Poseidonius: fragments about history and geography

Poseidonius (? 135-51 B.C.) was a polymath who wrote on many topics, such as ethics, logic and science, as well as a history of the Greek and Roman world from 146 to about 86 B.C. None of his books survive, but many fragments from them have been preserved in quotations by other authors. About half of the known fragments are about history or geography, and they were published in volume 2A of Jacoby's "Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker" (FGrH_87).

The fragments which appear in Jacoby's edition are shown here, with a few additional ones. Because most of them are quotations by other authors, which have already been translated elsewhere on the web, this list consists mainly of links to the places on the web where the translations can be found.

The fragment numbers in Jacoby's edition are shown in red. All the fragments of Poseidonius have been translated by I.G.Kidd (Cambridge, 1999). The numbers in Kidd's translation are shown in green.

THE HISTORIES   (with book numbers)

[T1]   A garbled entry in the Suda (10th century A.D.) says that "Poseidonius of Alexandria, Stoic philosopher . . . wrote a history continuing from Polybius in 52 books, down to the Cyrenaic war and Ptolemy".

Book 2

[1] [53.K]   Athen_4.153'c-d   A feast in the temple of Hercules, to celebrate a Roman triumph.

Book 3

[2] [54.K]   Athen_4.176'b-c   Preparations for war between Apameia and Larissa.

[3] [55.K]   Athen_14.649'd   Produce of Arabia and Syria: pistachio nuts.

Book 4

[4] [56.K]   Athen_6.252'e   Hierax of Antioch, a parasite of Ptolemy Euergetes.

Book 5

[5] [57.K]   Athen_4.152'f-153'a   Banquets of the Parthian kings.

Book 7

[6] [58.K]   Athen_12.549'd-e   Scipio visits Ptolemy Euergetes in Alexandria.

Book 8

[7] [59.K]   Athen_14.542'b   The arrogant behaviour of Damophilus starts a slave war in Sicily.

Book 11

[8] [60.K]   Athen_6.263'c-d   The Mariandyni willingly obey the commands of the Heracleians.

Book 14

[9] [61.K]   Athen_12.540'b-c   Public feasts of Antiochus Sidetes.
    see also: Athen_5.210'c-d

Book 16

[10] [62.K]   Athen_12.527'e-f   The luxurious banquets of the Syrians.

[11] [63.K]   Athen_10.439'd-e   Arsaces comments on the hard drinking of Antiochus Sidetes.

[12] [64.K]   Athen_4.153'a-b   Demetrius, as a hostage, attends the banquets of the Parthian king.

[13] [65.K]   Athen_11.466'b-c   Lysimachus the Babylonian invites Himerus to a banquet.

Book 22

[14] [66.K]   Athen_13.594'e   Harpalus builds an extravagant funerary monument for Pythionice.

Book 23

[15] [67.K]   Athen_4.151'e-152'd   The public feasts of the Celts.

[16] [68.K]   Athen_5.154'a-c   Gladiatorial combats at the feasts of the Celts.

[17] [69.K]   Athen_6.246'c-d   The parasites and bards of the Celts.

[18] [67.K]   Athen_4.152'd-f   The wealth and generosity of Luerius, the father of Bituitus.

Book 27

[19] [70.K]   Athen_9.369'c-d   Produce of Dalmatia: turnips and carrots.

Book 28

[20] [71.K]   Athen_15.692'c-d   Slaves sprinkle the guests with perfume, at the banquets of the Syrian kings.

[21] [72.K]   Athen_12.540'a-b   Lavish feasts of Antiochus Grypus at Daphne.

Book 30

[22] [73.K]   Athen_4.153'e   The eating and drinking habits of the Germans.

Book 34

[23] [74.K]   Athen_6.246'd   Apollonius is a parasite of Antiochus Grypus.

[24] [75.K]   Athen_4.153'b-c   Heracleon, a general of Antiochus Grypus, makes his army eat in silence.

Book 36

[25] [76.K]   Athen_11.494'f   Valuable and unusual cups: panathenaica.

Book 47

[26] [77.K]   Athen_12.550'a-b   The corpulence of Ptolemy Alexander, king of Egypt.

Book 49

[27] [78.K]   Athen_4.168'd-e   The extravagant luxury of Apicius.


