The geographer Strabo of Amasea was born in the late 60s BCE at a turning point in Anatolian-Roman relations, for it was at just that time that King Mithridates VI died and the kingdom was turned over to Rome by the Roman general Pompey the Great. Amasea served as the home of the royal palace and Strabo’s family had strong political connections with the royal family that went back four generations. After the fall of the Pontic Kingdom, his family moved to Nysa in Caria (southwestern Turkey) where he began his education under the tutelage of Aristodemus, whose father was educated at Alexandria by the scholar Aristarchus (14.1.48). Strabo may have moved to Rome by 44 BCE and witnessed the city after the death of Julius Caesar. His education continued in Rome where he met many of the leading scholars of the day. Bits and pieces of his earliest works—a biography of Alexander the Great, a history of events “after Polybius”—made their way into his Geography. In the mid-20s BCE, he served under Aelius Strabo, the second prefect of Egypt and probably his Roman patron. The last datable references in the Geography occur early in the reign of Tiberius and Strabo probably died in the 20s CE.
Strabo’s travels took him across Asia Minor, Italy, parts of Greece, Judaea, and Egypt, so it is no surprise that he turned to geography as a way to collect and organize the topographic knowledge, history, cultic practices, and ethnographies he had acquired in his education and travels. The first two books introduce the history of geography, the geological formation of the earth’s topography, and the methods of measuring distances. Books 3-17 then take the reader on a tour from Iberia in the west to India in the east and then back to Egypt, ending finally in Cyrene in north Africa, the birthplace of the first major geographer, Eratosthenes. Throughout the work, Strabo undergirds his Geography with the evidence of the Homeric poems, citing Homer more than seven hundred times. Given the profound transformation of Roman society and worldview that took place during the principate of Augustus, it is no surprise that an author like Strabo attempted to organize and synthesize knowledge of the inhabited world in his Geography.
Roller, Duane, trans. The Geography of Strabo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.