Contribution of Greek Scholar in Geography Full Notes for UGC NET

Contribution of Greek Scholar in Geography Full Notes for UGC NET



Greeks were the pioneers in many branches of knowledge. Their period is known as the Golden Age of Greece. They borrowed many of the concepts of astronomy, geometry, and mathematics from the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Sumerians, and Assyrian. The geographical knowledge in the earliest period of the Greeks was, how-ever, limited adjacent to Greece.

The Greeks possessed philosophical and scientific aptitude, versatility of intellect, and inquisitive and comprehensive mind. These qualities of character enabled them to make keen observation to record the special physical features of their country and the adjacent areas. The location of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea, the diversity of her physical features which included snow-covered peaks and folded mountains, and karst topography helped them to make a substantial contribution to the fields of Geomorphology, Climatology, and Oceanography. Moreover, the scholars exchanged their views with the traders and navigators to learn more about the distant locations.

One of the main contributions of the Greeks was in the realm of theory building and hypothesis testing. Plato mostly built theories by intuition and reasoned from general to particular (deductive approach). Contrary to this, his disciple Aristotle built his theories by reasoning particular to the general. This is known as the inductive or scientific approach. Aristotle recognized that observations made through the senses can never provide correct explanations. In his opinion, “Our senses can tell us that fire is hot, but cannot tell why it is hot.” Plato’s opinion about barren land was that it is “like skeleton of a sick man,” where only the bare framework of the land left after all the fat and soft earth have been wasted away. Plato considered man as an active agent who has the ability to change the face of the earth.

Homer Contribution to Geography

[1] Homer: (750BC – 700 BC)

Homer was a great poet who published the Iliad and Odyssey. These long epic poems describe the episodes of Trojan War (1280-1180 BC). These epics contain numerous geographical information about the then world. He believed the Earth to be of circular form, surrounded on all the sides by Ocean River. The sky (vault of heaven), he conceived as a solid concave surface, equal in extent to the Earth, resting on tall pillars. These pillars are in the charge of Atlas. According to him, the Sun rose out of the Ocean Stream, and again sank into the same at its setting. The stars also follow the same course and bathe everyday in the waters of the ocean. He described the four winds as follows:

Bores (north wind) – cool wind with clear skies;

Eurus (east wind) — warm and gentle;

Notus (south wind) – an indication of advancing storm; and

Zephyrus (west wind) – dreaded, balmy with gale force.

He, however, was not familiar with the terms Europe and Asia.

Key Points on Homer:

[i] Homer was a great poet

[ii] His work ‘Illiad’ & ‘Odessey’ (Describes Trojan War)

[iii] He describes four winds: [a] Bores (north wind), [b] Eurus (east wind), [c] Notus (south wind), [d] Zephyrus (west wind)


Thales Contribution to Geography

[2] Thales: (624 BC – 545 BC)

Thales was the first Greek thinker, philosopher, and traveller who was a practical businessman. He developed several basic theorems of Geometry. He was also the first to initiate measurement of the Earth and tried to locate things on the face of the Earth; thus establishing the mathematical tradition. He visualized the Earth as a disc floating in water. He is remembered for his cosmology based on water as the essence of all matter and for his prediction of an eclipse of the Sun, generally agreed to be that of May 28, 585 BC.

Key Points on Thales:

[i] Originated several theorems of geometry.

[ii] Earth is disc/flat shape.

[iii] Cosmology based on water as the essence of all matter.

[iv] Founder of Mathematical Geography


Anaximander Contribution to Geography

[3] Anaximander (610 BC – 546 BC)

He was a student of Thales, who introduced the Babylonian instrument gnomon to Greeks. This instrument was like the sun dial used to measure the length and direction of the shadow of the vertical pole. The noon-shadow provided an exact north-south line or the meridian (from merides, meaning noon).

Anaximander was a pioneer cartographer who prepared the first map of the world to scale.

The Sumerians before him had drawn pictorial maps. In his map, Greece has been shown in the centre of the world. His map was circular and was bounded on all sides by the Ocean River. Thales and Anaximander are generally considered as the founder of Mathematical Geography.

Key Points on Anaximander

[1] Anaximander was disciple/student of Thales.

[2] He introduced Babylonian instrument known as Gnomon.

[3] He prepared first map of the world to scale.

[4] His map was circular and bounded on all sides by ocean river.

[5] Often called as Father of Cosmology and Founder of Astronomy.

[6] Latitude and longitude term coined by him.

[7] Anaximander is also known as Founder of Mathematical Geography.


Hecateaeus Contribution to Geography

[4] Hecateaeus (the Father of Geography) (550 BC – 476 BC)

A resident of Miletus (near Izmir-Turkey), Hecateaeus is known as the “Father of Geography”. He was essentially a trader, who gathered information about geographical facts from the Greek colonies and unknown distant places. He visited Egypt and numerous places in South-West Asia, Greece, and the island in the Mediterranean Sea.

