GEO 466/566: The Profession of Geography
Greek and Roman Contributions
Be aware that the term "Greek" in the classical sense involves much more than modern Greece. Several areas, including western Turkey, southern Italy, and northern Africa, constituted the Greek cultural realm.
Greek scholars and thinkers who influenced geographic thought
-likely from western Turkey (or Asia Minor)
-claimed by historians, but he wrote like a geographer, especially in the Odyssey
-to later geographers, Homer's place was clear--Strabo called Homer the "father of geography"
-from the Greek town of Miletus in what is today Turkey
-lived from about 640-546 B.C., but left no written record for us to study
-he was primarily a student of physical geography and mathematics
-he understood eclipses, the annual flooding of the Nile River, and basic meteorology
-also from Miletus, he was a student of Thales
-lived from roughly 611-547 B.C. and was concerned with physical science and mathematics
-he understood the cycle of the seasons, though he could not explain why it occurred
-was one of the first Greeks to construct a world map
-also from Miletus, he lived from about 550-475 B.C.
-helped develop the literary tradition of geography
-wrote Description of the Earth, the first systematic description of the known world by any individual
-the book contained a map of the world, which was fairly accurate for the lands immediately surrounding the Aegean
-Herodotus lived from about 484-425 B.C.
-very important because he travelled extensively, because he wrote copiously, and because his writings have survived almost entirely intact
-is often called the "father of geography," and for good reason
-he wrote one monumental, 9 volume work, known simply as The History
-while it was literally the history of the known world, this work was replete with geography, largely detailes from Herodotus' travels
-The History also contained a world map, considered by many to be the best to date
-lived from 367-283 B.C.
-was one of Alexander the Great's leading generals
-established the famous ancient library at Alexandria
-lived from 273-192 B.C.
-born in Libya, but moved to Athens to study
-became chief librarian at Alexandria in 244 B.C.
-he, too, is often called the "father of geography"
-he first used the word "geography," in fact
-most famous for his calculation of the circumference of the earth (25,000 miles)
-also made a map of the world, using a crude form of latitude and longitude
-unclear when he lived, but a gifted mathematician
-devised the concept of true latitude and longitude
-also grappled with the problem of depicting the curved surface of the earth on the flat surface of a map
-was one of the first to try to use projections to cut down on distortion
-lived from about 135-50 B.C. and made two contributions to geography
-first, recalculated the earth's circumference (18,000 miles)
-second, reasoned that the hottest area of the earth was not at the equator, but in the areas immediately poleward of the equatorial zone
Following the era of Greek dominance in the Mediterranean, a period of Roman dominance emerged. During this time, the Romans made their mark in the development of geographic thought.
There was not, however, a clean break between Greek intellectual thought and Roman intellectual thought; instead there was a gradual transition.
A good example of this overlap existed in the person of one of the most important of all the ancient geographersóStrabo.
-born in Turkey; lived from 64 B.C.-20 A.D.
The pinnacle of the Roman era and the end of the ancient period of geographic thought came about with the work of Claudius Ptolemaeus or Ptolemy.
-when he was about 20 years old, he went to Rome for further studies
-major work was a 17 volume study of the geography of the known world, almost all of which survives intact
-his geography was the first attempt to pull together all of the geographical knowledge available at that time
-it contained a review of the works and ideas of almost every important geographer dating back to Homer
-also gave us a world map in his geography
-it contained Strabo's own ideas about geography
-lived from about 75 A.D. to 153 A.D.
For some reason, geographical thought, like that of many intellectual fields, retreated after about 200 A.D., making Ptolemy the last of the important ancient geographers.
-spent most of his life in Alexandria, where he worked at the great library for some years
-most noted for his Guide to Geography
-consisted of a 7-volume gazeteer of place locations and an atlas of sorts
-also included an updated world map
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Created by JTK and last revised on 11 September 1996.