The Lethes and the River Passage


The historian Strabo was the first to compare the Lima River to the legendary Lethe: the River of Forgetfulness.

According to his opinion, this resulted from an incident between Turduli and Celtic who during an expedition, tried to cross this river, but were involved in a fight - which led to the death of their leader, and so, the soldiers dispersed throughout the Ribeira Lima, forgetting the expedition and the reasons inherent to it.

The Roman civilization, contemporary of Strabo and dominant in Mediterranean Europe at the time, grew the belief that there was a border between the living world and the underworld.

It was the Lethe, also called River of Forgetfulness, whose waters had the power to erase one’s memory, forgetting everything that happened in life. So, those who crossed it could start from the beginning, being free from the past.

In the year 136 BC a Roman army led by centurion Decius Juno Brutus, arrived at the territory that would later become Portugal to wage war against the Galaicos. Disembarking south they headed north towards Finisterre in Galicia, where it was believed the sun went down in the sea and where the dead lived.

The soldiers easily crossed the Tagus and soon after the Zêzere, the Mondego, the Vouga, and the Douro rivers. When they arrived at the bank of the Lima River, opposite to Lanheses, as they had followed the Roman road no. XX “Per Loca Marítima”, Decius Juno Brutus was the first to cross it, without any difficulty.

An understandable fact as that was the historical River Passage place, where the most ancient pirogues in the world were found buried, and where there was a large sandbar that easily allowed to cross the river at low tide. Still very distant were the days in which a bridge would be found in its water flow.

However, Decius Juno Brutus soldiers were terrified because they were convinced that it was the river Lethe and so they strongly refused to cross it. The centurion did not lose serenity and called his soldiers from the other side, one by one, by name, convincing them that, after all, the legend was not true.

This act proved that the Lima was not as dangerous as the local myths described.