.5.5–6
  10. Adam C. McCollum. (2012). A Syriac Fragment from The Cause of All Causes on the Pillars of Hercules. ISAW Papers, 5. .
  11. ‘Torres de Hercules’ in Cadiz / Spain by Rafael de la Hoz Architects (ES), Nora Schmidt, Daily Tonic, accessed 8 January 2012
  12. PREHISTORIC DACIA by Nicolae Densusianu
  13. 13.0 13.1 Siegfried Schoppe and Christian Schoppe (2004-08-12). "Atlantis in the Black Sea". Retrieved 2006-08-11. 
  14. Özhan Öztürk. Karadeniz Ansiklopedik Sözlük. Heyamola Yayınları. Istanbul, 2005. ISBN 975-6121-00-9. Ancomah p.72-73

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Pillars of Hercules. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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