Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.02.11

Johannes Engels, Augusteische Oikumenegeographie und Universalhistorie im Werk Strabons von Amaseia. Geographica Historica 12.   Stuttgart:  Steiner Verlag, 1999.  Pp. 464.  ISBN 3-515-07459-7.  DM 188.  



Reviewed by Ralf Behrwald, TU Chemnitz, D-09107 Chemnitz (ralf.behrwald@phil.tu-chemnitz.de)
Word count: 2377 words

Greek literature of Roman imperial times and ancient geography have been of renewed interest in the last years. This interest has led to a number of publications on Strabo, an author who in the lifetime of Augustus set out to write a universal history but today is known mostly for his geography, originally intended, as Engels (E.) argues, only as a complement to his larger work of history, almost completely lost. However, a comprehensive study of this author still was lacking, and the book of E. intends t o fill this gap. In three parts, E. treats life and works of Strabo (pp. 17-114), describes the relationship of geographical and historiographical writing from Homer to Strabo (pp. 115-276), and gives some exemplary investigations into aspects of Strabo's concept of history (pp. 277-377).

In the first part, introductory remarks on Strabo's biography and the transmission of his works are followed by an attempt to define the scope and approach of Strabo's historical writing from its title, Historika Hypomnemata, attested in Str. 11.9.3. The word hypomnemata, "notes", a title Strabo also chose for his geography, to E. betrays a concept of historical writing that has moved away from traditional history, historiai: to E., it is indicative of the compilatory character of these works. Therefore, according to E., Strabo sets himself against the rhetorical character of late Hellenistic historiai: his intention was, E. assumes, to give a "comprehensive inventory of the humanities in A ugustan times" (p. 73). Strabo thus followed a trend that had already started with Alexander Polyhistor, Artemidoros and, in Latin literature, Varro, and that led to the decline of late Hellenistic universal history (p. 75).

If this attempt to define a mostly lost work through the (assumed) programmatic character of its title may seem hypothetical, E. in his discussion of the extant fragments of Strabo's Historika Hypomnemata proceeds cautiously and joins the conservative position that is docum ented in Jacoby's Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker against Otto's attempt to identify countless parts of Strabo's geography as "fragments" of his earlier historical work. This, however, has been the opinion of the majority of critics since Ott o's collection appeared in 1889, and it is canonical today. Consequently, it is difficult to understand the reason for E.'s vigorous criticism of Otto's collection, not even sparing typographical infelicities (p. 80). In his own reconstruction of Strabo's Historika Hypomnemata, E. plausibly argues for a structure similar to that of Polybios, whom he set out to continue: introductory parts beginning with the history of Alexander the Great (or Philip of Macedon) that overlap with his precursor's acco unt, and a detailed history that continues Polybios, who himself starts with the end of Timaios' history and enters his detailed account with the year 220, continuing Phylarchos. Following Schwartz and Jacoby, E. pronounces himself against the existence o f a Strabonian monograph on Alexander the Great.

Given the shadowy nature of the Historika Hypomnemata, E. in his characterisation of Strabo's method must rely exclusively on his geography. In spite of the author's high esteem for Polybios, Strab o writes for a more ample, educated readership, and, far from restricting himself to information useful for political leaders, treats a wider choice of topics that are pleasing or easily memorized. Consequently, the criterion of political or military usef ulness and the sober and precise exposition advocated by Polybios must suffer. On the other hand, as E. shows, the larger readership addressed leads to a less sophisticated style in Strabo.

To E., geography and history in Strabo are complementary. In th e second part of his book, he compares elder concepts of the two disciplines, starting from Homer and discussing Herodotos, Ephoros, Strabo's Hellenistic precursors, and contemporary authors. While praising Homer, Strabo sharply criticizes Herodotos (once again in the footsteps of Polybios). E. stresses the role of Ephoros as a precursor in his methodological approach and as the source of many pieces of information in Strabo. Here, E. opposes the "minimalistic" view of Forderer, Aujac and Lasserre and follows Desideri and Prandi, whose list of Ephoran quotations in Strabo E. reprints on pp. 139f. The role of Polybios is discussed in detail (pp. 145-165), but while stressing the importance of Polybios as precursor of Strabo (who, however, does not foll ow the Polybian model of pragmatic history), E. is reluctant to identify a larger number of Polybian quotations in Strabo. He thus sets himself against attempts of Walbank and Pédech to identify fragments of Polybios' lost book xxxiv in Strabo, without discussing them in detail (p. 164).

