ARCTIC VOL. 37. NO. 4 (DECEMBER 1984) P.


Geographical Perceptions of the North in Pomponius Mela and Ptolemy

The Greeks andRomanswere rather slow to change their views of the North which they-haddeveloped over hundreds of years. By 500 BE., Hecataeus of Miletus described the idea of an encircling ocean, with the Rhipaean mountains north of the Danube, and the Hyperboreans living in the far North between these mountains and the ocean. All inhabitants of these areas tended, in the Greek world, to be called Scythians, but in fact Scythians inhabited southern Russia.As knowledge increased of the Dnieper, the -Don, and the Caspian, and as through Alexander’s conquest, even the Afghanistan, area came to be known, the cartographyofthe European and.west Asian North was sketched inby geographers. Pytheas of Marseilles, Ca. 320 B.C.,visited not only various parts of the British,coasts, but also Thule, by which he mayhave meant part of the central Norwegian coast. He was also aware of an island, probably in the Baltic, from which amber came.

As a result of the abortive attempts of Augustus to establish a northern frontier of the Roman Empire extending from the Elbe to the Danube, classical authors learned more about the areas, and sometimesalso the customs, of northern tribes. The chief descriptive work of this period is the Greek Geography of Strabo. A much shorter extant work of the same character, in butin Latin, is that of Pomponius Mela,. who was born southern Spain. It was written between A.D. .40 and 43; the emperor described therein who was about to conquer Britainis either Gaius OT Claudius, It is interesting to compare Mela’s impression of the North, at times rhetorical and somewhat naive, with the more scientific approach of Ptolemy (Fig. l), working from Alexandria between AD. 127 and 150. Ptolemy’s title Geographike Hyphegesis may betranslated “Manual .ofGeography”. He explaifis that geography differs from chorography (Mela’s title) in that geography deals with

