Greek mythology the Hyperboreans (Ancient Greek:
Ὑπερβόρε(ι)οι, pronounced [hyperbóre(ː)ɔi̯];
Latin: Hyperborei) were a mythical race of giants who lived "beyond
the North Wind". The Greeks thought that Boreas, the god of the North
Wind (one of the Anemoi, or "Winds") lived in Thrace, and therefore
Hyperborea indicates a region that lay far to the north of Thrace.
This land was supposed to be perfect, with the sun shining twenty-four
hours a day, which to modern ears suggests a possible location within
Arctic Circle during the Midnight Sun-time of year. However, it is
also possible that
Hyperborea had no real physical location at all,
for according to the classical Greek poet Pindar,
neither by ship nor on foot would you find
the marvellous road to the assembly of the Hyperboreans.
Pindar also described the otherworldly perfection of the Hyperboreans:
Never the Muse is absent
from their ways: lyres clash and flutes cry
and everywhere maiden choruses whirling.
Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed
in their sacred blood; far from labor and battle they live.
1 Early sources
1.2 Location of Hyperborea
1.3 Later classical sources
1.4 Ancient identification with Britain
2.1 Hyperboreans in Delos
2.2 Abaris the Hyperborean
2.3 Physical appearance
2.4 From east to west:
Celts as Hyperboreans
3 Modern interpretations
4 Identification as Hyperboreans
5 Hyperborean Indo-European hypothesis
Hyperborea in modern esoteric thought
7 Cultural references
8 See also
The earliest extant source that mentions
Hyperborea in detail,
Herodotus's Histories (
Book IV, Chapters 32–36), dates from circa
450 BC. However,
Herodotus recorded three earlier sources that
supposedly mentioned the Hyperboreans, including
Hesiod and Homer, the
latter purportedly having written of
Hyperborea in his lost work
Epigoni: "if that be really a work of his".
Herodotus also wrote that
the 7th-century BC poet
Aristeas wrote of the Hyperboreans in a poem
(now lost) called Arimaspea about a journey to the Issedones, who are
estimated to have lived in the Kazakh Steppe. Beyond these lived
the one-eyed Arimaspians, further on the gold-guarding griffins, and
beyond these the Hyperboreans.
Herodotus assumed that Hyperborea
lay somewhere in Northeast Asia.
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos and Hellanicus of Lesbos, contemporaries of
Herodotus in the 5th century BC, each briefly described or referenced
the Hyperboreans in their works.
Location of Hyperborea
The Hyperboreans were believed to live beyond the snowy Riphean
According to Pausanias: "The land of the Hyperboreans, men living
beyond the home of Boreas."
Homer placed Boreas in Thrace, and therefore
Hyperborea was in his
opinion north of Thrace, in Dacia.
Sophocles (Antigone, 980–987), Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 193; 651),
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos (Schol. on Apollonius Rhodius, 1. 121) and
Callimachus (Delian, [IV] 65) also placed Boreas in Thrace. Other
ancient writers however believed the home of Boreas or the Riphean
Mountains were in a different location. For example, Hecataeus of
Miletus believed that the
Riphean Mountains were adjacent to the Black
Pindar placed the home of Boreas, the Riphean
Hyperborea all near the Danube. Heraclides Ponticus
Antimachus in contrast identified the
Riphean Mountains with the
Alps, and the Hyperboreans as a Celtic tribe (perhaps the Helvetii)
who lived just beyond them. Aristotle placed the Riphean mountains
on the borders of Scythia, and
Hyperborea further north. Hecataeus
of Abdera and others believed
Hyperborea was Britain (see below).
Later Roman and Greek sources continued to change the location of the
Riphean mountains, the home of Boreas, as well as Hyperborea,
supposedly located beyond them. However all these sources agreed these
were all in the far north of Greece or southern Europe. The
Simmias of Rhodes
Simmias of Rhodes in the 3rd century BC connected
the Hyperboreans to the Massagetae and Posidonius in the 1st
century BC to the Western Celts, but
Pomponius Mela placed them even
further north in the vicinity of the Arctic.