[28] [49.K]   Strab_2.94-96 (chapter 2.94)   The size of the earth, and its zones.

THE HISTORIES   (without book numbers)

[29] [226.K]   Athen_8.333'b-d   Part of Tryphon's army is drowned, while fighting against Demetrius in Syria.

[30] [254.K]   PLUTARCH (Plut:Mor_777'A)   But if [a philosopher] by his teachings takes hold of a ruler, a statesman, and a man of action, and fills him with love of honour, through one he benefits many . . . Cato sailed from his army to visit Athenodorus; and Scipio sent for Panaetius when he himself was sent out by the senate
  "to view the violence and lawfulness of men" [ Hom:Od_17'487 ]
as Poseidonius says.

[31] [272.K]   Strab_7.294-294 (chapter 2.1)   The earliest history of the Cimbri.

[32] [263.K]   Strab_7.309 (chapter 4.3)   Mithridates gains control of the city of Chersonesus.

[33] [273.K]   Strab_4.188 (chapter 1.13)   The Roman general Caepio removes an immense amount of treasure from Tolosa.

[34] [248.K]   Strab_4.188 (chapter 1.14)   The site of the city of Tolosa in Gaul.

[35] [262.K]   Athen_6.272'e-f   A slave revolt in Attica.

[36] [253.K]   Athen_5.211'd-215'b   Athenion establishes himself as tyrant of Athens.

[37] [255.K]   Plut:Mar_45   Poseidonius visits Marius, when Marius is ill and about to die.

[38] [251.K]   Athen_6.266'e-f   Mithridates enslaves the Chians.

[39] [252.K]   EUNAPIUS   Poseidonius says that after the departure of Alexander, the Macedonian army resembled Cyclops when he was blinded.

[40] [256.K]   Plut:Brut_1   The descendants of L.Brutus, who expelled the kings from Rome.

[41] [261.K]   Plut:Marc_1   The family name of M.Marcellus.

[42] [259.K]   Plut:Marc_9   Fabius is called the shield, and Marcellus is called the sword of Rome.
    see also: [260.K]  Plut:Fab_19

[43] [257.K]   Plut:Marc_20   Nicias persuades Marcellus to spare the inhabitants of Engyium.

[44] [258.K]   Plut:Marc_30   The inscription on a statue of Marcellus.


[45] [119.K]   Strab_3.138 (chapter 1.5)   The setting of the sun on the south-west coast of Spain.

[46] [T22.K]   Strab_3.144 (chapter 2.5)   The east winds between Spain and Italy.

[47] [239.K]   Strab_3.147 (chapter 2.9)   The Turdetani become wealthy from mining copper and other metals.

[48] [240.K]   Athen_6.233'd-234'c   The use of gold and silver in various parts of the world.

[49] [224.K]   Strab_3.153 (chapter 3.4)   The source of the river Baenis, the largest river in Lusitania.

[50] [247.K]   Strab_3.157 (chapter 4.3)   The temple of Athena at Odysseia in Spain.

[51] [271.K]   Strab_3.162 (chapter 4.13)   M.Marcellus exacts a tribute of 600 talents from Celtiberia.

[52] [243.K]   Strab_3.163 (chapter 4.15)   The characteristics of copper in Cyprus, and of horses in Spain.

[53] [246.K]   Strab_3.170 (chapter 5.5)   The foundation of Gades.

[54] [241.K]   Strab_3.175 (chapter 5.10)   Unusual trees in Spain.

[55] [274.K]   Strab_4.198 (chapter 4.5)   The Celts cut off the heads of their enemies, and nail them to the front of their houses.

[56] [276.K]   Strab_4.198 (chapter 4.6)   An island opposite the mouth of the river Liger (Loire), inhabited entirely by women.

[57] [268.K]   Strab_5.218 (chapter 2.1)   Quarrying of stone in Liguria.
    see also: Diod_4.20'1

[58] [269.K]   Strab_3.165 (chapter 4.17)   A woman gives birth secretly, while working with men on the land in Liguria.
    see also: Diod_4.20'2-3

[59] [265.K]   Athen_6.273'a-275'b   The prudence and moderation of Scipio Aemilianus and other ancient Romans.

