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Bill Thayer
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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography

Claudius Ptolemy

published in English translation by Dover Publications, 1991

The text is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book II, Chapter 2

Location of Albion island of Britannia
(from the First Map of Europe)

Thayer's Note: Stevenson's "translation" of Ptolemy, to which this page belongs, is abysmally bad. It should not be used for any serious purpose. For details and correctives, see my Ptolemy homepage.


My notes on the map: No information has been added to Ptolemy's text as I have it, so there is almost no topographic data; the courses of the rivers also remain unmapped.

The interesting item is of course one of Ptolemy's biggest mistakes: Scotland is rotated clockwise by about 90°. The error occurs at a very specific place, which I've marked by a red line on the map, extending from the Solway Firth to Newcastle. No coincidence at all that this is almost exactly the line of Hadrian's Wall: all of a sudden the Roman geographer loses all his land data and has to rely on pilot's accounts, with choppy seas and strong currents accounting for the bad data. Ptolemy may well have had only a single report for the navigation of the top of Scotland; what else could he do? (For an alternative and vaguer explanation — I'm not in the least convinced by my own — see John Ward's The Roman Era in Britain, p14; for yet another explanation, far more convincing and detailed, see Thomas G. Ikins' Roman Map of Britain. There are, out there, many other diagnoses of this error by Ptolemy and of his other errors, limited only by human ingenuity expressed in shelves full of books and a passel of webpages. None of them is to be trusted, probably.)

This map, when examined together with Ptolemy's maps of Belgica and Cimbria (now the Low Countries and Denmark), reveals something important about the sources of error in the Geography. In Book II, Chapter 8 we see the Dutch coast correctly placed; navigation thence along the coast ought to have showed Denmark to be, in terms of absolute coördinates within his own system, where Ptolemy puts northern Scotland, and the positions on the map of Britain would have been provided with cross-checks.

What happened instead is that in Book II, Chapter 10 we do indeed see Denmark: similarly tilted by a same large clockwise angle. I haven't yet figured them exactly, but Ptolemy's distances from Scotland to Denmark appear to be roughly the same as ours. He did his cross-checks all right, but both Scotland and Denmark were beyond the pale of Roman dominion. He is relying on sea data.

To me this suggests that Ptolemy kept two sets of data, obtained by land and by sea; that he cross-checked each internally; that he favored the land data because he knew they were more accurate; and that for the sea data he knew they weren't good, but at least he made them consistent. But once again, don't believe anything you read about Ptolemy, not even my own stuff — it's all theories and smoke.

A description of the northern coast, above which is the Duecaledonius ocean.

Novantarum peninsula, and promontory of the same name 21*00 61°40
Rerigonius bay 20*30 60°50
Vindogara bay 21*20 60°30
Clota estuary 22*15 59°20
Lemannonius bay 24*00 60°00
Epidium promontory 23*00 60°40
mouth of the Longus river 24*30 60°40
mouth of the Itis river 27*00 60°40
Volas bay 29*00 60°30
mouth of the Navarus river 30*00 60°30
Tarvedum or Orcas promontory 31*20 60°15

Description of the west a side which borders on the Hibernian ocean and the Vergionius ocean.

From the Novantian promontory 21*00 61°40
mouth of the Abravannus river 19*20 61°00
Iena estuary 19*00 60°30
mouth of the Devas river 18*00 60°00
mouth of the Novius river 18*20 59°30
Ituna estuary 18*30 58°45
Moricambe estuary 17*30 58°20
Setantiorum harbor b 17*20 57°45
Belisama estuary 17*30 57°20
Seteia estuary 17*00 57°00
Caeanganorum promontory 15*00 57°00 c
mouth of the Toesobis river 15*40 56°20
mouth of the Stuccia river 15*20 55°30
mouth of the Tuerobis river 15*00 55°00
Octapitarum promontory 14*20 54°30
mouth of the Tobius river 15*30 54°30
mouth of the Ratostabius river 16*30 54°30
Sabrina estuary 17*20 54°30
Uxella estuary 16*00 53°30
Herculis promontory 14*00 52°45
Antivestaeum or Bolerium promontory 11*30 52°30
Damnonium or Ocrium promontory 12*00 51°30

Description of the south side below which is the Britannic ocean. After the Ocrium promontory is

the mouth of the Cenio river 14*51 d 51°45
mouth of the Tamarus river 15*40 52°10
mouth of the Iscas river 17*40 52°20
mouth of the Alaunus river 17*40 52°40
Magnus Portus 19*00 53°00
mouth of the Trisantonis river 20*20 53°00
New harbor 21*00 53°30
Cantium promontory 22*00 54°00

