THE PERSEPOLIS CHART
The Greeks started their geographical studies with an excellent datum, the line of latitude 36° which provides the basic information about the geography of the Mediterranean, but once there crept into it the error that Athens is on this latitude, they were never able to correct it, with the result that they became gradually more confused. They knew that the data handed down to them by their Oriental predecessors were so superior to theirs that they never questioned them even when there occurred in them mechanical errors of transmission.
In my opinion Cape Sunion, the extreme promontory of Attica, was an anchor point of the Persepolis Chart which draws a line between two sheets at 24°02’E. Usually Greek geographers place this point at the latitude of the extreme SE limit of the Peloponnese and place both locations at the latitude of Rhodes. Strabo dared only to say that Cape Sunion is not much farther to the north than Cape Malea. Possibly the Persepolis Chart marked along the parallel 36° that was its northern limit, the longitude positions of Cape Sunion and Cape Malea. Ptolemy is one Greek geographer who realizes that Cape Tainaros is the southernmost point of the Peloponnese: Cape Tainaros is an anchor point in the system of Ptolemy because his basic chart continues the sphragides of 1°24’ to the west of the Persepolis Chart and Cape Tainaros is about 1°30’ to the east of Cape Sunion. Ptolemy did not dare to move Cape Sunion to the north beyond 36°45’N, but tried to improve the scheme of his predecessors by lowering Cape Malea to 35°00’N and Cape Tainaron to 34°35’N.
The obsession with the supposed latitude of Athens, which is against the most elementary common sense observation, may be explained by the circumstance that the Persepolis Chart had to mention Cape Sunion as the anchor point of the sheets W IV and W V, since there is nothing but water at latitude 36°. But the persistence of the Greeks is such that there must be further explanations. Since Strabo (I,4,6) quotes Pytheas as defining the great circle that goes from Iberia to India and is less than 20,000 stadia by the name dia Thinôn, through Thinai, Kramer and all other editors after him have changed the text to read di’Athênôn, through Athens. The argument is that the Greeks of the time could not have been acquainted with China. This is an example of the method by which classical scholars dispose of the texts that could force them to think. The emendation of the text is unwarranted for two reasons. The first is that Pytheas is among the Greek geographers known to us the one who knew best how to calculate latitudes: he would not have based his geographical system on the assumption that Athens is at latitude 36°N. The second reason is that Ptolemy places the capital of southern China at latitude 30° and calls it Metropolis of the Sinai or Thinoi. The Persepolis Chart is based on two latitudes: latitude 36°N, line of the Yellow River, axis of northern China, and latitude 30°, line of the Blue River, axis of southern China. Ptolemy uses the name Thinai for southern China and places its capital... He calls northern China by the name of Seres and places its capital Sera at...
It is stated that Pytheas could not have called China by the name of Thinai because at his time the Greeks could not have been acquainted with China from the sea. This contention is based on the statement of Marco Polo that in the language of the islands China, or southern China, is Cin. It is assumed that the Greek Thinai reflects a Malay Cin and that the Greeks could not have known the Malay term before the first century B.C. The last conclusion is unwarranted, but in any case the prevailing opinion of historians of China is that the name of China, or Thinai, comes from Ts’in. Beginning with the last third of the fourth century B.C., the princes of Ts’in began a campaign for the conquest of the entire country, a campaign that reached its climax when in -221 a prince of Ts’in assumed the title of First Emperor and established for ever the unity of the state. Even before -221, in the period of the Warring Principalities which begins around -750, the principality of Ts’in was the most important state. In any case the principality of Ts’in which is placed on the line of latitude 36°N would be the first Chinese territory to be met by people coming from the west. According to what we know about the geography of China in the period of the Warring Principalities, a person coming from the west would enter Chinese territory and the principality of Ts’in slightly to the east of Lanchow (36°01’N, 103°45’E). The point at which the Great Wall begins, on the northern bank of the Yellow River, well corresponds to the mathematical point 36°00’N, 103°14’E which I have computed as the anchor point of sheets E VI and E VII of the Persepolis Chart. According to my reconstruction, sheet E VII corresponds to the extension west-east of the principality of Ts’in which begins at the mentioned point and ends at the line formed by the course of the Yellow River moving to the north along line 110°26E from the great bend . . .
In conclusion, it was perfectly reasonable that parallel 36°N should be called through Thinoi. It is possible that some Greeks misunderstood dia Thinôn, for di’Athênôn, with the result that there was consolidated the absurd belief that parallel 36°N passes through Athens.