[60] [264.K]   Plut:Mar_1   Roman personal names.

[61] [252.K]   Athen_9.401'a   An island near Dicaearcheia, with a large population of rabbits.

[62] [249.K]   Strab_6.266 (chapter 2.1)   The dimensions of Sicily.

[63] [249.K]   Strab_6.266 (chapter 2.1)   The three corners of Sicily, and their "climata".

[64] [250.K]   Strab_6.273 (chapter 2.7)   The location of Enna in Sicily, halfway between Syracuse and Eryx.

[65] [251.K]   Strab_16.750 (chapter 2.4)   The region of Seleucis in Syria, also called Tetrapolis because of its four cities.

[66] [244.K]   Strab_16.755 (chapter 2.17)   The remains of a huge dragon are discovered on a plain in Coele Syria.

[67] [285.K]   Strab_16.757 (chapter 2.24)   Mochus of Sidon - an ancient proponent of the theory of atoms.

[68] [242.K]   Athen_1.28'd   The Persians kings drink Chalybonian wine, which is grown near Damascus.

[69] [278.K]   JOSEPHUS (Joseph:Ap_2'79-96) [translated by H. St.J. Thackeray]   79 I am no less amazed at the proceedings of the authors who supplied him with his materials, I mean Poseidonius and Apollonius Molon. On the one hand, they charge us with not worshipping the same gods as other people; on the other hand, they tell lies and invent absurd calumnies about our temple, without showing any consciousness of impiety. Yet to high-minded people nothing is more disgraceful than a lie, of any description, but above all on the subject of a temple of world-wide fame and commanding sanctity. 80 Within this sanctuary Apion has the effrontery to assert that the Jews kept an ass's head, worshipping that animal and deeming it worthy of the deepest reverence; the fact was disclosed, he maintains, on the occasion of the spoliation of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, when the head, made of gold and worth a high price, was discovered . . .

89 He adds a second story, of Greek origin, which is a malicious slander upon us from beginning to end. On this it will suffice to remark that persons who venture upon religious topics ought to be aware that there is less profanity in violating the precincts of a temple than in calumniating its priests. 90But these authors are more concerned to uphold a sacrilegious king than to give a fair and veracious description of our rites and temple. In their anxiety to defend Antiochus and to cover up the perfidy and sacrilege practised upon our nation under pressure of an empty exchequer, they have further invented, to discredit us, the fictitious story which follows.

91 Apion, who is here the spokesman of others, asserts that Antiochus found in the temple a couch, on which a man was reclining, with a table before him laden with a banquet of fish of the sea, beasts of the earth, and birds of the air, at which the poor fellow was gazing in stupefaction. The king's entry was instantly hailed by him with adoration, as about to procure him profound relief; 92 falling at the king's knees, he stretched out his right hand and implored him to set him free. The king reassured him and bade him tell him who he was, why he was living there, what was the meaning of his abundant fare. Thereupon, with sighs and tears, the man, in a pitiful tone, told the tale of his distress. 93 He said that he was a Greek and that, while travelling about the province for his livelihood, he was suddenly kidnapped by men of a foreign race and conveyed to the temple; there he was shut up and seen by nobody, but was fattened on feasts of the most lavish description. 94 At first these unlooked for attentions deceived him and caused him pleasure; suspicion followed, then consternation. Finally, on consulting the attendants who waited upon him, he heard of the unutterable law of the Jews, for the sake of which he was being fed. The practice was repeated annually at a fixed season. 95 They would kidnap a Greek foreigner, fatten him up for a year, and then convey him to a wood, where they slew him, sacrificed his body with their customary ritual, partook of his flesh, and, while immolating the Greek, swore an oath of hostility to the Greeks. The remains of their victim were then thrown into a pit. 96 The man (Apion continues) stated that he had now but a few days left to live, and implored the king, out of respect for the gods of Greece, to defeat this Jewish plot upon his life-blood and to deliver him from his miserable predicament.

[70] [279.K]   Strab_16.764 (chapter 2)   Sorcerers who live near the Dead Sea in Judaea.

[71] [282.K]   Strab_11.515 (chapter 9.3)   The Council of the Parthian kings.

[72] [283.K]   Athen_2.45'f   The Carmani mix blood with their wine.

