BMCR 2006.12.24

Strabons Geographika, Band 4, Buch XIV-XVII: Text und Übersetzung

, Strabons Geographika, Band 4, Buch XIV-XVII: Text und Übersetzung. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2005. 563. €169.00.

The book under review is volume four of Stefan Radt’s multi-volume edition of Strabo’s ‘Geography’. Its also the last of the text/translation-volumes of which the three previous ones have been published since 2002. Radt’s edition will consist of ten volumes when completed in 2011. A general introduction to this huge project has already been given by Sarah Pothecary’s review of volume one for this journal in 2003 (BMCR 2003.07.08).1 The four available volumes contain the new critical text of the ‘Geography’ along with a German translation. The layout is that of a typical bilingual edition with the Greek text on the left page and the translation on the opposite right page. Volumes five to eight will feature the corresponding commentaries, while volume nine will contain the Epitome and Chrestomathie. The indices will be in volume ten.

Not only will Radt`s edition of Strabo bring a new authoritative critical text since the editions of Kramer (1844-1852) and Meineke (1852-1853), but also a new German translation since the one made by Forbiger in the late 1850’s. Until recently most German students looking for a translation of Strabo had to be referred to this not always easy to find version or to the more accessible Loeb volumes by H. L. Jones. Forbiger’s translation has recently been republished in a new typeset one-volume bargain reprint,2 but unlike some recent re-editions of older translations of ancient texts nothing has been done in regard to updating Forbiger’s text and notes. Since his original edition did not feature any major references to secondary literature, nothing was done here to improve this new publication either.

It is difficult to evaluate just one volume of Radt’s important and relevant edition without being able to assess it in correspondence with the upcoming commentaries of which only the first has just been published.3 This difficulty is made evident by the fact that this volume — like all text volumes in the series — consists only of the Greek text and the German translation. The apparatus criticus is extensive and even continues with an appendix on pp. 554-571, followed by three pages of corrections to the previous three volumes. But otherwise there are no further notes supplying information about dates or the content of Strabo’s writings. The only references in text and translation concern ancient authors cited by Strabo as well as his own references to other passages in his work. These are provided in brackets with the citations from relevant editions or collections of fragments (FGrHist; TrGF etc.). Radt even points out fragments that cannot be assigned or are new (such as a new fragment of Kallisthenes on p. 96/7 (XIV 4.3 [C 668]). Therefore any further explanatory information beyond the apparatus criticus and these references can only be gained by consulting the commentary in the separate volumes. Being aware of Radt’s painstaking work one can safely assume that these commentaries will not disappoint the user once they are all available.

The present volume contains books XIV to XVII of Strabo’s ‘Geography’. Book XIV concludes the geographer’s commentaries on Asia Minor (which begin in book XI) and also features Cyprus. Book XV deals with India and Persia, while book XVI covers the Near East. Finally, book XVII contains Strabo’s observations on Egypt, Ethiopia, and Libya. During his lifetime he had undertaken lengthy travels which provided him with insights for his works. Strabo had spent some time especially in the Eastern Mediterranean including four years in Egypt around 26 to 22 BC — just shortly after the fall of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. The praefectus Aegypti, Aelius Gallus, was one of his friends and may have enabled Strabo to get some insider information on Egypt. His detailed description of Alexandria (XVII 1.7-10 [C 793-795]) is well known and still — despite its flaws — consulted for the layout of the ancient city. Nevertheless Strabo has given us also some rather harsh assessments of Ptolemaic rule, which are hardly extant in any other source, except for Diodorus.

The recent re-issue of Forbiger’s translation, however, does not compete with Radt’s edition. Even though the former provides a handy one-volume German translation of Strabo’s ‘Geography’ for the general reader as well as some students, it remains unsatisfactory as a source reference. First, Forbiger’s text may appear too quaint for the modern German reader and the spelling of some ancient names no longer reflects current usage (e.g. Alcäus instead of Alcaeus or Alkaios). Secondly, the numerous footnotes added by Forbiger are partially outdated. One example may be given for the conversion of the sum of 2.000 talents (XIV 1.42 [C 649]) into 2,750,000 Taler (p. 926 note 118).

The translation provided by Radt is not only very faithful to the Greek text, but is also fluent to read. An example may be given by referring to the passage where Strabo comments on the bad administration of Egypt among the later Ptolemies and the subsequent improvement of it under Roman control (XVII 1.13 [C 798]):

Die Römer verbesserten, wie man sagen darf, das meiste nach Kräften, indem sie die Stadt so einrichteten, wie ich oben sagte, im Lande aber gewisse Unterbefehlshaber, die sogenannten Nomarchen und Ethnarchen, anstellten, denen die Besorgung der minder wichtigen Geschäfte übertragen war. (Forbiger)

Die Römer haben das Meiste nach Möglichkeit in Ordnung gebracht indem sie die Stadt so einrichteten wie ich beschrieben habe und auf dem Lande sogenannte Epistrategen, Nomarchen und Ethnarchen einstellten, die keine grossen Befugnisse hatten. (Radt)

Forbiger had relied on a conjecture for his translation [ ὑποστρατήγους ] (p. 1117 note 73) which is also found in Radt’s critical apparatus for line 7. Radt prints the transmitted text ἐπιστρατήγους. The office of “Epistratege” was military in Ptolemaic times, yet it remained under Roman rule with a more administrative focus. Strabo most likely referred to this term originally, though it may be doubtful if he was aware of its historical background.

Due to its size as well as its costs this otherwise excellent edition may unfortunately not appeal to everyone. Even ardent collectors of classical texts, not to mention students, may be hesitant to acquire it. Yet Radt’s Strabon will become one of the main standard editions for a long time to come. Everyone who consults his translation will benefit from it, and even those not looking specifically for a German translation may turn to the Greek text as a highly reliable source.


1. I will avoid repeating certain specifics about the general edition that have already been outlined in detail by Pothecary.

2. Strabo, Geographica, In der Übersetzung von Dr. A. Forbiger, Wiesbaden: Marix, 2005, Ausgabe Hoffman’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 1856-1898 (sic), 1341pp.

3. Band 5, Kommentar zu Buch I-IV. The reviewer has not been able to see it yet.