Strabo (/ˈstreɪboʊ/; Greek: Στράβων Strábōn; 64 or 63
BC – c. AD 24) was a Greek geographer, philosopher,
and historian who lived in
Asia Minor during the transitional period
Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
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Title page from Isaac Casaubon's 1620 edition of Geographica
Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus (modern
Amasya, Turkey), a city that he said was situated the approximate
equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea. Pontus had recently
fallen to the Roman Republic, and although politically he was a
proponent of Roman imperialism,
Strabo belonged on his mother's side
to a prominent family whose members had held important positions under
the previous resisting regime of King Mithridates VI of Pontus.[n
Strabo as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle
Strabo's life was characterized by extensive travels. He journeyed to
Egypt and Kush, as far west as coastal
Tuscany and as far south as
Ethiopia in addition to his travels in
Asia Minor and the time he
spent in Rome. Travel throughout the Mediterranean and Near East,
especially for scholarly purposes, was popular during this era and was
facilitated by the relative peace enjoyed throughout the reign of
Augustus (27 BC – AD 14). He moved to
Rome in 44 BC,
and stayed there, studying and writing, until at least 31 BC. In
29 BC, on his way to
Augustus was at the time), he
visited the island of
Gyaros in the Aegean Sea. Around 25 BC, he
sailed up the
Nile until reaching Philae,[n 2] after which point there
is little record of his proceedings until AD 17.
Strabo in his hometown (modern-day Amasya, Turkey), beside
the Iris (Yeşilırmak) River
It is not known precisely when Strabo's
Geography was written, though
comments within the work itself place the finished version within the
reign of Emperor Tiberius. Some place its first drafts around
7 BC, others around AD 17 or 18. The latest passage
to which a date can be assigned is his reference to the death in
AD 23 of Juba II, king of Maurousia (Mauretania), who is
said to have died "just recently". He probably worked on the
Geography for many years and revised it steadily, not always
consistently. It is an encyclopaedical chronicle and consists of
political, economic, social, cultural, geographic description of
almost whole Europe: British Isles, Iberian Peninsula, Gaul, Germania,
The Alps, Italy, Greece; and Northern
Black Sea region, Anatolia,
Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. The
Geography is the only
extant work providing information about both Greek and Roman peoples
and countries during the reign of Augustus.
On the presumption that "recently" means within a year,
writing that year or the next (AD 24 ), when he died. He was
influenced by Homer, Hecateaus, and Aristotle. The first of
Strabo's major works, Historical Sketches (Historica hypomnemata),
written while he was in
Rome (c. 20 BC), is nearly completely
lost. Meant to cover the history of the known world from the conquest
of Greece by the Romans,
Strabo quotes it himself and other classical
authors mention that it existed, although the only surviving document
is a fragment of papyrus now in possession of the University of Milan
(renumbered [Papyrus] 46).
Strabo studied under several prominent teachers of various specialties
throughout his early life[n 3] at different stops along his
Mediterranean travels. His first chapter of education took place in
Nysa (modern Sultanhisar, Turkey) under the master of rhetoric
Aristodemus, who had formerly taught the sons of the very same Roman
general who had taken over Pontus.[n 4] Aristodemus was the head of
two schools of rhetoric and grammar, one in Nysa and one in Rhodes,
the former of the two cities possessing a distinct intellectual
curiosity of Homeric literature and the interpretation of epics.
Strabo was an admirer of Homer's poetry, perhaps a consequence of his
time spent in Nysa with Aristodemus.[n 5]
At around the age of 21,
Strabo moved to Rome, where he studied
philosophy with the Peripatetic Xenarchus, a highly respected tutor in
Augustus's court. Despite Xenarchus's Aristotelian leanings, Strabo
later gives evidence to have formed his own Stoic inclinations.[n 6]
In Rome, he also learned grammar under the rich and famous scholar
Tyrannion of Amisus.[n 7] Although Tyrannion was also a Peripatetic,
he was more relevantly a respected authority on geography, a fact
obviously significant, considering Strabo's future contributions to
The final noteworthy mentor to
Strabo was Athenodorus Cananites, a
philosopher who had spent his life since 44 BC in
relationships with the Roman elite. Athenodorus endowed to Strabo
three important items: his philosophy, his knowledge, and his
contacts. Unlike the Aristotelian
Xenarchus and Tyrannion who preceded
him in teaching Strabo, Athenodorus was Stoic in mindset, almost
certainly the source of Strabo's diversion from the philosophy of his
former mentors. Moreover, from his own first-hand experience,
Strabo with information about regions of the
empire which he would not otherwise have known.