Since it appears that the mistaken belief that Athens was at latitude 36°N was part of Herodotus’ geography, it must be asked whether he was in some form acquainted with the Persepolis Chart. Herodotus seems to have been acquainted with the Persepolis Chart as far as Persepolis. It is most significant that he describes the world from Persis eastwards and from Persis westwards (IV 37). Going from Persis eastwards his information is most sketchy. He mentions India as the upper valley of the Indus River (Sheet E IV) and mentions the exploration of the lower course of the Indus by Skylax on behalf of King Darius. According to him the earth is uninhabited beyond India; this may reflect the fact that beyond India the Persepolis Chart would correspond to the region of the Himalayas (Sheets E V and E VI), which was actually uninhabited. According to Herodotus’ conception, Sheet E IV, India, was blank for the region south of it; Sheets E V and E VI would have been of little use to anybody unless extended to the south.
Herodotus speaks of maps in relation to his description of the Russian plains which is far more accurate than that provided by Ptolemy. This description seems to have been based on a line corresponding to the axis of the Black Sea on which there were marked the longitudes of the mouths of the great rivers that end on its northern shore; in correspondence to each river there was indicated how far it extended inland and which territories it crossed. As a result the described territory forms a fan centered on the Black Sea. The description of the Russian plains is perfectly clear if one does not assume a priori that Herodotus talks foolishly and one tries to understand his method. Concerning the Pontos Euxinos he states that its width is 3300 stadia and its length is 11,000 stadia; the figures indicate that he is reckoning by round numbers. The width is 4° counted by stadia of 833 to the degree (the exact figure should be 3333 stadia); and in fact the width is counted from Sindika, by which is meant the tip of the Peninsula Taman on the Strait of Kerch (45°12’N, 36°35’E) to a point directly to the south on the Turkish coast which is described as Themiskyra near the River Thermodon, which is to be identified with the present Terme.
The length is 11,100 stadia or 13°20’ measured as he says from the Pontos (the Bosporus) to the River Phasis; we can count from 29°06’E to 41°45’E in terms of longitude, but Herodotus must have made some allowance for the fact that the route does not follow the parallel but moves somewhat to the north. More significant is that he did not make any allowance for the shortening of the degrees of longitude.
His description of the Russian plains can be understood if it is assumed that on his map there was marked a line corresponding to parallel 46°N and that on this line there were marked the positions of the rivers that end at the north shore of the Black Sea. I say latitude 46°N because once in the course of the description he counts from the northern end of the Swamp Maiotis (Sea of Azov). In relation to each river there was indicated how much it moves inland and through which territories it passes. It is the compression of the space from south to north that caused some misunderstanding.
The references to the first river, the Ister or Danube, does not present any difficulty of interpretation. Both the Tyras, or Dniester, and the Hypanis, or Bug, Herodotus states that they originated from a great lake; he mistakenly assumed that these two rivers originated from the Pripet Marshes. The lake from which the Hypanis is said to originate is placed nine days of navigation or 4½° from the sea; in fact the Pripet Marshes do begin at 51½°, half a degree north of the real source of the Bug.
The description of the course of the Boristhenes, or Dnieper, is amazingly accurate, but there are introduced into it some mythical elements because this river was supposed to be the continuation of the Nile to the north. As the Nile is supposed to have sources lost in infinity, so is the Boristhenes. But Herodotus distinguishes the true sources of the Boristhenes, placing them in the region where the Boristhenes begins to be known. Just after the mention of these sources there is listed the Pantikapes or Desna which originates in the same area and flows into the Dnieper at Kiev; the Pantikapes is described as flowing through the Hylai, woodlands, which is perfectly correct since the forest area ends in the area of Kiev. North of the real sources of the Boristhenes there is placed the Gerrhos. In order to understand this, one must keep in mind that the Boristhenes runs along the meridian of the Second Axis of Egypt which ends to the north at Gherron, the swamp of reeds ; in the same manner the Boristhenes ends at Gerrhos, 40 days of navigation or 20° from the sea. The Gerrhos is the group of lakes in the Altai Hills, which is expanded into an indefinite swamp in order to make the Boristhenes continue to the north by joining with the Hypakaris which is the Volkhov that begins at the Altai Hills and moves north to Lake Ladoga. Here Herodotus understood his chart incorrectly by inferring that the Hypakaris flows south from a lake all the way to the Black Sea. From the Gerrhos there is born a river also called Gerrhos which is the Volga. The map intended to reach the limits of the Oikoumene at latitude 63° and for this reason may have listed Lake Onega to the right of Lake Ladoga; because of the compression of the chart in the direction north-south, Herodotus seems to have mistaken Lake Onega for the source of the Tanais or Bug.
