In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Specific Surveys
  • Encyclopedias and Handbooks
  • Journals

Classics Geography
Daniela Dueck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0180


The study of geography in classical Antiquity can be undertaken in several directions: (1) the extent of actual exploration and knowledge of the world in various periods of time within Antiquity, (2) the means used to record this knowledge, whether in writing or graphically, (3) the conceptual image of the world as it emerges from ancient documents. A significant and fundamental starting point for any discussion is the classification of the primary sources (for cartography, see the Oxford Bibliographies article Maps). Greeks and Romans described the Earth, its continents and topographies, in a number of levels of written documentation. Through the scientific approach, they defined physical conditions, applying calculations and accuracies based on sensual observations and measurements. In this way, measurable and quantifiable features, such as distances, sizes, and heights, were conveyed to readers as accurately as possible. Through the verbal approach, they described with much detail and in many words, including numerous adjectives and metaphors, not only the same physical features treated in scientific geography, but also other kinds of data relevant to specific places, for instance flora and fauna, local myths and history, and ethnographic aspects. All these elements constituted a traditional part of geographical surveys, and they were based either on actual firsthand travels or on oral or written hearsay. Evidently, unlike scientific geography, which implied certain qualifications of its authors and a specific style of writing, descriptive geography is to be found in a large variety of literary genres—in poetry and in prose; in works of philosophy, oratory, historiography; or in novels and letters—representing the different intellectual portraits of their authors. This fact testifies to the lack of a clear discipline or genre of geography in classical Antiquity. Nevertheless, recent studies have attempted to assess the extent to which a specific style of verbal geography can be identified, in particular, with regard to the relationship between historiography and geography. The history of classical geography depends on texts, and, therefore, a significant part of this article is devoted to individual authors who contributed to the tradition of geographical knowledge.

General Overviews

Dueck 2012 is a good starting point for any study of ancient geography. Aujac 1975 is helpful as a very brief and chronologically partial introduction. Jacob 1991 and Cordano 2002 offer general overviews of ancient geography, each with a slightly different scope and emphasis. Molina Marín 2010 is a very thorough and wide-scale study.

  • Aujac, Germaine. 1975. La géographie dans le monde antique. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

    A booklet (128 pp.) in the series Que sais-je? surveying the major stages in the knowledge of the world by Greeks and Romans and their scientific theories. Ends in the 1st century BCE. Useful as a very brief introduction, chronologically partial.

  • Cordano, Federica. 2002. La geografia degli antichi. Rome: Laterza.

    Focuses on actual geographical knowledge of the Greeks and Romans on the basis of exploration voyages and colonization. Originally published in 1992.

  • Dueck, Daniela. 2012. Geography in classical antiquity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139027014

    A general, comprehensive, brief, and up-to-date introduction to ancient geography throughout classical Antiquity from the earliest times to Late Antiquity. May serve both students of classics and of geography and scholars looking for a general overview. Includes a chapter on cartography by Kai Brodersen.

  • Jacob, Christian. 1991. Géographie et ethnographie en Grèce ancienne. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Discusses concepts and documentation—both written and cartographic—of geography more or less in a chronological order starting with the representation of space in the Homeric epics and ending with the geography and ethnography of Strabo. Valuable for specific discussions, such as the geographical horizons of Herodotus’s Histories (pp. 49–62) or Athens and geography (pp. 85–94).

  • Molina Marín, A. I. 2010. Geographica: Ciencia del espacio y tradición narrative de Homero a Cosmas Indicopleustes. Murcia, Spain: Universidad de Murcia

    A comprehensive overview of geography in Antiquity divided into chronological sections from the Archaic Age to the Byzantine period. Subchapters are devoted mainly to authors and works.

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