equivalent. since the phrases immediately following seemto refer to the surrounding ocean. Yet’Thule. which for him was obviously. . does at. he regarded as several of Belcae.5” north of Thule. (Sarmatian. . Apollo spent thenes. and about17O S .right into Asia (Fig.envisaged Albion source of the Don. which he are the Hyperboreans.Riphaean mountains. nor Galloway.extended beyond 6 1“40’N.the Shetland Islands. which tothe ancients was “Rha orientalis”. Chinese (Seres). Europe to the north of Ireland.emphatically. huge and dotted with large and small islands. the latter as Hyperborean mountains. flows into .two cold. Eratos. “where there are permanent winters and intolerable cold.far north.handeddownfromonetribe reached Apollo’s shrine on the island of Delos.Ocean. The mountain range to extend enced by Eratosthenes and his .. . Ptolemy does not make. two temperate. yet after the words “into the sea” (inpelagus) he goes on to describe the Caspian. but he reckoned only 57. terraincognita. and one hot. are the winter months with the Hyperboreans. Mela’s work . stilloccupied by theTeutoni.“gustof wind”. Müller. ‘But it across much of Europe .have reached about Pamponius Mela believed that -the Riphaean [sic]mountain . with the apex further east than:the base. it is clear from Book I that he regardsthe Caspian as having an outlet in the Scythian .36 sub ipsosidemm cardine). The last-named them.W. for six monthscontinuous night. DILKE the whole world.65SoN.round [or] over”. chorography with individual places or correctly as themostnortherlypointofmainlandBritain.. and this map have conk m .never became popular. Tabulae. From north to south it is divided as it Ptolemy as the name of the ocean is in Eratosthenes’ poem Hermes and Virgil’s Georgics.rection for about 1300 have its upper course near the Urals. occurs in correspond approximately to Asia on the one hand.eventually the Indians. a large extent influ. The name “Rhipaean” first occurs B. The major tributary of the Volga. Both thoughtofScandinaviain terms ofseveralislands. ’’ His “Thyle” is opposite theBelcae. T h e . placed much too . Scythian peoples inhabit it. living beyond the north wind and the (Mela. PomponiusMelaspeaks.” Mela records first the offerings to Apollo. almost all given as triangular. of ears of wheat. Fegarded by him in. He adds (iii. There is a not-quite parallel situation for the continent of tempt in a superficial way to Cover the whole known world. It has no real lieved. have called Codanus. Ptolemy the generic . beneath the very celestial pole iii.which h e saidelsewherewasasynonymfor O O . as in.In this way neither Ireland. According to Delphic legend. could not be completely mapped: everything ‘beyond 63 “N. Pl.the end of. which and supposed to have hved in the extreme North. On the Asiatic shore’the nearest (Fig. Again 63 is regarded by Ptolemy as. . was known to be further north or mountains were in a very northerly . As mentioned. regions.iny the Elder’sNatural History and’Tacitus’ Germunia. some with and. a lyric poet of the seventh century evidentlyderivedfromGreek rhipe. and offerings from to another.31) describes the Codanus Gulf as lying beyond the Elbe. one might conjecture that the Urals were inserted the latitude of Thule (Thyle).successors. it surpassestheother islands-both in . Between the two chronologically are the geographical section Europe (Fig.. Since Eratosthenes had. or “carriers to the north is the Scythian Ocean. Mela’s worldsuris name “Hyperborean”. land earth. with correct or incorrect orientation. then the Hyperboreans’ customofcommittingsuicide by adorning themselves with garlands and jumping off a particular rock into the sea. of.some without maps.became so popular ‘that there are Europe at latitude 41 O N ) . Ptolemy’s concept of the North was to.The Ocean yond the north wind”.part of Asia.theRhipaeanmountains(thereconstructionof rive from the tenth-century Vaticanus Latinus’ 4929. The peoples furthest east. the same mistake: he merely errs. near the than John O’ Groats.C. If space in a straight line had had to be provided for maintributed to the conhsion.the shape of the Caspian. . There isobviouslysomeconfusion in thephrase“on the Asiatic shore”.in some di. in Mela.cording to Callimachus.Hefirst (iii. “beyond the mountains”.bycontrast.A. as used to be supposed. extant manuscripts de.on. the Caspian. andis dozens of manuscripts. Romanmilitaryexpansionhadshownthat the Kama. does mainland Britain -continued .-But Mela.54): “In the gulf which we. and Africa on theother. except where they are deterred by cold. despite biskitle De chorographia. he be-. the outstanding island is Codannovia wiillenhoff conjectured Scadinavia (sic)]. seemsincorrect in adding MontesHyperborei in Rolemy’s. into “Hyperborean” has been interpreted as meaning either “befive zones .according to Ptolemy)wasthought 4). itssize. of terra cognita. its north coast would . was exactly spherical’and could be measured. acCaspian Gulf. The maps being transmitted in two recensions. and Scythians. as people first mentioned in Hesiod rounded by the sea and divided into two hemispheres.fertility and in size.5 as the latitude of C. 2) decided that north Scotland must be bent to extend considerably to the east. but.348 O. These offerinhabit the Scythian shore of the ocean €rom the far East to the ings consisted not of amber.where for six months there iscontinuous day.or 2. 3). the in Alcman.

“Xenophan of Lampsacus reports that three days’ sail from the Scythian coast there is an island of enormous size called ingthe Geography.because of prevalent diseases. 1482. In Ptolemy’there are islands called Skandiai (see Fig.perhapstheBelcaeweretheinsoutherly latitudes. TheHippopodes are menwith marken in Norway. For J. need not agree with Schiitte that Exobygirui in Ptolemy is a The great number of tribes recorded by. writes: 43’46’W. (Transmontani) Latin compounds. ceive an element. and the. Whether we can hazard further identifications is uncertain. Svennung (. 57 “40’-58 “30’N. Ptolemy’s conception of Europe.our Lapps. ” He then thatPtolemyhad ‘a separatesource for Scandinavia.Pliny. see.POMPONIUS AND PTOLEMY 349 FIG..from counterclockwise by 90” . live Sannali (again Punorii or . with tar. comes. arising out of. the Phinnoi are recountsstories‘presumablyfrom our Finns. in his Nurural Hisrory (iv. 95). Pytheas gives its name as Basilia [royal?]. have names formedGreek. E hasbeenrotated Scythians. The name that the orientation of Ptolemy’s source “Balcia”.19?4). considered Balcia. writing in 1917. the Khaideinoi have taken on the name of’Hede. A number of these tribes. 3). as Schiitte claimed.Heinnir and the Gu.since the samesource. In some of these we persomesmall. he means is far from. acBut the evidence does not seem to indicate. as we shall. like those of some of the more XenophonofLampsacus.TheScandinavian lands postdate Rolemy. G.gether with Sacae. so what area. Near the horse-footed men. . 3. Hippopodes.Mela(iii. (nomads) livtoday the USSR and Poland fact be reduced.of mythological fancy.Goutai have given Gotland. Daukiones (Dankiones) might be the Danes.trave1lers’tales.or of in one case habitants. In this category one except that the. not always appear on maps illustrat. cording to the same writers.readers unfamiliar. “outside”. and for the benefit of . and these “pairs” were analyzed by Schiitte. who con.Balcia. Ptalemy. He then lists tribes of this island. Ulm. Greek.horses’ feet.ofthe some oftheseseven “‘tribes” canbe identified:.59)mentionsAndrophagoe(cannibals)livingtovious.Oeonae. since e m is also a Greek prefix. relying on two cartographic sources. which owing to lack of spacedo. and Panotii (these last appearing in his manuscripts as “Fanesii”). Pomponius Mela so defines them. the.themiddleonelying at. probable duplication. “Scythians.clear.because of ingin carts”.theyare. Duplication or similarity of names is ob. in an area in Asiatic Scythia uninhabitable cluded that Ptolemy was. for the Baltic. Schiitte. in what are corruption of H u m o b i o i Skyrhai.