Main article: Geographica
Map of the world according to Strabo.
Strabo is most notable for his work
Geographica ("Geography"), which
presented a descriptive history of people and places from different
regions of the world known to his era.
Map of Europe according to Strabo.
Geographica was rarely utilized in its contemporary
antiquity, a multitude of copies survived throughout the Byzantine
Empire. It first appeared in Western Europe in
Rome as a Latin
translation issued around 1469. The first Greek edition was published
in 1516 in Venice. Isaac Casaubon, classical scholar and editor of
Greek texts, provided the first critical edition in 1587.
Strabo cited the antique Greek astronomers
Hipparchus, acknowledging their astronomical and mathematical efforts
towards geography, he claimed that a descriptive approach was more
practical, such that his works were designed for statesmen who were
more anthropologically than numerically concerned with the character
of countries and regions.
Geographica provides a valuable source of information on the
ancient world, especially when this information is corroborated by
other sources. He traveled extensively, as he says: "Westward I have
journeyed to the parts of Etruria opposite Sardinia; towards the south
from the Euxine to the borders of Ethiopia; and perhaps not one of
those who have written geographies has visited more places than I have
between those limits." We do not know when he wrote the Geography,
but we know that he spent a lot of time in the famous library taking
notes from his sources and his "the works of his predecessors" are
most likely to have been noted at the library there. A first edition
was published in 7 BC and a final edition no later than 23 AD, in the
last year of Strabo's life. The Geography, unfortunately, had an
infinitesimal influence in his lifetime. It took about five years for
scholars to give him a credit and for it to become a standard.  In
his last book of Geographica, he wrote quite extensively about the
thriving port city of Alexandria. He emphasized that the harbor was
well-encompassed by the embankments and that the shore was so
deep-watered that even the largest ships could traverse. These ships
were sent out to India,
Ethiopia to supply them with products. Strabo
juxtaposes Dichaiarchia (Naples- one of the largest ports in Europe)
and Alexandria ports and says that the ships in Alexandria were
clearly bigger. Thus, freight transporting and shipping were essential
to foreign trade in products from all over the world, suggesting a
highly developed local economy at that time.
Strabo also describes
the city itself. According to him, there were a lot of beautiful
public parks and the city was reticulated with perfectly designed
streets that were wide enough for chariots and horsemen. “Two of
these are exceeding broad, over a plethron in breadth, and cut one
another at right angles... All the buildings are connected one with
another, and these also with what are beyond it.” Hence, the
architecture was also developed in Egypt.
Strabo is pro-Roman politically, but culturally he reserves primacy to
Greece: "... pro-Roman throughout the Geography. But while he
acknowledges and even praises Roman ascendancy in the political and
military sphere, he also makes a significant effort to establish Greek
Rome in other contexts."
Strabo described small flying reptiles that were 90
centimeters (3 ft) long with a snake-like body and bat-like wings.
Other historians, such as Herodotus, Aristotle, and Flavius Josephus,
mentioned similar creatures.
As quoted from Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology:
Strabo... enters largely, in the Second Book of his Geography, into
the opinions of
Eratosthenes and other Greeks on one of the most
difficult problems in geology, viz., by what causes marine shells came
to be plentifully buried in the earth at such great elevations and
distances from the sea.
He notices, amongst others, the explanation of Xanthus the Lydian, who
said that the seas had once been more extensive, and that they had
afterwards been partially dried up, as in his own time many lakes,
rivers, and wells in Asia had failed during a season of drought.
Treating this conjecture with merited disregard,
Strabo passes on to
the hypothesis of Strato, the natural philosopher, who had observed
that the quantity of mud brought down by rivers into the Euxine was so
great, that its bed must be gradually raised, while the rivers still
continued to pour in an undiminished quantity of water. He therefore
conceived that, originally, when the Euxine was an inland sea, its
level had by this means become so much elevated that it burst its
barrier near Byzantium, and formed a communication with the Propontis,
and this partial drainage had already, he supposed, converted the left
side into marshy ground, and that, at last, the whole would be choked
up with soil. So, it was argued, the Mediterranean had once opened a
passage for itself by the Columns of Hercules into the Atlantic, and
perhaps the abundance of sea-shells in Africa, near the Temple of
Jupiter Ammon, might also be the deposit of some former inland sea,
which had at length forced a passage and escaped.