[73] [245.K]   Strab_17.827 (chapter 3.4)   Apes living in a forest, on the northern coast of Africa.


[74] [137.K]   Strab_1.29 (chapter 2.1)   The names of various winds.

[75] [120.K]   PLINIUS (Plin:HN_2'85) [translated by H. Rackham]   A stade is equivalent to 125 Roman paces, that is 625 feet. Poseidonius holds that mists and winds and clouds reach to a height of not less than 40 stades from the earth, but that from that point the air is clear and liquid and perfectly luminous, but that the distance between the cloudy air and the moon is 2 million stades and between the moon and the sun 5 million stades, it being due to this distance that the sun's vast magnitude does not burn up the earth. The majority of writers, however, have stated that the clouds rise to a height of 900 [stades].

[ - ] [215.K]   CLEOMEDES [adapted from the translation by A.C. Bowen & R.B. Todd]   The following kind of procedure reveals better than any other the size of the sun. Syene is located on [the tropic of] Cancer; thus when the sun is located in this sign [of the zodiac], precisely at noon, objects illuminated by it cast no shadows within an area up to a diameter of 300 stades. Assuming this as true among the phenomena, Poseidonius stated a hypothesis that the circumference of the orbit of the sun is 10,000 times greater than the earth's circumference. Starting out from this [premise], he demonstrated that the diameter of the sun must be 3,000,000 stades. That is, if one circle is 10,000 times greater than the other, then the section of the sun's orbit that the sun's size occupies must be 10,000 times greater than the section of the earth that the sun renders shadowless when located overhead. So since this section extends to a diameter of 300 stades, the section of its own orbit which the sun occupies at any one time must be 3,000,000 stades.

[76] [208.K]   Strab_2.135 (chapter 5.43)   The division of the earth into zones, by the direction of shadows. [see also Fragment 28]

[77] [209.K]   ACHILLES TATIUS   Parmenides was the first to write about the zones [of the earth]. There was much disagreement amongst subsequent writers about the number of the zones. Some, like Polybius and Poseidonius, who split the torrid zone into two, said that there were six zones; but many others, including Eratosthenes, said that there were five zones.

[78] [210.K]   CLEOMEDES   As we said, the sun slows down as it approaches the tropics, and again when it moves away from them. Therefore the sun spends a long time over the tropics, and yet the land there is inhabited, as is the land even further in [towards the equator]; for Syene lies under the summer course of the sun, and Ethiopia is even further in. Taking this as his starting point, Poseidonius assumed that all the equatorial zone was temperate. The eminent natural philosophers had divided the divided the world into five zones, but he showed that their "torrid" zone was in fact inhabited and temperate. He says: "Although the sun spends a long time around the tropics, the land there is not uninhabited, nor the land further in from there. Therefore the land near the equator should be even more temperate, because the sun approaches the circle [of the equator] quickly and leaves it at an equal speed, without pausing over the zone. Because the night there is always equal in length to the day," he continues, "this provides an equivalent interval for the land to cool down. Then the land will be in the most uniform and profound shade; there will be showers, and winds that can cool down the air. Indeed, there are said to be continual showers in Ethiopia during the summer, and particularly at the height of the season, which are supposed to cause the Nile to flood in the summer." That is what Poseidonius says. And if this really is the nature of the equatorial zone, the seasons must occur twice there every year, since the sun is overhead twice, creating two equinoxes. But those who disagree with Poseidonius' opinion . . .

[79] [222.K]   Strab_17.827 (chapter 1.5)   Evidence of the summer rain in Ethiopia, which causes the flooding of the Nile.

[80] [223.K]   Strab_17.830 (chapter 3.10)   The rivers in Libya are few and small.

[81] [138.K]   STOBAEUS   Poseidonius says that the winds are stirred by the moon, and the sea is stirred by the winds, which causes [the ebbing and flowing of the tides].

[82] [214.K]   Strab_1.6 (chapter 1.9)   The uniform behaviour of the Ocean.
    see also: [215.K]   Strab_1.55 (chapter 3.12)

[83] [216.K]   Strab_1.4 (chapter 1.7)   Indications that Homer knew about the tides of the Ocean.