He was the first prose writer. His major work is ‘Ges-periods’ which is the first systematic description of the world. He described the geography of the world into two parts: (i) Europa, and (ii) Libya (Africa including Asia).

For the first time he gave two approaches for the study of Geography i. e (i) Nomothetic Approach or law making approach & (ii) Idiographic Approach (Descriptive).

The division between Europe and Libya was made by Hellespont. Euxine (Black Sea), Caucasus Mountain, and the Caspian Sea. He treated Caspian as an inland-sea.

About the shape of the Earth, he maintained the traditional view of the Ionian philosopher’s that the Earth is a circular plane. His world map was based on the map prepared by Anaximander. He was not familiar with the cities of Babylonia, though he gave some geographic information about India also.

Key Points on Hecateaeus:

[1] He is known as Father of Geography.

[2] His main book is Ges-Periods (Description of the Earth)

[3] He was the first writer of Greek prose.

[4] His work Periplus (Greek word) meaning coastal survey.

[5] He divided world into two parts: (i) Europa, and (ii) Libya (Africa including Asia).

[6] Hecateaus gave two approaches in geography – a. Nomothetic (Law making) b. Idiographic (Descriptive)

[7] Earth is a circular plane.


Herodotus Contribution to Geography

[5] Herodotus (The Father of History) (485-425 BC):

Essentially he was historian but he contributed appreciably in the field of Geography, It was he who said, “History must be treated geographically, and all Geography must be treated historically.”  Anthropologists consider him as the foremost anthropologist. He presented a vivid portrayal of cultural traits of people who were unknown to Greeks. He wrote most of his works in Athens.

He visited Italy, Asia Minor, Persian Empire, Babylone, Egypt and Libya. His idea about shape of the Earth was not in conformity with that of Hecataeus. He belonged to the Pythagorean School of Thought and thus tried to establish a symmetrical correspondence in the distribution of land and the sources and direction of the Ister (Danube) and Nile river. He divided the world into two continents in which Europa has been taken equivalent to Libya (Africa) and Asia . The meridian he drew passed through the mouth of the Nile and the delta of Danube. Thus, he was the first who drew the meridian in the world map. He was the first scholar who declared Caspian as a closed sea (lake). He said Egypt ia a gift of river Nile where he emphasized that silt and mud of river lead to the development of delta. He gave a good account of the Royal-Road-Sardis to Susa. His main contribution was in the Historical, Regional, and Human Geography.

He believed that the Sun was driven southward out of its regular course by the winds at the advent of winter season. He also tried to establish a relationship between temperature and the movement of winds. First time gave concept on winds moves from cold to hot places.

According to him, the western coast of Libya (Africa) was occupied by primitive tribes with whom Carthagean practised “dumb trade” Herodotus divided the interior parts of Africa into three latitudinal zones:

(i) the Mediterranean, coast-from the Atlas mountains to the Nile delta,

(ii) the zone of wild beasts’ (land of dates), and

(iii) the Sahara desert

Herodotus also mentioned that there are five oases in the Sahara Desert, they lies at a distance 10 day journey from one another.

Key Points on Herodotus:

[1] He is regarded as Father of History.

[2] Ethnographer

[3] He advocated that ‘All history must be treated geographically and all geography must be treated historically.’

[4] First Scholar to draw a meridian in the world map

[5] First scholar who regarded Caspian Sea as an inland sea.

[6] Shape of the Earth – Flat disc

[7] Divided world landmass into three continents Europe, Asia and Libya.

[8] Egypt is a gift of river Nile

[9] First time gave concept on winds moves from cold to hot places.


Plato Contribution to Geography

[6] Plato: (428-347 BC):

Plato is regarded as the master of deductive reasoning – from the general to the particular.

He is considered to be the first scholar who adopted the idea of round earth located in the center of the universe with the other celestial bodies revolving around it in a circular motion.

Plato’s opinion about barren land was that it is “like skeleton of a sick man,” where only the bare framework of the land left after all the fat and soft earth have been wasted away. Plato considered man as an active agent who has the ability to change the face of the earth.

Key Points on Plato

[1] Master of deductive reasoning – from the general to the particular.

[2] Idea of Round Earth

[3] Barren land – “like skeleton of a sick man”

[4] Man as an active agent


Aristotle Contribution to Geography

[7] Aristotle (384-322 BC):

Aristotle is regarded as themaster of inductive reasoning – from the particular to the general. This is known as inductive or scientific approach. He is disciple of Plato.

He studied geography on the basis of systematic observation. He accepted that idea of spherical Earth and also the theory of gravitation.

He emphasized that the observations which were made through senses do not provide explanations; especially scientific explanations. He formulated laws or fundamental principles of scientific explanation.

