Contribution of Roman Geographers in Geography

Roman geographers made significant contributions to the field of geography during the Roman Empire, particularly in the areas of historical and regional geography, as well as mapping, surveying, and the description of natural features and human settlements.

Roman Geographers
Roman Geographers

Contribution of Roman Geographers in Geography

When it comes to scholastic endeavors, many Greek geographical traditions were passed down and adopted by the ancient Romans. However, the Romans did not make any significant contributions to geography. A man named Marcus Terentius Varro produced a succinct treatise on geography about the time of Christ. Varro proposed a theory about the stages of human culture in this book, which remained uncontested until the eighteenth century.

 contribution of Strabo in geography

  • Strabo was a Greek scholar and explorer who lived during the Roman Empire’s heyday.
  • He was influenced by great Greek intellectuals such as Homer, Hecataeus, and Aristotle’s historical topographical traditions.
  • Strabo is thought to have described the historical tradition in geography introduced by Greek thinkers.
  • A geographer, according to Strabo, should base their knowledge on the principles of those who have measured the Earth, just as astronomers obtain their ideas from physicists.
  • He adopts Aristotle’s inhabited globe zones and Eratosthenes’ concept of the equator.
  • Strabo believes the limit of human existence towards the equator is around latitude 12°-30′ N, but he does not explain why.
  • He adopts Posidonius’s calculation of the Earth’s circumference, approximately 100 BC.
  • Strabo emphasizes the significance of geographers having a sound mathematical foundation to describe various parts of the world accurately.
  • He authored Geographia, a 17-volume work that provided an encyclopedic assessment of the known world, encompassing cultural diversity, government forms, and local traditions.
  • Strabo presents a historical overview of geography, beginning with Homer, whom he regards as the father of geographical knowledge, and continuing with the contributions of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, and Posidonius.
  • He devotes substantial sections of Geographia to Europe, Asia, and Africa, with a particular emphasis on Italy, which he sees as the heart of the Roman Empire and best fitted for a strong central administration.
  • Strabo’s greatest contribution is in political geography, where he continues the Aristotelian tradition by advocating for a strong central government and a single head of state for political units to be successful.
  • Following Strabo’s work, substantial sailing literature for ship captains was created, providing precise and accurate descriptions of coastlines and ports.
  • The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which appeared after Pliny’s death in 79 AD, was a well-known reference for navigators and traders spanning the Red Sea, East Africa, and the Indian Ocean.
  • The sailors of the first century after Christ were unaware of the dangers around the equator and the torrid zone because they did not have access to Aristotle, Posidonius, or Strabo’s accounts.

contribution of Ptolemy in Geography

  • Ptolemy’s work marked a key milestone in the mathematical heritage of ancient geography, which was carried on by Greek scientists.
  • Aristotle, Hipparchus, Posidonius, and Ptolemy’s instructor, Marinus of Tyre, all had a strong influence on Ptolemy’s geography.
  • In his work, he attempted to objectively organize and analyze ancient Greek geographical and astronomical notions.
  • Ptolemy believed, like Aristotle, that the Earth was a stationary sphere at the Centre of the cosmos, with heavenly bodies moving in circular motions around it.
  • He accepted Hipparchus’ grid of latitude and longitude lines, allowing exact mathematical location measurements for sites.
  • However, Ptolemy made a mistake by underestimating the extent of the Earth, resulting in mistakes in his longitude calculations and inaccurate locations of sites.
  • On his map, he also stretched the land area eastward too far, and his prime meridian was placed to a north-south line.
  • Ptolemy made important contributions to map-making by employing a projection that displayed latitude and longitude graticules.
  • Following the completion of the Almagest, Ptolemy published an eight-volume Guide to Geography, complete with commentaries, tables, and maps.
  • Following Strabo’s belief that Sera and Sine (in China) were the most easterly places in Asia, he denied the idea of an ocean to the east of Asia.
  • Ptolemy agreed with Aristotle that locations near the equator were too hot to live in, but he disagreed with Posidonius concerning the equatorial zone.
  • With Ptolemy’s death, the Greeks’ geographical horizons closed in, and it took generations for scholars to renew interest in describing and understanding the Earth as man’s home.

Summery of Roman geographers

The Ancient Greek scholars played a critical role in building scientific geography by contributing essential notions at various stages of academic advancement. They were forerunners in the development of what we now term scientific processes, which entail changing assumptions if they do not correspond to observed facts. The Greeks also made important advances in astronomy, which had a profound impact on geographical notions.

Later, throughout the Roman era, and particularly with Ptolemy’s contributions, maps were enhanced with greater clarity and accuracy. This was a remarkable advancement in the history of geographical comprehension.

However, there appeared to be a schism in ancient Greek geographical studies between those who preferred the mathematical technique and those who preferred the literary-historical approach. This disparity in viewpoints resulted in a dualism in current geographical thinking, with some seeking generalizations and others focusing on explaining specific phenomena.

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