Strabo (ca. 64 B.C.-ca. A.D. 23) was a Greek geographer and historian who saw the final collapse of the Roman Republic and the creation by Augustus of the Roman Empire. He wrote large-scale works in his fields.
Strabo was born in the Greek city of Amisea in the district of Pontus, probably in the winter of 64/63 B.C. He came from a wealthy and distinguished family and had an excellent education, first in Asia Minor and later in Rome, which he first visited sometime before the death of Julius Caesar in 44. He returned to Asia Minor but in 29 went back to Rome. There he met several prominent men, including Aelius Gallus, who obtained for him a grant of Roman citizenship. When Gallus went to Egypt as governor in 28 or 27, Strabo accompanied him, toured the province with him, and probably took part in Gallus's unsuccessful expedition into Arabia. Strabo stayed in Egypt for a time after Gallus's recall, but eventually he returned to Rome, where he lived for many years, devoting himself to studying and writing. He may have spent his last years in his native city and died probably in A.D. 23 or 24.
Historical and Geographical Works
Strabo's history, now lost, had the modest title of Historical Notes but was in fact a large-scale history in 43 books. It was essentially a continuation of the great work of the Greek historian Polybios and covered the history of the Greco-Roman world from 144 to 30 B.C.
Strabo's Geography, also a substantial work, was in 17 books. It has survived complete, except for the end of book 7, and was finished sometime between A.D. 17 and 23, though some sections were clearly written much earlier. In the first two books, Strabo examines the theoretical basis of his subject and discusses the views of his predecessors, especially Eratosthenes. The rest of the work contains a detailed descriptive geography of the world as known in his time, starting with Spain and continuing through the other European lands to Greece, Asia Minor, and further Asia (that is, India, Persia, and Syria) and concluding with Egypt and North Africa. In each country he discusses not only the main physical features but also its products and the character and history of its inhabitants. To some extent he depended on his own observations, but for the most part he drew his material from the works of earlier writers. He usually showed good sense in choosing his sources, though sometimes the information he derived was outdated. In general the Geography is a very valuable compilation of facts and gives an interesting picture of the world as it was known to educated men in the Augustan Age. But it was not merely a collection of data; Strabo wrote fine Greek prose and used considerable artistry in the organization of his material, making his opus the best of its kind to be handed down from antiquity.
Further Reading on Strabo
The only complete modern translation of Strabo, with an introduction on his life and works, is The Geography of Strabo by Horace L. Jones (8 vols., 1917-1933). Numerous extracts in translation are in Eric H. Warmington, Greek Geography (1934). Henry F. Tozer, History of Ancient Geography (1897; 2d ed. 1964), still the standard work on the science of geography in Greco-Roman times, contains a good brief account of Strabo and his geographical work.
For a good account of the growth of geographical knowledge see Max Cary and Eric H. Warmington, The Ancient Explorers (1929). Max Cary, Geographic Background of Greek and Roman History (1949), a survey of Mediterranean geography with special reference to classical times, contains excellent sections on Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy. An interesting discussion of Strabo and other Greek writers in the context of Roman society in the Augustan Age is in Glen W. Bowersock, Augustus and the Greek World (1964). The best account of the Roman world during Strabo's lifetime is in Howard H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero (1959; 2d ed. 1963).