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 coat of arms displayed are in honor of Louis XIII of France.
The Geographica (Ancient Greek: Γεωγραφικά Geōgraphiká), or Geography, is an encyclopedia of geographical knowledge, consisting of 17 'books', 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 BC. A first edition was published in 7 BC followed by a gap, resumption of work and a final edition no later than 23 AD 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, the complete work is known.
Apart from the "outline", two words recur, "earth" and "country." Something of a theorist, Strabo explains what he means by Geography and Chorography:
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 BC at age 19 or 20 apparently for purposes of education. He studied under various persons, including Tyrannion, a captive educated Greek and private tutor, who instructed Cicero's two sons. Cicero says:
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 BC 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 BC. In 20 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. 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 BC with a gap 6 BC – 14 AD, which can be interpreted as an interval after first publication in 7 BC. Then in 19 AD 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 Drusus 33 years ago, which was 15 BC, dating the passage 19 AD. The latest event mentioned is the death of Juba at no later than 23 AD, 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:
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 ....
An outline of the encyclopedia follows, with links to the appropriate Wikipedia article.
Book I – definition and history of geography
Pages C1 through C67, Loeb Volume I pages 3–249.
Chapter 1 – description of geography and this encyclopedia
Representation on a modern map of Iberia according to Strabo.
Chapter 1 – Vicinity of the Sacred Cape
Ibēria is poor, inhospitable and mountainous, 6000 stadia N–S, 5000 E–W. The Purēnē oros is aligned N–S and separates Ibēria from Keltikē.
The Sacred Cape is the westernmost point of the inhabited world. The country next to it is called Cuneus, "wedge", in the Latin language from its shape. It is occupied by the Ibēres across the straits from the Maurousioi.
Strabo repeats Poseidonius' assertion that the setting sun is larger at the coast because of a lens effect through the water vapor. He says Artemidorus is wrong in claiming a size of 100 times larger and that he could not have seen it because the cape was taboo at night.
South West Iberia is delimited by the Tagus river (to the north of the Sacred Cape) and the Anas river to the east. The region is populated by the Keltikoi and some Lusitanai resettled there from beyond the Tagus by the Romans. Inland are the Karpētanoi (Madrid region), the Ōrētanoi (La Mancha and eastern Sierra Morena, and the Ouettōnoi (Salamanca region). The fertile southeast, Baetica (Andalusia region), east of the Baetis river after which it is named, is occupied by the Tourdētanoi or Tourdouloi, who have writing and a literature. Other Iberians have alphabets, but not the same, as they do not all use the same languages (glōttai).
Chapter 2 – Bætica
Bætica is the region around the Bætis river, main cities are Corduba and Gadira.
Bætis river is navigable and boats go from the sea to Corduba.
Bætica soil is fertile, it exports a lot of wheat, wine, and oil.
Bætica littoral is full of fish, especially fat tuna, which eat a lot of acorns like some "sea pigs".
Bætica subsoil is full of gold, silver, cooper, and iron.
How gold and silver are extracted from the soil of Baetica and other regions of Hispania.
What Homer says about Bætica.
Bætica was a Phœnician colony, now it's romanised.
Book IV – Gaul, Britain, Ireland, Thule, the Alps
Book V – Italy to Campania
Book VI – south Italy, Sicily
Book VII – north, east and central Europe
Chapter 1 – Germania
Overview of the lands to be covered in the rest of the text.
Some thirty manuscripts of Geographica 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 c. 100–300 AD. 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, appearing at a rate of about a volume a year.
Strabo (1917–1932). Horace Leonard Jones (ed.). The Loeb Classical Library: The Geography of Strabo: in Eight Volumes. Translated by Jones; John Robert Sitlington Sterrett. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: Harvard University Press/William Heinemann. ISBN0-674-99055-2. 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.