He even contributed to the branch of human geography where he put forward the concept of variations in habitability on the surface of the earth on the basis of latitudinal position. He opined that the regions nearer to the Equator were uninhabitable and named it as the Torrid Zone. Similarly, the parts of the earth which was away from the equator and were permanently frozen were also uninhabitable- the Frigid Zone. The population of the Earth lived in the Temperate Zone which existed between the Torrid and Frigid Zones.

His work includes ‘Meteorologica’ in which he described tidal movements and asserted winds to play important role origin of tidal waves.

Key Points on Aristotle

[1] Master of inductive reasoning – from the particular to the general.

[2] Idea of Spherical Earth

[3] Formulated laws or fundamental principles of scientific explanation.

[4] Book : Meteorologica – describe about the origin of tides


Eratosthenes Contribution to Geography

[8] Eratosthenes (276-194 BC)

Eratosthenes was a Greek mathematician, geographer, astronomer & poet. He developed systems of latitudes and longitudes and ascertained accurate length of equator using Gnomon.

He is regarded as the first scientific geographer who measured the length of the equator almost accurately (24860 miles) on sound principles with the help of gnomon. He drew the meridian through Alexandria, Syene, Rhodes and the mouth of Boresthenes (Dniester).

He was appointed as the Librarian of the Library of Alexandria-the post of highest academic honour of that period. He remained the librarian for about 40 years till his death.

He was a follower of Aristotle in his belief about the spherical shape of the Earth which he considered to be placed in the centre of the universe. He believed that the celestial bodies revolved around the Earth.

He was also of the opinion that the spread of the world from west to east is more than from north to south. He extended the habitable world from Thule to Taprabone (Sri Lanka) and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. He conceived the subcontinent of India to be of rhomboidal form and supposed the range of Imaus (Himalayas) which he said extended from west to east, to have made the boundary of India. Moreover, he conceived the peninsula of India Pointing towards the south-west, instead of south.

Eratosthenes was well acquainted with the extent of the Red sea, which he described as extending for about 9000 stadia (900 miles) from the head of Gulf of Suez to the Bab-al-Mandab.

The book written by him describes the ekumene (inhabited) world. He accepted the three continents (Europe, Asia, and Libya) and five climatic zones (one torrid zone, two temperate zones, and two frigid zones)

Key Points on Eratosthenes

[1] First scientific Geographer

[2] The term geography was first coined by Eratosthenese

[3] Father of Geodesy

[4] Founder of Systematic Geography

[5] He adopted view of Aristotle & regarded the shape of the earth as sphere.

[6] He developed systems of latitudes and longitudes

[7] He measure accurate length of equator

[8] Circumferences of the earth by Eratosthenes 25000 miles, but actual 24860 miles


Polybius Contribution to Geography

[9] Polybius: (210-128 BC):

[1] Polybius was a physical geographer.

[2] He studied the process of erosion and suggested how streams grade their valleys.


Hipparchus Contribution to Geography

[10] Hipparchus (190-120 BC))

Hipparchus was a Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer. He is considered as the founder of trigonometry.

He is famous for his discovery of equinoxes, for compilation of the first known star catalogue and his developments in field of scientific cartography.

He stressed the importance of parallels of latitudes and meridians of longitude. He invented instrument known as astrolabe for determining latitudes and longitudes.

He was the first to divide the circle into 360 degree. He is also credited for conversion of three dimensional sphere into two dimensional plane and designed orthographic and stereographic projections to achieve this. These projections show only a hemisphere, not whole Earth.

Key Points on Hipparchus

[1] He is considered as the founder of trigonometry

[2] Discover equinoxes.

[3] Invented instrument Astrolabe

[4] He was the first to divide the circle into 360 degree.

[5] Credited for conversion of three dimensional sphere into two dimensional plane & designed orthographic and stereographic projections.


Posidonius Contribution to Geography

[11] Posidonius (135-50 BC):

Posidonius was an important Greek historian, astronomer, geographer and teacher. He wrote a book ‘The Ocean’.

He made two important contributions, out of which one was later proved wrong, while the other was right, but it was overlooked for a long time.

Firstly, he recalculated the circumference of the Earth and at a much smaller figure than that of Eratosthenes. He greatly overestimated the West to East distance from the Westernmost part of Europe to the Eastern extremity of the ekumene (the habitable Earth), then thought to be occupied by India. He therefore said that a ship sailing westward from European coast of Atlantic would reach the East coast of India after a journey in search of India, which finally ended at the Eastern coast of America.

Secondly, Posidonius contradicted the view of Aristotle that the equatorial part of the torrid zone was inhabitable because of heat. He insisted that the areas of highest temperature were located near the tropics and temperature near equator are much less extreme. He pointed out that the overhead Sun pauses the longest near the tropics and is overhead at the equator for a much shorter time.

Key Points on Posidonius:

[1] He wrote a book ‘The Ocean’.



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