Jump to: navigation, search
A page from Isaac Casaubon's 1620 edition of Geographica. The page numbers prefixed by C are currently being used as a standard text reference. There are 840 pages.

The Geographica (Ancient Greek: Γεωγραφικά, Geōgraphiká), or Geography, is a 17-volume encyclopedia of geographical knowledge written in Greek by Strabo, an educated citizen of the Roman empire of Greek descent. Work can have begun on it no earlier than 20 BCE. A first edition was published in 7 BCE followed by a gap, resumption of work and a final edition no later than 23 CE in the last year of Strabo's life. Strabo probably worked on his Geography and now missing History concurrently, as the Geography contains a considerable amount of historical data. Except for parts of Book 7, it has come down to us complete.


Map of the world according to Strabo

Strabo refers to his Geography within it by several names:[1]

  • geōgraphia, "description of the earth"[2]
  • chōrographia, "description of the land"
  • periēgēsis, "an outline"[3]
  • periodos gēs, "circuit of the earth"[4]
  • periodeia tēs chōrās, "circuit of the land"[5]
Apart from the "outline", two words recur, "earth" and "country." Something of a theorist, Strabo explains what he means by Geography and Chorography:[6]
It is the sea more than anything else that defines the contours of the land (geōgraphei) and gives it its shape, by forming gulfs, deep seas, straits and likewise isthmuses, peninsulas, and promontories; but both the rivers and the mountains assist the seas herein. It is through such natural features that we gain a clear conception of continents, nations, favourable positions of cities and all the other diversified details with which our geographical map (chorographikos pinax) is filled.

From this description it is clear that by geography Strabo means ancient physical geography and by chorography, political geography. The two are combined in this work, which makes a "circuit of the earth" detailing the physical and political features. Strabo often uses the adjective geōgraphika with reference to the works of others and to geography in general, but not of his own work. In the Middle Ages it became the standard name used of his work.


The date of Geographica is a large topic, perhaps because Strabo worked on it along with his History for most of his adult life. He traveled extensively, undoubtedly gathering notes, and made extended visits to Rome and Alexandria, where he is sure to have spent time in the famous library taking notes from his sources.

Strabo visited Rome in 44 BCE at age 19 or 20 apparently for purposes of education. He studied under various persons, including Tyrannion of Amisus, a captive educated Greek and private tutor, who instructed Cicero's two sons. Cicero says:[7]
The geographical work I had planned is a big undertaking...if I take Tyrannion's views too...

If one presumes that Strabo acquired the motivation for writing geography during his education, the latter must have been complete by the time of his next visit to Rome in 35 BCE at 29 years old. He may have been gathering notes but the earliest indication that he must have been preparing them is his extended visit to Alexandria 25-20 BCE. In 20 BCE he was 44 years old. His "numerous excerpts" from "the works of his predecessors" are most likely to have been noted at the library there.[8] Whether these hypothetical notes first found their way into his history and then into his geography or were simply ported along as notes remains unknown.

20th century drawing of Augustus.

Most of the events of the life of Augustus mentioned by Strabo occurred 31-7 BCE with a gap 6 BCE - 14 CE, which can be interpreted as an interval after first publication in 7 BCE.[9] Then in 19 CE a specific reference dates a passage: he said that the Carni and Norici had been at peace since they were "stopped ... from their riotous incursions ...." by Nero Claudius Drusus 33 years ago, which was 15 BCE, dating the passage 19 CE.[10] The latest event mentioned is the death of Juba II at no later than 23 CE, when Strabo was in his 80's. These events can be interpreted as a second edition unless he saved all his notes and wrote the book entirely after the age of 80.


Strabo is his own best expounder of his principles of composition:[11]
In short, this book of mine should be ... useful alike to the statesman and to the public at large - as was my work on History. ... And so, after I had written my Historical Sketches ... I determined to write the present treatise also; for this work is based on the same plan, and is addressed to the same class of readers, and particularly to men of exalted stations in life. ... in this work also I must leave untouched what is petty and inconspicuous, and devote my attention to what is noble and great, and to what contains the practically useful, or memorable, or entertaining. ... For it, too, is a colossal work, in that it deals with the facts about large things only, and wholes ....


Some thirty manuscripts of Geographika or parts of it have survived, almost all of them medieval copies of copies, though there are fragments from papyrus rolls which were probably copied out ca. CE 100‑300. Scholars have struggled for a century and a half to produce an accurate edition close to what Strabo wrote. A definitive one has been in publication since 2002 CE, appearing at a rate of about a volume a year.


  1. Dueck, Daniela (2000). Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome. London, New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. 145. ISBN 0415216729. 
  2. Book 3 chapter 1 section 1 1st sentence, page C136.
  3. Book 3 chapter 4 section 5 last sentence, page C158.
  4. Book 6 chapter 1 section 2, page C253.
  5. Book 9 chapter 5 section 14, page C435.
  6. Book 2 chapter 5 section 17, page C120, Jones translation.
  7. Ad. Att. 2. 6. 1.
  8. Sterrett, Loeb Edition, pages xxii-xxiii.
  9. Sterrett, Loeb Edition, page xxvii.
  10. Dueck page 146 on Strabo Book 4, Chapter 6, Book 9, page C206.
  11. Book I sections 22-23.



Ancient Greek

  • Kramer, Gustav, ed., Strabonis Geographica, 3 vols, containing Books 1-17. Berlin: Friedericus Nicolaus, 1844-52.

Ancient Greek and English

  • Strabo; Horace Leonard Jones (Editor and Translator), John Robert Sitlington Sterrett (Translator, Introduction) (1917-1932). The Loeb Classical Library: The Geography of Strabo: in Eight Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann LTD. ISBN 0-674-99055-2.  Contains Books 1-17, Greek on the left page, English on the right. Sterrett translated Books I and II and wrote the introduction before dying in 1915. Jones changed Sterrett's style from free to more literal and finished the translation. The Introduction contains a major bibliography on all aspects of Strabo and a definitive presentation of the manuscripts and editions up until 1917.


  • Tardieu, Amédée (Translator, Critical Apparatus, Avertissement du Traduction) (1886) (in French). Géographie de Strabon: Traduction Nouvelle: Deuxième Édition: Tome Premier. Paris: Librairie Hachette.  Books I – VI only. Downloadable Google Books.
  • Tardieu, Amédée (Translator, Critical Apparatus) (1873) (in French). Géographie de Strabon: Traduction Nouvelle: Tome Deuxième. Paris: Librairie Hachette.  Books VII – XII only. Downloadable Google Books.

See also

  • Bibliotheca historica
  • Diodorus Siculus
  • Codex Vaticanus 2061

External links

The text of Strabo online