There is no word in classical Greek or Latin that exactly matches our sense of "exploring," Roller says, but he thinks that ancient exploration beyond the Mediterranean has been underestimated. By the end of the fourth century B.C., the Greeks had sailed as far south as Zanzibar and as far north as Iceland (Roller's persuasive identification of the land of Thule, discovered by Pytheas). Much of Roller's work involves piecing together the evidence of coastline descriptions known as periplooi. He is wryly aware of the unreliability of many claims, some of which made even the writers of later antiquity incredulous. The explorer Mago said that he had circumnavigated Africa, but, Roller notes, "if this is the same person who claimed to have crossed the Sahara three times without drinking water, his veracity can hardly be presumed."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
'Roller has performed a useful service in bringing together material that is scattered about in various chapters in the general histories of ancient geography and exploration and in updating it with the results of recent studies.' – International Journal of Nautical Archaeology