In maps based on reference points and descriptions given by
Strabo, Hyperborea, shown variously as a peninsula or island, is
located beyond what is now France, and stretches further north-south
than east-west. Other descriptions put it in the general area of
the Ural Mountains.
Another version exists:
Hyperborea was located in the
Murmansk region of Russia.
Later classical sources
Plutarch, writing in the 1st century AD, connected the Hyperboreans
Gauls who had sacked
Rome in the 4th century BC (see Battle
of the Allia).
Diodorus Siculus and
Stephen of Byzantium
Stephen of Byzantium all recorded
important ancient Greek sources on Hyperborea, but added no new
The 2nd century AD Stoic philosopher Hierocles equated the
Hyperboreans with the Scythians, and the
Riphean Mountains with the
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria and other early Christian
writers also made this same Scythian equation.
Ancient identification with Britain
Hyperborea was identified with Britain first by
Hecataeus of Abdera in
the 4th century BC, as in a preserved fragment by Diodorus Siculus:
In the regions beyond the land of the
Celts there lies in the ocean an
island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is
situated in the north and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are
called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the
north wind (Boreas) blows; and the island is both fertile and
productive of every crop, and has an unusually temperate climate.
Hecateaus of Abdera also wrote that the Hyperboreans had on their
island "a magnificent sacred precinct of
Apollo and a notable temple
which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in
shape". Some scholars have identified this temple with
Stonehenge. Diodorus, however, does not identify Hyperborea
with Britain, and his description of Britain (5.21–23) makes no
mention of the Hyperboreans or their spherical temple. (See the
section "Legends" below.)
Pseudo-Scymnus, around 90 BC, wrote that Boreas dwelled at the
extremity of Gaulish territory, and that he had a pillar erected in
his name on the edge of the sea (Periegesis, 183). Some have claimed
this is a geographical reference to northern France, and
the British Isles which lay just beyond the English Channel.
Ptolemy (Geographia, 2. 21) and
Marcian of Heraclea (Periplus, 2. 42)
Hyperborea in the
North Sea which they called the
In his 1726 work on the druids,
John Toland specifically identified
Hyperborea with the Isle of Lewis, and the spherical temple
with the Callanish Stones.
Along with Thule,
Hyperborea was one of several terrae incognitae to
the Greeks and Romans, where Pliny,
Pindar and Herodotus, as well as
Virgil and Cicero, reported that people lived to the age of one
thousand and enjoyed lives of complete happiness. Hecataeus of Abdera
collated all the stories about the Hyperboreans current in the fourth
century BC and published a lengthy treatise on them, lost to us, but
Diodorus Siculus (ii.47.1–2). Also, the sun was
supposed to rise and set only once a year in Hyperborea; which would
place it above or upon the
Arctic Circle, or, more generally, in the
arctic polar regions.
The ancient Greek writer
Theopompus in his work Philippica claimed
Hyperborea was once planned to be conquered by a large race of
soldiers from another island (some have claimed this was Atlantis),
the plan though was abandoned because the soldiers from Meropis
realized the Hyperboreans were too strong for them and the most
blessed of people; this unusual tale, which some believe was satire or
comedy, was preserved by Aelian (Varia Historia, 3. 18).
Theseus visited the Hyperboreans, and
Pindar transferred Perseus's
encounter with Medusa there from its traditional site in Libya, to the
dissatisfaction of his Alexandrian editors.
Apollonius wrote that the
Argonauts sighted Hyperborea, when they
sailed through Eridanos.
Hyperboreans in Delos
On this 1570 map,
Hyperborea is shown as an
Arctic continent and
described as "Terra Septemtrionalis Incognita" (Unknown Northern
Land). Notice the similarities in the continent to that of Mercator's
Alone among the Twelve Olympians,
Apollo was venerated among the
Hyperboreans, the Hellenes thought: he spent his winter amongst
them. According to Herodotus, offerings from the Hyperboreans came
Scythia packed with straw, and they were passed from tribe to tribe
until they arrived at
Dodona and from them to other Greek peoples
until they to came to Apollo's temple on Delos. He says they used this
method because the first time the gifts were brought by two maidens,
Hyperoche and Laodice, with a escort of five men, but none of them
returned. To prevent that, since then the Hyperboreans brought the
gifts to their borders and asked they neighbours to deliver them to
the next country and so on until they arrived to Delos.