The even longer discussion of Poseidonios (pp. 166--201), however, must remain largely inconclusive. Strabo praises Poseidonios and in his geography amply comments on his work On the Ocean, but according to E. it remains unclear whether Strabo had access to Poseidonios' history at all (p. 193, but cf. p. 197, where E. is more assertive). On the basis of Str. 3.2.9, possible points where Strabo might have criticized Poseidonios are discussed (pp. 198-201), but the discussion does not carry beyond the observation that, as he chose to continue the narrative of Polybios, Strabo must have criticized Poseidonios, possibly on the same points other contemporaries found unsatisfactory.

After a discussion of Diodo ros and a number of minor Hellenistic historians and geographers and concluding remarks on the role and status of history, geography and antiquarian research in Hellenistic educational theory (pp. 224-228), E. sets Strabo in the context of his Augustan contemporaries, Timagenes, Trogus, and Nikolaos. Timagenes, whose characterization as an anti-Augustan author E. plausibly rejects (p. 238), has often been regarded as the main source of Strabo. Perhaps too quickly, E. dismisses this theory in a few words (p. 242). Trogus, Nikolaos and Dionysios (whom E. includes in the discussion on pp. 275f. but does not treat in detail) are characterized as contemporaries of similar scope and tendency. Like Strabo, these Augustan authors closely follow the ideology of t he first princeps. According to E., although differing in detail (among which the different views on the Parthian empire may be the most important), they combine in laying the "literary and historiographical foundations" for the complete integration of th e eastern, Hellenic elites into the Roman empire.

In the last part, E. focuses on Strabo's treatment of selected topics: his attitude towards the Attalids, the information he offers on the city of Rome and the history of her empire, his characterization of leading Romans from Republican times to Augustus and the role of Agrippa's geographical writings and his "world map", including remarks on a possible use of this material by Strabo. It is on these one hundred pages that E. gets closest to the author.

E. himself is aware of the somewhat patchy character of these case studies, stressing that a comprehensive study of how Strabo represents Hellenistic monarchies would be desirable (p. 277). Instead, in his chapter on the Attalids (277-297) he offers an extensive commentary on Strabo's excursus 13.4.1-3, commenting briefly on possible sources (such as the lost works of writers at the Attalid court) and stressing the general reliability of Strabo's account (the mistaken regency of Eumenes II of 49 instead of 39 years is convincingly explained [on p. 280] as a slip in the manuscript tradition). In general, E. sees a pro-Attalid tendency which betrays itself most clearly in the parts on Philetairos, while Strabo does not follow the tradition of authors inim ical to Attalos III. E. amply discusses the latter's testament in favour of Rome and Strabo's comments on Aristonikos (Str. 14.1.38) and concludes that Strabo's philAttalid tendency is linked to his philoRoman attitude.

Commenting on Rome and her empire in Strabo (298-313), E. first focuses on the description of Rome (Str. 5.3.7f.), which to him betrays not only philoRoman but also Augustan sympathies by stressing the importance and beauty of Augustus' mausoleum. To E. this description also is indicativ e of a visit to Rome after 14 A.D. (p. 302). He then proceeds to a discussion of the excursus on Rome's empire in Str. 6.4.1f., in large part derived from Polybios but exchanging the cyclical model of his precursor for a teleological account of the rise o f Rome. Remarkably, E. explains the small number of references to post-Augustan events as the deliberate choice of an author who did not want to alter the "Augustan character" of his work (p. 307, repeated on p. 348). The large extent to which Strabo iden tified himself with the Roman empire is also stressed in the discussion of the third key text of this chapter, the concluding remarks in Str. 17.3.24f. While including information on Tiberian events, this text according to E. basically goes back to a much earlier point of time and is linked intimately with Strabo's earlier Historika Hypomnemata.

