Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Trogodytes and Horites – Troglodytes Alike

Posted by NT Wrong on November 11, 2008

James Davila posted recently on a book review by Binoy Barman in the Lebanon Daily Star which reports on Cleopatra’s cunning linguistic skills:

“Cleopatra was accomplished and had an attractive personality. She had command over several languages, including Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Parthian, Median, Syriac, [Ethiopian] and Trogodite (many of them are extinct now), besides Latin and Greek.”

Trogodyte is the language of the people on the sea coast of Egypt, north of ancient Ethiopia, including the main sea-port at Berenice. Here’s a map from ‘Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times’, G. W. Murray and E. H. Warmington The Geographical Journal, Vol. 133, No. 1 (Mar., 1967), pp. 24-33, 29. The Nile is on the left-hand side, and the Red Sea on the right:


These Trogodytes seem to have close contacts with the Nabataeans, whose territory stretches up to the land represented by biblical Edom and Moab from the bottom of the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Trogodytes lived on both sides of the Red Sea, in both the Eastern Desert of Egypt and the Arabian desert. According to the article above, Codex Vaticanus of the Septuagint translates ‘Sukkiim” in 2 Chron 12.3 as “Trogodyte”, grouping them with Shishak’s invading force, Libyans, and Ethiopians.

I’m wondering whether it’s a coincidence or not, but a number of ancient Greek and Romans confused “Trogodyte’ with the more familiar word “Troglodyte” (meaning ‘cave-dweller’). The Nabataeans were often identified as cave-dwellers, too. The coincidence that I have in mind is the legendary race of ‘Horites’ mentioned in various places in the Bible, located in Edom or Seir, which was later taken over by the Nabataean Arabs. They are identified with the legendary Rephaim in Deuteronomy. ‘Horite’ (whether it originally derived from Egyptian Kharu, or not) may be a play on Heb. chor (“cave”). If ancient Greco-Roman writers confuse a geographical term from the Red Sea coast with the term for ‘cave-dwellers’, based on a common association of the inhabitants with cave-dwelling, could this phenomenon be related to the Hebrew description of people as ‘cave-dwellers’ in roughly the same geographic region?

One Response to “Trogodytes and Horites – Troglodytes Alike”

  1. I’m not sure it’s correct to say that “a number of ancient Greek and Romans confused ‘Trogodyte’ with the more familiar word ‘Troglodyte’.” This apparent confusion may stem from errors made by modern translators (with whom the confusion lies). For example, Herodotus 4.183 gives “trogodyte” but the Loeb edition mistranlates as “troglodyte” or cave-dweller; it’s the translator, not Herodotus, who is confused. Any other Greek and Latin sources displaying similar apparent confusion would need to be checked in orginal documents to see if the error lies with the translator. See Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity, p. 204, note 68.

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