Herodotus also details that other two virgin maidens, Arge and Opis,
had come from
Delos before, as a tribute to the goddess
Ilithyia for ease of child-bearing, accompanied by the gods
themselves. The maidens received honours in Delos, where the women
collected gifts from them and sang hymns to them.
Abaris the Hyperborean
Main article: Abaris the Hyperborean
A particular Hyperborean legendary healer was known as "Abaris" or
"Abaris the Healer" whom
Herodotus first described in his works. Plato
(Charmides, 158C) regarded Abaris as a physician from the far north,
Strabo reported Abaris was Scythian like the early philosopher
Anacharsis (Geographica, 7. 3. 8).
Greek legend asserts that the Boreades, who were the descendants of
Boreas and the snow-nymph Chione (or Khione), founded the first
theocratic monarchy on Hyperborea. This legend is found preserved in
the writings of Aelian:
This god [Apollon] has as priests the sons of Boreas [North Wind] and
Chione [Snow], three in number, brothers by birth, and six cubits in
height [about 3 metres].
Diodorus Siculus added to this account:
And the kings of this (Hyperborean) city and the supervisors of the
sacred precinct are called Boreadae, since they are descendants of
Boreas, and the succession to these positions is always kept in their
The Boreades were thus believed to be giant kings, around 10 feet
(3.0 m) tall, who ruled Hyperborea.
No other physical descriptions of the Hyperboreans are provided in
classical sources. However, Aelius Herodianus, a grammarian in the
3rd century, wrote that the mythical
Arimaspi were identical to the
Hyperboreans in physical appearance (De Prosodia Catholica, 1. 114)
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium in the 6th century wrote the same (Ethnica,
118. 16). The ancient poet
Callimachus described the
having fair hair but it is disputed whether the
From east to west:
Celts as Hyperboreans
Six classical Greek authors also came to identify these mythical
people at the back of the North Wind with their Celtic neighbours in
Antimachus of Colophon, Protarchus, Heraclides Ponticus,
Hecataeus of Abdera,
Apollonius of Rhodes and Posidonius of Apamea.
The way the Greeks understood their relationship with non-Greek
peoples was significantly moulded by the way myths of the Golden Age
were transplanted into the contemporary scene, especially in the
context of Greek colonisation and trade. As the Riphean mountains of
the mythical past were identified with the
Alps of northern Italy,
there was at least a geographic rationale for identifying the
Hyperboreans with the
Celts living in and beyond the Alps, or at least
the Hyperborean lands with the lands inhabited by the Celts. A
reputation for feasting and a love of gold may have reinforced the
In Ireland, however, the
Celts had their own legends of an advanced
civilization in the far north. The
Book of Invasions records that this
civilization was established by migrants from Ireland, whose
descendants returned to settle Ireland several centuries later:
Bethach son of Iarbonel the Soothsayer son of Nemed: his descendants
went into the northern islands of the world to learn druidry and
heathenism and diabolical knowledge, so that they became expert in all
the arts. And their descendants were the Tuatha De Danann ... These
latter acquired knowledge and science and diabolism in four cities:
Failias, Goirias, Findlias and Muirias ... Thereafter the Tuatha De
Danann came to Ireland, without ships, passing through the air in dark
Map by Abraham Ortelius, Amsterdam 1572: at the top left Oceanvs
Iceland from Greenland
Dzungarian Gate § Hyperborean connection
As with other legends of this sort, details can be selectively
reconciled with modern knowledge. Above the
Arctic Circle, from the
spring equinox to the autumnal equinox (depending on latitude), the
sun can shine for 24 hours a day; at the extreme (that is, the Pole),
it rises and sets only once a year, possibly leading to the erroneous
conclusion that a "day" for such persons is a year long, and therefore
that living a thousand days would be the same as living a thousand
Herodotus places the Hyperboreans beyond the
Central Asian peoples, it appears that his
Hyperboreans may have lived in Siberia.
