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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Classical Review
Vol. 2 (1888), p84

The text is in the public domain:
Sir William Ridgeway died in 1928.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p84  Contributions to Strabo's Biography

1. Writings. In all recognized books of reference two works are given to Strabo, viz. the Geography (Γεωγραφικά) in 17 Books, which is still extant, and an Historical work (Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα) now lost.

Now it will hardly seem credible if I state that Strabo himself distinctly mentions two separate historical works of his own. Yet such however is the fact. The oversight of scholars can only be accounted for by supposing that, as the passage occurs in Bk. XI.515, readers do not as a rule advance so far in the work. It is as follows: εἰρηκότες δὲ πολλὰ περὶ τῶν Παρθικῶν νομίμων ἐν τῇ ἕκτῃ τῶν ἱστορικῶν ὑπομνημάτων βίβλῳ, δευτέρᾳ δὲ τῶν μετὰ Πολύβιον, παραλείψομεν ἐνταῦθα μὴ ταυτολογεῖν δόξωμεν κ.τ.λ. From this is perfectly plain that the Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα, and the Τὰ μετὰ Πολύβιον are two distinct works. To the first of these two works he evidently refers in Bk. II.70: καὶ ἡμῖν δὲ ὑπῆρξεν ἐπὶ πλέον κατιδεῖν ταῦτα ὑπομνηματιζομένοις τὰς Ἀλεξάνδρου πράξεις. Now the History of Polybius extended down to 146 B.C.; therefore Strabo's continuation would not begin before that date. It is plain then that in this work there could have been no place for a description for the exploits of Alexander (336‑323 B.C.), but, as the word ὑπομνηματιζομένοις implies, they were comprised in his Ὑπομνήματα. Suidas s.v. Πολύβιος (a reference which I owe to Sir E. H. Bunbury's Ancient Geography) says: Ἰστέον ὅτι διαδέχεται τὴν Πολυβίου ἱστορίαν Ποσειδώνιος Ὀλβιοπολίτης, σοφιστής· ἔγραψε δὲ καὶ Στράβων Ἀμασιεὺς τὰ μετὰ Πολύβιον ἐν βιβλίοις μγ′.

Bernhardy seems hardly justified in removing this passage from the text in his edition of Suidas (Halle 1853). Certainly as far as Strabo is concerned it is in complete harmony with the passage quoted above.

Plutarch (Lucullus 28) refers to Strabo's Memoirs and also in Sulla 26 as an historian, but without quoting the name of any work. Josephus often refers to him, but without mentioning the title of the work from which he quotes.

2. Where did Strabo write his Geography? Scholars long assumed that Strabo after visiting Rome (29 A.D.) and making a long sojourn in Egypt returned home to his native city of Amasea in Pontus, and there wrote his Geography.​a This involved various difficulties. For instance, Strabo knows but little about the countries lying east of Pontus. In fact Herodotus writing 400 years earlier has far better information respecting the Caspian. On the other hand he introduces various incidents relating to Italy which must have occurred very shortly before his death. He likewise makes use of the work of an anonymous writer whom he calls ὁ χωρογράφος, and whose work he seems to indicate by the term ἡ χωρογραφία. As all distances quoted from this source are given in miles it is inferred that the writer was a Roman. Some had thought that the chorography referred to the great work of Agrippa, but as the latter died in 12 B.C. and as the work was not completed until after his death, it would have been impossible for Strabo to have seen it, assuming the supposed date of his sojourn at Rome to be correct. Now Mullenhoff (Ueber die Weltkarte und Kosmographie des Kaisers Augustus, p2) first suggested that Strabo wrote at Rome, but offered no proofs. Niese (Hermes 1878, p36) sought to prove this hypothesis by three passages (VII.290, XIII.590, XIII.609). But the inference that Strabo was at Rome because he used the terms ἐνθάδε and δεῦρο in reference to that city is hardly tenable, as it is his habit to use these words in immediate reference to the place of which he is at that moment treating as in VI.257, 281. But we can find much more reliable evidence in the passage (V.236) where he describes the Tomb of Augustus: ἀξιολογώτατον δὲ τὸ Μαυσώλειον καλούμενον ἐπὶ κρηπῖδος ὑψηλῆς λευκολίθοῦ πρὸς τῷ ποταμῷ χῶμα μέγα, ἄχρι κορυφῆς τοῖς ἀειθαλέσι τῶν δένδρων συνηρεφές· ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ μὲν οὗν εἰκών ἐστι χαλκῆ τοῦ Σεβαστοῦ Καίσαρος, ὑπὸ δὲ τῷ χώματι θῆκαί εἴσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν συγγενῶν καὶ οἰκείων, ὄπισθεν δὲ μέγα ἄλσος περιπάτους θαυμαστοὺς ἔχον· ἐν μεσῷ δὲ τᾷ πεδίῳ ὁ τῆς Καύστρας αὐτοῦ περίβολος καὶ οὗτος λίθου λευκοῦ, κύκλῳ μὲν περικείμενον ἔχων σιδηροῦν περίφραγμα, ἐντὸς δ’ αἰγείροις κατάφυτος· This has all the appearance of being the description of an eyewitness, the evergreens, the iron palings, the poplars would hardly have been put in, if Strabo had been writing far away in Pontus. Augustus died 14 A.D. It seems then that Strabo was living at Rome after that date.

In fact it is probable that he returned to Rome from Egypt. At all events there was no reason why he should return to Pontus; with the fall of Mithradates the fortunes of his family were broken. The reason why his information respecting the region of the Caspian is so scanty is now obvious, and there can be little doubt that "the chorography" is the famous work of Agrippa.

As we find Strabo at Rome so shortly before the time when in the course of nature he must have died, it is not unreasonable to conjecture that he died there.

William Ridgeway.

Thayer's Note:

a H. L. Jones, in his introduction to the Loeb edition of Strabo's Geography (pp. xxi ff.), while assuming Strabo spent his latter years in Amasia, has him visiting Rome several times.

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