A description of the eastern and the southern side next to which is the Germanic ocean. After the Tarvedum promontory, or Orcades, by which it is known,

Virvedrum promontory 31*00 60°00
Verubium promontory 30*30 59°40
mouth of the Ila river 30*00 59°40
a high shore 29*00 59°40
Varar estuary 28*00 e 59°40
mouth of the Loxa river 27*30 59°40
Tuesis estuary 27*00 59°00
mouth of the Caelis river 27*00 58°45
Taezalon promontory 27*30 58°30
mouth of the Deva river 26*00 58°30
mouth of the Tina river 24*00 58°30
Boderia estuary 22*30 59°00
mouth of the Alaunus river 21*20 58°30
mouth of the Vedra river 20*10 58°30
Dunum bay 20*15 57°30
Gabrantuicorum bay with many harbors 21*00 57°00
Ocelus promontory 21*15 56°40
mouth of the Abi river 21*00 56°30
Metaris estuary 20*30 55°40
mouth of the Gariennus river 20*50 55°40
A promontory 21*15 55°05
mouth of the Sidumanis river 20*10 55°00
Tamesa estuary 20*30 54°30
Next to this the Cantium promontory 22*00 54°00

The Novantae dwell on the side toward the north below the peninsula of this name, among whom are the following towns:

Locopibia 19*00 60°20
Rerigonium 20*10 60°40

Below are the Selgovae, among whom are the following towns:

Carbantorigum 19*00 59°30
Uxellum 18*30 59°20
Corda 20*00 59°40
Trimontium 19*00 59°00

From these toward the east, but more northerly, are the Damnoni, among whom are the following towns:

Colanica 20*45 59°10
Vindogara 21*20 60°00
Coria 21*30 59°20
Alauna 22*45 59°50
Lindum 23*00 59°30
Victoria 23*30 59°00

Further south are the Otalini, among whom are the following towns:

Coria 20*10 59°00
Alauna 23*00 58°40
Bremenium 21*00 58°45

Next to the Damnoni, but more toward the east near the Epidium promontory are the Epidi and next to these the Cerones; then the Carnonacae, and the Caereni but more toward the east; and in the extreme east dwell the Cornavi; from the Lemannonis bay as far as the Varar estuary are the Caledoni, and above these is the Caledonian forest, from which toward the east are the Decantae, and next to these the Lugi extending to the Cornavi boundary, and above the Lugi are the Smertae; below Caledonia are the Vacomagi, among whom are the following towns:

Bannatia 24*00 59°30
Tamia 25*00 59°20
Pinnata camp 27*15 59°20
Tuesis 26*45 59°10

Below these toward the west are the Venicones, whose town is

Orrea 24*00 58°45

More toward the east are the Taezali

and the town Devana 26*00 59°00

Below the Selgovae and Otalini f are the Brigantes extending to both seas, among whom are the following towns:

Epiacum 18*30 58°30
Vinovium 17*45 58°00
Caturactonium 20*00 58°00
Calatum 19*00 57°45
Isurium 20*00 57°40
Rigodunum 18*00 57°30
Olicana 19*00 57°30
Eboracum, Legio VI Victrix 20*00 57°20
Camulodunum 18*00 57°45

Near which on the Opportunum bay are the Parisi and the town

Petuaria 20*40 56°40 g

Below these are the Brigantes but some distance toward the west are the Ordovices, among whom are the towns:

Mediolanum 16*45 56°40
Brannogenium 16*45 56°15

From these toward the east are the Cornavi, among whom are the towns:

Deva, Legio XX Victrix 17*30 56°45
Viroconium 16*45 55°45

Next to these are the Coritani, among whom are the towns:

Lindum 18*40 56°30
Ratae 18*00 55°30

Next are the Catuvellauni, among whom are the towns:

Salinae 20*45 55°50
Urolanium 19*20 55°30

Next to these are the Iceni,

whose town is called Venta 20*30 55°20

Farther eastward and near the estuary of the Tamesa are the Trinovantes

and the town Camulodunum 21*00 55°00

Below the peoples we have mentioned, but more toward the west are the Demetae, whose towns are:

Luentinum 15*45 55°10
Maridunum 15*30 54°40

More toward the east are the Silures

whose town is Bullaeum 16*50 55°00

Next to these are the Dobuni,

and their town Corinium 18*00 54°10

then the Atrebati

and their town Caleva 19*00 54°15

Next to these, but farther eastward, are the Canti among whom are the towns:

