What are the pillars of Hercules

Pillars of Heracles

The Pillars of Heracles seen from the Mediterranean: Jebel Musa on the left, the Rock of Gibraltar on the right

As Pillars of Heracles (Pillars of Hercules; ancient Greekαἱ Ἡράκλειοι στῆλαιhai Herakleioi stēlai) was called in ancient times two rocky mountains that form the Strait of Gibraltar (Latin Gaditanum Fretum) border: the Rock of Gibraltar (lat. Calpe) in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and Mount Jebel Musa in Morocco, west of the Spanish exclaveCeuta.[1] Identify other sources Abyle (Latin mons Abila) right next to the Spanish Ceuta in North Africa, which is now known as Monte Hacho is known as the southern pillar of Heracles.

To the Greek poet Pindar According to Heracles, at the exit of the Mediterranean Sea, the inscription “No further” was added to mark the end of the world. The Latin version of this saying Non plus ultra, found its way into the Spanish coat of arms as a motto. After the discovery of America and the accession of Charles V, it was in Plus ultra modified.


The Phoenicians reached and crossed the strait on their voyages of discovery by 900 BC at the latest. BC, as evidenced by early Phoenician finds in Huelva is documented, which are dated to the late 10th or early 9th century.[2] They named the two promontories bordering the Mediterranean Sea after their sun god as Pillars of the Melkart (Baal of Tire). The name of the god was later perused by the Greeks Interpretatio Graeca equated with the Greek Heracles. They further stated that this strait was the end of the world and was once set by Heracles when he was on his way to steal the herd of cattle from Geryon at Tartessus came by.[3]

In contradiction to this early view, however, is the mention of these pillars in the Germania of Tacitusthat this in the area of ​​the Frisians suspected.[4] Plato settles his mythical island kingdom Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Heracles, as the known part of the world ended here for the ancient Greeks.

coat of arms

The columns of Heracles appear in the coats of arms of Spain, Andalusia, Melillas and the city of Cadiz. If they are next to the actual coat of arms, they are counted among the "gems" in heraldry; Within the escutcheon, pillars are a so-called "common figure". The crowning of the columns in the Spanish coat of arms are different: heraldically on the right (i.e. from the front left) the crown of Charles III., heraldic left the Spanish royal crown. In the coat of arms of the first and second Spanish republic the pillars remained uncrowned.


Title page of the Instauratio Magna

The motif of the pillars of Heracles found widespread use in different contexts. The renaissance philosopher Francis Bacon used it z. B. in his Instauratio magna as a symbol for consciously breaking through the knowledge boundaries of antiquity and the Middle Ages. ("Many will drive through it and the knowledge of science will increase" is the signature of the title graphic.)

Pictures on site

  • The Spanish coast near Tarifa with the Djebel Musa in the background

  • The Monte Hacho near Ceuta

  • Monument of the Pillars in Gibraltar, side to the Atlantic

  • Monument of the Pillars in Gibraltar, side to the Mediterranean Sea


Web links

supporting documents

  1. ↑ The first document can be found in the Greek poet Pindarwho is in his Third Olympic chant of a victory for Theron of Akragas in the chariot race at the Olympic Games of the year 476 BC Chr. Writes:

    "Εἰ δ ἀριστεύει μὲν ὕδωρ, κτεάνων δὲ χρυσὸς αἰδοιέστατος, νῦν δὲ πρὸς ἐσχατιὰν Θήρων ἀρεταῖσιν ἱκάνων ἅπτεται οἴκοθεν Ἡρακλέος σταλᾶν. τὸ πόρσω δ᾽ ἔστι σοφοῖς ἄβατον κἀσόφοις. οὔ νιν διώξω: κεινὸς εἴην. "

    “But as true as water the best, gold worthy of all goods: So now Theron touches, reaches the limits, Heracles' pillars through virtues of his sex. A higher goal is denied to wise men and fools. I do not pursue it, I would truly be vain. "

  2. ↑ Fernando González de Canales Cerisola: Tarshish-Tartessos, the Emporium Reached by Kolaios of Samos. CIPOA 2, 2014, pp. 559f. - online version
  3. ↑ 10. Task of Heracles in the library of Apollodorus, Greek & German
  4. ↑ Cornelius Tacitus, Germany and its Tribes, 34 Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, Ed