- (ca. 64 b.c.-25 a.d.)An important ancient Greek traveler, geographer, and historian whose book on geography covered most parts of the known world of his day, including the plains of Mesopotamia and the surrounding territories. Strabo, who was born in Anatolia, moved to Rome in 44 b.c., where he studied philosophy and geography, and then he traveled extensively. In addition to Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean world, he visited Egypt. During these travels, Strabo wrote down detailed descriptions of the mountain ranges, valleys, plants, animals, cities, and peoples he encountered. He also interviewed the locals about their histories and customs, information that makes up large sections of his Geography. Because he saw these lands and peoples in person, his data about them, especially the sections about Greece, Anatolia, and Egypt, is very enlightening and useful to modern historians.However, strabo did not travel in person to Mesopotamia nor to most of the lands adjoining the Mesopotamian plains. For that reason, his descriptions of these regions are based solely on his researches of existing Greek sources, a number of which are now lost. Especially important to him in this respect were the writings of two Greek geographer-astronomers who flourished in Alexandria, Egypt, Eratosthenes and Hipparchus. Thus, strabo perpetuated whatever mistakes their works already contained. Another of his faults was to disregard the historical and geographical information in the famous book of his Greek predecessor, Herodotus, who had traveled to Babylon and other parts of Mesopotamia in person. Nevertheless, a good deal of the information that strabo provided about Mesopotamia was accurate and valuable to one degree or another, given a careful and cautious analysis by modern researchers. The following example is his description of the petroleum found beneath the surface of the Mesopotamian plains, a resource still much valued and fought over today. it shows that he made no pretensions about having seen the oil himself, which is called both asphalt and naphtha in this translation, but instead he openly and honestly credits his sources. (Note that, despite his tendency to dismiss Herodotus's data, Strabo here corroborates Herodotus's description of river boats coated with petroleum tar to make them waterproof.)Babylon produces also great quantities of asphalt, concerning which Eratosthenes states that the liquid kind, which is called naphtha, is found in Susa [here meaning Elam], but the dry kind, which can be solidified, in Babylonia; and that there is a fountain of this latter asphalt near the Euphrates River; and that when this river is at its flood at the time of the melting of the snows, the fountain of asphalt is also filled and overflows into the river; and that there large clods of asphalt are formed which are suitable for buildings constructed of baked bricks. Other writers say that the liquid kind also is found in Babylonia. Now writers state in particular the great usefulness of the dry kind in the construction of buildings, but they say also that boats are woven with reeds and, when plastered with asphalt, are impervious to water. . . . If the naphtha is brought near fire it catches the fire; and if you smear a body with it and bring it near to the fire, the body bursts into flames; and it is impossible to quench these flames with water (for they burn more violently), unless a great amount is used, though they can be smothered and quenched with mud, vinegar, alum, and bird-lime. . . . [The Greek writer] Poseidonius says of the springs of naphtha in Babylonia, that some send forth white naphtha and others black; and that some of these, I mean those that send forth white naphtha, consist of liquid sulphur (and it is these that attract the flames), whereas the others send forth black naphtha, liquid asphalt, which is burnt in lamps instead of oil. (Geography 16.1.15)See also: Greeks; Mesopotamia, geography of; ships
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.