Londinium 20*00 54°00
Daruernum 21*00 54°00
Rutupie 21*45 54°00

Below the Atrebati and the Canti are the Regni and the town

Noeomagus 19*45 53°05

Below the Dobuni are the Belgae and the towns:

Iscalis 16*00 53°40
Aquae calidae 17*20 53°40
Venta 18*40 53°00

Toward the west and south of these are the Durotriges whose town is

Dunium 18*00 52°40

Next to these, but more to the west, are the Dumnoni, whose towns are:

Voliba 14*45 52°00
Uxella 15*00 52°45
Tamara 15*00 52°15
Isca, where is located Legio II Augusta 17*30 52°45

The islands which are near Albion island and the Orcades promontory are:

Scetis island 32*40 60°45
Dumna island 30*00 61°20

Above these islands are the Orcades, about thirty in number,

the middle of which is in 30*00 61°40

Far above these is the island Thule.

The part of this which extends much toward the west is in 29*00 63°00
that which is farthest eastward is 31*40 63°00
that which is farthest northward is 30*20 63°15
that which is farthest southward is 30*20 62°40
the middle is in 30*20 63°00

Eastward from the Trinovantes region there are two islands:

Toliapis 23*00 54°20
Counus island 24*00 54°30

Below Magnus Portus is the island Vectis,

the middle of which is in 19*20 52°20

Thayer's Notes:

a Here, the 1932 edition has east; whether this is due to the manuscript(s) of Ptolemy or to modern carelessness, it is an egregious error and I have corrected it.

b Here is Karl Müller's apparatus:

Σεταντίων] Σετανίων ΔΧ, sed Σεταντίων D in tabula; Σεγαντίων BL2N2ΣΖΩד, Γεσαντίων E.

ιζ´ γ´´] ιζ´ γο´´ ΔΧ, 17½ arg.; 17½, al. 17⅓ cod. 4803.

[image ALT: ancient Greek symbol for one-half]
		δ´´] νζ´ 
[image ALT: ancient Greek symbol for one-half]
		CW, νζ´ γ´´ δ´´ EZ.

Portus 300 stadia a Morecambe bay dissitus, non ponendus ad Layne fl. et Lancaster (Longoricum in Not. Dign., ut vid.) oppidum, ut nonnullis placuit, sed ad Ribble fl. et Preston opp., uti recte monuit Horslejus in Brit. Rom. In Geogr. Rav. 5, 31, p438, oppida hujus regionis afferuntur: Seguntio (h. Caer Siont), Canubio (Conovium Itin., hod. Convey), Mediolano, Saudonia, Deva (h. Chester), ex quibus Saudonia fort. ad eos pertinet quos Ptolemaeus Setantios dicit. Nescio an conferendum sit Sextantio nomen urbis Gallicae. In populorum oppidorumque recensu Ptolemaeus neque Setantios memorat, neque Duecaledonios neque Ceangos; alium sc. fontem in hoc, alium in periplo ob oculos habuit. Ceterum quoniam Setantiorum portus sec. Ptol. a Deva (Chester) boream versus tantum fere distat, quantum ab eadem Deva urbe versus occasum recte distat Segontium oppidum (Caer Siont) Monae insulae objacens, fuere qui Σεγοντίων pro Σεταντίων legendum esse ac de situ hujus portus Ptolemaeum errasse censerent (V. Camden, p793).

c On plotting the map, I found that the modern edition's 56°00 must surely be an error, probably for 57°00 which is where the medieval map puts this peninsula. Müller, however, has νς´ in the Greek original and 56 in his Latin.

d Here, the 1932 edition has 14*51, clearly a modern error for 14*00, at which exact longitude the medieval map puts a Cemnonus fl.; and in fact Müller has 14*/51°45 so that the mistake can be ascribed to sloppy reading of the Latin in Müller: one of the many pieces of internal evidence that show that Stevenson did not work from an original text, but from Müller's Latin translation.

e On plotting the map, I found that the modern edition's 27*00 must be in error, Ptolemy's own value almost certainly being between 27*30 and 29*00 exclusive; I've emended it to 28*00 which seems to be where the medieval map puts this estuary.

f Here, the 1932 edition has Otadini; the Votadini are in fact surely meant; but I've restored the text to Otalini based on the previous text and a check against the medieval map.

g No reasonable emendation will put Petuaria on a bay; and I can't tell whose error this is, either. An inactive area of this clickmap. If you click here, you will stay exactly where you are.

Page updated: 25 JUl 11