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Agatharchides of Cnidus was a Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 and geographer
A geographer is a scholar whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural environment and human society.Although geographers are historically known as people who make maps, map making is actually the field of study of cartography, a subset of geography...

 (flourished 2nd century BC).


He is believed to have been born at Cnidus, hence his appellation. As Stanley M. Burstein notes, the "evidence for Agatharchides' life is meagre." Photius describes him as a threptos, a kind of assistant of servile origin, to Cinnaeus and states that he was later a secretary to Heraclides Lembus. Cinnaeus served as a counselor to Ptolemy VI; Heraclides is best known for negotiating the treaty that ended Antiochus IV's invasion of Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 in 169 BC.

Agatharchides furnishes few clues about his own life. At the conclusion of his On the Erythraean Sea, he apologizes for being unable to complete his work "since our age is unable to similarly bear the toil" and "as a result of the disturbances in Egypt" he could no longer access the official records (a fragment cited by Photius in his Bibliotheca Cod. 250.110, 460b). There are two possible occasions when this could have happened: the first was in 145 BC, when Ptolemy VIII purged Alexandria of the intellectuals who supported his rivals for the throne; and in 132 BC after Ptolemy, who had been driven from his kingdom by a rebellion in Alexandria, returned and exacted reprisals on that city. While most scholars have favored the later date, Burstein argues for the earlier one.

Extracts from the first book of his Erythraean Sea, written in the first person and advocating a military campaign into the lands south of Egypt, led early scholars to deduce that Agatharchides was an important political figure of his time, and served as a guardian to one of the sons of Ptolemy VIII. Dodwell
Edward Dodwell
Edward Dodwell was an Irish painter, traveller and a writer on archaeology.Dodwell was born in Ireland and belonged to the same family as Henry Dodwell, the theologian, and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge....

 endeavored to show that it the younger son, Alexander, and objects to Soter
Ptolemy IX Lathyros
Ptolemy IX Soter II or Lathyros was king of Egypt three times, from 116 BC to 110 BC, 109 BC to 107 BC and 88 BC to 81 BC, with intervening periods ruled by his brother, Ptolemy X Alexander....

, that he reigned conjointly with his mother. This, however, was the case with Alexander likewise. Wesseling
Wesseling is an industrial German city on the Rhine bordering Cologne city on the south. Wesseling originates from the Latin „Wasliacum“ which means "Villlage of Waslica" The story that Wesselig originates from "changing of the rope"...

 and Henry Fynes Clinton
Henry Fynes Clinton
Henry Fynes Clinton was an English classical scholar and chronologist.-Life:He was born in Gamston, Nottinghamshire; for some generations his family bore the name of Fynes, but his father resumed the older family name of Clinton in 1821...

 think the elder brother to be the one meant, for Soter was more likely to have been a minor on his accession in 117 BC than Alexander in 107 BC, ten years after their father's death; the second edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary
Oxford Classical Dictionary
-Overview:The Oxford Classical Dictionary is considered to be the standard one-volume encyclopaedia in English of topics relating to the Ancient World and its civilizations. It was first published in 1949, edited by Max Cary with the assistance of H. J. Rose, H. P. Harvey, and A. Souter. A...

article on Agatharchides agrees that the son was Soter. Moreover Dodwell's date would leave too short an interval between the publication of Agatharchides's work on the Erythraean Sea
Erythraean Sea
The Erythraean Sea is one of the names found in ancient cartography. This name may have derived from the seasonal blooms of the red-coloured Trichodesmium erythraeum near the water's surface, as the Greek "Ερυθρά" actually means "red".In the third century, Flavius Philostratus made this comment:...

 (about 113 BC), and the work of Artemidorus
Artemidorus Ephesius
Artemidorus of Ephesus was a Greek geographer, who flourished around 100 BC. His work in 11 books is often quoted by Strabo, but only fragments of the work exist...

. However at least as early as 1810, when B. G. Niebuhr pointed out that these excerpts were from a speech, and not part of the narrative of his book, this theory has been recognized as conflicting with other known historical facts.


