, who wrote around AD
, was the earliest Roman geographer
. He died c 45 CE.
His little work (De situ orbis libri III.
) is a mere
compendium, occupying less than one hundred pages of ordinary
print, dry in style and deficient in method, but of pure Latinity,
and occasionally relieved by pleasing word-pictures. Excepting the
geographical parts of Pliny
(where Mela is cited as an important
authority) the De situ orbis
is the only formal treatise
on the subject in Classical
known of the author except his name and birthplace--the small town
of Tingentera or Cingentera in southern Spain, on
Algeciras Bay (Mela ii.
6, § 96; but the text is here
corrupt). The date of his writing may be approximately fixed by his
allusion (iii. 6 § 49) to a proposed British expedition of the reigning emperor, almost
certainly that of Claudius in AD 43.
That this passage cannot refer to Julius Caesar is proved by
several references to events of Augustus
reign, especially to certain new names given to Spanish towns. Mela
has been without probability identified by some with L. Annaeus
of Corduba, son of the rhetorician Seneca the Elder
, and brother of the
philosopher Seneca the
The general views of the De situ orbis
mainly agree with
those current among Greek
; the latter was probably unknown to Mela. But
Pomponius is unique among ancient geographers in that, after
dividing the earth into five zones, of which two only were
habitable, he asserts the existence of antichthones, inhabiting the
southern temperate zone inaccessible to the folk of the northern
temperate regions from the unbearable heat of the intervening
torrid belt. On the divisions and boundaries of Europe, Asia and Africa, he repeats Eratosthenes; like all classical
geographers from Alexander the
Great (except Ptolemy) he regards the
Sea as an inlet of the Northern Ocean, corresponding to
the Persian and Arabian (Red
Sea) gulfs on the south.
Indian conceptions are inferior to those of some earlier
Greek writers; he follows Eratosthenes in supposing that country to
occupy the south-eastern angle of Asia, whence the coast trended
northwards to Scythia, and then swept round westward to the Caspian
The shores of Codanus sinus in red
with its many islands in green
As usual, he places the Rhipaean Mountains and the
Hyperboreans near the Scythian
western Europe his knowledge (as was natural in a Spanish subject
of Imperial Rome) was somewhat in advance of the Greek geographers.
the western coast-line of Spain and Gaul and
its indentation by the Bay of Biscay more accurately than Eratosthenes or Strabo, his
ideas of the British
Isles and their position are also clearer than his
predecessors. He is the first to name the Orcades or
Orkneys, which he defines and locates pretty
Of northern Europe his knowledge was imperfect,
but he speaks of a great bay ("Codanus
") to the north of Germany, among whose many islands was
one, "Codanovia," of pre-eminent size; this name reappears in
Pliny the Elder
's work as
were both Latin renderings of the Proto-Germanic
Germanic name for Scandinavia
Mela's descriptive method is peculiar and inconvenient.
treating each continent separately he begins at the Straits of
Gibraltar, and describes the countries adjoining the south
coast of the Mediterranean; then he moves round by Syria and Asia Minor to the Black
Sea, and so returns to Spain along the north shore of
the Euxine, Propontis, etc. After treating the Mediterranean islands, he
next takes the ocean littoral--to west,
north, east and south successively--from Spain and Gaul round to
India, from India to Persia, Arabia and Ethiopia; and so again works back to Spain round South Africa.
Like most classical
geographers he conceives of the continent as surrounded by sea and
not extending very far south.
edition of Mela was published at Milan in 1471; the
first good edition was by Vadianus (Basel, 1522), superseded by
those of Voss (1658), J Gronovius (1685 and 1696), A
Gronovius (1722 and 1728), and Tzschucke (1806-1807), in seven
parts (Leipzig; the most elaborate of all); G Paithey's (Berlin,
1867), gives the best text.
The English trans. by Arthur Golding
(1585), is famous; see also EH
Bunbury, Ancient Geography
, ii. 352?368, and D Detlefsen,
Quellen und Forschungen zur alten Gesch. und Geog.