Strabo rejects this theory as insufficient to account for all the
phenomena, and he proposes one of his own, the profoundness of which
modern geologists are only beginning to appreciate. 'It is not,' he
says, 'because the lands covered by seas were originally at different
altitudes, that the waters have risen, or subsided, or receded from
some parts and inundated others. But the reason is, that the same land
is sometimes raised up and sometimes depressed, and the sea also is
simultaneously raised and depressed so that it either overflows or
returns into its own place again. We must, therefore, ascribe the
cause to the ground, either to that ground which is under the sea, or
to that which becomes flooded by it, but rather to that which lies
beneath the sea, for this is more moveable, and, on account of its
humidity, can be altered with great celerity. It is proper,' he
observes in continuation, 'to derive our explanations from things
which are obvious, and in some measure of daily occurrences, such as
deluges, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sudden swellings of the
land beneath the sea; for the last raise up the sea also, and when the
same lands subside again, they occasion the sea to be let down. And it
is not merely the small, but the large islands also, and not merely
the islands, but the continents, which can be lifted up together with
the sea; and both large and small tracts may subside, for habitations
and cities, like Bure, Bizona, and many others, have been engulfed by
In another place, this learned geographer [Strabo], in alluding to the
tradition that Sicily had been separated by a convulsion from Italy,
remarks, that at present the land near the sea in those parts was
rarely shaken by earthquakes, since there were now open orifices
whereby fire and ignited matters and waters escaped; but formerly,
when the volcanoes of Etna, the Lipari Islands, Ischia, and others,
were closed up, the imprisoned fire and wind might have produced far
more vehement movements. The doctrine, therefore, that volcanoes are
safety valves, and that the subterranean convulsions are probably most
violent when first the volcanic energy shifts itself to a new quarter,
is not modern.
The very first written definition/discussion on the fossil formation
Nummulite quoted from A.M. Celâl Şengör).
One extraordinary thing which I saw at the pyramids must not be
omitted. Heaps of stones from the quarries lie in front of the
pyramids. Among these are found pieces which in shape and size
resemble lentils. Some contain substances like grains half peeled.
These, it is said, are the remnants of the workmen's food converted
into stone; which is not probable. For at home in our country
(Amasia), there is a long hill in a plain, which abounds with pebbles
of a porus stone, resembling lentils. The pebbles of the sea-shore and
of rivers suggest somewhat of the same difficulty [respecting their
origin]; some explanation may indeed be found in the motion [to which
these are subject] in flowing waters, but the investigation of the
above fact presents more difficulty. I have said elsewhere, that in
sight of the pyramids, on the other side in Arabia, and near the stone
quarries from which they are built, is a very rocky mountain, called
the Trojan mountain; beneath it there are caves, and near the caves
and the river a village called Troy, an ancient settlement of the
captive Trojans who had accompanied Menelaus and settled there.
The very first written definition/discussion of volcanism (Effusive
eruption) observed at Katakekaumenē (modern Kula, Western Turkey)
Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger witnessed to the eruption of
Vesuvius on 24
August AD 79 in Pompeii:
Scoria Cone and AA type basaltic fissure lava flow in
Katakekaumenē (modern-day Kula, Turkey).
…There are no trees here, but only the vineyards where they produce
the Katakekaumene wines which are by no means inferior from any of the
wines famous for their quality. The soil is covered with ashes, and
black in color as if the mountainous and rocky country was made up of
fires. Some assume that these ashes were the result of thunderbolts
and sub-terranean explosions, and do not doubt that the legendary
Typhon takes place in this region. Ksanthos adds that the
king of this region was a man called Arimus. However, it is not
reasonable to accept that the whole country was burned down at a time
as a result of such an event rather than as a result of a fire
bursting from underground whose source has now died out. Three pits
are called “Physas” and separated by forty stadia from each other.
