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Strabo as depicted in a 16th-century engraving
Strabo as depicted in a 16th-century engraving

Strabo[1] (/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 of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Life


Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus (in present-day Turkey) in around 64 BC.[8] His family had been involved in politics since at least the reign of Mithridates V.[9] Strabo was related to Dorylaeus on his mother's side. Several other family members, including his paternal grandfather had served Mithridates VI during the Mithridatic Wars. As the war drew to a close, Strabo's grandfather had turned several Pontic fortresses over to the Romans.[10] Strabo wrote that "great promises were made in exchange for these services", and as Persian culture endured in Amasia even after Mithridates and Tigranes were defeated, scholars have speculated about how the family's support for Rome might have affected their position in the local community, and whether they might have been granted Roman citizenship as a reward.[9]

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 Corinth (where 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,[2] after which point there is little record of his proceedings until AD 17.

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,[11] others around AD 17[12] or 18.[11] 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".[13] 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, 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.[14]

On the presumption that "recently" means within a year, Strabo stopped writing that year or the next (AD 24 ), when he died. He was influenced by Homer, Hecataeus, and Aristotle.[15] 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).

Education


Strabo studied under several prominent teachers of various specialties throughout his early life[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.[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.[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.[6] In Rome, he also learned grammar under the rich and famous scholar Tyrannion of Amisus.[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 field.

The final noteworthy mentor to Strabo was Athenodorus Cananites, a philosopher who had spent his life since 44 BC in Rome forging 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, Athenodorus provided Strabo with information about regions of the empire which he would not otherwise have known.

Geographica


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.[13]

Although the 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.[16] Isaac Casaubon, classical scholar and editor of Greek texts, provided the first critical edition in 1587.

Although Strabo cited the antique Greek astronomers Eratosthenes and 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.

As such, 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."[17] We do not know when he wrote Geographica, 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. Geographica, 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.[18] 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.[19] 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."[20] Hence, the architecture was also developed in Egypt.

Strabo is pro-Roman politically, but culturally he reserves primacy to Greece:[21] "... 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 primacy over Rome in other contexts."

In India, Strabo described small flying reptiles that were 90 centimetres (35 in) long with a snake-like body and bat-like wings. Other historians, such as Herodotus, Aristotle, and Flavius Josephus, mentioned similar creatures.

Geology


As quoted from Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology:

The very first written definition/discussion on the fossil formation (mentioning 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."[13]

The first written definition/discussion of volcanism (effusive eruption) observed at Katakekaumenē (modern Kula, Western Turkey) until Pliny the Younger witnessed to the eruption of Vesuvius on 24 August AD 79 in Pompeii:

Editions


  • Meineke, Augustus, ed. (1877). Strabonis Geographica. Lipsiae: B.G. Teubneri.
  • Strabo (1852). Gustav Kramer (ed.). Strabonis Geographica. Recens. G. Kramer. Ed. minor [42] .
  • Strabo's Geography in three volumes as translated by H.C. Hamilton, ed. H.G. Bohn, 1854–1857: vol. 1 [43] vol. 2 [44] vol. 3 [45] (Internet Archive)
  • Stefan Radt, ed. (2002–2011). Strabons Geographika : mit Übersetzung und Kommentar. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • Jones, H. L., transl. (1917). The Geography of Strabo [46] . Vol. 1 (Books 1 & 2) of 8 vols. London: Heinemann.
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