Greece and Rome (Second Series)

Research Article

Scyllias: Diving in Antiquity1

Frank J. Frost

When Xerxes' fleet encountered a violent storm and was shattered against the seaward flank of Mount Pelion, much of the treasure that had been lost in the wreckage was recovered by Scyllias of Scione, the best diver of his day. He and many of his fellow citizens had been impressed into service as the Persian armada came by the Chalcidic peninsula, but he later escaped to the Greeks waiting at Artemisium. By the time of Herodotus, a half-century or so later, it was being claimed that he had dived into the sea at Aphetae and not come up until he had reached Artemisium eight miles away. ‘Many other tales are told of this man, some lies, some true,’ said Herodotus (viii. 8), ‘but in my opinion, he came by boat.’


1 There are short treatments of ancient diving in Pauly-Wissowa-Kroll, Realencycl. Supplb. 5 (1931), s.v. Schwimmen, cols. 857–9; and in Daremberg-Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, s.v. ‘Urinator’ and ‘Spongia’. In addition, one is guided to many references by the entries κατακολυμβ-, κολυμβ-, κυβιστ-, σпογγ- in Liddell-Scott-Jones, Lexicon, and Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae. Undersea life is treated exhaustively by Oppian, Halieutica (with an excellent commentary by A. W. Mair in the Loeb edition), by Aristotle in his four works on animals, and by Pliny, Natural History, especially books 9 and 32. Also by Aelian, De Natura Animalium, passim, and here and there in Athenaeus' Deipnosophists.