North of the Caspian live Amazons (these are more often placed south of the Black Sea. be countered. 167). our most accurate map corresponding to the coordinates is Vaticanus Urbinas Graecus 82.area corresponding to Siberia was. published some 15 years ago. if we follow the conjecture.” If there was such a reconstruction. that they are by two different hands. Pekkanen compares the Indian Karnapravaranah. Hapgood. C .His conclusion.abandonment of the scientific approach. Panuutji has been conjectured). Mela. (1) It is not true. .FIG.ears covering the whole of their bodies. tries to txace the his- tory of cartography to a .a fifteenth-century Vatican map intendedto amplify Ptolemy’s work.. 1482. we have naturally ignoredcartographic additions made during the Renaissance. who eat only birds’ eggs and arenot. now usually dated to the late thirteenth century. to Mela.which are.describes Thyle as the darkest place in winter and the lightest in summer. it was made much earlier. since if it were true it would reverse our ideas of what was known abourthe Arctic and Antarctic in the earliest times. T. who have big . “If the original source of the Ptolemy map came from the end of the ice age. impassable because of snow anduncultivated because of the savagery of the inhabitants. as Hapgood and fr0m. represents inmy view an . where he also mentions them) and. probably in Constantinople. There are also Oeonae. (2) It does not follow.. that of the Zen0 map may have originated much earlier” (p. This too. The . 1n. It was and still is a convention to leave unlabelled the parts of a map which are not covered by the title. “all ear”. is a Greek compound.very remote period ofprehistory. He . 4:Rolerny’s conception of Asia.otherwise naked.analyzingthe perceptions of the North. and beyond that he describes huge areas plagued by wild animals. But one fantastic claim must. (3) The Zeno map is no longer thought to date from .H.. Ulm. Hyberborei. because someparts of a Ptolemaic map are given place-names and other. still further north.starts from the Zen0 . in the 15th century. that “some authorities have considered that they [Ptolemaic maps] were reconstructed from the table [the coordinates]. in his work Maps ofthe Ancienr Sea Ptolemy’s Manuul of Geography.

(4) Finally. but also circumnavigated Britain and sent a Greek schoolmaster. Evenif the far North and thefar South were his weak points. Marinus of Tyre drew up a map of the world which was perhaps still circulating in the time of alMas’udi. itineraries. by adding Dacia to the Roman Empire.duringallthistime Roman roads were increasing in number. as was claimed by Niccob Zen0 the younger. Trajan. but healsoused it freely. Ptolemy’s geography is often criticized today as being too full of mistakes.duringhiscampaigns in Britain(A. we can see that it represented an enormous advance. who died in 956. Demetrius of Tarsus. but from much later. . to assume thatat the end of the Ice Age man knew the remotest thing about cartography of the polar regions is ludicrous.D. that should not blind us to his accomplishment in establishing the topography of many other regions.By comparing it with that of a writer such as Pomponius Mela. road maps. to find out as much as he could about the Scottish isles. not only marched northwards as far as the Moray Firth. Shortly after the time when Mela was writing.. and surveyors’ maps Ptolemy was able to blend Greek theory with Roman practice.Moreover. so that by studying Agrippa’s world map. Ptolemy much criticized this map.POMPONIUS MELA AND PTOLEMY 1380.Agricola. * . 78-84). increased knowledge of the tribes beyond the Danube. Britainbecamea Roman province.

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