Claudius Ptolemy

Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus) was a celebrated mathematician, astronomer and geographer, and a Greco-Roman native of Egypt However, there is an uncertainty as to the place of his birth. Some ancient manuscripts of his works describe him as of Pelusium, but Theodorus Meliteniota, a Greek writer on astronomy of the 12th century, says that he was born at Ptolemais Hermii, a Grecian city of the Thebaid. It is certain that he observed at Alexandria during the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, and that he survived Antoninus.

Olympiodorus, a philosopher of the Neoplatonic school who lived in the reign of the emperor Justinian, relates in his scholia on the Phaedo of Plato that Ptolemy devoted his life to astronomy and lived for forty years in the so-called Cannes Bridges, probably elevated terraces of the temple of Serapis at Canopus near Alexandria, where they raised pillars with the results of his astronomical discoveries engraved upon them. This statement is probably correct; we have indeed the direct evidence of Ptolemy himself that he made astronomical observations during a long series of years; his first recorded observation was made in the eleventh year of Hadrian, 127 A.D., and his last in the fourteenth year of Antoninus, 151 A.D. Ptolemy, moreover, says, "We make our observations in the parallel of Alexandria."

St Isidore of Seville asserts that he was of the royal race of the Ptolemies, and even calls him king of Alexandria; this assertion has been followed by others, but there is no ground for their opinion. Indeed Fabricius shows by numerous instances that the name Ptolemy was common in Egypt. Weidler, from whom this is taken, also tells us that according to Arabian tradition Ptolemy lived to the age of seventy-eight years; from the same source some description of his personal appearance has been handed down, which is generally considered as not trustworthy, but which may be seen in Weidler, Historia astronomiae, p. 177, or in the preface to Halma's edition of the Almagest, p. 61.


Ptolemy's Geographia was printed for the first time in a Latin translation, accompanied with maps, in 1462(?), and numerous other editions followed in the latter part of the 15th and earlier half of the 16th centuries, but the Greek text did not make its appearance till 1533, when it was published at Basel in quarto, edited by Erasmus.

All these early editions, however, swarm with textual errors, and are critically worthless. The same may be said of the edition of (Gr. and Lat., Leiden, 1618, typ. Elzevir), which was long the standard library edition. It contains a new set of maps drawn by Mercator, as well as a fresh series (not intended to illustrate Ptolemy) by Ortelius, the Roman Itineraries, including the Tabula peutingeriana, and much other miscellaneous matter.

The first attempt at a really critical edition was made by F. G. Wilberg, and C. H. F. Grashof (4to, Essen, 1838-1845), but this only covered the first six books of the entire eight. The edition of C. F. A. Nobbe (3 vols., 18mo., Leipzig, 1843), presents the best Greek text of the whole work, and has a useful index. The best edition, so far as completed, is that published in A. F. Didot's Bibliotheca graecorum scriptorum (Claudii Ptolemaei geographia; 2 vols., Paris, 1883 and 1901), originally edited by Carl Muller and continued by C. T. Fischer, with a Latin translation and a copious commentary, geographical as well as critical.


See also. F. C. L. Sickler, Claudii Ptolemaei Germania, (Hesse Cassel, 1833); W. D. Cooley, Claudius Ptolemy and the Nile (London, 1854); J. W. McCrindle, Ancient India described by Ptolemy (Bombay, 1885), reprinted from Indian Antiquary (1884); Henry Bradley, "Ptolemy's Geography of the British Isles," in Archaeologia, vol. xlviii. (1885); T. G. Rylands, Geography of Ptolemy Elucidated (Dublin, 1893); and a Polish study of Ptolemy's Germany and Sarmatia, in the Historical-Philosophical Series (2) of the Cracow University (1902), vol. xvi.

1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 22. pg 618-626

Books & Publications

Book Title Date
Cosmographia (1460) Cosmographia 1460
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