[84] [220.K]   Strab_3.3 (chapter 3.153)   A reply to Aristotle's statement about the causes of tides on the coast of Lusitania .

[85] [217.K]   Strab_3.172-174 (chapter 5.7-8)   A well at Gades, which regularly fills up at the time of ebb-tides.

[86] [218.K]   Strab_3.172 (chapter 5.9)   Variations in tides and the flooding of rivers along the coast of Spain.

[87] [231.K]   Strab_1.58-60 (chapter 3.16-19)   Destructive earthquakes near Sidon in Phoenicia and Rhagae in Media.
    see also: [233.K]   Strab_11.514 (chapter 9.1)

[88] [227.K]   Strab_6.277 (chapter 2.11)   An underwater eruption creates a new island off the coast of Sicily.

[ - ] [228.K]   SENECA (QNat_2.26'4-7) [translated by T.H. Corcoran]   A scanty amount [of water] will neither resist nor impede the force of fire.

Why not? According to Poseidonius, an island arose in the Aegean Sea, in the tradition of our forefathers. The sea foamed during the day and smoke was carried up from the depths. Finally, night brought forth fire, not a continuous fire but one that flashed at intervals like lightning, as often as the heat below overcame the weight of water lying above. Then rocks and boulders were hurled up. The air had expelled some of them before they were burnt, and so they were undamaged, while others were corroded and changed to light pumice. Finally, the top of a burned mountain emerged. Afterwards the rock gained size and grew to the size of an island. The same thing happened again in our own time during the second consulship of Valerius Asiaticus [ 46 A.D. ].

Why do I mention these curiosities? So it may be clear that fire is not extinguished even by a sea covering it and that its force is not prevented from bursting out even by an enormous mass of water. Asclepiodotus, the pupil of Poseidonius, says that the height of water through which the fire reached before it had broken through was two hundred feet.

[89] [225.K]   Strab_5.215 (chapter 1.8)   The river Timavus flows underground before emptying into the Adriatic Sea.

[90] [229.K]   Strab_4.182 (chapter 1.7)   The "Stony Plain" (Plaine de la Crau) near the mouth of the river Rhone.

[91] [221.K]   Strab_1.54 (chapter 3.9)   The Sardinian Sea is the deepest sea which has been measured.

[92] [234.K]   Strab_6.269 (chapter 2.3)   Mount Aetna covers the fields around Catana in ash-dust.

[93] [235.K]   Strab_7.316 (chapter 5.8)   The mining of asphalt, and its use as an insecticide.

[94] [236.K]   Strab_16.743 (chapter 1.15)   The springs of white and black naphtha in Babylonia.

[95] [237.K]   Strab_13.614 (chapter 1.67)   Bricks made in Spain, which float on water.

[96] [238.K]   Strab_16.779 (chapter 4.20)   Fragrant salts can be found in Arabia.

[97] [202.K]   CLEOMEDES   The natural philosophers have stated many opinions about the size of the earth; but those of Eratosthenes and Poseidonius are better than the others. Eratosthenes uses a geometrical method to calculate the size, but Poseidonius' reasoning is simpler. Both of them assume some hypotheses, and then work out the consequences of these hypotheses to arrive at their conclusions. First, we will discuss Poseidonius' opinion.

Poseidonius says that Rhodes and Alexandria lie on the same meridian . . . and the distance between the two cities is said to be 5,000 stades. Let it be assumed that this is correct . . . Then Poseidonius divides the zodiac, which is aligned to the meridians . . . into 48 parts, by splitting each of the twelve [signs] into four parts. If the meridian of Rhodes and Alexandria is split into 48 parts in the same way as the zodiac, each section of it will be equivalent to one of the sections of the zodiac, as we have just described . . . After making this division, Poseidonius says that the star called Canopus is very bright in the south, appearing as it were on the rudder of the Argo. The star cannot be seen at all in Greece, and therefore Aratus makes no mention of it in the Phaenomena. If one goes from the north to the south, the first place where it can be seen is at Rhodes, where it is seen on the horizon and then immediately sets as soon as the sky moves round. But when we sail 5,000 stades south from Rhodes and arrive at Alexandria, the star can be seen, at its greatest height, one quarter of a sign above the horizon, which is a forty-eighth of the whole zodiac. It is clear that this section of the meridian, the interval between Rhodes and Alexandria, is one forty-eighth of the whole meridian, because the horizon at Rhodes is offset from the horizon at Alexandria by one forty-eighth of the circle of the zodiac. And if the length of this section, along the surface of the earth, is accepted to be five thousand stades, then all the other sections along the meridian must be five thousand stades long. Therefore the largest circle around the earth is shown to be 240,000 stades long, if the distance from Rhodes to Alexandria is really 5,000 stades; but if it is not, the total will be wrong in proportion to whatever the difference is. That is Poseidonius' method of calculating the size of the earth.