Heracles sought the
golden-antlered hind of
Artemis in Hyperborea. As the reindeer is the
only deer species of which females bear antlers, this would suggest an
arctic or subarctic region. Following J. D. P. Bolton's location of
Issedones on the south-western slopes of the Altay mountains, Carl
P. Ruck places
Hyperborea beyond the
Dzungarian Gate into northern
Xinjiang, noting that the Hyperboreans were probably Chinese.
Amber arrived in Greek hands from some place known to be far to the
Avram Davidson proposed the theory that
Hyperborea was derived
from a logical (though erroneous) explanation by the Greeks for the
insects, which apparently originated in a warm climate, found embedded
inside the amber arriving in their cities from cold northern
Unaware of the explanation offered by modern science (i.e. that these
insects had lived in times when the climate of northern
much warmer, their bodies preserved unchanged in the amber) the Greeks
came up with the idea that the coldness of northern countries was due
to the cold breath of Boreas, the North Wind. So if one travelled
"beyond Boreas" one would find a warm and sunny land.
Identification as Hyperboreans
Northern Europeans (Scandinavians), when confronted with the classical
Greco-Roman culture of the Mediterranean, identified themselves with
the Hyperboreans, neglecting the traditional aspect of a perpetually
sunny land beyond the north. This idea was especially strong during
the 17th century in Sweden, where the later representatives of the
Gothicism declared the Scandinavian peninsula both the
Atlantis and the Hyperborean land. The north of the Scandinavian
peninsula is crossed by the
Arctic Circle, north of which there are
sunless days during the winter and sunlit nights during the summer.
European culture equally self-identified as Hyperborean; thus
Washington Irving, in elaborating on Astoria in the Pacific Northwest,
was of the opinion that
While the fiery and magnificent Spaniard, inflamed with the mania for
gold, has extended his discoveries and conquests over those brilliant
countries scorched by the ardent sun of the tropics, the adroit and
buoyant Frenchman, and the cool and calculating Briton, have pursued
the less splendid, but no less lucrative, traffic in furs amidst the
hyperborean regions of the Canadas, until they have advanced even
In this vein the self-described "Hyperborean-Roman Company"
(Hyperboreisch-römische Gesellschaft) were a group of northern
European scholars who studied classical ruins in Rome, founded in 1824
by Theodor Panofka, Otto Magnus von Stackelberg,
August Kestner and
Friedrich Nietzsche referred to his sympathetic
readers as Hyperboreans in The Antichrist (written 1888, published
1895): "Let us look each other in the face. We are
Hyperboreans – we know well enough how remote our place is." He
Pindar and added "Beyond the North, beyond the ice, beyond
death – our life, our happiness."
The term "Hyperborean" still sees some jocular contemporary use in
reference to groups of people who live in a cold climate. Under the
Library of Congress Classification
Library of Congress Classification System, the letter subclass PM
includes "Hyperborean Languages", a catch-all category that refers to
all the linguistically unrelated languages of peoples living in Arctic
regions, such as the Inuit.
Hyperborean Indo-European hypothesis
John G. Bennett wrote a research paper entitled "The Hyperborean
Origin of the Indo-European Culture" (Journal Systematics, Vol. 1, No.
3, December 1963) in which he claimed the Indo-European homeland was
in the far north, which he considered the
Hyperborea of classical
antiquity. This idea was earlier proposed by Bal Gangadhar Tilak
(whom Bennett credits) in his The
Arctic Home in the Vedas (1903) as
well as the Austro-Hungarian ethnologist
Karl Penka (Origins of the
Hyperborea in modern esoteric thought
H. P. Blavatsky,
René Guénon and
Julius Evola all shared the belief
in the Hyperborean, polar origins of Mankind and a subsequent
solidification and devolution. According to these esotericists,
Hyperborea was the
Golden Age polar center of civilization and
spirituality; mankind does not rise from the ape, but progressively
devolves into the apelike condition as it strays physically and
spiritually from its mystical otherworldly homeland in the Far North,
succumbing to the demonic energies of the South Pole, the greatest
point of materialization (see Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar
Robert Charroux first related the Hyperboreans to an ancient astronaut
race of "reputedly very large, very white people" who had chosen "the
least warm area on the earth because it corresponded more closely to
their own climate on the planet from which they originated".
