BMCR 2004.07.12

Die Thraker südlich vom Balkan in den Geographika Strabos. Quellenkritische Untersuchungen. Palingenesia, 81

, Die Thraker südlich vom Balkan in den Geographika Strabos : Quellenkritische Untersuchungen. Palingenesia ; Bd. 81. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2003. 399 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515079149 €80.00.

Strabo of Amasia in Pontus (ca. 64 BC-ca. AD 23) belongs to a select group of important and, especially after the 5th century AD, frequently quoted authors of antiquity. For the compilation of his Geography, Strabo used over 300 different authors as source, some by names, others anonymously. The seventeen books that constitute the Geography are in vast majority well preserved. They are a treasure-chest for anyone researching ancient peoples and places, especially those peoples and places regarded as belonging to the “Randkulturen” of the establishment of great civilizations of the ancient world.

Among those bordering cultures the Thracian takes pride of place (probably together with the Celtic). In spite of much fruitful archaeological research carried out in the areas which once formed Thrace, essentially modern Bulgaria, the European part of Turkey, and the northwesternmost part of Anatolia, Thrace is still largely terra incognita. Partly this is due to the fact that known, predominantly Greek, written sources on ancient Thrace are waiting to be (re)investigated and linked to the archaeological record. Partly, too, it is due to the fact that many of the excavation results are published in Bulgarian or Russian and therefore hardly, if at all, reach the western readership. The book under review represents about half of the author’s dissertation on Strabo and his reports on Thrace, presented at Sofia (Bulgaria) in 1992, and aims at a facilitated entry into the source-criticism of the Geography (p. viii).

Strabo describes Thrace and the Thracians in the seventh book of the Geography. Boshnakov (henceforth B) mainly focuses on source-criticism and source-research and their resources. In B’s view this line of research is, for the time being, more rewarding than a text-critical approach: the latter method fails to unveil the creative genius of an author. It is equally important to look at the author’s sources and to investigate the creative process of the author, i.e. the way he (or, for that matter, she) deals with those sources. Strabo used 332 writers (p. 6), of which he used about 50 percent more than twice: it is necessary to (try to) distinguish Strabo’s personality in the midst of this abundance. The process to do so is outlined in the first chapter.

Methodical scrutiny may, according to B, arouse suspicion regarding the objectivity of specific sources. Many ‘facts’ will appear in a different light or prove to be less factual than assumed. The strength of arguments of a given source should be tested during the analytical part of the research, if only to determine its origin and reliability. To determine this origin and reliability, one has to separate the author from his sources, the ultimate goal of source-analysis.

Normally one may determine the presence of another author in a specific text either because the other author is mentioned by name or is easily recognizable thanks to other fragments. Some of the names of this latter group of authors are known, others remain anonymous. In itself this difference does not need to effect the reliability of their information. A different problem is to distinguish anonymous sources from Strabo’s own information.

It frequently happens that Strabo quotes a specific author sometimes by name, sometimes anonymously. The ratio may vary from 1:2 to, rarely, 1:10. In the textual research of the Geography B distinguishes 3 main groups within Strabo’s sources: passages based upon a known author, passages based upon analogy (though anonymous their author may be related to a known one), and passages based upon comparison: these are always anonymous and only recognizable on the basis of some analogy with a known text.

It is virtually impossible to finalize the investigation of a specific source without taking a number of methodical considerations and techniques into account. B mentions a dozen of them. Some of them are always or almost always applicable, some only sporadically. All these belong, essentially, to the elementary techniques any scholar working with classical texts should master, but it is extremely useful to see them enumerated, explained, and elucidated once and for all. Applying these techniques to the text of the Geography, it appears that Strabo visited neither the Thracian coastal region nor its hinterland. This means that Strabo’s knowledge of Thrace was likely to be based upon hearsay and literary sources.

In chapter 2, the textual core of this work, B investigates the various groups of Strabo’s sources mentioned above, with a divide between Prehellenistic and Hellenistic traditions. Not surprisingly Herodotus (pp. 38-60) figures prominently among the Prehellenistic authors. More surprising is the relatively small part played by Thucydides (pp. 61-66), the relatively large part of Eudoxus of Cnidus (pp. 69-82), and the absence of Xenophon. Among the Hellenistic authors, Theopompus of Chios (pp. 92-110), Ephorus of Cyme (pp. 111-169), Polybius of Megalopolis (pp. 170-204), and, above all, Demetrius of Scepsis (pp. 205-296) figure prominently.

As B indicates in his “Schlusswort”, the result of his research is best presented in the stemmata of the sources which complete the book (pp. 328-348). They form the basis for further systematic and methodical source-research. By limiting this particular research to Strabo’s sources for Thrace south of the Stara Planina B. reduced the number of sources he had to deal with. On the other hand the specific problems of the sources Strabo used to compose this part of the Geography enhanced the possibility of showing the importance and potential of methodical source-research. B’s final remarks end with a short biography of Strabo as it emerges out of the Geography.

The Geography is a work of multiple layers. To what extent Strabo succeeded in his seventh book in reaching the goals outlined in his prolegomena cannot be determined completely or satisfactorily. The fact that Strabo’s book dedicated to Thrace is only partially transmitted, presents considerable problems. These problems affect not only this question but, more relevant for B’s work, also source-critical analysis. B has, nevertheless, tried to overcome obvious problems and offers an opportunity for further research, both in Strabo and in Thrace. The copious bibliography will facilitate further study. Two indexes, one on names and affairs, the other an elaborate index locorum, complete the book.

Finally some critical remarks. I have some problem with B’s use of the word objectivity in relation to historical and archaeological facts “Wie bekannt, ist die sogenannte Objektivität der Tatsachen durch die konkret angewandte Methodik und die persönlichen Eigenschaften des Forschers gekennze[i]chnet” (p. 10). In my view these elements affect the interpretation of the facts, not the facts themselves, since facts are, almost by definition, incontestable and definite. I do agree with him that the utmost care is needed to designate a related occurrence as a fact; this caution is, however, applicable to anything happening until the present day. A further critical remark regards the care with which the book is edited. The text is regularly marred by quite insignificant typos, but sometimes these typos may present more problems, e.g., in the bibliography, B. ISSAC should be B. ISAAC. As for the bibliography, many of the works presented may be either unknown or hard to obtain for the Anglophone readership.

In spite of these remarks the book is useful (and sometimes fascinating) reading, though mainly for specialists, especially for graduate students in Greek philology. For Thracologists it is, I think, too much focused on source-critical problems to be of much help for our understanding of the Thracians south of the Balkan mountains, and they might find the title as printed on the cover (without subtitle) somewhat misleading.