Eratosthenes 200 BC, (Greek scholar and mathematician)

  1. Eratosthenes lived from 276 BC - 194 BC and was head librarian the great library at Alexandria. Eratosthenes is called the "father of geography" since he coined the word "geography" which we use to this day. He was also assigned the honorific because he wrote a book titled "Geographics". He also wrote a monograph on how to measure the circumference of the earth that was so precise, he used came within 500 miles of the actual value.
  2. Like many ancient writers, we do not have their original works, but know about them because others quoted their work. It is like reconstructing the Old Testament from places where the New Testament quotes the old. In this case, Strabo in 15 AD, quotes Eratosthenes.
  3. Eratosthenes makes the same geographical errors of his predecessors Herodotus, Hecataeus, Hesiod and Hecataeus by ignoring Israel and having no working knowledge of the Sinai Peninsula, Gulf of Suez and Aqaba.
  4. As you can see from the map that was drawn by following his writings, he saw the Red Sea as a single finger of water. But notice he places Arabia far south and away from Egypt.
  5. This is Strabo's account in 15 AD of what Eratosthenes said about Arabia: "But I return to Eratosthenes, who next sets forth his opinions concerning Arabia. He says concerning the northerly, or desert, part of Arabia, which lies between Arabia Felix [Yemen] and Coelê-Syria [east of Jordan] and Judaea, extending as far as the recess of the Arabian Gulf, that from the City of Heroes, [Heroönpolis or Goshen] which forms a recess of the Arabian Gulf near the Nile, the distance in the direction of the Petra of the Nabataeans to Babylon is five thousand six hundred stadia [1120 km, actual distance is 1200 km line of sight], the whole of the journey being in the direction of the summer sunrise [north-east] and through the adjacent countries of the Arabian tribes, I mean the Nabataeans and the Chaulotaeans and the Agraeans. ... Such, then, is Eratosthenes' account of Arabia; but I must also add the accounts of the other writers." (Strabo, Geography, 15 AD)
  6. "The southern Sinai peninsula, which was only beginning to attract the economic interests of the Romans at this time, mattered little to Alexandrians. But the Arabian peninsula mattered greatly: The merchants, dock workers and shopkeepers of Alexandria profited nicely from the massive trade that passed through their city to and from southern Arabia and India. For them, "Arabia" meant the Arabian peninsula. Precisely the same usage is found in the works of Alexandrian intellectuals such as the geographers Eratosthenes and Agatharchides. (Mt. Sinai in Arabia?, Allen Kerkeslager, Bible Review, BR 16:02, Apr 2000)
  7. Note: The Arabian Peninsula is defined as that area south and east of the Gulf of Aqaba and does not include the Sinai Peninsula.
  8. Even though Eratosthenes did not understand the Gulf of Aqaba, he described "Arabia" in such a way so as be equivalent to the Arabian Peninsula.
  9. So in spite of having no understanding of the Gulf of Aqaba, Eratosthenes described "Arabia" in such a way so as be equivalent to the Arabian Peninsula, which is modern Saudi Arabia, to the exclusion of the Sinai Peninsula.

 

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By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

 

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