[98] [200.K]   AGATHEMERUS   Older writers supposed that the world is spherical . . . but Democritus was the first to recognise that the earth is elongated, with its length being half as much again as its width. Dicaearchus agreed with Democritus . . . but Eudoxus said that the length [of the earth] is twice its width, and Eratosthenes said that it is more than twice. Crates said that the earth is a hemisphere; Hipparchus said that it is trapezoidal; and others said that it is shaped like a tail. Poseidonius the Stoic said that the earth is shaped like a sling: that is, broad in the middle, from the south to the north, but tapering towards the east and the west, although in the east the Indian region is broader.

  EUSTATHIUS [201.K]   . . . elongated like a sling. This is the shape of the inhabited world, according to Poseidonius. The world can be divided into two cones, as Dionysius [Periegetes] says later on. One of the cones contains Asia, and the other consists of Europe and Africa. The pointed ends of this inhabited "sling" are towards the east and the west; he calls these the pathway of the sun. The broader ends are towards the north and the south. Therefore, as the two cones are joined together at the base, their narrow peaks lie towards the east and the west, while their wide bases lie towards the south and the north.

[99] [204.K]   Strab_2.119 (chapter 5.14)   The star called Canopus can be seen from near Gades, and also from Cnidus.

[100] [212.K]   PLINIUS (Plin:HN_6'57) [translated by H. Rackham]   Agrippa says that [India] is 3300 miles long and 2300 miles broad. Poseidonius gives its measurement from north-east to south-east, making the whole of it face the west side of Gaul, of which he gives the measurement from north-west to south-west; and accordingly he shows by an unquestionable line of argument that India has the advantage of being exposed to the current of the [? west] wind, which makes it healthy.

[101] [206.K]   Strab_11.779 (chapter 1.5)   The width of the "isthmus" between Pelusium and the Red Sea.
    see also: [207.K]   Strab_17.803 (chapter 1.21)

[102] [169.K]   GALEN   In connection with these words, it is fitting [to consider] what Poseidonius says about judging a man's character from his physical attributes. He says that, of both men and beasts, those that are broad-chested and warm are more passionate, but those that are wide-hipped and cold are more cowardly. A man's tendency to cowardice or bravery, or to love of pleasure or love of toil, varies greatly according to which region he lives in; because the feelings and movements of the soul always follow the disposition of the body, and the body is affected in no small degree by the surrounding climate. He says that the blood of animals can vary in warmth and coldness, and in thickness and thinness, and in many other ways, as Aristotle [ Pol_7.1327'b ] has discussed at length.

[103] [270.K]   SCHOLIAST on APOLLONIUS of RHODES   Herodotus [ 4.32-36 ] says that the Hyperboreans do not exist at all . . . but Poseidonius says that they do exist, and that they live around the Italian Alps.

[104] [277.K]   Strab_7.779 (chapter 3.2-3)   The history and customs of the Mysians (or Moesians) who live in Thrace.

[105] [280.K]   Strab_1.41 (chapter 2.34)   The Erembians, mentioned by Homer, are possibly similar to the Arabians, Aramaeans, and Armenians.
    see also: [281.K]   Strab_16.784 (chapter 4.27)


[106] [289.K]   Athen_7.279'd-e   The Cyrenaic philosophers follow a life of pleasure.

[ - ] [287.K]   DiogLaert_9.68   The philosopher Pyrrhon remains calm during a storm at sea.

[107] [292.K]   Athen_14.635'c-d   The musical instrument called magadis, which is mentioned by Anacreon.

[ - ] [284.K]   Sen:Ep_90'5-32   The "Golden Age".

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