Agatharchides was not well known in ancient times. Of his two major works, Affairs in Asia (Ta kata ten Asian) in ten books, and Affairs in Europe (Ta kata ten Europen) in forty-nine books, only a few fragments survive, too few to provide us with any sense of the contents of either work. However, for his On the Erythraean Sea (Peri tes Erythras thalasses) in five books, almost the entire fifth book, a geographical treatise on the Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

 and the lands around the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

, has survived almost intact. According to Burstein, "the comparative soberness of Agatharchides' treatment compared to previous accounts and the wealth of information contained in it led to a quick recognition . . . [that it was] a valuable summary of the results of Ptolemaic exploration."

In the first book of On the Erythraean Sea was a discussion respecting the origin of the name. In the fifth he described the mode of life amongst the Sabaeans
The Sabaeans or Sabeans were an ancient people speaking an Old South Arabian language who lived in what is today Yemen, in the south west of the Arabian Peninsula.Some scholars suggest a link between the Sabaeans and the Biblical land of Sheba....

 in Arabia, and the Ichthyophagi
Ichthyophagi , the name given by ancient geographers to several coast-dwelling peoples in different parts of the world and ethnically unrelated....

, or fish-eaters, the way in which elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

s were caught by the elephant-eaters, and the mode of working the gold mines in the mountains of Egypt, near the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

. His account of the Ichthyophagi and of the mode of working the gold mines, has been copied by Diodorus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 (iii.12-18). Amongst other extraordinary animals he mentions the camelopard, which was found in the country of the Troglodytae
The Troglodytae or Troglodyti , were a people mentioned in various locations by many ancient Greek and Roman geographers and historians including Agatharcides, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, Tacitus, Josephus, etc....

, and the rhinoceros
Rhinoceros , also known as rhino, is a group of five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. Two of these species are native to Africa and three to southern Asia....


Material from this book is quoted directly or indirectly by Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

, Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, Aelian
Claudius Aelianus
Claudius Aelianus , often seen as just Aelian, born at Praeneste, was a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric who flourished under Septimius Severus and probably outlived Elagabalus, who died in 222...

 (Claudius Aelianus) and other authors. Although his work was superseded by more detailed accounts in the 2nd century AD, Photius found a copy of Erythraean Sea in the 10th century, from which he preserved extensive extracts in his Bibliotheca. Photius states that Agatharchides wrote in the Attic dialect
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

, with a style that was dignified and perspicuous, and abounded in sententious passages—inspiring a favorable opinion from Photius. In the composition of his speeches Agatharchides was an imitator of Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

, whom he equalled in dignity and excelled in clearness. He was acquainted with the language of the Aethiopians (de Ruhr. M. p. 46), and appears to have been the first who discovered the true cause of the yearly inundations of the Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

. (Diod. i. 41.)

An Agatharchides, of Samos
Samos Island
Samos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of Asia Minor, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a separate regional unit of the North Aegean region, and the only municipality of the regional...

, is mentioned by Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, as the author of a work on Persia, and one περὶ λίθων. J.A. Fabricius
Johann Albert Fabricius
Johann Albert Fabricius was a German classical scholar and bibliographer.-Biography:Fabricius was born at Leipzig, son of Werner Fabricius, director of music in the church of St. Paul at Leipzig, who was the author of several works, the most important being Deliciae Harmonicae...

, however, conjectures that the true reading is Agathyrsides, not Agatharchides. (Dodwell in Hudson's Geogr. Script. Gr. Minores; Clinton, Fasti Hell. iii, p. 535.)


The crater Agatharchides
Agatharchides (crater)
Agatharchides is a lunar crater located at the southern edge of Oceanus Procellarum, in the region between the Mare Humorum and Mare Nubium. To the east-southeast is the crater Bullialdus, and to the south-southwest lies Loewy. It is named after the Greek geographer Agatharchides.The interior of...

 on the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

is named in his honour.