Above these pits, there are hills formed by the hot masses burst out
from the ground as estimated by a logical reasoning. Such type of soil
is very convenient for viniculture, just like the Katanasoil which is
covered with ashes and where the best wines are still produced
abundantly. Some writers concluded by looking at these places that
there is a good reason for calling Dionysus by the name
Meineke, Augustus, ed. (1877). Strabonis Geographica. Lipsiae: B.G.
Strabo (1852). Gustav Kramer, ed. Strabonis Geographica. Recens. G.
Kramer. Ed. minor.
Geography in three volumes as translated by H.C. Hamilton,
ed. H.G. Bohn, 1854–1857: vol. 1
vol. 3 (Internet Archive)
Stefan Radt, ed. (2002–2011). Strabons Geographika : mit
Übersetzung und Kommentar. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Jones, H. L., transl. (1917). The
Geography of Strabo. Vol. 1 (Books 1
& 2) of 8 vols. London: Heinemann.
^ Pontus fell to the Roman general
Pompey in 63 BC and, after the
murder or suicide of Mithridates VI of Pontus (otherwise known as
Mithridates the Great), was broken up into smaller provinces in
Strabo in Book 12 Chapter 3 Section 41 states that the
Romans took possession of
Bithynia "a little before my time", setting
the date of his birth to after 63 BC.
^ Accompanied by prefect of
Egypt Aelius Gallus, who had been sent on
a military mission to Arabia.
^ He mentions all or most of his teachers as prominent citizens of
their own respective cities.
^ This also highlights the international trend of the era that Greek
intellectuals would often instruct the Roman elite.
^ Aristodemus was also the grandson of the famous Posidonius, whose
influence is manifest in Strabo's Geography.
^ Largely due to his future teacher Athenodorus, tutor of Augustus.
^ Thus completing his traditional Greek aristocratic education in
rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy. Tyrannion was known to have
befriended Cicero and taught his nephew, Quintus.
Strabo (meaning "squinty", as in strabismus) was a term employed by
the Romans for anyone whose eyes were distorted or deformed. The
Pompey was called "Pompeius Strabo". A native of Sicily so
clear-sighted that he could see things at great distance as if they
were nearby was also called "Strabo."
Geography Book XII Chapter 3 Section 15, "Amaseia, my fatherland".
^ a b Horace Leonard Jones, translator, The
Geography of Strabo,
Heinemann, London, 1917, p. xxv-xxvi
^ Sarah Pothecary, When was the
^ a b Strabonis Geographica, Book 17, Chapter 7.
^ (see note 3.)
^ Geographie, Band 1, Strabo, S.17, Strabo, Karl Kärcher, Gottlieb
Lukas Friedrich Tafel, Christian Nathanael Osiander, Gustav Schwab,
Verlag Metzler, 1831.
Geography 17.1.6, 7, 8, 13; translated by Brent
Shaw.Attained from: E.A. Pollard, C. Rosenberg, and R.L. Tignor, et
al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Concise, Volume One: Beginnings
through the Fifteenth Century (W.W. Norton, 2015) Pg. 228
^ Stearns-Davis, William. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative
Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon,
1912-1913), Vol. I: Greece and the East, pp. 325-329.
^ Lawrence Kim,
Homer Between History and Fiction in Imperial Greek
Literature, 2010, p83
^ Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, 1832, p.20-21
^ Strabo's Geography, XVII, 34
^ Strabo's Geography, XIII, 628; XIV, 650.
"Biography of Strabo". Tufts.
"Strabo". Encyclopædia Britannica (15th ed.). 1998.
Diller, A. (1975). The Textual Tradition of Strabo’s Geography.
Dueck, Daniela (2000).
Strabo of Amasia: Greek Man of Letters in
Augustan Rome. New York: Routledge.
Dueck, D.; H. Lindsay; S. Pothecary, eds. (2005). Strabo's Cultural
Geography: The Making of a Kolossourgia. Cambridge: Cambridge
Lindberg, David C. (2008). The Beginnings of Western Science The
European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and
Institutional Context, Prehistory A.D. 1450 (2nd ed.). Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Roller, Duane (2014). The
Geography of Strabo: An English Translation,
with Introduction and Notes. Cambridge.
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Biography of Strabo
Strabo at Project Gutenberg
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