The circumstance that the Dnieper and the Volga are made to merge at the imaginary Gerrhos explains why some geographers understood that the Black Sea and the Caspian were in communication. The Gerrhos explains one of the strangest mistakes of Ptolemy who assigns an enormous size to the Swamp Maiotis making it extend to about latitude 55° and to one degree from the Baltic. He merged into one the two swamps, Gerrhos and Maiotis.
Since I have shown that Herodotus is substantially accurate in his information about the sources of the great Russian rivers in the area west of Moscow, one can accept that he mentions the Ural Mountains when he states that the area east of the Tanais or Don terminates in a region of which no one can give an accurate account, for further progress is barred by a lofty and impassable chain of mountains. It is after having mentioned these mountains which run along meridian 55°-60°E, that Herodotus’ attention turns to the south and he describes the Persian territory beginning from the southern shore of the Black Sea and ending with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean (IV 37). Apparently the Russian plains were described to the north of a map picturing the Persian Empire. It is at this point that he says that Europe is as long as Africa and Asia put together. Apparently he had included the Russian plains up to the feet of the Ural Mountains in the European area. He ended Europe at the longitude of Persepolis, where the Ural Mountains begin. His description of Asia begins with the meridian of Persepolis: Such is Asia from Persis westward; beyond Persis, Media, the land of the Sapires, and Colchis, to the east and south there is the Red Sea and to the north the Caspian Sea and the Araxes. This description becomes comprehensible if it is imagined that he followed his map up to Sheet E I which is the last sheet. On this sheet there are listed Persis to the south and Media to the north; above latitude 36°N there is the land of the Sapires and Colchis (the Caucasus area). Since this sheet extends from the 45°48’E to 52°50’E, Herodotus mentions the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, called Red Sea, to the south and east, and the Caspian Sea with the River Araxes to the north. In the roll of map that he had in mind he could see Europe extending from a point north of Persepolis to the area beyond Gibraltar, and he could see Asia and Africa extending from Persepolis along latitude 30°N as far as the area beyond Gibraltar; hence, he said that Europe is as long as Asia and Africa put together.
After having spoken of the Russian plains, he completes his description of the area around the Black Sea by mentioning the area to the south down to the latitude of Persis; this suggests that the map he used of the Russian plains extended northwards from latitude 30°N. After mentioning Persis he states that Europe is as long as Asia and Lybia put together: this is comprehensible if he counted the Russian plains up to the Urals as part of Europe and took Asia into account only from Persis westwards, including for the area east of Perseopolis only the sphragis E I. The comparison of the length of the continents would readily suggest itself if he had a map in the shape of a band along the fundamental parallel. To me it seems very significant that he counts from Persis, the area of Persepolis, eastwards and westwards. Possibly he knew the contents of the Persepolis Chart up to E I.
The method by which he describes the Russian plains indicates that he had a diagram with a line corresponding to the northern shore of the Black Sea on which there were marked the mouths of the rivers and in correspondence with each what would be found by following each. The chart was drawn in such a way that Herodotus mistook the Gerrhos, most likely the Pripet Marshes, for a river. Apparently the line where there begins the forest area, called Hylaia by Herodotus, was indicated; today this line can be drawn roughly at the latitude of Kiev.
I have explained how the geodetic square established for the survey of
of Scythia was linked with older geodetic points of Europe, Asia Minor,
and Africa. The starting point was the information that Lysimacheia, identified
with the latitude of the parallel marking the southern limit of the Black
Sea (42°12’N), was 18°00’ north of Syene. By a stadion of 1111.1 to the
degree this makes 20,000 stadia. Another source provided the information
that the star of gamma Draconis was at the zenith 20,000 stadia north
of Syene or 28°34’ by a stadion of 700 to the degree, which would place
it at about 52°40’N. In fact, Hipparchos in his commentary on Aratos places
this star at 37° from the Pole. The calculation of 20,000 stadia by stadia
of 1111.1 and 700 to the degree, is confused with the calculation by 833.3
to the degree, so that 20,000 stadia are 24°00’. As a result both Lysimacheia
and the star gamma Draconis are placed 24° north of the Tropic, with the
result that the calculation of 300,000 stadia of 833.3 to the degree for
the circumference of the earth is assumed to be confirmed.