In contrast to these two chapters, commenting on key texts in the Geographika, E. in his chapter on leading Romans in Strabo (pp. 314-358) assembl es pieces of information from the whole work. It is obvious (and E. stresses) that many of these pieces go back to Strabo's sources and may not form a harmonious whole. Remarkably enough, even important Romans of the second century B.C. who must have figu red prominently in the Historika Hypomnemata are rarely mentioned in the geography (an observation that might have led to more caution in determining "tendency" and scope of this earlier work). According to E., this changes only with Pompey, whom S trabo saw as the watershed between elder Republican history and his own times (p. 323). In spite of his Pompeian sympathies, Strabo in his account of the civil wars follows the Caesarean version in much the same way as he later represents Antony in contra st to Octavian/Augustus. Among Roman politicians of the later Republic, only the most prominent are more than mentioned, while Caesar receives ample notice. Here, Strabo certainly follows (as E. rightly remarks) Augustan propaganda; he does so even more in the representation of the first princeps himself (pp. 337-346), which is detailed and panegyrical. E.'s observation that "all other male members of the Julio-Claudian house with the sole exception of Caesar look pale (...) if compared with Augustus" (p. 347, repeated on p. 349) can hardly surprise. The prosopographical discussion concludes with remarks on Romans personally known to Strabo. E. is sceptical of Bowersock's assumption that Strabo received the Roman citizenship (p. 351) and of an acquaintanc e with Germanicus, assumed by Kaplan (p. 352).

In a brief chapter on parallels between Strabo and Augustus' Res Gestae (known to Strabo if he visited Rome after 14 A.D.), E. argues for a close link between these texts. While parallels between the two texts are obvious, E.'s argument for a stronger tie between them ("Strabo in his geographika strives for congruence with Augustus' Res Gestae," p. 356) is not cogent.

The final chapter on Agrippa's geographical works is linked only loosely w ith the rest of the book, as E. cannot produce any conclusive evidence for the use of Agrippa's commentaries or his "world map". Instead, E. gives ample documentation of earlier research on these works, strongly objecting to recent research that interprets Agrippa's forma as a text, not a map. The argument is introduced in an infelicitous manner, with the reader learning only after 14 pages what the thesis of E.'s main opponent, K. Brodersen, is, and remarks on the growing geographical knowledge of Roman soldiers and officers in the late Republic add but little to this argument.

A conclusion of four pages, four appendices on the knowledge of Strabo in western mediaeval Europe, Byzantium, the Arab world, and Renaissance Europe and two indices (sources; p lace names and personal names) conclude the book.

It is difficult if not impossible to do justice to a book that is so densely written and enters into so many detailed arguments. Its usefulness is beyond doubt to anyone with an interest in ancient geography and historiography. Yet the sheer amount of detail at times makes this book difficult to use and accounts for many of its 400 pages in minuscule typeface. With regard to his intended readership E. might have refrained from repeating well-known facts that add nothing to his argument. Thus, we learn (on p. 150) that ancient books did not know indices in the modern sense of the word, and on p. 26 3 we find a discussion of the descendants (!) of Nikolaos of Damaskos. While in these and many more cases, E. picks every straw along his way, important information is given in a matter-of-fact way and without references, such as the existence of a chronological study of Nepos (p. 176 n. 50) and of autobiographical writings of Sulla, and commentarii of G ermanicus and Aelius Gallus etc. Of course, these details can be gathered elsewhere: but why are they absent when we are given, e.g., (on p. 134) the contents of the single books of Ephoros? While E. usually shows himself to be well-informed, in the proso pographical parts of his book he fails to quote the authoritative 3-volume work of B.E. Thomasson, Laterculi Praesidum (Arlöv/Lund 1984-1990) that supersedes all earlier works of reference on Roman provincial governors; and some carelessness h as led to unnecessary doublets, such as the lists of Strabonian loci on Agrippa p. 347 and p. 369.

These remarks are not to diminish the merits of E.'s book. But its fruits are often difficult to gather, and important aspects are hardly treated. F or instance, nowhere is the question of Strabo's intended readership discussed and answered (but cf. the remarks on pp. 301 and 311), and the information that Strabo probably knew little Latin -- crucial as it might be to an understanding of his use of so urces -- is introduced only on p. 225 in n. 9. With the lack of an index of topics, such pieces of information are almost lost.

Even with these shortcomings, this is a useful and welcome book. E. has mastered his Strabo throughout, and he has compiled an enormous amount of information and research on Strabo. Everyone studying the Augustan geographer will find this book very helpful, and, if it is not the synthesis one might have expected, it will serve as a departing point for future Strabonian research.

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