Miguel Serrano was influenced by Charroux's writings on the
At the Back of the North Wind
At the Back of the North Wind features a feminine
version of Boreas, named "North Wind", who takes a sickly boy,
"Diamond", to "the back of the North Wind", which she herself cannot
enter. More than two chapters are devoted to a description of
Hyperborea and how Diamond got there.
Dante's Paradise, in his Divine Comedy, is the subject of Hyperborean
allusions: it is figured geographically north of Purgatory; and, great
and little bears (symbols of the polar north) appear above the summit
of Mount Purgatorio.
In Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Ishmael suggests that, among other
things, the painting in the Spouter Inn in Chapter 3 could be "a
Hyperborean winter scene".
Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith authored a series of short stories known as the
Hyperborean cycle (1931–58). Some elements were borrowed by H. P.
Lovecraft in what later became known as the Cthulhu Mythos.
In Robert E. Howard's Conan stories (1932–36),
Hyperborea is a land
to the north-east of Conan's native Cimmeria.
The "Hyperboreans" (Hyperboreisch-römische Gesellschaft) were a group
of northern European scholars who studied classical ruins in Rome,
founded in 1824 by Theodor Panofka, Otto Magnus von Stackelberg,
August Kestner and Eduard Gerhard.
Norman Lindsay in July 1923 first exhibited his
Hyperborea in Sydney. A month later he published two essays
about Hyperborea, the first in Vision, No. 2, in which he said that
only a picture or a poem could describe Hyperborea. The essays were
later combined as Hyperborea: Two Fantastic Travel Essays by
Fanfrolico Press in 1928.
Friedrich Nietzsche referred to those who followed his philosophy as
"Hyperboreans" in The Antichrist (translated by Anthony M. Ludovici.)
German electronic music pioneers
Tangerine Dream released an album
with the title
Hyperborea in 1983.
Hyperborea and its inhabitants are referenced several times in the
back history of
Hellboy comic book universe, particularly in the
In Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Calvin Tower calls Jake Chambers
Ruins of the Hyperborean civilization play a role in the plot of
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
The Last Olympian
The Last Olympian by
Rick Riordan Hyperborean Giants are fighting
for Kronos and, with Prometheus, give Percy Jackson Pandora's Box,
containing hope. In Rick Riordan's subsequent book The Son of Neptune,
Percy Jackson and his friends also encounter the giants in Alaska on
their quest to free the god of death, Thanatos.
The Hyperboreans are the subject of the title track of album
Hyperboreans by Jackie Oates, an English folk music singer/songwriter.
The Hyperboreans are the subject of the many songs by Bal-Sagoth, an
English symphonic black metal band.
The 1977 film
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger wove a number of related
references into the plot.
Hyperborea was the name given to an island
far in the North Sea, described in the film by the witch Zenobia as
being "past the Celtic Isles". The island had been home to the
Arimaspi and contained a pyramid structure called The Shrine of the
Four Elements, located in a temperate valley hidden amongst the ice of
Several of the characters in Ulysses by
James Joyce refer to
themselves as Hyperborean, referring to their Celtic ethnicity.
Miloš Crnjanski wrote his autobiographical novel Among
The Hyperboreans (Kod Hyperborejaca), describing his years as a
Rome at the outbreak of the World War II. In his escapist
monologues and dialogues, he discusses art, nature, historical
figures, life and death, describing the lives of his friends and
contemporaries, as well as looking for the hidden connections between
everything there is in the world: from Ancient
Rome to the far
In Transformers: Cybertron,
Hyperborea was a spaceship that carried
the first colonists of Animatron.
Iram of the Pillars
^ Pindar, Tenth Pythian Ode; translated by Richmond Lattimore.
^ The History of Herodotus, parallel English/Greek:
Book 4: Melpomene:
^ Bridgman, Timothy P. (2005). Hyperboreans. Myth and history in
Celtic-Hellenic contacts. London: Routledge. pp. 27–31.
