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

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Geographical Perceptions of the North in Pomponius Mela and Ptolemy
O.A.W. DILKE*

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 establish to 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 about to conquer Britainis was 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 Alexandria from 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

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

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

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

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