^ Phillips, E. D. (1955). "The Legend of Aristeas: Fact and Fancy in
Early Greek Notions of East Russia, Siberia, and Inner Asia". Artibus
Asiae. 18 (2): 161–177 [p. 166]. doi:10.2307/3248792.
^ Bridgman, p. 31
^ Bridgman, p. 61.
^ Description of Greece, 5. 7. 8
^ a b
Aristeas of Proconnesus, Bolton, Oxford, 1962, p. 111
^ Bridgman, p. 35, 72
^ Bridgman, p. 45
^ Bridgman, pp. 60–69.
^ Meteorologica, 1. 13. 350b.
^ Bridgman, p. 75–80
^ Supplementum Hellenistcum, Berlin, 1983, No. 906, 411.
^ Bridgman, p. 79.
^ Strabo, 11.4.3.
^ Fridtjof Nansen.In Northern Mists:
Arctic Exploration in Early
Times. Frederick A. Stokes co., 1911. Page 188.
^ Plutarch – Life of Camillus
^ a b Bridgman, pp. 163–173.
^ Bridgman, p. 86
^ Stromata iv. xxi' Exhortation, II.
^ Diodorus Siculus,
Book II, 47–48
^ Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth & Legend, p.42 ff. Squire's claim
that Diodorus locates this temple "in the centre of Britain" is
unfounded. Diodorus 2.47
Lewis Spence, The Mysteries of Britain, 1905.
^ Bridgman, p. 91
^ Haycock, David Boyd (2002). "Chapter 7: Much Greater, Than Commonly
Imagined.". William Stukeley: Science, Religion and Archaeology in
Eighteenth-Century England. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer.
ISBN 9780851158648. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
^ Bezalel Bar-Kochva (1997), "The Structure of an Ethnographical
Work", Pseudo-Hecataeus: On the Jews
^ Carter, Lin. Behind the North Wind.
^ Harris, J. Rendel (1925). "
Apollo at the Back of the North Wind".
Journal of Hellenic Studies. 45 (2): 229–242. doi:10.2307/625047.
^ a b Herodotus. Historia. Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved 17 May
Book IV, 33–34
^ Aelian. On the Nature of Animals. Loeb Classical Library.
p. 357. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
^ Bibliotheca Historica, II. 47
^ Bridgman, pp.92–134
^ Hymn IV to Delos, 292
^ Bridgman, Timothy P. (2005), Hyperboreans: myth and history in
Celtic-Hellenic contacts, Routledge, p. 76,
ISBN 0-415-96978-6 – via Google Books
^ See further Bridgman, Hyperboreans. Myth and history in
Celtic-Hellenic contacts (2005).
Book of Invasions 265 and 304-306
^ Wasson, R.G.; Kramrisch, Stella; Ott, Jonathan; et al. (1986),
Persephone's Quest – Entheogens and the origins of Religion, Yale
University Press, pp. 227–230, ISBN 0-300-05266-9
^ Davidson, Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual
Foundations of Several Ancient Legends.
^ Irving, Astoria or Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky
^ Bennett, John G (December 1963). "The Hyperborean Origin of the
Indo-European Culture". Systematics. 1 (3). Archived from the original
^ Godwin, Jocelyn (1993). Arktos: the Polar Myth in Science,
Symbolism, and Nazi Survival. London: Thames & Hudson.
pp. 32–50. ISBN 0-500-27713-3.
Jason (January–February 2000). "
Hyperborea & the
Quest for Mystical Enlightenment". New Dawn (58).
^ Charroux, Robert (1974). The Mysterious Past. London: Futura
Publications. p. 29. ISBN 0-86007-044-1.
^ Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2003). Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric
Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York: NYU Press.
Portions of this article were formerly excerpted from the public
domain Lemprière's Classical Dictionary, 1848.
Bridgman, Timothy M. (2005). Hyperboreans. Myth and history in
Celtic-Hellenic contacts. Studies in Classics. New York and London:
Routledge. ISBN 0-415-96978-6.
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